"We kept a good fire for you all"

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John Hartwell

Forum Host
Aug 27, 2011
Central Massachusetts
In 1899, Stanton P. Allen wrote an account of his service with the First Massachusetts Cavalry in A Boy Trooper with Sheridan. The volume was aimed at younger readers (an earlier book had told the grown-up version). He was one of the battalion of replacements that joined the regiment in camp, near Warrenton, Va. during the winter of 1862-3. In Chapter IV, he speaks of early experiences on the picket-line.

Just over the divide on Water Mountain, on the side toward the rebel camp, was an old log shanty. We called it the block house. Our pickets occupied it by day, and the rebels had possession of it by night. This happened because the Union picket line was drawn in at night, and the pickets were posted closer together than during the day. Our line was advanced soon after daylight.
One morning when we galloped down to the block house from our reserve, we surprised the Johnnies. They had been a little late in getting breakfast, and their horses had their nosebags on. We were just as much surprised as they were, and we stood six to six. Carbines and revolvers were pointed, but no one fired.
"Give us time to put on our bridles and we'll vacate," said the sergeant of the rebel picket.
"All right; go ahead," our sergeant replied.
The Johnnies bridled their horses, mounted and rode down the mountain.
"We kept a good fire for you all," the rebel sergeant remarked as they left.
"And you'll find it burning when you come back tonight," was the Yankee sergeant's assuring reply.
After the rebels had got out of sight our boys began to feel that they had missed a golden opportunity to destroy a detachment of the Confederate army. We had longed for a "face-to-face" meeting with the rebels.
"I could have killed two rebels had I been allowed to shoot," said Taylor.
"Who told you not to shoot?" demanded the sergeant.
"Well, nobody gave the order to fire. I had my gun cocked and if the rest of you had killed your man I'd killed mine."
"Bu-bu-bu-but they had si-si-six t-t-to ou-ou-our si-si-six, di-di-didn't they?" interrupted Jack Hazelet, whose stammering always caused him to grow red in the face when he wanted to get a word in in time and couldn't.
"Yes; we stood six to six, but if each one of us had killed his man they would all be dead."
"Je-je-jesso; bu-bu-bu-but di-di-didn't they ha-ha-have gu-gu-guns, t-t-too?"
"Of course they did."
"Sup-po-po-posen they ha-ha-had ki-ki-killed's ma-ma-many 'f us a-a-as we di-di-did o-o-o-of th-th-them, wh-wh-where wo-wo-would we-we-we b-b-be n-n-now? co-co-confound you!"
As we found that only two of our party had their carbines loaded when we surprised the rebels, we concluded that it was just as fortunate for us as it was for the enemy that the meeting had resulted in a stand-off, although Taylor insisted that if any one had given the command "fire" he would have killed his man. When his attention was called to the fact that his carbine was not loaded, he said:
"Well, I could have speared one of them with my sword before they could all get away."
"Bu-bu-bu-but wh-wh-what wo-wo-would th-th-the re-re-reb be-be-been do-do-doing; yo-yo-you in-in-infernal blockhead!" exclaimed Hazelet, and Taylor subsided.
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