This kind lady was so unduly complimentary as to suppose that I would know beforehand if a retreat was decided on, and could therefore furnish her timely warning.
Of course this was a mistake, as I was only a private, but still I had been asked to bring her the desired information, and had promised to do my best.
The precious wine would have to be destroyed when it became certain we were to leave the city behind us, for then the wary traders would no longer purchase it, and if seized by the enemy on his entry it might contribute to produce drunken excesses.
I had not known absolutely that we were to retreat until the night before — up to that time still hoping that reinforcements would render this unnecessary, and since that time it had been absolutely impossible for me to leave ranks.
This, therefore, had had been the first opportunity for fulfilling my promise.
Pouring the fragrant contents of the bottles on the ungrateful ground was a very disagreeable libation to witness, so I lessened it as much as possible by putting as many as I could manage in my overcoat pockets and saddle holsters, and fastening others to my saddle-tree by straps.
I do not suppose one horse and man every carried so many bottles before.
Meanwhile time was flying, and so must I be, unless desirous of testing the penetration of the enemy's rifles, or the cheer that he furnished to his uninvited guests.
So I had to mount in hot haste and away in my loaded down condition, not cutting as graceful a figure I fear as romantic young Lochinvar, judging from the difficultly suppressed mirth of the ladies, but more resembling doubtless the worthy Gilpin
, though more fortunate than he. I got my bottles through unbroken.
Not that it was any laughing matter for the poor ladies, for they were losing almost their last resource, but “'tis better to laugh than to cry” says the proverb, and it is certainly more becoming to the sex, even charming in spite of being blockaded from the fashions and fabrics of Werth
Not knowing how soon I might make the sociable acquaintance of some of Sherman
's men, I made all possible speed in returning to my command, keeping a sharp lookout at every street I crossed, expecting momentarily to hear “the still small voice” not of conscience, but a minnie bullet.
When I reached the hill, where my detachment was posted, the advance guard of the enemy was already in the town.
In passing through the streets I had seen no one except an anxious female face at an upper window occasionally, and a few drunken negroes where the commissary stores had been.
I saw no Confederate cavalrymen or stragglers, and no fires, and cannot believe that I could have failed to see them, if they had existed, for one's eyesight becomes almost preternaturally sharpened under such circumstances.