Recollections of George U. Young, Co. K
[Editor’s note: Young utilizes “sic” in his narrative, typically for facetious emphasis. Our use of “sic” can be distinguished from his because ours appears only in brackets: [sic].]
When I think of all that has been said and written, (not all of it true by any means) about the late unpleasantness, I feel how almost impossible it is to write any more incidents that shall have the smack of originality about them, but having had assurance that my recollections will not be put before the Public in Citizen’s dress, but will be duly mustered into the History of my old regiment to fill up little gaps that may be left open I shall endeavor to do my duty, and in doing so I may perhaps cause it to be said after all that there is something new (in History) under the sun . . .
When I enlisted, Co. K had Quarters in a large room (if I recollect aright) at the corner of Court and Sudbury streets, Boston, and it was there I had to stop for some time until proper arrangements could be made to send us to Camp. And a glance backward to a Soldier’s life there, compared to what it got to be before the end of the war, will show what a lot we had to learn, and will also show from what small beginnings our great and victorious armies grew out of, for at that time every man was his own boss. ‘Tis true there was a Sentry sic at the door clad in an Overcoat of the old Regulation Pattern and armed with an old Springfield Musket, both of which he had to pass over to the man that relieved him from his duty, this was done without any unnecessary blast of bugle or mounting of Guard; all that he had to do when he got tired was to call some fellow and tell him he might stand Guard for him awhile, and as every man thought it a favor to be allowed to stand on Guard (we all lived to think different about it before we got through) it was quite easy to get someone for that purpose. We used to get
our Meals in charge of a Sergeant so-called at a place of unsavory repute on Portland street.(I didn’t understand the nature of the place at that time but I have reason to believe since that it was so.) However we got whatever we called for and I don’t know and didn’t at that time who paid for it or whether it was ever paid for. And when we used to go out whether for a walk in the day time or to our Homes to stay all night some person whom we in our ignorance of Military Matters thought to be the Captain, would say now be sure to come back tomorrow – or look out that you don’t get lost around the City. But like everything else our good times there came to an end, and one fine day we were Marched off to Camp Chase (Lowell, Mass.), and there as we imagined the hardships of a Soldier’s life was begun.
We had already (if I remember aright) been supplied with our uniform, which were very neat and of the French Zouave Pattern, and with some old Springfield Rifles, so that we were already (minus training) for guard duty. Here we got acquainted with each other and with our Superiour sic Officers and they rather more than we liked at that time with us. Our Camp, it will he borne in mind, was a large field with a high, tight board fence all around it, with large double gates made of matched boards so that when they were shut we were to all intents and purposes shut in from the evil influences of the wicked world outside. We couldn’t go out without a written Pass from Headquarters, but there was always more than double the number out, to what there were Passes issued, which went to show that some of the boys knew how to get over a fence pretty lively. This was a feat that we found to be of great advantage later on in more ways than one.
I remember on one occasion when we were out marching, the Officer in Command, a Lieut., I think it was, finding a fence right in front of the Company, gave the Command Halt – Break Ranks — and fall in on the other side of the fence! But to the credit of the Officers, it should be said that many of them, as well as ourselves, left their Homes at the country’s Call, and had
neither time nor opportunity to learn any of the routine of Military Life before they found themselves in command of Companies and many perhaps of Regiments. But I must come back again to the Camp, for like my Comrades I find I have been wandering away without a Pass.
A given number of passes had been given one day as usual and as I wandered around I could but wonder at the absence of so many men. When the roll was called at 5 p.m., about one-half of Co. K was missing and soon after word was brought from the town that the streets were full of drunken and disorderly soldiers, with a request to the Commanding Officer that a Guard be sent to bring them into Camp. A detail of six Privates, one Sergeant and two Corporals was at once dispatched with orders to arrest and bring in every man without a Pass, and those that were drunk even if they had a Pass. And while they are gone I will describe a little plainer the gates that separated us from the outside world. They were swung open in two halves when teams were to be admitted, but a small door cut in one of them served for our passing in or out when we went singly or in small squads. The Guards had been gone about an hour when we heard a terrible commotion outside of the gates — laughing, shouting, cursing — and among it all a few voices singing something about — carry your butt back — but where they wanted them carried back to we didn’t learn, for by this time orders had been issued to turn out the Guard, and fall in Company — fall in Company — and everybody was on the Qui Vive to see what was coming. We didn’t have to wait long however, for in a few moments through the darkness (it had got to be quite dark by this time) could be seen some thirty or forty men — Prisoners and Guards all drunk — some of the Prisoners carrying the guns of the Guards, and leading them along, and some of the Prisoners (so-called) being led by a lot of Hoodlams [sic], a vast number of which had followed the procession from the town. As soon as the Officers of the Guard saw the state of things they gave orders to open the double gates, and to open the door of the Guard House,which was just inside, and the whole crowd came stumbling in and were put under arrest, and given a chance to sleep off the effects of their first
jollification. While the crowd was surging in at the gateway I got mixed up with it and was boosted along with the rest into the guard tent, and I found that after I was once in there and under arrest, that excuses and explanations were alike of no avail, for the Sergeant informed me in very strong language that our Superiour [sic] Officers were supposed to know better
than we did whether we were guilty or not of a misdemeanor.
So I lay down and tried to sleep (most of the boys went to sleep without trying) and tried to imagine to myself what would be the outcome of this escapade. And what I found true at that time I have found to be true ever since — that bad company is one of the gateways by which thousands of young men and young women enter upon the downward course that leads to
destruction. Early in the morning (it was Sunday morning too) we were all astir in the Guard Tent waiting to see what would happen, for news had already got to us that Gen. Butler was in Camp and that we were to be brought forth at Guard Mounting. No one, however, seemed to think that we needed any attention aside from the bread and coffee sic that was given to us for our breakfast. How we did long for the Hot Brown Bread and Beans that we could have had if we had been Home. And it seems to me now that nothing but the fire of Patriotism that was burning within us kept us from running away from Camp, and so loading ourselves with disgrace forever. There were a number of men (that is what they called themselves) that did this every day while we were at Camp Chase, but thank God I was kept from thus dishonor-ring my Friends and myself.
But now we hear the Drums and Fifes the tramp of feet and the voices of the Sergeants and Corporals as they run from tent to tent giving the command, “Fall in Guards.” And while Guard Mounting is going on and the old Guard is being relieved, we inside try to put ourselves in shape to face the Music. I found myself dirty and shabby looking from being hustled about; among the other men, some of whom were covered with mud, so I tried the best I knew how to spruce up. I wiped the dirt off from my Blouse with my Cap, then taking the tail of my Blouse to wipe my face and brushing my trousers with my Hands, I looked, in comparison to some of my comrades, quite respectable.
