March 2

Cleared during the night; ground covered with snow; weather fine; have been making out Lieut. Ezra Stetson's muster rolls; not with my class this afternoon; have nearly completed the second volume of tactics; no mail to-night.

March Second

At a garden party in Washington not long ago a Justice of the Supreme Court said in response to some question I put: “It would take the pen of a Zola to describe reconstruction in Louisiana. It is so dark a chapter in our national history. I do not like to think of it. A Zola might base a great novel on that life and death struggle between politicians and races in the land of cotton and sugar plantations, the swamps and bayous of the mighty Mississippi, where the Carpet-Bag Government had a standing army, of blacks, chiefly, and a navy of warships going up and down waterways.”

Myrta Lockett Avary

 

Reconstruction Act put into effect in Louisiana, 1866

Texas declares itself independent, 1836

 

 

March 2, 1916

We are living these days in the atmosphere of the great battle of Verdun. We talk Verdun all day, dream Verdun all night—in fact, the thought of that great attack in the east absorbs every other idea. Not in the days of the Marne, nor in the trying days of Ypres or the Aisne was the tension so terrible as it is now. No one believes that Verdun can be taken, but the anxiety is dreadful, and the idea of what the defence is costing is never absent from the minds even of those who are firmly convinced of what the end must be.

I am sending you a Forain cartoon from the Figaro, which exactly expresses the feeling of the army and the nation.

You have only to look on a map to know how important the position is at Verdun, the supposed-to-be-strongest of the four great fortresses— Verdun, Toul, Epinay, and Belfort—which protect the only frontier by which the Kaiser has a military right to try to enter France, and which he avoided on account of its strength.

Verdun itself is only one day's march from Metz. If you study it up on a map you will learn that, within a circuit of thirty miles, Verdun is protected by thirty-six redoubts. But what you will not learn is that this great fortification is not yet connected with its outer redoubts by the subterranean passages which were a part of the original scheme. It is that fact which is disturbing. Every engineer in the French army knows that the citadel at Metz has underground communications with all its circle of outer ramparts. Probably every German engineer knows that Verdun's communication passages were never made. Isn't it strange (when we remember that, even in the days of walled cities, there were always subterraneans leading out of the fortified towns beyond the walls—wonderful works of masonry, intact today, like those of Provins, and even here on this hill) that a nation which did not want war should have left unfinished the protection of such a costly fortress?

You probably knew, as usual, before we did, that the battle had begun. We knew nothing of it here until February 23, three days after the bombardment began, with the French outer lines nine miles outside the city, although only twenty-four hours after was the full force of the German artillery let loose, with fourteen German divisions waiting to march against the three French divisions holding the position. Can you wonder we are anxious?

We have been buoyed up for weeks by the hope of an Allied offensive—and instead came this!

The first day's news was bad, so was that of the 24th. I have never since the war began felt such a vibrant spirit of anxiety about me. To add to it, just before midnight on the 24th snow began to fall. In the morning there was more snow on the ground than I had ever seen in France. It was a foot deep in front of the house, and on the north side, where it had drifted, it was twice that depth. This was so unusual that no one seemed to know what to do. Amélie could not get to me. No one is furnished with foot-gear to walk in snow, except men who happen to have high galoshes. I looked out of the window, and saw Père shovelling away to make a path to the gate, but with an iron shovel it was a long passage. It was nine o'clock before he got the gate open, and then Amélie came slipping down. Père was busy all day keeping that path open, for the snow continued to fall.

This meant that communications were all stopped. Trains ran slowly on the main lines, but our little road was blocked. It continued to snow for two days, and for two days we had no news from the outside world.

On the morning of the 27th one of our old men went to the Demi- Lune and watched for a military car coming in from Meaux. After hours of waiting, one finally appeared. He ran into the road and hailed it, and as the chauffeur put on his brakes, he called:

"Et Verdun?"

"Elle tient," was the reply, and the auto rushed on.

That was all the news we had in those days.

When communications were opened the news we got was not consoling. First phase of the battle closed six days ago—with the Germans in Douaumont, and the fighting still going on—but the spirit of the French not a jot changed. Here, among the civilians, they say: "Verdun will never fall," and out at the front, they tell us that the poilus simply hiss through their clenched teeth, as they fight and fall, "They shall not pass." And all the time we sit inactive on the hilltop holding that thought. It's all we can do.

We were livened up a bit last week because the village clown was on his home leave. He is a lad of twenty-three with a young wife and a little three-year-old girl, who has learned to talk since "dada" saw her, and is her father right over—full of fun, good-humor, and laughter.

I have told you that we almost never hear war talk. We did hear some while our local clown was home, but how much was true and how much his imagination I don't know. Anyway, his drollery made us all laugh. His mother-in-law had died since he left, and when his wife wept on his shoulder, he patted her on the back, and winked over his shoulder at his admiring friends, as he said: "Chut, ma fille, if you are going to cry in these days because someone dies, you'll have no time to sleep. Only think of it, the old lady died in bed, and that is everything which is most aristocratic in these days."

I regret to say that this did not console wife one bit.

As he never can tell anything without acting it out, he was very comic when he told about the battle in which the Prussian Guard was wiped out. He is in the artillery, and he acted out the whole battle. When he got to the point where the artillery was ordered to advance, he gave an imitation of himself scrambling on to his gun, and swaying there, as the horses struggled to advance over the rough road ploughed with shell, until they reached the field where the Guard had fallen. Then he imitated the gesture of the officer riding beside the guns, and stopping to look off at the field, as, with a shrug, he said: "Ah, les beaux gars" then swung his sabre and shouted: "En avant!"

Then came the imitation of a gunner hanging on his gun as the gun- carriage went bumping over the dead, the sappers and pétrole brigade coming on behind, ready to spray and fire the field, shouting: "Allez aux enfers, beaux gars de Prusse, et y attendre votre kaiser!"

It was all so humorous that one was shocked into laughter by the meeting of the comic and the awful. I laughed first and shuddered afterward. But we do that a great deal these days.

I don't think I told you that I had found a wonderful woman to help me one day in the week in the garden. Her name is Louise, and she was born in the commune, and has worked in the fields since she was nine years old. She is a great character, and she is handsome—very tall and so straight—thirty-three, married, with three children,—never been sick in her life. She is a brave, gay thing, and I simply love to see her striding along the garden paths, with her head in the air, walking on her long legs and carrying her body as steadily as though she had a bucket of water on her head. It is beautiful.

Well, Louise has a brother named Joseph, as handsome as she is, and bigger. Joseph is in the heavy artillery, holding a mountain-top in Alsace, and, would you believe it, he has been there twenty months, and has never seen a German.

Of course, when you think of it, it is not so queer, really. The heavy artillery is miles behind the infantry, and of course the gunners can't see what they are firing at—that is the business of the officers and the eyes of the artillery—the aeroplanes. Still, it is queer to think of firing big guns twenty months and never seeing the targets. Odder still, Joseph tells me he has never seen a wounded or a dead soldier since the war began. Put these little facts away to ponder on. It is a war of strange facts.

86. Abigail Adams

Saturday Evening, 2 March, 1776.

I was greatly rejoiced at the return of your servant, to find you had safely arrived, and that you were well. I had never heard a word from you after you had left New York, and a most ridiculous story had been industriously propagated in this and the neighboring towns to injure the cause and blast your reputation; namely, that you and your President [126] had gone on board of a man-of-war from New York, and sailed for England. I should not mention so idle a report, but that it had given uneasiness to some of your friends; not that they in the least credited the report, but because the gaping vulgar swallowed the story. One man had deserted them and proved a traitor, another might, etc. I assure you, such high disputes took place in the public-house of this parish, that some men were collared and dragged out of the shop with great threats, for reporting such scandalous lies, and an uncle of ours offered his life as a forfeit for you, if the report proved true. However, it has been a nine days' marvel, and will now cease. I heartily wish every Tory was extirpated from America; they are continually, by secret means, undermining and injuring our cause.

