From what I gleaned from 'Si Klegg and His Pard' I think you definitely had to have the skillsDid people volunteer for this duty? With the extra pay it must have been desirable. I assume you would want people who already had skills working with a team.
It's a bit of a long read, but worth it!
ONE DAY'S RICH EXPERIENCE AS COMPANY TEAMSTER
"I'VE GOT to have a man to drive team for a few days," said the Orderly of Co. Q of the 200th Ind. one morning at roll-call. "The teamster's sick and I'm goin' to send him to the hospital to-day."
The Orderly-Sergeant of Co. Q was a wily fellow. All Orderly-Sergeants have to be. If they are not naturally, they learn it very quickly, or lose the little diamond on their sleeves, if not all their stripes. The man who undertakes to manage 60 or 75 stalwart, high-spirited young Americans through all their moods and tenses, and every kind of weather, has to be as wise as a serpent, though not necessarily as harmless as a dove. Therefore, the Orderly-Sergeant didn't tell the boys what ailed the teamster. The fact was that the heels of the "off=wheeler" caught the teamster in the pit of the stomach and doubled him up so badly that he wouldn't be fit for duty for a week. It was worse than the green-corn colic.
"'Tisn't every man," continued the Orderly, "that's gifted with fust-class talent fur drivin' team. I'd like to find the best man to steer them animals, an' if there's a real sientifick mule-whacker in this comp'ny let him speak up an' I'll detail him right off. It'll be a soft thing fur somebody; them mules are daises."
Somehow they didn't all speak at once. The company had only had the team two or three weeks, but the boys were not dull of hearing, and ominous sounds had come to them from the rear of the camp at all hours of the night--the maddening "Yeehaw-w-w!" of the long-eared brutes, and the frantic ejaculations of the teamster, spiced with oaths that would have sent a shudder through "our army in Flanders."
So they did not apply for the vacant saddle with that alacrity which might have been expected, when so good a chance was offered for a soldier to ride and get his traps carried on a wagon. Whenever an infantryman threw away such an opportunity it is safe to assume that there was some good reason for it.
But the idea of riding for a few days and letting his blisters get well was too much for Si Klegg. Besides, he thought if there was any one thing he could do better than another it was driving a team. He had been doing it on his father's farm all his life. It is true, he didn't know much about mules, but he imagined they were a good deal like horses.
"I'm your man!" spoke up Si cheerfully.
"All right," said the Orderly. "Company, Right--Face! Break ranks--March!"
"There ain't any trouble about it!" Si said to Shorty as they walked back to the tent. "I reckon it's easy enough to manage mules if you go at 'em right. It'll be just fun for me to drive team. And say. Shorty, I'll carry all your traps on my wagon. That'll be a heap better'n totin' 'em!"
Si gathered up his outfit and started to enter upon his new sphere of usefulness.
"Shall I take my gun and bay'net along?" he asked the Orderly.
"Guess you'd better; they might come handy!" replied the Orderly, as he thought of the teamster's disastrous encounter with the "off-wheeler."
After Shorty had eaten his breakfast he thought he would go back to the tent and see how Si was getting on. With thoughtful care Si had fed his mules before appeasing his own appetite, and Shorty found him just waiting for his coffee to cool a bit.
"Why, them 'ere mules is jist as gentle'n' peaceful-like ez so many kittens. Look at 'em, Shorty!" and Si pointed with a proud and gratified air to where the six "daisies" were standing, three on each side of the wagon-pole, with their noses in the feed-box, quietly munching their matutinal rations, and whisking their paint-brush tails about in evident enjoyment.
Indeed, to look at those mules one who was ignorant of the peculiar characteristics of the species would not have thought that beneath those meek exteriors there were hearts filled with the raging fires of total depravity. Shorty thought how it would be, but he didn't say anything. He was sure that Si would find out about it soon enough.
The brigade to which the 200th Ind. belonged was to march in the rear of the long procession that day. This was lucky for Si, as it gave him an hour or two more than he would otherwise have had to get hitched up. But all the same he thought he would begin early, so as to be on hand with his team in good time.
"Want any help?" asked Shorty.
"No," said Si; "I can hitch 'em up slick's a whistle. I can't see why so many makes sich a fuss 'bout handlin' mules."
Shorty lighted his cob pipe and sat down on a stump to watch Si. "Kinder think there'll be a circus!" he said to himself.
Si got up from his coffee and hardtack, and addressed himself to the business of the hour. It proved to be just as much as he could attend to. When Si poured half a bushel of corn into the feed box it was all very nice, and the animals rubbed their heads against him to giveexpression to their grateful emotions. But when it came to putting on the harness, that was quite a different thing. The mere touch of a strap was enough to stimulate into baleful activity all the evil passions of mule-nature.
"Now, Pete and Jim and Susan, we must git ready to pull out!" said Si to his charge, in a familiar, soothing tone, preliminary to getting down to business. It was his evident desire to maintain the friendly relations that he thought he had already established. At the first rattle of the harness Pete and Susan and the rest, moved by a common impulse, laid back their ears and began to bray, their heels at the same time showing symptoms of impatience.
"Whoa, there--whoa!" exclaimed Si, in a conciliatory way, as he advanced with a bridle in his hand toward one of the big wheelers, whose ears were flapping about like the fans of a windmill.
Si imprudently crept up from the rear. A flank movement would have been better. As soon as he had got fairly within range the mule winked viciously, lowered his head, and let fly both heels. Si was a spry boy, and a quick dodge saved him from the fate of his predecessor. One of the heels whizzed past his ear with the speed of a cannon ball, caught his hat, and sent it spinning through the air.
