‘The Drummer Boy Of Shiloh’ by Ray Bradbury

The Drummer Boy Of Shiloh by Ray Bradbury, 1960

The magic trick:

Placing the story within one conversation

And people say Dickens is too sentimental. Try this story out then!

It is a bit heavy-handed, but if you drop your cynic’s guard and relax, I suppose it is a sweet little slice of historical fiction.

I don’t know, though. I can’t even go that far. Historical fiction feels like a far too weighty term. This bears only a passing resemblance to actual history, and even the actual knowledge (Shiloh was fought early in the Civil War when the armies both still assumed it would be a brief war) is dropped in so obvious a manner it’s comical.

But, OK, here is a magic trick to admire: the story centers on one conversation. The general talks to the drummer boy and the theme gets dispersed and both characters grow from the experience. It’s a compact and potentially effective way to tell a story. And that’s quite a trick on Bradbury’s part.

The selection:

Silence.

“Damn-fool question,” said the General. “Do you shave yet, boy? Even more of a damn-fool. There’s your cheek, fell right off the tree overhead. And the others here not much older. Raw, raw, damn raw, the lot of you. You ready for tomorrow or the next day, Joby?”

“I think so, sir.”

“You want to cry some more, go on ahead. I did the same last night.”

You, sir?”

“God’s truth. Thinking of everything ahead. Both sides figuring the other side will just give up, and soon, and the war done in weeks, and us all home. Well, that’s not how it’s going to be. And maybe that’s why I cried.”

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