June 2, 1863.—Before Port Hudson, within easy cannon-range. This morning, we are not marching or fighting. We lie encamped in a wood, at the edge of a clearing, across which the rebel works are in plain sight, at the distance of a few hundred yards. The boys, who venture only a few rods from here to the edge of the clearing, find the shots of the rebel sharpshooters falling about them: their shells frequently strike in and about our camp. A piece of one has fallen within a few yards of me, breaking three muskets out of a stack that stood in the line. Day and night, our batteries are firing. Every few minutes, and at times more frequently, the earth-shaking roar of pieces of very large caliber makes the whole region tremble. Hardiker and I have built a little booth of boughs, whose roof may be taken off at any moment by a rebel missile. Two or three times last night, the earth flew to the right and left of the dead tree-trunk at whose foot we were resting.
The Color Guard, A Corporal’s Notes, James Kendall Hosmer
June 1.—A fortnight ago to-day, having obtained the requisite permit; having washed off the stains which rough work had left, and drawn a new blouse, — with the chaplain and surgeon, I embarked on the Courtableau for Brashear City. We left the Fifty-second under marching orders for the same point, — a long, tedious, fatiguing piece of work. I felt a little uncomfortable, hearty as I was, at riding down at my ease, while sick men must march it; but the errand upon which I was bound, I felt to be of the first importance.
The little steamer was loaded almost to sinking with cotton, contrabands, and soldiers of the brigade too feeble to endure the march of one hundred and thirty miles. We had for pilot a smart negro, who told me about the Red-River raft and the former difficulties of the Atchafalaya; through which stream he claimed to have been the first man to navigate a steamboat. The Courtableau was narrow and winding; densely wooded on both sides; the channel often running close to the boughs: so that, all the way down the stream, upon the branches had caught shreds of cotton from the bales aboard the steamers, as people carried into captivity by the Indians, in old times, left pieces of their dress to mark a path for pursuing friends. Alligators were numerous as turtles in a Northern mill-pond in hot weather, sunning themselves on logs or slimy banks, or swimming in the stream, — scaly, ungainly objects! a race left over from the pre-Adamite world, which ought to have received its quietus with the pterodactyls; yet a race not out of place in the swamp-country of Louisiana, which seems at least one whole geologic age behind the rest of the world.
The Atchafalaya, which receives the Courtableau, is scarcely wider than its tributary. The current we found very swift, and the river sometimes almost doubled backward. My black friend in the pilot-house, however, with one hand on the wheel and the other on the engine-bell, was equal to every crisis. We passed into snaggy lakes at last; then into the Grand Lake, where we saw the landing, from which, about a month before, we had advanced toward Franklin. In due time, we reached Brashear City; whence, the next day, we took the train for New Orleans.
I bought a handsome slab of marble, and caused it to be suitably inscribed for Edward’s grave; and, when it was done, I took passage on a Government-transport for Baton Rouge. We left Baton Rouge early in April, full of troops; but now, with the exception of a few pale convalescents and a negro regiment, the streets were as innocent of drum-music and soldiers’ tramp as if peace had come. The works near the cemetery had been built, during our absence, into a formidable citadel, frowning upon the eastern woods, and upon the river to the west, with mailed and weaponed brows. The grave, however, was unchanged; the cross, white at the head; the vine covering it deep, and still bearing a few late blossoms. I reared the marble in the early morning sunlight, to stand a pure and enduring sentinel until we can bring his ashes to rest nearer home.
At Baton Rouge, we heard first of the sudden investment of Port Hudson by Gen. Banks; and that every day, in front of the beleaguered fortress, such a battle was threatened as the department had never known. The transports were all detained to wait for this struggle; and even the sick had been sent up from the hospitals to do duty with the ambulances. There would be no opportunity to rejoin the regiment for some days; so I went to the medical director: “I am so-and-so, doctor, on leave of absence. If I can be of service, send me up as a nurse till I can rejoin my regiment.” That night I went to “Springfield Landing,” three miles below the grim, hostile batteries, — as near as peaceful vessels dare go. As we touched land at midnight, the air was full of thunder; and whirling among the stars went the lighted fuses of the slow-revolving bombs, high up toward the zenith, then dropping through a long, fire-lit arc to a deep explosion, — all this now close at hand: what we had been hearing on the remote bayou, fifty miles away.
Here began my week of hospital-work, — a week of most profound and soul-touching experiences, — a week when work went on from day-dawn to day-dawn almost without intermission; when new resources and new strength were developed in all who were there.
Without mattress or covering, I had been sleeping on the bare boards of the cabin, when the halting of the boat, and the roar of the fleet-guns in the river just ahead, awakened me. As the bow touched the shore, a slight, pleasant-faced gentleman, with nothing to denote his connection with the army but a little badge on his Panama-hat, came up the cabin-stairs.
“Where can I find Dr. L——, sir? ”
“I am Dr. L——,” was his answer; and I presented my credentials. The doctor was in charge of the hospital at the landing. There were tents pitched; but they were filled with stores or with other men: so, for the night, I remained aboard the steamer; and, in spite of the cannonade, slept well.
I arose at dawn, — it was Sunday, the 24th of May, — and took the first view by daylight of my new location. The river, I found, was here divided, —Prophet Island standing between the two branches of the stream. I could see the ” Richmond ” at the distance of about a mile and a half up the river, and was told that the remaining vessels of the fleet lay near her. Beyond the “Richmond” lay the threatening line of bluffs, on which were planted the rebel batteries; but from that distance they could not be seen.
Close at hand, the shore was so low as evidently to be covered by the river at high water. The soil gave evidence of having been lately submerged, though now it was dry. Dr. L——’s tents, two or three in number, were pitched in a grove of young saplings, in the rear of a great pile of ammunition and subsistence. Back of these, again, ran the road by which communication was maintained with the army. The “Kineo” lay at anchor a rod or two from shore; and up the bank a little way were tents, and three or four Parrott siege-guns of the largest caliber I have ever seen on wheels. The only building near was an old warehouse, which we tore to pieces for fuel.
Breakfast was cooked among the saplings; and there I first met my fellow-nurses. There were two stout corporals of a Maine regiment, good-natured and bovine; a round-faced corporal of another regiment; a stout battery-man — an ex-teamster from the Quincy quarries — of the Fourth Massachusetts regiment; the skipper of a West-India trading-brig, who had come from Bangor to try his hand at war; &c. Most of them were convalescents from Baton Rouge, not yet recovered enough to rejoin their regiments, but considered fit for hospital-duty. So great was the want of men, that the sick were almost taken from their beds and set to work. There was also a hospital-steward, —a good-looking, capable fellow, with his golden caduceus, embroidered upon green, just above his elbow. There was, besides, a functionary whom we called the commissary, whose business was to guard and deal out the stores.
A great battle might happen at any hour. Already many wounded had been brought in, and despatched to Baton Rouge, from the preliminary skirmishes; and it was high time for the doctor to complete his preparations. He collected us in line before him, and gave us his instructions. We were not to go from the landing: we were to pay most careful attention to the comfort of the wounded; and, if we were detailed to go to Baton Rouge with boat-loads of them, there must be perfect kindness and faithfulness.
There was plenty to be done. We could hear the sound of heavy guns at the front; and all the morning we were very busy pitching new tents, sweeping and policeing about the hospital, collecting fuel, and chopping down inconvenient trees. When I am with the regiment, owing to my profession, which is generally known, I am treated with some deference. Things have been made easy for me by the kindness of friends; and I am spared many of the rough knocks to which the rank and file in general are exposed. Here, however, I was unknown. I stood among the rest simply a corporal of infantry. No one knew me as a clergyman; we none of us knew each other’s antecedents and expectations. We were briskly ordered here and there. I was glad to see that I passed among the others for a pretty stout fellow; being set with the strongest to chop and dig and clean. I worked with a will; and believe I established myself that first day, in the good opinion of the doctor and the steward, as a pretty tolerable hand. Most of the nurses being convalescents, a good deal fell to the share of the two or three of us who called ourselves well.
At noon, a number of sick arrived from the front.
We heard sharper firing. The “Kineo,” weighing anchor,— her crew, who all the morning had been on deck, in clean, fresh dresses, stripping off their shirts, — began to make headway up stream to go into action. Presently we heard her eleven-inch gun close up under the batteries. During the afternoon, long trains of army-wagons took off commissary and ordnance stores; the useful mule-teams dragging through the light soil loads that would soon use up the stoutest horses. At the end of the afternoon, the medical director came up with Dr. F—, who is to be associated with Dr. L—— in the conduct of the hospital. With these gentlemen came ice, lemons, soft bread, wine, &c.; which we got up to the tents, then went to work vigorously on ice-houses. The medical director went to the front, and brought back word, at dark, that the “news is good; we are closing in on them; the assault is impending, and we must be ready.”
Next day we finish our ice-houses. We get through, too, with our tent-pitching,—putting up two large pavilions, capable of holding about sixty wounded, stretched out at length, with comfort, and more than that with crowding. At noon came in more of the sick, and the first wounded man since my arrival. We carry him on his stretcher out under the trees, where it is shady and cool; and I, anxious to be broken in as soon as possible, kneel down by the side of the hospital steward to learn the operations of dressing. This man had been shot through the leg in a skirmish; not a severe hurt, as compared with wounds often received. I moisten the bandages, dry and stiff with blood, until they unwind easily. We lay bare and gently wash the bullet-holes through the limb, apply fresh lint and clean bandages, and bring the man to rest under the tent. In the afternoon, we have arrivals of thirty or forty sick or wounded. The ambulances stop in the road; and we go down with stretchers, four men to each. Generally, the wounded are sadly wearied and jolted by the long ride over a rough road. They come with various hurts, — shot in body, head, legs, and arms. As gently as we can, we move them from the wagons to the stretchers; then from the stretchers again to the pallets on the floors of the tents.
