Life in training camp

Editor's Note: This is an ongoing series which runs each Thursday morning titled the Richland Chronicles Volume 5, by author Paul Lintern. It is set in the 1860s and tells the story of Richland County through the eyes of young people. This is the fifth in a series. Volume I was Amelia Changes Her Tune. Volume II was Isaac and Wolf Paw Find Their Home. Volume III was Autumn Keeps Her Secret. Volume IV was Mr. Gamble Starts a School.

The next day, Jacob was eager to get to camp, and tell his brothers about the Rounders game. He even stuck a ball in his pocket in case someone wanted to throw with him.

He had practiced his bugling, in Levi's Loft, and thought he was good enough to show off for his father. He thought maybe one of the colonels or a lieutenant or even Captain Harker himself might hear him and invite him to be part of the Sherman Brigade.

It could happen, couldn't it?

Mama had bread and smoked ham and onions and leafage and apples and potatoes ready for her men. After feeding Grandpappy, she and the twins marched off. Jacob and Cassie practiced their steps and precise turns on the way, once almost tripping up Mama who was not prepared for their abrupt halt in the middle of Mulberry.

"Don't we have enough soldiers in the family already?" she asked. "Cassie, watch where you are walking, Jacob, too; there have been a lot of horses up and down the street today."

As they passed Fourth Street, Jacob looked east to the downtown and wondered if he would hear piano music from Miss Cole's studio. He wasn't sure if he did, but anyway was glad it wasn't him in there playing. Turns out it was someone in the Doolittle house, playing something that sounded like a dance. He had heard the tune, but didn't remember where.

He started whistling it.

"That's Dixie," Cassie said. "You're whistling Dixie."

"So?"

"It’s a Rebel song," she said.

"Oh, I wish I was in the land of cotton, old times there are not forgotten, look away, look away, look away Dixieland."

"It's not a Rebel song," Jacob said. "I've heard it around here a lot. All the living rooms have it on their pianofortes."

"It's a Rebel song. All about the South, and I've heard people say the Johnny Rebs sing it just before they go into battle, don't they Mama?"

"I suppose it has been taken over by the Sesesh," Mama said. "But it was written a couple years ago by Mr. Emmett, from down in Mount Vernon. Our Mount Vernon, the one that's just a day's walk away, in Knox County. He used to play at Grandpappy’s Inn.”

"A Union man wrote that?" Cassie asked. "An American wrote that, about a part of America. It's a beautiful song, happy and sad at the same time. I suppose that is why people in the South especially like it.

"But it's a tune for all of us. I hear it's one of Mr. Lincoln's favorites," Mama added.

Jacob flashed a triumphant look at Cassie, although it was not a big victory. At least that proves she doesn't know everything, he thought.

As they continued down Mulberry, Jacob started whistling it again. Mama soon joined in and so, finally, did Cassie.

As they crossed the tracks near the camp, Jacob could see a new arrival -- a row of eight shiny new cannon, still mounted on a flatbed railroad car. He could hardly contain himself and started toward them, picking up the pace with each step. He was almost there when a soldier stepped in front of him.

"Whoa there, Billy. This is government issued weaponry. Not just anybody can run up and touch," he said, less gruffly than he might have.

"Sorry sir," Jacob said.

"I just, I wanted, I saw they were here and I knew that meant things are shaping up for the brigade."

The soldier relaxed, even smiled.

"They are beauties, aren't they? Howitzers, 12-pounders, able to shoot three balls a minute up to a mile, they say."

Jacob whistled.

"Bet they make a lot of noise."

"You'll be hearing them any day now, if you live nearby, say in this county," he laughed.

"Come Jacob, supper won't wait," Mama called.

Jacob excused himself and thought again about his bugle. I hope Captain Harker is around. The Zimmer-men were all gathered around Papa's tent, a daily ritual they had enjoyed since the start of camp. Although the boys did not see each other during the day, as they were assigned to different regiments, circumstances did allow them to come together around supper time. 

Papa was there each day, too, although his routine seemed to be changing. He was always cheerful with the family, but Jacob noticed he often looked like he was thinking about something else when he was with them.

"Papa, I saw the new howitzers on the train car today," Jacob said.

"Hmm? Yes, they are here. You soon will be treated to a symphony concert of percussion. Probably will even drown out your bugle playing."

"Where will they practice?"

"We've created a range to the east, where they can fire north. They won't use explosives, just solid balls that will shoot the way any balls shoot. Soon be a lot of little craters all over Mr. Long's east 40, I imagine."

"Can I come and watch?" Jacob asked.

"Watch? I'm rather sure that's not regulation, but maybe you will find a vantage point to the south where you can see. Make sure the cannon are aimed away from whatever tree you climb," Papa replied.

Mama cringed.

"Indeed. I just don't see why you have to spend so much time up in those trees."

You'll be the death of me, Jacob thought.

"You'll be the death of me. Indeed," she said. "You all will."

Support Our Journalism

History is about understanding where we’ve been. A membership with the Source supports where we’re going. Help us tell your story in the present.