previous next

Blunderbus on picket.

scene.-Banks of the Rappahannock, in the winter of 1862-3; a camp-fire blazing under an oak, and Captain Blunderbus conversing with a Staff Officer on inspection duty — the picket stationed near, and opposite the enemy.

Blunderbus loquitur.-
This is pleasant-picketing always is. Uncommonly dark, however — the night black but comely, and that frosty moon yonder trying to shine, and dance on the ripples of the river! Don't you think it would look better if you saw it from the porch at home, with Mary or Fanny by your side?

Picturesque, but not warm. Pile on the rails, my boy; never mind the expense. The Confederacy pays-or don't pay — for all the fences; and nothing warms the feet, expands the soul, and makes the spirits cheerful like a good rail-fire. I was reading in an old paper, the other day, some poetry-writing which they said was found on the body of one of Stonewall's sergeants at Winchester — a song he called “Jackson's way.” He tells his comrades to “pile on the rails,” and says,

No matter if the canteen fails,
We'll make a roaring light!

Sensible-and speaking of canteens, is there anything in yours, my boy? Nothing. Such is fate! [391]

I was born unlucky, and always will be so. Now a drop of brandy would not have been bad to-night; or say a mouthful of whiskey, or a little apple or peach-brandy, gin, madeira, sherry, claret, or even bottled porter, crab-cider or champagne! Any of these would have communicated a charm to existence, which-wanting them — it lacks.

But let us be content with what we have, and accept all fortunes as they come! If ever you hear people say that Blunderbus is a mere trooper, old fellow — that he cares for nothing but eating and drinking, and sleeping-just tell 'em you heard him express that fine sentiment, and they will think better of him. You see I'm a philosopher, like yourself, and I don't let trifles get the better of me. The soul superior to misfortune is a noble spectacle, and warms the heart of the beholder like generous wine. I wish I had some.

I think, however, I prefer this water. Now that I observe it, it is excellent — with a body to it, a flavour, a sweetness, and stimulating effect which I never noticed before. And then our fire! Just look at it! You're an old hand at rails, I'll be willing to bet — for you fix 'em on the fire with the art of a master. What a glorious sight to see! How it warms the soul!

I observe that the Yankee pickets over yonder have a miserable fire-made of green wood, doubtless, and smouldering. I was looking at them just now through my glass, and I am glad to say one of the blue-coats was slapping his arms violently against his breast to keep up the circulation. Pleasant; for if anything can increase the comfort of a fire like this, it is the consciousness that our friends over the way are shivering by one that won't burn.

I believe I will smoke. Nothing assists intellectual conversation like a pipe. Help yourself. You will find that pouch-Yankee plunder from Manassas last August-full of the real article, and the best you ever smoked. It is real, pure Lynchburg-brown, free from stems, and perfumed with the native aroma of the weed. Smoke, guest of mine! That brand is warranted to drive off all blue-devils — to wrap the soul in Elysian dreams of real Java coffee, English boots, French wines, and no [392] blockade. There are men, I am told, who don't smoke. I pity ‘em! How do they sustain existence, or talk or think? All real philosophers use the magical weed; and I always thought Raleigh, when I used to read about him, the most sensible man of his time, because he smoked. I have no doubt Shakespeare carried a pipe about, and wrote his plays with it in his mouth.

I'll trouble you to hand me that chunk when you are done with it. Thank you. Now the summit glows; the mysterious depths are illumined. All right; I am lit.

This is soothing; all care departs when you smoke a good pipe. Existence assumes a smiling and bright aspect; all things are rose-coloured. I find my spirits rising, my sympathies expanding, even until they embrace the whole Yankee nation. This is an excellent root I am leaning my back against — I never knew a rocking-chair more agreeable. Our fire is magnificent; and observe the picturesque effect of the enemy's blaze reflected in the stream!

The enemy! Who knows if that is fair? Perhaps that good fellow over there, who was slapping his arms, I am sorry to say, just now, by way of restoring the circulation and keeping himself warm, came here to fight us against his will! Honest fellows! who blames them? They are unfortunate, and I sympathize with them. I observe that the fire over yonder, which our friends have kindled, burns feebly, and doubtless is fed with green wood. We could spare them a few rails, eh? But then to communicate with them is against orders.

I believe they come down here from pure curiosity, and rather like to be taken prisoner. But it takes a good deal to feed them. We want all our provisions. Often I have been nearly starved, and I assure you starving is a disagreeable process. I have tried it several times, and I can tell you where I first experienced the sensation in full force. At Manassas, in July, 1861.