It grew dark while they were arriving. We moistened their bandages, gave them iced lemonade and punch, and brought them toast and tea from the cook’s. One was a stout German sergeant, shot through the foot accidentally by a comrade. We had numbers of such cases. Several had lost an arm, the stump being done up in bloody bandages; many had had a hand or foot badly shattered. By candle-light, the surgeons made their rounds. At this depot, all that was intended was to refresh the patients, and transfer them comfortably to the boats for Baton Rouge. There convenient hospitals were prepared, and surgeons to attend them. Here it was the design only to dress such wounds as needed it at once, and perform such operations as were immediately pressing.
This night, I saw a wound probed for the first time. The bullet had entered just above the knee. Dr. F—— came in with his probe, a fine instrument of steel, with a small ball of ivory at the end. I shrank from seeing it done, but thought I must accustom myself to it, or I should be able to do nothing at all. The patient was a brave, easy fellow, who started coolly, in the operation, to hold the light for the doctor, himself. The pain was too great for that: but still he was smiling and unflinching through the whole of it; straightening up on his hands from his couch, and offering his leg to the instrument.
From evening it becomes night. The surgeons retire; and one by one the nurses drop off, until at length, long past midnight, only two or three of us are left. The candles burn low; the wounded sleep, or groan as their smarts and aches drive away slumber. Carefully and quietly we step from one to another, and soothe them as tenderly as we can. At last, we wake up some of the nurses who have slept; and, expecting a hard day when the sun rises, lay down for a few hours’ rest ourselves.
Tuesday morning, after all, opened with little to be done. Before I rose, the wounded we had been tending had been moved aboard a steamer, and were on their way to comfort. The ice-houses now were all filled. Among the stores were quantities of whiskey, wine, lemons, soft bread, lint, bandages, &c. The surgeons had their instruments in readiness; the cooks had convenient kitchens, and huge boilers for making soup, tea, and coffee. Negroes were procured to sweep out the great tents, clear out the bloody bandages and cotton, and lay beds, sweet and fresh, for the next lot of sufferers. The doctors were kind, and wished us to rest while we could. During the forenoon, I slept; at noon, dined light on soft bread and tea (for, during this whole week, our fare was rather light for our work); got a drink of ice-water from a barrel in front of the commissary’s, and was entirely fresh again. Bed-ticks in great quantity were on hand. From the quartermaster we got bales of hay, and stuffed the ticks; heaping up a great pile to use from. We got out mosquito-bars to protect the wounded from the flies; had pails, wash-basins, and sponges all in readiness; and, soon in the afternoon, the ambulances began to arrive.
The battle has not yet been fought. These are still only the victims of the preliminary skirmishes, and those who have been accidentally injured. The beds are spread in rows. The great hospital-tents stand one behind the other; the canvas between them, and, at either end, looped up high, so that the air can draw freely through. The beds lie in four long rows on the ground, from end to end, the outermost rows close down under the eaves, an aisle running down between. Beside ourselves, we have our stout negroes for help; and, one by one, the ambulances are emptied.
“Take them carefully, boys! Ambulance-driver, you are used to handling them. Get over from your seat in front, and manage the head of the poor prostrate fellow. Let one take the feet, as we slide him out; now a stout one, to catch him at the hips. Carefully, down upon the canvas! Stop groaning! Poor fellow! it is over.”
Here is one with foot mashed by a piece of shell. This one is struck in the calf. Here is one whose leg is gone. The bloody swathings are hot and stiff. We will moisten them with ice-cold water. Here is one struck in the groin: the ball has gone through, and been cut out of the haunch behind. He lives, is bright, and may get well. This cavalry-man is shot clear through, from hip to hip. He is stripped, and the bullet-holes on each side are plain. He lives too. What will not the human body endure? A solid shot has struck this cannoneer in the bowels. Mortally wounded he is. The doctor takes off the broad piece of cloth that covers the hurt, revealing the horrible mangling; then replaces it. There is nothing for him but a dose of morphine to deaden the pain. They have been hit everywhere. Hardly a muscle or bone or fibre of the human body but has been struck in one or another of this unfortunate company,—lungs, shoulders and chest, arms and hands, neck, face, eyes; and, while I am moving a tall Zouave in his brilliant dress, the cloth upon his head drops off, as his shoulders are in my hands. The skull is cleft by a fragment of shell, apparently, deep down into the brain, whose inmost recesses are revealed in the bright sun. Yet he lives too!
All now are in the two tents. The ambulance drivers go back to the cooks for their suppers; but our work is only begun. The doctors go rapidly from man to man. I follow Dr. L—— with a pail of water, soon red and thick with blood, with which to moisten the dressings. Quickly, but pleasantly and quietly, he lays bare the most hideous hurts. I catch the lesson from him. Do not let the patient see an over-anxious face, nor hear too deep sympathy in the voice, lest it should alarm. Be cheerful and tender, and let tone and look give as much encouragement as possible.
Dr. L—— has another assistant, — a gentleman in citizen’s dress, of intellectual face, full of nerve, and ready-handed,—who kneels at one side of the doctor, as I do at the other, holding the instruments. The light is not bright, and I have little leisure for any thing but the wounds; yet I find time to study this man some. He is Barclay, a young minister; here as a delegate of the Christian Commission. In a day or two, I know him better. So we go from bed to bed, stepping carefully among bandaged shoulders, and bloody stumps of legs and arms, and faces pale as the swathings that wrap the head above. Generally, the most severe wounds are not apparently painful; the sufferer lying benumbed, I suppose, by the severing of important nerves. Lacerations of the hands and feet appear to cause most agony. Again we work on, until the candles burn low; holding ice here, bathing a limb or back there, or holding tea to pale lips here. It is morning again, when I arouse a sleeper to take his turn, and give me a chance to sleep.
Through Wednesday morning, we hear a fiercer cannonade than before. A few sick come in from the front during the forenoon; but these, and the wounded we had the night previous, are speedily sent to Baton Rouge. I catch a little sleep after dinner; and, when I awake, am set upon a dreadful task. It is to watch the cannoneer, wounded in the bowels. He was struck on Saturday. It is Wednesday evening, and he is still alive, but with his wound and whole body in a condition not to be described. He lies stripped for greater coolness, only covered with a netting. Somebody must watch beside him. He is delirious, but wants water and to be fanned; and, loathsome as he is, an attendant must be at his side. He tears the cloth from his horrible wound, and I must replace it. I must stand ready to catch his hands. He is decomposing like a corpse, although life yet remains. Toward midnight, he receives a still heavier dose of morphine, and I can leave. I hear that he died before morning.
While I have been at this task, much has been doing. Early after dark, word comes from the front, of the repulse and terrible loss of the storming party; and the surgeons are warned of the approach of a large number of wounded. We hear of the fall of generals and colonels, and rank and file without number; and close upon the heels of the intelligence follow the ambulances, loaded as never before with hastily dressed wounded from the field-hospitals in front. It is about ten o’clock when I go aboard the “Iberville” at the landing; to which the ambulances are transferring their loads at once, instead of leaving them first in our tents. As I enter the cabin-door, the long, handsome saloon, from end to end, is filled with the victims of the battle just fought. From the rich, bronze chandeliers, light falls upon a ghastly sight, — all the ghastlier from contrast with the elegance about. I can hardly step among the prostrate and gory company. And so they lie all through the long perspective, the great mirror at the farther end repeating it all anew; the stains upon their wrappings, about heads and limbs and bodies, red as the figures of the rich carpet upon which they lie.
At the farther end, just in front of the mirror, lie a Zouave major, two colonels, an adjutant of a Maine regiment, then the brave and unfortunate young colonel of the Massachusetts Forty-ninth. He lost a leg at Ball’s Bluff. Now he is shot through the other foot and through the wrist. Only twenty-three! I watch his face and figure, and think how Dr. Holmes would write him down a Brahmin of the Brahmins. There is no sign of suffering upon his well-cut, knightly features. He meets pain with calm dignity. His tall, slight figure is stretched at length upon his couch, — the slender, white foot showing out, bandaged up about the instep. The officers all are patient and brave. One colonel is shot through the face, the other through the arm and back, the adjutant in the knee, the Zouave in the body. Their fine uniforms are stained with battle-gore, and ruffled by the long ambulance-ride, — gold lace and brilliant trimmings all torn and cut to reach the hurt.
There is much to be done. Dr. L— and Barclay are there, and but few others. There are many thirsty ones, —many whose wounds feel as if a burning brand were being applied, and who call for water. Barclay is attending to these wants; and, besides, is applying the stores of the Sanitary Commission, of which he is also an agent. I do not know where he keeps them; but it seems as if he must have them in some way compressed into his pocket, so readily does he produce clean white garments, pillows, and towels, whenever they are needed.
Here on a pallet lies a German corporal — Philbert his name — belonging to a New-York regiment. An officer near says he is the literary man of the regiment, a refined scholar and gentleman, who has gone into the ranks to help his adopted country. He lies with a painful wound through his wrist, — brave, cheerful, and modest. He tells how he carried a fascine in the first line, in front of the stormers; and how all were swept down in the whirlwind of canister and grape they met as they came within range. Some are benumbed and stupefied, some groaning in great pain; but often I find cheerful, smiling faces.
