I MARRIED A SOLDIER (Part 1)

I MARRIED A SOLDIER

OR

OLD DAYS IN THE OLD ARMY

BY
LYDIA SPENCER LANE

AUGUST 18, 1892

 

 

PHILADELPHIA
J. B. LIPPINCOTT COMPANY
 

About This Book

This book, “I Married a Soldier: Old Days in the Old Army” by Lydia Spencer Lane, provides a vivid account of Spencer Lane’s experiences as an army wife in the mid-19th century. Lane recounts her journey and life with her husband, Lieutenant William B. Lane, offering insights into the challenges and adventures of military life during that era. The narrative includes personal anecdotes, descriptions of various army posts, interactions with notable military figures, and the day-to-day realities of frontier life, reflecting the hardships and camaraderie of the old army days.

PREFACE

In sending forth this account of incidents in my army life, I claim for it no literary merit; I have simply given facts without any attempt to elaborate them.

First intended for my children and grandchildren, I afterwards thought this narrative might be acceptable to Army friends, and to many of a younger generation who are interested in the old Army.

To the former the scenes described may awaken long-forgotten experiences in their own lives ; to the latter it will carry the conviction that they will never be called upon to endure what we did.

Today there is no “frontier;” the wilderness blossoms as the rose; our old deadly enemy, the Indian, is educated, clothed, and almost in his right mind; railroads run hither and yon, and the great trains of army wagons and ambulances are things of the past, whatever civilization may follow.

The hardy, adventurous element in those early pioneer days will ever possess an interest of its own, and I venture to hope that the record of my own experiences will contribute somewhat to the history of those heroic times. “AND so they were married,” and this is how the marriage notice read “In Carlisle, Pennsylvania, May 18, by the Reverend Merwin Johnson, Lieutenant William B. Lane, U.S. Mounted Rifles, and Lydia Spencer, youngest daughter of the late Major George Blaney, U.S. Engineer Corps” (or words to that effect).

The ceremony was short, the marriage feast not elaborate, and after it was over, the farewells spoken amid hearty good wishes for our future happiness, we started for Jefferson Barracks, Missouri, where Lieutenant Lane was to be stationed.

Major Charles Ruff, Mounted Rifles.

Traveling at that time was not as rapid as it is now, and several days passed before we reached the end of our journey; but it was over at last, and, until our quarters were ready (two rooms), we were kindly entertained by Major and Mrs. Charles Ruff, Mounted Rifles. Our housekeeping was on the smallest scale, as we were to remain but a short time at Jefferson Barracks. We messed with the young officers.

It was a sad and anxious summer for us all. Cholera was epi­demic, and scarcely a day passed that we did not hear the solemn notes ·or the” Dead March.” Often there were two or three funerals in the twenty-four hours.

The victims were principally among the soldiers. Only two of our friends died: the wife of the late Dr.]. B. Wright, U.S.A., being one of them, and the other, Lieutenant Ferdinand Paine, who was ill for a few hours. He had gone on as officer of the day, in the morning; at midnight he was dead.

Lieutenant Paine had an Indian boy with him, whom he had brought from Oregon. The boy was extremely ill with cholera, and Mr. Paine nursed him faithfully, which, possibly, was the cause of his own illness and death. It required more than a collapsed case of cholera, it seemed, to kill a Digger Indian. He recovered; his master died.

The boy was learning to wait on the table, at the mess. One morning, when he handed me a plate of cakes, I asked if they were hot. He took the shortest way to find out, by laying his hand on top of the pile! ”Yes, sir,” he said; but I did not take any cakes that morning.

Major General Hancock. Winfield Scott Hancock, graduated from West Point in 1844, where he stared his four-decade military career as a brevet second lieutenant in the Mexican-American War followed by service as a captain during the very end of the Third Seminole War, as well as a number of peacetime assignments.

Major General Hancock and his wife were at Jefferson Barracks that summer. He had just been appointed captain in the Quarter­ master’s Department. •I did not meet him again until after the war, and was much surprised and pleased to find he remembered me; his memory was better than that of some of our old army acquaintances; after they had risen in the world, they” forgot the days of small things.”

