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   Chapter 31 VIRGINIA GIRLS AND LOUISIANA BOYS

Kincaid's Battery By George Washington Cable Characters: 6803

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:03


Thanks are due to Mr. Richard Thorndyke Smith for the loan of his copy of a slender and now extremely rare work which at this moment lies before me. "A History of Kincaid's Battery," it is called, "From Its Origin to the Present Day," although it runs only to February, '62, and was printed (so well printed, on such flimsy, coarse paper) just before the dreadful days of Shiloh and the fall of New Orleans.

Let us never paint war too fair; but this small volume tells of little beyond the gold-laced year of 'Sixty-one, nor of much beyond Virginia, even over whose later war-years the color effects of reminiscence show blue and green and sun-lit despite all the scarlet of carnage, the black and crimson of burning, and the grim hues of sickness, squalor, and semi-starvation; show green and blue in the sunlight of victory, contrasted with those of the states west and south of her.

It tells--this book compiled largely from correspondence of persons well known to you and me--of the first "eight-days' crawl" that conveyed the chaffing, chafing command up through Mississippi, across East Tennessee into southeast Virginia and so on through Lynchburg to lovely Richmond; tells how never a house was passed in town or country but handkerchiefs, neckerchiefs, snatched-off sunbonnets, and Confederate flags wafted them on. It tells of the uncounted railway stations where swarmed the girls in white muslin aprons and red-white-and-red bows, who waved them, in as they came, and unconsciously squinted and made faces at them in the intense sunlight. It tells how the maidens gave them dainties and sweet glances, and boutonnières of tuberoses and violets, and bloodthirsty adjurations, and blarney for blarney; gave them seven wild well-believed rumors for as many impromptu canards, and in their soft plantation drawl asked which was the one paramount "ladies' man," and were assured by every lad of the hundred that it was himself. It tells how, having heard in advance that the more authentic one was black-haired, handsome, and overtowering, they singled out the drum-major, were set right only by the roaring laughter, and huddled backward like caged quails from Kincaid's brazen smile, yet waved again as the train finally jogged on with the band playing from the roof of the rear car,--

"I'd offer thee this hand of mine

If I could love thee less!"

To Anna that part seemed not so killingly funny or so very interesting, but she was not one of the book's editors.

Two or three pages told of a week in camp just outside the Virginian capital, where by day, by night, on its rocky bed sang James river; of the business quarter, noisy with army wagons--"rattling o'er the stony street," says the page; of colonels, generals, and statesmen by name--Hampton, Wigfall, the fiery Toombs, the knightly Lee, the wise Lamar; of such and such headquarters, of sentinelled warehouses, glowing ironworks, galloping aides-de-camp and couriers and arriving and departing columns, some as trig (almost) as Kincaid's Battery, with their black servants following in grotesque herds along the sidewalks; and some rudely accoutred, shaggy, staring, dust-begrimed, in baggy butternut jeans, bearing flint-lock muskets and trudging round-shouldered after fifes and drums that squealed and boomed out the strains of their forgotten ancestors: "The Campbells are coming," "Johnnie was a piper's son,"

or--

"My heart is ever turning back

To the girl I left behind me."

"You should have seen the girls," laughs the book.

But there were girls not of the mountains or sand-hills, whom also you should have seen, at battery manoeuvres or in the tulip-tree and maple shade of proud Franklin street, or in its rose-embowered homes by night; girls whom few could dance with, or even sit long beside in the honeysuckle vines of their porticos, without risk of acute heart trouble, testifies the callow volume. They treated every lad in the battery like a lieutenant, and the "ladies' man" like a king. You should have seen him waltz them or in quadrille or cotillon swing, balance, and change them, their eyes brightening and feet quickening whenever the tune became--

"Ole mahs' love' wine, ole mis' love' silk,

De piggies, dey loves buttehmilk."

Great week! tarheel camp-sentries and sand-hill street-patrols mistaking the boys for officers, saluting as they passed and always getting an officer's salute in return! Hilary seen every day with men high and mighty, who were as quick as the girls to make merry with him, yet always in their merriment seeming, he and they alike, exceptionally upright, downright, heartright, and busy. It kept the boys straight and strong.

Close after came a month or so on the Yorktown peninsula with that master of strategic ruse, Magruder, but solely in the dreariest hardships of war, minus all the grander sorts that yield glory; rains, bad food, ill-chosen camps, freshets, terrible roads, horses sick and raw-boned, chills, jaundice, emaciation, barely an occasional bang at the enemy on reconnoissances and picketings, and marches and countermarches through blistering noons and skyless nights, with men, teams, and guns trying to see which could stagger the worst, along with columns of infantry mutinously weary of forever fortifying and never fighting. Which things the book bravely makes light of, Hilary maintaining that the battery boys had a spirit to bear them better than most commands did, and the boys reporting--not to boast the special kindness everywhere of ladies for ladies' men--that Hilary himself, oftenest by sunny, but sometimes by cyclonic, treatment of commissaries, quartermasters, surgeons, and citizens, made their burdens trivial.

So we, too, lightly pass them. After all, the things most important here are matters not military of which the book does not tell. Of such Victorine, assistant editor to Miranda, learned richly from Anna--who merely lent letters--without Anna knowing it. Yet Flora drew little from Victorine, who was as Latin as Flora, truly loved Anna, and through Charlie was a better reader of Flora's Latin than he or Flora or any one suspected.

For a moment more, however, let us stay with the chronicle. At last, when all was suffered, the infuriated boys missed Ben Butler and Big Bethel! One day soon after that engagement, returning through Richmond in new uniforms--of a sort--with scoured faces, undusty locks, full ranks, fresh horses, new harness and shining pieces, and with every gun-carriage, limber, and caisson freshly painted, they told their wrath to Franklin street girls while drinking their dippers of water. Also--"Good-by!--

"'I'd offer thee this hand of mine--'"

They were bound northward to join their own Creole Beauregard at a railway junction called--.

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