Read CHAPTER XI. - A SOLDIER OF THE CROSS of Russell H. Conwell, free online book, by Agnes Rush Burr, on

Under Arrest for Absence Without Leave. Order of Court Reversed by President. Certificate from State Legislature of Massachusetts for Patriotic Services. Appointed by President Lincoln Lieutenant-Colonel on General McPherson’s Staff. Wounded at Kenesaw Mountain. Conversion. Public Profession of Faith.

The tragic death of John Ring was the final crushing news that came to Captain Conwell at Newberne. Combined with the nervous strain he had been under in trying to get back to his men, the condemnation from his superior officers for his absence, it threw him into a brain fever. Long days and nights he rolled and tossed, fighting over again the attack on the fort, making heroic efforts to rescue John Ring from his fiery death, urging his horse through tangled forests and dark rivers that seemed never to have another shore. For weeks the fever racked and wasted him, and finally when feeble and weak, he was once more able to walk, he found himself under arrest for absence without leave during a time of danger.

It had been reported to General Palmer that the defeat of the Federal troops might have been avoided had the officers been on duty. An investigation was ordered and Captain Conwell was asked for his permit to be absent. He had simply his pass through the lines, a vastly different thing he found from an authorized permit of absence. The investigation dragged its slow course along, as all such things, encumbered by red tape, do. Disgusted and humiliated by being kept a prisoner for months when the country needed every arm in its defense, by having such a mountain made of the veriest molehill built of a kind act and boyish inexperience, he refused to put in a defense at the investigation and let it go as it would. Setting the Court of Inquiry more against him, a former Commander, General Foster, espoused his cause too hotly and wrote to General McPherson for an appointment for a “boy who is as brave as an old man.” The Court of Inquiry, made up of local officers, most of them jealous of his popularity, resented this outside interference and the verdict was against him. But others higher in authority took up the matter and Captain Conwell was ordered to Washington. The President reversed the order of the Court. He was appointed Lieutenant-Colonel, detailed for service on General McPherson’s staff and ordered West. General Butler, under whose command Captain Conwell served, afterward made a generous acknowledgment of the injustice of the findings and expressed in warm words his admiration of Captain Conwell, and the State Legislature of Massachusetts gave him a certificate for faithful and patriotic services in that campaign.

Nevertheless, it was an experience that sorely embittered his soul. Intentionally he had done nothing wrong, yet he had been humiliated and made to eat the bitter fruits of the envy and jealousy of others. It saddened but did not defeat him. His heart was too big, his nature too generous. He could forgive them freely, could do them a kindness the very first opportunity, but that did not take away the pain at his heart. One may forgive a person who burns him, even if intentionally, but that does not stop the burn from smarting.

Saddened, and with the futility of ambition keenly brought home to him, he joined General McPherson, and in the battle of Kenesaw Mountain he received a serious wound. He had stationed a lookout to watch the Confederate fire while he directed the work of two batteries. It was the duty of the lookout to keep Colonel Conwell and his gunners posted as to whether the enemy fired shot or shell, easily to be told by watching the little trail of smoke that followed the discharge. If a shot were sent, they paid no attention to it for it did little damage, but if it were a shell it was deemed necessary to seek protection.

Colonel Conwell was leaning on the wheel of one of the cannon when there was a discharge from the guns of the enemy. The lookout yelled, “Shot.” But it was a fatal shell that came careening and screaming toward them, and before Conwell or his men could leap into the bomb-proof embankment, it struck the hub of the very wheel against which he leaned, and burst.

When he came to himself, the stars were shining, the field was silent save for the feeble moans of the wounded, the voices and footsteps of parties searching for the injured. He was in a quivering agony of sharp, burning pain, but he could neither move nor speak. At last, he heard the searchers coming. Nearer, nearer drew the voices, then for a moment they paused at his side. He heard a man with a lantern say, “Poor fellow! We can do nothing for him.” Then they passed on, leaving him for dead, among the dead.

All that June night he lay there, looking up at the stars that studded the infinity of space. About him were dark, silent forms, rigid in the sleep of death. Those were solemn hours, hours when he looked death in the face, and then backward over the years he had lived. Useless years they seemed to him now, years filled with petty ambitions that had to do solely with self. All the spiritual ideals of life, the things that give lasting joy and happiness because they are of the spirit and not of the flesh, he had scoffingly cast aside and rejected. He had narrowed life down to self and the things of the world. He had no such faith as made his mother’s hard-working life happy and serene because it transformed its sordid care into glorious service of her Heavenly King. He had no such faith as carried John Ring triumphant and undismayed through the gates of fiery death in performance of a loving service. Suddenly a longing swept over him for this priceless faith, for a personal, sure belief in the love of a Savior. One by one the teachings of his mother came back to him, those beautiful immortal truths she had read him from that Book which is never too old to touch the hearts of men with healing. Looking up at the worlds swinging through space to unknown laws, with the immensities of life, death and infinity all about him, his disbelief, his atheism dropped away. Into his heart came the premonitions of the peace of God, which passeth understanding. Life broadened, it took on new meaning and duty, for a life into which the spirit of God has come can never again narrow down to the boundaries of self. He determined henceforth to live more for others, less for himself; to make the world better, somebody happier whenever he could; to make his life, each day of it, worthy of that great sacrifice of John Ring.

He being an officer, they came back for his body, and found a living man instead of the dead. He was taken to the field hospital. One arm was broken in two places, his shoulder badly shattered, and because there was no hope of his living, they did not at once amputate his arm, which would have been done had he been less seriously injured.

Long days he lay in the hospital with life going out all about him, the moan of the suffering in his ears, thinking, thinking, of the mystery of life and death, as the shadows flitted and swayed through the dimly lighted wards at night, the sunshine poured down during the day. His love of humanity burned purer. His desire to help it grew stronger. Long were the talks he had with the chaplain, a Baptist preacher, and when he recovered and left the hospital, his mind was fully made up. Like his father, his actions never lagged behind his speech, and he made at once an open profession of the faith on which he now leaned with such happy confidence.

The fearless, unselfish love of humanity, the desire to help the oppressed that burned in the bosom of John Brown had sent the impetuous boy into the war.

The fearless, unselfish act of John Ring sent Colonel Conwell out of the war a God-fearing man, determined to spend his life for the good of humanity.

Providence uses strange instruments. Thousands in this country to-day have been inspired, helped, made different men and women through knowing Russell Conwell. What may not some of them do to benefit their country and their generation! Yet back of him stand this old gray-haired man and a young, fearless boy, whose influence turned the current of his life to brighten and bless countless thousands.