"His Duties Are to Carry Water & Catch Fleas Out of the Soldiers' Beds..."

Private Watkins

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#1
In reading various CW veterans' memoirs I've noted that there always seems to be an account or two of a prank or practical joke that "the boys" pulled on some poor unsuspecting chap. As such I thought I'd start up a thread to allow folks to share stories they may have come across in their CW readings about pranks, practical jokes, or other tomfoolery.

I'll start with one from David E. Johnston's book The Story of A Confederate Boy in the Civil War:

During the period which elapsed between the organization and departure for Lynchburg, the designated place for rendezvous, and while in barracks, "the boys," as we were wont to call ourselves, played many pranks upon each other, one of which is worth relating. A sham or mock election was held for the election of a fifth Lieutenant, the choice falling on a very credulous member of the company, who, after the announcement of his election, became quite anxious to know what the duties of his office required of him, - which we, also ignorant of military duties, were unable to answer. With his consent, it was agreed to refer the solution of the matter to Lieutenant Anderson, who was always full of wit and humor, ever ready with answer, and always enjoyed a good joke. Upon the arrival of the Lieutenant, the question was promptly referred to him, and without pausing he promptly answered, "His duties are to carry water and catch fleas out of the soldiers' beds." This seemed satisfactory to the newly elected fifth Lieutenant, and doubtless as was afterwards demonstrated - for he always obeyed orders and did his duty - he would have proceeded to perform his prescribed duties as explained by Lieutenant Anderson, had not someone told him that it was all a joke and a sell.

Hope you enjoy and please share any stories of CW related pranks or practical jokes that you've read about...

(And I hope this is not redundant with some previous thread; I searched and couldn't find one, but if I missed it apologies in advance)
 

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PeterT

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#2
In reading various CW veterans' memoirs I've noted that there always seems to be an account or two of a prank or practical joke that "the boys" pulled on some poor unsuspecting chap. As such I thought I'd start up a thread to allow folks to share stories they may have come across in their CW readings about pranks, practical jokes, or other tomfoolery.

I'll start with one from David E. Johnston's book The Story of A Confederate Boy in the Civil War:

During the period which elapsed between the organization and departure for Lynchburg, the designated place for rendezvous, and while in barracks, "the boys," as we were wont to call ourselves, played many pranks upon each other, one of which is worth relating. A sham or mock election was held for the election of a fifth Lieutenant, the choice falling on a very credulous member of the company, who, after the announcement of his election, became quite anxious to know what the duties of his office required of him, - which we, also ignorant of military duties, were unable to answer. With his consent, it was agreed to refer the solution of the matter to Lieutenant Anderson, who was always full of wit and humor, ever ready with answer, and always enjoyed a good joke. Upon the arrival of the Lieutenant, the question was promptly referred to him, and without pausing he promptly answered, "His duties are to carry water and catch fleas out of the soldiers' beds." This seemed satisfactory to the newly elected fifth Lieutenant, and doubtless as was afterwards demonstrated - for he always obeyed orders and did his duty - he would have proceeded to perform his prescribed duties as explained by Lieutenant Anderson, had not someone told him that it was all a joke and a sell.

Hope you enjoy and please share any stories of CW related pranks or practical jokes that you've read about...

(And I hope this is not redundant with some previous thread; I searched and couldn't find one, but if I missed it apologies in advance)
Like it! Looking forward to hearing others. I know of some but will need to work out what book they are in.
 

E_just_E

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#3
One thing that has to be noted: A lot of these anecdotes are just tales and should be consumed with caution. This particular book was published for the first time in 1914, more than 50 years after the ACW started. I am extremely familiar with it because he is talking extensively about his experiences in the battle of Gettysburg, most of them being tall tales, like while he was laying hurt on the field with a shell wound on his shoulder acquired during the cannonade preceding Pickett's Charge, he claims that he saw Pickett himself ordering his troops to an oblique movement, half way during the change (or about 600 yards away and pretty invisible from where he was laying in agony.) I would not believe anything he writes about as an actual eyewitness account.
 