I now got near enough to the door of the tent to look out, and there for the first time I saw the never to be forgotten face of Gen. Butler. He was talking with one of the Officers and I heard him say, “Yes, bring them out at once” — and now we were all brought out and stood in line in front of the Guards. The General came to the centre of the line and turning his eyes to the other side of the camp (although my comrade on the left whispered that he was looking straight at us) addressed us as near as I can remember in these words:
“My young friends, I am very sorry to meet you in this manner. I have heard of your bad behaviour, and of your being under arrest all night, but knowing as I do that yon do not understand the gravity of your offence and that you have no desire to put contempt or dishonour on the name of a Soldier, I shall have you all set at liberty at once. And I hope hereafter to see and hear good things from the 31st Mass. Vols., and especially from Co. K. But if you would be good soldiers you must respect yourselves and obey your Officers, for in a few days we shall be starting out to Fight and many perhaps to die for the Honour of our Country. And when we leave the City of Boston behind us, we must leave behind us all our boyish tricks, and all the notions that we may have entertained that we are going out South just to have some fun. Behave yourselves like Men and I believe you will find in me one who besides being your General will try to be your friend. Sergeant, let the men go to their Quarters.”
The kind words spoken at this time when we stood so much in need of them were a great comfort I think to all of us. And through all the changes that have taken place in Gen. Butler’s life, I have always found in my heart a tender spot for him. We passed the Sunday in wandering about the Camp getting acquainted with each other and making friends, talking ever about where we should be likely to go, and what we should have to do when we got there; all our conjectures, however, were brought to an end when, on Feb. 20, 1862, we found ourselves marching down State Street to Long Wharf where the Steamship Mississippi was waiting to take us to Ship Island. I can still see the waving of handkerchiefs and hear the encouraging words that came from the vast throngs of Stay-at-Homes that followed us through the streets and all through we felt so proud of our uniforms and of ourselves. I, for one, could not help shedding a tear when I put my foot on the gangway plank, and the officers said — as I thought with undue hardness — come move along men — never mind looking around — close up there, etc. No doubt however these commands were necessary for everybody seemed to be confused and in a situation that was altogether new.
Each Company was, as soon as possible, shown to their respective Quarters in the Ship, and night coming on, soon after we betook ourselves to our bunks — some to sleep, some to talk or sing, and many others, sad though it be to tell it, to drink and play cards until they too had to give way. This did not bring quietness, however, although it did bring darkness, and we passed the night as good as could be expected, for here, packed together in Quarters that would not be tolerated now, were more than sixteen hundred persons differing as much in their natures as they did in their appearance. Here was the boy fresh and green as the Berkshire Hills from whence he had come with perhaps a Bible that used to belong to Mother in his pocket, and a piece of the Pumpkin Pie that had been sent to Boston by the hired man in his Haversack. Here was the young man just from college with his head full of Zenopen’s [Xenophon] great battles. Near by me was an old Fisherman from the Banks of Cape Cod, and over in the corner sitting with his back against the side of the bunk is an Irishman (not long over) his hat is drawn over his eyes, and while he plays fondly with his short clay pipe you can almost hear him say: “Bedad, I’d like to see myself running away from any of the white nagurs.” As I looked around at my companions I thought, poor fellows, many of you are going never to return, and the great throbbing engine seemed to say to me, you too — you too. I fell asleep while thus musing and didn’t wake again until I was awoke by the sound of drums and the tramp of feet over my head. I went on deck as soon as I could, and when I looked around me I began to realize that I was no longer myself, but only a part of that vast machinery, that had been put in motion to suppress the Rebellion that was then spreading itself with giant strides over the length and breadth of our beloved land.
Matters on board the ship were being put into what the sailors call ship-shape, but to my unpractised eye it seemed as though everyone I met wanted to go somewhere but couldn’t find the way. We had got out of sight of the land by this time, our vessels of all kinds could be seen in the distance. Now we would pass a steamer — puffing and blowing like a thing of Life — making every effort to reach Boston before another blow would come on; here again was a sailing vessel bound to some foreign port, tacking first one way and then another, as tho’ she dreaded to get away from the sight of land.
Guard duty now had to be done in different parts of the Ship and I had been detached for duty on deck where I went and stayed two hours; after I had been relieved I went below to my Quarters, but when I got below I seemed to be completely lost for all the Quarters (so-called) and all the men with one or two exceptions looked alike to me, and, as I wandered about the lower deck enquiring for Co. K. Quarters, I was met by laughs and ridicule on every hand. One fellow would say go down the next street and turn to the right; another would say take a Chelsea Horse Car and tell the Conductor you want to go home. Another one, I mind, said, “Co. K.! Co. K.! Why you must be on the wrong vessel. There’s no Company K on board here that we know of” — but my chum, Dan, came to my rescue and took me in charge and together we went to the place that had been assigned us for a Home while we were on board the ship. Here, we talked and slept as well as we could, waiting for the cry that we expected now to hear at any moment, “Fall in Co. K.”
I shall hasten on now to the end of our voyage, mentioning only one of the many incidents that occurred to keep us alive. I ought perhaps in passing, however, to say that there was a vast amount of Sutler’s stores on board, among which were several barrels of whiskey to be used up among the sick and for the ship’s crew. One of these barrels, containing, I think, 36 Gals., had been placed on the after deck very near to the main cabin, and the Sentry that did duty at that place had strict orders to have his eye on that barrel and not to allow any soldier to come near it, but when the steward and his assistants came to tap the barrel — as they wanted some for use in the cabin (some of the officers being no doubt very sick) — they found it was unusually light, and upon farther investigation they found that more than one-half of the whiskey had been, carried off — and now the fun began. Each Company was summoned on deck in its turn and as we stood in line we were searched. At the same time a detail of men accompanied by our Company officers went below to search our Quarters.
Gen. Butler’s orders were to use every effort to catch the thief, and if caught, to bring him to him at once. And the searching party did their work well for they tasted or smelled every canteen they could find, and at last in Co. K’s Quarters sure enough they found a canteen with some whiskey in it, and as the canteen was marked W. W. they had no difficulty in finding the man they were looking for, although at the time he was on deck standing in line with the others and looking the innocent-est of them all.
