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Chapter VII

I am now about to begin a period lasting about six years, which, were it possible, I should gladly like to re-live, not with a view of repeating its woes and errors, pains and inconsistencies, but of rectifying the mistakes I made. So far, I had made none of any importance; but enlisting in the Confederate service, because I received a packet of female clothes, was certainly a grave blunder. But who is able to withstand his fate or thwart the designs of Providence? It may have been time for me, getting close on to eighteen, to lose some of the soft illusions of boyhood, and to undergo the toughening process in the trail of war. Looking backward upon the various incidents of these six years, though they appear disjointed enough, I can dimly see a connection, and how one incident led to the other, until the curious and some-what involved design of my life, and its purpose, was consummated. But this enlistment was, as I conceive it, the first of many blunders; and it precipitated me into a veritable furnace, from which my mind would have quickly recoiled, had I but known what the process of hardening was to be.

Just as the fine edge of boyish sensitiveness was blunted, somewhat, by the daring blasphemy of the “Windermere” officers, so modesty and tenderness were to be shocked, by intercourse with men who cast off sweet manners with their civilian clothes, and abandoned themselves to the rude style of military life. A host of influences were at work sapping moral scruples. The busy days, the painful events, the excitement of the camp, the general irreligiousness, the disregard of religious practice, the contempt for piety, the licentious humours of the soldiers, the reckless and lavish destruction of life, the gluttonous desire to kill, the devices and stratagems of war, the weekly preaching in defence of it, the example of my elders and superiors, the enthusiasm of beautiful women for strife — finally, all that was weak, vain, and unfixed in [168] my own nature, all conspired to make me as indifferent as any of my fellows to all sacred duties.

I had to learn that that which was unlawful to a civilian was lawful to the soldier. The “Thou shalt not” of the Decalogue, was now translated “Thou shalt.” Thou shalt kill, lie, steal, blaspheme, covet, and hate; for, by whatever fine names they were disguised, everyone practised these acts, from the President down to the private in the rear rank. The prohibition to do these things was removed, and indulgence in licence and excess was permissible. My only consolation, during this curious “volte-face” in morality, was, that I was an instrument in the strong, forceful grip of circumstance, and could no more free myself than I could fly.

Heaven knows if any among the Dixie Greys can look at the acts of the war with my eyes. Not having been educated as I had been, nor become experienced afterwards in the ways of many lands, it is not likely any of them would. Many of them went to the war as passionate patriots in the spirit of religious duty, blessed by their families; others with an appetite for glory, the desire of applause, a fondness for military excitement, or because they were infected with the general craze, or to avoid tedious toil, or from the wildness of youth, etc. It was passionate patriotism that was the rule, and brought to its standard all sorts and conditions of men; and it was this burning passion that governed all conduct, and moulded public life to its will.

Now all men who knew our brigade commander will concede that, whatever virtues he may have had, ambition was his distinguishing characteristic. It was commonly said that he was a man of genius, could command a Department, or be a first-class Minister of War; but, from what I can recollect of him, he aimed at the highest office in the land, and was sufficiently unscrupulous to establish himself as a dictator. Colonel Lyons was purely and simply a soldier: Lieutenant-colonel A. T. Hawthorn was too vain of military distinction, and the trappings of official rank, to have stooped to be a patriot in the ranks; but Captain S. G. Smith was a patriot of the purest dye, of the most patrician appearance, one of the finest and noblest types of men I have ever met: a man of stubborn honour and high principles, brave, and invariably [169] gentle in demeanour and address. Our First-lieutenant was a Mr. Penny Mason, a Virginian, bright, soldierly, zealous, and able, and connected with the oldest families of his State. He rose, as his military merits deserved, to the rank of Adjutant-general. Our Second-lieutenant was a nephew of General Lee, who in the soldiers' parlance was a “good fellow.” He also became distinguished during the war. Our Third-lieutenant was a “dandy,” who took immense trouble with his appearance, and was always as neat as a military tailor and the laundry could make him. Our Orderly-sergeant was an old soldier of the name of Armstrong, an honest and worthy fellow, who did his duty with more good-humour and good-nature than would have been expected under the circumstances.

The privates were, many of them, young men of fortune, sons, or close relations, of rich Arkansas planters of independent means; others were of more moderate estate, overseers of plantations, small cotton-growers, professional men, clerks, a few merchants, and a rustic lout or two. As compared with many others, the company was a choice one, the leaven of gentlehood was strong, and served to make it rather more select than the average. Still, we were only a tenth of a regiment, and, though a fifth of the regiment might be self-respecting, gentlemanly fellows, daily contact in camp with a majority of rough and untaught soldiers is apt to be perverting in time.

