Frank on the Lower Mississippiby Harry Castlemon / Historical Fiction
Produced by David Garcia, Juliet Sutherland, Charles Franks,and the Online Distributed Proofreading Team.
FRANK ON THE LOWER MISSISSIPPI.
CHAPTER I.--THE NEW PAYMASTER
CHAPTER II.--A NIGHT EXPEDITION
CHAPTER III.--ARCHIE IN A PREDICAMENT
CHAPTER IV.--A MARK FOR THE UNION
CHAPTER V.--A RUN FOR LIFE
CHAPTER VI.--FRANK TURNS DETECTIVE
CHAPTER VII.--FRANK'S FIRST COMMAND
CHAPTER VIII.--AN UNLUCKY FLIGHT
CHAPTER IX.--UP THE WASHITA
CHAPTER X.--THE PROMOTION
CHAPTER XI.--THE RIVAL SPIES
CHAPTER XII.--A SCOUTING PARTY
CHAPTER XIII.--TOM THE COXSWAIN
CHAPTER XIV.--A REBEL TRICK
CHAPTER XV.--HONORABLY DISCHARGED
FRANK ON THE LOWER MISSISSIPPI.
The New Paymaster.
Vicksburg had fallen, and the army had marched in and taken possessionof the city. How Frank longed to accompany it, that he might see theinside of the rebel stronghold, which had so long withstood the advanceof our fleet and army! He stood leaning against one of the monster guns,which, at his bidding, had spoken so often and so effectively in favorof the Union, and for two hours watched the long lines of war-wornsoldiers as they moved into the works. At length a tremendous cheerarose from the city, and Frank discovered a party of soldiers on thecupola of the court-house, from which, a few moments afterward, floatedthe Stars and Stripes. Then came faintly to his ears the words of afamiliar song, which were caught up by the soldiers in the city, then bythose who were still marching in, and We'll rally round the flag,boys, was sung by an immense choir. The rebels in the streets gazedwonderingly at the men on the spire, and listened to the song, and thetriumphant shouts of the conquering army, which proclaimed the beginningof the downfall of their confederacy.
To Frank, it was one of the proudest moments of his life--a sight hewould not have missed to be able to float at the mast-head of his vesselthe broad pennant of the admiral. All he had endured was forgotten; andwhen the Old Flag was unfurled in the air which had but a short timebefore floated the stars and bars, he pulled off his cap and shoutedat the top of his lungs.
Having thus given vent to his feelings of exultation, in obedience toorders, he commenced the removal of his battery on board the Trenton. Itwas two days' work to accomplish this, but Frank, who was impatient tosee the inside of the fortifications worked with a will, and finally thebattery was mounted in its old position. On the following day, theTrenton moved down the river, and came to anchor in front of Vicksburg.Shore liberty was granted, and Frank, in company with several of hisbrother officers, strolled about the city. On every side the houses borethe marks of Union shot and shell, and the streets were blocked withfortifications, showing that had the city been taken by storm, it wasthe intention of the rebels to dispute every inch of the ground. Everything bore evidence to the fact that the fight had been a most desperateone; that the rebels had surrendered only when they found that it wasimpossible to hold out longer.
In some places the streets ran through deep cuts in the bank, and inthese banks were the famous gopher holes. They were [ca]ves dug inthe ground, into which a person, if he happened to hear a shell coming,might run for safety. Outside the city, the fortifications were mostextensive; rifle-pits ran in every direction, flanked by strong forts,whose battered walls attested the fury of the iron hail that had beenpoured upon them. It was night before Frank was aware of it, sointerested was he in every thing about him, and he returned on board hisvessel, weary with his long walk, but amply repaid by seeing the insideof what its rebel occupants had called the Gibraltar of America.
During the next two days, several vessels of the squadron passed thecity, on their way to new fields of action further down the river. Oneof them--the Boxer, a tin-clad, mounting eight guns--had Frank on board.He had been detached from the Trenton, and ordered to join this vessel,which had been assigned a station a short distance below Grand Gulf. Asusual, he had no difficulty in becoming acquainted with his newmessmates, and he soon felt perfectly at home among them. He found, ashe had done in every other mess of which he had been a member, thatthere was the usual amount of wrangling and disputing, and it amused himexceedingly. All the mess seemed to be indignant at the caterer, who didnot appear to stand very high in their estimation. The latter, helearned, had just made an assessment upon the mess to the amount often dollars for each member; and as there was no paymaster on board, theofficers had but very little ready money, and were anxious to know whereall the funds paid into the treasury went to. He also found that thecaterer's authority was not as much respected as he had a right toclaim, for during the very first meal Frank ate in the mess, a disputearose which threatened for a time to end in the whole matter beingcarried before the captain.