The drink gives out, and I go ashore to refill the pails. Just as I step out into the open air, I hear loud shrieks and cries. I hurry on to the Levee. The moon, nearly full, is now low in the west; and I see clearly by its light an ambulance, just arrived, about which an escort of Zouaves — in uniforms of white and scarlet, set off with silver lace — are hurrying. In the throng, too, are more soberly-dressed ambulance-men, — all covered with dust. A wounded man is just being taken out. I hurry to the spot, finding Barclay there, of course; for he is always where there is suffering. He whispers to me that it is a famous general of division. Dr. F——, who is directing matters, catches my eye in the crowd, and sends me off for a stimulant. It is put to the general’s lips; and I follow the litter aboard Admiral Farragut’s despatch-steamer, which is to convey him to New Orleans. I catch sight of his agonized face in the moonlight, and recognize him as the same general in whose tent I had sat on one occasion, rather more than a year before, in the camp at Port Royal.
I left him groaning and shrieking beneath the awning on the deck of the little steamer, and went up again to the tents to procure the refreshments and other articles I was in search off; then returned to the cabin of the “Iberville.” It was now far toward daylight. The surgeons had all retired, except one who had volunteered for the time from one of the ships of the fleet. There was still plenty to be done; but I waked up some of the sleepers, and lay down for a few hours’ rest.
I could not sleep long; and, soon after sunrise, was about again. I ate my light breakfast of bread and tea, and went again to the “Iberville’s” cabin. She was loaded above and below now, and about to start upon her voyage; but, while she waited, the surgeons and nurses were at work. Ambulances were from time to time arriving, bringing now many of the fine black fellows of Nelson’s regiment, which had passed the great test so well the day before.
The attempt to storm Port Hudson was unsuccessful; but something was done then to forward our cause, because it was on this day that black soldiers underwent their ordeal. Side by side with white troops, they were exposed to a hot fire, and bore themselves well. Col. Higginson, in South Carolina, has had his men under fire, to be sure; but his fighting has been of an irregular sort. Here, for the first time, they were exposed in a pitched battle; and their praise is in every mouth. I am glad I can write that the wounded blacks received all possible attention. They lay about the steamer wherever it was airy and pleasant. The surgeons were attentive. Barclay poured out the stores of the Sanitary and Christian Commissions without stint, and we nurses did all we could. I moistened many a black fellow’s wound; and where, as sometimes happened, they were stripped, that the surgeons might more readily reach their injuries, I adjusted the screens that kept off insects and the sun. They were never otherwise than full of patience and gratitude.
I also washed the wounds and the faces of the officers at the end of the cabin, and happened to be on hand to help in a very trying surgical operation. I held the leg of the young adjutant while Dr. L—— cut a bullet out of the bones of the knee, in which it had become deeply embedded. It was a painful and critical operation. A few days before, I should have fainted at the sight; but, in such scenes, the sensibilities become blunted.
Every available foot of space now aboard the “Iberville,” above and below, was filled with wounded men; and four nurses, I for one, were detailed to go with the boat to Baton Rouge. All were fed, above and below. We stood at hand with wet sponges and cooling drinks; and, meantime, the steamer with her sad freight slipped rapidly down the fifteen miles to Baton Rouge. Hospitals were prepared at the old Arsenal Buildings; and, as the boat rounded to, the intrenchments and banks everywhere were crowded with people.
The boat was soon emptied of its freight. I piled up the beds, as they were vacated, on one side of the cabin; and then had a little leisure to go ashore, and see a room or two of the permanent hospital. They looked neat and comfortable. The rooms were airy; the beds clean, and protected by mosquito-bars; the patients soon washed, and provided with food and fresh clothing. The steamer was presently on her way back. I managed to get a good dinner aboard; then spread a bed on the cabin-floor, and got an hour or two of welcome and needed sleep. I had worked very hard, and, I believe, gained the good-will of the surgeons. Besides, one or two old patients of mine, whom I had nursed in typhoid fever, had been at the landing, and, I believe, had spoken a good word for me. More and more responsibility was put upon me.
As soon as I had returned, the hospital-steward told me I was to take charge of removing a large number of wounded to the boat from the tents, who had been brought down from the field during our trip. Here were my negroes, here the nurses I could have, and here the stretchers. I went right to work. I had gained confidence, found my strength was good, and therefore was not afraid to handle even the worst cases. I dared to take hold of the stumps when it was necessary, the pierced hips, and lacerated shoulders. I had found that a quick, steady movement caused the least pain.
About dark, — this was Thursday, — the task was accomplished, but only to make room for another; for now a longer string of ambulances than ever had come. The surgeons had gone to bed exhausted, and could not be disturbed. The hospital-steward was not to be found; and upon me came the responsibility of getting them all housed, fed, and cared for during the night. I had the beds laid in as good order as possible, working as I never worked before; then superintended, as well as I could, the removal of the men from the ambulances to the pallets upon the ground. It seemed as if we never had received a lot so dreadfully mangled: we certainly never received so many. With as much despatch as possible, I assigned to each his place. Commissary-teams were waiting for the ambulances to get out of the way; and we had almost to jump and run among the closely packed crowd on the floor, in the dim candlelight. Outsiders, some of them officers, came in, but often hindered more than they helped, by misplaced sensibility, or unreasonable assumption of authority. The lightly wounded were to be put in the less accessible places under the eaves, as requiring least attention; the graver cases were to have the airiest beds; and the bodies of those who had bled to death in the ambulances had a place assigned to them in a tent outside. Barclay was at my right hand; a good man indeed. Together we took hasty counsel as to moving and making comfortable the more desperately injured. How could we take hold here so as not to jar the shattered lungs? and how, with this heavy, tall fellow, terribly hurt in the groin, —how could I get my hands under the hips, so as to lift him most easily? We worked hour after hour, the sweat starting from every pore, that hot, moon-lit night, until every inch of available space was packed, and all were fed.
I do not know how many regiments were represented. There were officers of all grades. A colonel shot through the hand; a captain shot in the neck; and another, a gentleman, in the midst of his suffering, his elegant dress dusty and gory. I was hoarse with giving directions in the hubbub, and worn out with want of sleep. Toward daylight again, I found a place to lie down.
I happened to lie down in the tent where Barclay kept his stores; and, when I awoke in the morning, he was there. He never appeared to need sleep. We had an interesting half-hour’s talk. I told him about watching with the cannoneer, whose whole body was far gone with decay, and full of worms, although life yet lingered. Was it not almost a barbarity not to put him into the final sleep? Then came up the case of Napoleon, and the fever patients of his army in Syria. They, too, were sick to death; sure to become a prey to the Turk: was it so monstrous for him to propose to put them quickly and smoothly out of life? From that we got on to the question of suicide, and spoke of Godwin and French thinkers, and of Epictetus, and sages of old, who permitted such flight from life. “If the house smokes, leave it.” We thought life was too sacred a thing for man to touch. God gave it: let him take it away, when it is time.
I got up from the ground before Barclay, soaked with sweat, and with dust and blood adhering everywhere. I apologized for my appearance; for it was my only shirt. He gave me another out of the Sanitary Commission stores, in which I once more felt decent.
This was Friday, — a day much like the previous ones. Besides the “Iberville,” there were two or three other steamers to take the wounded; and, one after another, they went down stream freighted. During the day, we had a fine shower, which cooled the air. To dress a wound is no slight operation. To undo gaping injuries, wash them, stanch the blood; then do them up neatly, and feel they are safe, —all this, one does not reach at once.
My hospital-service, however, was coming to a close. Saturday morning, began to arrive the Fifty-second Regiment. During the fortnight I had spent on my journey, and at Springfield Landing, they had performed a march of one hundred and thirty miles; being part of the guard of the immense train in which the negroes and a vast portion of the wealth of the Teche and Opelousas neighborhoods were brought to the seaboard. That work had been accomplished; and now, at the end of May, they had been hurried up the river to re-enforce the besieging army. Saturday afternoon, when the regiment passed the hospital on its way to the front, I bade Barclay and my old mates good-by, and fell in with the colors in my old place.
May 14. — A gentle rain is pattering on the tent-roof, — grateful to us now as a shower in August in Northern city or hamlet. To its soothing music the other men have gone to sleep; while I sit here with my back to the tent-pole, writing words to this pretty pattering tune. May is going; and we are, generally speaking, as idle here as during the previous month we were active. It is nearly three weeks since we encamped on the Courtableau, — weeks of glorious summer. Day and night, along the bayou, the mocking-bird “shakes from his little throat whole floods of delirious music;” and over the stream, from the boughs of the big trees, hang the ladders of moss, — the Jacob’s ladders, on which “the angels, ascending, descending, are the swift humming-birds.” The distant forest line is blue to the eye, and of impenetrable density. What enchanter’s incense is this sweet blue haze! lulling the outer sense, stimulating the fancy; so that I sit under our booth, my eyes upon the far-away woods, dreaming of romance,—just now of the “wood of Broceliande,” and Vivien charming Merlin with her spells “of woven paces and of waving arms.” O sweet “Idyls of the King”! is there any poetry like you? It is all beautiful. But our sojourn here is inglorious. Instead of being left behind to guard cotton, I would have preferred to march with Banks to the Red River: a cup of fatigue and hardship it would have been, but gloriously dashed with excitement.
The pile of cotton is a mountain on the landing. All day long, — every day for weeks, — teams have brought it in, until it almost seems worth while to build here the factories that are to work it up into fabric; but, since Mahomet will not come to the mountain (to set on its head the saying), the mountain is going to Mahomet. Down it goes, piecemeal, through the bayou, on little steamers padded out like lank belles, at every available place, into portentous embonpoint. They say our business here will be finished when the cotton is carried away: so we watch the slow decrease of the pile, hear the mocking-birds, wash lazily in the bayou in contempt of alligators, and live along.
Along the bank of the stream is an immense camp of negroes. They have come by thousands from the whole country round. Generally, their masters appear to have fled; and the negroes, harnessing up the mules, loading in their families together with their own and their masters’ goods, have come crowding in to us. They come trustingly, rejoicing in their freedom. By night, until long past midnight sometimes, we can hear them shout, pray, and sing. Gen. Ullman has been here, and the able-bodied men are to become soldiers. The women and older men, and all not fit for military duty, are to go on to plantations taken by the Government or by loyal men. They are to receive wages, and be well cared for. No doubt, their condition will be distressing in many cases. For them, it is a most momentous period of transition, — a crisis which they can hardly pass without suffering; but it will be temporary, and a bright future lies before them.
The other day, on the bank of the bayou, I found a man, born, as he said, in New Jersey. He came South as steward of a ship, and was coolly sold by his captain into slavery at New Orleans. From there he became a plantation-hand, and for fifteen years had been in bondage.
Last week, there came shivering through to us from Port Hudson, forty miles away, the boom of a mighty bombardment. We heard them, Friday and Saturday, getting the range; then Saturday night, —it was starlight, and all calm as an infant’s sleep, — that night we heard the roar of the real attack, — continuous thunder from the far north-east. We could tell the sharp reports of the Parrotts, the heavier boom of Dahlgren, the long-drawn crash of mortar. The whole air listened; and the land trembled, as if it partook in the guilt of its inhabitants, and quailed beneath the blasting and thunderous retribution that was falling. We felt it, rather than heard it, all through the long night, coming through desolate fen and over plain, through wood and over stream; imparting tremor to every foot in those dreary, intervening leagues, as if the Genius of the conquering North were making the land feel everywhere the -indignant stamp of her resistless heel!
So we live and listen and wait. I am reduced now to about the last stage. My poor blouse grows raggeder. My boots, as boys say, are hungry in many places. I have only one shirt; and that has shrunk about the neck, until buttons and button-holes are irretrievably divorced, and cannot be forced to meet. Washing-days, if I were anywhere else, I should have to lie abed until the washer-woman brought home the shirt. Now I cannot lie abed, for two reasons: first, I am washer-woman myself; second, the bed is only bed at night. By daytime, it is parlor-floor, divan, dining-table, and library, and therefore taken up. I button up in my blouse, therefore; and can so fix myself, and so brass matters through, that you would hardly suspect, unless you looked sharp, what a whited sepulchre it was that stood before you. I have long been without a cup. Somebody stole mine long ago; and I, unfortunate for me, am deterred, by the relic of a moral scruple which still lingers in my breast, from stealing somebody else’s in return. My plate is the original Camp-Miller tin plate, worn down now to the iron. I have leaned and lain and stood on it, until it looks as if it were in the habit of being used in the exhibitions of some strong man, who rolled it up and unrolled it to show the strength of his fingers. There is a big crack down the side; and, soup-days, there is a great rivalry between that crack and my mouth, —the point of strife being, which shall swallow most of the soup; the crack generally getting the best of it.
Rations pall now-a-days. The thought of soft bread is an oasis in the memory. Instead of that, our wearied molars know only hard-tack, and hard salt beef and pork. We pine for simple fruits and vegetables. The other day, however, I received a gift. An easy-conscienced friend of mine brought in a vast amount of provender from a foraging expedition, and bestowed upon me a superb turkey, — the biggest turkey I ever saw; probably the grandfather of his whole race. His neck and breast were decorated with a vast number of red and purple tassels and trimmings. He was very fat, moreover; so that he looked like an apoplectic sultan. I carried him home with toil and sweat; but what to do with him for the night! If he had been left outside, he would certainly have been stolen: so the only way was to make a bedfellow of him. Occasionally he woke up, and “gobbled;” and I feared all night long the peck of his bill and the impact of his spurs. In the morning, we immolated him with appropriate ceremonies. The chaplain’s coal-hod, the best thing in camp to make a soup in, was in use; but I found a kettle, and presided over the preparation of an immense and savory stew, the memory whereof will ever steam up to me from the past with grateful sweetness.
In spite of hard fare, I appear to flourish. The other day, I thought I was afflicted with some strange and terrible disease. I was growing short-winded, and had a novel fulness about the waist, which tightened my vest-buttons. Yesterday, however, I was weighed, and found myself fourteen or fifteen pounds beyond my usual weight. I was short-winded only because I was pursy; and the protuberant stomach was simply adipose. My gait, too, I thought was affected. Alas! is it simply that I waddle?
May 2.—We begin to see the wisdom of our rapid marching. We not only prevented the enemy from making a stand and fortifying, but we completely demoralized and dissipated his force, taking a large part prisoners. This chain of narrow bayous too, and shallow lakes, which we must hold unobstructed for navigation, if the country is to be held, could never have been gained but by our hasty marches. A night’s intelligent work, by a few score of men, would put obstacles in the channels, which could not be removed for a long time; but, so rapid and overwhelming was our rush, there was no time to accomplish even this. Then, too, there was no time for the destruction of property; so that steamers now can come from New Orleans and Brashear City to this remote landing, bringing supplies to the army, and go back loaded to the water’s edge with cotton and sugar. These products are found in great quantities, stored everywhere. A mountain of bales is piled up on the river-bank, to which hundreds of teams are continually adding. We are stationed here, with two or three other regiments, to serve as a guard while this property is being gathered. Is this hard? It is the Government policy, and would be thus defended. The owners of all this are rebels, who have fled at our approach, not waiting to take the oath of allegiance. It is right, therefore, to confiscate their property. It is a hard thing; but it seems much less hard when you think that the wealth thus taken was accumulated by the unrequited labor of negroes. I remember the axiom at the foundation of the science of political economy, — that the basis of wealth is human work and sweat. Who should enjoy the benefits of the wealth, but those who work and sweat? It is right to take this, and use it in defraying our expenses in this war; for in our triumph is coming the time of jubilee to these unpaid blacks.
Great barbarities, however, I fear have been committed. They say ear-rings have been torn from the ears of women, and brooches from their bosoms, while they sat with children in their arms. At Opelousas, an order of Gen. Banks was read, speaking of the conduct of the stragglers as bringing the deepest disgrace upon us,—disgrace so deep as almost to cancel the glory of the success. Of these enormities, I myself have seen but little. They were committed by stragglers; and except on one occasion, when I remained to take care of Sergeant Grosvenor, I did not spend a night away from my place in the regiment.
I have spoken of the fine mansion just this side of New Iberia, out of which Toussaint brought the handsome tapers. I did not go in; but men came out telling of the smashing of mirrors and furniture, and other ruthless vandalism. The destruction upon the Swayze Estate I saw after it was accomplished. I am glad that our regiment cannot be held guilty of any thing of this sort. There is a public sentiment among us which reprobates such acts. There are a few in each company, perhaps, who might take advantage of an opportunity, and be savages; but they do not represent us. Any thing necessary to our support we did take, and with the permission of our leaders. The wagon-trains were often far behind: we could not carry much in our haversacks; and, at any rate, coffee, hard bread, and salt pork, were pretty much the only food furnished. To support our exertions, we needed more abundant and palatable food. We made free, therefore, with herds, hen-coops, and plantation-stores, which were going to waste. Let me own up frankly to pillaging, — to having stolen onions in the Swayze Garden; to having assisted in the robbing of sugar-casks; to having held the candle while a lot of purloined cattle were being butchered. All this, however, I claim, was unavoidable; and it was certainly permitted. For the other unnecessary robbery, I disclaim, for the Fifty-second Massachusetts, all connection with it. It is bad enough; but I believe it is foolish to call it unparalleled, as some do call it. I have read enough of war and siege, — of Magdeburg, of Badajos, of San Sebastian and Crimean outrages, —to know that such things are only the usual accompaniments of a great struggle. But how dreadful is war! how inexcusable, except when it is the only way to maintain goodness and refinement and truth against aggressive barbarism!
Our camp now is beautiful. Who is it (one of the Brontes?) who is so eloquent about her love for midsummer, with its white, opulent cloud-masses and superb verdure? This is the weather we have. Glorious heavens, and a glorious earth in forest and plain! and all night long the moon walks in splendor, transfiguring the soldier’s brown face as he lies with his tent open to the wind, and his burnished weapons at his hand.
April 29.—This is the Bayou Courtableau,—a spot called Barre’s Landing, about eight miles from Opelousas, whence we marched last Sunday. We are glad of the change. Water could only be got at our Opelousas camp by going a respectable pedestrian journey. Moreover, at our first coming, creatures by the score fell victims to our hunger. Parts of the carcasses of these had been left, and were tainting the whole neighborhood. “We were not sorry, therefore, when the order came to march here, — a march we accomplished in a leisurely fashion, taking most of the day for it; mourning, some of us, that the day must go by without observance, like so many previous Sundays: but, on the whole, not an unhappy company; for we were rested now; and a night or two before, at dress-parade, we had heard Gen. Banks’s congratulatory order, which told us we had done something, — taken a large number of prisoners, beaten the enemy in three or four battles, destroyed several gun-boats and transports, &c.
Opelousas was a dreary little place, where we found vegetating a population of French Creoles, — old men, women, and children. The younger men are probably all in the rebel army. McGill and I, one day, got leave to walk about the streets. McGill was brought up in Canada, and his patois appeared to serve him as well with these Creoles as if he were in Quebec. Professions of loyalty were plenty enough; but we imagined they talked in a different strain a morning or two before, when the wreck of the rebel army came panting through, and the Texans took horses to escape to their own State.