We were not subjected to the indignity of being stripped and examined like cattle, but were accepted into the military service upon our own assurance of being in fit condition; and, after being sworn in, we shed our civil costumes, and donned the light grey uniforms. Having been duly organized, we next formed ourselves into messes. My mess consisted of Jim Armstrong, the Orderly-sergeant; Newton Story, the Colour-sergeant, who had been overseer of Dr. Goree's plantation; Dan Goree, a boy, the son and heir of Dr. Goree; Tom Malone, a genial fellow, but up to every gambling trick, a proficient in “High-low-jack,” Euchre, Poker, and Old Sledge, and, when angered, given to deliver himself in very energetic language; old Slate, knowing as any, anecdotive, and pleasant. Tomasson, a boisterous fellow, who acted frequently like a bull in a china-shop, was admitted by Armstrong to the mess because [170] he was a neighbour, and full of jests. A Sibley tent, an improvement on the bell-tent, contained the whole of us comfortably.

Dan Goree had brought his slave Mose, a faithful blackie, to wait upon him. The mess annexed his services as cook and tin-washer, and, in return, treated Dan with high consideration. Mose was remarkable for a cow-like propensity to kick backward, if we but pointed our fingers at him. Armstrong contributed to the general comfort a stylish canteen and the favour of his company; and the rest of us gave our services and means to make the social circle as pleasant as possible, which, as we were “bright, smart, and alive,” meant a great deal; for, if there were any fowls, butter, milk, honey, or other accessories to diet in our neighbourhood, they were sure to be obtained by some indefatigable member of the mess. I was too “green” in the forager's arts, at the beginning of the campaign, but I was apt; and, with such ancient campaigners as Armstrong and old Slate,--both of whom had been in the Mexican War of 1847,--I did not lack tuition by suggestion.

When clothed in our uniforms, each of us presented a some-what attenuated appearance; we seemed to have lost in dignity, but gained in height. As I looked at Newton Story's form, I could scarcely believe my eyes. Instead of the noble portliness for which he had been distinguished, he was lean as a shorn sheep. Sleek Dan Goree was girlishly slender, while I had a waspish waist, which measured a trifle more than two hands. Dr. Jones was like a tall, over-grown lad; and, as for the Varner brothers, they were elegant to the verge of effeminacy.

With military clothes, we instinctively assumed the military pose: our heads rose stiff and erect above our shoulders, our chests bulged out, and our shoulder-blades were drawn in. We found ourselves cunningly peeping from the corners of our eyes, to observe if any admired our martial style. The Little Rock “gals,” crowding about the Arsenal grounds, were largely responsible for the impressive airs we took. The prettiest among them drew into her circle a score or more of heroic admirers, whose looks pictured their admiration; and how envied were they who obtained a smile from the fair! And how they strutted, with their eyeballs humid with love! If, [171] when we promenaded the streets, with equal step and arm-in-arm, we detected the presence of cambric frocks on a “stoep,” or in some classic porch, we became as ridiculous as peacocks from excess of vanity. Indeed, in those early days, we were all over-troubled with patriotic thrills, sanguinary ardour, and bursts of “bulliness.” The fever of military enthusiasm was at its height, in man, woman, and child; and we, who were to represent them in the war, received far more adulation than was good for us. The popular praise turned our young heads giddy, and anyone who doubted that we were the sanest, bravest, and most gallant boys in the world, would have been in personal danger! Unlike the Spartans, there was no modesty in the estimate of our own valour. After a few drills, we could not even go to draw rations without the practice of the martial step, and crying out “Guide centre,” or “Right wheel,” or some other order we had learned. At our messes, we talked of tactics, and discussed Beauregard's and Lee's merits, glorified Southern chivalry, and depreciated the Yankees, became fluent in the jargon of patriotism, and vehement in our hatred of the enemy. Few of us had ever smelled the fumes of battle, but that did not deter us from vividly painting scenes of carnage when the blood rolled in torrents, and the favoured ‘Dixie Greys’ led the van to victory.

Our martial souls were duly primed for the field by every adjunct of military system. The fife, drum, and trumpet sounded many times a day. A fine brass band thrilled us, morning and evening, with stirring music. The drum and fife preceded us to the drilling-ground, and inspired us to sprightliness, campward. We burnished brass buttons, arms, and accoutrements, until they shone like new gold. We bought long Colt's revolvers, and long-bladed bowie-knives; we had our images taken on tin-types in our war-paint and most ferocious aspects, revolver in one hand, bowie-knife in the other, and a most portentous scowl between the eyebrows. We sharpened the points of our bayonets, and gave a razoredge to our bowies, that the extermination we intended should be sudden and complete.

After a few weeks we made our last march through the Arkansan capital. The steamer was at the river-side, to take us across. The streets were gay with flags and ladies' dresses. [172] The people shouted, and we, raw and unthinking, responded with cheers. We raised the song, “We'll live and die for Dixie,” and the emotional girls waved their handkerchiefs and wept. What an imposing column we made! The regiment was in full strength. The facets of light on our shining muskets and bayonets were blinding. Banners of regiments and companies rustled and waved to the breeze. We strode down to the levee with “eyes front,” after the manner of Romans when reviewed by their tribunes!

Once across the river, that August day, we strapped our knapsacks, slung our haversacks and water-canteens, and felt more like veterans. All being ready, our physically-noble Colonel Hawthorn, prancing on his charger, drew his bright sword, and, after he had given us a sufficiently stern glance, rode to the head of the regiment; the brass band struck up a lively tune, and we swung gaily in column of four along the pike, towards the interior. Our officers and orderly walked parallel with us. The August sun was extremely hot, the pike was hard, dry, and dusty. At first, the officers' voices had a peremptory and sharp ring in them as they sang out, “Keep step, there! Left shoulder, shift arms! Dress up!” but after a while, as the heat began to force a copious perspiration, and the limy dust from the metalled highway parched our throats, they sobered down, and allowed us to march at ease.

Within an hour the sweat had darkly stained our grey coats about the arm-pits and shoulders, and it rolled in streams down our limbs into our boots, where, mingling with the dust and minute gravel, it formed a gritty mud which distressed our feet. Our shoulders ached with the growing weight and hardness of the muskets, our trousers galled us sorely, the straps and belts became painfully constrictive, and impeded respiration, but, through fear of shame, we endured all, without complaint. At the end of the hour we were halted for five minutes rest, and then resumed the march.

Like all new recruits, we carried a number of things that veterans dispense with: for instance, keepsakes, and personal treasures; mine were a daguerreotype of my adopted father, and a lock of his grey hair,--very trivial and valueless to others, but my own peculiar treasures, carried in my knapsack to be looked at every Sunday morning when we smartened [173] up. With these, toilet articles, soap, changes of under-clothing, camp-shoes, etc., besides extra uniform, and blankets, made up our luggage, which, with heavy musket, bayonet-accoutrements, and canteen of water, weighed about sixty pounds, and more, in some cases. For growing and lean youths this was a tremendous weight; and, during the second hour, the sense of oppression and soreness rapidly increased; but, excepting more frequent changes of the musket from shoulder to shoulder, we bated nothing of our resolve to endure.

After the second halt we were sensibly lamer. The gravel created blisters, and the warm mud acted like a poultice on the feet. The military erectness gave way to a weary droop, and we leaned forward more. We were painfully scalded, restlessly shifted our weapons, and tried scores of little experiments, hustled our cartridge-pouches, inch by inch, then from back to front, from right to left; tugged at our breast-straps, eased our belts, drank copious draughts of water; and still the perspiration rolled in a shower down our half-blinded faces, and the symptoms of collapse became more and more pronounced.

Finally, the acutest point of endurance was reached, and nature revolted. Our feet were blistered, our agonies were unendurable, and, despite official warning and menace, we hopped to the road-side, whipped off our boots to relieve our burning feet; after a little rest, we rose and limped after the company. But the column had stretched out to a tremendous length with its long wagon-train, and to overtake our friends seemed hopeless. As we limped along, the still untired soldiers mocked and jeered at us, and this was very hard to endure. But, by and by, the stragglers became more numerous; the starch appeared to be taken out of the strongest, and, the longer the march continued, the greater was the multitude of the weary, who crawled painfully in the rear of the column.

Had the Little Rock ladies witnessed our arrival at camp late at night, we should have been shamed for ever. But, fortunately, they knew nothing of this; and blessing the night which hid our roasted faces and sorry appearance, we had no sooner reached the precincts of the camp than we embraced the ground, pains and aches darting through every tortured [174] limb, feet blistered and bleeding, our backs scorched, and our shoulders inflamed. No bed that I had ever rested on gave me a tithe of the pleasure afforded me now by the cold, damp pasture-land.

