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Frank on the Lower Mississippi By Harry Castlemon Characters: 20604

Updated: 2017-11-29 00:05


The New Paymaster.

icksburg had fallen, and the army had marched in and taken possession of the city. How Frank longed to accompany it, that he might see the inside of the rebel stronghold, which had so long withstood the advance of our fleet and army! He stood leaning against one of the monster guns, which, at his bidding, had spoken so often and so effectively in favor of the Union, and for two hours watched the long lines of war-worn soldiers as they moved into the works. At length a tremendous cheer arose from the city, and Frank discovered a party of soldiers on the cupola of the court-house, from which, a few moments afterward, floated the Stars and Stripes. Then came faintly to his ears the words of a familiar song, which were caught up by the soldiers in the city, then by those who were still marching in, and "We'll rally round the flag, boys," was sung by an immense choir. The rebels in the streets gazed wonderingly at the men on the spire, and listened to the song, and the triumphant shouts of the conquering army, which proclaimed the beginning of the downfall of their confederacy.

To Frank, it was one of the proudest moments of his life-a sight he would not have missed to be able to float at the mast-head of his vessel the broad pennant of the admiral. All he had endured was forgotten; and when the Old Flag was unfurled in the air which had but a short time before floated the "stars and bars," he pulled off his cap and shouted at the top of his lungs.

Having thus given vent to his feelings of exultation, in obedience to orders, he commenced the removal of his battery on board the Trenton. It was two days' work to accomplish this, but Frank, who was impatient to see the inside of the fortifications worked with a will, and finally the battery was mounted in its old position. On the following day, the Trenton moved down the river, and came to anchor in front of Vicksburg. Shore liberty was granted, and Frank, in company with several of his brother officers, strolled about the city. On every side the houses bore the marks of Union shot and shell, and the streets were blocked with fortifications, showing that had the city been taken by storm, it was the intention of the rebels to dispute every inch of the ground. Every thing bore evidence to the fact that the fight had been a most desperate one; that the rebels had surrendered only when they found that it was impossible to hold out longer.

In some places the streets ran through deep cuts in the bank, and in these banks were the famous "gopher holes." They were [ca]ves dug in the ground, into which a person, if he happened to hear a shell coming, might run for safety. Outside the city, the fortifications were most extensive; rifle-pits ran in every direction, flanked by strong forts, whose battered walls attested the fury of the iron hail that had been poured upon them. It was night before Frank was aware of it, so interested was he in every thing about him, and he returned on board his vessel, weary with his long walk, but amply repaid by seeing the inside of what its rebel occupants had called "the Gibraltar of America."

During the next two days, several vessels of the squadron passed the city, on their way to new fields of action further down the river. One of them-the Boxer, a tin-clad, mounting eight guns-had Frank on board. He had been detached from the Trenton, and ordered to join this vessel, which had been assigned a station a short distance below Grand Gulf. As usual, he had no difficulty in becoming acquainted with his new messmates, and he soon felt perfectly at home among them. He found, as he had done in every other mess of which he had been a member, that there was the usual amount of wrangling and disputing, and it amused him exceedingly. All the mess seemed to be indignant at the caterer, who did not appear to stand very high in their estimation. The latter, he learned, had just made an "assessment" upon the mess to the amount of ten dollars for each member; and as there was no paymaster on board, the officers had but very little ready money, and were anxious to know where all the funds paid into the treasury went to. He also found that the caterer's authority was not as much respected as he had a right to claim, for during the very first meal Frank ate in the mess, a dispute arose which threatened for a time to end in the whole matter being carried before the captain.

One of the members of the mess, who was temporarily attached to the vessel, was a pilot who had been pressed into the service. He was a genuine rebel, and frequently said that he was called a traitor because he was in favor of allowing the South to "peaceably withdraw from the Union." The doctor, a little, fat, jolly man, and a thorough Unionist, who believed in handling all rebels without gloves, took up the sword, and the debate that followed was long and stormy. The pilot, as it proved, hardly knew the reasons why the South had attempted to secede, and was constantly clinching his arguments by saying, "Men who know more, and who have done more fighting during this war than you, Doctor Brown, say that they have a right to do so." The debate waxed hotter and hotter, until some of the other members of the mess joined in with the doctor against the pilot, and the caterer, thinking that the noise the disputants made was unbecoming the members of a well-regulated mess, at length shouted:

"Silence! Gentlemen, hereafter talking politics in this wardroom is strictly prohibited."