I am charmed with the sentiments of "Common Sense," and wonder how an honest heart, one who wishes the welfare of his country and the happiness of posterity, can hesitate one moment at adopting them. I want to know how these sentiments are received in Congress. I dare say there would be no difficulty in procuring a vote and instructions from all the Assemblies in New England for Independency. I most sincerely wish that now, in the lucky moment, it might be done.

I have been kept in a continual state of anxiety and expectation ever since you left me. It has been said "to-morrow" and "to-morrow," for this month, but when the dreadful to-morrow will be, I know not. But hark! The house this instant shakes with the roar of cannon. I have been to the door, and find it is a cannonade from our army.[127] Orders, I find, are come for all the remaining militia to repair to the lines Monday night by twelve o'clock. No sleep for me to-night. And if I cannot, who have no guilt upon my soul with regard to this cause, how shall the miserable wretches who have been the procurers of this dreadful scene, and those who are to be the actors, lie down with the load of guilt upon their souls?

Sunday Evening, 3 March.

I went to bed after twelve, but got no rest; the cannon continued firing, and my heart beat pace with them all night. We have had a pretty quiet day, but what to-morrow will bring forth, God only knows.

Monday Evening.

Tolerably quiet. To-day the militia have all mustered, with three days' provision, and are all marched by three o'clock this afternoon,though their notice was no longer ago than eight o'clock, Saturday. And now we have scarcely a man, but our regular guards, either in Weymouth, Hingham, Braintree, or Milton, and the militia from the more remote towns are called in as seacoast guards. Can you form to yourself an idea of our sensations?

I have just returned from Penn's hill, where I have been sitting to hear the amazing roar of cannon, and from whence I could see every shell which was thrown. The sound, I think, is one of the grandest in nature, and is of the true species of the sublime. 'T is now an incessant roar; but oh! the fatal ideas which are connected with the sound! How many of our dear countrymen must fall!

Tuesday Morning.

I went to bed about twelve, and rose again a little after one. I could no more sleep than if I had been in the engagement; the rattling of the windows, the jar of the house, the continual roar of twenty-four pounders, and the bursting of shells, give us such ideas, and realize a scene to us of which we could form scarcely any conception. About six, this morning, there was quiet. I rejoiced in a few hours' calm. I hear we got possession of Dorchester Hill last night; four thousand men upon it to-day; lost but one man. The ships are all drawn round the town. To-night we shall realize a more terrible scene still. I sometimes think I cannot stand it. I wish myself with you, out of hearing, as I cannot assist them. I hope to give you joy of Boston, even if it is in ruins, before I send this away. I am too much agitated to write as I ought, and languid for want of rest.

Thursday, Fast-day.

All my anxiety and distress is at present at an end. I feel disappointed. This day our militia are all returning, without effecting anything more than taking possession of Dorchester Hill. I hope it is wise and just, but, from all the muster and stir, I hoped and expected more important and decisive scenes. I would not have suffered all I have for two such hills. Ever since the taking of that, we have had a perfect calm; nor can I learn yet what effect it has had in Boston. I do not hear of one person's escaping since.

I was very much pleased with your choice of a committee for Canada. All those to whom I have ventured to show that part of your letter, approve the scheme of the priest as a master-stroke of policy. I feel sorry that General Lee has left us, but his presence at New York was no doubt of great importance, as we have reason to think it prevented Clinton from landing and gathering together such a nest of vermin as would at least have distressed us greatly. But how can you spare him from here? Can you make his place good? Can you supply it with a man equally qualified to save us? How do the Virginians relish the troops said to be destined for them? Are they putting themselves into a state of defense? I inclose to you a copy of a letter sent by Captain Furnance, who is in Mr. Ned Church's employ, and who came into the Cape about ten days ago. You will learn the sentiments of our cousin by it. Some of which may be true, but I hope he is a much better divine than politician. I hear that in one of his letters he mentions certain intercepted letters which he says have made much noise in England, and laments that you ever wrote them. I cannot bear to think of your continuing in a state of supineness this winter.