The next day was a halt. Many of us were more fitted for hospital at day-break than for marching, but, after a bathe in the stream, a change of linen, and salving our wounds, we were in better mood. Then Armstrong, the old orderly, suggested that we should shed our knapsacks of all “rubbish,” and assisted his friends by his advice as to what was indispensable and what was superfluous. The camp-fires consumed what we had rejected, and, when we noted the lightened weight of our knapsacks after this ruthless ransackment, we felt fitter for the march than on the day we departed from the Arkansas River.

Our surroundings at camp were novel for inexperienced youths. We were tented along the road-side, having taken down the fences of a field, and encroached on farm-lands, without asking permission. The rails were also freely used by us as firewood. A town of canvas had risen as if by magic, with broad, short streets, between the company tents; and in the rear were located the wagons carrying provisions, ammunition, and extra equipments.

In a few days we were camped in the neighbourhood of Searcy, about sixty miles from Little Rock. The aspect of the country was lovely, but there was something fatal to young recruits in its atmosphere. Within two weeks an epidemic carried off about fifty, and quite as many more lay in hospital. Whether it was the usual camp typhus, or malarious fever, aggravated by fatigue and wretched rations, I was too young to know or to concern myself about; but, in the third week, it seemed to threaten us all, and I remember how the soldiers resorted to the prayer-meetings in each company, and how solemn they were at service on Sunday. The pressure of an impending calamity lay heavy upon us all while in camp, but, as soon as we left it, we recovered our spirits.

It was at this camp I acquired the art of diving. At swimming I was a proficient a long time before, but the acquisition of this last accomplishment soon enabled me to astonish my comrades by the distance I could traverse under water.

The brigade of General Hindman was at last complete in its [175] organisation, and consisted of four regiments, some cavalry, and a battery of artillery. About the middle of September we moved across the State towards Hickman on the Mississippi, crossing the Little Red, White, Big Black, and St. Francis Rivers, by the way. Once across the Mississippi, we marched up the river, and, in the beginning of November, halted at what was then called “the Gibraltar of the Mississippi.”

On the 7th of November, we witnessed our first battle,--that of Belmont,--in which, however, we were not participants. We were held in readiness on the high bluffs of Columbus, from whence we had a commanding view of the elbow of land nearly opposite, whereon the battle took place. The metaphor “Gibraltar” might, with good reason, be applied to Columbus, for General Polk had made notable exertions to make it formidable. About one hundred and forty cannon, of large and small calibre, had been planted on the edge of the steep and tall bluffs opposite Belmont, to prevent the descent of the river by the enemy.

A fleet of vessels was discerned descending, a few miles above Belmont, and two gun-boats saucily bore down and engaged our batteries. The big guns, some of them 128-pound Parrott-rifled, replied with such a storm of shell that they were soon obliged to retreat again; but we novices were delighted to hear the sound of so many cannon. We received a few shots in return, but they were too harmless to do more than add to the charm of excitement. The battle began at between ten and eleven in the morning, the sky then being bright, and the day gloriously sunny; and it continued until near sunset. Except by the volleying thick haze which settled over the woods, we could not guess what was occurring. The results were, on our side, under General Polk, 641 killed, wounded, and missing. On the Federal side, under General Grant, the loss was 610 killed, wounded, and missing. To add to our casualties, a 128-pound rifled-gun burst at our battery, by which seven of the gunners were killed, and General Polk and many of his officers were wounded.

A youth requires to be educated in many ways before his manhood is developed. We have seen what a process the physical training is, by the brief description of the first day's march. It takes some time to bring the body to a suitable [176] state for ungrudging acceptance of the hard conditions of campaigning, so that it can find comfort on a pike, or in a graveyard, with a stone for a pillow, and ease on clods, despite drenching rain and chilling dew. Then the stomach has to get accustomed to the soldier's diet of fried, or raw, bacon and horse-beans. The nerves have to be inured to bear, without shrinking, the repeated shocks and alarms of the camp. The spirit has to be taught how to subject itself to the spurns and contumely of superior and senior, without show of resentment; and the mind must endure the blunting and deadening of its sensibilities by the hot iron of experience.

During the long march from Little Rock to Columbus we became somewhat seasoned, and campaigning grew less and less unpleasant. Our ordinary march was now more in the nature of an agreeable relief from monotonous camp-duties. We were not so captious and ready to take offence as at first, and some things that were once most disagreeable were now regarded as diversions.

I now fully accepted it as a rule that a soldier must submit to military law; but many, like myself, had lost a great deal of that early enthusiasm for a soldier's life by the time we had reached Columbus. It had struck us when at picket-duty alone, in the dark, that we had been great fools to place ourselves voluntarily in a position whence we could not retreat without forfeit of life; and that, by a monosyllable, we had made our comrades our possible enemies upon a single breach of our oath. We had condemned ourselves to a servitude more slavish than that of the black plantation-hands, about whose condition North and South had declared war to the death. We could not be sold, but our liberties and lives were at the disposal of a Congress about which I, at least, knew nothing, except that, somewhere, it had assembled to make such laws as it pleased. Neither to Captain Smith, nor to Lieutenant Mason, nor even to my messmate Armstrong, could I speak with freedom. Any of them might strike me, and I should have to submit. They could make me march where they pleased, stand sentry throughout the night, do fatigue-duty until I dropped, load my back as they would a mule, ride me on a rail, make a target of me if I took a quiet nap at my post; and there was no possible way out of it. [177]

To say the truth, I had not even a desire to shirk the duties I had undertaken. I was quite prepared and ready to do all that was required; for I loved the South because I loved my Southern friends, and had absorbed their spirit into every pore. Nevertheless, when far removed from the hubbub of camp, at my isolated post, my reason could not be prevented from taking a cynical view of my folly in devoting myself to be food for powder, when I might have been free as a bird, to the extent of my means. And if, among my vague fancies, I had thought that, by gallantry, I might win promotion such as would be some compensation for the sacrifice of my liberty, that idea had been exploded as soon as I had measured myself by hundreds of cleverer, abler, and braver men, and saw that they, even, had no chance of anything but to fill a nameless grave. The poetry of the military profession had departed under the stress of many pains, the wear and tear, and the certainty that soldiering was to consist of commonplace marches, and squalid camp-life.

The punishment inflicted on such as were remiss in their duties during the march had opened my eyes to the consequences of any misdemeanour, or an untimely ebullience of youthful spirits. I had seen unfortunate culprits horsed on triangular fence-rails, and jerked up by vicious bearers, to increase their pains; others, straddled ignominiously on poles; or fettered with ball and chain; or subjected to head-shaving; or tied up with the painful buck and gag; or hoisted up by the thumbs; while no one was free of fatigue-duty, or exempt from fagging to someone or other, the livelong day.

Those who were innocent of all breaches of “ good order and discipline” had reason to lament having sacrificed their independence, for our brigade-commander, and regimental officers, were eaten up with military zeal, and were resolved upon training us to the perfection of soldierly efficiency, and, like Bully Waters of the “Windermere,” seemed to think that it was incumbent on them to get the full value of our keep and pay out of us. They clung to the antiquated notion that soldiers were appointed as much to drudge for their personal service as for the purposes of war. Besides the morning and evening musters, the nine o'clock dress-parade, the drill from that hour to noon, the cleaning of arms and accoutrements, the frequent [178] interruptions of rest by the “long roll” heard in the dead of night, the guard-duty, or picket, we had to cook our provisions, put up the officers' tents, make their beds soft as straw and hay or grass could make them, collect fuel for their fires, dig ditches around their tents, and fag for them in numberless ways. These made a mighty list of harassments, which, on account of the miserably hard fare, and insufficient preparation of it, weighed on our spirits like lead, tended to diminish our number by disease, and sent hundreds to the hospital.

The Dixie Greys, for instance, consisted mostly of young men and lads who were as ignorant of the art of converting their ration of raw beef and salt pork, field beans, and flour, into digestible food, as they were of laundry work; yet they were daily served with rations, which they might eat raw, or treat as they liked. Of course, they learnt how to cook in time; but, meanwhile, they made sorry messes of it, and suffered accordingly. Those with good constitutions survived their apprenticeship, and youth, open air, and exercise, enabled them to bear it a long time; but when, with improper food, the elements chilled and heated us with abrupt change, and arbitrary officialism employed its wits to keep us perpetually on the move, it becomes evident, now, why only the hardiest were enabled to bear the drudgery and vexation imposed upon them, and why disease slew more than two-thirds of the whole number of soldiers who perished during the war.

The fault of the American generalship was that it devoted itself solely to strategy and fighting, and providing commissariat supplies; but seldom, or never, to the kindly science of health-preservation. The officers knew how to keep their horses in good condition; but I do not remember ever to have seen an officer who examined the state of our messes, or stooped to show that, though he was our military superior, he could take a friendly and neighbourly interest in our well-being, and that his rank had not estranged his sympathies. If, at the muster, a soldier was ill, he was put on the sick-list; but it never seems to have struck any officer, from General Lee down to the Third-lieutenant of an infantry company, that it might be possible to reduce the number of invalids by paying attention to the soldiers' joys and comforts. The raw provisions [179] were excellent and abundant, and they only needed to be properly prepared to have made us robust and strong.

