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.

December 8, 2012

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

Dec. 8. —I have had no heart or ability to make an entry in my journal for days and days; but, this morning, sea-sickness is gone, the sea is smooth, the weather is July for sun, with a soft, September wind breathing just astern. It is entirely comfortable for me to sit in my shirt-sleeves on the hurricane-deck. How sweet is this calm and soft air! The white lighthouse, at the southern point of Cape Florida, stands three or four miles to the west of us. We slide on rapidly over coral-reefs; the water blue as opal; a sail here and there on the horizon; and in the distance, like round, green bosses, the thickly scattered Keys of Florida, — studs of chrysoprase, with which this sumptuous southern sea fastens the opal covering down over its pearl-lit caves and coral groves. It is something rare, this coloring of the sea. I have just raised my eyes to look westward. Close at hand, the water is blue, with the ordinary deep-sea tinge; but just beyond, over a bar of snowy sand it must be, it is green as malachite, wonderfully clear and living.

Sunday morning, Brown, who rises early, came back to us with the news of a death in the regiment during the night. The soldier’s body lay upon the hurricane-deck, sewed up in his blanket, ready for its burial in the sea. “We do not reach Ship Island until Wednesday or Thursday of this week, and shall make no port before.

It is noon when the funeral takes place. I am lying in my berth, still weak, when I hear the voice of the chaplain, on the deck just over me, beginning the funeral service. I hurry up. They swing the American flag at half-mast just over the body, and as many of the regiment as it is safe to admit to that part of the ship stand around. The service is very impressive. A choir of soldiers sing a hymn; then a kinsman of the dead man lifts the plank; down it descends, weighted at the feet. Tropical fish play about the ship. The northern breeze, right from home, breathes over the ocean-grave; the clear-green sea closes above, — a sepulchre of emerald, — a sad and sudden end for the poor Shelburne boy.

The keel of the ship grates upon the bottom. The captain jumps to the wheel, and it is about immediately, until land fades again, and it is once more “one wide water all around us.” The sun sets gloriously behind this land of romance. A soft crimson haze hangs over the land, and smokes up zenithward like rich fume and vapor from old Ponce de Leon’s fountain of youth. A splendor of cloud and light is thrown upon the west, — tall buttressed pillars glowing in the light, as if the powers of the air had begun to paint there the proud escutcheon of the Spanish kings. In another moment, I shall behold the crowned shield and the rampant lions; but it fades, and now to the eastward rises the moon. The sky to-night is vapory, with fine, clear lines of azure running through the vapor, like veins, —veins how blue and deep! as if filled with the blue blood of the true Hidalgos of old Castile.

There has been no end to grumbling. We have all been sea-sick, and responsibilities which the disordered stomach ought to shoulder have been thrown on the food. This brings me to speak of what I have noticed again and again since we became soldiers,—that the first to complain are those who have come from the poorest circumstances. Those who at home have been forced to live on the coarsest food are now first and loudest in their outcries against the rations.

Before we left New York, McGill and I clubbed together to buy Prof. Cairnes’s book, — “The Slave Power;” a purchase I am glad enough we made. I have read the book attentively during the voyage, with great interest, and feel now doubly strong to fight for the Union cause. I respect England and her writers. I have been accustomed to defer very much to English thinkers; and though, in the exercise of my most conscientious judgment, I could not help thinking our cause was right, yet I have not been able to feel quite easy and satisfied when the voices of intelligent Englishmen seemed so generally against us. It was very cheering when the “National” came, a few months ago, with a fine article on our side; then the “Westminster,” with Mill’s strong presentation of our case. Now here is this new book, by a writer, to be sure, who seems to be only just rising into note, but evidently a man of very fine powers, and sure to wield a profound influence. How his analysis of the matter carries conviction with it! How plain it is that the hopes of civilization depend upon the triumph of the North! There is a grand sentence, which Cairnes quotes from De Tocqueville, to the effect, “that when a people are striving for independence, whether the effort has right or wrong on its side, depends upon what they want independence for, —whether to govern themselves, or to tyrannize over others.” “Down with slavery!” though I own my sympathies go as much or more with the suffering whites than the suffering blacks. I believe good has come, and is coming, to the black serf through his contact with the Anglo-Saxon, though it has been so rough and harsh; and probably the suffering of the race, great as it is, is not much greater than it would have been if they had remained in unenslaved barbarism. But how terrible is the corruption which slavery brings upon the master class! Thanks to this good book! Now Dixie — Ship Island — is full in sight; and I can put my foot confidently upon its sand if we come to land, buttressed in my feelings that I have right on my side, though I come armed against its owners.

Previous post:

Next post: