Thomas Drummond was a Virginian who chose to stay with the Union during the war. He will be featured more completely later in the year in a Fiddler’s Green post, but I thought it appropriate to post this account of his death on its 150th anniversary. Captain Drummond commanded the majority of his regiment (minus the battalion serving as General Grant’s escort) at the battle of Five Forks, having rejoined them from a leave of absence only the day before during fighting at Dinwiddie Court House.
George F. Price wrote in his history of the regiment, “He was strongly impressed with the belief that he would be killed at Five Forks, and appeared at the head of the regiment wearing his best uniform, so that, as he expressed himself, he would present a respectable appearance in death.”
Charles A. Humphreys was the regimental chaplain for the 2nd Massachusetts Cavalry from 1863 through the end of the war. I previously posted his account of the death of Charles Russell Lowell here. As the chaplain, part of his duties were to recover the wounded from the battlefield during a fight. In his postwar history of the regiment, Field, Camp, Hospital and Prison in the Civil War, 1861-1865, Humphreys chronicles Drummond’s passing.
“Soon I came upon one of our brigade, a wounded captain of the Fifth United States Cavalry. We wrapped him like the rest, in a blanket, and bore him toward the rear to get out of the range of the musketry. But oh, it was sad to see the struggling of that soul, tossed as it was by a tempest of doubt and fear! While yet we were bearing him along, I could see by his ejaculations that he was trembling with apprehension before the awful mystery of death and expected judgment. His conception of God was evidently of a being terrible in wrath, inexorable to entreaty, arbitrary in his judgments, and unmoved by anything akin to human pity; and he dreaded to come into such a presence. His faithful men who were carrying him so tenderly tried to comfort him by telling him he would probably get well from his wound; but he was already grappling with death, and their suggestions of earthly hope were as idle words, and he said, “I wish I could see a chaplain.” I did not yet reveal myself to him, for we were still amid the noise and confusion of the battle. When we came to the ambulance-station we laid him down upon the ground and the surgeon bent over him to bind up his wounds; but the captain was more anxious about his soul than about his body, and said to the surgeon, “I wish you would send for a chaplain.” Then I revealed myself, and told him that I had been with him all the time, and spoke a few words of good cheer. And he said, “Chaplain, I wish you would pray with me.” Then I knelt and with his hand in mine I prayed, thanking God that he had put it into the heart of his young servant to give himself to his country, and that He had sustained him through so many hardships and trials, and now in this last, greatest trial I prayed that God would still sustain and cheer him, and lead him gently through the valley of the death-shadow to the bright regions of heavenly peace. As I finished he said, “Chaplain, I have been a bad man, a very bad man; but do you think God will be merciful?” I said, “Are you willing to die for your country?” He answered: “Oh yes! I am willing.” Then out of the fullness of my faith, and the sure prophesy in my soul that God was a God of mercy, I said, “With such sacrifices God is well pleased, and they will cover a multitude of sins.” This thought seemed to give him some foundation for a brighter faith. For though faith have wings like a dove, it yet needs some solid ground to stand upon, as the dove let loose from the ark soon returned because it found no place to rest its feet. But this soldier’s trembling faith found a sure support in the thought that he had done one thing at least, had made one sacrifice, which the great God, whom before he had known only to fear, would accept as a fitting service. Then I repeated the Twenty-third Psalm – “The Lord is my shepherd,” and at its close said, “It is sweet and pleasant to die for one’s country.” Upon the word his face lit up with an almost unearthly brightness, as he felt the uplifting glory of a willing sacrifice, and he exultantly repeated the old motto in the Latin original – “Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori” – a line which he had probably translated as a task at school, but which now he was translating eagerly into immortal life.
The captain now was quite calm, and permitted the doctor to dress his wound. Then he bade an affectionate farewell to his men, who, he said, had always been faithful to him; and we lifted him into an ambulance. As I was about to depart, he said, “I wish you would stay with me a little longer; I shall not need you long.” Then as I sat alone with him in the ambulance he said, “I wish you would administer to me the sacrament.” I answered: “There is no need of a sacrament. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit.” And again he caught the inspiration of the thought, and took the words from my lips, and continued – “a broken and contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise.” Then again he was calm, and gave me messages for his wife and little ones. He would have his sabre given to his boy; and if, when he grew up, his country should have need of his services, he would have him to be a soldier too. He gave me his two rings, — one for his wife, the other for his little girl. He said they would know which was for each. Then I took him by the hand and bade him “Good-bye, keep up good courage,” and his last, brave words were, “Tell them I was willing to die for my country.”
Price also wrote of Drummond: “He was a brilliant young officer, and, although somewhat restive under the restraints of military discipline, was held in high estimation for his ability, judgment, and courage. He was the last officer of the regiment who fell in battle during the rebellion against the United States.”
For more information on the battle of Five Forks, see Brooks Simpson’s post yesterday on the battle’s anniversary here, and Craig Swain’s post from Charles wainwright’s diary here.
Humphreys, Charles A. Field, Camp, Hospital and Prison in the Civil War, 1861-1865. Boston: Geo. H. Ellis Co., 1918. Pages 247-250.
Price, George F. Across the Continent With the Fifth Cavalry. New York: D. Van Nostrand,Publisher, 1883. Pages 369-370.
Ed Sargus said:
An outstanding article. The clarity of the chaplain’s writing is amazing.