William C Reiff, 'Tortured for sleep'

Tortured for sleep

[source: National Tribune 25 May 1905, page 3, columns 3-4]
[see 'Josie and I at Gettysburg' for a fuller version of this story]
[I have proofread this page]

Tortured for sleep.

Editor National Tribune: Most of us have read how Lincoln spared the boy who was found asleep upon his post, because he couldn't successfully fight overworked nature to a finish. Here is the way two boys managed it at Gettysburg, the night of July 2, 1863, following the afternoon repulse of Longstreet's men in the attempt to take and hold Little Round Top. These two lads, with others, were detailed as pickets at dusk, on the western slope of Little Round Top, a little way down the slope. These two were stationed about 125 feet in front of the spot where Gen. Warren's statue is now placed. It was not long after being settled that they tried to look through the darkness, down the slope, toward Plum Run and Devil's Den beyond, to detect by sight and sound any approach of the enemy, should he attempt a night effort. This night watching, when one is tired, hungry and a good deal scared, affects one somewhat hypnotically, and is almost as bad upon a fellow as setting up alone at a wake--and there were many dead within a stone's throw of the spot! Well, the first thing these dozy boys knew was that they were not proving true to their trust. After pinching their bodies awhile, pulling their eyelids apart, putting fresh juice in their eyes, all to no effect, they finally resorted to a strong application of tobacco juice. This self-imposed punishment was only partially effective, for while they sat there behind their little rock protections they had made in silence early in the evening--between the nodding and the bumping of their faces against the boulders, they kept more or less awake until the Officer of the Guard came along, to whom they made known the strait they were in and begged that two less-sleepy men take their place for just an hour, promising that they would then stand watch in a wide-awake, soldier-like way. Their request was granted; the relief came; the lads slept two hours as they had never slept before, and when awakened, about 2 p. m. [sic], stood the watch till the morning sun witnessed the third day's fight at Gettysburg. The writer is the only survivor. --Wm. Coffin Reiff, Co. H, 91st Pa, Carlsbad, N. M.

top of document | home
revised 4 Nov 07
contact Harry Ide at [email protected] with comments or questions