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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesA Tame Surrender, A Story Of The Chicago Strike - Chapter 14
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A Tame Surrender, A Story Of The Chicago Strike - Chapter 14 Post by :eheyoka Category :Long Stories Author :Charles King Date :May 2012 Read :1592

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A Tame Surrender, A Story Of The Chicago Strike - Chapter 14

CHAPTER XIV

And these were but the advanced guard of the little army of regulars that, welcomed with glad acclaim by every law-abiding, order-loving citizen, came pouring into Chicago all through that day and for some days that followed, their very presence bringing assurance of peace and safety to thousands and thousands of anxious householders, and confusion and dismay to the leaders of the mob. Believing as had these latter that, despite the vast and valuable Federal properties in the heart of the city, despite the fact that some of the railways involved were at that very moment under the wing of the Federal courts, despite the laws of the general government affecting the working and management of every one of over a dozen great trunk lines centring in Chicago, Uncle Sam would be ass enough to confide them all to the care of State authorities notoriously dependent upon the masses, and that he would not venture to protect his property, sustain his courts, enforce his laws, demand and command respect and subordination, or even venture upon his own, except at the invitation and permission of a hesitant State government, there had been little short of triumph and exultation in the camp of the American Railway Union until this fatal July morning. Now their wrath was frantic.

And Elmendorf was madder than ever. The general and his staff reappeared in the midst of the concentration. Their coming was announced. After vainly haranguing the stolid officials at head-quarters upon the enormity of their conduct in declining to see the fearful blunder made by their President and commander-in-chief, after attempting to harangue a battalion of dusty infantry in the vague hope that, inspired by his eloquence, they might do something the enlisted men of the United States never yet have done, no matter what the temptation,--revolt against their government and join the army of the new revolution,--and being induced to desist only when summarily told to "Go on out of that! or----" while a bayonet supplied the ellipsis, poor Elmendorf flew to the station, to be the first to meet the general on his return and to open his eyes to a proper conception of law, order, and soldierly duty. Even here those minions from head-quarters were ahead of him. Three or four officers were already on the spot awaiting their chief, and Elmendorf felt convinced that they had come solely to prevent his getting the ear of the commander. Even as they waited and a curious crowd began to gather, numbers of strike sympathizers among them, down the broad steps from the street above came the tramp, tramp of martial feet, and in solid column of fours, in full marching order, every man a walking arsenal of ball cartridges, a battalion of infantry filed sturdily into the grimy train-shed, formed line, facing the murmuring crowd, and then stood there in composed silence "at ease." Then the little knot of staff-officers and newspaper men was presently joined by Lieutenant-Colonel Kenyon, commanding the --th Infantry, one battalion of which had just taken position as indicated; and to him came others, officers of the battalion. Again did Elmendorf raise his voice in appeal for the rights of his fellow-men.

"Colonel Kenyon," he declaimed, his shrill tones distinctly audible above the hoarse murmur of voices in the rapidly augmenting throng, "you have been so considerate as to listen to a humble outsider before this, and to express appreciation of some, at least, of the views I have felt constrained to express. You are, as I understand, the commanding officer of the regiment that has just arrived in this city. You are an officer sworn to maintain the Constitution of the United States; and is not your very presence here--you and your men--in glaring violation of that Constitution?"

Here the few officers who had joined their commander, all strangers to Elmendorf, turned upon him in astonishment. The newspaper men chuckled and nudged each other companionably. Some of the staff turned away, plainly indicating that they had already had to listen to too much of that sort of thing. Kenyon looked him curiously over.

"Mr. Elmendorf, do you ask that question in your sober senses, or only as a jocular reminder? Those identical words were addressed to me by an irate gentleman in Virginia in '62." So far from being irritated, old Kenyon seemed to find amusement in drawing his interlocutor out.

"Ah, but, my dear sir, there the whole State--the whole South--was in armed rebellion against the Federal government. Here is neither insurrection nor rebellion. Here, honest, law-abiding, patriotic men, as loyal to the Union of States as ever you could be, are exerting their prerogative as men, their rights as citizens, to obtain justice for themselves and their brethren at the hands of a defiant and oppressive monopoly. They have done no wrong, violated no law, and yet here you come with bayonets and ball cartridges to intimidate, if not to shoot down in cold blood, husbands and fathers and peaceable citizens who are only pleading for justice at the hands of their employers."

