- Jul 23, 2017
- Southwest Missouri
While he was yet speaking, it seems to me, I had ascertained the name of the boat, got a pass to the river and an order for my box and was on my way. I presented my order to a civilian commissioner on the boat and was informed that all the stores on the transport, private and public, were the property of the Sanitary Commission, having been seized for use in the hospitals. Get into the hospital, he said kindly, and I could have some of the contents of my box. I said there was a smallpox hospital a few miles up the river that I could get into, but I didn’t want the box so badly as that, although I did want it at almost any price short of the pest house.
I prowled around until I found my precious box. I showed it to the commissioner, feeling pretty certain that if it looked as good to him as it did to me he would relent and let me have it. The very sight of it produced in me a spasm of the same kind of homesickness I afterward contracted going up the Mississippi to St. Louis. He said he knew how tempting it looked, but duty—he paused impressively on the word and bade me remember what duty meant to a soldier. He pronounced it “d-double o.” I lost my temper and told him I had heard the colonel say it much better and far more emphatically.
I tried one more appeal. I knew there would be letters in the box. Might I open it and get my letters? I had made a mistake in being sarcastic, and he wouldn’t even let me do that, and finally ordered me off the boat. I think my lip must have hung down very pathetically, for the big Irish mate followed me to the gangplank.
“Ye'll get yer box, me lad,” he said, “if ye do as I tell ye. Go up on the cabin deck an’ ask the Ould Man.”
Who was the Old Man?
“Ould Grant, no less. He kem aboard about an hour ago, an’ he’s up there smokin’ this minute whin I kem down. I’ll pass ye the gyard and ye’ll go on up. Come an wid ye.” He led me up to the cabin deck. There sat the silent brown-bearded man whose features every soldier knew and whose great ness every western soldier held in unquestioning reverence. I saluted, the mate explained my errand, and the general looked out over the turbid Mississippi and smoked silently while I pleaded my little case.
Then he asked for my order. My heart beat high with the hope that he would write a military O. K. across it with magic initials. To my amazement, he read it and rose to his feet. “Come with me,” he said. And a bewildered private soldier, escorted by the General Commanding the Military Division of the Mississippi, followed him to the civilian commissioner. I pointed out my property, and General Grant handed the order to the civilian.
“Give the boy his box,” he said simply.
The commissioner bowed and I saluted. I wish I could imitate that salute now. It was a combination of reverence, admiration, kotow and renewed assurance of a distinguished consideration. Except possibly in China, the general never again received such an all-comprehensive obeisance. The cigar between the fingers swept a half-circle of smoke as the Commander, with military punctiliousness, returned the private’s salute, and with a half-smile playing under the brown mustache, created, I fear, by that all-comprehensive, unprecedented salute of mine, he returned to his chair on the cabin deck, while the big mate patted my back all the way to the gangplank.
That’s why I love an Irishman.
The Drums of the 47th