I rode back into my company, and you never saw such a change of sentiment towards a raw recruit, as there was towards me, and they asked me questions about my first fight. The corporal who had placed me on picket, and stampeded at the first fire, was unusually gracious to me, and said when he saw a hundred and fifty rebels come charging down the road, yelling and firing, he knew it was no place for his small command, so he lit out. He said he supposed of course I was all shot to pieces. I didn't tell him that it was me that did all the yelling, and that there was only one rebel, and that he was perfectly harmless, but I told him that he miscalculated the number of the enemy, as there were, all told, at least five hundred, and that I had killed fourteen that I knew of, besides a number had been taken away in ambulances, wounded. The boys opened their eyes, and nothing was too good for me during that march.
We went into camp in the pine woods late in the afternoon, and after supper the colonel sent for me, and I went to his tent. All the officers were there, and as many soldiers as dared crowd around. The colonel said the corporal had reported where he left me, and how the enemy had charged in force, and he supposed that I had been promptly killed. That he felt he could not hold his position against such immense odds, so he had fallen back slowly, firing as he did so, until the place was too hot for him, and now he wanted to hear my story. I told the colonel that I was new at the business, and may be I did use the best judgement in the world, by remaining to fight against such odds, but I meant well. I told him I did not wish to complain of the corporal,who no doubt was an able fighter, but it did seem to me that he ought at least to have waited till the battle was actually commenced. I said that the first charge, which stampeded the corporal and his men, was not a marker to what took place afterwards. I said when the enemy first appeared, I dismounted, got behind a tree, and poured a murderous fire into the ranks of the rebels, and that they fell all around. I could not tell how many were killed, but probably ten, as I had fired eleven shots from my carbine, and I usually calculated on missing one out of ten, when shooting at a mark. Then they fell back and I mounted my horse and rode to their right flank and poured it into them red hot from my revolver, and that I saw several fall from their horses, when they stampeded, and I drew my saber and charged them, and after cutting down several, I was surrounded by the whole rebel army and captured. They tied me to the wheel of a gun carriage, and after trying to pump me as to the number of men I had fighting against them, they left me to hold a council of war, when I untied myself, mounted my horse, and cut my way out, and took to the woods. I apologized to the colonel for running away from the enemy, but told him it seemed to me, after the number I had killed, and the length of time I had held them at bay, it was no more than right to save my own life, as I had use for it in my business.
During my recital of the lie I had made up, the officers and soldiers stood around with mouths open, and when I had concluded my story, there was silence for a moment, when the colonel stepped forward and took me by the hand, and in a few well chosen remarks congratulated me on my escape, and thanked me for so valiantly standing my ground against such fearful odds, and he said I had reflected credit upon my regiment, and that hereafter I would be classed as a veteran instead of a recruit. He said he had never known a man to come right from the paths of peace, and develop into a warrior with a big "W" in so short a time.
The other officers congratulated me, and the soldiers said I was a bully boy. The colonel treated to some commissary whiskey, and then the business of the evening commenced, which I found to be draw poker. I sat around for some time watching the officers play poker, when the chaplain, who was a nice little pious man, asked me to step outside the tent, as he wished to converse with me.
I went out into the moonlight with him, and he took me away from the tents, and told me he had been much interested in my story. I thanked him, and said I had been as brief as possible. He said, "I was interested, because I used to be something of a liar myself, before I reformed, and studied for the ministry." It occurred to me that possibly the chaplain did not believe my simple tale, and I asked him if he doubted my story. "That is about the size of it," says he. I told him I was sorry I had not told the story in such a manner that he would believe it, because I valued the opinion of the chaplain above all others. He said he had known a good many star liars in his time, some that had national reputations, but he had never seen one that could hold a candle to me in telling a colossal lie, or aggregation of lies, and tell them so easy. I thanked him for his good opinion, and told him that I flattered myself that for a recruit, right fresh from the people, who had never had any experience as a military liar, I had done pretty well. He said I certainly had, and he was glad to make my acquaintance. I asked him to promise not to give it away to the other officers, which he did, and then I told him the whole story, as it was, and that I was probably the biggest coward that ever lived, and that I was only afraid my story of blood-letting would encourage the officers to be constantly putting me into places of danger, which I did not want to be in. I told him I believed this war could be ended without killing any more men, and cited the fact that I had been a soldier nearly forty-eight hours, and nobody had been killed, and the enemy was on the run. I told the chaplain that if there was one thing I didn't want to see, it was blood. Others might have an insatiable appetite for gore, but I didn't want any at all. I was willing to do anything for this government but fight; and if he could recommend to me any line of action by which I could pull through without being sent out to do battle with strangers who could shoot well, I should consider it a favor. What I wanted was a soft job, where there was no danger.