"Some mistake here, Mr. Elmendorf. Your leaders have already declared it a rebellion. The husbands and fathers we are here to look after are the amiable parties who stove in our car-windows and soaped our rails and let drive such pygmy projectiles as coupling-pins, a wild switch engine or two, and blazing freight-cars at us as we came in awhile ago."

"Our people are in no wise connected with that," cried Elmendorf. "All this alleged violence is the work of lawless classes whom we cannot control, or of the emissaries of the railways themselves. It has been grossly and purposely exaggerated."

"Oh! Then all this rioting is done by outsiders, not by your friends the strikers, who heartily condemn the whole business, do they?"

"Most assuredly. We have forbidden violence in any and every form."

"I see. And yet the rabble and the railway folks have insisted on it. Well, now, how grateful you ought to be to the President for ordering us here to help you suppress them! Really, Mr. Elmendorf, I am glad to find we are on the same side of this question, after all." But here a shout of laughter drowned Kenyon's words and drove Elmendorf frantic.

"You don't understand," he almost shrieked. "It is our people who are intimidated,--beaten back in the moment of victory." And then some of the crowd, now thronging the open space in front of the battalion, began to cheer. A man pushed through, handed Kenyon a telegram, and whispered a few words in his ear. Kenyon glanced quickly around upon the multitude now surging close about the group, and stepped back a few paces to read his despatch. Elmendorf followed, eager to resume his harangue. Kenyon uplifted his hand. "Pardon me now, Mr. Elmendorf. I have business to attend to." But Elmendorf was wild with excitement and wrath. He had been laughed at,--he, the mover of millions. Here were already a thousand fellow-citizens at his back, and more coming. From the freight-yards up and down the tracks, from the docks, the elevators, the neighboring saloons, they were swarming to the scene. There in double rank stood the four compact little companies of regulars in the business-like rig of blue and brown, resting on their arms, chatting in low tones, or calmly surveying from under the broad hat-brims the gathering crowd. To their right and left, up and down the long vista of train-sheds, letting themselves down from overarching bridges, or pushing boldly past the feeble railway police, hundreds of tough-looking citizens were slowly closing in. Back of the battalion, separated from it by only two tracks, were long files of passenger and Pullman cars, behind which and on whose platforms, in knots of half a dozen, other men were gathering. It was the general superintendent of the road who had spoken to Kenyon and was now exchanging a few words with the chief quartermaster of the department. Dozens in the crowd pushed forward instantly, newspaper men as a matter of business, others from curiosity, as Kenyon opened his despatch. A burly, gray-haired major was quickly at his side, and a tall young subaltern, the adjutant of the regiment. One brief glance over the paper, and the commander turned to his right. "Clear the station," was all he said. Major Cross touched his hat, an eager light shooting across his frank, soldierly face, and strode quickly back to the line. A mere gesture brought the four company commanders to him. Not a dozen words were spoken, but in an instant the swords of the officers leaped from their scabbards, and then, obeying some low-toned commands, the right and left flank companies, simply lifting their rifle-butts, enough to clear the ground, changed front to right and left respectively, thus bringing them facing the outer ends of the train-sheds. About a dozen men, led by a sergeant, broke suddenly away from the eastward flank of each of the two companies thus moved, and, without so much as an audible word, scattered away to the passenger-cars, covering a hundred yards of their length in a dozen seconds. Then under the cars dove some of the lot, up the steps sprang others, and away before them scattered the intruders. A long brick wall hemmed the yards in at the eastern side, and there, dividing into two parties in the same prompt, business-like way, the squads drove before them north or south every one of the late lookers-on, some grinning, some scowling and swearing, some remonstrating, but all going. Up from the throats of the dense throng in front of the battalion went a chorus of jeers and laughter. It is always fun to one part of a street crowd to see some other part of it, especially if it occupied a better point of view, driven from its enviable ground. The moment the space behind their new alignment was thus cleared, the flank companies each threw forward another squad of eight, which, promptly shaking itself out into a long thin rank and fixing bayonet as it went, marched straight at the thin crowds which had entered the station along the right of way. A solid platoon followed in support, and in less time than it takes to tell it the populace was on the move.