One of the members of the mess, who was temporarily attached to thevessel, was a pilot who had been pressed into the service. He was agenuine rebel, and frequently said that he was called a traitor becausehe was in favor of allowing the South to peaceably withdraw from theUnion. The doctor, a little, fat, jolly man, and a thorough Unionist,who believed in handling all rebels without gloves, took up the sword,and the debate that followed was long and stormy. The pilot, as itproved, hardly knew the reasons why the South had attempted to secede,and was constantly clinching his arguments by saying, Men who knowmore, and who have done more fighting during this war than you, DoctorBrown, say that they have a right to do so. The debate waxed hotter andhotter, until some of the other members of the mess joined in with thedoctor against the pilot, and the caterer, thinking that the noise thedisputants made was unbecoming the members of a well-regulated mess, atlength shouted:
Silence! Gentlemen, hereafter talking politics in this wardroom isstrictly prohibited.
Eh? ejaculated the doctor, who was thoroughly aroused, Do you expectus to sit here and listen to a conscript running down the Government--aman who never would have entered the service if he had not beencompelled to do so? No, sir! I wouldn't hold my tongue under suchcircumstances if all the six-foot-four caterers in the squadron shouldsay so. You are not a little admiral, to come down here and hoist yourbroad pennant in this mess-room.
The caterer was astounded when he found his authority thus set atdefiance, and without further parley he retired to his room; and in afew moments returned with the books, papers, and the small amount ofmoney that belonged to the mess; laying them on the table, he said:
Gentlemen, you will please elect another caterer.
The debate was instantly hushed, for not one member of the mess, besidesthe caterer just resigned, could have been hired to take theresponsibility of managing affairs. When the officers had finished theirdinner, they walked carelessly out on deck, as if the question of wherethe next meal was to come from did not trouble them in the least.Nothing was done toward an election; no one took charge of the books orpapers, and when the table was cleared away they were thrownunceremoniously under the water-cooler. The money, however, was takencare of by the doctor. Dinner-time came, and when Frank, tired andhungry, was relieved from the deck, he inquired what was to be had toeat.
There's nothing been done about it yet, answered the officer whorelieved him. The steward went to several of the members of the mess,and asked what they wished served up; but they told him that they hadnothing to do with the caterer's business, and the consequence is, ifyou want any thing to eat, you will have to go into the pantry and helpyourself.
Frank was a good deal amused at the obstinacy displayed by the differentmembers of the mess, and wondered how the affair would end. The messcould not long exist without some one to take charge of it; but forhimself he was not at all concerned. He had paid no initiation fee,because no one had asked him for it, and he knew that as long as therewere provisions in the paymaster's store-rooms, there was no danger butthat he would get plenty to eat. He found three or four officers in thepantry making their dinner on hard-tack, pickles, and raw bacon. Theywere all grumbling over the hard fare, but not one of them appearedwilling to assume the office of caterer.
Things went on in this way for nearly a week, (during which time theyhad arrived at their station,) and the doctor, who was fond of goodliving, could stand it no longer. He went to the caterer who hadresigned, and, after considerable urging, and a solemn promise thatpolitics should not again be discussed in the mess, the latter waspersuaded to resume the management of affairs. The change from hardcrackers and pickles to nice warm meals was a most agreeable one, andthe jolly doctor, according to promise, was very careful what questionswere brought up before the mess for discussion.
By this time, as we have before remarked, the Boxer had arrived at herstation. Her crew thought they were now about to lead a life of idlenessand inactivity, for not a rebel had they seen since leaving Vicksburg.But one morning, while the men were engaged in washing off theforecastle, they were startled by a roar of musketry, and three of thesailors fell dead upon the deck.
The fight that followed continued for two hours, the rebels finallyretiring, not because they had been worsted, but for the reason thatthey had grown weary of the engagement. This was the commencement of aseries of attacks which proved to be the source of great annoyance tothe crew of the Boxer. The guerrillas would appear when least expected,and the levee afforded them a secure hiding-place from which they couldnot be driven, either with big guns or small arms. They were fatalmarksmen, too; and during the week following, the Boxer's crew lost tenmen. One rebel in particular attracted their attention, and his recklesscourage excited their admiration. He rode a large white horse, andalthough rendered a prominent mark for the rifles of the sailors, healways escaped unhurt. He would ride boldly out in full view of thevessel, patiently wait for someone to expose himself, when the sharpcrack of his rifle would be followed by the report made to the captain,A man shot, sir.
