Trading with the Union Soldiers

NH Civil War Gal

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Feb 5, 2017
From the "Rebel Reefer" circa 1862

There was a mystery as to the way in which privates would come to a tacit agreement with the enemy about not doing any sniping on certain parts on the line. I knew of one stretch of breastworks where our men could expose themselves with perfect impunity up to a spot on which stood an empty barrel, and on the other side of that barrel, if a man showed an old hat on the end of a ramrod, it was instantly perforated with bullets.

The Union soldiers craved tobacco of which the Southerners had an abundance and the "grayback" longed for coffee or sugar. At some points on the line trading in these commodities went on briskly without the knowledge of the officers. Their dealings were strictly honorable. A man, say from the Southern side, would creep outside the works, and when he reached a certain stump he would place a couple of large plugs of tobacco on it and then return to his companions. After a time he would again creep to the stump to find that his tobacco was gone, but in its place was a small quantity of the longed-for coffee and sugar. We always carried one or two long plugs of tobacco in our inside breast pockets, as it was a common belief that if a man was captured and had tobacco it would insure him good treatment.

One foggy night I was on duty and had visited our outposts. While returning to the battery on a path close to the riverside, I distinctly heard oars slapping the water -- the rowlocks were evidently muffled. Although I could not see the boat I felt that it must be very near the shore, and I hailed it with a "Boat ahoy! Keep farther out in the stream!" The answer came back: "We don't do any picket firing on this line." I told the spokesman that I knew that, but we didn't want him to bunk with us, and hardly were the words out of my mouth when the bow of the boat was rammed into the mud at my feet. I felt sure my time had come, and hastily jerked my pistol out of the holster intending to fire so as to give the alarm, when I heard a voice say, "For the love of Mike, Johnny, give me a chew of tobacco." The tone was so pleading and earnest that I could not resist it and handed the fellow my plug. In return he gave me a canteen full of whiskey. We entered into conversation, and I discovered that he was an old classmate of my from Annapolis who had "bilged" and was now a master's mate in charge of a picket boat whose duty was to give warning if our ironclads descended the river. I warned him about the folly of his act, and he shoved out into the stream and disappeared forever out of my life. When I produced my canteen before my messmates they fairly went wild with joy, but nothing ever could induce me to tell how I had come into possession of the liquor.