Then came the turn of the centre companies; and here a very different problem presented itself. Leading up to the street was one broad stairway in the middle of the great depot building, and one, somewhat narrower, a hundred feet farther north, next to the baggage-rooms. Between the tracks and the offices on this floor, enclosing a space perhaps a hundred yards in length by ten in breadth, was a high iron fence, pierced here and there with little turnstile gates, now closed, and by three or four rolling gates, the main or centre one of which stood open. This was directly opposite the broad stairway. It was this through which the battalion had marched, the newspaper men and officials had followed, and the crowd had speedily bulged. No good would result from shoving back this protruding swarm of curious or combative citizens, for the space behind the bars was packed solid. The crowd began to grin and exchange jocular remarks. It would take a long time to squeeze them back through the stairway, and meanwhile they could have lots of fun, and Elmendorf a chance for a speech, so they began to shout for him. He was still squeaking and gesticulating about the knot of newspaper men and staff-officers, but Kenyon, climbing on a baggage-truck, was calmly looking over the sea of upturned and often leeringly impudent faces beyond the grating. Then he called Major Cross to his side, and together they looked it over.

The crowd began to wax facetious. They knew the soldiers wouldn't shoot so long as they were not shooting. They knew they wouldn't prod with their bayonets men who manifestly couldn't get back. They thought they had the regulars, in fine, where they couldn't do a blessed thing unless the police would come and pull the crowd out from behind, and the police were not interfering with the populace just then. An American street crowd is gifted with a fine sense of humor, and the sight of these two veteran officers perched on a baggage-truck and reconnoitring their ground was full of suggestion. "Don't jump on us, major: we couldn't stand them feet!" shouted one jovial tough. "A speech from Old-Man-Afraid-Of-His-Dignity!" sang out a second. The gang guffawed, and the officers went on with their conference utterly unmoved, deaf, apparently, to the salutations. Then Kenyon climbed down and said a word to the superintendent, who nodded appreciatively. The adjutant went one way, the regimental quartermaster the other. Each took half a dozen men from the supporting platoons of the flank companies, who had by this time pushed the scattering throng beyond the yard limits and set their guards at the entrances. Then the gray-headed, white-moustached major whipped out his watch and held up his hand. There was a good deal of chaff going on, but a half-silence fell on the throng.

(Illustration: "All that space in there will be needed in five minutes from this time.")

"All that space in there will be needed in five minutes from this time," he said, in a quiet, conversational tone. "The way out is open, and you will oblige me very much by quietly withdrawing. Begin the move back there by the main staircase, and up there also, if you please, so that these gentlemen who are crowded in here can follow you. Move at once, and you'll be out in plenty of time."

Not a few on the outskirts did begin subordinately to move away, and a dozen or more were already going up the steps, when the crowd gave tongue. "Come back, there. Stay where you are. We've got as much right here as they have," were the cries. And then the luckless Elmendorf was seized with an inspiration. Bounding upon a baggage-truck, he waved his hat and shouted, "Hear me, fellow-citizens. You have said right. We have indeed more right here than these----" But here a muscular hand grasped him by the seat of his trousers, and Elmendorf's speech wound up in a shriek, as he was lifted backward off the truck, a big Irish sergeant glowering at him as he landed him on _terra firma_. "I yield to force," screamed Elmendorf. "Go and tell it." And then between a couple of brawny, unsympathetic soldiers he was rushed back, and, in the twinkling of an eye, hustled into the smoking-compartment of a vacant Pullman and there locked in, with a bayonet at the window. For a moment the throng howled, but there was no forward impulse. The motionless line of the two centre companies seemed to have a soothing effect, and still the major coolly stood there, watch in hand. Two minutes passed, three, and not ten men of the crowd had slipped away. Certain railway men and reporters edged forward, away from the crowd. Certain of the crowd strove to follow, but some men in plain clothing whipped open their coats, displaying silver stars, and warned them back. Three minutes and a half, and still the major stood calmly glancing over the crowd and then at his watch, and then the corners of his mouth began to twitch, for he had cast one quick glance up and down the line of that iron fence. Unreeling something behind them as they reappeared, the squads that had followed the regimental staff officers quickly trotted into sight again at the upper and lower ends of the pen, and the outskirts of the crowd "caught on" at a glance. They were manning the hose. Already the gleaming nozzles were being screwed on, and the humor of the situation became suddenly clouded. "Watch out!" was the cry from both ends of the dense mass. Dozens of men at the north end who could readily escape were already in rush for the upper stairway, but those at the south were less lucky. A dense mass of fellow-citizens was wedged between them and the exits, but rapidly the alarm was spreading inward from the flanks. "Four minutes," said the major, grimly, though his lips were twitching like mad. Then the upturned faces began to blanch, the crowd to heave and swell, and a backward sway sent a hundred or more surging up the main staircase. The next minute panic seemed to seize on all, for the jeers gave way to shouts of fright and pain as men were squeezed breathless in the crush; and then, tumbling over one another's heels, climbing one another's backs in sheep-like terror, they fought for air and escape, and the last coat-tails went streaming up the stairs sharp on time, as Kenyon said, with the bayonets of the left centre company threateningly close in their wake.

