This is a public service message from correspondant "Bubba" Farwell,
who can be reached at

Heavyweights - the Land Whale

In my earlier days we had a 1st Sgt. who was so large we called him the "Land Whale." Well, the LW wanted to be a leader of men but didn't have the stamina to move his bulk too far. Most of our charges were timid affairs since it was improper for us to outdistance the LW (If we did he'd withhold our beer ration later on). He'd run thirty feet or so then stop and lean on his musket huffing and puffing and order a volley: "Ready...[wheeze]...aim...[gasp][snort]!"

By the time we had reloaded he was ready to repeat the exercise again until he reached the point when he could no longer rally his strength. His custom was to take a hit at this point and lie out the remainder of the battle, an action many of us felt he should have taken earlier, like at reveille. Often this hit was done in slow motion, first the knees sagged, the head drooped and the great body would fold like an accordion until it lay flat or, more correctly, round. He once shouted loudly that he was only wounded and called for assistance to the aid station. Being good soldiers we rushed to his side and attempted to carry him rearward. The enemy stopped firing and began hurling bits of advice our way, none very helpful. This stopped as their insults gave way to laughter as we struggled to move the LW's great bulk. No four men could lift him, no eight men could stop laughing long enough to get ahold of a piece of him. We finally grasped him by his legs and dragged him off into the woods leaving a great furrow in the field and breastworks full of helpless blue coats.

The final straw came during Cedar Creek in '91. There was a night tactical which involved our fording the creek to surprise the enemy pickets. Well, the sides of that creek are steep...and slippery. We all made it into the water and most of us made it out, helping each other. We all knew that the LW was wallowing across behind us and would surely need help up the opposite bank. Each man searched his soul and came up empty, no one wished to struggle in the dark (besides we all thought someone else would surely help). Well... he was left alone, plaintively calling for assistance but not too loudly because he did not wish to alert the enemy. Finally he realized that his fate was in his own hands, besides his feet were soaked (it was October) and he was getting hungry.

Like the proverbial frog in the well, he'd climb three feet, slide back two, gain three more and lose all. He was getting mighty tired and mad. There was going to be a lot of thirsty soldiers in camp that night... he'd make sure of it. It took a full forty five minutes for him to make the top of the bank but only after pulling half the dirt into the stream. A lot of folks downstream were going to be puzzled at the muddy water floating by the next morning.

He was so tired when he reached the top that he flung himself backwards onto the soft grassy slope. This was his undoing. In falling, he twisted so perfectly that he drove his scabbard into the soft soil effectively impaling the earth and pinning himself like a butterfly on a collector's wall. Well, his front was so covered with mud and slime and his hands so cold that he couldn't undo his belt. He lay there all night, calling out for help but to no avail. In the morning a Federal cavalryman found him while in the bushes on other business. He didn't release the LW from his predicament until he had called over his entire troop. It made the Civil War News (under preservation news - somehow the editors felt he was some form of desecration) and even a slight mention in the Camp Chase Gazette.

He slunk back into camp, packed his stuff and was never seen again. Though on many a cold and fog shrouded battlefield there are those who swear they can see him, gasping for breath as he lumbers over the ground, reliving again and again the agony. Maybe it's just another TBG but, be careful. You could be lying there in the path of that deadly scabbard.

However, perhaps we shouldn't be so quick to judge. Maybe gross obesity is authentic, judging from the following true story from the American War of Independence:

During the assault on Fort Washington (located on top of a steep hill) in 1776:" "Major Murray (of the 42nd Royal Higland Regiment, the Black Watch) being a large and corpulent man could not attempt this steep ascent without assistance. The soldiers, eager to get to the point of their duty, scrambled up, forgetting the situation of Major Murray, when he, in a melancholy supplicating tone, cried 'Oh soldiers, will you leave me?' A party leaped down instantly, and brought him up, supporting him from one resting rock to another till they got him to the top.""

From: "SKETCHES or the Character, Manners (?) and Present State of the Highlanders of Scotland; With Details of the Military Service of the Highland Regiments" by Colonel David Stewart, 2d Ed., vol.1 Edinburgh, 1822, pg 377.