Shorty, who was whittling up a piece of Kentucky twist to recharge his pipe, laughed till he rolled off the stump all in a heap. A few of the other boys had stayed out to see the fun, and were lounging around the outskirts of the corral. "Go for 'em, Si!" they shouted.
Si was plucky, and again advanced with more caution. This time he was successful, after a spirited engagement, in getting the bridle on. He thought he would ride him down to the creek for water, and this wouldgive him a chance to get acquainted with him, as it were. He patted the animal's neck, called him pet names, and gently stroked his stubby mane. Alas, Si didn't know then what an utter waste of material it was to give taffy to an army mule.
With a quick spring Si vaulted upon the back of the mule. He started off in good shape, waving his hand exultingly to the boys with the air of a General who has just won a great battle.
All at once the animal stopped as suddenly as if he had run against a stone wall. He planted his fore feet, throwing his ears back and his head down. There was a simultaneous rear elevation, with the heels at an upward angle of about 45 degrees. Si went sprawling among the bushes. This performance was greeted with great enthusiasm by the fast increasing crowd of spectators.
"I oughter have told you that saddle-mule's the worst bucker in the Army o' the Ohio," said the Quartermaster-Sergeant, who was among the onlookers. "Why, he'd buck off the stripe that runs down his back, if he took it into his measly head. He bucked off a chattel mortgage, and that's the way he come into the army. You can't ride him without using one of Aunt Jemima's sticking plasters."
"Much obliged for your information. But I will ride him all the same," said Si, whose temper had risen to the exploding point. "I kin ride him if he ties himself in a double bow-knot."
Si was too much of a farmer boy to give in to anything that walked on four legs.
He had hung on to the bridle rein, and after addressing a few impressive words to the obstreperous mule he again leaped upon his back. The mule took a docile turn, his motive having apparently been merely to show Si what he could do when he took a notion.
The space at command will not permit us to follow Si through all the details of "hitching up" that team. He did finally "git thar, Eli,"
after much strategic effort. The mules brayed and kicked a good deal, and Si's wrath was fully aroused before he got through. He became convinced that soft words were of no account in such a contest, and he enforced discipline by the judicious use of a big club, together with such appropriate language as he could think of. Si hadn't yet learned to swear with that wonderful and appalling proficiency that was so soon acquired by the army teamsters. In the management of mules profanity was considered an invaluable accessory in times of great emergency.
At last Si climbed into the saddle, as proud as a King. Seizing the long, single line running to the "leaders"--by which contrivance the
army team was always guided--he shouted "Git up, thar, Pete! G'lang Susan!" and the caravan started. But the unregenerated brutes didn't go far. Si was gaily cracking his whip, trying to hit a big blue-bottle fly that was perched on the ear of one of the "swing" mules.
As if by a preconcerted plan, the establishment came to a sudden halt and the mules began to rear and kick and plunge around in utter disregard of consequences. It didn't take more than a minute for them to get into a hopeless tangle. They were in all conceivable shapes--heads and tails together, crosswise and "every which way," tied up with the straps of the harness. The air in all directions was full of heels. There was a maddening chorus of discordant braying.
In the course of the scrimmage Si found himself on the ground. Gathering himself up, he gazed in utter amazement at the twisted, writhing mass. At this moment a messenger came from the Captain to "hurry up that team," and poor Si didn't know what to do. He wished he could only swear like the old mule drivers. He thought it would make him feel better. There was no one to help him out of his dilemma, as the members of the company were all getting ready for the march.
A veteran teamster happened along that way, and took in the situation at a glance. He saw that Si had bit off more than he could chew, and volunteered his assistance.
"Here, young feller," said he, "lemme show ye how to take the stiffenin' out o' them ere dod-gasted mules!"
Seizing the whip at the small end of the stock he began laying on right and left with the butt, taking care to keep out of range of the heels. During these persuasive efforts he was shouting at the top of his voice words that fairly hissed through the air. Si thought he could smell the brimstone and see the smoke issuing from the old teamster's mouth and nostrils. This is a section of what that experienced mule driver said, as nearly as we can express it:
Si thanked the veteran for these timely suggestions in the way of language, and said he would remember them. He had no doubt they would help him out the next time.
They finally got the team untied, and Si drove over to the company ground. The regiment had been gone some time, a detail having been left to load the wagon. After getting out upon the road the mules plodded along without objection, and Si got on famously. But having lost his place in the column in consequence of the delay, he was obliged to fall in rear of the division train, and it was noon before he got well started.
Along towards evening Si struck a section of old corduroy road through a piece of swamp. The passage of the artillery and wagons had left the road in a wretched condition. The logs were lying at all points of the compass, or drifting vaguely about in the mire, while here and there were seas of water and pits of abysmal depth.
To make the story short, Si's mules stumbled and floundered and kicked,--while Si laid on with the whip and used some of the words he had learned from the old teamster before starting.
At length the wagon became hopelessly stalled. The wheels sank to the hubs, and Si yelled and cracked his whip in vain. Perhaps if he had had the old teamster there to swear for him he could have pulled through, but as it was he gave it up, dismounted, hunted a dry spot, and sat down to think and wait for something to turn up.
Just before dark a large detail from Co. Q, which had been sent back on an exploring expedition for Si and his team, reached the spot. After hours of prying and pushing and tugging and yelling they at length got the wagon over the slough, reaching camp about midnight.
"Orderly," said Si, "I believe I'd like to resign my place as mule-driver. It's a nice, soft thing, but I'd jest as lief let s'mother
feller have it, so I'll take my gun an' go to hoofin' it agin!"