My arrest was my most noteworthy adventure at Opelousas. It was the fourth or fifth day of our stay there. I was tired of lying with the lizards under the shelter-tent: so, as Bivins and two of the corporals were going off on a sugar expedition, I joined them. We went to the “Swayze Place,” where my companions had been before. They had given such accounts of its elegance as to arouse our interest. We made our way through a forest (killing a rattlesnake in our course), entered the plantation gate, passed through a rather squalid purlieu of negro huts, then came to the mansion itself, — a one-story dwelling, with neat veranda and some marks of taste, though house and surroundings lacked finish. The garden was a wreck; and through this we passed without hinderance, by the open door, into what had been elegantly furnished apartments. One had been a library; and the floor was strewn with a litter of valuable books. One had been a dining-room, at one side of which stood a handsomely carved sideboard. In the parlor was a rich piano, and other furniture in keeping, — all overturned, scattered, and marred. We went into bedrooms, where were handsome canopied beds, and heavy furniture of rosewood. In one was a large mirror, in which I caught sight of a very swarthy and travel-stained warrior, whom I should never have recognized.
I hurried out with an uncomfortable feeling. The pillage and destruction were due in part to our soldiers, in part to the negroes. It was discreditable and painful. At the sugar-house was sugar going to waste. My companions took what they could carry in their blankets, and I took from the deserted garden a handful of onions, — articles really necessary, short of rations as we were, and which we had been instructed we might take. Then we washed and filled our canteens from the broken bucket of the old well; then going forward, on our way back we met a company of men coming through the gate.
“Is it a picket, or what?” said we unsuspectingly; but, as they came up, they wheeled around us.
“Fall in as prisoners!” said the lieutenant in charge; and in we were forced to go, my companions with their sugar, and I with my fragrant burden.
First they marched us back, while they picked up cavalry-men and others prowling about as we had been. Then, with the arrested culprits, the guard set off through the woods for the camp.
We learned, in one way and another, that grave misdemeanors had been committed on the estate; that complaint had been made to Gen. Grover, and that the guard had been despatched at once to arrest all they could find. We passed the brigade in ignominious procession. What was to become of me? Word had gone back to my excellent parishioners at the North once before, that their minister and his comrades, when likely to go into danger, fortified their courage with doses of gunpowder and rum! Now he was arrested as a “merooder.” Would it not be the last of me?
We reached the general’s tent at last; the general, as is his habit, pacing thoughtfully up and down in front of it. “File right, file left; halt!” We are in the presence. One of the culprits was very distingue in a white shirt, — a “clean biled shirt,” in campaigning parlance. This, it seems, he had stolen.
“Tie the man that stole the shirt to the fence here. Take the others to your camp, and keep them without food or drink until further orders.”
On his heel again swings the general. “Right about, and forward!” to us.
In a dismal field we are left, with our feet in a ditch; the sun pouring down, and no shade. A bayonet, with a full-blown Paddy to manage it, blocks every avenue of escape. Toye and Stowell are hungry and wrathy; I am rueful; but Bivins makes light of his misfortunes. If the sergeant knew the words, I am sure he would repeat, “Stone-walls do not a prison make.” As it is, he sports with his chains, and, so to speak, makes his dungeon ring with derisive laughter. We are in our shirt-sleeves, and dread the cold as night approaches. Toward dusk, I catch sight of a friend, just within hail, who is summoned with loud shoutings, and sent off with a message to the colonel. In about an hour, enter the colonel, on horseback, into the circle of firelight where we are sitting. “Well, well! how is this?”
We tell him our story. We are ignorant of having broken any regulation. We are confined without judge or jury.
“Cannot you get us out? We want our hard tack; we want to go to bed.”
The colonel has made strong representations to the general, to no purpose.
“Culprits are generally the most moral and orderly” men in a regiment, according to their officers’ showing. At any rate, your men were in very bad company, and must stand it.”
All the colonel, even, can do, is to pass sympathy, as it were, through our dungeon-grate, and order over our blankets from the camp.
My friend who carried the message comes up again, when it is dark enough, and tips me the wink; and, while we engage apparently in indifferent conversation (to delude the vigilant guard), a cold chicken is slipped from his blouse under my vest, and a pile of hard bread secreted under the blanket. In this transaction, however, we are detected by Corporal Billy Mulligan, the amiable functionary in charge. He, however, stooping, whispers, —
“Only kape thim from the liftinant, an’ niver a word’ll I say.”
So we have a comfortable supper, in spite of Gen. Grover; then stretch ourselves across a furrow in the starlight. Morning does not bring us release, nor yet noon. Corporal Mulligan prophesies disgrace. Alluding to our badges as sergeants and corporals, it is, —
“Och, bys! but they’ll be afther takin’ thim stripes aff ye.”
In the afternoon, we rig up a little canopy to keep off the sun. A grand review takes place. The Fifty-second marches by, little Claypole carrying the flag; Company D looking across the field to see their captured comrades. We wave our coats and caps, like men wrecked on a desert island to a passing ship. Grosvenor has got-well, and waves back to us; so the others. At sundown, however, deliverance comes. Corporal Mulligan bids us an affectionate adieu.
“Be gorra! it’s not mesilf that wanted to hould ye.”
Gen. Grover vouchsafes no explanation of arrest or release. The dungeon yawns, and the oppressed go free.
Officers and men enjoy getting off sly jokes at me about my scrape; but, on the whole, I look back upon it with pleasure, as helping to round the cycle of my military experiences.
April 21. —As you see, during the past week or so, I have occasionally caught up my pencil among the most tremendous and unspeakable exertions, simply to record my whereabouts, and that I lived. We are in camp now at Opelousas, far toward Texas, in the back regions of Louisiana; having pursued the retreating enemy seventy-five miles. Remember, we have made this distance on foot, under a heavy burthen. Thank God with all my heart, I am perfectly well after the march, though I have been fearfully tired, and once was at the lowest point of exhaustion. We understand that we are to rest here, and prepare for a still further advance; but our forced marching, I presume, is for the present over.
I have now leisure to go back, and give the details of this experience of hardship.
On Saturday, April 11, Grover’s division embarked at Brashear City. Our brigade left a delightful camp for the transport “St. Mary’s,” a beautiful vessel, but one aboard which we underwent a packing, to which the stowage aboard the “Illinois” was nothing, and which certainly nothing could parallel but the packing of a slaver. Our boat carried three regiments, the horses and greater part of the men of a battery, and I know not how many more. I only know I took my post on a little rise in the deck, between the smoke-stack and engine, built up to cover the machinery. I was there with about ten others, and hardly left it from that Saturday night until near noon of Monday; not because I was shackled to the spot exactly, but because I could hardly take a step without treading on some one. By daytime, we sat with our legs curled under us, under a blazing hot sun, under which we almost popped out on the deck like kernels of corn on an iron plate. By night, we tried to sleep, with the plunging piston within reach of the hand. I lay with my head lower than my feet, my head on my knapsack, my feet passed up over the shoulders of Grider and another of our fellows, with Callighan’s elbow in one side, and Bivins’s head upon my breast. How dreary was Sunday! I awoke unrefreshed. There was water all about us, but none to be had for washing, and not much to drink. Toward noon, I managed to buy some fine oranges of a cabin-waiter, which helped my poor dinner of the hardest biscuit and coarsest salt beef. We were in a great strait for coffee, which, for a long time, seemed utterly out of the question. At length, however, Joe Pray, a “cute” genius, was inspired. Just in front of my place rose the escape-pipe of the steamer, ten or twelve feet above the deck: from this, hot steam was constantly issuing. Joe was seen to eye this, to grow thoughtful, then to pour a handful of ground coffee into his canteen, partly filled with water. With this he came to the foot of the pipe; and, after a few efforts, he tossed the canteen clear over its edge into the current of steam, holding it by its long white string. It was an entire success. Joe withdrew in a few minutes with a canteen full of hot, well-steeped drink. As he squeezed his way back to his place, there was a crowd to profit by his experiment. The old pipe puffed away, and many were the coffee-makers who invoked blessings upon the head of Joe Pray.
Night came again, and I slept as before, with men crowding everywhere; and, beneath me, four or five muskets not covered over. I got up in the morning tattooed like a Carib, where the steel projections of the muskets had pressed into my back and legs.
Meantime the sail was monotonous and uninteresting. We ploughed along, stirring into waves the sallow torpor of the bayou, — the low shores on either hand walled up with the massive vegetation of the climate. At length, we emerged into a broad lake, the “Grand Lake,” environed by what seemed to us only wilderness. The grim, battered old gunboat that bossed the expedition went ahead with cannon run out, examining narrowly each point for masked batteries.
At last, it was Monday morning. When the fog lifted, a regiment or two were put ashore from the fleet, and found a body of rebels on hand to oppose the landing in a sharp skirmish. “Bang!” went a field-piece on shore, which brought us all to our feet. Then followed a roll of musketry; then presently, with a heavier boom, the gunboat put in its word, — a puff of smoke ascending quickly from its rusty ports; then the crash of the explosion, — a long whistle from the flying shell, — presently a jet of fire against the dark thickets on shore; and, in a minute or two, the sound of the bursting coming faintly to us from afar. A planter’s mansion, with sugar-house and negro-cabins, stood on the shore; behind which buildings we could see columns of men in motion, under the white smoke of the skirmish, which now rose to the tall tree-tops. The grim gunboat, the “Clifton,” guided by signal-flags on shore, sent out, now a solitary puff, now three or four nearly together; while, in the pauses between these heavier firings, came from the shore the fainter fusillade, linking the peals into an uninterrupted concert. At length, it ceased. The enemy retired, and we had opportunity to land.
