Page images
PDF
EPUB

FIVE YEARS

AN

AMERICAN SOLDIER

COMPRISING ADVENTURES AT PALO ALTO, RESACA DE LA PALMA, MONTEREY, VERA

CRUZ, CERRO GORDO, AND IN THE BATTLES IN THE VALLEY OF MEXICO, INTERSPERSED WITH ANECDOTES OF

MILITARY LIFE, IN PEACE AND IN WAR.

IF anxious mothers always had their own way, and if young men possessed a little more knowledge, the business of the world would suffer. Both commerce and war, those agents of civilization, would be shorn of recruits, by the force of maternal influence and a vivid sense of the evils which these pursuits are apt to bring upon their followers.

But young lads are ignorant, imagination is active, and they are often lured on by the charm of novelty to rush from the quiet scenes of home, and launch forth upon perilous adventures. It is well that it should be so. Nature has implanted this desire in young hearts, because the world has use for them. Many fall by the wayside-perish miserably through perils by sea and perils by land : others, with broken constitutions and blasted hopes, crushed by poverty and wasted by disease, eke out a miserable existence ;-yet the race, as a whole, is benefited.

Of this unfortunate class, I am one.. A little more knowledge, in my start in life, would not only have saved me much suffering, but would have, probably, preserved to this day some quite respectable gentlemen of Mexco, whom I, in the way of business in that country, assisted in gathering to their fathers. By my early ignorance, doubtless, you can here, at this late period, obtain a knowledge of the life of the American Soldier, including a glimpse at some of the ugly shadows that are cast athwart it.

My name is C. M. REEVES. You never before heard of it-it is unknown to fame. The French have a proverb, that “the world never knows its great men.”

This is certainly a consolatory axiom to such of us as know the world better than it knows us. I was born in the year 1825, in Trumbull County, Ohio, and nineteen years after, viz: on the 9th day of December, 1844, descended from a stage-coach before the Monongahela House at Pittsburgh, entered the clerk's office, and wrote my name on the hotel register. Between these dates, I had passed from an infant into the successive developments necessary to constitute a raw youth, with nineteen years only of rural experience.

My business at Pittsburgh was to enlist in the army. I had never seen any of the soldiers of the United States, and was under the impression that the army was composed of the elite of the country that none were taken into the service, but gentlemen, fine, straight, good-looking Americans. So much was my mind exercised upon what the good qualities of men must be, that I greatly feared, upon being examined, I should not equal the requisite standard.

At the hotel, I took a room with a fire, and ordered up my baggage, con sisting of an ancient hair-trunk, which contained a few quite common articles of personal clothing. This was a first-class house and was crowded with guests, and as my attire was seedy, I expect I was the most plainly dressed of any in that numerous family. On retiring to my room, I thoroughly overhauled my pockets, and was astonished to find that I only had just thirteen cents! Well, here was a dilemma. How was I to settle my bill with that money ? My brain was so active with the project of enlisting, that I slept poorly, and arose very early next morning. While standing by the stove in the office, I observed that the clerk surveyed me very attentively. Thinks I, you look as if you suspect I am about to slip off without settling my bill. I walked out, still under the discomfort of his sharp vision, until I turned around a corner of the street.--I was in search of the recruiting rendezvous, which I soon found.

The sergeant saluted me very blandly, and invited me in to see the men drill. When they were through, he took his seat beside me, and inquired if I wished to enlist? I replied, “Yes.” “Very well," he rejoined; " have you considered the consequences of such a step ?» On my answering in the affirmative, he continued, “Well, as soon as the lieutenant comes in, you shall be enlisted.” He then went on to state what the pay of a soldier was, his clothing, rations, etc. When the lieutenant entered, I was duly enlisted, and all the papers made out. From thence, the sergeant took me to the garrison, a mile above the city, to be examined by the surgeon and sworn into the service by a magistrate. I had some delicacy in divesting myself of my clothing, and standing naked for the inspection of the medical gentleman. I passed through the ordeal, however, and before night was an American soldier, sworn to serve for the term of five years in the army of the United States.

A recruiting rendezvous is generally under the charge of a lieutenant and a sergeant. The duty of the latter is to instruct the candidate in all the particulars of the service, so that, if he should subsequently repent of it, he can have no excuse. By the regulations, none are to be enlisted while intoxicated, but, as a general thing, no sooner does a man make his appearance at a rendezvous, than the sergeant showers upon him a torrent of fulsome flattery, takes him to the nearest grog-shop, and pours whisky down his throat until his patriotism is at the flood, and then he is ready to "?list.” This is one of the reasons why so many of the very lowest foreigners enter our army, to the exclusion of a better class of men.