Frank had selected this man as a worthy foe-man; and every time heappeared the young officer was on the watch for him. He was very expertwith the rifle, and after a few shots, he succeeded in convincing therebel that the safest place for him was behind the levee. One morningthe foe appeared in stronger force than usual, and conspicuous amongthem was the white horse and his daring rider. The fight that ensued hadcontinued for perhaps half an hour, when the quartermaster reported thedispatch-boat approaching. As soon as she came within range, theguerrillas directed their fire against her, to which the latter repliedbriskly from two guns mounted on her forecastle. The leader of therebels was constantly in view, cheering on his men, and discharging hisrifle as fast as he could reload. Frank fired several shots at him, andfinding that, as usual, they were without effect, he asked the captain'spermission to try a howitzer on him, which was granted. He ran below,trained the gun to his satisfaction, and waited for an opportunity tofire, during which the dispatch-boat came alongside and commencedputting off a supply of stores.
At length the rebel mounted the levee, and reigning in his horse, sat inhis saddle gazing at the vessels, as if not at all concerned. Hepresented a fair mark, and Frank fired, but the shell went wild andburst in the woods, far beyond the rebel, who, however, beat a hastyretreat behind the levee.
Oh, what a shot! shouted a voice through the trumpet that led from thepilot-house to the main deck. What a shot--altogether too muchelevation.
Who's that, I wonder? soliloquized Frank. It _was_ a poor shot,but I'd like to see that fellow, whoever he is, do any better.
After giving orders to have the gun reloaded and secured, he ran intothe wardroom to look after his mail, at the same time inquiring of everyone he met, Who was that making fun of my shooting? But no one knew,nor cared to trouble himself about the matter, for the subject ofconversation was, We've got a new paymaster.
Frank was pleased to hear this, but was still determined to find theperson who had laughed at his marksmanship, when he saw a pair of feetdescending the ladder that led from the cabin to the pilot-house, and amoment afterward, a smart looking young officer, dressed in the uniformof a paymaster, stood in the wardroom, and upon discovering Frank,thrust out his hand and greeted him with--
What a shot! Been in the service more than two years, and--
Why, Archie Winters, is this you? exclaimed Frank, joyfully.
_Paymaster_ Winters, if you please replied Archie, with mockdignity.
How came you here? What are you doing? Got any money? hurriedlyinquired Frank.
Got plenty of funds, replied his cousin. But I say, Frank, how longhas this fighting been going on?
Every day for the last week.
Archie shrugged his shoulders, and looked blank.
I guess I had better go back to Cairo, said he; these rebels, I hear,shoot very carelessly. Just before we came alongside here, I wasstanding on the deck of the dispatch-boat, and some fellow cracked awayat me, sending the bullet altogether too close to my head for comfort.
Oh, that's nothing, so long as he didn't hit you. You'll get used tothat before you have been here a week. But, Archie, are you reallyordered to this vessel?
Archie at once produced his orders, and, sure enough, he was an actingassistant paymaster, and ordered to report to the commanding officer ofthe U. S. S. Boxer for duty on board that vessel.
During the two years that Archie had been in the fleet-paymaster'soffice he had, by strict attention to his duties, worked his way up fromwriter to corresponding clerk. He had had ample opportunity to learnthe duties of paymaster, and one day he suddenly took it into his headto make application for the position. He immediately wrote to hisfather, informing him of his intention, procured his letters ofrecommendation, and a month afterward received the appointment.
Hearing, through Frank, that the Boxer was without a paymaster, hesucceeded in getting ordered to her, and, as he had not written to hiscousin of his good fortune, the latter, as may be supposed, was takencompletely by surprise.
Archie was speedily introduced to the officers of the vessel, who werepleased with his off-hand, easy manners, and delighted with the looks ofa small safe which he had brought with him, for they knew, by the veryparticular orders he gave concerning it, that there was money in it.
At the end of an hour the rebels seemed to grow weary of the fight, forthey drew off their forces; then, as soon as it was safe on deck, thecousins seated themselves on the guard, to talk over old times. Frankgave descriptions of the fights in which he had engaged since they lastmet, and also related stories of mess-room life, with which Archie wasentirely unacquainted; and to show him how things were conducted, toldhim of the jokes the officers frequently played upon each other.
Speaking of jokes, said Archie, reminds me of a little affair I had ahand in at Cairo.
