I MARRIED A SOLDIER (part 7)

We were traveling slowly as usual one day, in a perfect gale of wind, a Kansas wind, which whirled the light dust in every direction and almost blinded us. It was cold, too, and we longed to get under the tents, so that we might be protected from the chilly blasts and rolling clouds of dust. When the camp was selected, we found it was on a high bluff overlooking a creek. The grass was very tall, dry as powder, and quite as inflammable, so much so that I was alarmed at the thought of lighting fires near it, and so informed Captain Potter, who came up to choose a place for our tents. He allayed my fears by telling me that even should a fire start we would be entirely out of its way, and I supposed he knew whereof he spoke. The tents were pitched, and everything required for the night was put into them, beds made, etc. I had just gone into mine, when I heard an unusual noise, and I went to the door to see what caused it. Will I ever forget the scene before me ? The grass was on fire, and the flames, driven by the wind, leaped a hundred feet at a time. It was a fearful sight. I knew instantly our only safety was in, flight, and not a second must be wasted. \ As I left the tent, I seized as many of the bedclothes as I could reach, and threw them outside; took one child in my arms, and the other by hand. The servants followed, and by this time every woman and child in the camp had joined us. We fled down the side of the hill and into the water, which was nearly knee­ deep, the poor little children bravely struggling beside us,-those that could walk,-then up the opposite bank, never looking back until we had the water between us and the fire. All the officers and soldiers ran as soon as it started, to try to beat it out with blankets, and even their coats, but that was impossible. The light, blazing grass was carried in every direction by the high wind, and nothing could be done to check the fury of the flames. As we dumbly watched the scene, great burning weeds leaped across the creek, so close to where we stood that we were bewildered by our dangerous position. The officers, finding all their efforts to control the now wide-spread conflagration were thrown away, and seeing how helpless we were, came to our rescue at once. They guided us down the hill to the road where it crossed the creek, and we waited there until it was safe to return to camp, or what was left of it. There were but few of the officers’ tents left, and, if it had been planned to burn ours, the purpose could not have been better carried out. The fire came straight towards them, and nothing was left in our pretty camp but one big wagon and the running­ gear of the ambulance. Only the irons that had been on the ends of the poles were to be seen from our tents. Beds, table, chairs, mess-chest, everything we had for camping was gone. All our warm wraps, shawls, furs, etc., not in daily use and put into the tent at night, were carried in the ambulance for convenience, besides various articles of clothing for the children, new shoes, etc. All shared the same fate; not a vestige was left of any of them but a pile of ashes, which was soon scattered by the tempest. Desolation was on every side; the whole country was black with the remains of the burned grass. The fire started on the opposite side of the camp from where our tents stood. A soldier cooking for an officer’s family, wanting to get rid of the tall weeds, stuck a lighted match into them, and in a second everything in the vicinity was ablaze; our friends lost nothing, the wind blowing. away from them, but the flames swallowed up everything in their path. Fortunately, the commissary train was out of the way and escaped the destruction which fell so heavily on some of us, not half as well able to bear it as Uncle Sam. When I left my tent so rapidly at the first alarm, I forgot entirely the small trunk, which was always put into it as soon as we reached camp. I carried in it all the money I had, which was precious little, and other valuables. While I was sadly contemplating the ruin around us, I suddenly discovered my box right beside me, and on top of it the blankets and pillows were piled which I had seized and thrown out of the tent. Neff, our faithful man and a discharged bugler who stayed about the wagons, was more thoughtful than I, and when I left he gathered up what he could and carried it all to a place of safety until the fire had exhausted itself. When Captain Lane was about to leave us and return to Fort Union he told Neff, the last thing, to keep an eye on that trunk, no matter what happened, and the good soul obeyed orders strictly. XXI THE outlook for comfort during the next two or three weeks was anything but cheering. It was more serious than amusing to be left without wraps or warm clothing at that season of the year. The trunks in the wagon were not injured, but there was nothing in them suitable for camping. I found a fancy woolen hood for myself packed away, and, as all my hats and bonnets were burned, I was glad to have it. A new blue flannel blouse, such as the soldiers wore, was given to me, and a friend gave one of the children an overcoat, too small for her boy, which answered very well. Our supply of bedclothes was very small. I had only succeeded in saving two blankets and a pair of pillows. Two sheepskins were also snatched as brands from the burning, and played a conspicuous part in the making of our bed for some weeks. I do not remember now where we found blankets for the servants; perhaps from the quartermaster, who, as a rule, is none too generous with his goods and chattels. I had no time to wonder where a tent for us was to come from : the bachelor officers gave up their “Sibley” at once for our use, while they, generous fellows, stowed themselves away in one hardly large enough