Capt. John H. Rhodes, Co. K, 43rd OVI

After the April 1862 resignation of Capt. William Walker, John H. Rhodes became captain of Company K, 43rd Ohio Volunteer Infantry, a position he held for virtually the rest of the war. When Company K Private Edwin Lybarger was promoted to 2nd sergeant, he began studying military tactics., and Rhodes sketched him in the act.

Battle of Corinth, Oct. 4, 1862

Company K and the 43rd OVI fought in the Battle of Corinth on the second day, Oct. 4, 1862, in fiercely fought defense of Battery Robinet. Edwin was severely wounded, but recovered and rejoined Company K the following January. Eight other Company K men died of their wounds at Corinth. The injury affected Edwin for the rest of his life, according to his son Harry Swayne Lybarger: “A minnie ball went through Father’s knee, and while he was able to return and finish the war, he was always slightly lame, and as a boy, I could always outrun him. From the time I first knew him he carried a cane frequently.”

Battle memories still vivid after 50 years

John Rhodes wrote to Edwin on Oct. 4, 1914:

My dear old comrade: I don’t forget fifty-two years ago to-day – nor will you or any other of our comrades who participated with us in that fierce little battle of Corinth, Miss. Not as large as many other battles of that war but few of them excelled it in close contact and fierceness. Hand-to-hand fighting at the right of our regiment at battery Robinet but I don’t remember that it extended to the left as far as our Co. K. I do remember that it looked at one time as if it would reach us and changing my sword from my right hand to my left I got a little Colt revolver I had carried into my right to be ready but I don’t think I fired a shot. I have no recollection of the revolver since. That Oct. 4 was…a nice bright warm day I remember, perhaps not as warm as to-day, it was certainly hot enough while the engagement lasted.

Facts to Fiction:

Read an excerpt of Jennifer Wilke’s historical novel-in-progress, The Color of Prayer,

inspired by these historical facts and Edwin Lybarger’s Civil War diaries.

"Nothing nice to eat, and nothing good to drink."

Edwin Lybarger’s Civil War diaries make frequent reference to food, sometimes disparaging the Army’s rations, or half-rations, sometimes rejoicing in abundance, especially from foraging.

April 5, 1862: In New Madrid, Miss, received orders to cook three days rations & get ready for a march against night. The order countermanded.

May 5, 1862: In camp at Corinth cooking & drying our clothes.

Sept. 18, 1862: Marched all day through the rain & camped at 9 P.M. near Jacinto, Miss. Crackers & coffee.

Sept. 22, 1862: Called in to line at daylight, marched until 12 P.M. with out any breakfast. Drew rations & went to cooking.

From the 1862 Army Officer’s Pocket Companion; Principally Designed for Staff Officers in the Field:

Camp cooking. Bones should never be thrown away, but broken up and boiled repeatedly. Meat or bones should always be put into the cold water for making soup, and boiled with it, not put into boiling water. Meat, previously wrapped in paper or cloth, may be baked in a clay case, in any sort of pit or oven, well covered over, and with good economy. Upon giving men time and opportunity to cook, and enforcing attention to comfort, depends much of their cheerfulness and efficiency.

From Edwin Lybarger’s diary:

Dec. 25, 1862: In St. John’s Hospital Paducah, K.Y. Ate a Turkey roast for dinner and oyster supper at night.

Jan. 9, 1863: Found the 43d Regt. At Bolivar, Tenn. Boys all well but living on half rations.

Mar. 11, 1863: Camped at Ft. Hooker, Tenn. Have nice log houses to live in get plenty to eat such as eggs, butter, milk, chicken, & fruit.

Nov. 4, 1863: Crossed the Tenn. River at Eastport, Miss.and went into camp on the Alabama side. The boys killed and brought in one deer and several wild turkeys.

Nov. 7, 1863: Resumed the march about 12 M, marched until after dark, and camped in the open field near Florence, Al. Forage every thing we see.

