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Kincaid's Battery By George Washington Cable Characters: 9790

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:03

Black was that Friday for the daughters of Dixie. Farragut demanded surrender, Lovell declined. The mayor, the council, the Committee of Public Safety declined.

On Saturday the two sides parleyed while Lovell withdrew his forces. On Sunday the Foreign Legion preserved order of a sort highly displeasing to "a plain sailor," as Farragut, on the Hartford, called himself, and to all the plain sailors of his fleet--who by that time may have been hard to please. On Monday the "plain sailor" bade the mayor, who had once been a plain stevedore, remove the city's women and children within forty-eight hours. But on Tuesday, in wiser mood, he sent his own blue-jackets, cutlasses, muskets and hand-dragged howitzers, lowered the red-and-yellow-striped flag of one star and on mint and custom-house ran up the stars and stripes. Constance and Miranda, from their distant roof, saw the emblem soar to the breeze, and persuaded Anna to an act which cost her as many hours as it need have taken minutes--the destruction of the diary. That was on the twenty-ninth of April.

Let us not get dates confused. "On the twenty-ninth of April," says Grant, "the troops were at Hard Times (Arkansas), and the fleet (another fleet), under Admiral Porter, made an attack upon Grand Gulf (Mississippi), while I reconnoitered." But that twenty-ninth was a year later, when New Orleans for three hundred and sixty-five separate soul-torturing days had been sitting in the twilight of her captivity, often writhing and raving in it, starved to madness for news of Lee's and Stonewall's victories and of her boys, her ragged, gaunt, superb, bleeding, dying, on-pressing boys, and getting only such dubious crumbs of rumor as could be smuggled in, or such tainted bad news as her captors delighted to offer her through the bars of a confiscated press. No? did the treatment she was getting merely--as Irby, with much truth, on that twenty-ninth remarked in a group about a headquarters camp-fire near Grand Gulf--did it merely seem so bad to poor New Orleans?

Oh, but!--as the dingy, lean-faced Hilary cried, springing from the ground where he lay and jerking his pipe from his teeth--was it not enough for a world's pity that to her it seemed so? How it seemed to the Callenders in particular was a point no one dared raise where he was. To them had come conditions so peculiarly distressing and isolating that they were not sharers of the common lot around them, but of one strangely, incalculably worse. Rarely and only in guarded tones were they spoken of now in Kincaid's Battery, lately arrived here, covered with the glory of their part in Bragg's autumn and winter campaign through Tennessee and Kentucky, and with Perryville, Murfreesboro' and Stone River added to the long list on their standard. Lately arrived, yes; but bringing with them as well as meeting here a word apparently so authentic and certainly so crushing, (as to those sweet Callenders), that no one ever let himself hint toward it in the hearing even of Charlie Valcour, much less of their battle-scarred, prison-wasted, march-worn, grief-torn, yet still bright-eyed, brave-stepping, brave-riding Major. Major of Kincaid's Battalion he was now, whose whole twelve brass pieces had that morning helped the big iron batteries fight Porter's gunboats.

"Finding Grand Gulf too strong," says Grant, "I moved the army below, running the batteries there as we had done at Vicksburg. Learning here that there was a good road from Bruinsburg up to Port Gibson" (both in Mississippi), "I determined to cross--"

How pleasantly familiar were those names in New Orleans. Alike commercially and socially they meant parterres, walks, bowers in her great back-garden. From the homes of the rich planters around the towns and landings so entitled, and from others all up and down the river from Natchez to Vicksburg and the Bends, hailed many a Carondelet Street nabob and came yearly those towering steamboat-loads--those floating cliffs--of cotton-bales that filled presses, ships and bank-boxes and bought her imports--plows, shoes, bagging, spices, silks and wines: came also their dashing sons and daughters, to share and heighten the splendors of her carnivals and lure away her beaux and belles to summer outings and their logical results. In all the region there was hardly a family with which some half-dozen of the battery were not acquainted, or even related.

"Home again, home again from a foreign shore,"

sang the whole eighty-odd, every ladies' man of them, around out-of-tune pianos with girls whose brothers were all away in Georgia and Virginia, some forever at rest, some about to fight Chancellorsville. Such a chorus was singing that night within ear-shot of the headquarters group when Ned Ferry, once of the battery, but transferred to Harper's cavalry, rode up and was led by Hilary to the commanding general to say

that Grant had crossed the river. Piano and song hushed as the bugles rang, and by daybreak all camps had vanished and the gray columns were hurrying, horse, foot, and wheels, down every southerly road to crush the invader.

