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   Chapter 23 SOLDIERS!

Kincaid's Battery By George Washington Cable Characters: 7182

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:03


With what innocent openness did we do everything in '61! "Children and fools" could not tell the truth any faster or farther than did our newspapers--Picayune, Delta, True Delta, Crescent, L'Abeille, and L'Estafette du Sud. After every military review the exact number in line and the name of every command and commander were hurried into print. When at last we began to cast siege guns, the very first one was defiantly proclaimed to all the Confederacy's enemies: an eight-inch Dahlgren, we would have them to know. Kincaid and his foundry were given full credit, and the defence named where the "iron monster" was to go, if not the very embrasure designated into which you must fire to dismount it.

The ladies, God bless them, were always free to pass the guard on the city side of that small camp and earthwork, where with the ladies' guns "the ladies' man" had worn the grass off all the plain and the zest of novelty out of all his nicknamers, daily hammering--he and his only less merciful lieutenants--at their everlasting drill.

Such ladies! Why shouldn't they pass? Was it not safe for the cause and just as safe for them? Was not every maid and matron of them in the "Ladies' Society of the Confederate Army"--whereof Miss Callender was a secretary and Miss Valcour one of the treasurers? And had not the fellows there, owing to an influence or two in the camp itself and another or two just outside it, all become, in a strong, fine sense and high degree, ladies' men? It was good for them spiritually, and good for their field artillery evolutions, to be watched by maidenly and matronly eyes. Quite as good was it, too, for their occasional heavy-gun practice with two or three huge, new-cast, big-breeched "hell-hounds," as Charlie and others called them, whose tapering black snouts lay out on the parapet's superior slope, fondled by the soft Gulf winds that came up the river, and snuffing them for the taint of the enemy.

One afternoon when field-gun manoeuvres were at a close, Kincaid spoke from the saddle. Facing him stood his entire command, "in order in the line," their six shining pieces and dark caissons and their twice six six-horse teams stretching back in six statuesque rows; each of the three lieutenants--Bartleson, Villeneuve, Tracy--in the front line, midway between his two guns, the artificers just six yards out on the left, and guidon and buglers just six on the right. At the commander's back was the levee. Only now it had been empty of spectators, and he was seizing this advantage.

"Soldiers!" It was his first attempt since the flag presentation, and it looked as though he would falter, but he hardened his brow: "Some days ago you were told not to expect marching orders for a week. Well the week's up and we're told to wait another. Now that makes me every bit as mad as it makes you! I feel as restless as any man in this battery, and I told the commanding general to-day that you're the worst discontented lot I've yet seen, and that I was proud of you for it. That's all I said to him. But! if there's a man here who doesn't yet know the difference between a soldierly discontent and unsoldierly grumbling I want him to GO! Kincaid's Battery is not for him. Let him transfer to infantry or cavalry. Oh, I know it's only that you want to be in the very first fight, and that's all right! But what we can't get we don't grumble for in Kincaid's Battery!"

He paused. With his inspired eyes on the splendid array, visions of its awful destiny only exalted him. Yet signs which he dared not heed lest he be confounded told him th

at every eye so fixed on his was aware of some droll distraction. He must speak on.

"My boys! as sure as this war begins it's going to last. There'll be lots of killing and dying, and I warn you now, your share'll be a double one. So, then, no indecent haste. Artillery can't fight every day. Cavalry can--in its small way, but you may have to wait months and months to get into a regular hell on earth. All the same you'll get there!--soon enough--times enough. Don't you know why, when we have to be recruited--to fill up the shot holes--they'll go by the cavalry to the infantry, and pick the best men there, and promote them to your ranks? It's because of how you've got to fight when your turn comes; like devils, to hold up, for all you may know, the butt end of the whole day's bloody business. That's why--and because of how you may have to wait, un-com-plain-ing, in rotting idleness for the next tea party."

Again he ceased. What was the matter? There sat his matchless hundred, still and straight as stone Egyptians, welcoming his every word; yet some influence not his was having effect and, strangest of all, was enhancing his.

"One more word," he said. "You're sick of the drill-ground. Well, the man that's spoiling for a fight and yet has no belly for drill--he--oh, he belongs to the cavalry by birth! We love these guns. We're mighty dogg--we're extremely proud of them. Through thick and thin, through fire and carnage and agony, remembering where we got them, we propose to keep them; and some proud day, when the trouble's all over, say two years hence, and those of us who are spared come home, we propose to come with these same guns unstained by the touch of a foe's hand, a virgin battery still. Well, only two things can win that: infernal fighting and perpetual toil. So, as you love honor and your country's cause, wait. Wait in self-respectful patience. Wait and work, and you shall be at the front--the foremost front!--the very first day and hour my best licks can get you there. That's all."

Bartleson advanced from the line: "By section!" he called, "right wheel--"

"Section," repeated each chief of section, "right wheel--"

"March!" commanded Bartleson.

"March," echoed the chiefs, and the battery broke into column. "Forward! Guide right!" chanted Bartleson, and all moved off save Kincaid.

He turned his horse, and lo! on the grassy crest of the earthwork, pictured out against the eastern pink and blue, their summer gauzes filled with the light of the declining sun, were half a dozen smiling ladies attended by two or three officers of cavalry, and among them Flora, Constance, and Miranda.

Anna? Only when he had dismounted did his eager eye find her, where she had climbed and seated herself on a siege gun and was letting a cavalier show her how hard it would be for a hostile ship, even a swift steamer, to pass, up-stream, this crater of destruction, and ergo how impossible for a fleet--every ship a terror to its fellows the moment it was hurt--to run the gauntlet of Forts Jackson and St. Philip on a far worse stretch of raging current some eighty miles farther down the river.

Not for disbelief of the demonstration, but because of a general laugh around a tilt of words between Kincaid and the cavalry fellows, Anna lighted down and faced about, to find him, for the third time in five days, at close range. With much form he drew nearer, a bright assurance in his eyes, a sort of boyish yes, for a moment, but the next moment gone as it met in hers a womanly no.

"You little artist," thought Flora.

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