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Thrilling Days in Army Life

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Thrilling Days in Army Life
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Author(s): George Alexander Forsyth
Date Published: 2011/03
Page Count: 124
Softcover ISBN-13: 978-0-85706-502-5
Hardcover ISBN-13: 978-0-85706-501-8

A highly regarded memoir of the Indian and Civil Wars

The author of this book, George A. (Sandy) Forsyth was a career soldier who served with distinction in the American Civil War and subsequently upon the western frontier against the Plains Indian tribes as they fought a losing battle to stem the inexorable advance of 'Manifest Destiny’—essentially 'the survival of the fittest’—‘the law' as Forsyth writes, 'that has obtained since the dawn of creation.’ Forsyth's career was varied and full of incident, though in his biography he has elected to concentrate on just four outstanding episodes in which he took part. The first, and certainly the one for which has remained famous to this day concerns the Battle of Beecher's Island. In 1868 in command of just 50 'scouts' Forsyth pursued a thousand Indian warriors of the Northern Cheyenne and other tribes under the war chief, Roman Nose, and found himself besieged on a small island in a creek of the Republican River. This incredible story of endurance has became one of the iconic episodes of the Plains Indian Wars. Here Forsyth tells his experiences in his own words before recounting a lesser known incident from his time on the Mexican border in conflict with and pursuit of Chiricahua Apaches. The final two accounts concern Forsyth's experiences as an aide to Sheridan during the Civil War, first during the Shenandoah campaign and finally at Lee's surrender at Appomattox Court House after the last shots of the war were fired. Forsyth intends to grip his reader from first page to last by the exclusion of the routine of drudgery of military life and by focusing on its moments of high action. He succeeds and has created a highly entertaining account of military adventure of the United States Army of the nineteenth century which will satisfy every reader. Available in softcover and hardcover with dustjacket.

Riding about five paces in front of the centre of the line, and twirling his heavy Springfield rifle around his head as if it were a wisp of straw (probably one of those he had captured at the Fort Phil Kearney massacre), Roman Nose recklessly led the charge with a bravery that could only be equalled but not excelled, while their medicine-man, an equally brave but older chief, rode slightly in advance of the left of the charging column. To say that I was surprised at this splendid exhibition of pluck and discipline, is to put it mildly, and to put it, further, that for an instant or two I was fairly lost in admiration of the glorious charge, is simply to state the truth, for it was far and away beyond anything I had heard of, read about, or even imagined regarding Indian warfare. A quick backward glance at my men was most reassuring. Each scout had turned in his rifle-pit towards the direction from which the charge was coming.<br>
Crouching low, and leaning forward, with their knees well under them, their rifles grasped with a grip of steel in their brown sinewy hands, their chests heaving with excitement, their teeth set hard, their nostrils aquiver, their bronzed countenances fairly aflame, and their eyes flashing fire, they grimly lay waiting the word of command, as brave and gallant a little company of men as ever yet upheld the reputation of Anglo-Saxon courage. No sooner were the charging warriors fairly under way than a withering fire was suddenly poured in upon us by those of the Indians who lay in ambush around us intently watching our every movement, in the vain hope that they might sufficiently cow us to protect their charging column against our rifles. I had expected this action, but I well knew that once their horsemen came within a certain radius their fire must cease. For eight or ten seconds it seemed to rain bullets, and then came a sudden lull. Sitting upright in my pit as well as I was able, and leaning backward on my elbows, I shouted, “Now!” and “Now!” was echoed by Beecher, McCall, and Grover. Instantly the scouts were on their knees, with their rifles at their shoulders. A quick flash of their eyes along the barrels, and forty good men and true sent their first of seven successive volleys into the ranks of the charging warriors.<br>
On they come, answering back the first volley with a ringing war-whoop.<br>
And now I begin to see falling warriors, ay, and horses too; but still they sweep forward with yet wilder yells.<br>
They seem to be fairly falling over each other; both men and horses are down in heaps, and wild shrieks from the women and children on the hills proclaim that they too see the slaughter of their braves; but still they come.<br>
They have ceased to yell, but yet come bravely on. What? No! Yes, down goes their medicine-man; but Roman Nose still recklessly leads the column. But now I can see great gaps in their ranks, showing that our bullets have told heavily among them.<br>
Can I believe my eyes? Roman Nose is down! He and his horse lie dead together on the sand, and for an instant the column shakes; but a hundred yards more and they are upon us!<br>
They stagger! They half draw rein! They hesitate! They are breaking!<br>
And like an angry wave that hurls itself upon a mighty rock and breaks upon its rugged front, the Indians divide each side of the little breastwork, throw themselves almost beneath the off side of their chargers, and with hoarse cries of rage and anguish break for either bank of the river, and scatter wildly in every direction, as the scouts, springing to their feet with a ringing cheer, pour in volley after volley from their revolvers almost in the very faces of their now demoralized and retreating foe.<br>
“Down, men! lie down!” I fairly shriek.<br>
“Get down! down for your lives!” cries McCall. And the men, hurling bitter taunts and imprecations after the retreating savages, throw themselves, panting, flat on their faces inside of their rifle-pits just in time to escape a scorching volley from the Indians still lying in ambush around us, who have been anxiously watching the charge and, naturally enough, are wildly enraged at its failure.<br>
As for myself, a single shot from my rifle, and a few from my revolver just at the close of the charge, was all that I could do in my crippled state; but the fact that I had to lie flat upon my back, craning my head forward, had, by placing me below the plane of fire, enabled me to watch every phase of the Indians’ desperate charge.<br>
But now, to me, came the hardest blow of the whole day. Lieutenant Beecher rose from his rifle-pit, and, leaning on his rifle, half staggered, half dragged himself to where I lay, and calmly lying down by my side, with his face turned downward on his arm, said, quietly and simply: “I have my death-wound. General. I am shot in the side, and dying.”<br>
“Oh no, Beecher—no! It can’t be as bad as that!”<br>
“Yes. Goodnight.”<br>
And then he immediately sank into half-unconsciousness. In a few moments I heard him murmur, “My poor mother”; and then he soon grew slightly delirious, and at times I could hear him talking in a semi-unconscious manner about the fight; but he was never again fully conscious, and at sunset his life went out. And thus perished, one of the best and bravest officers in the United States army.<br>
Once more I slowly worked my way back against the end of the pit, and leaning my elbow back against its side, craned my head forward for a view of the field. Close to our pits—so close that the men by leaning forward could touch their bodies with their rifles—lay three dead warriors; just beyond these lay several more, while for six or seven hundred yards in the direction from which the charge had been made the ground was strewn here and there by dead Indians and horses, singly and in little groups, showing clearly the effect of each one of the seven volleys the scouts had poured into the charging column.<br>
Turning towards where my guide Grover lay, I somewhat anxiously put the question, “Can they do better than that, Grover?”<br>
“I have been on the plains, man and boy. General, for more than thirty years, and I never saw anything like that before. I think they have done their level best,” was his reply.
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