When the search party came on deck bringing the canteen with them, the facts were at once reported to the General who ordered the man owning the canteen to be at once arrested and made to stand on the whiskey barrel for four hours, and to carry his musket with the butt end up — thus guarding what whiskey was left and at the same time being punished for what he had carried away. This took place, as near as I remember, about 4 o’clock in the afternoon and as night came on he was talked of less and less until at last he seemed to have been forgotten. At 8 o’clock, however, according to instructions, Capt. H[ovey]., with a sergeant, went to discharge him from any further duty and ordered him to get down off the cask, which he did at once, but in so doing the barrel gave a roll as though it was unusually light. This aroused the suspicions of the Capt, who at once made an investigation, and it didn’t take him long to find out that the barrel was empty. Some twenty gallons or more had been taken out and carried away during the time that he was standing on top of the barrel as a prisoner. When the news reached us, we dreaded to think what would happen, but we were told next morning that Gen. Butler blamed Capt. H (although I know he was innocent) and told him that he had a mind to make him stand on the barrel himself. This created a laugh among the officers standing around but the Gen’l silenced them at once by saying: “Gentlemen, no levity if you please. I believe you are all to blame for I think if you treat your men with kindness and at the same time with that gentlemanly firmness that a Volunteer Soldier expects and ought to receive, we shall have no more tricks of this kind on board the ship or after we get off, for I believe whatever the 31st may be, that they are not a lot of thieves.”
Like all vessels that leave the Northern ports in the winter time bound South, we had gales of wind off Cape Hatteras, but we got safely through it and aside from stopping a few hours at Key West nothing eventful occurred till we got off the coast of North Carolina. Here our ship ran ashore on the Fryingpan Shoals right under the guns of some rebel forts, placing us in a very bad situation. But we seemed to have escaped the notice of the look-out for we were not noticed.
One of the Steamers that were cruising about the coast came to our assistance and took us off and landed us at a Camp occupied by Union troops, the name of which I have forgotten. We stayed here till our vessel had been got off and overhauled when we once more embarked and soon after arrived at Ship Island near the entrance to the Mississippi River. This island is one huge bed of sand which made our marching and drilling very laborious to young recruits. We had not been there long before our clothes, our beds, our hair (and even our victuals) were full of sand. If we dropped a Hardtack or a piece of meat out of our hands while we were taking our meals it fell into the sand, and if we tried to wipe it off with the sleeve of our blouse we only rubbed more sand on, and we soon found out that the one that would eat the most would have to eat the most sand. Murmurs arose one day about the Quality and Quantity of food that we were getting to eat, and it kept growing (not the food but the dissatisfaction) day by day till at last our Company agreed that they wouldn’t turn out to drill any more until they could get more and better food. So next morning when the orders came to fall in for drill some thirty or forty flatly refused to turn out. I happened to be away at the time having gone up the Island with a party that had been sent to get firewood, and when I got back I found nearly one- half of my Company under arrest in one of the large tents. The news having been reported to the Colonel he came and gave the boys a severe talking to and told them at the same time that if they would come out and Fall in at once for Drill that he would overlook the false step they had taken and at the same give orders that their grievances should be looked into. The boys obeyed at once and thus prevented what might have caused very serious trouble in the camp. I mention this incident to I show that our officers were willing (although many of us couldn’t see it at that time) to make our lot, which was indeed a hard one, as easy and comfortable as Military discipline would allow.
Next morning shortly before nine o’clock the Sergeant came into the tent with a piece of paper in his hand and said I want six men for Guard duty down on the Beach, then read off the names that were on the paper, all but one of which were present. This one I believe was Private McDermott — mark the name as I shall have cause to mention it again very soon. He then turned to me and said, “Private Young, will you go on Guard in place of Private McDermott who is absent? It’s not hard duty and you will be excused from drill tomorrow.” I told him I was willing to go and asked him how long we had to stay on the Beach? “Until tomorrow at Guard moving,” he said, “but you will only be on actual guard duty two hours if you go on in the night, as there are details going from other Regiments.” We now fell in and together with the other company details we marched off down to the beach. We now relieved the boys that had been on Guard and after we saw them safely on their way to Camp, we proceeded to make ourselves comfortable for the day and the night that was to follow, not having the least idea of the terrible things that were to happen in the next twenty-four hours. After we had answered the noon roll call and stacked our Guns in front of the tent, we were told that we might wander around the beach if we wished but not to go too far away and to be on hand when our turns came to go on Sentinel duty. So we passed the time till night came when my name among others was called to relieve the Guard. And when I got to the Post where I had to be left behind I found it a most dreary place. Nothing to be seen but the great waves as they came leaping and tossing in onto the beach, and the Sentries on each side of me pacing up and down, back and forth, while away in the distance behind us were the thousands of lights shining in the Camp, and the forms (as we pictured to ourselves) of our Comrades as they passed in and out between the glow of the smouldering fires. What joys, what sorrows, what hopes, what fears, is [sic] there represented? How many like myself are thinking of the loved ones at Home? How many like myself would be willing to give all they possess if they could find themselves back in Boston and were assured that what had taken place in the last few weeks was only a dream?
While these thoughts were running through my mind I had almost forgotten where I was, but I was recalled back to my senses by feeling great drops of rain falling on my clothes and on my Gun, and looking up I saw the whole sky seemed to be covered with a black, black cloud, and the water began to have that greenish white appearance that spoke of something terrible outside on the ocean. Soon the drops began to fall more rapidly, and now there comes a flash of lightning, followed by thunder which seemed, however, to be a long way off. But in a few minutes the storm broke upon us in all its fury, and as I looked up the beach to that part of the Island where we had been sent the other day to get firewood, I could see the rain falling in torrents. The peals of thunder now began to get louder and longer. The lightning began to assume frightful and fantastic shape. By this time I was completely drenched. The rain was running down my legs and forming minature ponds around my feet if I stood out a minute in one place, but I never realized what danger I was in from the Bayonet that I was carrying on the top of my musket until I saw as I did between the flashes of lightning that my Comrades had stuck their Bayonets down deep into the sand, and when I had followed their example, I started off to the Guard tent as I saw that all the sentries were making for the same place. Everything around me was black as night could be, and had it not been for the lightning — which had got now to be something terrible to look at — I should never have been able to find the Guard tent although it was so near at hand. I tried to run but I found I couldn’t run very fast for my clothes and the rain together seemed to be pulling me back at every step. However I got there at last and together we huddled into the tent where we remained until the storm was over. But as my two hours had expired I did not have to go back on guard again, so I stayed around the tent until daylight showed itself. Then we made a fire as well as we could (not a very easy job for every piece of wood that we got hold of seemed to be soaked through). We dried ourselves around the fire and made some coffee. And after all the guards had been relieved and shared our breakfast with us, we started once more off to the main Camp where we arrived about 9 o’clock a.m. As soon as we got to the City of Tents, which had here like Jonah’s Gourd grown up in one night, we observed squads of men standing around talking with hushed voices, and as we thought in a strange way. We soon found out that the Storm in all its fury had brought death and destruction among them. Tents were down in every direction, piles of food and clothing were to be seen lying around in the sand covered partly over with pieces of blackened canvas which was all that was left of some of the tents that had been set on fire by the chain lightning of which there had been so much during the past night. We picked our way through the different companies and regiments, sometimes wading through a small creek, then jumping over a wide ditch only to find ourselves almost up to our knees in water, for the heavy rains of the past night had not yet had time to find its way into the gulf, and what was our one Island yesterday, had now been converted into thousands of small ones. We managed, however, to reach our Quarters and here in front of our own tent were standing a large crowd of Officers and Men all bareheaded. Some were going in while others were passing out. Our Sergeant made motions for us to break ranks and while doing so one of the Officers came up holding his hat in his hand.
