I MARRIED A SOLDIER (part 5)

The truth is, all army women, from the wife of the commanding general down to the wife of a second lieutenant, are treated with so much courtesy and politeness by army officers that they do not like any­ thing that has the least appearance of a slight or an infringement of their rights.  They never grow old in a garrison, and always receive attention to which no woman in citizen life is accustomed when no longer young. I have seen gray-haired ladies at an army post dance at the hops with as much enjoyment as the younger ones, and they are always invited by the men, young and old, to do so as a matter of course. The hops are more like a family reunion than a gathering of strangers.

After Colonel Lane was retired, and we lived in the East and North, it took me some time to understand that I need not look for the numerous courtesies to which I had always been accustomed at an army frontier post, and that if I went out at all, I must join the army of “wall flowers,” and expect nothing.

But I am loitering and digressing when I should be many miles on the road and in full view of the thousands and thousands of buffalo, quietly grazing and offering every inducement to the hunters to go out and kill them. The vast herds paid not the least attention to us, unless the wind blew from our direction towards them, when a regular stampede followed, and they got out of sight far more rapidly than you would believe such a clumsy, heavy beast could travel; leaving the old bulls to guard their retreat.

No wonder the buffalo has entirely disappeared from the Plains.   Hundreds of thousands were killed for mere sport,-often for the tongue alone.  The prairies were strewn with their carcasses, furnishing_ food for the roving bands of coyotes, always to be heard at night around our camps.

Those fearful storms of which I have spoken before gave us an almost daily benefit. One day our camp had been selected on a high bluff overlooking a river ; Lieutenant Lane was quartermaster, and had to leave us to attend to business. We ,vere sitting in the ambulance waiting for the tents to be pitched, and the driver was standing by his team of four fine bay mules, when a flash of lightning out of an almost clear sky, followed by a tremendous clap of thunder, sent the whole team flying along the edge of the prec1p1ce. I held on to the children and shut my eyes, expecting every instant to go over and into the river ; but the trusty driver had the reins and held on with might and main, and though dragged some distance he never lost his presence of mind. He soon checked the mules, but it was a very narrow escape.

Another day,just as we got into the tent, the quartermaster was away looking after the men, when a heavy thunder-gust came up. The tent, not being well pitched, swayed with the wind, while I, with the baby in my arms, tried to steady the shaking pole. I found I could not hold it and the baby too, so I sat down on the ground to await the expected falling of the tent, the walls of which had already become un­ pinned. In an instant I was drenched through, as it was raining in torrents, and I leaned over the baby to keep her from drowning.

Husband arrived in the midst of the storm, and, seeing our pitiable plight, called some men to assist him, and together they held up the tent until the danger was over. The situation was amusing after the squall had passed. I must have been a funny sight, trying to keep the tent from falling. Husband laughs at the memory.

For traveling, our tent was always lined with dark green cambric, which, when there was no other shade, was a great comfort. The glare from the white canvas, with the roasting July and August sun upon it for hours, was almost unbearable; the dark lining slightly alleviated our sufferings. For weeks we barely existed in camp through the heat of the day; the tent-walls were rolled up, in hopes a stray, cool wind might find its way to us; but what came generally felt as if it had been born and raised in a fiery furnace.

Our costumes were in the Georgia style; but, like the ostrich, we felt that when our heads were hidden our bodies were invisible. No one had much inclination to watch his neighbor, nor care about his appearance; he had enough on hand trying to keep alive until the sun went down, when there was relief until the next day.

Those hot prairie winds were very trying on a woman’s complexion, and husband often compared the color of mine to a new saddle.  I never tried but once to take care of my skin, and that was when I first crossed the Plains, going home. Someone made me a chamois-skin mask, which I put on one day and frightened the baby so badly that it is needless to say the mask was laid aside after that one trial, and I never made an effort again to preserve my complexion.

