February 26

Cloudy, high north wind but fair; air full of dust all day; had brigade drill this afternoon; dance in chapel this evening; General W. H. Morris present: Governor Smith has arrived in the army.

Friday, February 26th.—We loaded up this morning with a not very bad lot (mine all sitters except some enterics, a measles, and a diphtheria), and are on our way down again.

I am all ready packed to get off at B. if my leave is in Major M.'s office.

February Twenty-Sixth

IN THE PETERSBURG TRENCHES

Winter poured down its snows and its sleets upon Lee's shelterless men in the trenches. Some of them burrowed into the earth. Most of them shivered over the feeble fires, kept burning along the lines. Scanty and thin were the garments of these heroes. Most of them were clad in mere rags. Gaunt famine oppressed them every hour. One quarter of a pound of bacon and a little meal was the daily portion assigned to each man by the rules of the War Department. But even this allowance failed when the railroads broke down and left the bacon and the flour piled up beside the tracks in Georgia and the Carolinas. One sixth of this daily ration was the allotment for a considerable time, and very often the supply of bacon failed entirely....

Henry A. White

 

 

Athenæum Club Pall Mall Feb. 26, 1885

I shall be delighted to dine in bad company on Thursday. Goschen will speak against Government to-morrow, but will vote for them. I dined there yesterday with Morier, Milner,[252 ] and Albert Grey;[253 ] and the same party dines with Morier this evening as soon as the P.M. sits down. Several Ministers (Hartington, Spencer, and others) have said too much that they wish to be beaten.

A very strong speech to-night would retrieve the position. If the enemy came in now, England would soon become no better than the Continental powers, and our true greatness and prosperity would depart from us.


[252 ] Now Viscount Milner.

[253 ] The present Earl Grey.

263. Abigail Adams

26 February, 1780.

My dearest Friend,—This day I am happy in the news of your safe arrival at Corunna by a vessel arrived at Newburyport in sixty days from thence. I cannot be sufficiently thankful for this agreeable intelligence or for the short and I hope comfortable passage with which you were favored. I suppose you will proceed from thence by land, and flatter myself that a few weeks will bring me the tidings of your arrival in France.

Captain Sampson has at last arrived after a tedious passage of eighty-nine days. By him came three letters for you, two from Arthur Lee and one from Mr. Gellée. Both these gentlemen are pleased to make mention of me. You will therefore return my respectful compliments to them and tell them that I esteem myself honored by their notice.

I wrote you by Mr. Austin, who I hope is safely arrived. He went from here in the height of the sublimest winter I ever saw. In the latter part of December and beginning of January there fell the highest snow known since the year 1740; and from that time to this day the Bay has been frozen so hard that people have walked, rode, and sledded over it to Boston. It was frozen across Nantasket Road so that no vessel could come in or go out for a month after the storms. We had neither snow, rain, nor the least thaw. It has been remarkably healthy, and we have lived along very comfortable, though many people have suffered greatly for fuel. The winter has been so severe that very little has been attempted and less performed by our army. The enemy have been more active and mischievous, but have failed in their grand attempt of sending large succors to Georgia, by a severe storm which dispersed and wrecked many of their fleet.

We have hopes that, as the combined fleets are again at sea, they will facilitate a negotiation for peace,—a task arduous and important, beset with many dangers.

In one of these letters received by Captain Sampson, Mr. Gellée mentions a report which was raised and circulated concerning you after you left France.

The best reply that could possibly be made to so groundless an accusation is the unsolicited testimony of your country in so speedily returning you there in a more honorable and important mission than that which you had before sustained.

Pride, vanity, envy, ambition, and malice are the ungrateful foes that combat merit and integrity; though for a while they may triumph, to the injury of the just and good, the steady, unwearied perseverance of virtue and honor will finally prevail over them. He who can retire from a public life to a private station with a self-approving conscience, unambitious of pomp or power, has little to dread from the machinations of envy, the snares of treachery, the malice of dissimulation, or the clandestine stabs of calumny. In time they will work their own ruin.

You will be solicitous to know how our Constitution prospers. The Convention are still sitting. I am not at present able to give you an accurate account of their proceedings, but shall endeavor to procure a satisfactory one against a more direct conveyance.

I earnestly long to receive from your own hand an assurance of your safety and that of my dear sons. I send all the journals and papers I have received.

Success attend all your endeavors for the public weal; and that happiness and approbation of your country be the reward of your labors is the ardent wish of your affectionate

Portia.

February 26, 1917

What do you suppose I have done since I last wrote to you?

I have actually been to the theatre for the first time in four years. Would you ever have believed that I could keep out of the theatre such a long time as that? Still, I suppose going to the theatre—to a sort of variety show—seems to you, who probably continue to go once or twice a week, a tame experience. Well, you can go to the opera, which I can't do if I like, but you can't see the heroes of Verdun not only applauding a show, but giving it, and that is what I have been doing not only once but twice since I wrote you.

I am sure that I have told you that our ambulance is in the salle de récréation of the commune, which is a small rectangular room with a stage across one end. It is the only thing approaching a theatre which the commune boasts. It is well lighted, with big windows in the sides, and a top-light over the stage. It is almost new, and the walls and pointed ceiling are veneered with some Canadian wood, which looks like bird's-eye maple, but isn't.

It is in that hall that the matinées, which are given every other Sunday afternoon, take place. They are directed by a lieutenant-colonel, who goes into it with great enthusiasm, and really gets up a first-class programme.

The boys do all the hard work, and the personnel of the ambulance aids and abets with great good humor, though it is very upsetting. But then it is for the army—and what the army wants these days, it must have.

Luckily the men in our ambulance just now are either convalescent, or, at any rate, able to sit up in bed and bear excitement. So the beds of the few who cannot be dressed are pushed close to the stage, and around their cots are the chairs and benches of their convalescent comrades. The rest of the beds are taken out. The big military band is packed into one corner of the room. Chairs are put in for the officers of the staff and their few invited guests—there are rarely more than half a dozen civilians. Behind the reserved seats are a few benches for the captains and lieutenants and the rest of the space is given up to the poilus, who are allowed to rush when the doors are opened.

Of course the room is much too small, but it is the best we have. The wide doors are left open. So are the wide windows, and the boys are even allowed to perch on the wall opposite the entrance, from which place they can see the stage.

The entire programme is given by the poilus; only one performer had a stripe on his sleeve, though many of them wore a decoration. What seems to me the prettiest of all is that all the officers go, and applaud like mad, even the white-haired generals, who are not a bit backward in crying "Bis, bis!" like the rest.

The officers are kind enough to invite me and the card on my chair is marked "Mistress Aldrich." Isn't that Shakesperian? I sit among the officers, usually with a commandant on one side and a colonel on the other, with a General de Division, and a Général de Brigade in front of me, and all sorts of gilt stripes about me, which I count with curiosity, now that I have learned what they mean, as I surreptitiously try to discover the marks that war has made on their faces—and don't find them.

The truth is, the salle is fully as interesting to me as the performance, good as that is—with a handsome, delicate-looking young professor of music playing the violin, an actor from the Palais Royale showing a diction altogether remarkable, two well-known gymnasts doing wonderful stunts on horizontal bars, a prize pupil from the Conservatory at Nantes acting, as only the French can, in a well- known little comedy, two clever, comic monologists of the La Scala sort, and as good as I ever heard even there, and a regimental band which plays good music remarkably. There is even a Prix de Rome in the regiment, but he is en congé, so I 've not heard him yet. I wonder if you take it in? Do you realize that these are the soldiers in the ranks of the French defence? Consider what the life in the trenches means to them!

They even have artists among the poilus to paint back drops and make properties. So you see it is one thing to go to the theatre and quite another to see the soldiers from Verdun giving a performance before such a public—the men from the trenches going to the play in the highest of spirits and the greatest good humor.