Once out in the open street, they strove to rally and encourage one another and to shower defiance and stones at their assailants; but these latter contented themselves with clearing a space for carriages about the doors and calmly stationing their guards to hold it; and when, a few moments later, the general's special train came steaming in, Elmendorf raged in vain. There was neither orator nor deputation to meet him on behalf of the strike-leaders. Not until after the chief had driven away in his carriage was the agitator released from the hated confines of the Pullman and bidden to go his way. Fuming with the indignity of his position, he left, vowing that he would return if there was law in the land, backed with warrants for the arrest of Kenyon for felonious assault and false imprisonment; and Kenyon smiled and said the warrant wouldn't surprise him in the least.

And then followed the stirring scenes of a riot week that showed not only the depth and extent of the insurrectionary spirit among the unlettered masses of the people, but also the wisdom of the President in ordering the prompt concentration of regular troops in the heart of the threatened city. Silently, in disciplined order, the various detachments had marched to their stations. Silently, in disciplined order, puny in points of numbers as compared with the vast mob of their howling antagonists, they faced the throng, grimly peering from under their slouched hat-brims, gripping with their brown, sinewy hands the muzzles of the old trusty rifles, listening with utter amaze, with tingling nerves, to the furious yells of "Down with the government!" "To hell with the United States!" and wondering how long their fathers would have stood such treason thirty years ago. Calm, grim, and silent, conscious of their power, merciful in their strength, superb in their disdain of insult, their contempt of danger, their indifference to absolute outrage,--for maddened men showered the ranks with mud and gravel, and foul-mouthed, slatternly women--vile, unclean harpies of the slums--dipped their brooms in the reeking gutters and slashed their filth into the stern, soldierly faces,--for hours, for days, they coolly held that misguided, drink-crazed, demagogue-excited mob at bay, reopening railways, protecting trains, escorting Federal officials, forcing passage after passage through the turbulent districts, until the fury of the populace wore itself out against the rock of their iron discipline, and one after another the last of the rioters slunk to their holes, unharmed by even one avenging shot. Fire and flame had wrought their havoc, miles of railway lines and cars had been wrecked and ruined, but otherwise the mad-brained effort had utterly failed of its purpose, and for the third time had the regulars stood almost the sole bulwark between the great city and absolute anarchy. True, the regiments of the National Guard were at last ordered into service, but not until after the presence of the Federal force had given assurance that, whether the State officials liked it or not, the general government would tolerate such insurrection no longer. True, the State troops stood ready, eager to do their work, and some of them, at least, so capable, so drilled and disciplined, that, left to the orders of their own officers, they could and would have suppressed the riots. But, there was the difference, even when called into action the most reliable and experienced of the regimental commanders were practically deprived of their commands; their regiments were broken up into pygmy detachments and scattered hither and thither by companies and squads, covering sometimes a tract of suburbs fifteen miles long and half as wide, while the entire force was placed under the orders of a city official notoriously in sympathy with the initial strike and seeking the suffrages of the very class from which the mobs were drawn. The extraordinary spectacle was seen of a veteran colonel with only half a company to guard the head-quarters of the regiment in a remote and dangerous spot, and absolutely forbidden to summon any of his own regiment to his defence in case of emergency, except upon the advice and consent of some official of the city police. Well was it for Chicago and the nation that the President of the United States stood as unmoved by the puerile protests of the demagogue in office as were his loyal soldiery by the fury of insult, abuse, and violence heaped upon them by that mob of demagogue-supporters.

"By heaven," said the editor of a great daily to old Kenyon at the close of the week, "I never dreamed of such superb discipline, and under such foul insult. I swear I don't see how you fellows could stand it."

"Oh," said Kenyon, grimly, "it wasn't half as hard to bear as what your columns have been saying about us any time these last five years."

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