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"For Bravery On The Field Of Battle"
by [?]


With the departure of Our Country’s Gallant Defenders, as they were loosely denominated by some–the Idiots, as they were compactly described by others–monotony again settled down upon Rivermouth. Sergeant O’Neil’s heraldic emblems disappeared from Anchor Street, and the quick rattle of the tenor drum at five o’clock in the morning no longer disturbed the repose of peace-loving citizens. The tide of battle rolled afar, and its echoes were not of a quality to startle the drowsy old seaport. Indeed, it had little at stake. Only four men had gone from the town proper. One, Captain Kittery, died before reaching the seat of war; one deserted on the way; one, Lieutenant Bangs, was sent home invalided; and only James Dutton was left to represent the land force of his native town. He might as well have died or deserted, for he was promptly forgotten.

From time to time accounts of battles and bombardments were given in the columns of the Rivermouth Barnacle, on which occasions the Stars and Stripes, held in the claws of a spread eagle, decorated the editorial page–a cut which until then had been used only to celebrate the bloodless victories of the ballot. The lists of dead, wounded, and missing were always read with interest or anxiety, as might happen, for one had friends and country acquaintances, if not fellow-townsmen, with the army on the Rio Grande. Meanwhile nobody took the trouble to bestow a thought on James Dutton. He was as remote and shadowy in men’s memories as if he had been killed at Thermopylae or Bunker’s Hill. But one day the name of James Dutton blazed forth in a despatch that electrified the community. At the storming of Chapultepec, Private James Dutton, Company K, Rivermouth, had done a very valorous deed. He had crawled back to a plateau on the heights, from which the American troops had been driven, and had brought off his captain, who had been momentarily stunned by the wind of a round-shot. Not content with that, Private Dutton had returned to the dangerous plateau, and, under a heavy fire, had secured a small field-piece which was about to fall into the hands of the enemy. Later in the day this little howitzer did eminent service. After touching on one or two other minor matters, the despatch remarked, incidentally, that Private James Dutton had had his left leg blown off.

The name of James Dutton was instantly on every lip in town. Citizens who had previously ignored his existence, or really had not been aware of it, were proud of him. The Hon. Jedd Deane said that he had. long regarded James Dutton as a young man of great promise, a–er–most remarkable young person, in short; one of the kind with much–er–latent ability. Postmaster Mugridge observed, with the strong approval of those who heard him, that young Dutton was nobody’s fool, though what especial wisdom Dutton had evinced in having his leg blown off was not clear. Captain Tewksberry, commanding the local militia company, the Rivermouth Tigers, was convinced that no one who had not carefully studied Scott’s Tactics could have brought away that gun under the circumstances. “Here, you will observe, was the exposed flank of the heights; there, behind the chevaux-de-frise, lay the enemy,” etc., etc. Dutton’s former school- fellows began to remember that there had always been something tough and gritty in Jim Dutton. The event was one not to be passed over by Parson Wibird Hawkins, who made a most direct reference to it in his Sunday’s sermon–Job xxxix. 25: “He saith among the trumpets, Ha, ha; and he smelleth the battle afar off, the thunder of the captains, and the shouting.”

After the first burst of local pride and enthusiasm had exhausted itself over young Dutton’s brilliant action, the grim fact connected with young Dutton’s left leg began to occupy the public mind. The despatch had vaguely hinted at amputation, and had stopped there. If his leg had been shot away, was it necessary that the rest of him should be amputated? In the opinion of Schoolmaster Grimshaw, such treatment seemed almost tautological. However, all was presumably over by this time. Had poor Dutton died under the operation? Solicitude on that point was widespread and genuine. Later official intelligence relieved the stress of anxiety. Private Dutton had undergone the operation successfully and with great fortitude; he was doing well, and as soon as it was possible for him to bear transportation he was to be sent home. He had been complimented in the commanding officer’s report of the action to headquarters, and General Winfield Scott had sent Private Dutton a silver medal “for bravery on the field of battle.” If the Government had wanted one or two hundred volunteers from Rivermouth, that week was the week to get them.