Join Date: November 2, 1998
My man Friday
OK, this is not the story of a faithful sidekick. Rather, its an amusing response and excuse for skedaddling. This is told by a Union soldier at that ill fated battle at Fredericksburg (Dec. 1862).
Company A's officers had with them a shining faced fellow named Jack Smith. Now, Jack was a rather proud and very logical chap, made the very best biscuits, said he seen some service, and claimed to have a large share of that admirable soldierly quality called bravery.
As we stood on the bridge just before the shelling commenced, I called Jack to me and asked for my canteen and haversack, for I mistrusted that if we should get into any trouble, Jack might not be on hand when I needed him; but the little fellow seemed so hurt by my apparent distrust, and protested so strongly, saying, "I'se bin in fights afore, and don't want to see captain toteing his own grub, and dis man loafin' 'long doin' noffin; s'pose you done get wounded, don't you' spec' me dar to took care of you? You needn't gone git afeerd I'se gwine to runn'd away from you; no sah, captain, I'll say wid you." So I left my haversack with Jack, taking only one of the three canteens he had strung about his shoulder. But the moment the shells began to fall, Jack disappeared; and as we about faced, I caught a glimpse of the little scamp just straightening himself up on the top of the bank, and the next instant he bounded off like a deer, the haversack and canteens seemed to stand right out behind him. It is needless to say I never tasted the contents of that haversack...
Well, the good captain marches off to battle where they are fortunate to be held in reserve. That's not so bad since they're not shot to pieces like everyone else who tried to storm Marye's Heights. The Union army is beaten and re-crossed the Rappahannock in defeat. We now learn what happened to fearless Jack.
The third day after our return, I walked over to the regiment, and was standing in Company A's street, talking to one of the men, when I heard some one shout, "John, dah," and looking up saw coming toward me the little scamp who ran away with my haversack, from the bridge at the river. He had just arrived in camp, and was the most woe-begone rascal I had ever beheld. He eyes seemed sunk in his head. His skin had lost its lustre, and was several shades lighter than I had ever seen. His clothes were tattered and muddy-his corkless canteen hung spout downward, and his empty haversack the wrongside out.
The he stood, the tears trickling down his cheeks, so pitiable a sight that my own eyes involuntarily moistened; and yet, so extremely ludicrous, it seemed impossible to refrain from laughing. After a little, however, I got mastery of both face and feelings, and said to him, in what I intended to be a severe tone, "You worthless, cowardly little vagabond, what are you doing here, after running away with my food, when you promised so faithfully to remain with me? What have you to say for yourself before I drive you from camp? Quick! if you have any excuse out with it." "Yes sah; yes sah," said he, "I'se got a scuse." "Well then," I replied, "let us hear it." "Well sah - well sah - I - I - I'se afeared you'll boot me." "Boot you? Why, there is nothing left of you to boot. But come - come, let us hear your excuse." "Well, captain - I wasn't any more coward an you wah" - and then he boo-hooed louder than ever. That was a flanker I did not appreciate; for in the meantime quite a crowd had gathered about us, and among the number several officers from adjoining camps.
"Well, now, Jack," said I, and this time in real earnest, "if you don't give me some satisfactory explanation of that assertion, I will certainly punish you, and that severely. You ran away, didn't you, before the first shell had fairly reached the water?" "Yes, sah."
"Well, Jack, did I run away?" "No, sah." "Why, then, you rascal, dare you tell me, in presence of all these gentlemen, that I am as great a coward as you are?" "Well sah - well sah- you won't boot me?" "Not if you can explain away your lying accusation; but otherwise I certainly will."
"Well, now, captain, I runn'd away cause I didn't dar stay, and you staid cause you didn't dar runn'd away."
And that, gentle reader, is the story of My man Friday. Background investigations were not something done back in the 19th Century.
Vigilantibus et non dormientibus jura subveniunt. Molon Labe!