A Hero With His Face To The Foe
( Originally Published 1902 )
HAVING learned of a medal which, a few years ago, had been awarded to Colonel Thomas W. Bradley, for especial valor under the fire of the enemy, I went to Walden, N. Y., to see the gentleman and learn something about his brave act. I found him in the office of his large knife manufactory, situated on the bank of the beautiful Walkill. He had his coat off, his sleeves rolled up, and a mechanic's apron on, and was as hard at work over his table as any day-laborer could possibly be. I said to him : " Colonel, tell me something about that act of bravery for which you received a Congressional medal." He searched through a dozen pigeon-holes, until he found a bundle of papers, which he handed to me, saying, " I would rather let others talk about that act of mine, nearly forty years ago, than to do so myself." I took the papers, and copied from them a few facts, which I desired to record. John R. Hayes says: " At the battle of Chancellorsville, Va., on Sunday, May 3, 1863, I was Lieutenant, commanding a company of the 124th Regiment, of Pratt's Brigade, Whipple's Division, Sickle's Third Army Corps. The regiment supported a battery located west of the Chancellorsville House, south of and at right angles with the plank road, and facing west toward Van Wert's farm. It then moved north across the plank road and across an easterly branch of Lewis Run or creek, and in line of battle withstood a flanking assault of a portion of Iverson's Brigade, of Jackson's Second Army Corps of the Confederate Army. The regiment here lost half of its number, killed or wounded, and practically exhausted its ammunition before being recalled to a point on the level, near Chancellors-ville House, from which place it charged with the bayonet and retook the position formerly occupied by the battery. Being out of ammunition, and the position being untenable, the regiment fell back, under a galling fire, to just east of the Chancellorsville House, near a new line, to which our Division had been forced. The Confederate batteries were shelling the Chancellorsville House, and raking the plain and turnpike with grape and canister, making the spot a very warm one, and causing the men of our regiment to hug the ground closely. At this time, Colonel A. Van Horn Ellis, of our regiment, was conserved for want of ammunition, and, there being some boxes of it in sight, lashed to the backs of a group of dead mules, distant about five hundred yards to the right front, between the lines, he spoke of making a detail to go for it, but hesitated about doing so because of the hazardous undertaking. Then Thomas W. Bradley, aged eighteen years, a corporal of my command, volunteered for the special service, and divesting himself of his arms and accoutrements, went out between the lines amid a heavy fire of shell, canister, and scattering rifle-shots, across the plain, to where the ammunition boxes lay, and, in safety, returned with all the ammunition he could carry. Thomas W. Bradley enlisted in my Company as a private on August 12, 1862, at the age of only seventeen years. He was seriously wounded at Gettysburg, July 2, 1863 ; was severely wounded at the Wilderness, May 6, 1864, and again wounded in the right hip at the battle of Boynton Road, near Petersburg, October 27, 1864."
Lieutenant Thomas Hart, of Company A, of the same regiment, also describes the act of bravery, making this additional mention: " At the hottest part of the return, Bradley was seen to turn, and, facing the enemy's line, rapidly walk backward ; being questioned later in regard to this, he replied, ` I felt sure of getting hit, and wanted the stroke in front instead of in my back.' "
Major-General Daniel E. Sickles, in a letter to Hon. Daniel S. Lamont, Secretary of War, dated New York, April 4, 1896, says : " The gallantry and ability of Captain Bradley were well known to me, and were highly appreciated by his commanding officer, the accomplished Colonel Ellis, who fell at the head of his regiment. The incident of the supply of ammunition obtained by Bradley in the face of a terrible fire from the enemy—the only man who volunteered to get it, was reported to me at the time. It seems to me that this is distinctly one of the signal acts of devotion, courage and heroism, contemplated in the Act of Congress, authorizing these medals of honor, and that Bradley is worthy, both as a soldier and a citizen, to wear it."
Turning to the colonel, I said : " It is not necessary for you to mention with your lips what you have spoken so eloquently by your action, and while you have such faithful witnesses to speak in your honor."
I said, " Your regiment was the ` Orange Blossoms,' was it not? " He said that is was. I remarked that it was a great honor to have been a soldier in that brave regiment. " How about those wounds? " I asked. " Do they hurt you any?" "Yes, some, but I count it a pleasure and honor to have received them in the defense of my country."
Getting the ammunition on that bloody field was a brave act, which de-served the medal, but that bravery reached a sublime pitch of heroism when the boy of eighteen, expecting to be killed, turned his face to the enemy, unwilling to be shot in the back.
In the Christian warfare, there are more men of the corporal's bravery needed—men who will stand up with their faces to the enemy, every time. Satan must certainly laugh in his sleeve at the cowardice of some Soldiers of the Cross, who, at the firing of the first gun of the enemy, take to their heels and leave the field of battle as quickly as possible. " Are there no foes for me to face?"