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 Posted: Fri Oct 29th, 2010 03:04 am
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Hellcat
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This one's a little different from the last three presented. It comes from Strange Tales of the Civil War by Michael Sanders.

The story goes that Sergeant Major George Polley of the 10th Massachusetts Infantry sate down with the top of a cracker box and carved away at it. Every now and then he'd stop to admire his own work then with a chuckle gor right back to carving. It was the 20th of June, 1864, three years since the regiment had been mustered into the army. And the men of the 10th had a reason to be excited. The night before they'd been pulled from the Oetersburg trenches and now most of the regiment was going home, their three year enlistment up. Sergeant Major Polley and a few others had reenlisted in order to see the war through to the end and would soon be joining the 37th Mass. Polley was already scheduled to recieve a promotion to 2nd Lieutenant in the 37th.

The 10th was stationed near the Jordan House on their last day, the former Confederate Battery #6, having been one of a seires of battiers on the Dimmock Line captured on June 15th. And it was here that Polley finished his carving. The Sergeant Major showed first to his commanding officer, Colonel Joseph Parsons, then to Lieutenant Elisha Hont Rhodes of the 2nd Rhode Island. It was nothing less than Polley's tombstone, complete with everything but the date of death. Now Polley was still a young man so it seemed odd that he'd be expecting to die soon. Of course for a soldier on the front lines age was far from a defense against death. Still Lt. Rhodes asked if Polley expected to die soon. The reply was that it was only in jest.

As this was happening a scofflding was being erected for the execution of William Johnson of the 23rd US Colored Troops. He'd been sentenced to hang for

attempting to "outrage the person of a young lady at New-Kent Courthouse."

This was to be a very public execution in full view of the Confederate lines. It may well have been a response to articles from Southern papers which proclaimed Northern soldiers to be nothing but murderous, raping savages. It may have also been meant to send a message to the contraband flowing into the Federal lines in the hopes of reducing their numbers in federal camps.

Just prior to the execution a Federal battery to the north of this position opened up on the Confederate defenses. Naturally the Confederates returned fire and an artillery duel began. And during the duel Brigadier General Marsena Patrick ordered the troops who were to witness the execution behind a hill for protection against the shelling. At around 9:30 Johnson was carried by wagon to the scaffolding where a chaplain read him the final rights.  Soon Johnson's execution was carried out and soon after the artillery duel ceased. But the General's orders had not saved all the witnesses. For lying on the ground gasping for breath, the victim of a direct artillery shell to the abdomen, lay Sergeant Major Polley. He died a short time after carving his own tombstone and would be buried in the City Point National Cemetery before the 10th left for the federal capitol.

And his tombstone became one of stone and not the one he carved. For the one he carved became firewood for the coffee.

 

Last edited on Fri Oct 29th, 2010 03:05 am by Hellcat

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