I was in the artillery then, and had command of a gun, which gun was attached to a battery, which battery was a part of General Bonham's brigade. Now General Bonham commanded the advance force of Beauregard's army, and was stationed at the village of Fairfax. Well, we had a gay time at Fairfax in those [393] early months of the war, playing at soldiering, and laughing at the enemy for not advancing. The red cuffs of the artillery, the yellow of the cavalry, and the blue of the infantry, were all popular in the eyes of the village beauties, and rarely did anything of a melancholy character interfere with our pleasures. Sometimes a cavalry-man would be shot on picket — as we may be to-night, old fellow; and I remember once a noble boy of the “Black horse,” or Radford's regiment, was brought back dead, wrapped in an oil-cloth which his sister had taken from her piano and given him to sleep on. Poor thing! she must have cried when she heard of that; but there has been a good deal of crying during the present war.

Kick that rail-end up. It makes me melancholy to see a fire dying down. Well, we had a pleasant time in the small village of Fairfax, until one July day my gun was ordered to a breastwork not far off, and I heard that the “Grand army” was coming. Now I was thinking about the Commissary department when I heard this news, for we had had nothing to eat for a day nearly; but I went to work, finishing the embrasure for my piece. Bags marked “The Confederate States” were filled with sand and piled up skilfully; trees obstructing the range were chopped down rapidly; and then, stepping off the ground from the earthwork to the woods from which the enemy would issue, I had the pleasure of perceiving that the foe would be compelled to pass over at least four hundred and thirty yards before reaching me with the bayonet. Now in four hundred and thirty yards you can fire, before an enemy gets up to you, about one round of solid shot, and two rounds of canister-say three of canister. I depended, therefore, upon three rounds of canister to drive back the Grand Army, and undertook it with alarcrity. I continued hungry, however, and grew hungrier as night fell, on the 16th July.

At daylight I was waked by guns in front, and found myself hungrier than ever. At sunrise a gentleman on a white horse passed by at a gallop, with the cheerful words: “Gentlemen, the enemy are upon you!” and the cannoners were ranged at the gun, with the infantry support disposed upon the flanks. All was [394] ready, the piece loaded, the lanyard-hook passed through the ring of the primer, and the sharpshooters of the enemy had appeared on the edge of the woods, when they sent us an order to retire. We accordingly retired, and continued to retire until we reached Centreville, halting on the hill there. We were posted in battery there, and lay down-very hungry. A cracker I had borrowed did not allay hunger; and had a dozen Yankees been drawn up between me and a hot supper, I should have charged them with the spirit of Winkelreid, when he swept the Austrian spears in his embrace, and “made a gap for liberty.”

We did not fight there, however; we were only carrying out General Beauregard's plan for drawing on the enemy to Bull Run, where he was ready for them. At midnight we limbered up, the infantry and cavalry began to move, blue and red signal rockets were thrown up, and the little army slowly retired before the enemy, reaching the southern flank of Bull Run at daylight. The Federals were close upon our heels, and about ten o'clock commenced the first fight there, the “battle of the 18th.”

Now when I arrived at Bull Run, I was hungry enough to eat a wolf. I lay down on the wet ground, and thought of various appetizing bills of fare. Visions of roast beef, coffee, juleps, and other Elysian things rose before my starving eyes; and the first guns of the enemy, crashing their round shot through the trees overhead, scarcely attracted my attention. I grew hungrier and hungrier-things had grown to a desperate pitch, whenbeautiful even in the eyes of memory!-an African appeared from our wagons in the rear with hot coffee, and broiled bacon, and flat-cake, yet hot from the oven! At the same moment a friend, who had stolen off to the wagons, made an imperceptible gesture, and indicating his tin canteen, gave me an inquiring look. In the service this pantomime always expresses a willingness to drink your health and pass the bottle. I so understand itand retiring from the crowd, swallowed a mouthful of the liquid. It was excellent whiskey, and my faintness from hunger and exhaustion made the effect magical. New life and strength filled my frame-and turning round, I was saluted by an excellent breakfast held out to me by the venerable old African cook! [395]

Ye gods! how that breakfast tasted! The animal from which that ham was cut must surely have been fattened on ambrosia; and the hot, black coffee was a tin cup full of nectar in disguise! When I had finished that meal I was a man again. I had been in a dangerous mood before-my patriotism had cooled, my convictions were shaken. I had doubted of the Republic, and thought the Confederacy in the wrong, perhaps. But now all was changed. From that moment I was a true Southerner again, and my opinions had the genuine ring of the true Southern metal. I went into the battle with a joyous soul-burning with love of my native land, and resolved to conquer or die!

I wish I could get at that bill of fare to-night. Hunger sours the temper-men grow unamiable under it. Hand me that carbine — it is not more than four hundred yards to the picket across yonder, and I'll bet you I can put a bullet through that bluebird nodding over the fire. Against orders, do you say? Well, so it is; but my fingers are itching to get at that carbine.

