Complete Works of James Whitcomb Riley

Author: James Whitcomb Riley

The Old Soldier’s Story


Since we have had no stories to-night I will
venture, Mr. President, to tell a story that I
have heretofore heard at nearly all the banquets I
have ever attended. It is a story simply, and you
must bear with it kindly. It is a story as told by
a friend of us all, who is found in all parts of all
countries, who is immoderately fond of a funny
story, and who, unfortunately, attempts to tell a
funny story himself—one that he has been particularly
delighted with. Well, he is not a story-teller,
and especially he is not a funny story-teller. His
funny stories, indeed, are oftentimes touchingly
pathetic. But to such a story as he tells, being a
good-natured man and kindly disposed, we have to
listen, because we do not want to wound his feelings
by telling him that we have heard that story a
great number of times, and that we have heard it
ably told by a great number of people from the time
we were children. But, as I say, we can not hurt his
feelings. We can not stop him. We can not kill him;
and so the story generally proceeds. He selects a very old story
always, and generally tells it in about
this fashion:

I heerd an awful funny thing the other day—ha!
ha! I don’t know whether I kin git it off er not,
but, anyhow, I’ll tell it to you. Well!—le’s see now
how the fool-thing goes. Oh, yes!—W’y, there was
a feller one time—it was during the army and this
feller that I started in to tell you about was in the
war and—ha! ha!—there was a big fight a-goin’ on,
and this feller was in the fight, and it was a big battle
and bullets a-flyin’ ever’ which way, and bomb-
shells a-bu’stin’, and cannon-balls a-flyin’ ’round
promiskus; and this feller right in the midst of it,
you know, and all excited and het up, and chargin’
away; and the fust thing you know along come a
cannon-ball and shot his head off—ha! ha! ha!
Hold on here a minute!—no, sir; I’m a-gittin’ ahead
of my story; no, no; it didn’t shoot his HEAD off—
I’m gittin’ the cart before the horse there—shot his
LEG off; that was the way; shot his leg off; and
down the poor feller drapped, and, of course, in that
condition was perfectly he’pless, you know, but yit
with presence o’ mind enough to know that he was
in a dangerous condition ef somepin’ wasn’t done fer
him right away. So he seen a comrade a-chargin’,
by that he knowed, and he hollers to him and called
him by name—I disremember now what the feller’s
name was. . . .

Well, that’s got nothin’ to do with the story,
anyway; he hollers to him, he did, and says, "Hello,
there," he says to him; "here, I want you to come
here and give me a lift; I got my leg shot off, and
I want you to pack me back to the rear of the battle"
—where the doctors always is, you know, during a
fight—and he says, "I want you to pack me back
there where I can get med-dy-cinal attention er I’m
a dead man, fer I got my leg shot off," he says,
"and I want you to pack me back there so’s
the surgeons kin take keer of me." Well—
the feller, as luck would have it, ricko’nized him
and run to him and throwed down his own musket,
so’s he could pick him up; and he stooped down and
picked him up and kindo’ half-way shouldered him
and half-way helt him betwixt his arms like, and
then he turned and started back with him—ha! ha!
ha! Now, mind, the fight was still a-goin’ on—and
right at the hot of the fight, and the feller, all
excited, you know, like he was, and the soldier that
had his leg shot off gittin’ kindo’ fainty like, and his
head kindo’ stuck back over the feller’s shoulder
that was carryin’ him. And he hadn’t got more’n a
couple o’ rods with him when another cannon-ball
come along and tuk his head off, shore enough!—
and the curioust thing about it was—ha! ha!—that
the feller was a-packin’ him didn’t know that he
had been hit ag’in at all, and back he went—still
carryin’ the deceased back—ha! ha! ha!—to where
the doctors could take keer of him—as he thought.
Well, his cap’n happened to see him, and he thought
it was a ruther cur’ous p’ceedin’s—a soldier carryin’
a dead body out o’ the fight—don’t you see? And
so he hollers at him, and he says to the soldier, the
cap’n did, he says, "Hullo, there; where you goin’
with that thing?" the cap’n said to the soldier who
was a-carryin’ away the feller that had his leg shot
off. Well, his head, too, by that time. So he says,
"Where you going with that thing?" the cap’n said
to the soldier who was a-carryin’ away the feller that
had his leg shot off. Well, the soldier he stopped—
kinder halted, you know, like a private soldier will
when his presidin’ officer speaks to him—and he says
to him, "W’y," he says, "Cap, it’s a comrade o’ mine
and the pore feller has got his leg shot off, and I’m
a-packin’ him back to where the doctors is; and there
was nobody to he’p him, and the feller would ’a’ died
in his tracks—er track ruther—if it hadn’t a-been fer
me, and I’m a-packin’ him back where the surgeons
can take keer of him; where he can get medical
attendance—er his wife’s a widder!" he says, " ’cause
he’s got his leg shot off!" Then CAP’N says, "You
blame fool you, he’s got his HEAD shot off." So then
the feller slacked his grip on the body and let it
slide down to the ground, and looked at it a minute,
all puzzled, you know, and says, "W’y, he told me
it was his leg!" Ha! ha! ha!


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Chicago: James Whitcomb Riley, "The Old Soldier’s Story," Complete Works of James Whitcomb Riley in The Complete Works of James Whitcomb Riley (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1916), Original Sources, accessed October 4, 2022,

MLA: Riley, James Whitcomb. "The Old Soldier’s Story." Complete Works of James Whitcomb Riley, in The Complete Works of James Whitcomb Riley, Vol. 10, New York, Harper & Brothers, 1916, Original Sources. 4 Oct. 2022.

Harvard: Riley, JW, 'The Old Soldier’s Story' in Complete Works of James Whitcomb Riley. cited in 1916, The Complete Works of James Whitcomb Riley, Harper & Brothers, New York. Original Sources, retrieved 4 October 2022, from