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   Chapter 71 SOLDIERS OF PEACE

Kincaid's Battery By George Washington Cable Characters: 14579

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:03


In March, 'Sixty-five, the Confederacy lay dying. While yet in Virginia and the Carolinas, at Mobile and elsewhere her armies daily, nightly strove on, bled on, a stricken quiet and great languor had come over her, a quiet with which the quiet ending of this tale is only in reverent keeping.

On Mobile's eastern side Spanish Fort and Fort Blakely, her last defenses, were fighting forty thousand besiegers. Kincaid's Battery was there, and there was heavy artillery, of course, but this time the "ladies' men"--still so called--had field-guns, though but three. They could barely man that number. One was a unit of the original six lost "for them, not by them," at Vicksburg, and lately recovered.

Would there were time for its story! The boys had been sent up the state to reinforce Forrest. Having one evening silenced an opposing battery, and stealing over in the night and bringing off its best gun, they had slept about "her" till dawn, but then had laughed, hurrahed, danced, and wept round her and fallen upon her black neck and kissed her big lips on finding her no other than their own old "Roaring Betsy." She might have had a gentler welcome had not her lads just learned that while they slept the "ladies' man" had arrived from Mobile with a bit of news glorious alike for him and them.

The same word reached New Orleans about the same date. Flora, returning from a call on Irby, brought it to her grandmother. In the middle of their sitting-room, with the worst done-for look yet, standing behind a frail chair whose back she gripped with both hands, she meditatively said--

"All privieuse statement' ab-out that court-martial on the 'vacuation of Ford Powell are prim-ature. It has, with highez' approval, acquit' every one concern' in it." She raised the light chair to the limit of her reach and brought it down on another with a force that shivered both. Madame rushed for a door, but--"Stay!" amiably said the maiden. "Pick up the pieces--for me--eh? I'll have to pick up the pieces of you some day--soon--I hope--mm?"

She took a book to a window seat, adding as she went, "Victorine. You've not heard ab-out that, neither? She's biccome an orphan. Hmm! Also--the little beggar!--she's--married. Yes. To Charles Valcour. My God! I wish I was a man."

"Leave the room!"

But these were closed incidents when those befell which two or three final pages linger to recount. The siege of Spanish Fort was the war's last great battle. From March twenty-sixth to April the eighth it was deadly, implacable; the defense hot, defiant, audacious. On the night of the eighth the fort's few hundred cannoneers spiked their heavy guns and, taking their light ones along, left it. They had fought fully aware that Richmond was already lost, and on the next day, a Sabbath, as Kincaid's Battery trundled through the town while forty thousand women and children--with the Callenders and little Steve--wept, its boys knew their own going meant Mobile had fallen, though they knew not that in that very hour the obscure name of Appomattox was being made forever great in history.

"I reached Meridian," writes their general, "refitted the ...field batteries and made ready to march across (country) and join General Joseph E. Johnston in Carolina. The tidings of Lee's surrender soon came.... But ...the little army of Mobile remained steadfastly together, and in perfect order and discipline awaited the final issue of events."

It was while they so waited that Kincaid's Battery learned of the destruction, by fire, of Callender House, but took comfort in agreeing that now, at last, come or fail what might, the three sweetest women that ever lived would live up-town.

One lovely May morning a Federal despatch-boat--yes, the one we know--sped down Mobile Bay with many gray-uniformed men aboard, mostly of the ranks and unaccoutred, but some of them officers still belted for their unsurrendered swords. Many lads showed the red artillery trim and wore jauntily on their battered caps K.B. separated by crossed cannon. "Roaring Betsy" had howled her last forever. Her sergeant, Valcour, was there, with his small fond bride, both equally unruffled by any misgiving that they would not pull through this still inviting world happily.