While the commandant of the station was absent on a leave, his placewas supplied by a gentleman whom, for short, I will call Captain Smith.He was a regular officer, had grown gray in the service, and was one ofthe most eccentric men I ever saw. He was extremely nervous, too, and ifa steamer happened to whistle while passing the wharf-boat, it wouldmake him almost wild.
One day, a man who lived off somewhere in the woods, came down to Cairoto get an appointment for his son as master's mate. Our office, youknow, was just to the right of the door, and, if there was any thingthat bothered me, it was for some body to stick his head over therailing when I was busy, and ask, 'Is the commandant of the station in?'There was an orderly on watch day and night, always ready to answer suchquestions, and besides, there was an abundance of notices on the wallspointing out the different offices; but in spite of this, every strangerthat came in must stop and make inquiries of me.
Well, this man came into the office, and as he had evidently never beenthere before, judging by the way he gaped at every thing, I told himthat it was after office hours, and that he must call again the nextmorning about nine o'clock. He took a turn or two across the floor(by-the-way, he wore squeaking boots, that made a noise like asteam-whistle), and finally went out.
The next evening, just as I was locking up my desk, he came in again,and I repeated what I had told him the night before, that he must comeat nine o'clock in the _morning_--not at night--if he wished to seethe captain, and he went out, after making noise enough with hissqueaking boots to set a nervous man's teeth on edge. Now, would youbelieve it, that evening, after I had finished my work, and was startingout for supper, I saw this man coming up the stairs. He met me with theusual question, 'Is the captain in?' and I suddenly hit upon a plan toget rid of him, for I had made up my mind that the man didn't know whathe was about; so I replied:
'What do you want? Why don't you come here during our office hours, ifyou want to see me?'
I spoke in a gruff voice, and I was so bundled up--for the night wasvery cold--that I knew he wouldn't recognize me.
'I've been busy all day, cap'in,' said he; 'but the fact is'--
I was afraid that I would be obliged to stand there in the cold andlisten to a long, uninteresting yarn, so I interrupted him.
'Speak quick, and don't keep me waiting.'
'Wal, cap'in,' said he, 'I heerd you are in want of officers, an' Icome to get a place for my son; I hear the wages are purty good.'
'Yes,' I replied, 'we do want officers; but does your son know anythingabout a ship?'
'Oh, yes? He's run the river as deck-hand for goin' nigh on to threeyear.'
'Then he ought to know something, certainly. Come around tomorrowmorning, at nine o'clock exactly, and I'll see what can be done for you.Now, mind, I say nine o'clock in the morning.'
Well, the next morning, at the appointed time, to my utterastonishment, the man was on hand, and, as usual, commenced walking upand down the floor with his squeaking boots. The noise disturbedeveryone within hearing, and presently the captain, who was in hisoffice, and so busy that he hardly knew what he was about, spoke in asharp tone:
'Orderly, pull off those squeaking boots!'
'It isn't me, sir.' said the orderly; 'it's a gentleman out herewaiting to see you, sir.'
'Then send him in--send him in at once, so that I can get rid of thatnoise.'
The man was accordingly shown into the presence of the captain, while Ilistened with both ears to hear what was said.
'Mornin', cap'in,' he began; 'I reckon I'm here on time.'
'Time! what time? What do you want?' inquired the captain, who alwaysspoke very fast, as though he were in a hurry to get through with whathe had to say. 'What do you want, my good man. Be lively now.'
'Why, cap'in, I come here to get that appointment for my son in thisere navy.'
'Appointment! For your son!' repeated the captain. 'Who is he? I neverheard of him.'
'Wal, really now, cap'in, I'll be shot if you didn't tell me last nightthat you would make my son an officer. The wages are good, I hear, an'as I've a debt to pay off on the farm'--
'Don't bother me!' interrupted the captain, beginning to get impatient.
'But, cap'in,' urged the man, 'you can't bluff me off this 'ere way.You told me last night that you wanted officers; you know I met you onthe stairs, and you promised, honor bright.'
'Eh!' ejaculated the captain, in surprise,'my good man, allow me toknow what I'm about, will you? _Will_ you allow me to know myself?Orderly,' he continued, turning to that individual, who had stood by,convulsed with laughter, which he was vainly endeavoring to conceal,'orderly, do you think this man is in his right mind?'
The orderly said he didn't know; but, taking the man by the arm, showedhim out of the office, telling him to come again, when the captain wasnot quite so busy.
The conversation had been carried on in a loud tone, and all theoccupants of the different offices had heard it, and were highly amused,for they knew that somebody had been playing a joke on the countryman;but it was a long time before I told anyone of the share I had had inthe affair.