After a stay of three months at Jefferson Barracks, we packed up our very few worldly possessions and left for the East, making a side trip to Kentucky, en route to visit our Southern relatives, and where I knew I would see many things I never saw before; and I did different manners and customs, different people, from any I had ever known. How kind and hospitable they all were; how they wanted to entertain us, and give us all they had! Some old family servants walked miles to see ” Massa Will’s young wife.”

We went directly to Carlisle, Pennsylvania, from Kentucky, to await the return of cool weather, when we were to join the regiment, then stationed in Texas. It was unsafe to go South before there was sufficient frost to destroy the germs of yellow fever; but we went too early, after all.

About the middle of October orders were received for Lieutenant Lane to accompany a large party of officers and recruits, going to Texas. So we set off immediately for New York, and joined the command on board the good ship ” Middlesex,” Captain Parmelee.

When I was hoisted up on deck, I found, among other friends, General Sylvester Churchill, who was making an inspection of the ship and troops. The first thing I did was to rush at him, and he ran to me, gathered me up in his arms, and kissed me. When Lieutenant Lane appeared, he was very astonished to see what was going on; though the dear old man had known me always, he had never seen Lieutenant Lane. Explanations followed, introductions were made, and peace in the family was restored.

Sidney Burbank (October 1807 – December 7, 1882) served as an officer in the regular army before and during the American Civil War. For a time he led a brigade in the Army of the Potomac.

The ship proved to be an enormous sailing vessel, with ample accommodations for three hundred and sixty recruits, some having wives and children,­ besides several officers and their families. Among the officers were Colonel Sidney Burbank, Captain Ricketts, Zenas R. Bliss, not long out of West Point, I think, Dr. Albert Myer, who was afterwards chief signal officer of the army, Lieutenant Lane and myself, and possibly others whom I have forgotten.

We sailed away bravely from New York, but one by one we left the deck, so roughly did old Neptune treat us. Most of us were lost to view before the land was out of sight. It was Saturday when we hoisted sail, and not until the following Thursday did I again appear at table; the weather was rough and stormy, and-well, we had not much appetite. I found things in our stateroom in dreadful confusion when I was well enough to look after our belongings.

A huge bundle of Bibles had been stored under the lower berth, for what purpose I never knew, unless for distribution among the Texas heatlien. My traveling-bag and a large bottle of wonderful hair-tonic were there, too, besides a quantity of candy for the voyage, and various other articles. Imagine all these things mixed together in a mass cork out of the bottle, candy melted by the contents of it, and the soft, sticky stuff spread over everything. The Bibles had broken bounds and were in the thickest of it. With the assistance of the stewardess the debris was soon cleared away, and order restored.

II

Albert James Myer (September 20, 1828 – August 24, 1880) was a surgeon and United States Army general. He is known as the father of the U.S. Army Signal Corps, as its first chief signal officer just prior to the American Civil War, the inventor of wig-wag signaling (or aerial telegraphy), and also as the father of the U.S. Weather Bureau.

The days on board ship were often tedious, especially along the Florida coast, where we were be­ calmed for some days, and the heat was very great. The big ship lay almost helpless on the quiet waters, only rising and falling with the ocean swell, but no headway was made. We had become well acquainted with our traveling companions by that time, and we, with Dr. Myer and Mr. Bliss, being the youngest of the party, naturally drew close together; hours we passed talking of home and our future, forming a friendship which we thought would be life-long; but Zenas R. Bliss I have never seen since, and Dr. Myer became a great man, and forgot us, I suppose. I still have a small sketch of Hole-in-the-wall, on Abaco Island, drawn for me by Dr. Myer. f\s well as we could see from the ship, there was an immense hole in a rock, through which the water dashed with great violence. We also saw numbers of enormous green turtles, sunning themselves on the beach of the small islands in our course.

Looking over the side of the vessel, I noticed masses of what I took to be rock, and was much alarmed, expecting the ship would be dashed to pieces; but my fears were allayed when told it was only sponge that I saw in the clear, green water. The monotony of the voyage was broken occasionally by the appearance of numerous little boats from the islands nearby, manned by the natives, who had fruit, shells, and various curiosities for sale, and which they urged us to buy. We did invest in some very large seashells, never dreaming they were inhabited. A few days after we bought them a dreadful odor came from the shells, and there was a burial at sea immediately. The occupant, deprived of his native element, died within his dainty pink walls, and was returned, though too late to benefit him, to the briny deep

.

