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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesHow Private George W. Peck Put Down The Rebellion - Chapter 1
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How Private George W. Peck Put Down The Rebellion - Chapter 1 Post by :robdawg Category :Long Stories Author :George W. Peck Date :May 2012 Read :2005

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How Private George W. Peck Put Down The Rebellion - Chapter 1


The War Literature of the "Century" is very Confusing--I am Resolved to tell the True Story of the War--How and "Why I Became a Raw Recruit--My Quarters--My Horse--My First Ride.

For the last year or more I have been reading the articles in the _Century magazine, written by generals and things who served on both the Union and Confederate sides, and have been struck by the number of "decisive battles" that were fought, and the great number of generals who fought them and saved the country. It seems that each general on the Union side, who fought a battle, and writes an article for the aforesaid magazine, admits that his battle was the one which did the business. On the Confederate side, the generals who write articles invariably demonstrate that they everlastingly whipped their opponents, and drove them on in disorder. To read those articles it seems strange that the Union generals who won so many decisive battles, should not have ended the war much sooner than they did, and to read the accounts of battles won by the Confederates, and the demoralization that ensued in the ranks of their opponents, it seems marvellous that the Union army was victorious. Any man who has followed these generals of both sides, in the pages of that magazine, must conclude that the war was a draw game, and that both sides were whipped. Thus far no general has lost a battle on either side, and all of them tacitly admit that the whole thing depended on them, and that other commanders were mere ciphers. This is a kind of history that is going to mix up generations yet unborn in the most hopeless manner.

It has seemed to me as though the people of this country had got so mixed up about the matter that it was the duty of some private soldier to write a description of _the decisive battle of the war, and as I was the private soldier who fought that battle on the Union side, against fearful odds, _viz_: against a Confederate soldier who was braver than I was, a better horseback rider, and a better poker player, I feel it my duty to tell about it. I have already mentioned it to a few veterans, and they have advised me to write an article for the _Century_, but I have felt a delicacy about entering the lists, a plain, unvarnished private soldier, against those generals. While I am something of a liar myself, and can do fairly well in my own class, I should feel that in the _Century I was entered in too fast a class of liars, and the result would be that I should not only lose my entrance fee, but be distanced. So I have decided to contribute this piece of history solely for the benefit of the readers of my own paper, as they will believe me.

It was in 1864 that I joined a cavalry regiment in the department of the Gulf, a raw recruit in a veteran regiment. It may be asked why I waited so long before enlisting, and why I enlisted at all, when the war was so near over. I know that the most of the soldiers enlisted from patriotic motives, and because they wanted to help shed blood, and wind up the war. I did not. I enlisted for the bounty. I thought the war was nearly over, and that the probabilities were that the legiment I had enlisted in would, be ordered home before I could get to it. In fact the re-cruiting officer told me as much, and he said I would get my bounty, and a few months' pay, and it would be just like finding money. He said at that late day I would never see a rebel, and if I did have to join the regiment, there would be no fighting, and it would just be one continued picnic for two or three months, and there would be no more danger than to go off camping for a duck shoot. At my time of life, now that I have become gray, and bald, and my eyesight is failing, and I have become a grandfather, I do not want to open the sores of twenty-two years ago. I want a quiet life. So I would not assert that the recruiting officer deliberately lied to me, but I was the worst deceived man that ever enlisted, and if I ever meet that man, on this earth, it will go hard with him. Of course, if he is dead, that settles it, as I shall not follow any man after death, where I am in doubt as to which road he has taken, but if he is alive, and reads these lines, he can hear of something to his advantage by communicating with me. I would probably kill him. As far as the bounty was concerned, I got that all right, but it was only three-hundred dollars. Within twenty-four hours after I had been credited to the town from which I enlisted, I heard of a town that was paying as high as twelve-hundred dollars for recruits. I have met with many reverses of fortune in the course of a short, but brilliant career, have loaned money and never got it back, have been taken in by designing persons on three card monte, and have been beaten trading horses, but I never suffered much more than I did when I found that I had got to go to war for a beggerly three-hundred dollars bounty, when I could have had twelve hundred dollars by being credited to another town. I think that during two years and a half of service nothing tended more to dampen my ardor, make me despondent, and hate myself, than the loss of that nine-hundred dollars bounty. There was not an hour of the day, in all of my service, that I did not think of what might have been. It was a long time before I brought to my aid that passage of scripture, "There is no use crying for spilled bounty," but when I did it helped me some. I thought of the hundreds who didn't get any bounty.