During those scorching hot days it was necessary to leave camp very early, so most of the traveling might be done in the cool of the morning. Reveille frequently sounded at two A.M., and by three breakfast was over, tents down, wagons packed, and nothing else to be done until “boots and saddles” rang out, when the recruits fell into line, officers mounted their horses, at1tl the ladies and children crept sleepily into the ambulances, and we were off for a slow, tiresome march, the brides no doubt thinking it was not much fun after all to marry an army officer. I for one never regretted having done so, and loved everything connected with the army: the officers,-not always the wives, however,-the soldiers, mules, horses, wagons, tents, camps, every and anything, so I was in the army and part of it.

The grass caught fire in camp one very hot day, but fortunately there was no wind, and we were able to move the ambulance and gather up many things and carry them to a safe place before the flames came close to us. Hoop-skirts were then worn, and when I heard a fire call, I hurriedly replaced mine, which I had taken off in the tent, and rushed out, leaving my watch on the bed, thinking more of my appearance than of my valuables, evidently. The fire came near enough to scorch the tent-pins, but stopped right there. The damage done was slight, the loss being confined to government property. Lieutenant Lane and my brother had exerted themselves so much that the latter was overcome by the heat and unconscious for some time, but finally recovered.

Until far out on the prairies we had an abundance of excellent wood and water, but as we traveled on both became scarce. Wood was unobtainable in the treeless country through which we marched,- and the only fuel was “buffalo chips.” The water frequently was from a standing pool hardly fit for horses or mules, and poison almost to human beings.

One of the first things done on reaching camp was to put a guard over the water, to prevent the animals from rushing into it and making it even worse than it was sometimes a train with many mules or oxen had camped there just before we arrived, and as the teamsters were not particular to keep the poor thirsty creatures out of the water, its condition beggars description, and the taste was perceptible even in coffee, which was not remarkable after droves of mules and oxen had stood in the pond for hours.

When we came to a hole of good, clean water, we filled all the kegs and a two-gallon canteen, so that we usually had enough to last us until we could get another supply just as good; but our fellow-travelers were not often as provident as we were, and many a cup of cold water we gave to those who needed it. I remember one day Lieutenant Lane I was on rear­ guard; that is, he and the guard were at the end of the column of soldiers and wagons, with the prisoners. The day was hot, and the men were nearly wild with thirst, and mutinous. Our ambulance was also in the rear, and-husband stopped it, took out all the water we had in kegs and canteen, made the men stand in line, and gave each one a good drink; they were very grateful and much cheered by it, marching quietly along until camp was reached.

xv

I THINK it probable you would not have enjoyed a drink of that water from the keg and canteen, as did those thirsty men. Of course there was no ice to cool it; but the big canteen was thickly covered with felt or a piece of blanket, which was kept constantly wet, and hung up where the breeze could reach it. In this way the water was made quite cool; we thought it very good indeed, scarcely missing the ice, which we could not get.

When wood was abundant we laid in a supply for future use, carrying a log of fatty pine perhaps a hundred or two hundred miles chained under a wagon, and using it very sparingly to kindle the fire.  Any one fortunate enough to find a piece of wood, dropped by a passing train possibly, was the envy of the Camp. To this day, when I see a quantity of good chips lying in the street, I can hardly refrain from gathering them up. I have often thought if I ever become a childish old woman my delight will be to pick up sticks, remembering how valuable a piece of wood was in a country where there were no trees.

At that time a little camp-stove of sheet-iron had been invented, which required very little wood. On top were four holes for pots and pans, and behind the fire was a small oven where bread could be beautifully baked and meat roasted ; there was but little weight to it, so that it could easily be carried under the ambulance, pipe and all, As soon as camp was reached the stove was unchained, put in position, the fire made, and by the time the tents were ready, preparations for our evening meal-call it what you will, dinner or supper-were progressing rapidly, and it was not a bad one, either.

Odors from many camp-fires were soon perceptible and increased our hunger; the first noticed usually came from the teamster’s mess, and was a mixture of fried onions, bacon, hot bread, and coffee.  None of you who have not tried it can imagine with what keen relish such a simple meal was eaten; with appetites sharpened by the pure air of the Plains, anything tasted good, and one only asked for quantity, not quality.