“Men and Comrades, for in this sad hour I call you such,” he said, “we have had our first battle and we have lost — three men killed, and seven or eight wounded. We have not been fighting the rebels it is true, we have been fighting against thunder and lightning, the sad result of which is in your tent. This should implant within the breast of every one of us a reverence for God who is our Heavenly father, and the lesson that we should trust not too much in our own valour, but in our Great captain, Jesus Christ, who loved us and gave him for us. And we know that although he has seen fit to visit us with affliction and death at this time, he has done it that he might awake within us a sense of our wickedness, and also the uncertainty of our lives. Boys, let us not forget as we move on into the Country of the Enemy, that if God be for us who can be against us. I am not a Preacher, but I could not let this chance go by of speaking to you a few words on this most important of all subjects. May the Lord help us all to profit by what we have seen of His power tonight. And now it is my duty — and a sad one it is — to announce to you that three of your comrades have been killed by lightning during the night, their names are — Corporal Michael McQuillan, Privates P. McDermott and John P. Wheeler. (The first two belonged in Cambridge and the last one, if I recollect aright, in Roxbury, and the time was April 12, 1862). I know that during the day,” the officer went on to say, “you will conduct yourselves as the solemnity of the occasion requires and demands. Notice of the funeral will be given later on.”
He then, with the other officers, went their way. I, with some of the boys that with me had been away all night on the beach, now went into the tent to look on the faces of our dead comrades, for orders had been given by the doctor that they should not be removed until after the arrival of our Gen’l which was expected at any moment. Once inside we saw a sight that I for one shall never forget, and a sight that all the horrors of a prolonged war could never reproduce. In the middle of the tent, leaning around the pole that went up through, were the muskets, some bent and some blackened by the Electricity that had struck the bayonets ‘ere it had rushed around dealing to some death, to some wounds, and to others a fright that seemed at the time to be worse than both. And here before me was all that was left of three young men who a few hours before were full of life and hope. The picture is too full of sadness to dwell upon, so after a brief mention of the funeral I shall pass on to other scenes. (This Private McDermott is the one that was detailed for duty on the beach).
Rude coffins had been made and graves prepared on that part of the Island that was covered by a small growth of scrub oak and pine, and the next day the whole regiment with detachments from other ones accompanied by their various officers, and a large number of men who had not been detailed, tramped off for the first time with guns reversed, keeping step to the tune of the Dead March. As all three of the men killed had belonged to our Company K, we followed close in the rear of the coffins that were borne by the nearest friends of the dead, and in front of our column with head uncovered and tears in his eyes marched Gen’l Butler with several officers from other regiments. Arriving at the place of burial we formed around the graves and uncovered our heads while Capt. Hovey by request read from the Church Ritual, “I am the ressurrection [sic],” and so on to the end of the service. After the reading was over the Gen’l took occasion to say, “My friends, it has pleased God to pick out from our great numbers these three young men to be offered up as a sacrifice to the honour of our common country. As they are the first ones who have been called on to give up their lives, their memories should be cherished by every one of us. And we may at the same time learn a most valuable lesson from the fate of Private McDermott, who, had he been on hand when called upon for duty, might have escaped this terrible death. The lesson is that, besides being willing, we must at all times Be Ready to do our duty when called upon. So shall we live some of us to see our country come out victorious in the end and it will be a satisfaction to know that we have each one done our duty in bringing about this glorious result.”
A Salute having been fired over the graves, we were ordered to fall in and march back to camp. The scenes here related are not fiction, but sad truths of my recollections on Ship Island.
Days and weeks have passed away. We have drilled and marched, and fought many imaginary battles with the Rebels. We have experienced some of the joys as well as sorrows of camp life and now we hear floating around from tent to tent rumors that Admiral Faragut [sic] has already started on his great mission, the capture of New Orleans. We have received orders to be ready at a moment’s notice, and to have and keep on hand three days cooked rations. And now comes the order, strike tents, and soon after, Fall in Co. K. Marching down to the wharf, we find ourselves mixed up in the great throng that is being embarked on board the various steamers laying there, and in our turn are marched aboard. And soon we begin to feel the motion of the ship as she hurries on in her mad course toward the Forts. Bye and bye, we hear the roar of heavy cannon seeming to be first on one side then on the other, which resembles and puts us in mind of the terrible thunder that we had heard but a few days ago. We had no means of knowing at this time what was going on around us, neither can I remember now all that happened on our way to New Orleans. One picture comes before me as I write which will go to show that strategy as well as bravery is one of the methods used in modern as well as in ancient warfare. As we came up within sight of Fort Jackson, my attention was called to what seemed to be a small clump of trees away in the distance which seemed to be moving along very slowly to be sure, but still moving. We all watched it with the keenest anxiety. My chum told me he had read of islands covered with trees being seen by navigators floating about on the Pacific Ocean, and why, said he, may not this be one? Not having any answer to make, I told him that perhaps we should find out before very long what it was. And even while we were talking the Island and our Ship were certainly drawing nearer and nearer together. We had not many hours to wait for now we could certainly see the trees move and pitch and toss like a vessel in motion. Now the sound of paddles reached our ears, and as we look we see what calls for a cheer from all on board — the Star Spangled Banner, as it flutters through the branches of the trees. The mystery is now explained, for here is one of our noble warships covered from stem to stern with large branches of trees and small trees taken whole from the woods, and so arranged as to make her appear but one of the many islands that are to be found scattered along the coast. In this manner and during the night, I was afterward informed this vessel crept upon the enemy’s forts and captured one with very small loss of life, thus taxing what nature had placed in the hands of the rebels for a better purpose and using it to bring about their destruction.
But we must not stop to talk about what might have been, for we now find ourselves in front of the City after having passed the Forts in safety — and if ever there was a babel on this earth (and who doubts it) we were surely in the midst of one now. It was four o’clock in the afternoon when we came up to the wharf, which we found to be lined with thousands of people, and what looked strange above all things to us was, there were a great number of men wearing Confederate Uniforms walking about with their hands in their pockets, laughing and joking. Every few minutes one of them would point to us as we stood in line on the vessel and say something to his comrades, at which they would all burst out into a loud and hearty laugh. I for one couldn’t imagine what they meant and so intent was I in listening to them that I had not heard the orders that had been given to our Company to Fall in, until one of our men called out, “Young put your Sunday clothes on. We are going to take a walk and we want you to go with us.”