for three men, and there were six or seven of them to be accommodated. Among them were Captain Joseph Potter, Lieutenant F. J. Crilly, Lieu­ tenants Hancock and Ryan (both killed in the late war), and Doctor B. J. D. Irwin. How we were to travel for the next few weeks was a question. Our spring-wagon had gone up in smoke, and those who had ambulances had plenty to fill them. Nothing could be found but one of the great big ten­ mule wagons, used for hauling commissary stores or corn. The load was taken out, except a few sacks of grain, which were left to serve as seats. I must say I have ridden on softer ones. Many of the ladies and children had all the clothes they owned destroyed by the fire, and it was no easy matter to supply their wants from the depleted wardrobes of those who, although not quite destitute, had lost much, but we all gave something. After the destruction of our camping “outfit,” having no table nor chairs, our meals were served upon, not the green, but the brown sward; it was too late in the year for green grass. To eat them we were obliged to sit on the ground, pleasant enough on a hot day in the country for one meal, but by no means agreeable for a constancy in cold weather. I think I had too much of it, for ever since that experience I have despised picnics and out-of-door entertainments. The servants occupied the tent with us, and fared as well as we did for a bed, which was not as soft and luxurious as some upon which I had slept. We re­ posed upon the bosom of mother earth. For the one which the children and I used, the two sheepskins were laid down, and then the pillows. We covered up with the two blankets and various odds and ends. One evening the front of the tent was thrown open, and the bed just made up was in full view, when Captain Potter came to ask if I needed anything for the night. He could not help seeing it, and asked, with a twinkle in his eye, if that was where we slept? Our bed was sumptuous compared with those some of the officers had, but they never spoke of them. The nights were cold, and often the frost glistened and sparkled on the white canvas walls by the light of a candle. In the early morning, while the men took down the tents and loaded the wagons, we all gathered about the camp-fires and compared notes as to the experiences of the past night, and how we twisted and turned to dodge a root or an extra hard spot on the ground, but one and all made light of the discomfort, and no complaints were heard. Our wagon was so high that a good deal of skill was necessary to get in and out of it. When we were all inside, and the “tail-board” was put up, it was thought impossible for us to get down without help, and that we were safe until camp was reached; but I proved to my friends that it took something higher than a big wagon to hold me, if I wanted to get out. We were moving sleepily along the road one day, when four mules attached to an ambulance dashed past us and across the prairie at full speed. In a few moments the bolts that held the body to the wheels loosened, and over it went to the ground. The wife and children of Lieutenant Stivers were in it, and no one was near to go to their assistance but me ; so I climbed out of the front of the wagon somehow, and was first at the scene of the disaster. I feared I knew not what, but there was no tragedy in the tableau that met my anxious eyes; such a mixture I never beheld ! As soon as I discovered there were no broken bones, the comic side of the picture presented itself, and I took in the situation at a glance. Mrs. Stivers, the children, bottles of milk, contents of lunch-basket, and numerous other articles were piled together in a heap, and it was some moments before the human part could be dragged from the debris. When the officers, riding far ahead with the column of troops, heard of the accident, they came back to see what had happened, and after they found nobody was hurt, they asked, in astonishment, how I got out of my two-story wagon? I did not tell them, nor would I accept offers of help to return to it, but managed beautifully by myself-when no one was looking. The broken ambulance was soon repaired, and we continued on our march. A more forlorn party of United States troops, women, and children never entered Fort Leavenworth than that with which I traveled in 1861. We were all shabby together, and strongly resembled a band of gypsies or travel­ stained emigrants when we arrived. Our camp was right beside one occupied by a Western volunteer regiment waiting to take the field or anything else. A very rough set of men indeed, and not at all agreeable as neighbors. We left Leavenworth on a boat. There was part of a regiment of Iowa soldiers, bound I know not where, on board, and, as we crossed the gang-plank, a crowd gathered to gaze at us. We felt as if we were part of a show, and we certainly must have been an odd sight in our motley garments and sun-and-wind-burned faces. As we stepped on to the boat, one of the crowd exclaimed to his companions, “Here come the old Revoluters!” And I have no doubt we looked as if we belonged to the last century. When I went to my state-room that night I found a man already in it. Some mistake had been made, and it had been assigned to both of us. Again the officers came to my relief, kindly giving up one of their rooms to us, while they calmly lay down on the cabin floor and went to sleep. They had not been much pampered for some weeks in the way of sleeping accommodations, and found the warm floor better than “the cold ground” on which they had reposed for many a night. But the new soldiers were not as well pleased with their resting-place as my friends were, apparently, for I heard one exclaim, next morning, after lying on the floor all night, “Ah! this is roughing it!” I have no doubt the poor fellow had occasion