Following the American Civil War Sesquicentennial with day by day writings of the time, currently 1863.

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The Color Guard, A Corporal’s Notes, James Kendall Hosmer.

December 16, 2012

The Color Guard, A Corporal's Notes, James Kendall Hosmer

Dec. 16. —I am writing now among the great columns of the St. Charles Hotel, in New Orleans, in front, detailed for special duty at head-quarters, in a clerkship which Gen. Banks offered me this morning, and which I have accepted on trial. It will give me a place close by the general, and, I hope, a good opportunity for observation and to be useful. I left the ship last evening just at dusk, thinking I would settle the matter at once,—wait upon the general, present my letters of introduction and credentials, and see what he would do for me. The “Illinois” had hauled up to shore. I loaded my revolver, climbed down the wheel-house, and made my way up through the streets, toward the St. Charles Hotel, to seek my fortune. It was a hostile city: but the sense of insecurity which I had when I landed soon wore off; for people were invariably polite when I made inquiries; and, had they not been, soldiers of the Union passed me at every few rods; and not unfrequently I came upon sentinels posted in doorways, on sidewalks, before places of amusement. Occasionally I passed buildings which seemed very fine in the dusk; and at length the stately front of the St. Charles threw its glare over me, as I ascended through the gas-light into the rotunda. Shoulder-straps were innumerable among the tall columns, —double-breasted colonels and majors, with eagles and leaves, — and slimmer captains and lieutenants, with the single row of buttons.

The general was not in: so I was forced to wait until this morning, though I ran the risk of losing the “Illinois,” which might sail any hour, leaving me with my fate undecided. Soon after eight this morning, fortified with a good breakfast, I went again to the St. Charles. The general was at breakfast. I sent in my name on a card, with my documents, and waited. In half an hour, perhaps, an unpretending figure, in blowze and loose pantaloons, with felt hat and shuffling slippers, crossed the marble floor just in front of me. At first, I did not notice him. His appearance was less distingué than that of the least second lieutenant among the columns; in fact, I believe even the corporal outshone him in his freshly brushed dress-coat. As he passed opposite me, however, I saw it was the general going to his rooms.

He is out of sight now, and I wait to be summoned. Wait, wait. If he comes out again, I determine to waive ceremony, and present myself. Here he does come! Up, courage, before he is swallowed by shoulder-straps! I touch my cap, give my name. He is very polite, — “was looking for me;” and I presently feel at my ease. The iron-gray moustache over the mouth is a grim and formidable archway, but from under it proceed pleasant words. At present, he can only offer this clerkship. I may take it, and wait for something better to turn up. He leaves me to think about it; meantime inviting me into his parlor, where I sit among eagles and stars, who come and go.

Colonels of regiments just arrived are here to report. Major Varnum reports: —

“I am paymaster, sir. I have brought with me a million dollars.”

“Indeed!” (the general, with a pleasant smile and imperial bow:) “then we are all glad to see you, major.”

“Major So-and-so is coming with eight hundred thousand dollars more.”

“Ah! then we shall all be glad to see him, — almost as glad as to see you.”

The general withdraws. I make up my mind then; take out my paper, and read, while the adjutant-general and his clerks (who occupy this parlor for the time being) write and write. The general appears again, walks across the room, his hands behind him, and face bent down, in deep thought. He is just about to meet the municipal authorities of New Orleans, — an important interview. As he approaches my corner, he looks up, and smiles affably. I tell him briefly I will come on trial, — not to stay unless I choose. I am then introduced to the adjutant-general, and presently retire to the shadow of these great columns of the portico: but, before I go, I behold the general in full blaze,— double star on each shoulder, double row of buttons in front; the sash of his office about his waist, which the adjutant-general steps forward and adjusts. As I pass out, the civic dignitaries are entering, — a body of gentlemen of good bearing and substantial aldermanic appearance.

I have also an opportunity, just at night-fall, to contrast the setting with the rising sun. In the afternoon, I pass the handsome mansion occupied by Gen. Butler as his head-quarters. From the stoop I am hailed by name, and look up to behold Callighan and Pat O’Toole of our company, who have got lost, and come to the guard, before the door here at head-quarters, to be set straight. I go up on to the roomy stoop; and, as we stand talking by the sentry, two gentlemen come from within to the door, escorted by a third with portly figure and thin hair. It is the verge of evening, and I cannot see his face plainly. “Shall we say at half-past four, then?” It is Gen. Butler, making an engagement with his visitors for the next day. He goes in. I hear a door close, and through the blinds I can see him in an elegant parlor, alone, reading; the gas-light falling full on his large frame and rather sinister face.

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