Meet us on:
Entire Site
    Try our fun game

    Dueling book covers…may the best design win!

    Random Quote
    "Some people have so much respect for their superiors they have none left for themselves."

    Subscribe to Our Newsletter

    Follow us on Twitter

    Never miss a good book again! Follow Read Print on Twitter

    Chapter 3

    • Rate it:
    Launch Reading Mode Next Chapter
    Chapter 4
    Previous Chapter

    For weeks we rode up and down--hither and thither--along the length of
    the narrow, granite-walled Valley; between mountains so lofty that the
    sun labored slowly over them in the morning, occupying half the forenoon
    in getting to where his rays would reach the stream that ran through the
    Valley's center. Perpetual shadow reigned on the northern and western
    faces of these towering Nights--not enough warmth and sunshine reaching
    them in the cold months to check the growth of the ever-lengthening
    icicles hanging from the jutting cliffs, or melt the arabesque
    frost-forms with which the many dashing cascades decorated the adjacent
    rocks and shrubbery. Occasionally we would see where some little stream
    ran down over the face of the bare, black rocks for many hundred feet,
    and then its course would be a long band of sheeny white, like a great
    rich, spotless scarf of satin, festooning the war-grimed walls of some
    old castle.

    Our duty now was to break up any nuclei of concentration that the Rebels
    might attempt to form, and to guard our foragers--that is, the teamsters
    and employee of the Quartermaster's Department--who were loading grain
    into wagons and hauling it away.

    This last was an arduous task. There is no man in the world that needs
    as much protection as an Army teamster. He is worse in this respect than
    a New England manufacturer, or an old maid on her travels. He is given
    to sudden fears and causeless panics. Very innocent cedars have a
    fashion of assuming in his eyes the appearance of desperate Rebels armed
    with murderous guns, and there is no telling what moment a rock may take
    such a form as to freeze his young blood, and make each particular hair
    stand on end like quills upon the fretful porcupine. One has to be
    particular about snapping caps in his neighborhood, and give to him
    careful warning before discharging a carbine to clean it. His first
    impulse, when anything occurs to jar upon his delicate nerves, is to cut
    his wheel-mule loose and retire with the precipitation of a man having an
    appointment to keep and being behind time. There is no man who can get
    as much speed out of a mule as a teamster falling back from the
    neighborhood of heavy firing.

    This nervous tremor was not peculiar to the engineers of our
    transportation department. It was noticeable in the gentry who carted
    the scanty provisions of the Rebels. One of Wheeler's cavalrymen told me
    that the brigade to which he belonged was one evening ordered to move at
    daybreak. The night was rainy, and it was thought best to discharge the
    guns and reload before starting. Unfortunately, it was neglected to
    inform the teamsters of this, and at the first discharge they varnished
    from the scene with such energy that it was over a week before the
    brigade succeeded in getting them back again.

    Why association with the mule should thus demoralize a man, has always
    been a puzzle to me, for while the mule, as Col. Ingersoll has remarked,
    is an animal without pride of ancestry or hope of posterity, he is still
    not a coward by any means. It is beyond dispute that a full-grown and
    active lioness once attacked a mule in the grounds of the Cincinnati
    Zoological Garden, and was ignominiously beaten, receiving injuries from
    which she died shortly afterward.

    The apparition of a badly-scared teamster urging one of his wheel mules
    at break-neck speed over the rough ground, yelling for protection against
    "them Johnnies," who had appeared on some hilltop in sight of where he
    was gathering corn, was an almost hourly occurrence. Of course the squad
    dispatched to his assistance found nobody.

    Still, there were plenty of Rebels in the country, and they hung around
    our front, exchanging shots with us at long taw, and occasionally
    treating us to a volley at close range, from some favorable point.
    But we had the decided advantage of them at this game. Our Sharpe's
    carbines were much superior in every way to their Enfields. They would
    shoot much farther, and a great deal more rapidly, so that the Virginians
    were not long in discovering that they were losing more than they gained
    in this useless warfare.

    Once they played a sharp practical joke upon us. Copper River is a deep,
    exceedingly rapid mountain stream, with a very slippery rocky bottom.
    The Rebels blockaded a ford in such a way that it was almost impossible
    for a horse to keep his feet. Then they tolled us off in pursuit of a
    small party to this ford. When we came to it there was a light line of
    skirmishers on the opposite bank, who popped away at us industriously.
    Our boys formed in line, gave the customary, cheer, and dashed in to
    carry the ford at a charge. As they did so at least one-half of the
    horses went down as if they were shot, and rolled over their riders in
    the swift running, ice-cold waters. The Rebels yelled a triumphant
    laugh, as they galloped away, and the laugh was re-echoed by our fellows,
    who were as quick to see the joke as the other side. We tried to get
    even with them by a sharp chase, but we gave it up after a few miles,
    without having taken any prisoners.

    But, after all, there was much to make our sojourn in the Valley
    endurable. Though we did not wear fine linen, we fared sumptuously--for
    soldiers--every day. The cavalryman is always charged by the infantry
    and artillery with having a finer and surer scent for the good things in
    the country than any other man in the service. He is believed to have an
    instinct that will unfailingly lead him, in the dankest night, to the
    roosting place of the most desirable poultry, and after he has camped in
    a neighborhood for awhile it would require a close chemical analysis to
    find a trace of ham.

    We did our best to sustain the reputation of our arm of the service.
    We found the most delicious hams packed away in the ash-houses.
    They were small, and had that; exquisite nutty flavor, peculiar to
    mast-fed bacon. Then there was an abundance of the delightful little
    apple known as "romanites." There were turnips, pumpkins, cabbages,
    potatoes, and the usual products of the field in plenty, even profusion.
    The corn in the fields furnished an ample supply of breadstuff. We
    carried it to and ground it in the quaintest, rudest little mills that
    can be imagined outside of the primitive affairs by which the women of
    Arabia coarsely powder the grain for the family meal. Sometimes the
    mill would consist only of four stout posts thrust into the ground at
    the edge of some stream. A line of boulders reaching diagonally across
    the stream answered for a dam, by diverting a portion of the volume of
    water to a channel at the side, where it moved a clumsily constructed
    wheel, that turned two small stones, not larger than good-sized
    grindstones. Over this would be a shed made by resting poles in forked
    posts stuck into the ground, and covering these with clapboards held in
    place by large flat stones. They resembled the mills of the gods--in
    grinding slowly. It used to seem that a healthy man could eat the meal
    faster than they ground it.

    But what savory meals we used to concoct around the campfires, out of the
    rich materials collected during the day's ride! Such stews, such soups,
    such broils, such wonderful commixtures of things diverse in nature and
    antagonistic in properties such daring culinary experiments in combining
    materials never before attempted to be combined. The French say of
    untasteful arrangement of hues in dress "that the colors swear at each
    other." I have often thought the same thing of the heterogeneities that
    go to make up a soldier's pot-a feu.

    But for all that they never failed to taste deliciously after a long
    day's ride. They were washed down by a tincupful of coffee strong enough
    to tan leather, then came a brier-wood pipeful of fragrant kinnikinnic,
    and a seat by the ruddy, sparkling fire of aromatic cedar logs, that
    diffused at once warmth, and spicy, pleasing incense. A chat over the
    events of the day, and the prospect of the morrow, the wonderful merits
    of each man's horse, and the disgusting irregularities of the mails from
    home, lasted until the silver-voiced bugle rang out the sweet, mournful
    tattoo of the Regulations, to the flowing cadences of which the boys had
    arranged the absurdly incongruous words:

    "S-a-y--D-e-u-t-c-h-e-r-will-you fight-mit Sigel!
    Zwei-glass of lager-bier, ja! ja! JA!"

    Words were fitted to all the calls, which generally bore some
    relativeness to the sigmal, but these were as, destitute of congruity as
    of sense.

    Tattoo always produces an impression of extreme loneliness. As its
    weird, half-availing notes ring out and are answered back from the
    distant rocks shrouded in night, and perhaps concealing the lurking foe,
    the soldier remembers that he is far away from home and friends--deep in
    the enemy's country, encompassed on every hand by those in deadly
    hostility to him, who are perhaps even then maturing the preparations for
    his destruction.

    As the tattoo sounds, the boys arise from around the fire, visit the
    horse line, see that their horses are securely tied, rub off from the
    fetlocks and legs such specks of mud as may have escaped the cleaning in
    the early evening, and if possible, smuggle their faithful four-footed
    friends a few ears of corn, or another bunch of hay.

    If not too tired, and everything else is favorable, the cavalryman has
    prepared himself a comfortable couch for the night. He always sleeps
    with a chum. The two have gathered enough small tufts of pine or cedar
    to make a comfortable, springy, mattress-like foundation. On this is
    laid the poncho or rubber blanket. Next comes one of their overcoats,
    and upon this they lie, covering themselves with the two blankets and the
    other overcoat, their feet towards the fire, their boots at the foot, and
    their belts, with revolver, saber and carbine, at the sides of the bed.
    It is surprising what an amount of comfort a man can get out of such a
    couch, and how, at an alarm, he springs from it, almost instantly dressed
    and armed.

    Half an hour after tattoo the bugle rings out another sadly sweet strain,
    that hath a dying sound.
    Next Chapter
    Chapter 4
    Previous Chapter
    If you're writing a John McElroy essay and need some advice, post your John McElroy essay question on our Facebook page where fellow bookworms are always glad to help!

    Top 5 Authors

    Top 5 Books

    Book Status
    Want to read

    Are you sure you want to leave this group?