A Drummer Boy of Gettysburg

???????????????????????????????Today marks the sesquicentennial of the Battle of Gettysburg.

A friend sent me a link to a tract written by a Jewish doctor who attended the wounded and dying of that battle which raged from July 1 to July 3, 1863. It’s a very long tract, but fascinating.  Here’s an excerpt from Charlie Coulson, the Drummer Boy by Dr. Max L. Rossvally, a surgeon in the United States Army:

During the American war I was surgeon in the United States army, and after the battle of Gettysburg there were many hundreds of wounded soldiers in the hospital, twenty-eight of whom had been wounded so severely that they required my services at once; some whose legs had to be amputated, some their arms, and others both their arm and leg. One of the latter 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 positively 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 up 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, but when you opened those large blue eyes I thought you had a mother somewhere who might at that moment be thinking of her boy. I did not want you to die on the field, so 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 in the Sunday school, when I was nine-and-a-half years old, I accepted the Lord Jesus Christ as my Saviour. I learned to trust Him then, I have been trusting Him ever since, and I know I can trust Him now. He is my strength and my stay; He will support me while you amputate my arm and leg.”

…  I had not the courage to take the knife in my hand to perform the operation without first going to the next room and taking a little stimulant to nerve myself to perform my duty. While cutting through the flesh Charlie Coulson never groaned, but when I took the saw to separate the bone the lad took the corner of his pillow in his mouth, and all that I could hear him utter was, “O Jesus, blessed Jesus, stand by me now!” He kept his promise, and never groaned.

That night I could not sleep for whichever way I turned I saw those soft blue eyes, and when I closed mine the words, “Blessed Jesus, stand by me now,” kept ringing in my ears.

… Five days after I had amputated that dear boy’s arm and leg he sent for me, and it was from him that I heard the first Gospel sermon. “Doctor,” he said, “my time has come, I do not expect to see another sun rise, but, thank God, I am ready to go, and before I die I desire to thank you with all my heart for your kindness to me. Doctor, you are a Jew–you do not believe in Jesus; will you please stand here and see me die, trusting my Saviour 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 who found me sitting in my private office covering my face with my hand said, “Doctor, Charlie Coulson wishes to see you.”

… When I entered the hospital I saw he was sinking fast, so I sat down by his bed. Asking me to take his hand, 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, “Who was that?”

He answered, “Jesus Christ, to whom I want to introduce you before I die, and will you promise me, doctor, that what I am about to say to you, you will never forget?”

I promised, and he said, “Five days ago, while you amputated my arm and leg, I prayed to the Lord Jesus Christ to save 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 this Saviour and my unconverted state. All I could say to him was, “Well, my dear boy, you will soon be all right.” With these words I left him, and twelve 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–that one was Charlie Coulson, the drummer boy, and I rode three miles to see him buried. I had him dressed in a new uniform, and placed in an officer’s coffin with a new United States flag over it.

That dear 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. For several months after Charlie Coulson’s death I could not get rid of the words of that dear boy. They kept ringing in my ears, but being in the company of worldly officers, I gradually forgot the sermon Charlie preached in his dying hour, but I never could forget his wonderful patience under acute suffering, and his simple trust in that Jesus whose Name to me at that time was a by-word and a reproach.

Dr. Rossvally then recounts events that occured ten years later that brought him, and later, his family, to believe in Jesus as their Messiah. The tract continues…

The sequel to “Charlie Coulson” remains to be told. About eighteen months after my conversion I attended a prayer meeting one evening in the city of Brooklyn. It was one of those meetings when Christians testify to the loving-kindness of their Saviour. After several of them had spoken, an elderly lady arose and said, “Dear friends, this may be the last time it is my privilege to testify for Christ. My family physician told me yesterday that my right lung is very 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 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 my boy’s Bible. In that letter I was informed that my Charlie, in his dying hour, sent for that 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 save your soul.’ “

When I heard this lady’s testimony I could sit still no longer. I left my seat, crossed the room, and taking her by the 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 Saviour is now my Saviour.” A heavenly fervour spread over the meeting at the affecting sight of Jew and Gentile being made “one in Christ Jesus” …

… Shortly after his conversion to God, Dr. Rossvally resigned his commission in the United States Army and opened a Mission for the conversion of his Jewish brethren. He met with much opposition at first, but persevered, and finally had the joy of seeing quite a number–rich and poor, old and young Jews and Jewesses–exclaim, with one of old: “We have found the Messiah, which is, being interpreted, THE CHRIST” (John 1:41B).

He afterwards made a prolonged evangelistic tour, and visited many cities in Europe, America, Canada, Germany, and many other lands, preaching the glad tidings of a free and full salvation in his forceful way to large audiences, his ministry being owned of God in leading not a few–Gentiles as well as Jews–out of darkness into light and from the power of Satan unto God.

A few years of happy service, a few months of severe suffering, and M. L. Rossvally was called to the higher service of heaven in October, 1892.

“He being dead yet speaketh,” for several millions of “Charlie Coulson, the Drummer Boy,” and some of his other tracts, have been scattered over America, Britain, India, Australia and New Zealand, France, Germany, Switzerland, Russia, and other lands, leading many to “know Him whom to know is life everlasting.”


  • Read another excerpt of how Dr. Rossvally came to Christ ten years after Gettysburg.
  • The entire tract on the internet, or in a printed version, is available here.
  • My words are in italics.
  • We took the photo of the cannons in Gettysburg in September of 2006.

3 responses to “A Drummer Boy of Gettysburg

  1. Pingback: A Barber’s Faithful Witness | Mike and Sus Schmitt·

  2. I was so fed up of my wretched life that one day I decided to end it, and free myself of the world and its misery. Sitting alone in a place, I started making plans to commit suicide. As I was lost in these negative thoughts, a man passed by me and said, “Jesus would help you”. Afterwards he left and I couldn’t see him. But his words kept ringing in my ears.

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