But one death occurred on board the ship, and it was a soldier’s child, almost a baby, that was taken. Everyone was present on deck when the short funeral services were read over the little body, which had been securely wrapped in canvas and heavily weighted, that it might sink instantly when consigned to the watery grave.

When all was ready, the remains were placed on a board, which was gradually slanted until the little white bundle slowly and surely approached the end of it. Finally, with a dull splash, all that was mortal of the poor baby disappeared in the quiet waters and was seen no more. The mother’s agony was heart­ rending, as she saw the ocean close over her darling, leaving no trace behind.

We had been out from New York for two weeks when we sighted the coast of Texas, but, as the weather was dark and tempestuous, the captain put back to sea, and it was several days before we again reached Aransas Pass. Arriving there, we left the big ship which had carried us safely through the troubled waters.

We were sorry to part with Captain Par­ melee, who had done everything possible to make the voyage agreeable and comfortable. From the ship we were transferred to the “Josephine,” an old steamboat well known to army people long ago. Before leaving ” Middlesex,” the captain gave me a St. Bernard puppy of almost pure breed, the mother and her litter coming with us on the ship from New York. He was a beauty,-jet black, with a white star on his forehead,-and we named him Parmelee, which we shortened, calling him Lee.

Our voyage on the “Josephine “was not a long one, which we did not regret. While walking about the boat and looking around, I noticed, on the lower deck, a very coiled and speckled mass that attracted my attention immediately. I called the captain, and pointed it out, asking what it was. His answer was a cry of horror, and he yelled for “Tom, Jim, John, to come out with spades, axes, shovels, to kill that moccasin.” It was one of the most poisonous snakes in that region, and its presence there was unaccountable.

From the “Josephine,” we were taken on to a “lighter,”-a small schooner, I would call it, which was to carry us to Corpus-Christi. There was only room on it for a few of the officers, Colonel Burbank and family, Lieutenant Lane and myself. Other transportation was provided for the soldiers, baggage, etc.

We passed the night oh the” lighter.” I cannot say we slept. The accommodations were of the most contracted description, there being scarcely room to stand upright in the hold, where Mrs. Burbank, children, nurse, and myself were stowed away. We improved our time fighting roaches and other things, down below, while the officers spent the night on deck. We made the best of the situation, and had a very funny time, astonishing our friends above us with many hearty laughs. They wondered what we found down in the depths to amuse us so much. Our breakfast next morning was not luxurious, bread, very good, without butter, fried bacon, and coffee, but no milk. We were hungry and accepted the simple fare most thankfully.

We were to reach Corpus Christi about noon that day. By some means we heard, before we landed, that people were dying on every side from yellow fever. There had been no frost up to that time in Texas. Notwithstanding, the troops were sent down from the North, regardless of the risk they ran, right into the midst of the epidemic then raging, and with a fair prospect of dying by hundreds from it.

It was dreadful news to us, as there was no escape, no running away from it, nothing to do but land, take the risk, and trust in Providence. However, I had “gone for a soldier,” and a soldier I was determined to be.

We found our camp ready for us, right on the beach, at Corpus Christians pitched for officers and men. They were selected according to rank. By the time the young officers’ turn came to secure one, it was Robson’s choice, take what was left, or nothing. I heard, afterwards, a wall-tent had been pitched and floored for us especially; but we only saw the outside of it. An unmarried officer, who had more rank than Lieutenant Lane, and an eye to comfort, appropriated it immediately.

We were put into a large hospital-tent, with an opening at each end,which could be closed when necessary. We had no board-floor in it, and only the sands of the sea for carpeting. I went into the tent with a heavy heart, for I expected nothing less than an outbreak of yellow fever in the camp. Indeed, the situation was grave enough to alarm anyone; but the very first night we spent ashore a violent norther struck the coast, and the weather became very cold. A heavy frost was the result, and not another case of fever was reported in the town; but many of those then died, in consequence of the sudden change in the temperature.

We were very happy, of course, having escaped the awful disease, and began cheerfully to make preparations for the march we had before us to Fort Inge, Texas, to which post Lieutenant Lane had been assigned.

