WHAT THE MASSACHUSETTS EIGHTH HAD BEEN DOING.
Meantime General Butler's command, the Massachusetts Eighth, had been busy knocking disorder in the head.
Presently after their landing, and before they were refreshed, they pushed companies out to occupy the railroad-track beyond the town.
They found it torn up. No doubt the scamps who did the shabby job fancied that there would be no more travel that way until strawberry-time. They fancied the Yankees would sit down on the fences and begin to whittle white-oak toothpicks, darning the rebels, through their noses, meanwhile.
I know these men of the Eighth can whittle, and I presume they can say "Darn it," if occasion requires; but just now track-laying was the business on hand.
"Wanted, experienced track-layers!" was the word along the files.
All at once the line of the road became densely populated with experienced track-layers, fresh from Massachusetts.
Presto change! the rails were relaid, spiked, and the roadway levelled and better ballasted than any road I ever saw south of Mason and Dixon's line. "We must leave a good job for these folks to model after," say the Massachusetts Eighth.
A track without a train is as useless as a gun without a man. Train and engine must be had. "Uncle Sam's mails and troops cannot be stopped another minute," our energetic friends conclude. So--the railroad company's people being either frightened or false--in marches Massachusetts to the station. "We, the People of the United States, want rolling-stock for the use of the Union," they said, or words to that effect.
The engine--a frowzy machine at the best--had been purposely disabled.
Here appeared the _deus ex machina_, Charles Homans, Beverly Light Guard, Company E, Eighth Massachusetts Regiment.
That is the man, name and titles in full, and he deserves well of his country.
He took a quiet squint at the engine,--it was as helpless as a boned turkey,--and he found "Charles Homans, his mark," written all over it.
The old rattletrap was an old friend. Charles Homans had had a share in building it. The machine and the man said, "How d'y' do?" at once. Homans called for a gang of engine-builders. Of course they swarmed out of the ranks. They passed their hands over the locomotive a few times, and presently it was ready to whistle and wheeze and rumble and gallop, as if no traitor had ever tried to steal the go and the music out of it.
This had all been done during the afternoon of the 23d. During the night, the renovated engine was kept cruising up and down the track to see all clear. Guards of the Eighth were also posted to protect passage.
Our commander had, I presume, been cooperating with General Butler in this business. The Naval Academy authorities had given us every despatch and assistance, and the middies, frank, personal hospitality. The day was halcyon, the grass was green and soft, the apple-trees were just in blossom: it was a day to be remembered.
Many of us will remember it, and show the marks of it for months, as the day we had our heads cropped. By evening there was hardly one poll in the Seventh tenable by anybody's grip. Most sat in the shade and were shorn by a barber. A few were honored with a clip by the artist hand of the _petit caporal_ of our Engineer Company.
While I rattle off these trifling details, let me not fail to call attention to the grave service done by our regiment, by its arrival, at the nick of time, at Annapolis. No clearer special Providence could have happened. The country-people of the traitor sort were aroused. Baltimore and its mob were but two hours away. The Constitution had been hauled out of reach of a rush by the Massachusetts men,--first on the ground,--but was half-manned and not fully secure. And there lay the Maryland, helpless on the shoal, with six or seven hundred souls on board, so near the shore that the late Captain Rynders's gun could have sunk her from some ambush.
Yes! the Seventh Regiment at Annapolis was the Right Man in the Right Place!
OUR MORNING MARCH.
Reveille. As nobody pronounces this word _a la francaise_, as everybody calls it "Revelee," why not drop it, as an affectation, and translate it the "Stir your Stumps," the "Peel your Eyes," the "Tumble Up," or literally the "Wake"?
Our snorers had kept up this call so lustily since midnight, that, when the drums sounded it, we were all ready.
The Sixth and Second Companies, under Captain Nevers, are detached to lead the van. I see my brother Billy march off with the Sixth, into the dusk, half-moonlight, half-dawn, and hope that no beggar of a Secessionist will get a pat shot at him, by the roadside, without his getting a chance to let fly in return. Such little possibilities intensify the earnest detestation we feel for the treasons we come to resist and to punish. There will be some bitter work done, if we ever get to blows in this war,--this needless, reckless, brutal assault upon the mildest of all governments.
Before the main body of the regiment marches, we learn that the "Baltic" and other transports came in last night with troops from New York and New England, enough to hold Annapolis against a square league of Plug Uglies. We do not go on without having our rear protected and our communications open. It is strange to be compelled to think of these things in peaceful America. But we really knew little more of the country before us than Cortes knew of Mexico. I have since learned from a high official, that thirteen different messengers were despatched from Washington in the interval of anxiety while the Seventh was not forthcoming, and only one got through.
At half-past seven we take up our line of march, pass out of the charming grounds of the Academy, and move through the quiet, rusty, picturesque old town. It has a romantic dulness--Annapolis--which deserves a parting compliment.
Although we deem ourselves a fine-looking set, although our belts are blanched with pipe-clay and our rifles shine sharp in the sun, yet the townspeople stare at us in a dismal silence. They have already the air of men quelled by a despotism. None can trust his neighbor. If he dares to be loyal, he must take his life into his hands. Most would be loyal, if they dared. But the system of society which has ended in this present chaos has gradually eliminated the bravest and best men. They have gone in search of Freedom and Prosperity; and now the bullies cow the weaker brothers. "There must be an end of this mean tyranny," think the Seventh, as they march through old Annapolis and see how sick the town is with doubt and alarm.
Outside the town, we strike the railroad and move along, the howitzers in front, bouncing over the sleepers. When our line is fully disengaged from the town, we halt.
Here the scene is beautiful. The van rests upon a high embankment, with a pool surrounded by pine-trees on the right, green fields on the left. Cattle are feeding quietly about. The air sings with birds. The chestnut-leaves sparkle. Frogs whistle in the warm spring morning. The regiment groups itself along the bank and the cutting. Several Marylanders of the half-price age--under twelve--come gaping up to see us harmless invaders. Each of these young gentry is armed with a dead spring frog, perhaps by way of tribute. And here--hollo! here comes Horace Greeley _in propria persona_! He marches through our groups with the Greeley walk, the Greeley hat on the back of his head, the Greeley white coat on his shoulders, his trousers much too short, and an absorbed, abstracted demeanor. Can it be Horace, reporting for himself? No; this is a Maryland production, and a little disposed to be sulky.
After a few minutes' halt, we hear the whistle of the engine. This machine is also an historic character in the war.
Remember it! "J.H. Nicholson" is its name. Charles Homans drives, and on either side stands a sentry with fixed bayonet. New spectacles for America! But it is grand to know that the bayonets are to protect, not to assail, Liberty and Law.
The train leads off. We follow, by the track. Presently the train returns. We pass it and trudge on in light marching order, carrying arms, blankets, haversacks, and canteens. Our knapsacks are upon the train.
Fortunate for our backs that they do not have to bear any more burden! For the day grows sultry. It is one of those breezeless baking days which brew thunder-gusts. We march on for some four miles, when, coming upon the guards of the Massachusetts Eighth, our howitzer is ordered to fall out and wait for the train. With a comrade of the Artillery, I am placed on guard over it.