Charlie Coulson, The Christian Drummer Boy
By Dr. M. L. Rossvally
During the Civil War, I was surgeon in the United States Army, and after the battle of Gettysburg there were many hundred wounded soldiers in my hospital, amongst whom were twenty-eight who had been wounded so severely that they required my service at once – most with limbs that needed to be amputated.
One was a boy who had been but three months in the service, and being too young for a soldier had enlisted as a drummer. When my assistant surgeon and one of my stewards wished to administer chloroform, previous to the amputation, he turned his head aside and refused to receive it. When the steward told him that it was the doctor’s orders, he said, “Send the doctor to me.”
When I came to his bedside, I said, “Young man, why do you refuse chloroform? When I found you on the battlefield you were so far gone that I thought it hardly worthwhile to pick you up. Not wanting you to die on the field, I ordered you to be brought here; but you have now lost so much blood that you are too weak to endure an operation without chloroform, therefore you had better let me give you some.”
He laid his hand on mine, and looking me in the face said, “Doctor, one Sunday afternoon when I was nine and a half years old, I gave my heart to Christ. I learned to trust Him then; I have been trusting Him ever since, and I can trust Him now. He is my strength. He will support me while you amputate my arm and leg.”
…The look that boy gave me I shall never forget. At that time I hated Jesus, but I respected the boy’s loyalty to his Savior; and when I saw how he loved and trusted Him to the last, there was something that touched my heart, and I did for that boy what I had never done for any other soldier – I asked him if he wanted to see his chaplain. “Oh! yes, sir,” was the answer.
When Chaplain R. came, he at once knew the boy from having often met him at the tent prayer meetings. Taking his hand, he said, “Well, Charlie, I am sorry to see you in this sad condition.” “Oh, I am all right, sir,” he answered. “The doctor offered me chloroform, but I declined it. Now if my Savior calls me, I can go to Him in my right mind.” “You may not die, Charlie,” said the chaplain, “but if the Lord should call you away, is there anything I can do for you after you are gone?” “Chaplain, please put your hand under my pillow and take my little Bible. In it you will find my mother’s address. Please send it to her, and write a letter, and tell her that since the day I left home I have never let a day pass without reading a portion of God’s Word, and daily praying – whether on the march, on the battlefield, or in the hospital.”
Turning towards me he said, “Now, Doctor, I am ready. I promise you that I will not even groan while you take off my arm and leg, if you will not offer me chloroform.” I consented and through the whole operation all that I heard him utter was, “O Jesus, blessed Jesus! Stand by me now.”
That night I could not sleep, for whichever way I turned I saw the boy’s eyes, and when I closed mine the words, “Blessed Jesus, stand by me now,” kept ringing in my ears. Between twelve and one o’clock I left my bed and visited the hospital; a thing I had never done before unless specially called, but such was my desire to see the boy. I was informed by the night steward that sixteen of the soldiers had died. “How is Charlie Coulson, is he among the dead?” I asked. “No, sir,” answered the steward, “He is sleeping as sweetly as a babe.” When I came up to the bed where he lay, one of the nurses informed me that earlier members of the YMCA came through, accompanied by Chaplain R. At Charlie’s bed they prayed and sang the hymn, “Jesus, Lover Of My Soul,” in which Charlie joined. I could not understand how that boy, who had undergone such excruciating pain, could sing.
Five days after I had amputated Charlie’s arm and leg, he sent for me, and it was from him that I heard my first Gospel sermon. “Doctor,” he said, “my time has come. I do not expect to see another sunrise, but, thank God, I am ready to go. Before I die I desire to thank you with all my heart for your kindness to me. You are a Jew and do not believe in Jesus. Will you please stand here and see me die trusting my Savior to the last moment of my life?” I tried to stay, but I could not for I had not the courage to stand by and see a Christian boy die rejoicing in the love of that Jesus whom I had been taught to hate, so I hurriedly left the room.
About twenty minutes later a steward came to my office and said, “Doctor, Charlie wishes to see you. He says he must see you once more before he dies.” I made up my mind to see him, but I was determined that no word of his should influence me in the least so far as his Jesus was concerned.
When I entered the room I saw he was sinking fast. He asked me to take his hand and he said, “Doctor, I love you because you are a Jew. The best friend I have found in this world was a Jew.” I asked him who that was. He answered, “Jesus Christ. Five days ago, while you amputated my arm and leg, I prayed to the Lord Jesus Christ to convert your soul.” These words went deep into my heart. I could not understand how, when I was causing him the most intense pain, he could forget all about himself and think of nothing but his Savior and my unconverted soul. All I could say to him was, “Well, my dear boy, you will soon be all right.” With these words I left him, and minutes later he fell asleep, “safe in the arms of Jesus.”
Hundreds of soldiers died in my hospital during the war, but I only followed one to the grave, and that was Charlie Coulson, the drummer boy. I had him dressed in a new uniform and placed in an officer’s coffin with a United States flag over it.
That boy’s dying words made a deep impression upon me. I was rich at that time so far as money is concerned, but I would have given every penny I possessed if I could have felt towards Christ as Charlie did. But that feeling cannot be bought with money. I now know that at that time I was under deep conviction of sin, but I fought fiercely against Christ until, finally, the dear boy’s prayer was answered, and God converted my soul.
About eighteen months after my conversion, I attended a prayer meeting in Brooklyn. It was a meeting when Christians testify to the loving kindness of their Savior. After several had spoken, an elderly lady arose and said, “Dear friends, this may be the last time that it is my privilege to testify for Christ. My doctor told me yesterday that my right lung is nearly gone, and my left lung is very much affected. So at the best I have but a short time to be with you, but what is left of me belongs to Jesus. Oh! it is a great joy to know that I shall meet my boy with Jesus in heaven. My son was not only a soldier for his country, but also a soldier for Christ. He was wounded at the battle of Gettysburg, and fell into the hands of a Jewish doctor who amputated his arm and leg, but he died five days after the operation. The chaplain of the regiment wrote me a letter, and sent me my boy’s Bible. In that letter I was informed that my Charlie in his dying hour sent for the Jewish doctor, and said to him, “Doctor, before I die I wish to tell you that five days ago, while you amputated my arm and leg, I prayed to the Lord Jesus Christ to convert your soul.”
When I heard this, I could sit still no longer. I left my seat, crossed the room, and taking her hand, said, “God bless you, my dear sister. Your boy’s prayer has been heard and answered. I am the Jewish doctor for whom your Charlie prayed, and his Savior is now my Savior.”
– Adapted from Touching Incidents And Remarkable Answers To Prayer by S. B. Shaw.