One night, during the norther, the wind blew a hurricane, and our tent was torn open at both ends. Between the pounding of the waves on the beach, the shrieking of the wind, and the flapping of the canvas, the noise was fearful; and I expected to be blown bodily out to sea. With the assistance of some soldiers, after a violent struggle, the tent was made secure, and we managed to live in our uncomfortable quarters until we left Corpus Christi.

III

WE had an Irishman, who had gone with us from Carlisle; very honest and good, though entirely green as to any knowledge of cooking; but really not much more so than I was, in those early days, and I was to teach him what I did not know myself! We went to work together, to cook the meals, which, necessarily, were of the simplest description.

I knew how things ought to look and taste but did not understand just how to prepare them. For a time, I believe, we were obliged to eat soldiers’ rations, only hard tack, fried salt pork, and coffee without milk, and I honestly tried to enjoy them, set out as they were on top of the mess-chest. An empty candle-box and a bucket turned upside down, served as seats round this humble board, until we could get into the village, to make a few purchases of such articles as we needed to take up the country with us. We found in the shops what answered very well. for army life at that remote period; but a second lieutenant nowadays would not consider our best things sufficiently good for his kitchen.

Transportation was very limited, and we were only allowed room enough for articles absolutely necessary. The bachelor officers often came to the relief of married Mert, giving up the space in a wagon to

which they were entitled for their use, so that we generally found a place f r all we wanted to carry.

Those were the days before railroads were even dreamed of in that far-away country. Everything was carried from the coast of Texas in wagons drawn by mules or oxen. Strangers arriving at Galveston, Indianola, or Corpus Christi had not much choice in the matter of conveyance for continuing their journey into the interior of the country. An ambulance, a horse, or a mule made up the assortment, and if he could not decide on one of these modes of travel, he must walk, or stay where he was. Some of those obliged to remain would almost have been willing to walk, for the sake of getting away from those little towns, as they were then.

All preparations were at last made for our march, the orders given to pack wagons and strike tents. An ambulance was provided for the ladies and children, only one, where, I was sorry to find, I was to ride daily. Many a weary hour passed in it, with only space enough to sit bolt upright, when I was not diving under the seat for the family lunch­ box, which was brought out six or eight times a day for the children. The mother and nurse were stout, and it was a serious matter for either to get down on the floor and drag out the box. I was young and slender and was not supposed to have any objection to jumping up and down, whenever the children said they were hungry. I did object, but behaved very well, and tried to look amiable.

We traveled from Corpus Christi to the western frontier through a dreary, desolate country, where nothing lived but Indians, snakes, and other venomous reptiles, and I expected to see some dreadful thing whichever way I turned. I never went to bed without making a thorough search for a snake, tarantula, or centipede; but in all the years I spent traveling and camping, I never saw a snake about the tents, and very few poisonous insects, either, so that, as time went on, and I did not find the thing for which I watched, I grew careless, but not on that first expedition, where all was so new to me.

By the time we left Corpus Christi the St. Bernard puppy was growing fast, and, of course, with his cunning ways, was a great pet with everybody. He was put into our wagon, on leaving camp, where there was someone to look after him. But one day the Watchman went to sleep, and our poor puppy crawled out of the wagon, fell under the wheels, and was killed instantly. There ere great sorrow and indignation in the camp when it was known Lee was dead, and the soldiers who pitched our tents would not allow the man who had charge of him to come about the place. I cried all day for my puppy, and never would have another.

Mike, the Irishman, and I were beginning to know something about cooking by this time. The viands were of the plainest. We did not attempt any dish that required much skill to prepare. As we had nothing in the way of bread but hard-tack, we learned to make biscuits. Our first effort was a failure, spoiled in the baking. We had only a “Dutch oven” in which to cook bread or meat, and experience was absolutely necessary to know just how hot to make it. Mike burned the first batch to a coal, turned it over, and baked the other side. Nothing daunted, I kept on until, between us, we could make the most excellent pounded biscuit.

After the camp was in order for the evening, and supper was over, Mike carefully washed off the top of the mess-chest inside, and I made biscuits for the next day. When the dough was prepared, I pounded it well with a long-necked bottle, the neck serving as a handle, which answered the purpose very well.

Often, while the bread-making was going on, we were joined round the campfire by Dr. Myer and Mr. Bliss, and many a hot biscuit they ate, with molasses, from a tin plate. Judging from the rapidity with which the biscuits disappeared, they must have been very good, indeed. I wonder if Colonel Bliss (it is now) would remember those evenings beside the campfire?

Many years later, I met General Myer in Washington, and discovered, for a few moments, how very short his memory was. I brought up some incidents of the journey, such things that no one would likely forget. I asked if he recollected how he and Mr. Bliss ate hot biscuits and molasses. His reply was that he ” remembered the march, but not the biscuit and molasses.” Poor man! He is dead now.

We traveled along very slowly, but, to most of us, it was a new experience, and not at all unpleasant.

We were glad when we approached Fort McIntosh, Texas, for several officers of the Mounted Rifles were stationed there, and we were sure of a hearty welcome and hospitable entertainment. The day we were expected at the post, several of the officers rode out to meet us, W. L. Elliott and Roger Jones among them, and greeted us warmly. We were driven at once to the house of the commanding officer, W. W. Loring, colonel Mounted Rifles.

Captain W. L. Elliott (afterwards major-general) and Lieutenant Roger Jones (afterwards inspector­ general of the army) messed with Colonel Loring, and we enjoyed our few days’ visit to them very much. I was treated with great consideration, being the youngest and latest bride in the regiment. The change from camp life and camp fare was extremely pleasant to us, and we would have liked to remain longer than we did. It would also have been acceptable to our friends, I think, to have us with them. It was seldom that anyone came to their isolated post. No one traveled in that direction for amusement in those days. Nothing but stern necessity and duty took people to such a desolate place, so, when strangers did arrive, they were kindly welcomed and entertained.

IV

I WAS much pleased when our kind friends at Fort McIntosh told me that, when we left, I should have an ambulance for myself; so I was perfectly independent in future, and had all the room I wanted. They did not forget, either, to put into it many tokens of remembrance, such as luncheon, champagne, books, etc. We said good-by with much regret, when the day came to leave, everybody had been so hospitable and kind, not only to us, but to all the officers in the party.

The march was resumed in the same deliberate way; the soldiers were on foot, and we had to keep pace with them; hours and hours we were, making the daily distance of ten or fifteen miles between camps. We halted frequently to rest the men and mules, a d then the ladies and children would gladly get out of the ambulances, and perhaps walk along the road for a change; but we dared not get away from the command. It was certain the Indians were never far off, and we kept very close to the soldiers.

In due course of time, we reached Fort Duncan, on the Rio Grande. It was a wretched place to live in, and I am sure some of our companions who were to remain there looked on their future station with sinking hearts when they saw it for the first time.

Lieutenant R. W. Johnson took charge of us, and had a tent pitched for our use in his yard, not having a spare room in their house. We took our meals with them, which was a real treat. He and Mrs. Johnson made us very comfortable for two or three days before we started for our own station, Fort Inge.

R. W. Johnson is now retired as major-general U. S. Army, and is a wealthy resident of St. Paul, Minnesota. I met him quite recently, and he had not forgotten our visit to Fort Duncan, so long ago. One of the officers stationed at Fort Duncan at that time was Abner Doubleday; his wife was with him, a pretty, refined woman, and she was more afraid of a mouse than anything in the world. I remember she had a frame fixed all around her bed and covered with netting to keep them out. She did not seem to dread snakes at all, nothing but an awful mouse!

All those with whom we had traveled from “the States” remained at Fort Duncan, to their regret. We parted from our friends sorrowfully, and with an escort of soldiers left for Fort Inge.

During the first day’s travel we came across a camp, where we found some old friends and dined with them. They were Captain and Mrs. McLean; she was Margaret, daughter of General E. V. Sumner, U. S. Army. They were comfortably fixed in tents, and seemed satisfied.

Quite a curious thing had happened to her, just before we met. The tents had shelters made of branches of trees (or bushes), to keep off the sun, built over and around them, which extended out like a porch, making a pleasant shade. Mrs. McLean was sitting sewing one day, with her back to the shelter, and as she drew out her needle her hand came close to the brush, when a snake darted out and bit it. Naturally, they were very alarmed; but the proper remedies were applied at once, and no bad results followed. She sat farther away next time.