many times to look back to that comparatively comfortable night, and wonder how he ever could have thought he was ” roughing it” when sleeping on the floor of a steamboat; but the war was only a few months old then, and what was considered a trial at that time was luxury later on. We left the boat for railroad cars of the poorest and most uncomfortable kind, not anything like as good as the emigrant cars of to-day, but we thought them rather fine after our recent experiences on the plains. St. Louis was safely reached, and there we were to part from the friends with whom we had traveled so far, and made our way East alone. We remained a few hours at the Southern Hotel to prepare for the trip and receive the passport then necessary before we could leave the city. I had discharged my cook at Fort Leavenworth, and her services were gladly secured by a lady as a nurse. So my party was reduced to myself, two children, and a nurse. While at the hotel a young man came to me with a printed form, on which he wrote a general description of my appearance, color of eyes, hair, height, and age. I was too young then to object to questions on that usually tender point. I took an oath not to give aid nor comfort to the enemy, etc., all of which I promised, without reading what was required of me. I supposed it was a mere matter of form, and did not examine the paper until some time after the man had left. I was not likely to be placed in a position “to give help to our enemies,” and I should have signed anything bearing on that subject; my whole object was to get away from St. Louis as soon as possible, and I thought everything was settled. XXII THROUGH my ignorance and the carelessness of the man who issued the passport, we came near having a serious time in leaving the city. He did not ask if there was anybody with me for whom another was required, and it had not occurred to me to mention my colored nurse, thinking one paper sufficient. When we reached the ferry-boat I found all my baggage, trunks, chests, etc. on board, and felt happy at the prospect of starting in a few moments. I was asked for our passports. I handed my only one to the man, and said, quietly, I had no other. Then there was a scene I He was a brute, and rough and insolent to me, and there was not a soul to protect me from him whom I knew. None of my friends could take me to the boat, as they were going in a different direction, and I had to fight for myself. I stated the case as plainly as I could, all to no purpose. He declared the girl should not leave unless she had a passport also, and seemed to work himself into a rage over the matter, for some unknown reason. The passengers gathered around me and explored with him. The time was up for the boat to start, and I was in despair, imploring him to let us go. A quiet, handsome man, evidently a distinguished person, moved by my distress, stepped forward with his passport, and asked if the name on it would not carry the lady over. “No,” was the answer. Finally someone in authority on the boat, who had been watching the exciting scene, came up, and, asking for my passport, wrote upon it, “Vouched for by H. Q. Sanderson.” Who he was I never knew, but his signature was sufficient to carry us over the river, and I thanked him as well as my agitation would permit. I still have that passport. The gentleman who had tried to take us across the ferry on the strength of his name traveled with us for two or three days, never intruding, and seemingly taking no notice of us until some assistance from him would be agreeable; then he would come forward, pick up bundles and baskets, carry them to another train, put them in place, and retire to his own seat. And I let that man leave the car without finding out who he was, which I have never ceased to regret, as I was most grateful to him for his kindness and his thoroughly respectful manner towards me. I was young and shy in 1861, and disliked approaching a stranger and asking his name. When we reached Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, whom should I find waiting for us but Captain Lane? He had left New Mexico in the overland stage, and was in the East weeks before we arrived. He had applied to General Canby for a leave, which was refused. His objective was to go to Kentucky, where a cavalry regiment had been raised, and the command of it offered to him. He wanted to go to Washington and ask permission to take it, so when his leave was refused there was nothing to do but to resign, which he did, going immediately to Washington, where he withdrew his resignation and requested that he accept the colonelcy of the Kentucky Union cavalry regiment. The authorities would not grant his petition, but ordered him to proceed to Philadelphia and assist Colonel Charles Ruff in mustering Pennsylvania regiments. Afterwards he was made chief mustering and disbursing officer for Pennsylvania, and stationed at Harrisburg and Philadelphia until the close of the war. We had been home but a few days when one of the children became ill with scarlet fever. As the only house we had been in between Fort Union, New Mexico, and Carlisle was the hotel in St. Louis, I suppose that is where the disease was contracted, or on the cars, possibly. Hers was the only case. I had not been East long before I discovered that, to be considered “truly loyal,” I must give up all kindly feelings towards our old army friends who had gone South, and that such sentiments must be eradicated at once. I could not hate them, no matter how much I opposed and disliked their opinions; so, as my poor convictions could neither carry on nor end the war, and were not necessary for the good of the country, I kept them to myself, and thus avoided squabbles and political discussions, which I detested, and of which I knew nothing whatever. We remained East all