Among the soldiers’ wives going out to New Mexico was a young woman whose family lived in Carlisle, and of whom I knew something, so that I felt interested in her. She was a direct descendant of Moll Pitcher, of Revolutionary fame, whose monument is now in a cemetery at Carlisle, Pennsylvania.

After traveling several weeks she died, leaving a baby a few days old. The poor thing had ridden day after day in a rough, lumbering government wagon, hard enough on a well woman, and death, as it proved, to her. Her baby was born in it, and there she died. Out of respect to her, we did not move the next day. A grave was dug on a little hill above the creek which flowed through the camp, and all the officers and ladies, as well as her own friends, followed her to her last resting-place. Lieutenant Joseph Wheeler, afterwards major-general, Confederate States army, read the burial services at the grave. ” Nature sorrowed o’er the scene;” black clouds hung above us, and great drops of rain fell on the rough coffin in the open grave.  Desolate enough the little mound on the hill-top looked when we left camp early the next day.  Every care was taken to make it secure against the coyotes (prairie wolves), which had often been known to tear open a grave and carry off the body. To prevent this, large stones were placed upon it.

Years afterwards, when crossing the Plains going to the States, I got out of the ambulance and went to the grave, which I found undisturbed. I hoped there might be a flower growing on it, that I could take to her friends at home. I saw nothing but a few blades of grass, which I picked, adding to them some pebbles lying near, a sad souvenir to carry to sorrow­ing friends, revealing, as it did, the desolation of the spot where the daughter and sister were buried.

It was always a pleasure to us when going towards New Mexico to sight the Spanish Peaks, the highest of the Taos Mountains, crowned with perpetual snow. It was a change from the everlasting grass-covered stretch, which we had for weeks at a time, east, west, north, and south of us. We never seemed to get closer to the Peaks : as we advanced they receded, apparently. They were always there, grand and beautiful, in the early morning with the first rays of the sun upon them, and in the evening with clouds of gold and crimson lighting up the dazzling snow on their summits.

As we approached Fort Union the appearance of the country changed : there were trees and hills to vary the landscape, and the Raton Mountains were yet to be crossed. I always enjoyed the day in the mountains; the road was not bad and the scenery was fine. A clear little noisy stream ran here, there, and everywhere, intercepting our path time and again. The crack of a teamster’s big whip had a strange, muffled sound in the passes of the hills, which still rings in my ears.

Once over the Ratons, we knew our long tramp was almost done, as Fort Union was within three or four-days’ march of them.  We might be ordered to a post hundreds of miles from Union, but we did not object to that. I liked passing through a country where we occasionally saw a house and human beings; it was less tedious than roaming over the Plains, where we never saw any one but our own command, unless we met a train of wagons returning to the States, and there was nothing very exciting in that, I am sure; but we looked after the whole long string as it passed, and we’re sorry when it was lost in the distance.

“The lieutenant” was ordered to remain at Fort Union, and all we had in the way of furniture, etc., was soon settled in the quarters assigned to us. They were built of logs, and old, but cozy and homelike, and, with our good cook and nurse, we enjoyed housekeeping after our weeks and weeks of travel. By discreetly keeping away from the kitchen and giving as few orders as possible to the cook, the peace of the household was undisturbed.  When obliged to speak to her, I made known my wants in a meek voice and beat a hasty retreat.

Some of those officers who crossed the Plains with us remained at Fort Union, Chaplain McPheeters and family, of St. Louis, Captain “Jack” Lindsey (who resigned later and joined the Confederate States army) and wife, Dr. Bartholow and family, and several others. It was a large post, with many pleasant people whose society we did not long enjoy. We had reached Fort Union in September, and on the 22d of December we were in Santa Fe, en route to Fort Craig, New Mexico.

On Christmas Day, 1860, we, with several officers and their wives, dined in Santa Fe with Lieutenant Dabney Maury and wife. Some months later he joined the Southern army.