PeterT

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Melbourne Australia
#4
One thing that has to be noted: A lot of these anecdotes are just tales and should be consumed with caution. This particular book was published for the first time in 1914, more than 50 years after the ACW started. I am extremely familiar with it because he is talking extensively about his experiences in the battle of Gettysburg, most of them being tall tales, like while he was laying hurt on the field with a shell wound on his shoulder acquired during the cannonade preceding Pickett's Charge, he claims that he saw Pickett himself ordering his troops to an oblique movement, half way during the change (or about 600 yards away and pretty invisible from where he was laying in agony.) I would not believe anything he writes about as an actual eyewitness account.
I agree. Sorting out the wheat from the chaff is an inherent problem with memories and stories.
 

Private Watkins

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#6
One thing that has to be noted: A lot of these anecdotes are just tales and should be consumed with caution. This particular book was published for the first time in 1914, more than 50 years after the ACW started. I am extremely familiar with it because he is talking extensively about his experiences in the battle of Gettysburg, most of them being tall tales, like while he was laying hurt on the field with a shell wound on his shoulder acquired during the cannonade preceding Pickett's Charge, he claims that he saw Pickett himself ordering his troops to an oblique movement, half way during the change (or about 600 yards away and pretty invisible from where he was laying in agony.) I would not believe anything he writes about as an actual eyewitness account.
Thank you for the words of caution and advice. How about we add a disclosure along these lines:
Certain materials contained in this thread may include "tall tales" or "cock-and-bull" stories as prevaricated by old codgers reminiscing about events from a long time ago. These statements may have been made under the safe-harbor protections provided by the Codger-Relief Act of 1895. Statements included in this thread, other than statements of fact, may constitute statements made under the protections of the Codger-Relief Act and should not be relied upon. Readers are cautioned not to place undue reliance on any statement contained in this thread, especially if it was made by a Codger and relates to pranks, practical jokes, or tomfoolery.

Hopefully with that out of the way folks won't be discouraged from sharing a good prankster story if they have one...! :smile:
 
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Private Watkins

2nd Lieutenant
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Oklahoma
#7
Here's a story from the "History of the Missouri Engineers" by W. A. Neal, published in 1889. I would put this one into the "tomfoolery" class of stories. My gg-grandfather served with the First Missouri Engineers, but unfortunately I never had the chance to ask him about the veracity of this story; besides this book was published before the Codger-Relief Act of 1895 anyway...

"THE SIXTY-NINE CALIBER"
"At Camp Hasie, Flat Creek, every few days the men were put through the battalion drill and practiced firing at a target. The arms were the old fashioned United States flintlock smooth-bore musket and Belgian musket, both altered to cap lock and rifled to sixty-nine calibre, and the recoil in firing was fearful. The men had to clean, load, and fire them off nearly every day. Jack Sanders, of Company E, declared he did not want his shoulder bruised into a jelly holding his musket, and said to his chum Soper, of the same company: 'Let me fasten it to your back with your belt, and you get on your hands and knees and fire it off that way.' 'All right' says Soper, and proceeded to put it in action. The muzzle happened to be close to Soper's ear, and when it went off nearly deafened him, and in the recoil the gun jumped back and sideways, just missing Sander's shins and sending Soper sprawling over sideways." (pgs. 22-23).

20150914_120626.jpg
 
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Private Watkins

2nd Lieutenant
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Oklahoma
#8
Ok, here's another one... this one probably best classified as a dark humored practical joke.

One night, of these six Cold Harbor nights, I was on guard in the battery. I walked up and down behind the guns. Voices whispering outside of our work startled me. Then I heard men scrambling up the face of the earthwork. In the indistinct light I made out four. They were carrying something. They stood above me on the parapet, and in reply to my challenge poked fun at me. They said they loved me, and had brought me a present. They threw down to me a dead man, and with a light laugh went off. I called to them to come back—insisted that they should carry their corpse and bury it, but they stood off in the darkness and laughed at me, and insisted that they had made me a present of him. "You can have him; the battery can have him," and disappeared, leaving the dead man with me.
Recollections of a Private Soldier by Frank Wilkeson.​
 

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