through the war,-those years so full of anguish for our whole country. In I 863 I had the most serious illness of my life, pneumonia, and for six weeks the chances for life or death were about even, but I did not die, you see. It was not until the summer of 1866 that we returned to the frontier, and I was glad New Mexico was again to be our station. We had great difficulty in securing servants to go with us, but at last hired a very homely middle-aged white woman, who professed to know everything about cooking. A young English girl who was almost worthless went with us as a nurse for a baby boy who had been added to our small family. At Fort Leavenworth, Captain McNutt, of the ordnance, invited us to stay at his house while we remained. It was very kind of him, for a family of seven, added to his small bachelor establishment, made a good deal of difference. Captain McNutt was well known in the army for his absent-mindedness, and many funny stories were told of him. One I heard in Texas was quite characteristic of the man. It was noticed abroad that a grand entertainment was soon to be given by Captain McNutt, and everybody was on the quiver for an invitation.  Preparations were made on a grand scale, the supper was ordered, and on the night of the party the house was brilliantly illuminated, the captain in full dress, only awaiting the coming of his guests to be perfectly happy. But they never came. He discovered before the evening was over that not an invitation had been sent out : they were lying in his desk, where he had placed them after they were written! We found a number of officers and their families at Fort Leavenworth under orders for New Mexico; my fifth journey it was to be. There were no less than six brides in the party, and not a woman among all those going out had ever crossed the Plains but me, and I am certain a good many were not pleased at the prospect before them We had made every preparation possible for our comfort and convenience. A fine large ambulance, used by General Sheridan in the valley of the Shenandoah, and sold by the government after the war, held the entire family. We had a buggy, too, which we called the ” Mother’s Refuge,” into which I retreated when I wanted to rest and be quiet. A very high horse, purchased at a very low price, served to amuse the children, and they were sometimes allowed to ride him. He was entitled to be a namesake of Big Foot, the Sioux chief, for such hoofs I never saw before. As he was not bought for speed nor beauty, he answered very well, and old “Ned” is remembered most kindly to this day by the younger members of the family. It was amusing to an old campaigner like myself to see the brides start off from Fort Leavenworth for an ambulance expedition of six hundred miles. Their dainty costumes were far more suitable for Fifth Avenue than camp and a hot, dusty ride in the broiling sun day after day. They awoke to the fact very soon. Hoops were fashionable then, and a good deal of maneuvering was required to get in and out of an ambulance with ease, not to mention grace. Some of the ladies wore little turbans with mask veils and delicate kid gloves. I started out as I intended to dress throughout the march,-a calico frock, plainly made, no hoops, and a sun-bonnet, and indeed I must have looked outlandish to my young friends just from New York, but there was not a husband who did not commend my common-sense dress, urging their wives to adopt it. Many of them did, in a short time, and admitted they were more comfortable, even though the change was not coming. Such an expedition to the uninitiated, especially when the heart was not in it, was exceedingly wearisome. The necessity for early rising was a trial in itself. Many were unable to eat the breakfast served while the morning star still shone in the heavens. A cup of hot coffee, hastily swallowed, was all they required, but I, from long practice, had learned to enjoy my breakfast at three A.M. as much as at a later hour while we were dispatching the early repast by the light of a candle, the cook baked pans of biscuit and fried quantities of bacon and any fresh meat obtainable. All this was put into a large tin box, provided especially for the purpose. Sometimes a huge, and undoubtedly very poor, dried-apple pie was added, and that was a feast indeed, and I assure you Delmonico never served a luncheon that was more enjoyed than those of which we partook, not at the conventional hours of one or two P.M., but generally at seven or eight A.M  I must not forget the canteen full of tea, the outside of which was kept wet, making the contents agreeably cool. Delmonico’s guests would possibly prefer something stronger than tea; but of one thing I am certain, few of them would have the same enjoyment from their fine wines that we had with our cold tea, the pure air of the plains adding a zest to our humble fare and mild beverage. I do not say there was not “a stick” added sometimes on occasion. XXIII FREQUENTLY the Indians made us visits after we reached camp. They seemed to pop up most unexpectedly; and though we could not see one while riding along the road, we had no sooner turned into camp than they suddenly swooped down upon us like a swarm of locusts. They were utterly independent regardless of time and season, making the calls as it suited their own pleasure and convenience. They came close up to the tent, staring at us, no matter in what state of undress we might be. Our dishabille, however, was full dress, compared with their visiting costumes. A regular dandy honored us one day, and this is what he wore: an army officer’s coat, well buttoned up, an old sword dangling from a leather belt, a soldier’s cap, and moccasins ; no sign of trousers nor leg-covering had he, and he seemed utterly unconscious of the absence of those garments deemed so essential in the presence of ladies and polite society. He bore himself with becoming dignified, no doubt being perfectly satisfied with his appearance. Quite a serious accident happened to the wife of Lieutenant James Casey, after we had been out for some weeks. The driver of her ambulance went to sleep, and, of course, did not see a small hill over which the road ran; and the mules, being left to their own devices, made too short a turn, upsetting the car­riage. Husband saw the mishap, and before I knew what had happened he threw the reins to me and ran to give what assistance might be required. The poor little woman was found to be in great agony, and was lifted with difficulty.  