"The news that one of my comrades had been granted a furlough, after three years' service, and that he was going home, made me desperate, and I dreamed that I had waylaid and murdered the fortunate soldier, and gone home on his furlough. The idea of getting a furlough was the one idea in my mind, and the next morning as I took my horse to the veterinary surgeon for treatment* I had a talk with the horse doctor about the possibilities of getting a furlough. I had known him before the war, when he kept a livery stable, and as I owed him a small livery bill, I thought he would give it to me straight. The horse doctor had his sleeves rolled up, and was holding a horse's tongue in one hand while he poured some medicine down the animal's throat out of a bottle with the other hand, which made me sorry for the horse, as I remembered my experience at surgeon's call, in drinking a dose of castor oil out of a bottle,and I was mean enough to be glad they played it on horses as well as the soldiers. The horse doctor returned the horse's tongue to it's mouth, kicked the animal in the ribs, turned and wiped his hands on a bale of hay.
(*I neglected to say, in my account of the battle at the race track that when firing with my revolver, at my friend the rebel, I put one bullet-hole through the right ear of my horse.)
" 'Well, George', he said,'to get a furlough a man has got to have plenty of gall, especially a man who has only been in the front a couple of weeks. There is no use making an application in the regular way, to your captain, have him endorse it and send it to regimental headquarters,and so on to brigade headquarters, because you would never hear of it again. My idea would be for you to go right to the general commanding the division, and tell him you have got to go home. But you mustn't go crawling to him, and whining. He is a quick-tempered man,and he hates a coward. Go to him and talk familiar with him, and act as though you had always associated with him, and slap him on the shoulder, and make yourself at home. Just make a good, plausible story, and give it to him, and if he seems irritated, give him to understand that he can't frighten you, and just as likely as not he will give you a furlough. I don't say he will, mind you, but it would be just like him. But he does like to be treated familiar like, by the boys.'
"I thanked the horse doctor and went away with my horse, resolved to have a furlough or know the reason why. The general's headquarters were about half a mile from our camp, and after drill that morning I went to see him. I had seen him several times, at the colonel's headquarters, and he always seemed mad about something, and I had thought he was about the crossest looking man I ever saw, but if there was any truth in what the horse doctor had told me, he was easily reached if a man went at him right, and I resolved that if pure, unadulterated cheek and monumental gall would accomplish anything, I would have a furlough before night, for a homesicker man never lived than I was.
"I went up to the general's tent and a guard halted me and asked me what I wanted, and I said I wanted to see 'his nibs', and I walked right by the guard, who seemed stunned by my cheek. I saw the general in his tent, with his coat off, writing, and he did look savage. Without taking off my hat, or saluting him, I went right up to him and sat down on the end of a trunk that was in the tent, and a tremendous effort to look familiar, I said:
'Hello, Boss, writing to your girl?'
I have seen a good many men in my time who were pretty mad, but I have never seen a man who appeared to be as mad as the general did. He was a regular army officer, I found afterwards,and hated a volunteer as he did poison. He turned red in the face and pale, and I thought he frothed at the mouth, but may be he didn't. He seemed to try to control himself, and through his clenched teeth, in a sarcastic manner, I thought, in imitation of a ring master in a circus:
'What will the little lady have next?'
I had been in the circuses myself, and when the general said that I answered the same as a clown always does, and I said:
'The banners, my lord.'
I thought he would be pleased at my joking with him, but he looked around as though he was seeking a revolver or a saber with which to kill me. Finally he said:
'What do you want, man?'
It was a little tough to be called plain 'man', but I swallowed it. I made up my mind it was time to act, so I stood up, put my hand on the shoulder of the general familiarly, and said:
'The fact is, old man, I want a furlough to go home. I have got business that demands my attention; I am sick of this inactivity in camp, and besides the shooting season is just coming on at home, and I have got a setter pup that will be spoiled if he is not trained this season. I came down here two weeks ago, to help put down the rebellion; but all we have done here since I got here is to monkey around drilling, and cleaning off horses, while the officers play poker for red chips. Let me go home till the poker season is over, and I will be back in time for the fall fighting. What do you say, old apoplexy. Can I go?'
"I do not now, and never did know, how I got out of the general's tent, whether he kicked me out, or threw his trunk at me, or whether there was an explosion, but when I got outside there were two soldiers trying to untangle me from the guy ropes of the general's tent, his was basin and pail of water were tipped over, and a cord that was strung outside with a lot of uniforms, shirts, sabers, etc, had fallen down, and the general was walking up and down his tent in an excited manner, calling me an escaped lunatic, and telling the guards to tie me up by my thumbs, and buck and gag me. They led me away, and from their conversation I concluded I had committed an unpardonable offense, and would probably be hung, though I couldn't see as I had done much more than the horses doctor told me to.
"Finally the officer of the day came along and told the guards to get a rail and make me carry it. So they got a rail and put it on my shoulder, and I carried it up and down the camp, as a punishment for insulting the general. I thought they picked out a pretty heavy rail, but I carried it the best I could for an hour, when I threw it down and told the guards I didn't enlist to carry rails. If putting down the rebellion depended on carrying fence rails around the Southern Confederacy, and I had to carry the rails, the aforesaid rebellion never would be put down. I said I would fight if I had to, and be a hostler, and cook my own food, and sleep on the ground, and try to earn my thirteen dollars a month, but there must be a line drawn somewhere, and I drew it at transporting fences around the sunny South. The guards were inclined to laugh at my determination, but they said I could carry the rail or be tied up by my thumbs; and I said they could go ahead, but if they hurt me I would bring suit against the government.
"They were fixing to tie me up when the colonel of my regiment rode up to see the general, and he got the guards to let up on me till he could see the general. The general sent for me after the colonel had talked with him, and they called me in and asked me how I happened to be so fresh with the general; and I told him about the horse doctor's advice as to how to get a furlough; and then they both laughed, and said I owed the horse doctor one, and I must get even with him. The colonel told the general who I was, that he had known me before the war, and that I was all right only a little green, and that the boys were having fun with me. The colonel told the general about my first fight the first day of my service, and how I had, singlehanded, put to flight a large number of rebels, and the general got up and shook hands with me, and said he forgave me for my impertinence, and gave me some advice about letting the boys play it on me, and said I might go back to my company. He was all smiles, and insisted on my taking a drink with himself and the colonel. When I was about leaving his tent, I turned to him and said:
'Then I don't get my furlough?'
'Not till the cruel war is over,' said the general, with a laugh, and I went away. The guards treated me like a gentleman when they saw me taking a drink with the general, and I went back to my regiment, resolved not to go home, and to get even with the horse doctor for causing me to make a fool of myself. However, I was glad I visited the general, for, after getting acquainted with him, he seemed a real fine man, and he kept a better article of liquor than the chaplain.
"For several days nothing occurred that was worthy of note, except the chaplain took a liking to my horse, and wanted to trade a mule for him. I never did like a mule, and didn't really want to trade, but the chaplain argued his case so eloquently that I was half persuaded. He said the horse I rode, from its friskiness, and natural desire to 'get there, Eli!' would eventually get me killed, for if I ever got in sight of the enemy the horse would rush to the front, and I couldn't hold him. He said he would be no danger, as the mule knew enough to keep away from a fight. The chaplain said he had always rode a mule, because he thought the natural solemnity of a mule was in better keeping with a pious man, but lately he had begun to go into society some, in the town near where we were camped, and sometimes had to preach to different regiments, so he thought he ought to have a horse that put on a little more style, and as he knew I wanted an animal that would keep as far from the foe as possible, and not lose its head and go chasing around after rebels, and running into danger, as my spiritual adviser he would recommend the mule to me. He warranted the mule sound in every particular, and as a mule was worth more than a horse he would trade with me for ten dollars to boot. He said there was not another man in the regiment he would trade with on such terms, but he had taken a liking to me, and would part with his mule to me, though it broke his heart.