Nov. 9, 1863: Resumed the  march at daylight. Passed through Lexington Ala. Foraged heavy on the country. Marched twenty miles & went into camp. Had plenty of chicken for supper and sweet potatoes in abundance

Nov. 12, 1863: Resumed the march after breakfasting on stewed chickens, boiled sweet potatoes, corn bread, and the usual ration of coffee & sugar. Went into camp near Prospect, Tenn.

From the 1862 Army Officer’s Pocket Companion; Principally Designed for Staff Officers in the Field:

Stewed Salt Beef and Pork. Put into a saucepan about two pounds of well-soaked beef, cut in eight pieces, half a pound of salt pork, divided in two, and also soaked; half a pound of rice, or six tablespoonfuls; one quarter of a pound of onions, or four middle-sized ones, peeled and sliced; two ounces of brown sugar, or one large table-spoonful; one quarter of an ounce of pepper, and five pints of water, simmer gently for three hours, remove the fat from the top, and serve. This dish is enough for six people, and if the receipt be closely followed, you cannot fail to have an excellent food.

 From Edwin Lybarger’s diary:

Nov. 18, 1863: Nothing of importance going. Have plenty to eat and nothing much to do but write letters and study logic.

Nov. 25, 1863: Two years in the service today. Received in invitation to dine with Col. Swayne tomorrow. Accepted.

Nov. 26, 1863: “Thanksgiving day.” Dined with Col. Swayne together with all the officers of the 43d. & Col. Fuller our brigad[e] commander. Had a splendid dinner, served up in good style, to which I think I did ample justice.

From the 1862 Army Officer’s Pocket Companion; Principally Designed for Staff Officers in the Field:

Kabobs. For a hurried dinner, boil the rib-bones, or skewer your iron ramrod through a dozen small lumps of meat, and roast them. In all cases, if your meat is of a tough sort, hammer it from time to time, when half done, to break up its fibre, and then continue the cooking.

From Edwin Lybarger’s diary:

Mar. 26, 1864: Left for Pulaski, Tenn. early and went into camp at 12 P.M. Had aplenty of eggs to eat.

Apr. 13, 1864: At Decatur. All quiet. Have a plenty to eat, viz. soft bread, meat, butter, canned peaches, tomatoes & etc.

May 13, 1864: The army in motion at 5 A.M. in fighting trim. Encountered the enemy near Resaca. Drove him steadily back with severe loss. Morgan Ulery killed. Our batteries get in position and silence the rebels’ guns. Laid on our arms all night. No blankets and nothing to eat but hard tack and sow belly.

June 1, 1864: McPherson retires his right by falling back some three miles northeast of Dallas. The rebs having caused something by their … charges & repulses, do not attempt to crowd us as we fall back. Hooker moves to the left. The soldiers on short rations. Our “grub” not of as fine a quality as I have eaten.

July 3, 1864: In the officers’ hospital near Rome, without any accommodations … Get a few berries & some sweet milk. The citizens as a general thing gone.

July 4, 1864: In hospital. Rome, Ga. No guns fired nor nothing else done to commemorate the day. Left Rome at 7 P.M. for Chattanooga. Arrive at Kingston and remain for the night. Fed by the sanitary. [U.S.Sanitary Commission].

From the 1862 Army Officer’s Pocket Companion; Principally Designed for Staff Officers in the Field:

Salt Meat, to prepare hurriedly. Warm it slightly on both sides; this makes the salt draw to the outside; then rinse it well in a pannikan of water. This is found to extract a great deal of salt, and to leave the meat in a fit state for cooking.

Edwin Lybarger’s diary on the March to the Sea with the 17th Corps:

Nov. 16, 1864: Marched towards McDonald, Georgia. Find abundance of forage in the country, and we have no scruples about taking it.

Dec. 3, 1864: Marched to a station numbered 7. Encamped for the night. Forage plenty, soil sandy, affording abundance of sweet potatoes; we didn’t take any, no, not any.

Dec. 13, 1864: In front of Savannah; news received that Hazen’s division of the 15th Army Corps has taken Ft. McAllister at the mouth of the Ogeechee river. Out of provisions and living on sweet potatoes and rice.