Gen’l Butler had declared it his intention to go on shore, and our regiment was to have the honour of accompanying him. We were therefore, I think, the first Vol. Reg’t in the City after its surrender. The honour (sic) of acting as bodyguard to the Gen’l had been assigned to K Co., which we thought at the time was the way he took to punish us for our bad behaviour at Ship Island and also on board the Mississippi, but we determined among ourselves to uphold the honour of the old Bay State from which we had come, and to do our duty as well as we knew how. After the command Right – Dress – Front had been given and obeyed, our Capt. addressed us as near as I can remember in these words: “Men we are now going on shore. We shall no doubt be surrounded by a great mob, for the City, we have reason to believe, is full or nearly so of people disorderly and unpatriotic. They will no doubt do all in their power to annoy us as we pass through the streets. You will, therefore endeavor to keep cool and preserve your dignity as becomes good Soldiers. Obey promptly any orders that may be given — no matter what they may be — and above all, you are commanded not to fire a shot without orders, not even if the mob should fire on us, which I think, however, is not likely.”
We now followed the Gen’l and his staff on to the wharf, and everything being in readiness, we started off on our line of march. The crowds began to gather round us and by the time that we had reached the corner of Canal street, it was with difficulty that we could move forward at all. But night was approaching and every effort was made to keep the column in motion. Squads of mounted men on the flanks and in the rear did all in their power to keep the mob back, for ’twas there we were troubled the most. On our flanks especially were we hooted and jeered. Some of the boys would get as close to us as they could and while keeping step with us would sing or whistle the Bonnie Blue Flag, or “I wish I was in Dixie,” trying in this manner (and trying most successfully) to provoke and ridicule us for the amusement of their friends. We pushed our way on however and finally reached the Custom House still surrounded by the crowd which now consists of both men and women, black and white, old and young, pushing, yelling and some of them even daring us to come out of the ranks and fight them. We paid no attention to them, at the same time we held ourselves in readiness for anything that might happen. Kettles of hot coffee had been brought from the ship under charge of a strong Guard, and each man was served with a tin cupful which together with one or two Hard Tack was facetiously called supper. On account of the state of things, our Company was ordered to remain on the sidewalk during the night, one part to be on patrol while the other part laid down to get some rest, for sleep was almost out of the question. I remember that about midnight, just as I was beginning to doze off, I was awakened by hearing musket shots that seemed close at hand. We were on our feet in a moment fully expecting that the rebels were coming upon us in force, but it turned out to be only a false alarm. It scared some of us pretty badly, however, myself among the number. This was continued during the night at intervals, so that we were glad when the morning came. Being relieved we went into the Custom House where we stayed for several days. Every other day or two we were sent out on patrol or Guard duty to different parts of the City where we encountered all kinds of ridicule, and some of the boys actually came to blows with the men who taunted us with being dirty Yankees and cut-throats. Especially were those fellows who wore the Confederate uniforms most insulting. Many of them had deserted their regiments while en route from the City, while others had belonged to the Home Guards, and had hid themselves away in their Homes during the surrender, and now came forth full of that bravado which is always to be found in cowards. We treated them with more leniency than they deserved, and more than they would receive if we had to go through the same scenes again.
Things having to a certain extent quieted down, the Company were separately sent to different parts of the City to do Guard duty. A sufficient number being left for duty at the Custom House, which was at all times a place of great excitement. Throngs of people were continually passing in and out. Military officers of all grades from the Gen’l with his showy uniform, to the Corp’l of the Guards; citizens dressed in every rig imaginable, some in the then-most-popular grey coat with brass buttons of the Confederacy, some in the long butternut coat of the planter, others with white coats and trousers and huge straw hats, and others again with blue jean trousers tucked into their long boots and red sashes tied around their middle, having on their heads an immense covering called, in Mexico, a sombrero, reminding me of the stage privates I once saw at the Boston Theatre. Crowds of women as well crowded in and out from morning till night, endeavoring to get tickets for rations to be given out at the Free Market which had been established for the benefit of the poor. These women, nearly all of them were the wives or mothers of the men who were then fighting against the Union, but the fact of their being in want was sufficient to arouse the sympathy of every Union Soldier as well as the Gen’l who made use of all the means in his power to relieve them of their distress. As the procession passed in and out, the sad side of the Conflict presented itself to my eyes as well as to my mind, for about every five out of six of these women were dressed in deep black, the greatest proportion of them wearing the sad emblems of widowhood, and showing in their faces the sorrow they had been called on to endure. Looking on scenes of this kind carried me back in imagination to our Mothers and Sisters that we had left at home, and I thought that perhaps before another year had passed away many of them would be shedding tears for the loss of their loved ones.
Our Company after a few days was sent up town and quartered in a Hotel called the Adams House and a most appropriate name it was in one sense, for all we could get to drink there was the kind of ale that was supposed to be generally used by our Forefather Adam, and which has ever since borne his name. The boys however needed something of a more stimulating nature, and as their money had all been spent they began to look around for means to supply their wants. Each one for himself began to investigate the cupboards and closets to see if the former inmates had left anything behind that could be converted into cash, and one of them was so far successful that he brought to light one day a parcel that was tied up in a copy of the New Orleans Daily Picayune. We all gathered around him with eagerness as he unrolled it, and we saw with joy a dozen or more silver spoons each one being stamped “Adams House, New Orleans, La”. This mark, however, had no especial interest for us at that time, whatever it may have had afterward, so two or three of the fellows went down to Dauphine St. and sold the spoons, how much they got for them I don’t know, but I know they got enough to have quite a good time and they brought back several canteens of whiskey and treated all hands that wanted it to a good drink. Some time after when a search party was visiting the stores where contraband goods were supposed to have been hidden away, they happened to come across the spoons in the Pawn Shop where the boys had sold them. The old Jew upon being questioned as to how they came into his possession replied that some of General Butler’s soldiers had brought them there and sold them to him, but as he could not give any names or even tell what regiment or company the men belonged to, the officers could do nothing but report the case to Headquarters. The news spread though after awhile, first through the regiment and then through the City, getting exaggerated and false constructions put upon it until finally when we reached Boston we heard it said that Gen. Butler had been guilty of stealing spoons while he was in New Orleans, and although the story was a false fabrication and an insult as well, his enemies (of which every man has more than enough) took hold of it and spread it broadcast over the land until he even became nicknamed Spoon Butler, a most undeserving epithet, and one which the Gen’l has, I am glad to say, lived down, for he is or should be loved by every Union Soldier that was under his command in the Dept. of the Gulf.