"At home there was a sentiment against trading horse with a minister, as men who did so always got beat, but I thought it would be an insult to the chaplain to refuse to trade, when he seemed to be working for my interests, to prevent me from being killed in a fight by the actions of my horse, so I concluded to trade, though it seemed to me that if I couldn't shoot off a horse without hitting his ears, I would fill a mule's ears full of bullets. I spoke to the chaplain about that, and he said there was no danger, because whenever fighting commenced the mule always wore his ears lopped down below the line of fire. He said the mule had been trained to that, and I would find him a great comfort in time of trail, and a sympathizing companion always, one that I would become attached to. I told him there was one thing I wanted to know, and that was if the mule would kick. I had always been prejudiced against mules because they kicked. He said he knew mules had been traduced, and that their reputations were not good, but he believed this mule was as free from the habit of kicking as any mule he had ever met. He said he would not deny that this mule could kick, and in fact he had kicked a little, but he would warrant the mule not to kick unless something unusual happened. He said I wouldn't want a mule that had no individuality at all, one that hadn't sand enough to protect itself. What I wanted, the chaplain said, was a mule that would treat everybody right, but that would, if imposed upon, stand up for its rights and kick. I told the chaplain that was about the kind of mule I wanted, if I had any mule at all, and we traded. The chaplain rode off to town in my horse, on a canter, as proud as a peacock, while I climbed on to the solemn, lop-eared mule and went out to drill with my company.
" I do not know what it was that went wrong with the mule while we were drilling, but as we were wheeling in company front, the mule began to 'assert his individuality,' as the chaplain said he probably would, and he whirled around sideways and kicked three soldiers off their horses; then he backed up the other way and broke up the second platoon, kicked four horses in the ribs, stampeded the company, and stood there alone kicking in the air. The major rode down to where I was and began to swear at me, but I told him I couldn't help it. He told me to dismount and lead the mule away, but I couldn't dismount until the mule stopped kicking, and he seemed to be wound up for all day. The major got too near and the mule kicked him on the shin, and then started for the company again, which had got into ranks, kicking all the way, and the company broke ranks and started for camp, the mule following, kicking and braying all the way. I never was so helpless in all my life. The more I spurred the mule, the more it kicked, and if I stopped spurring it, it kicked worse. When we got to camp, I fell off some way, and rushed into the chaplain's tent, and the mule kicked the tent down, and some boys drove the mule away, and while I was fixing up the tent the chaplain came back looking happy, and asked me how I liked the mule. I never was a hypocrite, anyway, and I was mad, so I said: 'Oh, dam that mule!'
"Of course it is wrong to use such language, especially in the presence of a minister, but I couldn't help it. I could see it hurt the chaplain, for he sighed and said he was sorry to hear such words from me, insomuch as he had just got me detailed as his clerk, where I would have a soft thing, and no drilling or fighting. He said he had wanted a clerk, one who was a good-hearted, true man, and he had picked me out, but if I used such language, that settled it. He said he didn't expect to find a private soldier that was as pious as he was, but he did think I would be the best man he could find. I wanted a soft job, with no fighting, as bad as any man ever did, and I told the chaplain that he need not fear as to my swearing again, as it was foreign to my nature, but I told him if he had been on the hurricane deck of a kicking mule for an hour, and seen comrades fall one by one, and bite the dust, and be carried off with marks of mule shoes all over their persons, he would swear, and I would bet on it. So it was arranged that I was to be the chaplain's clerk, and I moved my outfit over to his tent, and for the first time since I had been a soldier, I was perfectly happy. There was no danger of being detailed for guard duty, police duty, drilling, or fighting, and the only boss I had was the chaplain. The chaplain and myself sat that evening in his cot, and ate sanitary stores, drank wine for sickness, and smoked pipes, and didn't care whether school kept or not, and that night I slept on a cot, and had the first good night's rest, and in the morning I awoke refreshed, and with no fear of orderly sergeant's, or anybody. I had a soft snap.
