Real Horrors of War,
The spade is now busy on the ground of Solferino and Magenta. The manumitted husbandman, now bidden to look up and and be cheerful because he has been set free gloriously, ruefully takes thought how he shall remedy the disorder his deliverers have brought to him. Almost which despair he gazes upon his crops, trodden into a mash by swiftly-passing legions; upon the stumps of his vine-trees, cut down pitilessly to warm his benefactors' soup; above all, upon the memorials they have left to him, of bodies thrust barely a foot below his soil, from which the sweltering sun distils the thick miasma of decomposition, encompassing him in a cloud too broad to travel out of. It will be long before those human shambles can be made to take the smooth, decent, tranquil aspect of a graveyard.
But for the people outside, who stood round watching the fight, with bated breath and senses painfully strained, it seemed a glorious, thrilling spectacle, that campaign just now played out. For those who sit at a distance and read all the shifts and turnings and general theatrical business of a war in the open field, the trumpet-blowing and fanfares, the flaunting colours and gaudy liveries, the marching and manoeuvring, the desperate charges and bits of dramatic heroism, have had a grand and pulse-thrilling effect which makes the eyes sparkle and the colour come and go. There is, at home, data from Aldershott, to furnish the upholstery and supply a light basis for fancy.
But this is all no more than the fine colouring of a consumptive cheek, or the bloom of a rotten apple. There is not, of all things existent, a more repulsive, coarse, untheatrical business than war, and what it brings with it. The delicate film of gaudiness rubs off in an hour; the gold lace tarnishes in a night, the bright uniforms, faded with rain and puddle stains, fall into rags and show great patches.
12mo Series, No, 51.]
Improvised camps become presently filthy swamps and open sewers. The grand "pomp and circumstance of glorious war" is well enough in the abstract: in its details and private bearings it is offensive, rough, and overpowering.
Think only of the common hackneyed expressions which pass so lightly between the lips when speaking of a great battle. We talk exultingly, and with a certain fire, of "a magnificent charge!" of "a splendid charge!" yet very few will think of the hideous particulars these two airy words stand for. The "splendid charge" is a headlong rush of men on strong horses urged to their fullest speed, riding down and overwhelming an opposing mass of men on foot. The reader's mind goes no further: being content with the information that the enemy's line was "broken" and" gave way." It does not fill in the picture. To do so effectively, we must think first of an ordinary individual run down in the public street by a horseman moving at an easy pace. The result is, usually, fracture and violent contusion. We may strengthen the tones of the picture by setting this horseman at full gallop, and joining to him a company of other flying horsemen. How will it then be with the unhappy pedestrian? So when the "splendid charge" has done its work, and passed by, there will be found a sight very much like the scene of a frightful railway accident. There will be the full complement of backs broken in two; of arms twisted wholly off; of men impaled upon their own bayonets; of legs smashed up like bits of firewood; of heads sliced open like apples; of other heads crunched into soft jelly by iron hoofs of horses; of faces trampled out of all likeness to anything human. This is what skulks behind "a splendid charge!" This is what follows, as a matter of course, when "our fellows rode at them in style," and "cut them up famously." Again, how often does the commander, writing home in his official despatches, dwell particularly on the gallant conduct of Captain Smith, who, finding the enemy were "annoying our right a little, got his gun" into position, and effectually "held them in check!" Both expressions are fair drawing-room phrases, to be mentioned cheerfully by ladies' lips. It is, as it were, a few flies buzzing about "our right wing," teasing and fretting "our" men. And yet, properly translated, it signifies this: that stray men of that right wing are now and then leaping with a convulsive start into the air, as a Minié bullet flies with page 3 sharp sting through their hearts; that stray men, suddenly struck, are rolling on the ground; that a man, here and there, is dropping down quite suddenly with a shriek, his firelock tumbling from his hand: in short, that there is a series of violent death-scenes being enacted up and down the long line.
The reading public—instructed by journals and books of memoirs—can form for itself satisfactory pictures of the poor soldiers in hospital, lying on their pallets in rows, say at Scutari, having their pillows smoothed and cooling drinks proffered by those kind, charitable ladies, who went out to be their nurses. Has not the public viewed paintings of the scene—the sick warrior lying in comfortable convalescence, and taking with grateful languor the cool beverage from his gentle attendant? The sympathising public has also had presented to it in manly and affecting language, by Mr. Russell, some pictures of those sufferings which fall under the frightful category of gun-shot wounds. Doctor Williamson has now collected a number of cases from the late Indian mutiny, with the view of assisting his profession; take a few samples from this miscellany as among the real Horrors of War.
Private John Halliday received a gun-shot wound in the head, which carried away "a large portion of the scalp and bone," and left "a large irregular opening" about two inches in diameter, through which the brain might be seen pulsating. This injury was done by bits of the telegraph wire ingeniously cut up into slugs.—Private O' Leary was stricken by a large fragment of shell, and at first appeared not to be seriously injured. Presently he complained of headache and sickness, and a "crucial" incision was at once made. Here was discovered a fracture, and an opening left "about the size of a shilling." The dura mater at once protruded through the wound and was punctured. In a few days convulsive fits came on, with paralysis, and he died comatose. Poor Private O' Leary! On post-mortem examination, one-half of his head, internally, was discovered to be a mass of blood and "disorganised cerebral matter."—Private M' Kenzie had been hit in the same place, and had several large fragments of bone removed from him by means of an instrument known as Hey's saw; still "inflammation of the brain and its membranes" set in, and the surgeons thought of making a closer examination, when a great frag- page 4 ment of bone was discovered, "turned edgeways," and sticking into the dura mater! Strange to say, Private M' Kenzie recovered, and is doing duty now.
Another soldier was brought in with "nearly half the roof of his skull blown off by a shell," yet who held on, till the tenth day.
Often, a ball striking on the scalp splits into two pieces, so stout is the bony texture of the skull. One fragment, however, is sure to penetrate. Sometimes, it leaves a clean round hole with cracks radiating from it in all directions as in a broken pane of glass.
Often, the ball cannot be found, and has to be groped for unsuccessfully, with the probe. One wretched private had to carry it twenty-five days in his head. Another man's piece burst in his hand, and part of the lock got imbedded under his eye, too far in to be removed. Many more were afflicted by a ball making entrance just behind the ear, and passing out over the temple.
Then come the bayonet wounds, jagged, perplexing, and painful. Now has it been thrust violently through the chest and lungs and out at the back, and is as violently withdrawn with a peculiar twist, whence come suppuration, painful gasping for breath, and all manner of horrid accompaniments. Now it has impaled the intestines, producing strange complication. Now it has pierced the lower extremity of the heart, and, curious to say, the victim has lived five days. The spine comes in, too, for its share of injury. A bullet skims through the body, smashes the lower vertebra! of the column, makes its escape on the other side. The bones come away in little pieces. The new Minié ball has, we are told, the useful property of shivering the bone into numberless splinters and fragments. The conical point acts as a wedge, and the scattering of the splinters adds much to the inflammation. So the dismal catalogue runs on.
The real horrors of war are played out to the utmost on the hospital pallet when the theatrical business is all over.
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