Just as the regimental physician and his assistants were requisite for the cure of illness, a regimental “chef,” as superior of the company's cooks, would have been useful for the prevention of it, in fifty per cent of the cases; but the age was not advanced enough to recognise this.

Although I am apt to assign causes for things in my old age, it must not be supposed that I, as a boy, could then know much about such matters. I was, fortunately, blessed with the power of endurance, and was of so elastic a disposition that I could act my part without cavil or criticism. At that time, I felt that I had no other business in the world than to eat, work, and use my eyes, wits, and powers as a soldier, and to be as happy as my circumstances would allow; and I do not think I made myself obnoxious to any living soul. Within our mess we were not without our disagreements, and I had to bear my share of banter from my elders; but none can say, “This was he whom we had sometime in derision, and a proverb of reproach. We accounted his life madness, and his end to be without honour.”

The exigencies of war necessitated our removal by train from Columbus to Cave City, Kentucky, where we arrived about the 25th of November, 1861. We remained in this camp until about the middle of February, 1862. The force around Bowling Green and Cave City numbered 22,000. Our brigade was attached to the Division of General Hardee, author of “Tactics.” During the time we remained there, no fighting occurred; but we made several midnight marches towards Green River, and posted ourselves in positions to surprise the enemy, expected to come from Munfordville.

During the winter in this camp I won the approval of the mess by an aptitude for lessening the inconveniences under which we suffered in mid-winter, and my success in foraging. Instead of a fire under the Sibley tripod, which, besides endangering our feet and bedding, smoked us, I suggested that we should sink a hearth and build a fire-place with a flue and regular chimney of mud outside; and, with the help of the veteran Slate, the work was executed so well that our tent was always warm and clear of smoke, while the edges of the [180] hearth made comfortable seats by which we could toast our feet, and recline back luxuriously. Tomasson, our bawling mess-mate, was not worth his salt at any work except legitimate soldiering. He seemed to consider that, by dusting around like a clown at a pantomime, and giving us the honour of his company, he did enough for the general welfare. Armstrong and Story were sergeants; and, of course, their Mightinesses were exempt from doing more than stooping to praise! Dan, being in the leading-strings of Story, was not permitted to roam; therefore, when it came to a consideration of ways and means for improving our diet, it devolved upon Malone, Slate, and myself to exert ourselves for the mess.

The long halt at Cave City served to initiate me into the mysteries of foraging, which, in army-vocabulary, meant not only to steal from the enemy, but to exploit Secessionist sympathisers, and obtain for love and money some trifles to make life more enjoyable. Malone and Slate were very successful and clever in all sorts of ruses. I was envious of the praises given to them, and resolved to outdo them. What rackings of the brain I suffered, as I mentally revolved the methods to adopt! General Sidney Johnston gave not so much time to the study of inflicting defeat on the Yankees, as I gave to win glory from the mess by my exploits. Half-a-dozen times in December it had been my turn to forage, but, somehow, my return was not greeted with any rapturous applause. However, by Christmas Eve I had a fair knowledge of the country and the temper of the people about, and my mind was stored with information regarding Secessionists, Unionists, and lanes, and farms, to a radius of five miles around the camp. Just on the edge of my circle, there lay one fat farm towards Green River, the owner of which was a Yank, and his neighbour told me he corresponded with the enemy. For a foot-soldier, the distance was somewhat far, but for a horseman, it was nothing.

The day before Christmas, through the assistance of a man named Tate, I had the promise of a mule; and having obtained the countersign from Armstrong, I set out, as soon as it was dark, to levy a contribution on the Unionist farmer. It was about ten o'clock by the time I reached the place. Tying my mule in the angle of a fence, I climbed over, and explored [181] the grounds. In crossing a field, I came to half-a-dozen low mounds, which I was certain contained stores of potatoes, or something of the kind. I burrowed into the side of one of them with my bayonet, and presently I smelled apples. These were even better than potatoes, for they would do splendidly for dumplings. I half-filled a sack with them. After burrowing into two or three others, I came to one which contained the winter store of potatoes, and I soon raked out enough to make a load. I hurried with my booty to my mule, and secured it on the mule.

Then, thinking that a goose, or even a duck or a fowl or two, would make our Christmas dinner complete, I was tempted to make a quest for them, anticipating, as I crept towards the farm, the glory I should receive from my mess. I reached the out-houses with every faculty strained, and I soon had the pleasure of wringing the neck of a goose, a duck, and two fowls.