The possibility of war between North and South was freely discussed at table, with considerable excitement, and so hotly at times the ladies were embarrassed considerably. There were advocates for both sides, while others were reticent as to their sentiments. We had so little fear that matters would ever terminate seriously, and war result, that we soon forget the unpleasant episode. But those fiercely expressed opinions and angry words were not forgotten by all who were present, and bore fruit later on; some giving up everything, believing they owed it as a duty to their native States, while others fought, bled, and died for the old flag, but that was long afterwards.

We left Santa Fe in a driving snow-storm. The day was intensely cold, and the wind, high and piercing, drove the sleet and snow into any small crevice of the ambulance that it could find unguarded. Fortunately we were not going far, and were very glad when we reached our resting-place about noon. The house was kept by an old Frenchman in a Mexican village between Santa Fe and Albuquerque. Our host had been keeping the Christmas season and “tasting his wares” very freely, so that his excessive politeness was troublesome, coming every little while to our room to know what he could do for us; otherwise we were very comfortable, and, as he seemed so happy and cheerful, we let him enjoy himself.

How well I remember the sights, sounds, and odors of the little Mexican towns ! The ambulance driver always entered one at full speed, cracking his whip and urging the mules to do their best,-! do not know why, unless to impress the natives with the importance of the coming guests. The trotting of the horses of the escort, the rattle of the wagons, added to the barking of every dog in the village, bleating of terrified sheep and goats, and the unearthly bray of the ill-used burro (donkey), made a tremendous racket. And the smells I The smoke from the fires of cedar wood would have been as sweet as a perfume if it had reached us in its purity; but, mixed with heavy odors from sheep and goat corrals, it was indescribable.

I never get a whiff of burning cedar, even now, that the whole panorama does not rise up before me, and it is with a thrill of pleasure I recall the past, scents and all.

XVI

WHEN we reached the Rio Grande, below Albuquerque, to cross, we found much ice in it, some strong enough to bear our light buggy in which I was riding with my husband, and we went over safely, followed by the ambulance. The children were with the servants in the comfortable spring-wagon, which, being rather heavy, broke through the ice when the middle of the river was reached.

There it stuck fast, and in trying to pull it out one of the mules fell down and went under the ice. Great excitement followed this catastrophe; eve1y effort was made to save the mule, but he could not get up, and at last the traces had to be cut, and he was drowned. Husband took the horse out of the buggy, mounted him bareback, rode out to the disabled wagon, and brought the children to me, one at a time. The escort, seeing the mules could not move the wagon, pulled off their shoes and stockings, rolled up their trousers, and, nothing daunted by the icy waters, without” waiting for the wagon,” plunged in, and, literally putting their shoulders to the wheel, rolled it out of the hole. By much swearing, whip­ cracking, and loud shouting, the three remaining mules were made to do their duty and drag the wagon across to the. other side of the river.

Then the men came in for their reward, which was evidently received with much satisfaction.  It was drawn from a keg, but this time it was stronger than water.

We found Mexican towns along our route where we could stop every night.  The senior from whom we rented rooms, after assuring us his poor house was at our disposal, that he was highly honored by our accepting part of it, etc., managed to get full price for all we had from him. We used our own mess­ chest (doing our own cooking, usually) and beds, only needing his rooms with fireplaces to be quite comfortable. There was seldom any furniture in the room; the dirt floor was neatly covered by a woolen carpet of black and white plaid, made by the Mexicans, which, though not very gay, looked tidy. This carpeting was often woven in a most erratic fashion, and no two breadths were alike, but the colors were the same throughout: first there would come a yard, perhaps, of nicely-woven black and white check, then half a yard with stripes, followed likely by a yard of grayish-white alone, and so on all over the room; but as long as the floor had a covering, we did not object to the eccentricity dis­ played in the weaving of it.

Many houses at an army post had no other carpet than that made by Mexicans, and sometimes (but not often) we found a piece woven with a good deal of regularity. When soiled, it could easily be washed. Around the walls were laid wool mattresses, neatly folded and covered with gay calico; these served as seats for the Mexicans.  The small, narrow, wool-stuffed pillows were also covered with red or pink calico, over which was drawn coarse lace, like a case, with wide lace ruffles on the ends.