At the head of one rode General Brodnax. Hearing Hilary among his staff he sent for him and began to speak of Mandeville, long gone to Richmond on some official matter and daily expected back; and then he mentioned "this fellow Grant," saying he had known him in Mexico. "And now," he concluded, "he's the toughest old he one they've got."

On the face of either kinsman there came a fine smile that really made them look alike. "We'll try our jaw-teeth on him to-morrow," laughed the nephew.

"Hilary, you weren't one of those singers last evening, were you?"

"Why, no, uncle, for once you'll be pleased--"

"Not by a dam-site!" The smile was gone. "You know, my boy, that in such a time as this if a leader--and above all such a capering, high-kicking colt as you--begins to mope and droop like a cab-horse in the rain, his men will soon not be worth a--what?... Oh, blast the others, when you do so you're moping, and whether your men can stand it or not, I can't!--what?... Well, then, for God's sake don't! For there's another point, Hilary: as long as you were every night a 'ladies' man' and every day a laugher at death you could take those boys through hell-fire at any call; but if they once get the notion--which you came mighty near giving them yesterday--that you hold their lives cheap merely because you're tired of your own, they'll soon make you wish you'd never set eyes on a certain friend of ours, worse than you or they or I have ever wished it yet."

"I've never wished it yet, uncle. I can't. I've never believed one breath of all we've heard. It's not true. It can't be, simply because it can't be."

"Then why do you behave as if it were?" "I won't, uncle. Honor bright! You watch me." And next day, in front of Port Gibson, through all the patter, smoke, and crash, through all the charging, cheering and volleying, while the ever-thinning, shortening gray lines were being crowded back from rise to rise--back, back through field, grove, hedge, worm-fence and farmyard, clear back to Grindstone Ford, Bayou Pierre, and with the cavalry, Harper's, cut off and driven up eastward through the town--the enraged old brigadier watched and saw. He saw far, saw close, with blasphemous exultation, how Hilary and his guns, called here, sent there, flashed, thundered, galloped, blazed, howled and held on with furious valor and bleeding tenacity yet always with a quick-sightedness which just avoided folly and ruin, and at length stood rock fast, honor bright, at North Fork and held it till, except the cavalry, the last gray column was over and the bridges safely burning.

That night Ned Ferry--of the cavalry withdrawn to the eastward uplands to protect that great source of supplies and its New Orleans and Jackson Railroad--was made a lieutenant, and a certain brave Charlotte, whom later he loved and won, bringing New Orleans letters to camp, brought also such news of the foe that before dawn, led by her, Ferry's Scouts rode their first ride. All day they rode, while the main armies lay with North Fork between them, the grays entrenching, the blues rebridging. When at sundown she and Ned Ferry parted, and at night he bivouacked his men for a brief rest in a black solitude from which the camp-fires of both hosts were in full sight and the enemy's bridge-building easily heard, he sought, uncompanioned, Kincaid's Battery and found Hilary Kincaid. War is what Sherman called it, who two or three days later, at Grand Gulf (evacuated), crossed into this very strife. Yet peace (so-called) and riches rarely bind men in such loving pairs as do cruel toil, deadly perils, common griefs, exile from woman and daily experience of one another's sweetness, valor, and strength, and it was for such things that this pair, loving so many besides, particularly loved each other.

With glad eyes Kincaid rose from a log.

"Major," began the handsome scout, dapper from képi to spurs in contrast to the worn visage and dress of his senior, but Hilary was already speaking.

"My gentle Ned!" he cried. "Lieutenant--Ferry!"

Amid kind greetings from Captain Bartleson and others the eyes of the two--Hilary's so mettlesome, Ferry's so placid--exchanged meanings, and the pair went and sat alone on the trail of a gun; on Roaring Betsy's knee, as it were. There Hilary heard of the strange fair guide and of news told by her which brought him to his feet with a cry of joy that drew the glad eyes of half the battery.

"The little mother saint of your flag, boys!" he explained to a knot of them later, "the little godmother of your guns!" The Callenders were out of New Orleans, banished as "registered enemies."

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