« PreviousContinue »
OUR FIRST EXPEDITION.
labelled saloons. This was the main cause of so great a per centage of sickness and mortality among those who were supposed to be acclimated to the country, and to modes of life which on the distant frontier much resemble that of a soldier in camp.
On Col. Greusel devolved the command of the Post. The first measure inaugurated by him, and the first expedition in which the 36th participated, was a demonstration in force against the whisky dens. The Colonel commanded the expedition in person, and with a detachment from the 36th, headed the charge, seized and emptied all the liquors they could find. Very little of the extract of corn remained in Rolla at the close of that campaign.
Previous to the occupation of the town and the establishment of a military post at Rolla, trees and brushwood covered the slopes and cumbered the streets, or more properly, bridle paths. Situated in the midst of a scantily settled country—a silent, sleepy region, but little troubled with Yankee. enterprise or modern agricultural improvements, and as a business center scarcely producing a ripple upon the dull monotony of the region—there were no inducements for building. But in time the groves were cut down, the land cleared and leveled for parade grounds, and the hills denuded of their foliage for purposes of fuel.
War, with its wonder-working power, wrought a great change in the appearance of this sleepy town. White-walled, canvass villages sprang up and crowned the hill sides; sentries paced up and down its once quiet walks; and army wagons, soldiers, mounted officers, and orderlies hurrying from camp to camp over rough, forest ways, gave it an air of business, activity and bustle, quite in contrast with the primitive days of the town. The population was largely made up of apple women, mustang ponies, fugitives from the outskirts of civilization, mules, contraband negroes, with now and then a secessionist not smart enough to run away, and too worthless to be hung. Such was Rolla as we found it: a conglomeration of military camps, of small traders, attracted by the hopes of gain from unsuspecting soldiers, and a “right smart sprinkle” of native Missourians, all of which constituted the peculiar make up of the place.
In a few days the 13th Illinois and 4th Iowa Regiments returned from a brief and fruitless expedition and encamped in close proximity to the 36th, and as the former had been recruited in the same region of country with ours, a close intimacy and generous rivalry sprang up between them.
In the meantime drilling proceeded almost incessantly, lasting some days from six to nine hours, and such rapid progress was made in our military education as to attract the attention of officers of other commands. Col. Wyman was a frequent visitor and at times conducted the Dress Parades, and the 13th, the hitherto crack regiment of the State, betrayed some anxiety about retaining their well merited and so far uncontested laurels. The severity of the day's drill and other duties required of the men had a tendency to send them early to bed, when quiet reigned over camp until the little drum major would arouse them to activity at five o'clock in the morning.
Col. Greusel was a strict disciplinarian, and looked sharply after the peccadillos of the men. Realizing from former experience that it was not the bullet or shell which most menaced the lives of soldiers, but that habits of idleness, license and dissipation engendered diseases infinitely more fatal than Dahlgren or Columbiad; his orders were stringent in regard to drunkenness, frequenting saloons and disreputable houses, and also very definite in relation to plundering from citizens. All convicted of disobeying orders were made examples of, and dealt with severely. As a result, the general good conduct and exemplary behavior of
THE MISSOURI PIE-VENDERS.
the men of the 36th was commented on, and led some to suppose they were all members in good standing of some orthodox church, while their deportment won for them the credit of being gentlemen as well as soldiers. One night a corporal while concealed in the bushes and darkness near the post of a sentinel, overheard the countersign as it was given to a relief, and persuading some of his comrades to accompany him, they left camp and raided heavily onthe gardens and hen roosts of citizens, and brought their ill gotten plunder to their quarters. The affair reached the ears of Col. Greusel. Their arrest and speedy court-martial followed, resulting in the decrease of the number of corporals in that Company, and a corresponding accession to the numbers of high privates, while the whole party were sentenced to ten days confinement within the vermin-haunted walls of the jail.