The walls of the rooms were a brilliant white, made so by a certain kind of earth which underwent some preparation known only to the natives, I suppose. A wash was the name of it, which was applied with a piece of sheepskin with the wool on it, perhaps because it was cheaper than a brush. Women did the whitewashing, and they used the same material for beautifying their complexions.

The quaint little oval fireplaces were my delight, placed_as they frequently were in the most inconvenient part of the room, just behind the door, perhaps, with a low wall built out between them to protect the fire from too great a draft when the door was opened. Sometimes the adobe chimney, which jutted out from the wall of the room, was washed with buff color and looked clean and pretty. A very rough and lumpy shelf, made of adobe, projected above the fireplace, and served as a mantel ; but I think it would have been rather unsafe for costly ornaments, as the top was very uneven.

When the fireplaces were in a corner of the room and were full of blazing sticks of pine or cedar wood standing on end,-not crosswise, as we put them,­ the effect was beautiful. The decorations on the walls were unique, consisting of small, cheap looking-glasses and pictures of the commonest description. The glasses were hung almost at the top of the wall, in a slanting position; but they must have been for ornament only, it being impossible to see yourself in them.

The pictures were of a religious character,-of all the saints in the calendar,-horrible to see, in bright tin frames. We seldom saw any one about the houses except the person from whom we hired the rooms. They did not appear to be at all curious about us, but I think it probable we were watched by many a pair of soft, dark eyes when utterly unconscious of it.

The Mexican houses were only one story, built of adobe, with flat, dirt-covered roofs, the ceilings being of pine logs with the bark stripped off, mostly un­painted. The windows were few and far between, and, as glass was expensive, it was not often there were more than four small panes in each one. Frequently there was no glass at all, the frame being covered with white cotton cloth; but as they opened onto a courtyard, where there was nothing to see, it made no difference, the front of the house, on the street, being only a blank wall without windows.

On the outside of the shanties hung great strings of red peppers to dry, and many a big yellow pumpkin adorned the flat dirt-roofs. It was a rare thing to find a roof that did not leak, and it was not unusual, during the rainy season, to see on the walls of the rooms long, light-brown streaks of mud from the house-top, reminding one of a huge map of a river with its various tributaries. When we reached Fort Craig, on the 4th of January, the same quarters were assigned to Lieutenant Lane in which we had stayed on our first visit, and where we found such a superabundance of water. Dr: Basil Norris, U.S.A., occupied part of the house, and we were delighted to have him for our neighbor.

As the winter rolled on the war-clouds became darker, and many a set:ious talk we had with the doctor about the state of the country and what we would do in that far-off land in case of a crisis,-no railroads, no telegraph, and a whole month between mails. None but those,who have been so situated know how terribly anxious we were. But we tried to believe affairs were not as bad as they were repre­sented.

On the 6th of February, 1861, we were again traveling,-” the lieutenant” having been ordered to Fort Fillmore,-and I was glad to go. As there were some small settlements not far from the post, we would not feel as completely buried as we had been at Fort Craig. We were four days making the distance, eighty miles of it being across the” Jornado del Muerto” (” Journey of Death”), where there was then no water to be found.

Lieutenant Joseph Wheeler was traveling with us, having been assigned to Captain W. L. Elliott’s company, stationed at Fillmore. Captain Elliott was on leave in the East. Colonel Bamford and Captain Ewell were also of the party. The latter resigned soon after and joined the Southern Confederacy, Lieutenant Wheeler messed with us. 

I remember one breakfast on the road. He had not then traveled enough with troops to know the necessity of an early start in the morning, and of eating rapidly, that things might be cleared away and packed in good time, with as little delay as possible.

We ate our breakfast by candle-light. Lieutenant Wheeler and I were disposed to dawdle, politely handing each other the various delicacies on the table. Lieutenant Lane finished his meal in frantic haste, and left the tent, hoping to expedite matters which were going on so leisurely within. But Wheeler did not notice husband’s impatience, and it became necessary, at last, to warn us we must not waste time, that we had a long and dangerous drive before us that day, and it was getting late.

