Thursday, February 12, 2015

"The Sergeant Has Halted."

On September 10, 1862, Colonel James Clay Rice (44th New York Infantry) walked into a hospital in Washington, D.C. (He never specified which one, but probably it was either Armory Square Hospital or Finlay Hospital.) As Rice later explained, “It was perhaps ten days after the second battle of Manassas, that I visited one of the hospitals near Washington, for the purpose of ascertaining if any of the disabled of my own command had been borne there, and if so, of speaking to them a kind, cheerful word, always so grateful to a wounded soldier.”

While passing through one of the wards, two strangers—a sister and an aunt of a wounded man–accosted Rice, asking him if he would stand by the couch of their relative while a surgeon amputated his limb. Rice recalled, “They were both weeping, but the wounded soldier, although suffering intensely, met me with a smile and saluted me. I sat down by his couch, and took his hand in mine.”

Rice never mentioned the name of the soldier, but details from his account render it certain that he met twenty-five-year-old Sergeant William B. Hogeboom (Company K, 5th New York Infantry). Hogeboom’s regiment, the 5th New York Zouaves, had been decimated at Second Manassas, losing 297 officers and men. By mid-September, the hospitals in Washington were choked with wounded Zouaves.

Sergeant Hogeboom was in rough shape. He had received a gunshot wound on Saturday, August 30, but had not been removed from the field until Wednesday, September 4. That day, a surgeon dressed his wound and put him on an ambulance to Washington. The next day, Hogeboom endured his first surgery, the physicians deciding it necessary to amputate the damaged limb. When Rice encountered him, it was five days later, and the arteries had commenced to slough away. The surgeons decided that a second amputation was needed.

Hogeboom regaled Rice with the tale of his survival on the field of Second Manassas. He said:


[I] remained where . . . [I] fell . . . , with no food save a few hard crackers left in my haversack; and no water, except that which God gave me from heaven in rain and dew, and which I caught in my blanket.  . . . You know, Colonel, how God remembers us wounded soldiers with rain, after the battle is over, and when our lips are parched and our tongues are burning with fever.


At this point, Hogeboom paused in telling his story, and Rice “noticed that his voice was weaker and his face more pale and deathlike.” Looking to the floor, Rice observed blood trickling down from the rubber poncho on which the sergeant was lying. Clearly, the wound had hemorrhaged. He called a surgeon to the bedside. After a short examination, consulting with other surgeons in attendance, the chief physician told Rice that re-amputation would be useless, saying that, in all probability, Hogeboom would not survive the hour. Rice explained the situation to Hogeboom’s aunt and sister. He remembered, “Tears filled their eyes, and they sobbed bitterly; but their grief was borne as Christian women alone can bear such sorrow. . . . The sister, wiping away her tears, and taking a prayer book from her dress, asked me if I would tell her brother how soon he must die, and if I would read him ‘the prayer for the dying’.”

Rice attempted to talk to the sergeant one last time, but he found it difficult. Hogeboom had grown delirious and seemed to think that he was still on the march. To communicate, Rice pretended to issue orders to the dying sergeant. Rice related:

I went to the couch, and stood beside the dying soldier. “Sergeant” I said, “we shall halt soon—we are not going to march much further today.”

“Are we going to halt, colonel,” said the sergeant, “so early in the day? Are we going to bivouac before night?”

“Yes sergeant,” I replied, “the march is nearly over—the bugle call will soon sound the ‘halt’.”

The sergeant’s mind wandered for a moment but my tears interpreted to him my words.

“Oh! colonel,” he said, “do you mean that I am so soon to die?”

“Yes, sergeant,” I said, “you are soon to die.”

“Well, colonel, I am glad I am going to die—I want to rest—the march has been so long that I am weary—I am tired—I want to halt—I want to be with Christ—I want to be with my Saviour.”

Rice recited the prayer, and then Hogeboom began saying his goodbyes. He took off a ring, kissed it, telling his sister that he must give it to their mother. He said, “Tell my mother, sister, that this is for her, and that I remembered her and loved her, dying.” Then, taking a second ring from his hand, he kissed it, and said, “Sister, give this to her to whom my heart is pledged, and tell her—tell her to come to me in heaven.” Finally, addressing Rice, Sergeant Hogeboom said, “And colonel, tell my comrades of the arm—the brave army of the Potomac—that I died bravely, died for the good old flag.”

According to Rice, “These were the last words of the dying soldier. His pulse now beat feebler and feebler, the blood tickled faster and faster down the bed-side, the dew of death came and went, and flickering for a moment over the pallid face, at length rested—rested forever. The sergeant has halted. His soul is now in heaven.”

Of course, we historians must be a bit skeptical of Rice’s account. He was a religious man and deeply dedicated to his country, so his version of what Hogeboom said in his final moments might not have been word-for-word the truth, but what Rice preferred to hear. However, we have no reason to doubt that this incident occurred. Rice watched a wounded soldier die, that much is certain. I have every reason to believe that Rice remembered this moment for the rest of his life. When he died from a serious gunshot wound two years later—the subject of my next blog post—he met his end the same way as Hogeboom, on the floor of a field hospital, comforted by a superior.

It must rip out a piece of a soldier’s soul to watch a fellow soldier die. But sometimes, watching a brave man die can provide a lifetime of emotional fortitude.

Sergeant Hogeboom was laid to rest at Grove Street Cemetery, New Haven, Connecticut.
Colonel James Clay Rice, shown as commander, 44th New York Volunteers.

No comments:

Post a Comment