Page's Short Stories HTML version

The Gray Jacket of "No. 4"
My meeting with him was accidental. I came across him passing through "the square". I
had seen him once or twice on the street, each time lurching along so drunk that he could
scarcely stagger, so that I was surprised to hear what he said about the war. He was
talking to someone who evidently had been in the army himself, but on the other side -- a
gentleman with the loyal-legion button in his coat, and with a beautiful scar, a sabre-cut
across his face. He was telling of a charge in some battle or skirmish in which, he
declared, his company, not himself -- for I remember he said he was "No. 4", and was
generally told off to hold the horses; and that that day he had had the ill luck to lose his
horse and get a little scratch himself, so he was not in the charge -- did the finest work he
ever saw, and really (so he claimed) saved the day. It was this self-abnegation that first
arrested my attention, for I had been accustomed all my life to hear the war talked of; it
was one of the inspiring influences in my humdrum existence. But the speakers, although
they generally boasted of their commands, never of themselves individually, usually
admitted that they themselves had been in the active force, and thus tacitly shared in the
credit. "No. 4", however, expressly disclaimed that he was entitled to any of the praise,
declaring that he was safe behind the crest of the hill (which he said he "hugged mighty
close"), and claimed the glory for the rest of the command.
"It happened just as I have told you here," he said, in closing. "Old Joe saw the point as
soon as the battery went to work, and sent Binford Terrell to the colonel to ask him to let
him go over there and take it; and when Joe gave the word the boys went. They didn't go
at a walk either, I tell you; it wasn't any promenade: they went clipping. At first the guns
shot over 'em; didn't catch 'em till the third fire; then they played the devil with 'em: but
the boys were up there right in 'em before they could do much. They turned the guns on
'em as they went down the hill (oh, our boys could handle the tubes then as well as the
artillery themselves), and in a little while the rest of the line came up, and we formed a
line of battle right there on that crest, and held it till nearly night. That's when I got
jabbed. I picked up another horse, and with my foolishness went over there. That
evening, you know, you all charged us -- we were dismounted then. We lost more men
then than we had done all day; there were forty-seven out of seventy-two killed or
wounded. They walked all over us; two of 'em got hold of me (you see, I went to get our
old flag some of you had got hold of), but I was too worthless to die. There were lots of
'em did go though, I tell you; old Joe in the lead. Yes, sir; the old company won that day,
and old Joe led 'em. There ain't but a few of us left; but when you want us, Colonel, you
can get us. We'll stand by you."
He paused in deep reflection; his mind evidently back with his old company and its
gallant commander "old Joe", whoever he might be, who was remembered so long after
he passed away in the wind and smoke of that unnamed evening battle. I took a good look
at him -- at "No. 4", as he called himself. He was tall, but stooped a little; his features
were good, at least his nose and brow were; his mouth and chin were weak. His mouth
was too stained with the tobacco which he chewed to tell much about it -- and his chin
was like so many American chins, not strong. His eyes looked weak. His clothes were