To Andrew Leonard of the 27th Enniskillen Regiment

No one knows exactly what happened, but we do know
that early in the Napoleonic wars your friends killed you, Andy.
I’m sure that everyone talked all at once when you first disappeared,
then again when you were brought back in shackles.
It’s a sure bet that you were surrounded by laughter and
merciless sniggering as they cleaved off each of your hands,
then chopped through your right and left legs.
Did your superior officers leave them on the ground,
thereby forcing you to watch yourself rot? Did they exhibit
those irreplaceable pieces of you like grand, holy relics,
shipping them from garrison to garrison as a lesson
spelled out too bluntly for anyone to ignore? It isn’t clear,
Andy, if you were gibbeted alive, or gibbeted dead.
Nor was it recorded exactly why. Extant records
do not say that you were found guilty of desertion, but only
that you were accused of it. Who knows what that means?
Were you always planning to leave at the first opportunity?
Or, were you traumatized so deeply that something in your mind
fractured, causing you to run off in terror? Or, were you in some little
Mediterranean cottage sharing intimate moments
with one of the captains’ wives, or a local Italian’s daughter?
Nothing is said about you having been given a fair trial
with solid evidence presented against you. Nothing is said
about the possibility that you were falsely accused
of the worst crime, short of treason, that a soldier could commit.
You were Irish. We all know that often wasn’t a lucky thing to be in those days.
Whatever happened, you were buried still locked in that iron cage.
You stayed that way until a new set of prisoners dug you up
and a new set of officers put you display again,
using the sight of you for their own, you know, personal entertainment.
But then something changed. Your fate was announced to moneyed
tourists strolling by. Tourists who thought being seen next to you
was fun, and made them important. They took photos of themselves
with you and shared those images on technology that zips around
the circumference of the world in less than a second. You’re famous.
The British soldier Andrew Leonard.
It’s true, some people still smirk and jeer. But most of us loudly
point out the enormous disgrace that over two centuries of harsh punishment
has brought to the country which first put you in the Cage of Milazzo,
and to the country that keeps you there.

EDIT 8, April 2021: Per researchers at the Inniskillngs Museums they have determined that these are not the remain of the British Soldier, Andrew Leonard. They do not know who has been locked in a gibbet on display for more than two hundred years.

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