"The Irish Ninth in Bivouac and Battle"
by Michael H. Macnamara
Incidents of a March. -- A dirty Musket. -- The Colonel and the Corporal. -- An ungrateful Man. -- Retaliation. -- More of the Professor. -- How he got his Larnin.
THE Ninth found themselves once more in Virginia, marching over the same ground and gazing upon the same familiar scenes they had so often passed during the last two years. Not a road, not a stream, or hill, or valley, or shorn wood, but looked to them like an old friend. Here they had done picket duty on many a long night. There many a pleasant evening had been passed around that charred old stump, against which the camp fires had cheerily burned. Along that smooth, hard road, many a foot-race had been run, or many a wrestling match had been consummated. Between those little drains and ridges they had often soundly slept; and those unromantic heaps which at one time were considered an "illigant" chimney, in our not-over-fastidious estimation, could they speak, what stories they might tell of adventures, personal or romantic, told by our gossiping lads of a winter night as they sat around the cheerful fire that blazed therein ! The soldier's life may not be conducive to the development of the gentler feelings of our nature. But this we do know: we have seen strong, cold-hearted men moved by such scenes as we have feebly attempted to portray, and the recurrence of so many familiar places made it seem as though the mission of the army of the Potomac was indeed circumscribed -- as though their battles and bivouacs were to be fought and made in the self-same area. In a word, Virginia and its vicinity were the great book which they had long perused, the chapters of which were indelibly impressed on their memory, and every passage was to them as familiar as a song.
Our boys, as they trudged along, pointed out well-known spots; and then came quaint sayings and comical stories, in some way associated with them.
"Jimmie, d'ye remember when we was here, when the kurnel axed me what I had sich a dirty musket for, and I showed him me shovel, an' ses I, 'Kurnel, maybe the gun's a bit dirty, but this shovel's purty well polished;' 'cause I'd bin workin' at that there fort for a fortnight; an' the kurnel laughed, an' ses he to the captin, as they went away, 'P'raps, captin, that's more in his line.'" "O, yes; I remember that well, Tim," returned Jimmie, with a broad grin; "but ould Mike the corpler kot the kurnel as fine as ever he war kot in his life. Mike was on juty one day, an' he let somebody pass, what had no business to. The kurnel herd it, and when he sees the corpler he axed him 'what for he done that.' Mike said, ' 'cause he thought it war all right.' Ses the kurnel, "Well, you're a purty feller ! what confounded fool made you a corpler?' 'Shure, kurnel," ses Mike, 'it was yourself.'" Roars of laughter followed this narration; then Jimmie resumed the conversation. "God be wid them times; poor Mike was a quare fellow. It war a shame he war killed the way he was. We war goin' through the wood at Malvern, jist out from the field, when we seed a wownded reb setting forenest a tree. 'Give us a drink of water,' ses he. Ould Mike stopped and give him a drink out of his canteen, while we went on. Purty soon we herd a shot, and looked back and seed poor Mike fall. The cowardly snake had shot him after drinkin' his water.*Charley Willis run back an' dashed the butt of his musket on the rascal's head, an' settled him, the brute ! Arrah, some of them war great villains, Tim." "They war, indeed ! didn't meself see 'em proddin' the wounded with their bayonets, an' robbin' 'em afore they was dead?" Here Jimmie pulled out his old black pipe, and, seizing a brand from a fire by the road-side, hastily lit it, and was about to proceed with the conversation.
"Whist !" said Tim, with a nudge of the elbow, as Jimmie was about to speak; "here's the Purfessor. We'll have some fun wid the quare divil, for he's mighty grand whin he wants to be."
The Professor, who has been introduced to our readers in the previous chapter, now appeared -- the perspiration pouring off his brow; and bending beneath the weight of a well-filled knapsack,**he presented the appearance of one laboring under sore affliction.
"Well, me man o' wax," quoth Tim, "ye's looks tired and purty well played out !"
"It's not exhausted, nayther is it debilitated, I am; nor is this perspiration exhumed from my flesh by the unaccustomed exercise of my fermoral muscles; but I am greatly exercised by the rapacious villany of a dishonest soger, whose audacious immorality has culminated in the appropriation of my frying-pan !"
Jimmie and Tim seemed stunned for a moment by the Professor's eloquence; the latter at last recovered himself, and said, "It must be a quare frying-pan; if yer plase, let's look at it."
"Haven't I explained to ye, in the clearest terrums, words, and expressions, that can be taken, picked, chosen, or selected from the unlimited vocabulary of the English tongue, the frying-pan that was attached to my back has taken unto itself wings and flown away !" and the Professor looked about him with as much dignity as his red, freckled face and extensive knapsack would allow.
"O, it must be the divil's own frying-pan that could get off that way; it dropped off, ye mane."
"Ye war niver at Maynooth," interrupted the Professor, with a self-satisfied look.
"No," said Tim, innocently, "but I've a brother that was."
"Did he take his degrees?" queried the Professor.
"He did, indeed. I don't know what you call 'em, but he took something, and that's what got him there. Were you ever there?" asked Tim, in his turn.
"Faith, I was; 'twas there I got my larnin'."
"The divil !" quoth the astonished Tim; "ye ought to be ashamed to tell it, ye reprobate !"
"To tell it !" exclaimed the astonished Professor.
"Yes," yelled Tim, "ye got yer larnin' in Maynooth Jail, and ye'd be boastin' of it. It's little that my brother Dick would do the likes o' that, though he can make a brush or break a stone as clever as the next man, an' he didn't serve half as long as you."
The astounded Professor gave his knapsack a hitch, and fell to the rear, away from the boys, who laughed long and boisterously.
"Well, he's a man of wonderful larnin', Tim," quoth Jimmie.
"Ay," replied Tim; and he sang the following stanza in a clear and not unmusical voice: --"He's a fine and mighty janius, full of larnin' and of wit,"I wonder what made him 'list," said Jimmie, when his companion had unburdened himself of the above elegant lines.
And can spake of other nations that are far beyant the say;
He can talk in Greek or Latin, or elucidate Sanscrit,
He's the gratest livin' scholar in the univarsitay."
"What made him inlist, is it? sure that's aisily answered. He larned everything that there was to be larned, 'cept sogerin'; so he jist come here to complate his accomplishments by larnin' how to make coffee, eat hard tack and pork, and sleep on the could, could ground; an' thin he'll go home wid a big diary an' a skin full of rumatics. That's the way wid those ambitious min, Jimmie; they'd go to the ould boy hisself for larnin'. It's well for us we are not janiuses, eh Jimmie?"
"Yes, and for Uncle Sam too, Tim; for these janiuses is allus behind when there's any fightin' to be done; they doos be examinin' the juology of the rocks. I seed the Purfessor, the last time we'd a cut at the 'Johnnies," behind a big pile, and I axed what he war doin', an' he sed he war 'juologizin' or some sort of gizin of the rocks !'
Thus the boys would travel on, relating anecdotes of their military experiences, and throwing off comical descriptions of a character which kept their companions in a continual roar of laughter. Reaching Lovettsville late in the day, all soon were busy cooking their suppers, preparatory to sleep.*This treacherous act was perpetrated at the battle of Malvern Hill, as stated. Poor Willis, who inflicted such summary retribution, was afterwards killed.
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