His Life Had Been Wasted - an amusing story of the Civil War

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First Sergeant
Mar 18, 2011
Clinton, Mississippi
While doing some research today I found the following amusing story:

His Life Had Been Wasted

An old soldier lay dying in a little town in Pennsylvania, one day last week. “Is there anything on your mind that troubles you?” asked his pastor, as an expression of grave concern passed over the veteran’s face.

“Yes, said the dying man; there is. I have not made use of my opportunities. I was in the war about four years, in many battles, and thought I tried to do my duty. But I never picked up a lighted shell, with its burning fuse sputtering close to the shell and threw it over the parapet of the fort. I have been a regular attendant upon army re-unions, and I have read the newspapers since the war, and find that I am the only man in the Union army who has not performed that feat, although I had plenty of opportunities. My life has been wasted.”

“But why,” asked the pastor, kindly, “did you not do it when you had an opportunity?” “Because,” said the gallant old soldier, “I wanted to save the shell. I always knelt down and pulled the fuse out with my teeth.”

And then the noble life went out with a snap like a friction primer
. – R.J. Burdette

The Yazoo City Herald, March 11, 1887

I was curious about the author of this story, so I did some looking online, and found that his name was Robert J. Burdette, and he was, in fact, a Civil War veteran - he joined the 47th Illinois Infantry in 1862 when he was about 18 years old. After the war Burdette became a noted humorist and author, in addition to being a full time minister of the gospel. He also wrote a very good memoir of his Civil War service that was published under the title "Drums of the 47th." Fortunately the book has been digitized and can be found here:

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