An institution somewhat aboriginal, and yet peculiarly Missourian, was the pie and cake venders, generally skinny old women, who flocked in from the country with immense burdens of leather apron" pies and black lumps of ginger bread or molasses cakea mixture of flour, bacon grease and sorghum molasses—the color of which suggested tar instead of syrup. The venders of these villainous articles would hang about the confines of camp, hawking their wares with voices as unmusical and unfeminine as
The men of the 36th were liberal patrons of these institutions, and at all times groups of soldiers might be found gathered around these native hucksters, voraciously devouring their conglomerate mixtures. It was absolutely marvelous to see the quantities which an average sized thirty-sixer could hold.
fter gorging themselves with pies, hunks of black gingerbread enough, one would think, to founder a horse
the information would be vouchsafed that they had eaten just enough to provoke an appetite, and then another half dozen pies or cards of
cake were purchased to be sandwiched between a course of baked beans and hard tack. It was a continued source of wonder how men could endure such a surfeit of leather and molasses, beans and bacon with which they tormented their digestive organs, and survive; and it could only be accounted for on the theory that with the change from civil to military life, their stomachs, like their costumes, had undergone a wonderful transformation ; perhaps were lined with gutta purcha and riveted to a diaphragm of boiler iron. Yet they lived; and like Jeshurun of old, waxed fat, and would tumble out of their quarters on a keen, frosty morning as nimble as crickets, ready for duty at the drop of the hat. The demand for this indigestible native pastry was occasioned by the poor quality of the rations at this time served to the troops. Some of the early issues of hard bread were old and worm eaten. When soaked in coffee, more or less dead worms were found among the dregs. The members of the Band at one time had issued to them a barrel of it, infinitely worse than any they had hitherto received. They determined to bury it, and the whole musical corps of the regiment marched in solemn procession to a spot selected outside of camp, and the rites of sepulture were gone through with. Dutch Charley, the bass drummer, suggested that an epitaph be written upon the headboard, and on being asked what it should be, replied :
Here lies von mans, his name's hard pred,
Or de vorms vill eat you ups, mein Got ! As Rolla at this time was the extreme outpost occupied by federal troops, it was the point to which refugees and fugitives, fleeing from the relentless conscription of the rebels, came for protection and aid. The 25th Missouri, commanded by Col. Phelps, was largely composed of this element. They came singly
UNION REFUGEES FLEEING TO CAMP.
or in squads of from two to fifty; on foot, on horseback and in any and all ways to escape the fury and hate of their enemies.
and footsore they presented themselves to the pickets and from thence wended their toilsome way to the camps. One arrival of seventy-five mountaineers from the chert hills of Douglas County, on the borders of Arkansas, for a while was the center of attraction. To the “ boys from America,” a queerer conglomeration of human oddities and natural curiosities were scarcely ever raked together. No mortal man could picture a more strange, ragged and dirty assemblage in the form of human beings. Most of them were tall, sallow, cadavarous and leathery fellows, as uncouth as was ever represented in David Crockett's comic almanac. Others were short and brawny, and stalked through the crowd with a reckless, independent swagger.
All of them were squalid, travel-worn and tattered to the last degree. Talk of scarecrows! Why, the yards of dirty linen hanging out like fluttering banners from the rear, and the patches and shreds of old coats and garments dangling from their limbs, would be sufficient to scare the crows and all other 6 varmints" in terror from the country. Some were barefooted, others had an apology for shoes that would excite the profoundest contempt from the seediest street beggar that ever haunted the gutter for bones. And as for hats, words could scarcely do the subject justice. Hunt up
all the old hats that ever plugged the windows of poverty's dirtiest kennels; select a score or more of the poorest and worst, and an approximate idea might be formed of the head-gear of these native mountaineers.
As Union men they had been persecuted, plundered, driven from their homes, and hunted like wild animals by hordes of secession “ blood hounds" from Arkansas and the Southern border. Many were caught and hung; others had their ears cut off,