The chaplain looked thoughtful for a moment. and then took me over to his tent, where he opened a bottle of blackberry brandy. He took a small dose, after placing his hand on his stomach and groaning a little. He asked me if I did not sometimes have a pain under my vest. I told him I never had a pain anywhere. Then he said I couldn't have any brandy. He said the brandy came from the sanitary commission, and was controlled entirely by the chaplains of the different regiments, and the instructions were to only use it in case of sickness. He said a great many of the boys had pains regularly, and came to him for relief. He smacked his lips and said if I felt any pain coming on, to help myself to the brandy.
It is singular how a pain will sometimes come on when you least expect it. It was not a minute before I began to feel a small pain, not bigger than a man's hand and as I looked at the bottle the pain increased, and I had to tell the chaplain that I must have relief before it was everlastingly too late, so he poured out a dose of brandy for me. I could see that I was becoming a veteran very fast, as I could work the chaplain for sanitary stores pretty early in the game.
Well, the chaplain and me had pains off and on, for an hour or two, and became good friends. He told me of quite a number of methods of shirking active duty, much as being detailed to take care of baggage, acting as orderly, and going to surgeon's call. He said if a man went to surgeon's call, the doctor would report him sick, and he could not be sent out on duty.
The next day we went back to our post, where the regiment was stationed, and where they had barracks, that they wintered in, and remained there several weeks, drilling. I was drilled in mounting and dismounting, and soon got so I could mount a horse without climbing on to him from a fence. But the drill became irksome, and I decided to try the chaplain's suggestion about going to surgeon's call. I got in line with about twenty other soldiers, and we marched over to the surgeon's quarter's. I supposed the doctor would take each soldier into a private room, feel of his pulse, look at his tongue, and say that what he needed was rest, and give him some powders to be taken in wafers, or in sugar. But all he did was to say "What's the matter?" and the sick man would tell him, when the doctor would tell his assistant to give the man something, and pass on to the next. I was the last one to be served, and the interview was as follows:
Doc.-What's the matter
Doc.-Run out your tongue. Take a swallow of the black bottle.
That seems very simple, indeed, but it nearly killed me. When he told me to run out my tongue, I run out perhaps six inches of the lower end of it, the doctor glanced at it as though it was nothing to him anyway, and then he told me to take a swallow out of the bottle. In all my life I had never taken four doses of medicine, and when I did the medicine was disguised in preserves or something. The hospital steward handed me the bottle that a dozen other sick soldiers had drank out of, and it was sticky all around the top, and contained something that looked like castor oil, for greasing a buggy. He told me to take a good big swallow, and I tried to do so. Talk about the suffering brought on by war, it seems to me nobody ever suffered as I did, trying to drink a swallow of that castor oil out of a bottle, that was dirty. It run so slow that it seemed an age before I got enough to swallow, and then it seemed another age before the oil could pass a given point in my neck. And great Caesar's ghost, how it did taste. I think it went down my neck, and I just have strength enough to ask the steward to give me something to take the taste out of my mouth. He handed me a blue pill. O, I could have killed him. I rushed to the chaplain's tent and took a drink of black berry brandy, and my life was saved, but for three years after that I was never sick enough to get farther than the chaplain's quarters'.
I suppose the meanest trick that was ever played on a raw recruit, was played on me while we were in camp at that place. It seemed to me that some of the boys got jealous of me, because I had become a hero, accidentally. May be some of them did not believe I had killed as many of the enemy as I had owned up to having killed. Anyway every little while some soldier would say that he thought it was a mean man that would go out and kill a lot of rebels and not bury them. He said a man that would do that was a regular pot-hunter, who killed game and left it on the ground to spoil. They made lots of uncharitable remarks, but I did not pay much attention to them.
I had a tent mate who took a great interest in me, and he said no soldier's life was safe who did not wear a breast plate, and he asked me if I did not bring any breast plate with me. I told him I never heard of a breast plate, and asked him what it was. He said it was a vest made of the finest spring steel, that could be worn under the clothes, which was so strong that a bullet could not penetrate it. He supposed of course I had one, when he heard of the fight I had, and said none of the old boys would go into a fight without one, as it covered the vital parts, and saved many a life. I bit like a bass. If there was anything I wanted more than a discharge, it was a breast plate. If the chaplain should succeed in getting me a soft job, where there was no danger, I should get along without my breast plate, but there was no sure thing about the chaplain, so I asked the soldier where I could get a breast plate. He said the quartermaster used to issue them, but he didn't have any on hand now, but he said he knew where there was one that once belonged to a soldier who was killed, and he thought he could get it for me. I asked him how it happened that the soldier was killed, when he had a breast plate, and he told me the man was killed by eating green peaches. Of course I couldn't expect a breast plate to save me from the effects of eating unripe fruit, and I felt that if it would save me from bullets it would be worth all it cost, so I told the soldier to get it for me.
