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

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

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

February 18, 2013

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

Feb. 18. —The edge of the evening; in the hospital. At my feet is the stretcher on which I lie often, when I am here on duty at night. It is a good couch; iron legs at each end; two long, limber poles, of ash, running lengthwise, with canvas between, and the ends projecting into handles. As I write now, old Grimes, the horse-shoer, a convalescent, is talking low, with a sick sergeant, of an old flame of his, Chloe: —

“I swan! she was a pretty one, with curls all down her neck.”

“Was they white? ” asks the sergeant.

“No: kind o’ Morgan.”

Certainly, Chloe was a lass to charm a young horseshoer.

For a wonder, I have a table to write on, — a real marauder’s table, — two handsome blinds from some destroyed house, roughly nailed together, and set up on four strips of plank. On the slats stand whiskey and castor-oil; brown-paper parcels of butter; jelly, and corned-beef from the sutlers; vials of quinine; sugar, — all in confusion. I sweep aside part of them to get elbow-room. It is great to have conveniences. I could write a whole history; but, in the dearth of battles and sieges, what can I put down? Nothing but little accounts of those, who, I hope, some day will fight battles and make sieges; for sorrow be to the Fifty-second, if we go straight home from this miserable inactive camp.

I lean against the tent-pole, having just given Ives his bath, and quieted the man with the measles with a pill; and, therefore, am at leisure. Along comes Cripps, the drummer, with a gridiron of blue tape on his breast, jumping over the puddles, then stopping for a little chat. I take an interest in the music. It used to be none too good, and, according to a sharp friend of mine, was the original cause of the dysentery in the camp; but there has been an improvement. I ask Cripps about a certain little musician in whom I take an interest; there is so much grace and sprightly rattle to his rub-a-dub-dub as he marches in the line of drummers up and down before the regiment at dress-parade. Cripps thinks this individual is a “nice boy,” though lately he has come to grief; having kicked out against authority, and come to the shame of the “barrel” before the whole regiment. In Cripps’s opinion, however, this youth, nimbly as he brandishes his drum-sticks, is not the first artist in his line in the regiment: the tenordrum is a good deal of an instrument, and “Hodge is the man who takes the rag rather. Now, Hodge alone can make as much noise as all the rest on us put together. Its astonishin’, but some of these fellers can’t strike right. ‘Taint no drummin’ to hit with the sticks all over the head: you ought to hit right in the middle. A tip-top drummer won’t vary more’n two or three inches from both his sticks, hittin’ right in the middle of the head.” I know Hodge well enough, — a stout, straight boy. I have noticed the fine rhythm of his almost invisible sticks, and the measured, vigorous cadence of his feet as he beats time. There is poetry about old Tyrtasus, who, six centuries before Christ, marched with his Dorian flute at the head of the warlike Spartan bands. I believe honestly too, that Crippa and Hodge in their every-day uniforms, seen through the haze of a few centuries, might be transformed into somewhat romantic characters. Cripps says about the fifers, “Some on ’em play plain, and some on ’em put in the fancy touches; but I kind o’ hate to see a man flourish. Why can’t he play straight, without fillin’ up his tunes?” There is practical information about music.

Burke said the age of chivalry was gone, when he heard the French had beheaded Marie Antoinette; an observation he would have been certain to repeat, could he have heard .the recent remarks of Private Clout.

Scene. — The hospital-tent, of a sunny afternoon; private Clout, sensible, practical, but somewhat unheroic, seated on the bunk of Grimes, who has gone out to take an airing. Attendant, couched in the lair of Chape, opposite, cleaning gun and equipments, against dress-parade.

Private Clout, loq.: “Heard the new rumor, now?”

“Goin’ down to New Orleans, p’raps; or, leastways, can if we’re a mind to and the colonel’s willin’.”

Attendant suggests, if we go to New Orleans, in all probability we shall not go to Port Hudson, about to be attacked. We shall only have to do the ignoble duty of petty policemen,—pick up the little boys who will sing “The bonnie blue flag” in the streets, and the naughty ladies who stick out their tongues at the soldiers. We shall have to go home ignominiously, without honor, without having struck a blow, and almost without having run a risk, except from the weather and climate.

Private C.: “Well, honor! — hem! — don’t know much ’bout that; but know this: go to Port Hudson, might get killed, — that ain’t comfortable; might get your leg shot off. Putty sure of this, anyhow: if you get hurt, after the first, no one cares about it but your relations. If you hain’t got none, like as not you die a pauper. I ain’t so fast for going to Port Hudson. Down to New Orleans you get good quarters, good livin’, and not much to do. S’pose I’d go into swamps, and where them dreadful careless cannon was pointin’ my way, ef I was ordered; but I’d rather go where it’s safe and easy.”

Private Clout is a representative man; very sensible and practical, but somewhat unheroic; not given to illusions; disposed to brush the dust off that makes the patterns on the butterfly’s wings, — nothing but dust, we all know, not good for any thing, but too pretty to spare.

The other day a soldier came up to me, holding a strip of board: —

“I want you to carve out Elwood’s name on this for a head-board to his grave.”

“But, Jim, I never did such a thing.”

“Oh! they say you can make letters.”

At Camp Miller, for want of something to do, I set to work marking clothes; and did so much of it, I came to be tolerably skilful. Now, this accomplishment had brought me new work. I said I would try, and took the board. I drew Elwood’s name as well as I could; then carefully hollowed out each letter, until it was done. It was a long and fatiguing task, carving hour after hour: but it was pious employment, — making a memorial, however rude, for a comrade; and I did it as well as I could.

I have also done one for Ed. I chose my board, as good a one as I could find; outlined the letters; then, guarding carefully the knife from any improper slip, I sank the name and office deep into the wood. It was the work of days. And now the piece is being framed into an upright, so that it will be the horizontal piece of a cross; and it will stand at the head of the dear boy’s grave.

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