We marched back from the river into the cane-field, where I had time to write a line or two in my journal. A few regiments and batteries pushed ahead at once; but we remained long enough to have pailfuls of coffee made and passed from man to man, —delicious enough under the circumstances. Under the roof of the sugarhouse, Gen. Grover walked to and fro with his hands behind him, and head bent forward in anxious thought. Two rebel prisoners were under guard close by; and, from the vessels, horses and stores were being landed in all haste. It was a critical moment. We had come upon the rebels unexpectedly, and the general meant to profit by the surprise. One of the transports, however, with a brigade aboard, which could not be spared, was hard aground a league back in the lake. After some delay, however, it was afloat again, and came up.
In the early afternoon, we were on the march. We plunged into a tall forest, where there was a dense undergrowth of canes; the under and upper growth striking hands together to keep the sun out, and have the road underneath a perpetual quagmire. The road was heavy, and cut deep with artillery-wheels, through whose ruts we waded and jumped, with every now and then the sound of cannon (to stimulate us) from the advance. To the wood, a broad open space succeeded, on which were drawn up the regiments thrown forward in the morning. Here signs of strife appeared, — two wounded cavalry-men; one hurt in the leg, the other more dangerously wounded, muffled in his blanket upon a stretcher. We could look forward now a mile or two; and, when the reports came back, could see beforehand the white smoke of the discharge. We thought we had come into a savage region, so wilderness-like had been the shores of the bayou and the lake; but, once through the belt of woods, we found ourselves in a smiling land again. Presently we struck the Têche, — here not more than fifty yards broad, — flowing between banks, that, for a delightful wonder, sloped down from higher land on each side to the surface of the stream, — banks, with clumps and groves of trees, with sugarhouses to be seen here and there in the distance, and handsome mansions.
We were passing on in the direction of the firing, which gradually advanced as we pushed forward; not so fast, however, as to prevent our gaining upon it. At length we crossed the Têche by a bridge which had its timbers charred in several places. The advance found it in flames, and just saved it. The embers were hardly cold. Companies of the Fifty-second now deployed as skirmishers. A section of the Second Massachusetts Battery went out across a field, under charge of a straight, finely riding lieutenant; and presently they were at it, throwing shells into clumps of trees where there were suspicious signs. The skirmishers opened out into a long line, with intervals of two or three yards between the men; then advanced cautiously toward the buildings and fences. As the colonel galloped by, —
“I have one man wounded,” said the captain of the company behind the colors. “A shot just grazed his arm.”
We were close upon them, and came to a halt. It was nearly nightfall, and we could not advance in the darkness. Over the fence, in front of our line, twenty rods or so, was our line of skirmishers; and beyond them, in the gathering dusk, across the wide plain we strained our eyes to see the little moving spots, — the pickets of the enemy. A squad of rebel prisoners went by us, just taken, under convoy of cavalry. They were stout, well-fed men, — some in the butter-nut dress, some in gray. Their clothing looked serviceable and was in as good condition as the clothing of soldiers is likely to be during a hard campaign.
Here is something even more interesting. A short distance behind us, we noticed a very handsome plantation and mansion, down the road from which comes now, in haste and in much agitation, a stately lady. She is a matron of fine bearing, elegantly attired. Her face is full of character; she is bareheaded; in age, perhaps forty-five or fifty, but with hair still jet-black and abundant. She sweeps by us hastily, with the majesty of a noble mother of Rome, and stops at the stirrup of Gen. Grover, who has halted at the crossroads, just beyond where I am standing. She has come to intercede with the general for her son, who has just been taken prisoner, — a fine, fierce boy of nineteen or twenty, who stands, haughty and tall, close by, among a group of captive rebels.
“Do let him go, general: he is all I have!” (repeated again and again.)
Most earnest and stately intercession! But the boy has been taken in arms; and the general, I believe, refused to listen. The negroes say this matron owns two miles square of country here, and four hundred slaves.
We camp, as we often do, in a ploughed field. We are sadly in want of sleep; for, during the two previous nights, we have had almost none. We do not stop to pitch tents, but lie down on the furrows, trying to make provision against the impending rain. Down it comes at midnight, then at intervals until morning. Meantime, the wind blows fresh, and the rubber-blankets go flying off from us into the mud, leaving the water to pelt us as it chooses; another tough and almost sleepless night. Our equipments, of course, are all on, and our loaded guns at our sides, to guard against a night surprise. At four o’clock in the morning, wet and unrefreshed, we are on our feet again. There is no time for making coffee; we are ordered into line at once, and march forthwith into fearful scenes.
It appears now, that, when we landed from the transports, we were not many miles from a strong force of rebels posted near Franklin, which force Grover’s division was to assail on the flank or rear. Banks, with the main body of the army, had advanced up the Têche toward the same point, had driven back the rebels in our direction, and now the two Union armies were about to effect a junction; not, however, without sacrifice.
Day broke, as we marched out into the road, — a listless, half-exhausted body of men. During the three previous nights we had had little sleep, and but little food since the Saturday before. It was now Tuesday. We were all more or less drenched with the rain, and the blankets and clothing weighed double with the moisture. As the sun came up, however, and the morning damps steamed off, we felt better, and had our senses open a little to the beauty of the road, the sweetness of the blossoms, and the verdure of the slopes.
Presently we hear the sound of firing.
“They have found them again,” I say to the color-sergeant; and we look off over the woods to where the white cloud of the discharge can be seen rising among the trees. As we sweep along the road toward the firing, the day each minute becomes more and more beautiful. Each minute, too, the roar of cannon is more frequent, and becomes mingled at last with sharp, rattling volleys of small-arms.
We come, at last, into full view of the scene. We halt in the road; and leaning against a fence, looking southward through the rails, the whole combat is visible to us, who are now within cannon-range. We look down a gentle slope. To the left we can see a battery posted, which fires very vigorously; then bodies of infantry, in long, dark lines, moving upon an open field in front of a wood. In the lines are gaps, which may be caused by moving over rough ground, or by the plunge of shot and shell. To the right, again, we can see bodies of troops, and batteries. Hear that long crash of musketry! each individual discharge so blending into the others, that we can only hear one long sound, like the slow fall of some huge tower. It is a rebel volley, terribly effective, as we afterward hear; and, while the wind bears it to us, we are ordered forward, and presently are on the very field.
Ambulance-men, with stretchers, are hurrying across the field to a sugar-house in the rear, where a hospital is established. On each stretcher is a wounded man, and the number of these makes it certain to us that the engagement has reached the sad dignity of a pitched battle. We are passing ammunition wagons now; now a tree, beneath which is a surgeon at work; and, close where he stands, on his back, stiff and stark, dead, a tall, broad-chested man, with closed eyes. The column files to the right, out of the road; and we stand in line of battle just in the rear of the action, within rifle-range of the woods where the enemy lie concealed, expecting every moment the order to advance. The firing, however, slackens; and presently word comes that the enemy are withdrawing.
Between the color-company and the next company, through the centre of our line, runs the cart-track down into the field, along which now is constantly passing a stream of wounded men, on stretchers, or supported by comrades, and lines of rebel prisoners. I am close by, and can hear the talk of a sergeant, bloody, but able to walk, who is glad he has had a chance to do some service. I look, too, upon the ghastly head of a young lieutenant, who is dying upon his stretcher, and upon many others. Prisoners come by in squads, — sometimes five or six, sometimes twenty or thirty; some in gray, some in blue, some in faded brown. Once in a while, there is an intelligent, good-looking face; more often the features are unintelligent, — the brutish face of that deteriorating class, the white trash. Thus we stand close at hand to suffering and death.
The pursuit is being continued down the road. Hours pass, and we still remain in line. We cook, eat, and sleep. I get out my portfolio, and write a little. In the course of the day, up into the blue, calm sky go mighty columns of smoke, with deep reports, — the explosions of rebel gunboats and transports, overtaken in the Têche by the victorious army, and blown up by their crews as they flee. Within half a dozen rods of our line is a field-hospital, where lie, of one New-York regiment, the wounded colonel, the dead lieutenant-colonel, adjutant, and other officers and men. Of other regiments, too, are many wounded, federal and rebel, — some dying under the surgeon’s hands. I go over and see the writhing wounded, and the hospital attendants laying out the dead. An Irish private lies close by the straight young adjutant, whose face is reverently covered; and not far off is a rebel, covered thick with his own gore. Before death go down all distinctions and animosities.
Does it not seem, when the experiences are so out of the common course and so dreadful, as if there ought to be some change in outward circumstances to make them correspond? But no: it was a perfect summer day, — an almost cloudless sky, with a cool, sweet wind coming from the woods where the rebels had been hidden; the woods green and fresh and innocent, as if they were only a haunt for fairies.
Toward night, I go down the cart-path to the actual field, and see the broken muskets, the scattered knapsacks and clothing, the furrows where the enemy lay, the bloody pools where the dying fainted, the burial parties, and the piles of distorted corpses lying by the trenches just dug to receive them. I have wished, that, so long as Ed. was to die, he might have met his death in the front of battle, with a manly shout upon his lips, and the light and ardors of the conflict shining forth upon his face: but it is more dreadful than I had believed; and now I thank God that we could lay his fair young body in the grave, undesecrated,—with the limbs unbroken, with no gash upon his youthful brow, nor gory stain upon his noble breast.
They say we lost in the neighborhood of four hundred. Only one brigade was engaged. It was a bloody strife.