The first night's experience as a soldier, is undying in my recollection. I do not believe I slept one hour. I lay in my coarse soldiers' bunk, covered with but a single blanket, shivering with the cold, and brooding over all tho mishaps of my short life. I did not like the way things opened to me, being sadly disappointed in the kind of men taken into the service, in the clothing, rations, etc. In fact, nothing was as I had preconceived. A foreboding sense of doing something wrong passed over me; I felt as though I have you

had forfeited, in a great measure, that inestimable boon to all Americansliberty! and that I had subjected myself to the authority of those above, whom to obey would be degradation, and for this there was no remedy. After following up this train of thought for awhile, I would chase away the phantoms by the reflection, that I would be occupying an honorable position-the military glory," so to speak, would buoy me up. I thought too, that the army would be a good school to me; that if I did not find everything to my mind, I would be fully compensated by the knowledge I should gain of human nature and the world. In the morning, I awoke, feeling very bad from the loss of sleep. Our breakfast consisted of weak coffee, baker's bread, and a few slices of ham--no butter, no milk for coffee, and no kind of vegetables. With the exception of bean-soup or potatoes sometimes at dinner, this was all the variety of diet we had at the rendezvous.

After breakfast, I had issued to me my first year's clothing. The next thing was to dispose of my citizen's clothing. John, the cook, introduced me to an old man, who kept a pawn-broker's shop, and bought and sold cast-off clothing. I bundled up my relics, passed them over to him, and got him to go with me to the Monongahela House for niy trunk. Here he paid my bill, which was one dollar and fifty cents, seized one end of the trunk to help me out with it, when the clerk, who had scrutinized me so attentively, called out in ringing tones, “ Young man, what under heavens

enlisted for--why have you thrown yourself away ?" I muttered something in reply--that it was “my business." "Come on!" called out the old man, pulling at the other end of the trunk. “ You have entirely ruined yourself,” continued the clerk ; "you had better have gone down to a steamboat, and worked for your daily bread.” Come on!" again shouted my companion, getting out of patience, and dragging me and the trunk out of the door, from whence we made for his dingy shop as fast as possible.

On returning to my quarters, I sat down on a bench and gave myself up to reflection. The words of the hotel clerk rang in my ears ; I saw how completely I had deceived myself—that as a soldier of the United States, I was but little better than a slave, and with the most abandoned and disgusting of men as associates. I thought of my home in Ohio. Would I ever see the faces of the loved ones again?

I was the eighth of that “batch” of recruits. The term “batch” is applied to any number of recruits collected and sent together to a military depot. Two others were afterward added. Seven of this batch were Irish one was a German, and two only Americans. The Irish were as filthy, debased, and illiterate creatures as could be got out of a whole ship load of paupers ; they were useless save to pour down bad rum and to quarrel--eventually, all of these either deserted or were dishonorably discharged. The German was a dirty, lazy lout, of whona I shall again speak. Keller, the other American, was a six-foot Pennsylvaniar., who, like myself, had taken a resolution not to drink liquor while in the army. A mutual separation ensued between us two and the others, and, as a natural consequence, a common enmity arose. The drunkards became very much enraged against us, for not joining in with them in stealing and smuggling liquor into the quarters, and swore revenge on the "spalpeens of Amerisans ;' they never attempted anything but once, however, when, in a desa

perate fight, we teetotallers came off victorious. In their drunken orgies, they broke the furniture, yelled and laughed, and with demoniac expres sions on their countenances, reminded me forcibly of a description I once read of fiends just emerging from pandemonium, to visit our earth and terrify and torment mankind.

On January 18th, we learned we were to leave on the next day for Newport (Ky.) Barracks, there to join a large number of recruits; from thence the whole were to be dispatched to supply a deficiency in the Fourth Infantry, at Camp Salubrity, on Upper Red River, in Louisiana. I cheerfully packed up my things, and, as I had on my new, neatly-fitting suit, was, and it is not saying much, the best-looking man of the batch. Our Irish and the German were perfectly content with their bungling garments in any shape.

As we were paraded in front of the quarters next morning, some of the boys of Pittsburgh-and worse cannot be found anywhere-gathered about us by dozens, and followed us to the steamer, all the while yelling out at the top of their voices, “ Here's the dirty sogers !" Soger, will you go to work ?» Then they would answer the question themselves, "No, I'll sell my shirt first !" "Here, dirty soger; going to be shot at--and missed, eh !" "What's the price of whisky, soger ?" etc. And thus they kept it up, hooting at us as though we were a gang of thieves on the way to a jail. I am naturally " thin skinned,” and what were my emotions on this occasion, the reader may guess.