At this time the Regiment was united for awhile and went into Camp in Tchoupitulas Square, where the usual amount of drill, guard-mounting, and carousing went on, the boys having as good a time as circumstances would permit. We had one man in our Company that had from the first shown signs of eccentricity, but here in New Orleans he out did himself; he wouldn’t do any guard duty or obey orders, he would even let the smallest boy in the Regt., or any of the officers, take away his gun while he was on Sentinel duty; he would then go back to his Quarters as unconcerned as a woodchopper, and if questioned by the officers he would say he didn’t care about standing there with a gun in his hand to be laughed at by everybody. By this time it began to be pretty well understood by most of us that he was either crazy, or that he was playing crazy to get his discharge. The first surmise was I think the correct one, for he went off one day, got on a spree, and after selling or giving away his whole suit of uniform with his gun and all its belongings, he came back after an absence of two or three days covered with dirt and dressed in rags. The Capt. asked him where he had been. “How do I know where I’ve been?” he answered as innocent as if he had committed no misdemeanor whatever. “Do you suppose,” he said, “that I am going to tell every time I come back where I’ve been? Well I guess I ain’t.” Another time when we were on dress parade, he was in the front rank right near me at the time, and as I write I can almost see him. The order had been given — Parade Rest. The Line Officers had just started off to report when Ira [Nickerson] threw his gun down on the grass and sitting himself flat down, coolly took one of his boots off and began to shake out the dirt. The Sergeant didn’t dare go out of the ranks to get at him, but the one in the rear ordered him to stand up at once, and to take his position in the ranks. He said, “W’all I guess now they ain’t in so big a hurry but what they can wait a few minutes. Whether they can or not, I don’t intend to tramp around with sand in my boots.” At this, some of the boys burst out laughing while he was escorted ignominously [sic] to the rear. He was now taken in hand by Ramrod (all the boys ought to recognize this name, but in case some of them shouldn’t, I will just say it was our Regt. Doctor), and after a careful examination, his discharge papers were made out and he was sent back to the banks of Cape Cod to chew tobacco and swear in comfort for the rest of his days.
One other incident comes to my mind of Soldier’s life as it manifested itself while we were in camp at this place. In passing however, I will stop to say at this time the City was full of Shinplasters (a name given to all kinds of Confederate paper money). Almost every business house had bills of its own. They were of all colors and size and ranging in value (in imagination) from one dollar to a hundred in Confederate money, which at that time was worth about five cents on a dollar of Uncle Sam’s promises to pay. A lot of this so-called money used to find its way into our camp and was the unlawful means of producing many a carouse, some of which ended with sore heads and a night in the Guard House, and others in fun and — We won’t go home till morning the night before the Fourth. One night late, I had occasion to go out of my tent for a moment when I heard shouts of laughter and saw a crowd of men collected around one of the tents at the other end of the Company sheet. I made my way to the tent and when I looked in I was almost horror struck, for on one of the small bedsteads lay one of the boys apparently dead. He was stretched out and covered with a white sheet, two brass buttons were put on to his closed eyes, and in his hand he held a candle; two other candles were one at each side of the head of the bed were burning and casting their unnatural light on the scene. At the end of the bed, with a cartridge box for a prayer book, and one of the empty whiskey bottles which was supposed to hold holy water (a most unnatural stretch of imagination by the way) in the other, stood one of the fellows taking the part of the village priest, while all around the bed the friends of the dead (drunk) mourning — smoking — telling yarns — swearing — quarrelling — and having what the country folks would call an “illigant wake intirely.”
Our Company and another, Co. H, I think, were now detailed for duty at a Plantation about 12 miles up the Mississippi River, which bore the name of Kennerville. It was one of those beautiful places with which Louisiana abounded before the war. The large old Mansion House stood back from the banks of the River about three hundred feet and was surrounded on the three sides by small one-story houses and log cabins, some of which were occupied by the “Hands,” and others served for smoke houses, corn cribs, or store houses, while perhaps one or two were reserved for the use of Overseers or Field Drivers that had the oversight of the field gangs. The place belonged to Judge Ross, I believe, who was absent on a diplomatic mission for the Confederate Government, and at this time was in England to negotiate a loan to be redeemable when the Confederate Government should have obtained its independence. This was giving (or trying to get others to give) aid and assistance to the enemies of the United States Government with a vengeance, and was considered just cause for the confiscation of his estates. When we arrived at the place, we found everything almost as the family had left it. In the house was a Grand old Piano, fine books, and splendid furniture, all of which we were ordered to take good care of, but we had permission to use the piano, which we did, making it bring forth occasionally that kind of music that couldn’t be calculated on to soothe the savage breast. The cooks and some of the old house servants were ordered to assume their old duties, and to provide for us to the best of their abilities. We took dinners in the spacious dining room and enjoyed very much the hot corn bread, sweet potatoes, hominy, bacon, and especially the nice coffee that was made by the good old colored woman cook, and, in addition to all the good things we had to eat, we enjoyed another luxury that is worth mentioning, the more so that in these days of labour saving machinery it is getting to be, if not already, one of the Lost Arts. In the middle of the ceiling hung a square fan about 4 ft. by 6 ft. long, so arranged as to swing back and forth over the dining room table. It had a cord attached which ran along the ceiling and down along the wall outside the door, where a small boy stood to manipulate it and at the same time to carry orders to the kitchen. While we were eating dinner, he entertained us by various tricks such as can only be performed by the small boy on the old time Plantation.
As soon as we were comfortably settled in our new Home, we had to turn our attention to business. A sufficient number of guards had been posted around the place to make us secure from immediate attack by the enemy should they be lurking around; but now a more thorough and systematic arrangement was made to guard our Quarters from surprise. In the Road between the Plantation and the Levee, Sentries were posted in force, as this was the main avenue from New Orleans to Baton Rouge and the towns and cities above. Others were posted on the Levee to watch the boats passing up and down the River. This guard duty on the Levee was very pleasant and we spent many happy days there, for the sight to our eyes, to say the least, was a novel one. Just coming around the bend below is one of those Floating Palaces, her lower deck literally packed with bales and boxes, and colored deck hands who seem to be trying with all their might to get in each other’s way as much as is possible. She comes nearer and nearer to the landing, whistling and puffing like some great living monster until near enough when a plank is put on shore — back and forth, back and forth come the men singing and laughing and pushing and joking until our supplies (for the present) are all landed. Then after giving one or two whistles, she begins to puff — puff — and, starting off up the river, is soon out of sight. Away out in the middle of the river and over the other side, vast numbers of other boats of all sizes are continually passing and re-passing up the river, down the river, all seeming to be in the greatest hurry to get to the end of their destination — and some of them will get there all too soon, for between the snags that are in the river, the rushing of the water around certain bends, and the rebels that are now scattered along the coast, navigation along the Mississippi is not so pleasant or so safe as it was before the war, when everything was quiet and peace reigned.
We were now in a certain sense cut off from the scenes and excitement of Soldier’s life, and after awhile our surroundings became so monotonous that we had to resort to every known device to make the time pass away pleasantly. We certainly had money enough, such as it was, to buy anything that we could find for sale. Our only chance of buying anything, however, was from the Boats that passed up and down the river trading. The ones that came down generally had oranges, pecans, sweet potatoes, and chickens, but they generally kept out in the middle of the river when they got near our landing, and our coaxing and yelling and threatening to fire on them if they didn’t come in only made them pull farther out into the middle of the river. One morning, however, very early we caught one coming down, and we started one of the boys up to where there was a bend in the river to head him off, for we had got permission from our officers to make him come in to the landing, as they wished to purchase some fruit for themselves, (at this time we had plenty of vegetables on the place). There was only one man in the boat besides a little boy. The man was a German, or professed to be until confronted by one of our men, also a German — then he made believe he was a Russian Finn or something of that kind. At any rate, he wouldn’t understand us when we told him we wanted to buy his cargo. But he made us understand him enough to know that he did not want to sell us anything or have anything to do with us. When we found it was of no use to parley with him, we took out such things as our officers wanted for their own use, and they certainly paid him a good deal more for them than he would have got if he had went on to New Orleans. For there, he would perhaps have received as payment a lot of the vile stuff (before mentioned) called money, that was in some instances not worth 5¢ on the dollar, but he would no doubt have taken it in good faith and carried it home and perhaps have paid off some poor colored man that had been working for him all the season. The colored man would then take it to the nearest town to buy necessaries for himself and his family, and after getting a severe kicking (he would be quite lucky if he got nothing worse), he would be told it wasn’t worth so much as old newspapers. However, the Boatman got his money and the officers got their fruit.
And now was to take place, by Uncle Sam’s Soldiers, who knew better and ought to have done better, one of the worst cases of cheating and fraud that came under my observation all the time I was in the Army. I should think they would be mad enough to kick themselves every time they think of it (if they ever do think about these things). I have in recent years come in contact with some of these men, and with one or two noble exceptions, there is not a man of them that I would choose now for an associate, and there is hardly one of them that is any better off in wordly goods or position than they were when they came home from the War. Some of them (I won’t say how many) never did come home, but accounted for all the evils they had done by giving up their lives either on the field of battle or in the hospital for the good of their Country. To the memory of all such, we shed a tear and pray that they may have gone to that blessed country where there is neither wars nor rumors of war, and where Jesus our Saviour is our Captain, and the Lord our God is their King. But to return to the Banks of the Mississippi River where we left the man putting the money in his pockets, and to the Soldiers who have now got possession of his boat. They have made a trade with him (as they facetiously called it), and have offered to pay him all that he asks, for his whole stock in trade and what there is left of it, and they have agreed to pay him seventy-five dollars in Confederate money, which they assure him is worth about fifty cents on the dollar inside of the Confederate lines. As his home is quite near to the Lines, they have made him believe that he has made a good bargain, and so one of them goes up to the house to get the money promising to be back in a few minutes; you will naturally think perhaps that he didn’t come back, but he did, and brought the money with him. And what kind of money was it? Well ’twas Confederate money to be sure, for a few days before this some of the boys had been searching around the house first in one closet, then in another, when one of them pulled the drawer out of an old bureau, and lo and behold here was a large bundle of bills of all denominations almost, from ten dollars to one hundred, that had been issued by the First Louisiana State Bank of New Orleans (since the War of course). There must have been, I should think, about ten thousand dollars. Each of the fellows took a good pocketful, and went out to the back of the house to count it and to talk over their good luck, when it was found that not one bill out of the whole lot had ever been officially signed! In fact, they were just as they had come from the printer’s hands, and were utterly worthless — the same as any person’s receipt would be without his signature attached. While I stood watching the men and thinking how badly they were all sold, one of them looked up to the others and said, “Well, fellows, if they ain’t signed, I can write and I shall sign them myself. Some of the men (not all, I am glad to say) agreed to the same thing, and so they put on the several bills as Presidents and Treasurers such noted men as Beauregard, Dick Taylor, Jeff Davis, or anybody they could think of whose name would draw well. With this kind of money some had been to New Orleans on a Pass and had a most glorious time. Others had given two or three ten dollar bills to some poor confiding contraband and told him if he would bring back a bottle of whiskey, he could keep all the money he had over for himself. In this way the favored few generally had something to take every day, for the poor whites that were scattered here and there managed to get corn whiskey when they had nothing else, and as they were far more ignorant than the colored people (as far as reading was concerned) Confederate money to them was just as good without signatures as it would be with them. It certainly was as good as the whiskey that they gave in exchange. Did you ever drink any of the corn whiskey that they used to make in “Wah Times”? If you did, you haven’t forgotten the red hot fish hooks that you thought were in your throat after you had taken your first drink, and how for two or three days afterwards you used to imagine you had a piece of a corn cob in your stomach that had been soaked in turpentine. All this time the man down in the boat had been anxiously waiting for his money, and now acting for the others, one of the men (sic) says to him, “We couldn’t make the right change, but if you will give us the five dollar bill that the Captain paid you, we will give you nine ten dollar bills.” It took him a long time to understand, but at last they got the five dollar bill out of the man, and now having doubly robbed him, they sent him back to his wife — to his little ones — and to his neighbors, who would be likely soon to inform him how rascally he had been treated by Gen. Butler’s Soldiers.
In speaking thus of some of my comrades, I would have it understood that there were others in the Company, and they could be counted by hundreds in the Regiment, who were always most bitterly opposed to any such mean tricks as this, for in a general way, the men were as honest and noble as they were brave; especially can this be said of the boys that came from the Farms and Factories of the Berkshire Hills. And our officers, although we hated them (I did, I know for one) for their stuck-up manner, and for the contempt which they (not all of them) used to manifest toward a common soldier, always paid for whatever they were obliged to take, whether it was from the old colored man or from one of our worst enemies; but they were kept in blissful ignorance of much that was taking place from day to day, and some of them if they ever see these reminiscences will know perhaps for the first time what kind of men they had for companions through all those weary months and years. I hope by this time we have all become better men, for there wasn’t any of us very good, and if the war had lasted much longer, or we had been retained longer in the service, we should most probably have lost our souls if we had been spared our lives. We have, therefore, reason (all of us) to be thankful that God was so good to us when we had forgotten all about him.