As the shadows grew long, we were ordered into line again. I had just returned from the edge of the woods where the conflict had been severest, and the dead were being buried. I cast a farewell glance at the fence, along the rails of which the rebels had rested their pieces in the morning; at the dense trunks filled in with broad palms and thick standing canes that had been their cover; at the group burying the dead, a rebel prisoner standing at the elbow of the sergeant in charge, giving him the names of a pile of the enemy about to be interred; then we marched off. As we passed the sugar-house, amputations and other severe surgical operations were being performed. We went only a short distance, then encamped in a broad field sloping down to the Têche. Permission was given to get from the neighboring plantations what was needed in the way of food; and, after an exciting day, the regiment was soon at rest, — rest we had earned by the hardships of the three or four previous nights, and which was invaluable to us as we came to undergo the privations and labors of the following days.
The camp was early astir on Wednesday. We bathed in the Têche, and watched the “Clifton,” our old, grim friend, which came steaming up; the coast being now clear for her through the explosions of the day before. As soon as she had passed, it was time for us to go; for word spread that the rebels were retreating into the interior, that we were to follow them at once, and that this gunboat in the bayou, which generally flows near the road, was to guard the flank of the pursuing column.
The march was most fatiguing; though in a proper conveyance, that glorious day, the road would have been very fine. Through some mistake, we had retained our knapsacks, and so were in heavy order, although the army in general only carried the lightest possible load. We passed the mansion of the stately lady who pleaded for her son, where, a few days before, it was said, the Confederate generals had been entertained at a splendid ball. The road here was bordered by a hedge of orange-trees, whose fruit the soldiers could pick as they passed. We saw signs everywhere along the road of great wealth. The country of the Têche, like that of the La Fourche, is a garden region; fine plantations succeeding each other continually; the sugar-houses looming large back on the estates; the negroes gathering upon the fences and gates by the roadside, of all shades, of all degrees of ugliness and beauty. Sometimes a hedge bordered the road, — of heavy, opulent foliage; sometimes rich fields spread away beyond the fences; sometimes the bayou opened a few rods away, the current flowing between the sloping oak-dotted banks. When the bayou was concealed, we could often hear the regular clank of the “Clifton’s” machinery, steadily keeping pace with us, as we plunged deeper and deeper into the heart of Rebeldom.
We came to a spot where the negroes say the rebels meant to make a stand, — then thought better of it. We imagined the sallow, haggard hosts waiting in their butternut-coats behind the fences; then panting forward again, as the hoof-beats of the Federal cavalry came within hearing. The day grew burning hot. We marched rapidly on, stopping occasionally to catch our breath. Under every tree lay a group of panting men. It was a forced march. Gen. Banks knows every commander has been censured for not following up successes; and now the successes were to be followed up. Right that it should be so! Honor to our leader’s energy! But, you people who clamor for rapid movements, how little do you know what these things cost the poor infantry-soldier! This day I felt well, and marched with the best; though, when it grew to be late afternoon, there was something cruel about the steadfastness with which the blue-and-white brigade-flag kept the road in advance. It was long before we saw it waver, then turn into a field to the right, where was to be our bivouac. We accomplished, that day, twenty-five miles, by universal agreement; marching from seven in the morning until near sunset, with an occasional rest of from two to fifteen minutes.
The trouble is, that, when the halt comes, you cannot begin your rest for a long time. First, wood must be got. The load must be unslung from the back and waist; then, no matter how weary you may be, your only chance is to run at full speed, with the rest, to the fence designated to be used for fuel. Then there is a tug for that; in which your temper must be chained to you, if it is not lost. Then the tent must be pitched; fresh water got; rations drawn; supper cooked; and perhaps, as happened to me this day, you have to sit up till midnight to get the company’s share of the beef that is being killed during the evening.
During the night, the enemy fled again; and early in the morning we were in pursuit. The road was still beautiful; the plantations, as before, rich with sugarhouses, gardens, and well-filled poultry-yards, which stragglers and negroes, who follow the army in hundreds, made free with. The heat became most oppressive. I have never found marching so difficult. Men, by platoons almost, exhausted by the rapid walk of the regiment, were turning in under hedge and bush. Some, too, not exhausted, put on the pretence of it, and fell behind, only to have opportunity to pillage when the army had passed. I was determined to stand it while I could: but hotter grew the sun; the dust filled the stifling air; the rests seemed infrequent. I was at the last point of exhaustion. I turned aside under a clump of bushes, and had just time to fling open my belts and straps, when my brain swam. I reeled, and had just consciousness enough to direct my fall so as to have my knapsack for a pillow; then down I went. — every pore a fountain, — completely used up. I lay in a stupor thus,—half conscious, half fainting by the roadside, in the shade,—while within a few feet rolled and rumbled onward the advancing and victorious army. Now the tramp of infantry; now the sound of batterywheels; now the white-covered wagons. “Yah moole!” — I heard the darkey-drivers say to their mules, — “I knows you’s tired an’ weak.” But there was no rest for man or beast. On they went, while I, lying there, half gave my mind to the passing host, half dreamt of sweet places, —home, and my cool, quiet study, far away.
Oh! well, it was soon over; and one ought to be willing to march, even till he faints, to make a victory gained in this cause more decisive. At length, members of the regiment began to come up, — farmers and farmers’ boys. These sat down in my nook to “vow” and “vum” and “van,” in the most solemn manner, that no hay-field or harvest experience ever came near this. So we rested. A negro came by with chickens and ducks slung on a pole. I got a duck from him; then, from another, I got a handful of onions to flavor the stew. Then we went leisurely forward, and soon were in the pleasant street of New Iberia; by the side of which, opposite a stately mansion, we found the regiment again.
Not far from here is a salt-mine; and a portion of our brigade was detached at once, and sent to destroy the works. Meantime, we picked my duck, under the thick shade that bordered the Têche; then bathed in the dark, smooth stream, among the empty whiskey-barrels, which the rebels, only a few hours before, had staved by the score, and emptied into the water.
We supposed we were to halt for a day or two in this pretty village; but the enemy fled fast: so the next morning, early, we set out on another tedious march, — the order to “fall in” coming so suddenly, that we had no time to make coffee or take any breakfast. The drums beat as we went with conquering flags down the village street, — past the few rich mansions; past the Union Hospital (for we leave a hospital full of sick and worn-out men wherever we stop); past the hospital the rebels left behind them, with a pink flag at the gate; past Capt. Morton and the four companies of the Fifty-second, which we left behind as provost-guard. Soon we were beyond the village; and, after a mile or two, came to a turn in the road, where the advance, a little while before, had had a sharp skirmish. Six or seven dead horses lay in the road: one poor fellow, in butternut, lay stretched on the sod, — the morning light, bright and unpitying, on his dead, uncovered face. Five or six more were in a gully close by. There had been no time yet to bury them. We, the living, had not even time to eat; and were sweeping onward, without food, in our pursuit. We halted a few moments in front of a plantation. Toussaint, a monkey-faced negro attached to Company D, came out with a basket full of elegant tapers; and soldiers, who left the ranks to fill their canteens, brought out word of the splendor of the furniture, and the pillage it had undergone.
The character of the country changed soon after. We found no longer rich plantations, but came into a region broad and prairie-like, where, on the far-stretching plains, were feeding vast herds of cattle. The broad pastures of Texas, now, were not very remote; and this region must resemble the land of the ranch and lasso. The habitations became fewer, and of a much poorer character. We had no longer the bayou to run to for water; and could only fill our canteens at stagnant slimy pools, or stand and fight, at the few wells we came to, by the half-hour, for a drink, while the army hurried on. It was dreadfully tedious and hot. We marched, by the hour together, over the flat, dusty plains, under the burning sun. How intolerable it was! It was noon; but we were still without breakfast. The cartridge-box on one side, and haversack on the other, pulled very heavily; and gun and blankets doubled their weight.
It is now two o’clock, and we have sweltered and hobbled on some fourteen miles. I am sadly footsore at last; though, until now, I have had no trouble. I do not want to do myself permanent injury, nor bring on premature age and breaking-down; which I fear I shall do, if I make a regular thing of marching until I faint. “Mr. Grosvenor, will you fall out if I will? ” Grosvenor is sick and weary, — not yet fully recovered from his fever in the winter, and only borne up by a most unconquerable spirit. He is more nearly spent than I am, and assents. We have half the regiment for company, strewn along the whole line of our march.
Pat O’Toole remarked the other night, referring to me, “Och! the cor-r-piral, shure, is tougher than a biled owl!” I shall lose such commendations in future, I fear.
Now that we have stopped, and left the dust and crowd of the column, the breeze blows cool. We lie and sleep under a little clump of trees for an hour or two, then make coffee in my boiler,—my dirty but invaluable utensil. I happen to have part of a fine chicken and some raw salt pork in my haversack. We find some onions in a garden near. At a poor house, close by, we fill our canteens at a well, among a struggling crowd of worn-out soldiers. The master, poor man! has lost almost every thing. We pity him and his little children, — all they have a prey to this thirsting and hungry soldiery. Grosvenor and I build our fire by ourselves, and presently we have a delicious soup bubbling. Grosvenor has salt and pepper; and, at the end of the afternoon, we have a grand dinner, steaming hot, — the first meal we have eaten during the day.
Sunset is not far off when we finish. We are now in better condition to move again, after our meal and sleep, though Grosvenor is really too sick and weak to stir. Two men, of a Maine regiment, come by with a handcart they have “confiscated.” We get permission to throw in our burdens, if we will help draw the cart. In this way we pull and push forward a mile or two, our blistered feet making us limp at every step. Then we come to a wide plain, where the road is swallowed up; and every trace of the army disappears. I am for pushing on during the twilight, which is now falling, though we run the risk of being lost; but Grosvenor is too ill. The Maine men are worn out; and the vote is, to stay until the next morning in a deserted house used to store cotton. We spread the cotton on the floor for a bed. During the evening, other stragglers arrive, — Billy Wilson’s men, Irishmen, negroes, — so that, by dark, the little house is full. One fellow has stolen a fiddle, on whose broken strings he manages to scrape out tunes. We listen to the fiddle a while, and wonder where the army is; but sleep comes very soon.
