On the Battlefield, Among the Dead and Dying, We Get to Know Each Other Better

Following the May 14, 1863, battle of Jackson, Mississippi, Private Osborn H. Oldroyd of the 20th Ohio had the chance to walk across the battlefield. His unit, part of Maj. Gen. John Logan’s division, did not get into the day’s fighting. Instead, they entered the city in the aftermath of battle, marching along the Clinton Road as it passed through the farmstead of O. P. Wright. There, members of the 24th South Carolina—which had just arrived in Mississippi the day before after being transferred from operations around Charleston, S.C.—had taken up position around the farmhouse and a hedge fence as they tried to hold back Col. Samuel Holmes’s Second brigade.

“I shall not forget the conversation I have had with a wounded rebel,” Oldroyd wrote in his diary:

He said that his regiment last night was full of men who had never before met us, and who felt sure it would be easy to whips us. How they were deceived! He said part of his regiment was behind a hedge fence, where they felt comparatively safe, but the Yankees jumped right over without stopping, and swept everything before them. I never saw finer looking men than the killed and wounded rebels of to-day, and with the smooth face of them, lying in a garden mortally wounded, I was so taken, that I eased his thirst with a drink from my own canteen. His piteous glance at me at that time I shall never forget.

It is on the battlefield and among the dead and dying we get to know each other better—nay, even our own selves. Administering to a stranger we think of his mother’s love, as dear to him as our own to us. When the fight is over, away all bitterness. Let us leave with the foe some tokens of good will, that, when the cruel war at last is over, may be kindly remembered.

I trust our enemies may yet be led to hail in good faith the return of peace and the restoration of the Union. This is a domestic war, the saddest of all, being fought between those whose hearts should be as brothers; and when it is at an end, may those hearts again throb together beneath the folds of the flag that once waved for defence over their sires and themselves—a flag whose proud motto will be, “peace on earth and good will to men.”


from Osborn H. Oldroyd, A Soldier’s Story of the Siege of Vicksburg (Springfield, IL: H. W. Rokker, 1885), 21.

paragraph breaks added to improve readability


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5 Responses to On the Battlefield, Among the Dead and Dying, We Get to Know Each Other Better

  1. John Pryor says:

    A beautiful post. You could touch the profound sadness of a man who understands the utter tragedy, and necessary resolution, of the Civil War.

  2. 14corps says:

    And this from a private. The people of that day were well educated. A nice post.

  3. Nice post. Thank you Chris!

  4. grego says:

    Interesting commentary from a very colorful figure who was a bit of a scam artist in his later life. Oldroyd became a devoted collector of Lincoln memorabilia in his later years, and lived in the Lincoln home in Springfield IL until he was thrown out in the 1890s (Robert Todd Lincoln called him a “rascal”.) He moved his collection to the Petersen House in Washington DC (house where Lincoln died) and put the collection on exhibit. He charged a small fee to tour, and lived upstairs. He lived to the ripe old age of 88. His name is well known among Lincoln Assassination experts.

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