A halt was made, and everything done for her relief by the surgeon with the command. Several ribs were broken, and she was badly bruised and sprained. When she was made comparatively comfortable, we traveled on to camp. Think how she suffered, carried along in the ambulance day after day ; she could not be left, as there was no house for hundreds of miles, and if one had been found she would have had no doctor ; travel she must, even though it killed her. But she did not die, though it was months before she was able to walk about. The army woman of to-day has no idea of the hardships so patiently endured by her mother (in the army, also). She now makes her trips from ocean to ocean in six or seven days, while the mother traveled at a snail’s pace for weeks to accomplish one-quarter the distance. If this young woman rides twenty-five or thirty miles in an ambulance from the railroad to the post where her husband is stationed, she arrives completely exhausted and imagines herself a heroine. The mother was forced to travel with the command, sick or well, while if the younger woman is indisposed there are numbers of very pleasant towns or ranches along her route where she can tarry for a few days until she recuperates, or she can be quite comfortable in a Pullman car. I recollect once, when I was crossing the Plains, a baby was born to the wife of one of the officers with the command. Next day she rode eighteen miles in her ambulance, doing the same thing daily until we arrived at Fort Union, New Mexico. And I knew another young wife whose baby was born in a tent in the wilds of Texas, far from any post or settlement. Having no woman to give her the care she required nor to tell her what was necessary to be done, she became totally blind from the glare of the sun on the white canvas walls. I met her afterwards, and she was but a shadow of her former self. It was pathetic to see her groping about from room to room in that soft, gentle way peculiar to those who have not always been blind. Her baby died. Think of what I have told you, my young army friends, and cease to grumble at trifles. Compare your lot with your mother’s, and see how much more comfortable you are than she was. She liked pretty things and luxuries as much as you do, but had very few of either, and she was quite as handsome and young, too, as you are when she gave her heart and hand to the fascinating Second Lieutenant Buttons, who endowed her  “with all his worldly goods,” which usually meant his monthly pay of from sixty­ eighty to ninety dollars a month, and some bills­ tailor bills-for clothes, which helped to make him so irresistible. Her bridal tour was to a frontier post, a thousand miles from anywhere, and a journey of a month or six weeks between her and her old home. So be content, my dears, with all your advantages, your pretty homes and your good husbands. I know they are good; all army men are, or ought to be. While making speeches I have left the Santa Fe trail far behind, and I must hurry to the crossing of the Arkansas River. It was booming when we reached it, and had overflowed its banks.  It was too high to ford, so we were delayed until the waters subsided.  We longed to get to the other side of the ugly yellow stream, narrow, yet very deep, and we cast many an anxious glance at the angry, foaming· flood. Much time was spent testing its depth, until finally it was thought with extreme care we might cross. A rope was stretched from bank to bank by which the men could steady themselves, the current being swift and dangerous. Everybody and everything passed over without accident, when a handsome young German corporal, disdaining the rope, started to swim to the other shore, plunging fearlessly into the water. In a moment he disappeared, and was not seen for some time; but as Colonel Lane rode into the river the body came up, face downward, and was carried right by the horse.  It was secured and taken ashore, where everything was done to restore life, but without avail. The man had been sick for some days in the hospital, and it was supposed he was too weak to endure the exertion.of swimming across the river. It was very late when camp was reached that afternoon. Preparations were at once made for the funeral, a grave dug, etc. It was dark when all was ready. The mournful procession, headed by the drum and fife and men carrying torches, was as touching a sight as I ever witnessed, as it passed on its way to the spot selected for the burial,-the solemn stillness of the night broken only by the steady tramp of many men to the music of the dead march. It was awful to think of that man, so full of life but a few hours before, being hurried into a lonely grave far from home and friends. The funeral party returned to camp marching to the jolliest airs played on drum and fife, and the handsome German soldier who shared the fate of millions, was forgotten. To have seen the oceans of tears shed by my homely maids at the funeral, one might have imagined he was their nearest and dearest; possibly it was nervous excitement which caused the unusual overflow.

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