Next morning, we felt sure we had not far to go. We went two or three miles over the plain, guessing at the direction; and at length struck a road, along which it was plain an army had passed. Grosvenor fell by the roadside, too ill to go farther; while I set off to find water. I could find nothing but filthy pools of stagnant water, in which swine were wallowing, and into which bull-frogs large as chickens went floundering as I came up. The circumstances were forlorn enough for a sick man. At length, a train of battery-wagons passed. We “cheeked” it with a negro-driver, and jumped in over the tail-board of a forage-wagon, where we rode until we were ignominiously expelled by a sergeant. We had, however, reached the headquarters of Paine’s brigade, Emory’s division; and learned that Grover was just ahead, in the advance.
We managed to get hold of some beef and a spider, and cook a breakfast; Gen. Paine, in his spectacles, writing on the porch of a house close by. Then we tried to go forward again; but Grosvenor dropped after a few rods. I left him under a tree, and rushed back along the road to an approaching cart: “A sick sergeant; cannot walk; must join the regiment; will not take ‘ No’ for an answer.” So at last they took us both in. They were three soldiers of the One-hundred-and-fourteenth New-York, who had confiscated a good horse and a two-wheeled cart. They turned out to be good fellows; and now we got forward rapidly.
Gen. Banks and his staff went by us from the front. They all eyed us sharply, and we feared they had designs on our horse. The New-York men had had hard work to keep it out of the clutches of the cavalry; but this danger was passed like the previous ones. I watched the general’s cool, resolute face, for signs of exultation. He had beaten the enemy in three battles; was driving them pell-mell before him, and possessing himself of a vast region of country full of wealth of every kind. I remembered Napier’s description of Wellington after the battle of Salamanca, and looked to see a similar light on the countenance of our leader. He looked happy, certainly, and like a conqueror; though he was dirty and imbrowned, like the rest of us.
Soon after this, we halted in a grove, where were a large number of rebel prisoners under guard. Our companions cooked dinner, and I got out my portfolio. Sweat and rain had penetrated the pasteboard, and my little stock of paper was damp and discolored. I managed to write a few legible lines. From here it was only about a mile to the camp of the regiment, which had marched eighteen miles the day before. They were in a grove, on the Bayou Vermilion. So close were they the night before to the flying remnant of the rebel column, that the bridge here was still in flames, just becoming impassable. As they stacked arms, a huge round shot came tossing in from the opposite bank, knocking down the guns, and causing a great scattering among the men. Of Company D, only four were left besides the captain, and Rogers, the first sergeant; the rest having all fallen out. Of the color-guard, none were left; the adjutant getting off his horse, and bringing in the flags. Of the whole regiment which left Baton Rouge, about five hundred strong, there were left that night, I think, only fifty-nine.
It was hard. Remember our packing aboard the “St. Mary’s,” when rest was almost impossible, our exposure to the storm the night after we landed, and then the marches. Our food was poor and insufficient. We were in what is called “heavy order.” After the early morning, the sun became very hot; and the treading of the long columns soon beat the roads to dust. Wednesday, we accomplished twenty-five miles; Thursday, twelve or thirteen; Friday, without an opportunity to cook any thing, eighteen or nineteen.
There was more to be done, however.
“Which is best,” said the colonel, —”to undergo all this fatigue and labor, or to fight bloody battles, and lose half the regiment, besides giving the enemy time to prepare everywhere for our coming? ”
Banks had the alternative to follow by forced marches on the very heels of the rebels, or to fight battles. If we had gone more slowly, they would have stopped and fortified, and been prepared to fight us again and again. Saturday night, the bridge was rebuilt. The Fifty-second was ordered across in advance of every thing, to guard it. We lay down after dark on the opposite bank, and presently were drenched by torrents of rain in a furious tempest. We lay in the pools, under the storm, until morning; then, with all our baggage weighing double, we started off through deep mud for Opelousas; accomplishing the march of about twenty-five miles during Sunday and Monday. Have we not earned our present rest?
I have just had a glance at a map. How little one can tell! Louisiana is done up neatly in pink. There is a cool-looking sheet of water, — that dismal grand lake, where we came so near “going up,” all of us, aboard the ” St. Mary’s.” From Franklin to New Iberia is a little stretch-up through the pink. How small! with not a hint of those choking, dusty leagues, along which we almost left our lives as we limped over them. Nor toward Opelousas is there any suggestion of those parched and dreary plains. It is unsatisfactory; but catch us forgetting what ache and sweat and hunger that distance cost us!
April 17. —I have to drop and catch my pencil as I can; for we are doing tremendous work. O people who clamor for rapid movements! if you only knew what forced marches after a flying enemy cost us poor fellows, who have to make them! — the burden being: so heavy, the roads so dusty, and the noon-sun so burning hot. It is Saturday morning. Since Wednesday morning, we have pursued the flying rebels fifty miles. I have just seated myself, with my stiff limbs stretched on the grass, under the shadow of a rough stable belonging to a miserable plantation in these back regions of Louisiana. I only make this little note; for the pursuit is not ended, and I ought to use this respite for sleeping and eating; rather than writing.
April 14. — This day I have seen a bloody battle fought, and now write sitting among furrows cut up by the wheels of the batteries. A little way to the right, in the edge of the wood, lie the unburied dead. There, too, lie the castaway guns and all the wreck and waste of such a field. A few rods to the left, the surgeons, all this forenoon, have been dressing wounds. The pursuit of the enemy is going forward. We only wait the order to advance. Occasionally the strong, fresh south wind brings to us the crash of a volley, or an explosion in the advance. A huge vapory column builds itself up into the air; then the breeze dissipates the unsubstantial tower from base to cornice.
April 13. — Rather a stirring accompaniment to your scribbling pencil to have a furious cannonade going on within two or three miles, —to have fresh in your memory the sharp skirmish which took place on the very spot where you are seated, only a few hours-ago; and all the time to have the Second Massachusetts Battery harnessed up in the road, with the men on the horses and seats; to know that when they whip up we shall be ordered in, and that our business will be to support this battery through thick and thin, — the thick, just at the present, being most probable. It is early in the afternoon. The hot sun beats down upon us, who have stacked our arms here in this shadeless cane-field, and seated ourselves among the furrows. Perhaps we shall have time to eat a hard tack and make a hasty cup of coffee before we start.
To-day is Monday. Saturday, we embarked at Brashear City, leaving a fine, airy, roomy camp for —
April 10. —We have made another move, and are now at “Brashear City,”— on the embouchure of the Atchafalaya, — a city which consists of a wharf and a railroad-depot, and but little besides. My feet rest in the crushed clover, upon which our blankets were spread as we slept last night; and through the opening of the tent, just far enough off” to prevent our being swept away by the tail of some enterprising alligator, I see flowing the bayou, with sugar-houses on the opposite shore, and cypresses behind, — the tall, dark trees that tell of swamps.
We are close on the enemy again. A strong fort, in their hands, is only seven miles distant; and yesterday afternoon we marched to the sound of distant firing from Weitzel’s advanced corps. During the night, too, the air was pervaded with the sublime shiver and boom of distant cannonading. I sit in clover, for the time being: but every minute I expect the drum-call; for we are here only temporarily, in light order, and expecting rapid and severe movements.
We took up the line of march yesterday under circumstances which I have several times described, — brilliant enough, but becoming now an old story; though I own I am not so hardened that I was not thrilled to hear a fine, full band play, “The dearest spot on earth to me is home,” followed by a regiment stepping strongly to the air. It proved to be, by all odds, our hardest march for me; although it was only about nine miles. The sun was bitterly hot, and the dust heavy. For the first time in my soldiering, with a red face and blistered feet, I was obliged to turn aside from the regiment, and stop under a tree to throw away part of my load. It was not, however, until men in whole sections had been wheeling up, and stopping by the roadside for a long time; so that I had a good part of the regiment for company in my first falling-out.
I have now seen numbers of streams and much country, and am familiar with the strange aspects of a Louisiana landscape. Of course, we know, that, on this globe, water plays the principal part, and land is secondary. As Northerners know nature, however, it is land that is most exulting, bounding, as it does, into hills, standing kingly in mountains; while water, more humble, hides in glens, or flows in submissive rivers before the feet of lordly ranges. Here, however, water bears itself arrogantly, — floating sometimes above the level of the soil; sometimes just even with it, as here, where the ripples of the brimful stream threaten the clover-flowers, which are scarcely above them. Meanwhile, a furlong or so in the rear, is the swamp, as ever, close at hand,—the traitor in the heart, ready to help the foe outside. Water is thus haughty and encroaching; while land is a poor, cowed, second-fiddle-playing creature, — only existing, apparently, that water may have something to pour itself out over and exhibit itself upon.
Then, too, the painful sycophancy of the vegetable kingdom! It owes its whole existence and consequence to land, if any thing does; yet here, like a set of falsehearted flatterers, trees and weeds go toadying the ruling power. The forests are watery: old trunks robe themselves in moss, counterfeiting the appearance of discolored growths of coral; and, along the brinks of bayous, stout-hearted live-oaks even, that ought to be ashamed of themselves, bend almost horizontally over the currents, or indeed, sometimes, as in one case right here in our camp, hold on by the roots, and grow downward almost, letting the water flow around and over them, just raising their tops above the stream, a rod or , two out from shore, — all this fawning and hanging-on, instead of growing straight up, and flinging out their tops like independent and self-respecting growths!