I joined my regiment, and had a cavalry horse issued to me, and was assigned to a company. I went up to the captain of the company, whom I had known as a farmer before the war commenced, and told him I had come to help him put down the rebellion. I never saw a man so changed as he was. I thought he would ask me to bring my things into his tent, and stay with him, but he seemed to have forgotten that he had known me, when he worked on the farm. He was dressed up nicely, and I thought he put on style, and I could only think of him at home, with his overalls tucked in his boots, driving a yoke of oxen to plow a field. He seemed to feel that I had known him under unfavorable circumstances before the war, and acted as though he wanted to shun me. I had drawn an infantry knapsack, at Madison, before I left for the front, and had it full of things, besides a small trunk. The captain called a soldier and told him to find quarters for me, and I went out of his presence. At my quarters, which consisted of what was called a pup-tent, I found no conveniences, and it soon dawned on me that war was no picnic, as that lying recruiting officers had told me it was. I found that I had got to throw away my trunk and knapsack, and all the articles that I couldn't strap on a saddle, and when I asked for a mattress the men laughed at me. I had always slept on a mattress, or a feather bed, and when I was told that I would have to sleep on the ground, under that little tent, I felt hurt. I had known the colonel when he used to teach school at home, and I went to him and told him what kind of a way they were treating me, but he only laughed. He had two nice cots in his tent, and I told him I thought I ought to have a cot, too. He laughed some more. Finally I asked him who slept in his extra cot, and intimated that I had rather sleep in his tent than mine, but he sent me away, and said he would see what could be done. I laid on the ground that night, but I didn't sleep. If I ever get a pension it will be for rheumatism caught by sleeping on the ground. The rheumatism has not got hold of me yet, though twenty-two years have passed, but it may be lurking about my system, for all I know.

I had never rode a horse, before enlisting. The only thing I had ever got straddle of was a stool in a country printing office, and when I was first ordered to saddle up my horse, I could not tell which way the saddle and bridle went, and I got a colored man to help me, for which I paid him some of the remains of my bounty. I hired him permanently, to take care of my horse, but I soon learned that each soldier had to take care of his own horse. That seemed pretty hard. I had been raised a pet, and had edited a newspaper, which had been one of the most outspoken advocates of crushing the rebellion, and it seemed to me, as much as I had done for the government, in urging enlistments, I was entitled to more consideration then to become my own hostler. However, I curbed my proud spirit, and after the nigger cook had saddled my horse, I led the animal up to a fence to climb on. From the remarks of the soldiers, and the general laugh all around, it was easy to see that mounting a cavalry horse from off the top of a rail fence was not according to tactics, but it was the only way I could see to get on, in the absence of step-ladders. They let me ride into the ranks, after mounting, and then they laughed. It was hard for me to be obliged to throw away all the articles I had brought with me, so I strapped them on the saddle in front and behind, and only my head stuck out over them. There was one thing, it would be a practicable impossibility to fall off.