Jan. 1, 1865: The 43rd on the Ogeechee Canal, 15 miles from Savannah with nothing nice to eat and nothing good to drink.

From the 1862 Army Officer’s Pocket Companion; Principally Designed for Staff Officers in the Field:

Plum pudding. Put into a basin one pound of flour, three-quarters of a pound of raisins (stoned, if there is time), three-quarters of a pound of the fat of salt port (well-washed, cut into small dice, or chopped), two tablespoonfuls of sugar or molasses; add half a pint of water, mix all together; put into a cloth tied tightly; boil for four hours, and serve. If time will not permit, boil only two hours, though four are preferable. How to spoil the above–add anything to it.

Dr. Rose saved great-grandfather’s leg

with special thanks to Jim Schmidt for his guidance in matters of Civil War medicine and avoiding the caricatures of Army surgeons. See his blog on Civil War medicine: http://www.civilwarmed.blogspot.com.

Dr. Francis M. Rose, surgeon of the 43rd OVI, saved my great-grandfather Edwin Lybarger’s leg, if not his life, after he was shot by a minie ball at the Battle of Corinth on Oct. 4, 1862.

Dr. Rose was assistant surgeon to the 43rd Ohio Volunteer Infantry from late 1861. By April 1862, two months after the regiment left Ohio to fight in Missouri, he became the head surgeon, and served in that capacity for the duration of the war. He mustered out with the 43rd on July 13, 1865. After the war, my great-grandfather included Dr. Rose’s photograph in his album.

The 43rd OVI and three other regiments of the Ohio Brigade defended Battery Robinet at the (2nd) Battle of Corinth. Edwin was shot in the knee at 11:00 a.m. on Oct. 4, 1862. His diary records that he was soon taken from the field to an Army hospital in Corinth. The immediate attention of Dr. Rose helped to save Edwin’s leg from amputation. Spared any deadly infections, Edwin spent two months in a Paducah, Kentucky hospital convalescing and rejoined his regiment in early 1863. Although my great-grandfather’s life was spared, the other 8 Company K men wounded at Corinth all eventually died of their wounds.

The Western Army’s medical department, under the direction of Dr. A. B. Campbell, Surgeon, USV, Medication Director of the Army of the Mississippi was well-organized in advance of the battle for treating wounded soldiers as soon and as efficiently as possible near the battlefront. Robert E. Denney’s 1995 Civil War Medicine: Care & Comfort of the Wounded, includes excerpts of Dr. Campbell’s reports:

“In anticipation of an engagement with the enemy on October 3d . . . I selected the large building recently constructed for a commissary department, as the place best protected by the nature of the ground and the safest for hospital purposes. The men furnished by the quartermaster worked expeditiously, and everything was prepared, medicines, instruments, costs and buckets of water were ready before the first wounded man was brought in.

Oct. 3, 1862: It became evident, in a short time, that the building, although a very large one, would be altogether too small for their accommodation. I then took possession of the Tishomingo Hotel and of the Corinth House . . . All of the surgeons worked diligently . . . and by six o’clock the wounded were all comfortably disposed of and their wounds dressed.

Oct. 4, 1862: At three o’clock in the morning I was ordered to remove all the wounded to Camp Corral, and by six o’clock a.m. they were all collected into the new hospital. The ambulances then went to the scene of the action to bring off those recently fallen . . . I found upon the railroad platform a large number of tents, which I took and used. The battle ceased just before noon, and by night all the wounded were under shelter, provided with cots, and their wounds dressed.”

"No regiment had a hotter place than the 43rd Ohio at Corinth."

The 2nd Battle of Corinth, Oct. 3-4, 1862

On Oct. 3rd, Col. John Fuller’s Ohio Brigade, including the 43rd OVI, arrived at Corinth, Mississippi after fighting had ceased for the day. They waited all night on the hill surrounding Battery Robinet for the battle to resume at daylight. The Confederates, amassed in the woods at the bottom of the hill, opened artillery fire before first light.

