Friday, February 20, 2015
Humor in Combat?
I don't know about you, but when thinking of the most humorless of environments, combat quickly comes to my mind. Now, fortunately, I have never been in combat, but I have read enough about it, often written by those who have experienced it first-hand, to know that for most it is nothing but sheer terror. Not knowing whether the next fired bullet will be the one that strikes you, or if the next shell fragment has your name on it scared the wits out of many an otherwise brave man. Maybe even more terrifying than being hit was having a close call; like your hat being ventilated or your rifle stock being shattered, or being hit by a spent ball. However, when some soldiers looked back on a battle they are able to somehow find something that struck them as funny, while amid all the horror.
Published about twenty-three years after the war, Millett S. Thompson's diary of life in the Thirteenth New Hampshire Infantry, told of what he saw as a humorous event in the heat of a fight. Thompson's regiment was connected to the XVIII Corps when they attacked the Petersburg defenses on June 15, 1864 (pictured above).
During the attack some of the Thirteenth New Hampshire came upon some Confederates that were serving as forward pickets. The small band of southerners were firing in earnest at Thompson and his fellow attackers. Thompson wrote:
"We were quickly safe behind trees, and they hit no one, excepting a little, wiry Irishman in the Thirteenth; a rebel bullet just glanced across the top of his thumb, a little back of the first joint. The affair is a mere bruise. For a moment the thumb is numb, and Paddy stands still, contemplating it most studiously; and then he suddenly belches out a most distinguished mixture of groan, scream and yell combined and loud enough to raise the dead, throws his gun as far as he can, shoots about six feet into the air, throws his roll of blankets a couple of rods away; and for fully a minute turns himself into a perfect little spinning gyration of sprawling, flying legs and arms, flopping haversack, banging canteen, and rattling tin-cup and cartridge box, all the time yelling as a man never yelled before--in our hearing. He jumped, whirled, laid down, rolled, kicked, struck out, screamed, swore and bawled all at once. Meanwhile the little squad of rebel pickets--either thinking that we have invented a new yell, and are going to charge, or else we have with us the veritable 'Yankee Devil' himself, horns and all--cease firing instantly upon the Irishman's first compound scream, seize their loose clothing and blankets in the hands, and make off towards Petersburg, running as for dear life. A most amusing scene to all of the Union troops--excepting Paddy."