I'll trouble you to stick my pipe in the hot ashes by you, my friend. I am fixed here so comfortably with my back against this tree, that I hate the idea of getting up. You see I get lazy when I begin to smoke, old fellow; and I think about so many things, that I don't like to break my reflections by moving. I have seen a good deal in this war, and I wish I was a writer to set it down on paper. You see if I don't, I am certain to forget everything, unless I live to eighty-and then when the youngsters, grandchildren, and all that (if I have any, which I doubt), gather around me, with mouths open, I will be certain to make myself out a tremendous warrior, which will be a lie; for Blunderbus is only an old Captain of Cavalry, good at few things but picketing. Besides, all the real colours of the war would be lost, things would be twisted and ruined; if I could set 'em down now in a book, the world would know exactly how the truth was. Oh, that Blunderbus was an author!

I have my doubts about the figure we will cut when the black-coats, who don't see the war, commence writing about us. Just think what a mess they will make, old fellow! They will be worse than Yankee Cavalry slashing right and left-much ink [396] will be shed, but will the thing be history? I doubt it. You see, the books will be too elegant and dignified; war is a rough, bloody trade, but they will gild it over like a looking-glass frame. I shouldn't wonder if they made me, Blunderbus, the old bear, a perfect “carpet knight” --all airs, and graces, and attractions. If they do, they will write a tremendous lie, old fellow! The way to paint me is rough, dirty, bearded, and hungry, and always growling at the Yankees. Especially hungry — the fact is, I am really wolfish to-night; and I see that blue rascal over yonder gnawing his rations and raising a black bottle to his lips; Wretch! --the thing is intolerable; give me the carbine-I'll stop him!-cursed order that keeps me from stopping his amusement-the villain! Who can keep his temper under trials like this, Sergeant?

Sergeant of pickets
advancing. Here, Captain.

scowling. Are all the men present? Call the roll — if any are missing —
(The Sergeant calls the roll and returns to the fire.)

All present but Tim Tickler, Captain.

enraged. Where is Tickler — the wretched Tickler?

hastening up. Here, Captain-present, Captain.

wrathful. So you are absent at roll-call! So you shirk your duty on picket! Sergeant, put this man tomorrow in a barrel shirt; on the next offence, buck him! What are you standing there for, villain?

producing a canteen. I don't bear malice, I don't, Captain. I just went to the house yonder, thinking the night was cold — for a few minutes only, Captain, being just relieved from post — to get a little bit to eat, and a drop of drink. Prime applejack, Captain; taste it, barrel shirt or no.
Tickler extends the canteen, which Blunderbus takes, offers his friend, and drinks from.)

offering ham and bread. And here's a little prog, Captain.

calling to the Sergeant, who retires with [397] Tickler. Remit Private Tickler's punishment, Sergeant; under the circumstances he is excusable.

staff officer.
Ha, ha!

smiling. You may laugh, my friend; but applejack like that is no laughing matter. What expands the soul like meat, bread, and drink? Do you think me capable of punishing that honest fellow? Never! My feelings are too amiable. I could hug the whole world at the present moment, even the Yanks yonder. Poor fellows! I fear their fire is dying down, and they will freeze; suppose we call across and invite them to come and warm by our fire? They are not such bad fellows after all, my dear friend; and Blunderbus will answer for their peaceful propensities. Nothing could tempt them to fire upon us-they are enemies alone from the force of circumstances!
(A stick rolls from the fire, and the carbine lying near is discharged. The enemy start to arms, and a shower of bullets whistles round, one from a long-range Spencer rifle striking Blunderbus on the buckle of his sword belt, and knocking him literally heels over head.)

rising in a tremendous rage. Attention! fire on 'em! Exterminate 'em! Give it to the rascals hot and heavy, boys! Go it! Fire! (Bang! bang! bang!) Pour it into 'em! Another round! That's the thing! I saw one fall! Hoop! give 'em another, boys! Hand me a carbine!

staff officer,
from his post behind the oak. Ha! ha! You are a philosopher, my dear Blunderbus, and a real peace missionary-but the “force of circumstances” alters cases, eh?

sardonically. I rather think it does.
(Staff Officer mounts, and continues his rounds, the fire having ceased, leaving Blnuderbus swearing and rubbing the spot where he was struck.)

staff officer,
moving on. Good-night!

in the distance. Good-night! Curse 'em.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License.

An XML version of this text is available for download, with the additional restriction that you offer Perseus any modifications you make. Perseus provides credit for all accepted changes, storing new additions in a versioning system.

hide People (automatically extracted)
Sort people alphabetically, as they appear on the page, by frequency
Click on a person to search for him/her in this document.
Blunderbus (9)
Tim Tickler (6)
Bonham (2)
Beauregard (2)
Stonewall (1)
Shakespeare (1)
Raleigh (1)
Radford (1)
Banks (1)
hide Dates (automatically extracted)
Sort dates alphabetically, as they appear on the page, by frequency
Click on a date to search for it in this document.
1863 AD (1)
1862 AD (1)
July, 1861 AD (1)
August (1)
July 16th (1)
July 1st (1)
hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: