His name was Michael Link.
• He was a Private in the 151st Pennsylvania Volunteers regiment.
• He came from a family of German coal miners who immigrated to the United States in the early 1800s.
• He was a blacksmith by trade, but he was also an excellent musician. He played the French horn, the violin, and the accordion.
• When the Civil War began, Michael enlisted. He was a 24-year old bachelor at the time.
• On the first day of the battle, July 1, 1863, the PA 151 was involved in the fight at McPherson’s Woods—where General Reynolds was killed by a sharpshooter.
• Michael Link’s unit saw their beloved leader carried from the battlefield that day, mortally wounded.
• A few hours later, Link himself was shot—right in the face. A bullet entered his left eye, went under the bridge of his nose, and then exited his right eye. The blow knocked him to the ground, leaving him unconscious for several hours.
• When he finally came to, he made the horrifying discovery: “One of my eyes had run out, and the other was hanging down my cheek.”
• “The last thing I remember seeing,” he said, “was the rebel flag, and I was shot just as I was leveling my gun to fire at the enemy.”
Michael’s hometown newspaper gave this account of his ordeal:
“There in that field, under the hot sun, with his eyes shot out, Private Link laid for two days. Initially he prayed for death to relieve his agony, but soon enough he found the strength to go on, even though he was sightless, delirious, and near death’s door. Rebel soldiers passed him, but they thought he was a corpse. His damaged eye sockets had been eaten away by maggots as he lay helplessly on the battlefield. Then on the third day some Boys in Blue came along. They heard Link’s groans and conveyed him to the field hospital.
“Weeks later, upon being discharged from a Philadelphia hospital, the former blacksmith returned to Reading. Undaunted by his disability, Link gained admission to an institution for the blind to obtain training and vocational skills. With his full pension of $72 per month, Michael built two 3-story brick homes on Penn Street. At one of these locations, he opened a shop where he cane-seated chairs. He never gave up, and he never quit. Instead, he entertained his friends by playing his music.”
Several years after the war, Michael got married to Margaret Krebs. Mike and Margaret had a baby girl by the name of Rosa. Here’s how the rest of the family tree unfolds:
Yes, Michael Link was my great-great grandfather.
Had he thrown in the towel on hope as he lay there on the battlefield, had he dropped out of life when recovery from those terrible wounds was long and hard—I wouldn’t be here today.
Do you see the importance of perseverance, of pressing on when you feel like giving up? Generations not yet born are affected by the decisions we make right now—whether to fight to the finish or to throw in the towel. I can’t help thinking of St. Paul’s final words to the church: “I have fought the good fight. I have finished the race” (2 Timothy 4:7a).
Remember those maggots? The doctor told Link that the maggots had actually saved his life. Those disgusting, filthy maggots that made him want to give up—they had eaten away the infection that otherwise would have killed him.
Got any maggots in your life these days? Any nasty worms chewing on your heart? It might be a difficult person. It might be a family challenge. It might be a terrible situation. It might be a broken dream.
Could it be that those maggots are designed by a loving God to cleanse your soul of spiritual infections and conform you to the image of Christ?
Could it be that “what the maggots meant for evil, God meant for good” (cf. Gen 50:20)? Paul reminds us: “Our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all” (2 Corinthians 4:17).
Fighting to the finish—come what may—is our heritage.
May it be our legacy as well.
Image Credits: Some pictures from gettysburgpa.gov; others from personal collection.