At the first experience of this sort I did long to have you there. It was such a scene as I could not have believed possible in these days and under these conditions if I had not actually taken part in it.

As soon as the officers had filed in and taken their seats the doors and windows were thrown open to admit "la vague," and we all stood up and faced about to see them come. It was a great sight.

In the aisle down the centre of the hall—there is only one,—between the back row of reserved seats, stood Mlle. Henriette, in her white uniform, white gloved, with the red cross holding her long white veil to the nurse's coiffe which covered her pretty brown hair. Her slight, tall, white figure was the only barrier to prevent "la vague" from sweeping right over the hall to the stage. As they came through the door it did not seem possible that anything could stop them—or even that they could stop themselves—and I expected to see her crushed. Yet two feet from her, the mass stopped—the front line became rigid as steel and held back the rest, and, in a second, the wave had broken into two parts and flowed into the benches at left and right, and, in less time than it takes you to read this, they were packed on the benches, packed in the windows, and hung up on the walls. A queer murmur, half laugh and half applause, ran over the reserved seats, and the tall, thin commandant beside me said softly, "That is the way they came out of the trenches at Verdun." As I turned to sit down I had impressed on my memory forever that sea of smiling, clean-shaven, keen-eyed, wave on wave of French faces, all so young and so gay— yet whose eyes had looked on things which will make a new France.

I am sending you the programme of the second matinée—I lost that of the first.

I do wish, for many reasons, that you could have heard the recitation by Brochard of Jean Bastia's "L'Autre Cortege," in which the poet foresees the day "When Joffre shall return down the Champs Elysées" to the frenzied cries of the populace saluting its victorious army, and greeting with wild applause "Pétain, who kept Verdun inviolated," "De Castelnau, who three times in the fray saw a son fall at his side," "Gouraud, the Fearless," "Marchand, who rushed on the Boches brandishing his cane," "Mangin, who retook Douaumont," and "All those brave young officers, modest even in glory, whose deeds the world knows without knowing their names," and the soldier heroes who held the frontier "like a wall of steel from Flanders to Alsace,"—the heroes of Souchez, of Dixmude, of the Maison du Passeur, of Souain, of Notre Dame de Lorette, and of the great retreat. It made a long list and I could feel the thrill running all over the room full of soldiers who, if they live, will be a part of that triumphal procession, of which no one talks yet except a poet.

But when he had pictured that scene the tempo of the verse changed: the music began softly to play a Schumann Reverie to the lines beginning: "But this triumphal cortège is not enough. The return of the army demands another cortège,"—the triumph of the Mutilés— the martyrs of the war who have given more than life to the defence of France—the most glorious heroes of the war.

The picture the poet made of this "other cortège" moved the soldiers strangely. The music, which blended wonderfully with Brochard's beautiful voice, was hardly more than a breath, just audible, but always there, and added greatly to the effect of the recitation. There was a sigh in the silence which followed the last line—and an almost whispered "bravo," before the long shouts of applause broke out.

It is the only number on any programme that has ever touched, even remotely, on war. It came as a surprise—it had not been announced. But the intense, rather painful, feeling which had swept over the audience was instantly removed by a comic monologue, and I need not tell you that these monologues,—intended to amuse the men from the trenches and give them a hearty laugh,—are usually very La Scala—that is to say—rosse. But I do love to hear the boys shout with glee over them.

The scene in the narrow streets of Quincy after the show is very picturesque. The road mounts a little to Moulignon, and to see the blue-grey backs of the boys, quite filling the street between the grey walls of the houses, as they go slowly back to their cantonnements, makes a very pretty picture.

It does seem a far cry from this to war, doesn't it? Yet isn't it lucky to know and to see that these boys can come out of such a battle as Verdun in this condition? This spirit, you see, is the hope of the future. You know, when you train any kind of a dog to fight, you put him through all the hard paces and force him to them, without breaking his spirit. It seems to me that is just what is being done to the men at the front.