"There is a tide in the affairs of men,Which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune;Omitted, all the voyage of their life Is bound in shallows and in miseries.On such a full sea are we now afloat;And we must take the current when it serves,Or lose our ventures."

Sunday Evening, 10 March.

I had scarcely finished these lines when my ears were again assaulted by the roar of cannon. I could not write any further. My hand and heart will tremble at this "domestic fury and fierce civil strife," which "cumber all" our "parts;" though "blood and destruction" are "so much in use," "and dreadful objects so familiar," yet is not "pity choked," nor my heart grown callous. I feel for the unhappy wretches who know not where to fly for safety. I feel still more for my bleeding countrymen, who are hazarding their lives and their limbs. A most terrible and incessant cannonade from half after eight till six this morning. I hear we lost four men killed, and some wounded, in attempting to take the hill nearest the town, called Nook's Hill. We did some work, but the fire from the ships beat off our men, so that they did not secure it, but retired to the fort upon the other hill.

I have not got all the particulars; I wish I had; but, as I have an opportunity of sending this, I shall endeavor to be more particular in my next.

If there are reinforcements here, I believe we shall be driven from the seacoast; but, in whatever state I am, I will endeavor to be therewith content.

"Man wants but little here below,Nor wants that little long."

You will excuse this very incorrect letter. You see in what perturbation it has been written, and how many times I have left off. Adieu.

Yours.

P. S. Took's grammar is the one you mention.

Footnotes:

[126]Hancock. I find no traces of this report, which was probably set in motion by the loyalists, after the exposure of Dr. Church.

[127]"In order to divert the enemy's attention, we began on Saturday night a cannonade and bombardment, which with intervals was continued through the night; the same on Sunday, and on Monday a continued roar from seven o'clock till daylight was kept up between the enemy and us." (Washington to Reed, 7th of March.)

March 2, 1864

Wednesday. After breakfast, and as we were mostly on deck smoking, a man rushed up from below and went out upon the guard in front of the wheel house as if to have a wash up from the tub standing there. His manner, and the look upon his face, attracted the attention of several. He pulled off his coat, and throwing up his hands sang out, "Good-bye, all," and jumped off directly in front of the wheel. We rushed to the rail in time to see him come up behind the wheel, and strike out to swim. He had hit something, for his head and face were bloody. "Man overboard," was yelled by everyone, and chairs or any other thing handy was thrown towards him. The vessel was stopped, but by this time the man was far astern, and only to be seen as he rose on the waves, which were quite high. A boat was lowered and put out after him, and that, too, was hidden from view about half the time. The man, as near as I could judge the distance, was a half mile away by this time, though by watching the place he could be made out every time he came up in sight. Those who had glasses watched him until the boat seemed almost to him, and said that as he lay in plain sight on the uphill side of a wave he suddenly went down. One of the crew said sharks were always prowling about near a ship at sea, watching for anything thrown out, and if one of them crossed the trail of blood which the man must have left, it would follow him like a streak of lightning. He thought it strange he had been let alone so long, and had no doubt that a shark was the cause of his going down so suddenly. The McClellan had come round so as to face the wind, and waited for the boat to come back, which it did just before noon. A rope was thrown out and caught, and after several times trying, the boat was got close enough to be hauled up, men and all. While this was going on, nearly everyone on board had come on deck. A few, with the best-looking faces, were brought to the quarter-deck and questioned, and the stories they told of the doings below could hardly be believed. Everything short of murder had been done. The worst of the lot had so terrorized the rest that they dared not report them for fear of what might happen to themselves. The man who jumped overboard had been so abused for coming to the cabin the night before, that he took the only other course to get rid of it that seemed open to him.