The fierceness of the battle on Oct. 4th was vividly summarized in Col. Fuller’s official report of his brigade’s impassioned defense of Battery Robinet: “…and every rebel who showed his head above the parapet of the fort, or attempted to enter it by the embrasures, got his head shot off.”

The battle was searingly remembered 52 years later by participant John H. Rhodes, then captain of the 43rd’s Company K, writing to Edwin Lybarger, then a sergeant in Company K. Shot in the knee, Lybarger was one of nine Company K men wounded that day, and the only one to survive his wounds.

“No regiment had a hotter place than the 43d Ohio at Corinth.”

At the reunion of Fuller’s Brigade held at Marietta, Ohio on Sept. 10, 1885, Edwin Lybarger delivered an address recounting the battle and the brigade’s role in the Union victory:

The battle of Corinth, fought Oct. 3d and 4th, 1862, was perhaps one of the most sanguinary, as well as one of the most decisive, battles in which the Ohio Brigade participated.

Our line of battle covering the town on the morning of Oct. 4th was that of a semi-circle, protected on the right flank by Forts Powell and Richardson and on the left by batteries Robinet and Williams. The 43rdOhio was on the left of Fuller’s Ohio Brigade, with the right resting against Robinett and the left extending to the railroad cut under the guns of battery Williams, and almost at right angles to the main line of battle.

Before daylight on the morning of the 4th the enemy opened fire with shell and shot from a field battery in front of Robinet and not more than three hundred yards distant. This battery was soon disabled, or at least silenced by our heavy guns, and one of the pieces subsequently hauled in by the 63d Ohio. After which everything was quiet until about 10 o’clock a.m., when the enemy made an impetuous and almost simultaneous attack along our entire line with the evident expectation of carrying every thing before him.

The 43d Regiment was so situated, the ground descending to the right, that we could look over the whole field. The left and center of the enemy emerging from the woods before and a little in advance of his right we had the opportunity, for a few minutes, of witnessing one of the most terrific scenes of blood and carnage that it was my lot to behold during the war.

The rebel lines massed in columns, moved forward with the steadiness, if not the precision of regiments at drill, whilst one of the most destructive and terrible fires over delivered on the field of battle, was being poured from artillery and musketry straight into their faces. The shell and shot from our batteries plowed through their ranks, making great gaps, literally mowing men down by hundreds, still their formation was preserved, their broken ranks quickly closed up, and on, on they come! But we who had been watching this scene from the left had not long to gaze upon so grand a panorama of war, for our attention was soon called to our immediate front. A desperate charge was coming and a determined effort to capture Robinet immediately followed.

The 43d changed front, on first company by a right half wheel, and gained the crest of the hill before the enemy, and poured a most effective and destructive fire into the advancing columns. It was the 43d and 63d Ohio that received the severest shock of this fierce onset, which was so promptly met and handsomely repulsed by the Ohio Brigade. The enemy was hurled back at this point into the woods in disorder only to reform and renew the attack with still greater vigor and determination.

The second assault was led by a brigade of the steadiest infantry of Price’s army, commanded by the brave and impetuous Col. Rogers, of Texas, who at the head of the assaulting column waving his word and encouraging his followers, fell dead under the very mouths of the guns of Robinet. I have always regretted that so intrepid a soldier, though a dangerous enemy, was doomed to die; and I doubt very much indeed if ever greater bravery or daring was displayed upon the field of battle by any Field Marshal of France, under the eye of the great Napoleon than was exhibited by Col. Rogers in his assault on Robinet, not excepting McDonald at Austerlitz, or the indomitable Ney, whose heroism attested on a hundred hard-fought fields, earned for him the proud distinction of “the bravest of the brave,” and who led the Old Guard in its last charge at Waterloo.