But now we must know a little about Kennerville — our present quarters — its surroundings and its neighbors, as well as its location, as we are to stay here for quite a while yet. The proximity of the house to the River I have already mentioned, but I must not forget to mention what was back of us; at the extreme rear of the Plantation and quite a distance from our Quarters, ran nearly in the same (if not quite) direction as the River, the New Orleans and Great Northern Rail Road, and about six miles above us on the line of the Road was Camp Moore. This was a receiving camp for recruits and, although no doubt a good many of them came from New Orleans — they managed to get there by some round about way that we knew nothing about — they came also from little towns farther up the River. And as sometimes there were several hundreds of them there at once, in addition to the two or three Companies that were there as a regular guard, our officers decided to make a regular Picket Station at the Rail Road, and to have Pickets stationed both up and down the road to guard against any surprise from that direction. Five men, therefore, with one Corporal and one Sergeant, were detailed for five days duty in turn to go there. I had the Honor to be one of the Five on more than one occasion, for it had been found out that it was the easiest job that was to be had, although it was not quite so pleasant perhaps as doing duty down on the Levee. Still there was a charm about it that was quite fascinating. We used to carry five days rations with us, we were out of sight of our officers, we had no Drills to attend to or Dress Parade every evening to tantalize us; but what was much better, we had no Reveille sounding in our ears in the morning when we wanted to sleep, and no Taps at night sending us to bed when we wasn’t sleepy.
We had built a shanty with poles and boughs and our Shelter Tents combined, that was comfortable, as we thought, when one afternoon (it had been a terrible hot day) as we were sitting around outside of our Shanty telling yarns, the sky began to look black and we heard what we thought was cannonading up in the direction of Camp Moore. After awhile, however, the terrible sound became more distinct and, as it seemed to be drawing nearer, now we knew it was a Thunder storm coming on. And sure enough it wasn’t long before the great drops began to fall faster and faster, faster and faster, and the lightning began to dart back and forth on the Rails. The peals of thunder grew louder and nearer and in a few minutes the storm was on us in all its fury. Gracious how it did rain. We got into the shanty thinking to keep ourselves dry, and we did, but ’twas only for a few minutes, for very soon it began to drop down first from one corner of the roof and then another, until at last it seemed to rain harder inside than it did out. So we just stripped ourselves of all our clothes and wrapped our muskets, cartridge boxes and our rations in them and went outside to get a good shower bath; there was nothing unpleasant about it, as the weather was very warm, and we rather enjoyed it. Thunderstorms, however, in the South don’t last forever, and this one soon showed signs of breaking up. The thunder went rolling on towards New Orleans, the sun began to peep at us from out of the black clouds, and in a little while there was nothing left of it but the little puddles of water that seemed to be smoking hot on either side of the track, and the drops that kept falling from the branches on our heads as we passed under a tree. After we got dry, which we soon did in the hot sun, we started for the shanty to put our clothes on. First of all, however, we brought out our clothes, guns, and the bags that contained our Hardtack, coffee, sugar, etc,, and spread it all on the Rail Road ties to dry a little, as they were more or less wet.
While we were thus busy, we heard talking and laughing and on looking up the track — Oh horrors! There were some fifteen or twenty darkies — men, women and children — almost on us, at least we thought so, although they were quite a way off. We each one grabbed our trousers and made for the Shanty, but before we could get them on the whole crowd was calling on us to come out. If there had been no females in the crowd, it would have been all right, but as it was none of us liked to go out so we put one of our shelter tents in front of the door and waited for them to pass on. Vain Expectation. They hadn’t got to the first sight of Union Soldiers to pass them by in any such manner.
“Say Boss,” was the cry with which we were saluted, “is you all Massa Lincums sogers? Kase if you is, we done want to talk to you all.”
“What do you want?” asked one of the men.
“We all wants to know whar we’s guyne. Young Marse Bob, he was always good to us black folks, and he used to tell us, when his Pa wasn’t round, dat he was always ‘posed to Slavery, since he come back from school. So de Oder day when his Pa — dats Marse Summers — was gone away to Camp to see Kunnel Smiff, he jus up an tol us dat if we could get into de Yankee lines widhout bein’ caught, we should be all free. Wid dat we jus’ got a few tings togeder, and yesterday mornin’ we started off, and after getting into the swamp we stayed dar all day and jes as soon as it got dark enough, we started off again to see if we could get our freedom. We done walked all night an’ we’s tired, but we was afeerd to stop kase some of the ‘Federate sogers mout katch us, if dey did dey would tote us back to ole Massa shore nuff.”
“Sit down and make all the folks sit down,” I said. “And after you’ve had a good rest and some coffee, we’ll put you on the right way as well as we can.”
“Lor’ Bress you all,” he answered. At this they all shouted, “Yes, Lor’ Bress all Massa Lincum’s Sogers, but we aint guyne for to rob you of your rations, fur we’s got plenty of meal and bacon an’ sweet potatoes, but we aint got no coffee. We ain’t even seed any fur a long time. An we ain’t seed any Yankee lines nudder what Massa Bob done tell us to get into. ‘Deed we ain’t, shore.”
“Well, well, Uncle,” I said, “you will see them if you live and I think you’ll find out that they are pretty hard lines before you get through.
“Ah, Ah, Boss,” was the answer, “we ain’t scared on ’em a bit,” and the old Saint wandered off toward the fire that had been made and where all the colored folks were now busy making corn cakes or frying bacon or telling wonderful stories, twirling his hat round and round and saying to himself, “Lor Bress Mars. Lincum. ‘Deed we ain’t scared.”
As he got toward the fire and smelled the coffee, or what we used for coffee, I heard him say, “Apars to me we’s guyne to have a right smart bwakfas dis mornin’,” and so he did, and so we all did. We had a good breakfast and a good time over it.
We kept the folks with us till after dinner and after giving them a part of our hardtack and coffee in exchange for sweet potatoes and meal, we started them down the railroad in the direction of New Orleans. They tramped off feeling, as it seemed to me, happier than we were with all our privileges. And well they might, for were they not free? Which was more than we could say of ourselves. And as they disappeared around the bend, we all felt a sense of loneliness, such as we had not felt since leaving Home. After they had gone, we began to talk over the fun we had had, and the way in which they had come upon us in such an unexpected manner, and this set us to thinking more about our situation. What was there to prevent a body of the troops from Camp Moore to come upon us as unexpected as these colored folks had come? Nothing that we knew of, but we didn’t want to pass another night without trying to have something arranged to act as an alarm. After some discussion on the subject, we wandered up the track (leaving one man on guard at the shanty) and we found that the telegraph wires had been cut and were lying on the ground. We now drove pegs on each of the tracks and stretched wires across them about six inches above the ground in the night time and lowering them down in the day close to the ground and covering them up with bushes or piles of sand, as seemed best. We then took one of the long wires and making fast one end to all the cross ones, carried the other end down along the track, out of sight of course, up the side and on to the roof of our House and so down through inside. We then hung on it one of our tin dippers and took one of our iron spoons. We fastened that with a piece of string so that when the cup would sway, as it would whenever the wire got a pull, it would clatter against the sides and we would know immediately that there was someone on the track. However, we were not troubled any more that night and we went to sleep feeling safer for having these precautions taken, not knowing what the morrow would bring forth.