"The next morning I asked the chaplain what my duties were to be, and he said I was to take care of the tent, write letters for him, issue sanitary stores to deserving soldiers who might need them, ride with him sometimes when he went to town, or to preach, go to funerals with him occasionally, set a good example to the other soldiers, and make myself generally useful. He said I would have to attend to the burial of the colored people who died, and any such simple details. He went out and left me pondering over my duties. I liked it all except the nigger funerals. I had always been a Democrat, at home, and not very much mashed on our colored brothers, and one ting that prevented me from enlisting before I did was the idea of making the colored man free. I had nothing against a colored man, and got to think a great deal of them afterwards, but the idea of acting as an undertaker for the colored race never occurred to me. I made up my mind to kick on that part of the duties, when the chaplain came in and said the colored cook of one of the companies was dead, and would be buried that afternoon, and as he had to go to a meeting of chaplains down town, I would have to go and conduct the services, and I better prepare myself with a little speech. I was in a fix. I told the chaplain that it might not have occurred to him, but honestly, I couldn't pray. He said that didn't make any difference. I told him I couldn't preach hardly at all. He said I didn't need to. All I had to do was go and find out something about the life of the deceased, what kind of man he was, and say a few words at the grave complimentary to him, console the mourners, if there were any, and counsel them to try to lead a different life, that they might eventually enter into the glory of the New Jerusalem, or words to that effect. Well, this made me perspire. This was a tighter place than I was in when I met the rebel. The idea of my conducting the funeral exercises of such a black-burying party, made me tired. The chaplain said a good deal depended on how I got through this first case, as if I succeeded well, it would be a great feather in my cap. His idea, he said, was to try me first on a nigger, and if I was up to snuff, and carried myself like a thoroughbred, there would be nothing too good for me in the regiment.
"I went to the orderly sergeant of the company where the man died, to get some points as to his career, in order to work in a few remarks appropriate to the occasion, and I said to the orderly:
' I understand your company cook has gone to that bourne from whence no traveler returns.' I thought that was pretty good for a green hand, for a starter.
' Yes', said the orderly, as he looked solemn. 'The old son-of-a-gun has passed in his chips, and is now walking in green pastures, besides still waters, but he will not drink any of the aforesaid still waters ,if he can steal any whiskey to drink.'
' You astonish me,' said I to the orderly. ' The fact is, the chaplain has sawed off to me the duty of seeing to the burial of our deceased friend, and I called to gather some few facts as to his characteristics as a man and a brother. Can you tell me of anything that would interest those who attend?'
' O, I don't know,' said the orderly. ' The deceased was a liar, a thief, and a drunkard. He would steal anything that was not chained down. He would murder a man for a dollar. He was the worst nigger that ever was. If there was a medical college here that wanted bodies, it would be a waste of money to bury him. But when he was sober he could bake beans for all that was out, and there was no man that could boiled corned mule so as to take the taste of the saltpetre out, as he could.'
"This was not a very good send off for my first funeral, but I clung to the good qualities possessed by the late lamented. Though he might have been a bad man, all was not lost if he could bake beans well, and boil the salt horse or corned mule that soldiers had to eat, so they were appetizing. Many truly good men of national reputation, could not have excelled him in his chosen specialties, and I made a memorandum of that for future use. I made further inquiries in the company, and found that the deceased had a bad reputation, owed everybody, had five wives living that he had deserted, and was suspected of having murdered two or three colored men for their money. His death was caused by delirium tremens. He had stole a jug of whiskey from the major's tent, laid drunk a week, and when whiskey was gone he had tremens, and had gone to the horse doctor for something to quiet his nerves, and the horse doctor had given him a condition powder to take, to be followed with a swallow of mustang liniment, and the man died.
"This was the information I got to use in my remarks at the grave of the deceased, and I went back to my tent to think it over. I thought perhaps I had better work in the horse doctor mal-practice, in my discourse, and thus to get even with him for sending me to the general after a furlough. While I was thinking over the things I would say, and trying to forget the bad things about the man, the orderly sent words that the funeral cortege was ready to proceed to the bone yard. I looked down the company street and saw the remains being lifted into a cart, and I went out and put the saddle on my mule, and with a mental prayer that the confounded mule wouldn't get to kicking till the funeral was over, started to do the honors at the grave of the late company cook.
END PART SIX
PART SEVEN:The Funeral of the Colored Cook-I Plead for a Larger Procession-The Funeral Oration-The Funeral Disturbed-I am Arrested-My Fortunate Escape