The fighting in front of Robinet was desperate in the extreme. Many of the gunners from the 1st Infantry were disabled, and when the canon ceased to belch forth its leaden hail, it was soldiers from captain Spanglers’ Co. A, 43rd Ohio who sprang into the fort, and assisted in manning the guns until the close of the struggle. It was during this last assault, and near its close, that the gallant 11thMo. Went into action and rendered such material aid. The terrific fire delivered from our musketry and the deadly missiles hurled in such rapid succession from our heavy guns soon settled the matter. No human courage could long withstand such fearful carnage as our guns were making, and again the enemy was compelled to fall back; this time in utter rout and disorder.

The loss of life on our side at this point, if not as great as that of the enemy, was very severe. The 43d Regt., according to my own diary, lost ninety-seven men in killed and wounded, but according to Comrade David Auld (now of Cleveland, Ohio) was one hundred and twenty-three. Comrade Auld was on the field from the beginning to the close of the engagement in the capacity of stretcher-bearer, and claims to have made an actual count of our loss, and his statement I consider entitled to great credit.

Among the gallant souls who fell that day was the accomplished and lamented Col. J. L. Kirby Smith, “whose sword shone as brightly and whose plume waved as proudly” on the field of battle as that of any soldier of the Army of the Mississippi.

The contest was sanguinary and raged fiercely on every part of the field. So terrific, indeed, was the onslaught on the right and center that our first line appeared to waver and give back and the elated rebels pressed forward, entered the suburbs of the village where they were promptly met by the reserves who sent them staggering to the rear. Being thus met and repulsed at every point, the enemy retired from the contest and retreated with his torn and bleeding columns, and decimated ranks, leaving his dead upon the field, and victory perching upon the stars and stripes.

Such is the idea I then had, and still have, of the battle of Corinth, without regard to historians or information from any source except my own diary; and whilst I would not knowingly detract one iota from the glory that belongs to every regiment that composed the Army of the Mississippi, I nevertheless, most confidently assert, that no regiment of that magnificent army had a hotter place, or maintained its position more courageously and heroically than the 43d Ohio at Corinth, nor was there any regiment of Stanley’s division whose casualties were half as great, except the 63d Ohio whose loss exceeded ours.

"I guess he has not accomplished very much, and good riddance."

Confederate raider John Morgan and a thousand cavalry invaded and raced across Ohio in July of 1863. The account of his capture that was published in the Mt. Vernon Republican, a weekly newspaper, gives hearty contradiction to the opinion that Ohioans were terrified of the brazen marauder:

Capture of Morgan and the Remains of his Band

These are the particulars of the closing scene of John Morgan’s great steeple chase through the Buckeye State. On Saturday evening, July 25, at Springfield, the militia were stationed on a hill overlooking a road which Morgan was expected to traverse. A regiment of Pennsylvania infantry, under command of Col. Gallagher, were posted on some rising ground with orders to prevent Morgan’s passage. The houses were closed, doors and windows locked and barred, and women and children stampeding into the country with whatever portable property could be carried along. The men who had weapons and courage turned out to resist the progress of the dreaded rebel.

In a short time the expected rebels made their appearance around a bend in the road. On catching sight of the infantry, they halted and turned their horses’ heads in another direction. Before they could get out of the trap they found themselves in, Major Way, with 250 men of the 9th Michigan Cavalry, dashed among them. The rebels made but a brief resistance.

Morgan himself was riding in a carriage drawn by two white horses. He jumped out, leaped over a fence, seized a horse and galloped off as fast as horse-flesh, spurred by frightened heels, could carry him. In the buggy was found his “rations,” of a loaf of bread, some hard boiled eggs, and a bottle of whisky, along with several thousand dollars in stolen Greenbacks.

Morgan and the remainder of his scattered forces pressed three citizens of Salineville into their service as guides, and continued their flight on the New Lisbon Road. On Sunday, July 26, by two o’clock in the afternoon, the rebels were driven to a bluff. Thus cooped, Morgan concluded that “discretion was the better part of valor,” and came down gracefully, he and the more than 350 remaining in his gang surrendering to Col. Shackleford. Nearly 400 spent horses were also captured.