The regiment started on a raid. The colonel came along by my company during the afternoon, and I asked him where we were going. He gave me an evasive answer, which hurt my feelings. I asked his pardon, but told him I would like to know where we were going, so as to have my letters sent to me, but he went off laughing, and never told me, while the old soldiers laughed, though I couldn't see what they were laughing at. I did not suppose there was so much difference between officers and privates, and wondered if it was the policy of this government to have a cavalry regiment to start off on a long raid and not let the soldiers know where they were going, and during the afternoon I decided to write home to the paper I formerly edited and give my opinion of such a fool way of running a war. Suppose anybody at home was sick, they wouldn't know where to write for me to come back. There is nothing that will give a man such an appetite as riding on a galloping horse, and along about the middle of the afternoon I began to get hungry, and asked the orderly sergeant when we were going to get any dinner. He said there was a hotel a short distance ahead, and the colonel had gone forward to order dinner for the regiment. I believed him, because I had known the orderly before the war, when he drove a horse in a brickyard, grinding clay. But he was a liar, too, as I found out afterwards. There was not a hotel within fifty miles, and soldiers did not stop at hotels, anyway. Finally the orderly sergeant came along and announced that dinner was ready, and I looked for the hotel, but the only dinner I saw was some raw pork that soldiers took out of their saddle bags, with hard tack. We stopped in the woods, dismounted, and the boys would cut off a slice of fat pork and spread it on the hard tack and eat it. I had never supposed the government would subject its soldiers to such fare as that, and I wouldn't eat. I did not dare dismount, as there was no fence near that I could use to climb on to my horse, so I sat in the saddle and let the horse eat some grass, while I thought of home, and pie and cake, and what a condemned fool a man was to leave a comfortable home to go and put down anybody's rebellion. The way I felt then I wouldn't have touched a rebellion if one lay right in the road. What business was it of mine if some people in the South wanted to dissolve partnership and go set up business for themselves? How was I going to prevent them from having a southern confederacy, by riding an old rack of bones of a horse, that would reach his nose around every little while and chew my legs? If the recruiting officer who inveigled me into the army had come along then, his widow would now be drawing a pension. While I was thinking, dreaming of home, and the horse was eating grass, the fool animal suddenly took it into his head to lay down and roll, and before I could kick any of his ribs in, he was down, and I was rolling off, with one leg under him. The soldiers quit eating and pulled the horse of me, and hoisted me up into the space between my baggage, and then they laughed, lit their pipes and smoked, as happy as could be. I couldn t see how they could be happy, and wondered if they were not sick of war. Then they mounted, and on we went. My legs and body became chafed, and it seemed as though I couldn t ride another minute, and when the captain came along I told him about it, and asked him if I couldn t be relieved some way. He said the only way was for me to stand on my head and ride, and he winked at a soldier near me, and, do you know, that soldier actually changed ends with himself and stood on his head and hands in the saddle and rode quite a distance, and the captain said that was the way a cavalry soldier rested himself. Gracious, I wouldn t have tried that for the world, and I found out afterwards that the soldier who stood on his head formerly belonged with a circus.

I suppose it was wrong to complain, but the horse they gave me was the meanest horse in the regiment. He would bite and kick the other horses, and they would kick back, and about half the time I was dodging the heels of horses, and a good deal of the time I was wondering if a man would get any pension if he was wounded that way. It would seem pretty tough to go home on a stretcher, as a wounded soldier, and have people find out a horse kicked you. I never had been a man of blood, and didn't enlist to kill anybody, as I could prove by that recruiting officer, and I didn t want to fight, but from what I could gather from the conversation of the soldiers, fighting and killing people was about all they thought about. They talked about this one and that one who had been killed, and the hundreds of confederates they had all shot or killed with sabres, until my hair just stood right up. It seems that twelve or fifteen men, more or less, had been shot off the horse I was riding, and one fellow who rode next to me said no man who ever rode that old yellow horse had escaped alive. This was cheering to me, and I would have given my three hundred dollars bounty, and all I could borrow, if I could get out of the army. However, I found out afterwards that the soldier lied. In fact they all lied, and they lied for my benefit. We struck into the woods, and traveled until after dark, with no road, and the march was enlivened by remarks of the soldiers near me to the effect that we would probably never get out of the woods alive. They said we were trying to surround an army of rebels, and cut them off from the main army, and the chances were that when tomorrow's sun rose it would rise on the ghostly corpses of the whole regiment, with jackals and buzzards eating us. One of the soldiers took something from his pocket, about the size of a testament, pressed it to his heart, and then kissed it, and I felt as though I was about to faint, but by the light of a match which another soldier had scratched on his pants to light his pipe, I saw that what I supposed to be a testament, was a box of sardines the soldier had bought of the sutler. I was just about to die of hunger, exhaustion, and fright at the fearful stories the veterans had been telling, when there was a shout at the head of the regiment, which was taken up all along the line, my horse run under the limb of a tree and raked me out of the saddle, and I hung to the limb, my legs hanging down, and

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