"Eh?" ejaculated the doctor, who was thoroughly aroused, "Do you expect us to sit here and listen to a conscript running down the Government-a man who never would have entered the service if he had not been compelled to do so? No, sir! I wouldn't hold my tongue under such circumstances if all the six-foot-four caterers in the squadron should say so. You are not a little admiral, to come down here and hoist your broad pennant in this mess-room."

The caterer was astounded when he found his authority thus set at defiance, and without further parley he retired to his room; and in a few moments returned with the books, papers, and the small amount of money that belonged to the mess; laying them on the table, he said:

"Gentlemen, you will please elect another caterer."

The debate was instantly hushed, for not one member of the mess, besides the caterer just resigned, could have been hired to take the responsibility of managing affairs. When the officers had finished their dinner, they walked carelessly out on deck, as if the question of where the next meal was to come from did not trouble them in the least. Nothing was done toward an election; no one took charge of the books or papers, and when the table was cleared away they were thrown unceremoniously under the water-cooler. The money, however, was taken care of by the doctor. Dinner-time came, and when Frank, tired and hungry, was relieved from the deck, he inquired what was to be had to eat.

"There's nothing been done about it yet," answered the officer who relieved him. "The steward went to several of the members of the mess, and asked what they wished served up; but they told him that they had nothing to do with the caterer's business, and the consequence is, if you want any thing to eat, you will have to go into the pantry and help yourself."

Frank was a good deal amused at the obstinacy displayed by the different members of the mess, and wondered how the affair would end. The mess could not long exist without some one to take charge of it; but for himself he was not at all concerned. He had paid no initiation fee, because no one had asked him for it, and he knew that as long as there were provisions in the paymaster's store-rooms, there was no danger but that he would get plenty to eat. He found three or four officers in the pantry making their dinner on hard-tack, pickles, and raw bacon. They were all grumbling over the hard fare, but not one of them appeared willing to assume the office of caterer.

Things went on in this way for nearly a week, (during which time they had arrived at their station,) and the doctor, who was fond of good living, could stand it no longer. He went to the caterer who had resigned, and, after considerable urging, and a solemn promise that politics should not again be discussed in the mess, the latter was persuaded to resume the management of affairs. The change from hard crackers and pickles to nice warm meals was a most agreeable one, and the jolly doctor, according to promise, was very careful what questions were brought up before the mess for discussion.

By this time, as we have before remarked, the Boxer had arrived at her station. Her crew thought they were now about to lead a life of idleness and inactivity, for not a rebel had they seen since leaving Vicksburg. But one morning, while the men were engaged in washing off the forecastle, they were startled by a roar of musketry, and three of the sailors fell dead upon the deck.

The fight that followed continued for two hours, the rebels finally retiring, not because they had been worsted, but for the reason that they had grown weary of the engagement. This was the commencement of a series of attacks which proved to be the source of great annoyance to the crew of the Boxer. The guerrillas would appear when least expected, and the levee afforded them a secure hiding-place from which they could not be driven, either with big guns or small arms. They were fatal marksmen, too; and during the week following, the Boxer's crew lost ten men. One rebel in particular attracted their attention, and his reckless courage excited their admiration. He rode a large white horse, and although rendered a prominent mark for the rifles of the sailors, he always escaped unhurt. He would ride boldly out in full view of the vessel, patiently wait for someone to expose himself, when the sharp crack of his rifle would be followed by the report made to the captain, "A man shot, sir."

Frank had selected this man as a worthy foe-man; and every time he appeared the young officer was on the watch for him. He was very expert with the rifle, and after a few shots, he succeeded in convincing the rebel that the safest place for him was behind the levee

. One morning the foe appeared in stronger force than usual, and conspicuous among them was the white horse and his daring rider. The fight that ensued had continued for perhaps half an hour, when the quartermaster reported the dispatch-boat approaching. As soon as she came within range, the guerrillas directed their fire against her, to which the latter replied briskly from two guns mounted on her forecastle. The leader of the rebels was constantly in view, cheering on his men, and discharging his rifle as fast as he could reload. Frank fired several shots at him, and finding that, as usual, they were without effect, he asked the captain's permission to try a howitzer on him, which was granted. He ran below, trained the gun to his satisfaction, and waited for an opportunity to fire, during which the dispatch-boat came alongside and commenced putting off a supply of stores.

At length the rebel mounted the levee, and reigning in his horse, sat in his saddle gazing at the vessels, as if not at all concerned. He presented a fair mark, and Frank fired, but the shell went wild and burst in the woods, far beyond the rebel, who, however, beat a hasty retreat behind the levee.

"Oh, what a shot!" shouted a voice through the trumpet that led from the pilot-house to the main deck. "What a shot-altogether too much elevation."

"Who's that, I wonder?" soliloquized Frank. "It was a poor shot, but I'd like to see that fellow, whoever he is, do any better."

After giving orders to have the gun reloaded and secured, he ran into the wardroom to look after his mail, at the same time inquiring of every one he met, "Who was that making fun of my shooting?" But no one knew, nor cared to trouble himself about the matter, for the subject of conversation was, "We've got a new paymaster."

Frank was pleased to hear this, but was still determined to find the person who had laughed at his marksmanship, when he saw a pair of feet descending the ladder that led from the cabin to the pilot-house, and a moment afterward, a smart looking young officer, dressed in the uniform of a paymaster, stood in the wardroom, and upon discovering Frank, thrust out his hand and greeted him with-

"What a shot! Been in the service more than two years, and"-

"Why, Archie Winters, is this you?" exclaimed Frank, joyfully.

"Paymaster Winters, if you please" replied Archie, with mock dignity.

"How came you here? What are you doing? Got any money?" hurriedly inquired Frank.

"Got plenty of funds," replied his cousin. "But I say, Frank, how long has this fighting been going on?"

"Every day for the last week."

Archie shrugged his shoulders, and looked blank.

"I guess I had better go back to Cairo," said he; "these rebels, I hear, shoot very carelessly. Just before we came alongside here, I was standing on the deck of the dispatch-boat, and some fellow cracked away at me, sending the bullet altogether too close to my head for comfort."

"Oh, that's nothing, so long as he didn't hit you. You'll get used to that before you have been here a week. But, Archie, are you really ordered to this vessel?"

Archie at once produced his orders, and, sure enough, he was an acting assistant paymaster, and ordered to "report to the commanding officer of the U. S. S. Boxer for duty on board that vessel."

During the two years that Archie had been in the fleet-paymaster's office he had, by strict attention to his duties, worked his way up from "writer" to corresponding clerk. He had had ample opportunity to learn the duties of paymaster, and one day he suddenly took it into his head to make application for the position. He immediately wrote to his father, informing him of his intention, procured his letters of recommendation, and a month afterward received the appointment.

Hearing, through Frank, that the Boxer was without a paymaster, he succeeded in getting ordered to her, and, as he had not written to his cousin of his good fortune, the latter, as may be supposed, was taken completely by surprise.

Archie was speedily introduced to the officers of the vessel, who were pleased with his off-hand, easy manners, and delighted with the looks of a small safe which he had brought with him, for they knew, by the very particular orders he gave concerning it, that there was money in it.

At the end of an hour the rebels seemed to grow weary of the fight, for they drew off their forces; then, as soon as it was safe on deck, the cousins seated themselves on the guard, to "talk over old times." Frank gave descriptions of the fights in which he had engaged since they last met, and also related stories of mess-room life, with which Archie was entirely unacquainted; and to show him how things were conducted, told him of the jokes the officers frequently played upon each other.

"Speaking of jokes," said Archie, "reminds me of a little affair I had a hand in at Cairo.

"While the commandant of the station was absent on a leave, his place was supplied by a gentleman whom, for short, I will call Captain Smith. He was a regular officer, had grown gray in the service, and was one of the most eccentric men I ever saw. He was extremely nervous, too, and if a steamer happened to whistle while passing the wharf-boat, it would make him almost wild.