Now that the whiskey was gone, the most of them were willing and anxious to be decent, but were in such mortal terror of the ringleaders that they dared not make a move to bring them to justice. After hearing the stories, which were all of one kind. Colonel Zotroski (that's the way it sounds), being the ranking officer on board, took command and declared martial law. He summoned every military officer and the armed soldiers to the quarter-deck. These soldiers had, by the way, kept apart from the others and had not been molested. After taking the names, he appointed an officer of the day, and I was almost paralyzed to hear my name called as officer of the guard. A guard was detailed from among the armed men, and then I got orders to station them at different places below, and to arrest and put in irons any who created a disturbance or disobeyed an order given them. Also to allow no smoking between decks. Scared most out of my wits, I took the first relief and went below. I posted them where they could see all parts of the room they were in, and one on the next deck below, in a smaller room where the cooking was done, giving them the orders I had received from the officer of the day. I then started back up the ladder, when some one caught me by the feet, just as I had my hands on a brass railing that ran beside the opening to the deck above. That hand-hold saved me. I yanked one foot loose and with the heel of my boot jammed the knuckles of the hands holding me so they let go and I was free. I said nothing, out loud, but went straight to my room for my revolver. I came back just in time to see the guard I had posted in the kitchen tumble out on deck, all spattered with hot potatoes which had been thrown at him, some burning him severely. He was mad clear through and was ready to shoot, and I wished we were in the open where loaded guns could be used. I took him back to the same post and told him to bayonet the first man that attempted to lay hands on him. A great big hulk of a fellow stepped out from the crowd and coming close up, said, "Good, old hoss, if you want any help just call on me." I made all the allowance I could for his manner of speech, thanked him, and went where I could see what went on without being seen by him. Pretty soon he started as if going past the guard, and when opposite him made a quick grab and got hold of the gun barrel, and the fight was on. Before I could get there the guard was down and ready to be tumbled on deck again. It was just what was needed to bring my Dutch up to the fighting point. I grabbed the tough by the collar with one hand and with the other jammed the muzzle of a cocked revolver against his ugly face, telling him to climb that ladder or die. He was a coward after all and went on deck as meek as you please, where I handcuffed him to the rigging and went back after more. Another was pointed out and when I beckoned to him he came right along. The well-disposed took courage and in a little while had two more on deck, where I handcuffed them fast in different places. I now had four, but the worst one of the lot could not be found. He was said to be the leader in all the deviltry that had been going on. The men said they would watch for him and let me know the minute he was found. I went on deck, where I found several men who had been robbed by the man yet at large, of sums totaling $211. Another said the one I got first had stolen a shirt from him and was then wearing it.

My orders said nothing about restoring stolen property, so the matter was carried up to Colonel Zotroski, who told me to act my pleasure about it. It was my pleasure to take off the handcuffs and let the owner of the shirt take it off the thief's back. After locking him fast again, I went on with the search for the missing one. I wanted to find him while my gritty spell lasted, for, from all accounts, he was a desperate character and the leader of the gang. Just before dark one of the watchers came and told me they had located him under a berth, and they thought he was asleep. Sure enough he was, sound asleep between the floor and a lower berth. I took him by the leg and had plenty of help to haul him out. He had a revolver and a cheese knife with him, but in the narrow quarters, and in the jiffy of time it took to get out, had no chance to use either. There were as many hands as could get a hold, and by the time I reached the deck he was there. A madder man I never saw. The men he had robbed were there and I told them to go through him and see what they could find. Although he was handcuffed, he was so handy with his feet that shackles had to be put on before the search for the money began. Wrapped around one ankle was the money, just two hundred and eleven dollars. As that amount was what the victims claimed to have lost, it was given back to them to divide up. As I fastened the villain to the pump, the handiest thing there was, he swore all sorts of vengeance on me, saying he would see my heart's blood if he had to wait twenty years for it. Besides the knife found on him, his revolver had three empty shells, showing he had used it, and probably would have used it again if he had been found while awake. I was mighty glad sleep overtook him before I did, for if it had not the day's doings might read differently.

