Saturday, September 12, 2009

How I enlisted; how sadly veteran

Here is a good story from page 364 of The Civil War in Song and Story. 1860-1865 by Frank Moore, published in 1865. It illustrates how the war and experience changed things in the minds and perspectives of soldiers, or at least in one soldier, though it seems probable many underwent similar conversions of mindset over the course of time.

A soldier of the Second regiment of Ohio cavalry writes: "On New Year's day, 1864, as our regiment was lying in line of battle beyond Mossy Creek in East Tennessee, the proposition to reenlist as veteran volunteers was submitted to that grim organization. Peter Longstreet's ragged but plucky skirmish line was a stone's throw in front, with a forward tendency; snow was on the hills; the Second Ohio cavaliers had drawn no rations from Uncle Sam in fifteen days, and not an average of one eighth ration during the proceeding four months; their diaphragms were devoid of burden; they had not 'lived in tents' for an eight month; the supply of pone and cerulean hog was failing in that land, and zero was biting at the noses of the cavaliers. Amid all these favorable surroundings the cavaliers said, 'Go to, let us have more of this good thing; give unto us yet thirty and six moons of this goodly service.' Thus the thing was done. Under such circumstances our veteran volunteers enlisted.

"While the cavaliers were signing their names to the enlistment roll, at the rate of a hundred per hour, a ludicrous memory of a former enlistment came to us. Two days after Sumter fell, on a bright April morning, big church full of indignant sovereigns and enthusiastic women; organ thundered, band crashed out 'Hail Columbia'; impromptu banners wagged briskly, and the air was redolent of patriotism. Music ceased. Speeches followed. Roll was opened, and volunteers called for. Five hundred pairs of starry eyes waited to illume the path of the first volunteer. Five hundred pairs of little white hands were nervous to begin clapping at the advent of the first masculine sacrifice. He came, and Emperors have had poorer receptions. He was apotheosized. More followed. The pressure increased. I cowered in my pew, imagining that every woman of sense, and every girl of beauty was saying to herself, 'Why don't he go?' I reasoned with myself, but the clapping and waving of white kerchiefs made me dizzy. With a mighty effort, I made a resolution. I mentally bade adieu to all terrestrial matters. I buried from view all relatives nearer than second cousins, drew the veil of forgetfulness over the dear form of Julia, and most of my outstanding debts, made up my mind to be shot for my country, and began to stride up the aisle. What a path to a graveyard! The male audience yelled - the female audience waved kerchiefs with unexampled energy, and they were perfumed with divine odors. i saw nothing but a dancing sea of snow-white foam, interspersed with smiling stars. I heard nothing but an undefined roar - to me an echo from eternity, to which I regarded myself as rapidly going. I scrawled my name on the elongated foolscap, and thus added my two hundred pounds to the growing hecatomb. I was a volunteer! That night I dreamed of battles. Next day, twenty-seven Testaments, thirteen 'housewifes,' eleven pin-cushions, and thirty-eight rolls of bandages, were left at my boarding-house, each with a touching note from the fair donors. Such was three months' soldiering 'in the brave days of old.' Then we were green - how sadly veteran we are now!"

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