Morgan’s men were poorly dressed, ragged, dirty and badly used up. They were very much discouraged at the result of their raid, and the prospect of affairs generally, but Morgan himself appeared quite unconcerned at his ill luck, giving him a most fitting resemblance not to an errant knight of the confederacy but to the madman he has proved himself to be.

Thus is the termination of the thieving Morgan raid and the commencement of Prison Life for its heartless perpetrators. Its end bespeaks the lasting gratitude of the patriotic people of Ohio to the heavenly rains that swelled the Ohio River beyond its fords and bridges, trapping the raiders among the Buckeyes, who are ever vigilant and loyal to the greatness of the Union.

In the words of one loyal witness to Morgan’s capture, “I guess he has not accomplished very much, and good riddance.”

~ ~ ~ ~

An excerpt of THE COLOR OF PRAYER, a novel

based on the Civil War diaries of Edwin Lybarger:

Near the end of the week, Papa told them the raiders had crossed into Muskingum County, only sixty miles away. Sophronia feared that Morgan could ride that distance in a single day. But Papa asked them to think of one good reason why the raiders would bother riding north when their only hope of escape was to the south. When they couldn’t think of any, he got them smiling again when he suggested that it might be time for Sophronia and Josephine to have new summer dresses.

The next afternoon, Sophronia sent Mama and Josephine to the Mercantile for the dress yardage, promising to be pleased with anything they chose for her. She liked having the house to herself. After she took the berry pie out of the oven and carried it on the windowsill to cool, she sat by the open window to read her novel while the bread dough finished rising. The heroine Fanny, disguised as a pirate to free her kidnapped lover, had just brandished her sword to fight the pirate ship’s captain.

The kitchen door burst open.

“This is a raid,” a harsh voice called out. “Give us that pie.”

Sophronia’s heart stopped. Two figures loomed in the doorway in riding boots and gray, hooded cloaks. She couldn’t make out their faces. As the first one stepped across the threshold, she threw her book at him.

“Ow,” the victim hollered. “Criminy, Phrone.” Holding his head he stumbled back and the other intruder caught him.

Their hoods fell and she saw Jeremy and Mordecai Jessup dressed up like Confederate raiders. Jeremy was only fourteen, but thin as a rail and tall as any man, and the younger Mordecai was nearly his brother’s height. They made believable raiders. Her heart still thudding, anger found her tongue.

“That’s the meanest thing,” she scolded, “scaring me on purpose. Shame on you.” She retrieved her book from the floor, annoyed to have lost her place.

“He’s hurt,” Jeremy said.

Blood trickled through Mordecai’s fingers and dripped onto his cheek. Sophronia’s first thought was that it served him right.

“Put your head back, Mordecai,” she ordered, pointing to the rocker. “Sit.” She pulled a tea towel from the rack and folded it for a bandage. “Let me see.”

Mordecai lifted his hand away, his eyes never leaving her face. The cut on his forehead was shallow and nowhere near his eye, but it was several inches long and a bleeder. She pressed the towel down on it and raised Mordecai’s bloodied hand.

“Press it down,” she said.

“You didn’t have to kill him,” Jeremy said. “We just wanted a piece of pie.”

 

Sundry hints for drinking water

Excerpts from The 1862 Army Officer’s Pocket Companion; Principally Designed for Staff Officers in the Field, by William P. Craighill, 1862.

Precautions against Thirst. — Drink well in the morning before starting, and nothing will the halt; keep the mouth shut; chew a straw or leaf, or keep the mouth covered with a cloth; all these prevent suffering from extreme thirst. Tying a handkerchief, well wetted in salt water, around the neck allays thirst for a considerable time.

To Purify Water that is Muddy, Putrid or Salt. — With muddy water, the remedy is to filter; with putrid, to boil, to mix with charcoal, or expose to the sun and air, or what is best, to use all three methods at the same time. With salt water, nothing avails but distillation.