I ought to have had the discretion to retire now, but the ambition to extinguish Malone and Slate, to see the grin of admiration on Armstrong's face, and Newton Story open his eyes, and Tomasson compelled to pay homage to worth, left me still dissatisfied; and just then scenting a hog-pen, I quietly moved towards it. By the light of a feeble moon I worked into the piggies' home, and there, cuddled about the hams of their mother, I saw the pinky forms of three or four plump shoats. Aye, a tender shoat, roasted brown and crisp, would be the crown of a Christmas dinner! I bounded lightly as a lean fox into the sty, snatched a young porkling up by the heels, creating a terrifying clamour by the act. We were all alarmed, the mother hoarsely grunted, the piggies squealed in a frightful chorus, the innocent rent the midnight air with his cries; but, determined not to lose my prize, I scrambled over, ended its fears and struggles by one fierce slash, dumped the carcase into the sack, and then hastened away. Lights were visible in the farm-house, doors slammed, and by a broad beam of light I saw a man in the doorway with a gun in his hand. A second later a shower of pellets whistled about me, fortunately without harm, which sent me tearing madly towards my mule. In a few minutes, bathed in perspiration, I was astride of my mule, with my sack of dead meat in front of [182] me, and potatoes and apples thumping the sides of my animal as I rode away towards camp.

Long before dawn, I made my triumphant appearance in front of my tent, and was rewarded by every member of the mess with the most grateful acknowledgements. The Christmas dinner was a splendid success, and over twenty invited guests sat down to it, and praises were on every lip; but without the apple dumplings and fritters it would not have been complete to us youngsters. Secretly, I was persuaded that it was as wrong to rob a poor Unionist as a Secessionist; but the word “foraging,” which, by general consent, was bestowed on such deeds, mollified my scruples. Foragers were sent out by the authorities every other day, and even authorised to seize supplies by force; and, according to the military education I was receiving, I did not appear to be so very wicked as my conscience was inclined to make me out to be.

When I set out foraging in the daytime I was amply furnished with funds, and sought some fraternal “Secesh.” Towards Green River, beyond the pickets, an old Secessionist lady and I became great friends, trusting one another without reservation. I would give her ten dollars at a time to invest in eggs, butter, and fowls; and she would trust me with bowls, tins, and linen, to take the articles to camp. The old lady was wont to bless my “honest face” and to be emotional, as I told her of the sufferings of my fellow-‘Dixies’ at camp, out in the snow and wintry gale. Her large faith in me, and her good heart, made me so scrupulous that I ran many risks to restore her property to her. Her features and widowed condition, the sight of her dairy utensils, clean, and smelling of laitage, cream, and cheese, revived pleasing recollections of kine and their night-stalls, and led on to Aunt Mary and her chimney-side; from that moment, I was her most devoted admirer. Through her favouritism for me, our mess was often able to lend a pound of fresh butter and a dozen eggs to the officers' mess.

One of the most singular characteristics of my comrades was their readiness to take offence at any reflection on their veracity or personal honour, and the most certain provocation of fury was to give anyone the lie. They could stand the most vulgar horse-play, sarcastic badinage, and cutting jokes, with good-humour; but. if that unhappy word escaped one in heat, [183] or playful malice, it acted on their nerves as a red rag is said to do on a mad bull. The glory of a native Southerner consists in being reputed brave, truth-telling, and reverent towards women. On such subjects, no joking was permissible. He who ventured to cast a doubt upon either was liable to be called upon at an instant to withdraw it; and, if an angry tone made the doubter writhe, and indisposed to submit, there was sure to be a scene. To withdraw a word at an imperious command was to confess oneself inferior in courage to him who challenged; and, as all prided themselves on being of equal rank, and similarly endowed with the best qualities of manhood, I never met one who was morally brave enough to confess his fault and apologise, unless he was compelled by overwhelming odds.

During that winter I absorbed so many of these ‘chivalrous’ ideas that I was in a fair way of becoming as great a “fireeater” as any son of the South. Had it not been for Newton Story and Armstrong, who knew intuitively when to interpose their authority, Tomasson's rudeness, which flared me up many a time, would, I am sure, have been followed by deplorable consequences. There was young Dan also; he was often in a wrangling mood, and by his over-insistent glorifications of Southern chivalry brought us within a hair's breadth of triggers.