"One day, a man who lived off somewhere in the woods, came down to Cairo to get an appointment for his son as master's mate. Our office, you know, was just to the right of the door, and, if there was any thing that bothered me, it was for some body to stick his head over the railing when I was busy, and ask, 'Is the commandant of the station in?' There was an orderly on watch day and night, always ready to answer such questions, and besides, there was an abundance of notices on the walls pointing out the different offices; but in spite of this, every stranger that came in must stop and make inquiries of me.

"Well, this man came into the office, and as he had evidently never been there before, judging by the way he gaped at every thing, I told him that it was after office hours, and that he must call again the next morning about nine o'clock. He took a turn or two across the floor (by-the-way, he wore squeaking boots, that made a noise like a steam-whistle), and finally went out.

"The next evening, just as I was locking up my desk, he came in again, and I repeated what I had told him the night before, that he must come at nine o'clock in the morning-not at night-if he wished to see the captain, and he went out, after making noise enough with his squeaking boots to set a nervous man's teeth on edge. Now, would you believe it, that evening, after I had finished my work, and was starting out for supper, I saw this man coming up the stairs. He met me with the usual question, 'Is the captain in?' and I suddenly hit upon a plan to get rid of him, for I had made up my mind that the man didn't know what he was about; so I replied:

"'What do you want? Why don't you come here during our office hours, if you want to see me?'

"I spoke in a gruff voice, and I was so bundled up-for the night was very cold-that I knew he wouldn't recognize me.

"'I've been busy all day, cap'in,' said he; 'but the fact is'-

"I was afraid that I would be obliged to stand there in the cold and listen to a long, uninteresting yarn, so I interrupted him.

"'Speak quick, and don't keep me waiting.'

"'Wal, cap'in,' said he, 'I heerd you are in want of officers, an' I come to get a place for my son; I hear the wages are purty good.'

"'Yes,' I replied, 'we do want officers; but does your son know anything about a ship?'

"'Oh, yes? He's run the river as deck-hand for goin' nigh on to three year.'

"'Then he ought to know something, certainly. Come around tomorrow morning, at nine o'clock exactly, and I'll see what can be done for you. Now, mind, I say nine o'clock in the morning.'

"Well, the next morning, at the appointed time, to my utter astonishment, the man was on hand, and, as usual, commenced walking up and down the floor with his squeaking boots. The noise disturbed everyone within hearing, and presently the captain, who was in his office, and so busy that he hardly knew what he was about, spoke in a sharp tone:

"'Orderly, pull off those squeaking boots!'

"'It isn't me, sir.' said the orderly; 'it's a gentleman out here waiting to see you, sir.'

"'Then send him in-send him in at once, so that I can get rid of that noise.'

"The man was accordingly shown into the presence of the captain, while I listened with both ears to hear what was said.

"'Mornin', cap'in,' he began; 'I reckon I'm here on time.'

"'Time! what time? What do you want?' inquired the captain, who always spoke very fast, as though he were in a hurry to get through with what he had to say. 'What do you want, my good man. Be lively now.'

"'Why, cap'in, I come here to get that appointment for my son in this ere navy.'

"'Appointment! For your son!' repeated the captain. 'Who is he? I never heard of him.'

"'Wal, really now, cap'in, I'll be shot if you didn't tell me last night that you would make my son an officer. The wages are good, I hear, an' as I've a debt to pay off on the farm'-

"'Don't bother me!' interrupted the captain, beginning to get impatient.

"'But, cap'in,' urged the man, 'you can't bluff me off this 'ere way. You told me last night that you wanted officers; you know I met you on the stairs, and you promised, honor bright.'

"'Eh!' ejaculated the captain, in surprise,'my good man, allow me to know what I'm about, will you? Will you allow me to know myself? Orderly,' he continued, turning to that individual, who had stood by, convulsed with laughter, which he was vainly endeavoring to conceal, 'orderly, do you think this man is in his right mind?'

"The orderly said he didn't know; but, taking the man by the arm, showed him out of the office, telling him to come again, when the captain was not quite so busy.

"The conversation had been carried on in a loud tone, and all the occupants of the different offices had heard it, and were highly amused, for they knew that somebody had been playing a joke on the countryman; but it was a long time before I told anyone of the share I had had in the affair."

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