THE CARPENTER'S SHOP: The Private Soldier

Dr. Barry Carpenter
Dr. Barry Carpenter

Reflecting on the history of our country this Fourth of July I am reminded of my grandfather, Vance Nunn, who would gather us together during reunion times at his home in Grafton, Va., and quote from memory a reading that had been passed to him from his father from the Civil War. This unique piece of Americana became so associated with my grandfather that my brother read it at his funeral in 1987. It is entitled The Private Soldier and I recall it today in honor of a great country and great soldiers who made it so. It was originally dedicated to the Private Soldier of the Southern Army during the Civil War.

Fidelity and sinister motives are rarely combined; the hero who rides victorious through the storms of battle, or the philosopher who sides to protect the hidden laws of nature may not have no holier motive than the attainment of a throne, or the bewitching gratification of a world wide fame.  Not so with the Private Soldier, who bidding adieu to the comforts of friends and home marches on through mud and mire, and for many a long year sleeps upon the earth’s broad bosom with no canopy save heaven’s moss, who rushes into death and danger and returns not until he’s ordered or his lifeless, mangled body is borne back by his surviving comrades. Well too did he know that upon the field where he so bravely fought and so nobly died, there would be left no trace of his name or deed; history will go down to future generations embalmed with the praises for those who planned the campaign, forgetting the Private Soldiers who laid their lives a willing sacrifice upon the altars of their country, where the drooping flag of the southern freedom kissed the aromatic zephyrs of the western gale.

What I ask … where would have been the honor of Themopoly, or the glory of Waterloo, if the Private Soldier had not been there? If Napoleon had not of crossed the Alps, if Alexander had not of wept for the worlds to conquer? Who’ll stand by the Mississippi and listen while each mad wave whispers mournful melody for the private heroes that sleep beneath her watery vaults? Go stand upon Virginia’s war scarred bosom, and a voice from Richmond, from the heights of Gettysburg, yea, from the valley of Virginia, the garden spot of the world, will tell you where the privates have fought and died.

On fame’s eternal camping ground, their silent tents are spread, and glory guards with solemn around the bivouac of the dead. Yes, they are asleep from these Alabama’s sunny skies and Kentucky caves and fields of honor, while the winds of Texas and Arkansas play gently over their molding faults. Me thinks of Christian, who not loves to weep, the wild bird loves to sing a thrilling song, and a silver moon piercing down with a silver folds loves to kiss where sleeps their hallowed place. How sleep the brave who seek to rest with all their country’s wishes blest, when spring with dewy fingers cold, returns to deck their hallowed mold, she there shall deck a sweeter sod than patriot’s feet have ever trod.

Noble Private, farewell! Though ye be trapped in the cold gird of the tomb, ye still speak to us in the living accent, and your example of fidelity will ever shed luster on the land you died to save.

Noble Private, farewell, and at the last grand review, may your noble commander give in exchange for your blood-stained tatters of gray, a robe made white in the blood of the Lamb, for your trusted soul a golden crown, and for your earthly laurels, palms of everlasting victory.

Dr. Barry Carpenter is pastor of Destin United Methodist Church and can be reached at