The tedium of camp-life at Cave City was relieved by out-breaks of this kind, for, when we were not required to exhibit our courage against the common foe, the spirit of mischief found it an easy task to influence our susceptiveness when discussing such dear and near matters as valour, chastity, honour, and chivalry, the four chiefest virtues of the South. It is not an easy task to identify myself in the sunken hearth of the tent at Cave City, talking grandly upon such themes; but several scenes recur to the mind, and compel me to the humiliating confession that it was I.

This life did not tend to awaken spiritual thoughts, or religious observations. When, after a long lapse from piety, I strove to correct my erring disposition with the aid of prayer, how very faint-hearted I felt! I shrank from the least allusion to any goody-goodiness manifested; I became shame-faced if I was accused of being pious; the Bible was only opened by [184] stealth; and I was as ready to deny that I prayed, as Peter was to deny Christ. A word or act of my neighbour became as perilous to my spiritual feelings as a gust of east wind is to a sufferer from Influenza. Every hour brought its obstacle; but I came, by degrees, to realise that, just as one must concentrate his reasoning faculties for the solution of a problem, I must, if I hoped to win in the great fight, summon every good thought to my assistance, and resolutely banish all false pride.

But these were not my worst faults. Tomasson's mad humour was as infectious as Dan's dissertations upon Southern chivalry. Indoors he was jestive, amusing, vulgarly-entertaining; outdoors, he made us all join him in uproarious laughter. The prank of a mule, the sight of a tall hat, the apparition of a black coat, a child, a woman, a duel between two cocks, a culprit undergoing penance, it mattered not what, tickled his humorous nerve, and instigated him to bawl, and yell, and break out into explosions of laughter; and whether we laughed at him, or at that which had caught his fancy, in a second we had joined in the yelling, the company became smitten with it, then the regiment, and, finally, the army, was convulsed in idiotic cachinnations. I really blushed at the follies that people like Tomasson often led us into; but, after all, these occasional bursts of jolly imbecility were only a way these free-born natures took to express their animal discontent and mild melancholy, under the humiliating circumstances of that crude period. It was really pathetic, after a mild paroxysm of this kind, to hear them sigh, and turn to each other and ask, “Who would sell a farm to become a soldier?”

From the day when personal decoration was not expected from the private soldiers, and we learned that endurance was more esteemed than comeliness, a steady deterioration in our appearance took place. We allowed weeks to pass by without a bath; our hair was mown, not cut, making a comb unnecessary; a bottle of water sufficed for ablution, a pocket-handkerchief, or the sleeve of our jacket, served for a towel; a dab of bacon-fat was all that was needed for our boots; our dingy grey uniforms required no brushing. Soldiering, as practised in time of war, was most demoralising in many ways; for the conflict against hunger, fatigue, cold, and exposure, exhausted the energies and strength of each individual. [185]

By February, 1862, we had learned the trade of war tolerably well, and were rich in ‘wrinkles’; for no teacher is so thorough as necessity. We were no longer harrowed by the scarcity of comforts, and the climate, with its fickleness and inclemency, we proudly disregarded. Whether it rained, sleeted, or snowed, or the keen frost bit through to the marrow, mattered as little to us as it did to the military geniuses who expected raw soldiers to thrive on this Spartan training. To perfect content with our lot we could not hope to attain, so long as we retained each our spiritual individualities, and remembered what we had enjoyed in times gone-by; but, after a course of due seasoning, the worst ills only provoked a temporary ill-humour; while our susceptibility to fun so sweetened our life that there was scarcely anything in our lives but conduced to a laugh and prompted a jest.

The fall of Forts Henry and Donelson, on the 6th and 16th February, 1862, required our instant evacuation of Cave City and Bowling Green, to Nashville, lest we should be cut off by the Union advance up the Cumberland and Tennessee Rivers, behind us. We were therefore obliged to march through the snow to the rear of Bowling Green, where we were packed into the cars and speedily taken to Nashville, arriving there on the 20th February. Thence, after a couple of days, we were marched towards the South, via Murfreesboro, Tullahoma, Athens, and Decatur, a march of two hundred and fifty miles. At the latter place we took the cars again, and were transported to Corinth, where we arrived on the 25th March. Here it leaked out that a surprise was intended against our army, by the conqueror of Donelson, who had landed from the Tennessee River near Shiloh, some twenty-four miles away from us. Brigades and regiments were daily arriving, belonging to the divisions of Generals Clark, Cheatham, Bragg, Withers, and Breckenridge, which were finally formed into three army corps, under the inspection commands of Polk, Braxton, Bragg, and Hardee, and were now united under the commands of Generals Albert Sidney Johnston, and P. G. T. Beauregard.

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