To Filter Muddy Water. — When at the watering place there is nothing but wet sand, take a good handful of grass, and tie it roughly together in the form of a cone, six or eight inches long; then dipping the broad end into the puddle and turning it up, a streamlet of partly-filtered water will trickle down through the small end. For a copious supply, the most perfect plan, if you have means, is to bore a cask full of auger holes, and put another small one, that has had the bottom knocked out, inside it, then fill up the space between the two with grass, moss, &c. Now sinking the whole in the midst of the pond, the water will filter through the auger holes and moss, and rise up clear of, at least, weeds and sand, in the inner cask, whence it can be ladled. With a single cask, the lower parts of the sides may be bored, and alternate layers of sand and grass thrown in, till they reach above the holes; through these layers the water will strain. Or any coarse bag, that is kept open with hoops, made on the spot, may be moored in the muddy pool, by having a heavy stone put inside it, and will act on the same principle, but less efficiently, than the casks. Sand, charcoal, sponge, and wool are the substances most commonly used in filters; peat charcoal is excellent. A small piece of alum is very efficacious in purifying water from organic matter, which is precipitated by the alum, and a deposit left at the bottom of the vessel.

Putrid Water should always be boiled with charcoal or charred sticks before drinking, as low fevers and dysenteries too often are the consequencies of its being used indiscreetly, but the charcoal entirely disinfects it; bitter herbs, if steeped in it, or even rubbed well about the cup, are said to render it less unwholesome, The Indians plunge a hot iron into putrid and muddy water.

When carrying water in buckets, put a wreath of grass, or something floating on the top of the water, to prevent splashing; and also make a hoop, inside which the porter walks, while his laden hands rest on the rim, the office of the hoop being to keep the buckets from knocking against his legs.

~ ~ ~ ~

Fact to fiction in The Color of Prayer

Read an excerpt of Chapter 20, The Sergent In Missouri with the Army of the Mississippi in April 1862, Edwin Lybarger has been promoted to 2nd sergeant in Company K, 43rd Ohio Volunteer Infantry, Ohio Brigade, and leads his first command in search of drinkable water. 

We live in deeds

We live in deeds, not years ; in thoughts, not breaths ;

In feelings, not in figures on a dial.

We should count time by heart-throbs. He most lives

Who thinks most—feels the noblest—acts the best.

Philip James Bailey (1816-1902)

This illustrated, hand-printed poem in its simple matte and frame is one of my few mementos from my uncle Edwin Lybarger II, who died in 1942.

My uncle Eddie was named for his grandfather, a civil war veteran. Eddie was handsome and died young. When I was little, he was forever watching us from a dusty frame on my grandmother’s piano. No one ever talked about him.

Years later, I found a box of his papers. He acted in plays in high school, wrote poems, drew pictures. Girls made friends with his three sisters in hopes that he’d pay attention to them. He paid my mother a nickel for laying out his clothes when he was going on a date. His father made him go to college to study engineering.

After five semesters, he left college and didn’t write. The next time the family heard from him he had enlisted in the Army. He died at 24. There was a photo of a woman in his wallet, no name or date.

I eventually discovered the verse was from English poet Philip James Bailey’s very long poem, Festus. An excerpt:

This life’s a mystery.

The value of a thought cannot be told;

But it is clearly worth a thousand lives

Like many men’s. And yet men love to live

As if mere life were worth their living for.

What but perdition will it be to most?

Life’s more than breath and the quick round of blood

:

It is a great spirit and a busy heart.

The coward and the small in soul scarce do live.

One generous feeling—one great thought—one deed

Of good, ere night, would make life longer seem

Than if each year might number a thousand days, —

Spent as is this by nations of mankind.

We live in deeds, not years ; in thoughts, not breaths ;

In feelings, not in figures on a dial.

We should count time by heart-throbs. He most lives

Who thinks most—feels the noblest—acts the best.

Life’s but a means unto an end—that end,

Beginning, mean and end to all things— God.

The dead have til the glory of the world.

Why will we live and not be glorious ?

Festus was apparently well-known after it was written, in 1839, and reprinted for years, in England and America. One critic attributed its author, Philip James Bailey, with “the encouragement of poetic lawlessness..a great corrupter of taste.” From the New York Times, July 28, 1889.