"The Irish Ninth in Bivouac and Battle"
by Michael H. Macnamara
Leaving Long Island. -- A false Alarm. -- Arrival at Washington. -- Emmart's Farm. -- The Captain and his Dog; or, Discipline versus Sagacity.
ON the morning of June 24, 1861, the Ninth Regiment Massachusetts Volunteers embarked on the Ben de Ford, Pembroke, and Cambridge, three large government transports, and in the presence of an immense assemblage, took their departure from Long Island for the city of Washington. On the third day of the passage considerable excitement was manifested, from the fact that it was expected we should be shelled passing the coast of Virginia, at a place called Matthias Point, where, it was authoritatively stated, the rebels had planted a masked battery, with which to render unnavigable the waters of the Potomac.
The excitement was increased by the commander of the Quaker City, a United States man-of-war, cruising the Potomac, which had hailed us on the evening of the second day, instructing us to keep a sharp lookout, as, no doubt, we should be attacked passing this point. The only armament aboard the transports was three brass swivel guns of light calibre, of which each vessel had one. An understanding was also had between Colonel Cass and the commander of the Ben de Ford, that, if attacked, he (Cass) would man the boats and storm the batteries, if they opened fire, under the protection of the guns of the transports. Upon approaching the point, the eyes of every officer were ben upon the land with looks of eager expectation, and more than one heart anxiously longed to hear the guns of the battery, that they might have the pleasure of silencing them.
The men had, upon nearing the point, been ordered below, so that the decks were clear for action, and if swept by the enemy's fire, little damage could be done them. The colonel and his officers, with the commanders of the boats, alone remained on the decks. The guns were shotted, and the noble vessels proceeded proudly on their way, and arrived in a short time opposite the Point. Not a sound was heard; not a movement indicated the position where the battery was concealed. In a few minutes the vessels had passed the Point, and no demonstration had been made. It is impossible to say what would have been the result if the battery had opened fire upon us. That an attempt to storm it would have been made we feel quite certain; but experience has since shown us that it might have been a very disastrous undertaking; for, from the nature of the embankment it would be next to impossible to land; and if musketry fire had been used against us, the consequences would have been fearful. After we had passed the fabled monster, and cleared a sufficient interval, the little brass gun of the Ben de Ford blazed forth an indignant challenge, the captain feeling that the security of his position warranted that token of his contempt.
Nothing of interest transpired during the rest of the voyage, except that we lost one man, a young fellow, named Garland, for whom all were sincerely sorry; he fell overboard, and though every effort was made to save him, the darkness of the night rendered our endeavors to help and save fruitless.
The accommodation on board the transports was of the first order; and though we should have preferred to go by rail, still, everything considered, the method of transportation was eminently successful and satisfactory.
On the afternoon of June 29, the transports arrived at the Arsenal wharf at Washington, when the troops disembarked, making their quarters temporarily in the Arsenal yard. Here we lay in our blankets until the morning of the 30th of June, when, after despatching our breakfast, we took up our line of march for the pleasant locality of Emmart's farm, about three miles outside of the city of Washington, where we arrived the same day, and at once pitched our camp.
Emmart's farm proved, eventually, a very excellent place; the mutual understanding between all parties increased, and soon we had a continuation of the genial reunions so auspiciously begun at Long Island.
A number of comical incidents transpired here, one of which I cannot recall without a smile.
We have stated that Colonel Cass was a rigid disciplinarian. This, in truth, he was; so much so, that an officer could not sleep a moment after "reveille" without a visit from the colonel, and a gentle reminder that it was time to be up.
One morning, about five o'clock, the writer, while, in silent and close communication with Morpheus, was roughly shaken from his slumbers, and a sharp voice greeted him as he opened his eyes: "Come, you're a pretty fellow; isn't it time for you to be up?" I turned over, and beheld the grim colonel of the regiment and Lieutenant-Colonel Rowell standing solemnly by the bedside, and looking grave as the tomb. "All right, colonel," said I; "I'll get up in a few moments." "See that you do so;" said he, and then he took his departure. Now I should have entered into another arrangement with the mythological god, but that I thought it my duty to warn my comrades of the colonel's presence; therefore I sprang from my couch, consisting of blankets and rails, donned my clothes, and passed outside my tent. As I did so, I glanced up the tented street, and to my astonishment, beheld the grave and dignified colonel hopping about in the strangest manner, and cutting up the queerest kind of antics, none of which I have ever seen set down in the military books. I went to the rear of one of the tents, to see more clearly what the colonel was doing, and found he was exercising himself in front of Captain Madigan's tent.
It was a comical scene. The colonel would cautiously approach the door of the tent, and then spring hastily back, while the lieutenant-colonel stood by convulsed with laughter. This manúuvre he executed several times with eminent success, until at last he cried out, "Captain Madigan, Captain Madigan ! " He called several times, but the captain did not respond. "I think he's up and out," said Rowell. Cass paused for a moment, and then, muttering anathemas under his breath, strode hastily away. I then moved cautiously towards the tent, to ascertain the cause of the colonel's excitement, and there I beheld Madigan's great bull-dog, which he had brought from Boston, tied to the tent pole, and growling savagely.
The dog and I were old friends. I patted him on the head, and looked into the tent, and beheld the jolly captain "en deshabille," sitting on a stool, shaking with impressible laughter. He had witnessed the colonel's vain attempt to pass the savage sentinel, and it was as much as he could do to keep from betraying himself.
A few minutes afterwards Captain Madigan met Colonel Cass, and courteously bade him good morning. The colonel looked at him for a moment, and then, with a grim smile, said, "Madigan, that infernal dog of yours saved you this time; but again, I'll rip open the back of your tent. So now, captain, take care." Madigan was a diplomat, and his only reply was, introducing the colonel to a very nice article which had just come from home.
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