That evening he brought it around, and he helped me put it on. I learned afterwards that it was an old breast plate that an officer had brought to the regiment when the war broke out, and that it had been played on raw recruits for two years. After I had got it on, the soldier suggested that we go out with several other daredevils, and run the guard and go down town and play billiards, and have a jolly time. I asked him if the guard would not shoot at us, and he said the guards would be alright, and if they did shoot they would shoot at the breast plates, as all the boys had them on.
So about six of us sneaked through the guards, went to town and had a big time, and came back along towards morning, each with a canteen of whiskey. It was not easy getting back inside the lines, as the moon was shining, but we got by the guards, and then my friends suggested we take the breast plates off and put them on behind us, as the guards, if they shot at all, would be firing in our rear. I took mine off and put it on behind my pants, and just then somebody fired a gun, and the boys said "run" and I started ahead, and the firing continued, and about every jump I could hear and feel something striking my breast plate behind, which seemed to me to be bullets, and I was glad I had the breast plate on, and afterwards I found that the boys behind me were firing off their revolvers in the air, and throwing small stones at my breast plate. Presently a bullet, as I supposed, struck me in the back above the breast plate, and I could feel blood trickling down my back, and I knew I was wounded. O,I hankered for gore, before enlisting, and while editing a paper, and now I had got it, got gore till I couldn't rest. The blood run down my side, down my leg, into my boot, and I could feel I was wading in my own blood. And great heaven's, how it did smell. I had never smelled blood before, that I knew of, and I thought it had the most peculiar, pungent, intoxicating odor. I ran towards my quarters as fast as possible, fainting almost, from imaginary loss of blood, and finally rushed into my tent, threw myself on my bunk and called loudly for the doctor and chaplain, and then I fainted.
When I came to I was surrounded by the doctor, and a lot of the boys, all laughing, and the chaplain was trying to say something pious, while trying to keep a straight face. "have you succeeded in staunching the blood, doc?" I asked, in a trembling voice. He said the blood was quite staunched, but the whiskey could never be saved. I did not know what he meant, and I turned to the chaplain and asked him if he wouldn't be kind enough to say something appropriate to the occasion. I told him I had been a bad man, and had lied some, as well he knew, and had been guilty of things that would bar me out of the angel choir, but if he had any influence at the throne of grace, and could manage to sneak me in under the canvass anyway, he could have the balance of my bounty, and all the pay that might be coming to me. The chaplain held up the breast plate that had been removed by kind hands, from the back portion of my person, and said I had better take that along with me, as it would be handy to wear when I wanted to stand with my back to the fires in hades. I could not understand why the good man should joke me, on my death bed, and I rolled over with my back to the wall, to weep, unobserved, and I felt the blood sticking to my clothes and person, and I asked the doctor why he did not dress my wound. He said he should have to send the wound to the tin shop to be dressed, and then they all laughed. This made me indignant, and I turned over and faced the crowd, and asked them if they had no hearts, that they should mock at a dying man. The doctor held up my canteen with a hole in it, made by a stone thrown by one of my companions, and said,"You d__d fool, you are not wounded. Somebody busted your canteen, and the whiskey run down your leg and into your boot, and you, like an idiot, thought it was your life blood ebbing away. Couldn't you tell it was whiskey by the smell?" I felt of myself, where I thought I was wounded, and couldn't find any hole, and then I took off my boot, and emptied the whiskey out, and felt stronger, and finally I got up, and the boys went away laughing at me, leaving the chaplain, who was kind enough to tell me that of all the raw recruits that had ever come to the regiment, he thought I was the biggest idiot of the lot, to let the boys play the ancient breast plate and canteen joke on me. I asked him if the boys didn't all wear breast plates, and he said "naw!" He told me that was the only breast plate in the whole Department of the Gulf,and it was kept to play on recruits,and that I must keep it until a new recruit came that was green enough to allow the boys to do him up. So I hid the breast plate under my bunk, and went to bed, and tried to dream out some method of getting even with my persecutors, while the chaplain went out, after offering to hold himself in readiness, day or night, to come and pray for me, if I was wounded in the canteen any more.
END PART FIVE
CLICK HERE PART SIX: I Yearn for a Furlough-I Interview the General-I am Detailed to Carry a Rail-I Make a Horse Trade with the Chaplain-I am Put in Charge of a Funeral