That noble and polite gentleman understood later on the necessity of haste when a march of many miles was to be made, better than he did when about to cross the Jornado del Muerto in February, 1861.

By driving far off the road water could be found, and about noon this was done. There was no path to the place, but the country was not rough enough to prevent the ambulance and wagons going to it. As we followed our leader we almost ran over the largest snake I ever saw out of a show. He was quietly sunning himself and took no notice of us. We did not resent his indifference to our approach.

XVII

HUSBAND was very anxious to get back to the road as quickly as possible, and, after the animals were watered and would drink no more, we started to return, when it was discovered that Colonel Bomford was missing, nor could he be found anywhere in the vicinity.  It was absolutely necessary for the safety of everybody and the animals to travel a certain distance each day, in a country where there was no water, so that his absence caused great uneasiness. It was a very dangerous thing for one man to leave his companions and stray away.  Possibly he was so sure of his own strength he had no fears, knowing he was equal to ten Indians at least, and with Sam­ son’s weapon, the jaw-bone of an ass, he might have routed a whole tribe.  He was the strongest man in the army. Late in the evening he came in leisurely, apparently quite unconcerned at our anxiety on his account. He had been quietly wandering around, amusing himself not far from where the water was found.

Most dreary and uninviting did Fort Fillmore look to us as we approached it. It was a cold, gray day, with a high wind which blew the loose sand and dust in the clouds all about us. The stiff line of shabby adobe quarters on three sides of a perfectly bare parade ground suggested neither beauty nor comfort, and for once I felt discouraged when we went into th’.e forlorn house we were to occupy.

It was filthy, too, and the room we chose for a bedroom must have been used as a kitchen. The great open fireplace had at least a foot of dirt in it, which had to be dug out with a spade before a fire could be lit. It took time to make the quarters comfortable; but by hard scrubbing and sweeping they at last looked clean and habitable. The woodwork was rough and unpainted; the modern method of oiling pine was not known in army quarters then.

I was the only lady at the post except the wife of the sutler. Lieutenant Lane and Lieutenant Wheeler, and possibly one other officer, attended to all the duties of the garrison. Lieutenant Lane was in command.

There was a hospital, but no doctor nearer than forty miles, for whom we once had to send; and on another occasion the doctor at a fort eighty miles away was summoned; relays of mules were posted along the road to bring him in as rapidly as possible.

There had been no improvement in our mail facilities, and a month was still required to get letters from the East. We read with intense interest everything bearing on the subject of secession in the papers, which were a month old, when we were lucky enough to get any.

There was an undercurrent of disquiet around us which was felt more than seen or heard, and there were plenty of men in the small towns, ready at a moment’s notice, in case war was declared, to make a raid on Fort Fillmore, which, with its small garrison, could offer but little resistance.

We were scarcely settled at housekeeping when an order came for all the troops to go on an Indian scout to Dog Canon. There was nothing to be done but to obey, although everybody at the post knew there was far more danger from Texans than from Indians.

A sergeant and ten men, all that could be spared from the little command, were left behind to guard the post and our small family, and they were picked men. Those in the guard-house were taken on the scout. I was left in command of Fort Fillmore. All public funds were turned over to me, and the sergeant reported to me every day. He slept in our house at night, heavily armed, which gave us a sense of security.

There was a flag-staff on the parade, but no flag. Husband sent to Fort Bliss for one before he left for Dog Canon. I knew I would feel safer to see it floating above us, and it was run up at Reveille every morning through the summer before the post was abandoned. When was the flag ever more needed than in those anxious days before war was declared, to cheer the weak-hearted and bid defiance to its enemies?

The public money in my hands gave me considerable uneasiness, and I hid it away in what I considered a secure place; then it seemed to me that would be the first spot searched, and I found a safer one.  I was determined no one should have that money while I was alive to defend it. Just how I would act circumstances must decide; if I lost my life in protecting it, I would have done my whole duty.

The state of affairs at Fillmore and the surrounding country had been represented at Santa Fe, and the folly shown of sending all the troops away from the post, after an imaginary foe likely, when right in in our midst was a real danger to be dreaded.

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