We spent three or four days, if I am not mistaken, going from Fort Duncan to Fort Inge, and were glad to reach the place, forlorn as it was. The post was dilapidated; .but the surroundings were far more agreeable than at either Fort McIntosh or Fort Duncan. A beautiful little river, the Leona, ran just behind the quarters, which were built of logs, and almost ready to tumble down. We moved into a vacant house of four rooms; the kitchen was behind it, and was in an advanced stage of decay. A high wind might easily have blown it over.

Our supply of furniture was not sufficient even for four rooms. We had taken out with us two carpets, and enough pretty chintz for curtains in two rooms; six hard (so hard!) wooden chairs, bought in Corpus Christi, and called “Windsor chairs,”-why, I don’t know,-a bedstead, center-table, a cooking-stove, which. was about the most valuable and highly prized of all our possessions, and a few other articles of the plainest description. We were well provided with good china, glass, house-linen, and silver. We had all we wanted, and were very happy.

The pay per month for a first lieutenant of Mounted Rifles was ninety-three dollars, vast wealth, it seemed to me. More would have been useless, for there was nothing to buy, -no stores nearer than San Antonio,-so that the commissary bill was the only one we owed monthly, except servants’ wages and one to the laundress, and we saved money. The commissary furnished only necessary articles of food at that time, such as, coffee, flour, sugar, rice, ham, and pork, which list of eatables did not offer much to tempt the appetite; the day of canned meats, vegetables, and fruits was not yet.

Butter, eggs, and chickens were brought to the post sometimes from the ranches, eighteen or twenty miles away, the owners running the risk of being murdered by the Indians every trip they made.

Game was very abundant, and almost at our door; deer, turkeys, partridges, and ducks could be found right round the post, while the lovely clear stream that ran just back of the house was filled with magnificent black bass, which were easily caught.

Behind the quarters, and extending to the river, was a grove of fine old live-oak trees, and many an hour we passed fishing under their shade, I for minnows to bait the hooks for bass; and in a few minutes I caught enough to supply the fishermen, who only condescended to catch the game fish in a scientific manner, with rod and reel. Fine sport they had, the bass taken often weighing six and eight pounds.

We became very tired of all the fine game, and would have welcomed a good beef-steak as a luxury. There were so few soldiers at the post that beef was issued only once or twice a month, and was really a treat.

It was fortunate for us there was such a supply of games, for, almost from the day we began housekeeping, we had guests to entertain,-people passing from one post to another,-and we had more than our share of them. When meat was not to be had, an hour’s fishing and hunting gave us all we required. We had no vegetables except rice, hominy, and beans. Macaroni was a stand-by, but we had to send it to San Antonio for it.

Mike, with the help of my old family receipts, had become quite a good plain cook, and was kept busy with our numerous guests. The first one on the list was a Texas Ranger, Captain Walker. I suppose he was a militia-man, employed by the government to look after Indians on the Western frontier.

Our little center table was the only one we had, and did not answer very well for three people to sit at and hold the various dishes at dinner; some rested on the floor, others on chairs, but this did not have the least effect on the captain’s healthy appetite. It was all we could do, so•we did not apologize.

We became very weary of entertaining people of whom we knew nothing; but there was no hotel·nor house of any kind where they could go, so the officers felt themselves obliged to look after their comfort and take them in.

I remember one very cold night, at Fort Inge, we heard the rattle of an ambulance coming into the garrison, then stopping at our house. First an elderly woman stepped out, then a fat man, followed by two young men. As no one came forward to help us entertain these citizens, we had to do the best we could for them. We were only able to provide a bed for the old couple, and the young men slept in the ambulance.

Our supply of bedding was very limited, outside of what we needed for ourselves. Our only mattress, pillows, and blankets were laid on the parlor floor for the lady and her husband, while we shivered all night on a straw under-bed and such miscellaneous covers as we could gather up. We gave our visitors all we had, but I do not think they ever felt grateful for what we did. They almost ruined our best carpet, during their stay, by spilling something on it, and trying to wash out the stain. We never saw them after they left, and did not remember their enforced visit with much pleasure. We had the honor,· that winter, of entertaining a young German baron. He certainly did not return to the Fatherland with the idea that the officers of the. The United States Army lived very-luxuriously, after staying at our quarters and dining at our frugal board.

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