Out West, when they wish to express contempt for any person, they say, 6 he's a miserable stern-wheel affair." The boat we were put upon was the Queen, and one of the worst of even stern-wheel steamers. She was an s old tub," and very dirty. We were put on deck; a great portion of her weather-boarding had been torn off, letting in the cold and snow. A barrel of biscuit was set on board. This was to constitute our provision until we reached Newport--no coffee, no meat, and no place to cook any if we had it. Well,” thought I, “ Uncle Sam, you are quite a generous old fellow, after all !" Once, the sergeant condescended to come down from the cabin, to see how we were getting along. To our inquiries, if we had been left to starve, he replied, that “the lieutenant allowed a barrel of bread was enough for us!" We had the gracious privilege of an old stove, and plenty of wood. At night, we slept on some pork barrels, which we packed around the stove, and thus managed to keep from freezing. I confess, I felt as if I was an outcast from society-a criminal on his way to some penal colony.

We remained at Newport three days. As this is a general recruiting station, sixty-five recruits were rearly to go on with us. All were again subjected to a rigid examination by the surgeon at the post. The whole were simultaneously ordered to undress in the large sleeping-room of the barracks. No sooner said than done-a hundred, nearly, of the genus homo, of the masculine gender, stood forth, ready to undergo the scrutinizing examination of the medical inspector. After leaping over benches, jumping around, stooping down, raising up one arm, and then the other, as was commanded, our examiner began to thump us in the breast, and beat us all over the person, as though we were some new kind of drums. He also looked into our mouths, examined our teeth, and, in short, did everything but turn us inside out. Finding no defects, he pronounced us able-bodied men, and ordered us to dress.---So ended this degrading scene.

With three exceptions, I never suffered so much from hunger as while at this post. Take a man from citizens' life to that of the soldier, and his powers of endurance will be most effectually tried, especially if, like myself, he be at the time young and growing. This deprivation of the food that government had provided, was owing to the rascality of the first sergeant of the barracks, who, having the management of the business, withheld our full rations, in order that he might save the flour, beans, sugar and coffee for his own purposes. I saw some poor recruits selling their spare clothing to the old soldiers, and then running to the grocery to buy additional provisions.

We left Newport for New Orleans on the steamer Champion. As deck passengers, we were allowed to go on the hurricane-deck, where I passed whole days in gazing upon the river scenery. Upon the great “Father of Waters,” I was especially delighted with the glorious panorama, and felt sorry when evening came to shut out the scene. Often, however, I would remain until late at night, scarcely knowing which most to admire, the gorgeous starry vault above, or the broad placid Mississippi, hedged in on both sides by the dark and silent forests, and flowing in ever-varying majestic curves on its return home to the gulf.

The recruits were under the immediate charge of Crosby, an old soldier, and a complete scamp. He kept back from us our full allowance of rations, that he might sell the surplus at New Orleans, as we subsequently learned. Some of our men discovered and slyly tapped a barrel of whisky with a gimlet, and, until found out, sucked away at the vile stuff. For two or three days, I had observed some of my comrades cooking and eating eggs, very freely. Not being in the secret, I was envious of their good fortune in having the means to purchase such a luxury, which I supposed they had done at some of the landings on the river. On one of these occasions, I stood gazing at a soldier enjoying himself over a large dish, my mouth fairly watering over the scene, for our slim fare had put my stomach on the 'qui vive,” most anxiously hoping he would invite me to share with him. when he said, “Reeves, why don't you cook yourself some eggs ?--real nice, old fellow !!

'Humph !" I answered, “if I only had the money to buy them.” “Why, God bless you, man !" he rejoined, "you don't want any money ; take them like the rest-only be sly about it, or you may be

“Where do you get them ?" I eagerly inquired. "There !! continued he, pointing to a barrel that stood end-up amid a large number on their sides; " take your haversack (a bag for food), watch your opportunity, slip along close to the wheel-house, and get as many as you can.” “My eye !" I exclaimed, “and is that the way you have all got the eggs you have been eating the past two days ?" It is only necessary to add, that the collapsed state of my stomach blunted all my conscientious scruples, and ere long I had a realizing sense of the efficacy of a good dish of fried eggs. There was some swearing when that pilfering was discovered ; but no one knew anything of it-the soldiers had bought their eggs !

At Vicksburgh, a Red River planter came on board with forty negroes. The drunken soldiers, the smell of the poor darkeys, and the yelping and

caught !"

« PreviousContinue »