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Chapter 7: Mobile, the Gulf city.

  • Echo from Maryland
  • -- Alabama's preparation -- Mobile's crack corps -- John Forsyth on the peace commissioners -- Mobile society -- pleasure-lovers and their pleasures -- a victim of the tiger -- two moral axioms.
    Mobile was in a state of perfect ferment when we arrived. The news from Maryland had made profound sensation and had dissipated the delusive hopes-indulged there as well as in Montgomery-like mists before the sun.

    All now agreed that war must come. Many thought it already upon them. Groups, anxious and steadfast, filled the hotels, the clubs and the post-office; and the sense of all was that Maryland had spoken not one hour too soon; having spoken, the simple duty of the South was to prevent harm to a hair of her head for words said in its defense.

    Those who had been the hottest in branding the action of Virginia as laggard, looked to her for the steadiest and most efficient aid, now that the crisis faced them; while all felt she would meet the calls of the hour with never a pause for the result. The sanguine counted on Maryland, bound by every community of interest, every tie of sympathy — as already one of the Confederate States. She was no longer neutral, they said. She had put her lance in rest and rallied to the charge, in the avowed quarrel that the troops attacked were on their way to oppress her next sister. And nothing could follow but Virginia's bright falchion must flash out, and the states must lock shields and press between her and the giant she had roused.

    The Gulf City had not been idle. The echo of the first gun at Charleston had roused her people; and with a wonderful accord they had sprung to arms. Law books were thrown aside, merchants locked up their ledgers, even students of theology forgot that they were men of peace-and all enrolled themselves in the “crack” companies. No wonder, when the very best blood of the state ran in the veins of the humblest private; when men of letters and culture and wealth refused any but “the post of honor,” with musket [55] on shoulder; when the most delicate fingers of their fairest worked the flags that floated over them, and the softest voices urged them tot their devoir; no wonder, then, that high on the roll of fame are now written the names of the Mobile Cadets — of the Gulf City Guards--of the Rifles-and enough others to make the list as long as; Leporello's. Not one in ten of the best born youth of Mobile remained at home; the mechanics, the stevedores and men of every class flocked to follow their example, so that the city alone gave two, full regiments and helped to fill up others. The news from Virginia and Maryland had given but a fresh impetus to these preparations and, before my return to Montgomery, these regiments had passed through, on their way to the new battle ground on the Potomac frontier.

    On the night of our arrival in the Gulf City, that escape valve for all excitement, a dense crowd, collected in front of the Battle House and Colonel John Forsyth addressed them from the balcony. He had just returned from Washington with the southern commissioners and gave, he said, a true narrative of the manner and results of their mission. At this lapse of time it is needless to detail even the substance of his speech; but it made a marked impression on the crowd, as the surging sea of upturned faces plainly told. John Forsyth, already acknowledged one of the ablest of southern leaders, was a veritable Harry Hotspur. His views brooked no delay or temporizing; and, as he spoke, in vein of fiery elegance, shouts and yells of defiant approval rose in full swell of a thousand voices. Once he named a noted Alabamian, whom he seemingly believed to have played a double part in these negotiations; and the excited auditory greeted his name with hisses and execrations. That they did their fellow-citizen injustice the most trying councils of the war proved; for he soon after came South and wrought, with all the grand power in him, during the whole enduring struggle.

    Staple was tired of politics, and hated a crowd; so he soon lounged off to the club, an institution gotten up with a delightful regard to the most comfortable arrangement and the most accomplished chef in the South. There one met the most cordial hospitality, the neatest entertainment and the very best wines in the Gulf section. The cook was an artist, as our first supper declared; and play could be found, too, as needed; for young Mobile was not slow, and money., in those days, was plenty. [56]

    Altogether, the tone of Mobile society was more cosmopolitan than that of any city of the South, save, perhaps, New Orleans. It may be that its commercial connections, reaching largely abroad, produced the effect; or that propinquity to and constant intercourse with its sister city induced freer mode of thought and action. Located at the head of her beautiful bay, wi'th a wide sweep of blue water before her, the cleanly-built, unpaved streets gave Mobile a fresh, cool aspect. The houses were fine and their appointments in good, and sometimes luxurious, taste. The society was a very pleasure-loving organization, enjoying the gifts of situation, of climate and of fortune to their full. On dit, it sometimes forgot the Spartan code; but the stranger was never made aware of that, for it ever sedulously remembered good taste.

    Between the drives, dinners and other time-killers, one week slipped around with great rapidity; and we could hardly realize it when the colonel looked over his newspaper at breakfast and said:

    Last day, boys! Egad! the cooking here is a little different from Montgomery-but we must take the ‘Cuba’ this evening.

    So adieux were spoken, and at dusk we went aboard the snug, neat little Gulf steamer of the New Orleans line. She was a trimmer craft than our floating card-house of river travel, built for a little outside work in case of necessity, or the chances of a norther.

    We scudded merrily down the bay toward Fort Morgan, the grim sentinel sitting dark and lonely at the harbor's mouth and showing a row of teeth that might be a warning. The fort was now put in thorough repair and readiness by Colonel Hardee, of the regular army of the Confederate States.

    I was following Styles down from the upper deck, when we heard high voices from the end of the boat, and recognized one exclaiming:

    Curse you! I'll cut your ear off!

    Round the open bar we found an excited crowd, in the center of which was our worldly-minded middie of river-boat memory and “Spring Chicken,” his colleague; both talking very loud, and the latter exhibiting a bowie-knife half as long as himself. By considerable talk and more elbowing, we made our way to the boys; and, with the aid of a friendly stoker, got them both safely in my stateroom.

    Once there, the man of the world-who, unlike the needy knifegrinder, [57] had a story-told it. After getting on the boat, Spring Chicken had been taking mint with sugar and something; and he took it once too often. Seeing this, the worldling tried to get him forward to his state-room; but, as we passed the fort, a jolly passenger, who had also taken mint, waved his hat at the fortification and cried out:

    Hurrah for Muggins!

    Spring Chicken stopped, balanced himself on his heels and announced with much dignity “Sir, I am Muggins!”

    “Didn't know you, Muggins,” responded the shouter, who fortunately had not taken fighting whisky. “Beg pardon, Muggins! Hurrah for Peacock.! Yah-a-h

    “See here, my good fellow, I'm Peacock!” repeated Spring Chicken.

    “The thunder you are! You can't be two people!”

    “Sir!” responded Spring Chicken, with even greater dignity, “I do not-hic — desire to argue with you. I am Peacock!”

    The man laughed. “The Peacock I mean is a northern man” --

    “I'm a northern man,” yelled the now irate Spring Chicken. “Curse you, sir! what are my principles to you? I'll cut your ear off!” And it was this peaceful proposition that attracted our attention, in time to prevent any trouble with the ugly knife he drew from his back.

    Spring Chicken had remained passive during the recital of the more sober worldling. Sundry muttered oaths had sufficed him until it was over, when he made the lucid explanation:

    “ Reas'l didl't — hic-dam decoy — bet ol red-ev'ry cent-heic!”

    This the worldling translated and the murder was out. When we lost sight of the boys on the Southern Republic, they had ordered wine. At dinner they had more; and — glowing therewith, as they sat over their cigars on the gallery — did not “stop their ears,” but, on the contrary, “listed to the voice of the charmer.” When the stool pigeon once more stood in the doorway, rattling his half dollars, they followed him into the den of the tiger.

    “Faro” went against them; “odd-and-even” was worse; rouge-et-noir worst of all; and at night they were sober and dead broke, an unpleasant but not infrequent phase of boat life. [58]

    “ Didl't have aly wash to spout,” remarked Spring Chicken, with his head under his arm.

    “Yes-we owed our wine bill,” continued the middle, whose worldliness decreased as he got sober, “and our trunk was in pawn to the nigger we owed a quarter for taking care of it. So as soon as the boat touched, I ran for'ard and jumped off, while he waited to keep the things in sight till I came back.”

    “So he was in pawn, too, egad!” said the colonel.

    “Thasso, ol‘ cock!” hiccoughed Spring Chicken.

    “And when I got the money and we went up town, we met the cussed decoy again, and we were fools enough to go again--”

    “Williz molley-damniz-hic-eyes!” interpolated the other.

    “-- And we got broke again-and this fellow that hollowed Muggins looked like the decoy, but he wasn't. That's the whole truth, Mr. Styles.”

    “Mussput-hic-fi dollus on-jack?” remarked Spring Chicken. “See yer, Styse-o'boy, damfattolman-con'l is!” and he curled from the lounge to the floor and slept peacefully.

    “My young friend,” remarked Styles gravely to the middie, as we tucked the insensible Spring Chicken into his berth-“If you want to gamble, you'll do it-so I don't advise you. But these amphibious beasts are dangerous; so in future play with gentlemen and let them alone.”

    “And, my boy,” said the colonel, enunciating his moral lesson-“gambling is bad enough, egad! but any man is lost-yes, sir, lost! --who will drink mint-after dinner!”

    With which great moral axioms we retired and slept until our steamer reached the “Queen city of the South.”

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