All was quiet now, and at the supper table I found myself to be quite a somebody. Some with whom I had not spoken before took pains to speak now and to congratulate me on the result of the day's work. But if they had known how scared I was when I went at the job, and how little bravery was really necessary to arrest four cowards and one sleeping bad man, they might have thought differently. But I hope never again to feel as I did when I arrested the first man. There was murder in my heart, and the man's wilting as he did is all that saved me from being a murderer. If that is bravery, I am glad I have so little of it.

After supper Captain Gray asked me to use his room on deck for my headquarters, and as I must be up all night I was very thankful for such a nice place. The captain's bunk was in a room adjoining and he turned in, leaving me alone. A map of the ocean's bottom lay on a table. The depth of water all along the coast and for a distance from it was marked on the map. The wind came up between nine and ten o'clock and howled terribly. The captain came out and looked at the barometer hanging on the wall. He said it was all right yet, but if it got to a certain point, which he showed me, it would mean a much bigger blow. I went the rounds about once an hour, and found it very difficult to walk on the deck. The prisoners were where I put them, and in spite of all I began to feel sorry for them. But not knowing what to do with them I left them to suffer a little, thinking it would be no more than they deserved.

To stop smoking between decks was not so easy as it might seem. On every round I made I had smelled tobacco smoke, but had not located a single smoker. Finally I saw what I knew was a lighted cigar in an alley along the outside tier of bunks, and where the light from the lamp did not reach. It was after midnight, and all but those on duty were supposed to be asleep. This fellow did not see me until I was right upon him. I took the cigar from his mouth, dropped it on the floor and put my foot on it. Neither of us said a word, and I found no more smoking after that.

At midnight the wind was something awful to hear or feel. After one of my rounds I came in and found the barometer pointing to the very place the captain had pointed out. When I told Captain Gray of it, he jumped up and pulled a bell handle. Soon another officer came and they consulted together. A change of direction was decided upon, and then there was more pulling of bell handles, and they both went out. Soon after this the ship seemed to be going over. A tremendous thump, a smashing of timber, and a great rush of water all came together. I thought the ship was sinking or had run afoul of something. I started out and was glad to get under cover again. The deck was wet and water was dripping from everything. The deck was so high from the water I did not think it possible the waves could reach it, and yet as it was not raining I had to think they had been very much higher, for the water was running down from everything. The prisoners were alive yet, for I could hear them yell and swear. After a little the ship stopped rolling and only pitched and dove. I ventured out and found it raining and the wind blowing harder than ever. The poor wretches fast to the rigging were repentant now and begged for some better place. I looked about and found a sheltered place, and with the help of the sergeant of the guard moved them to it.

Morning finally came, and with it better weather, though the sea was something awful to look upon. What I heard in the night was now explained. A great wave had gone clean over the vessel, taking every loose thing with it. It also smashed some of the timbers that form the guard in front and back of the wheel-house. These had gone clear over and out on the other side. They looked to be six inches square and solid at that. The rail was broken where they struck it going over. I thanked my stars I was inside when that happened. Such waves I had never seen. As the bow climbed up one, the stern would sink down in another, until a solid body of black water stood up all around it, and seemed ready to fall upon and sink the ship, but instead, the bow would go down and the stern go high up in the air; at the same time a sheet of water would come swashing over the deck, and running off at the sides. I had often wished I might witness a storm at sea, and here I was right in one. I asked Captain Gray if this was the real thing and he said it was "pretty stiff weather."

Eight o'clock came and I was relieved. After a wash-up and breakfast I turned in and slept till dinner, and since that have been writing up my diary. Everything is quiet on board. No more cutting up between decks has yet happened. I am glad now I had just the part I did in bringing about this state of affairs, but to tell the honest truth I didn't suppose it was in me to go through the part I did. There was a whole lot of good luck, as well as some good management. As I look back over the last twenty-four hours I see much more to feel thankful for than to feel proud of.