Mandeville was present, his gilt braid a trifle more gilt than any one else's. Constance and little Steve--who later became president of the Cotton Exchange--were with him. Also Miranda. Out forward yonder on the upper deck, beside tall Hilary Kincaid, stood Anna. Greenleaf eyed them from the pilot-house, where he had retired to withhold the awkward reminder inseparable from his blue livery. In Hilary's fingers was a writing which he and Anna had just read together. In reference to it he was saying that while the South had fallen to the bottom depths of poverty the North had been growing rich, and that New Orleans, for instance, was chock full of Yankees--oh, yes, I'm afraid that's what he called them--Yankees, with greenbacks in every pocket, eager to set up any gray soldier who knew how to make, be or do anything mutually profitable. Moved by Fred Greenleaf, who could furnish funds but preferred, himself, never to be anything but a soldier, the enterprising husband of the once deported but now ever so happily married schoolmistress who--

"Yes, I know," said Anna--

Well, for a trifle, at its confiscation sale, this man had bought Kincaid's Foundry, which now stood waiting for Hilary to manage, control and in the end recover to his exclusive ownership on the way to larger things. What gave the subject an intense tenderness of unsordid interest was that it meant for the pair--what so many thousands of paroled heroes and the women they loved and who loved them were hourly finding out--that they were not such beggars, after all, but they might even there and then name their wedding day, which then and there they named.

"Let Adolphe and Flora keep the old estate and be as happy on it, and in it, as Heaven will let them; they've got each other to be happy with. The world still wants cotton, and if they'll stand for the old South's cotton we'll stand for a new South and iron; iron and a new South, Nan, my Nannie; a new and better South and even a new and better New Orl--see where we are! Right yonder the Tennessee--"

"Yes," interrupted Anna, "let's put that behind us--henceforth, as the boat is doing now."

The steamer turned westward into Grant's Pass. To southward lay Morgan and Gaines, floating the ensign of a saved Union. Close here on the right lay the ruins of Fort Powell. From the lower deck the boys, pressing to the starboard guards to see, singly or in pairs smiled up to Hilary's smile. Among them was Sam Gibbs, secretly bearing home the battery's colors wrapped round him next his scarred and cross-scarred body. And so, farewell Mobile. Hour by hour through the beautiful blue day, island after island, darkling green or glistering white, rose into view, drifted by between the steamer and the blue Gulf and sunk into the deep; Petit Bois, Horn Island, Ship Island, Cat Island. Now past Round Island, up Lake Borgne and through the Rigolets they swept into Pontchartrain, and near the day's close saw the tide-low, sombre but blessed shore beyond which a scant

half-hour's railway ride lay the city they called home.

Across the waters westward, where the lake's margin, black-rimmed with cypresses, lapsed into a watery horizon, and the sun was going down in melancholy splendor, ran unseen that northbound railway by which four years earlier they had set off for the war with ranks full and stately, with music in the air and with thousands waving them on. Now not a note, not a drum-tap, not a boast nor a jest illumined their return. In the last quarter-hour aboard, when every one was on the lower deck about the forward gangway, Hilary and Anna, having chanced to step up upon a coil of rope, found it easier, in the unconscious press, to stay there than to move on, and in keeping with his long habit as a leader he fell into a lively talk with those nearest him,--Sam and Charlie close in front, Bartleson and Mandeville just at his back,--to lighten the general heaviness. At every word his listeners multiplied, and presently, in a quiet but insistent tone, came calls for a "speech" and the "ladies' man."

"No," he gaily replied, "oh, no, boys!" But his words went on and became something much like what they craved. As he ceased came the silent, ungreeted landing. Promptly followed the dingy train's short run up the shore of the New Canal, and then its stop athwart St. Charles Street, under no roof, amid no throng, without one huzza or cry of welcome, and the prompt dispersal of the outwardly burdenless wanderers, in small knots afoot, up-town, down-town, many of them trying to say over again those last words from the chief hero of their four years' trial by fire. The effort was but effort, no full text has come down; but their drift seems to have been that, though disarmed, unliveried, and disbanded, they could remain true soldiers: That the perfect soldier loves peace, loathes war: That no man can be such who cannot, whether alone or among thousands of his fellows, strive, suffer and wait with magnanimous patience, stake life and fortune, and, in extremity, fight like a whirlwind, for the victories of peace: That every setting sun will rise again if it is a true sun: That good-night was not good-by: and that, as for their old nickname, no one can ever be a whole true ladies' man whose aim is not at some title far above and beyond it--which last he said not of himself, but in behalf and by request of the mother of the guns they had gone out with and of the furled but unsullied banner they had brought home.

THE END.

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CHARLES SCRIBNER'S SONS, Publishers 153-157 FIFTH AVENUE, NEW YORK

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