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Grenadiers : for some breach of discipline he had been degraded and reduced to the ranks ; his haughty spirit could ill brook the indignity, and he deserted. He was captured and carried back to Montreal, where, by sentence of a British Court Martial, he received, upon his naked back, three hundred lashes, with a "pickled cat,” that is, a cat whose thongs were soaked in salt water, in order to make the smart more unendurable! Being a man of iron nerve, he soon recovered from his horrid mangling, and as soon as he could wear a coat, again deserted, and succeeded in reaching the American lines in safety. His whole life had been spent in arms, and inclination, as well as necessity, soon led him to enlist in the service of the United States. Nor was his a solitary case: others there were, who, perhaps more deservedly, had met with a similar fate.
Many, too, of the battalion, were old soldiers, who had served in the various armies of Europe, some of whom had fought for or against the “ Great Emperor,” on almost every battle-field on the continent. These were generally the best soldiers, though the worst men in the service. Familiarity with bloodshed and violence had hardened their hearts and rendered them familiar with every species of vice.
With such diversity of origin, you might expect to find every shade of character. Noah's ark could scarcely have contained a greater assortment of animals than Major D's battalion did of dispositions. Here you might find the representative and victim of every kind of vice and immorality; strict military discipline held in check the outward manifestation of the most glaring faults, but could not eradicate them. Like the smothered fires of a volcano, they still burned fiercely within, and only waited for the removal of restraint to burst forth with fearful energy. And yet, such is the school into which erring parents sometimes send their sons, to cure them of their follies !
These remarks apply of course only to the ranks. The officers were generally a noble band of men, drawn from the best families of the country, and not a few of them the chivalrous sons of the “ Old Dominion.”
Our stay at Fort Heileman was of short duration, yet it was long enough to prove that “teetotalism” was not very popular with the troops. Although rations of liquor were at that time allowed by the government, none were served out by the commissaries. The commandant had wisely substituted in its stead double rations of sugar and coffee; yet at this post, from its proximity to the settlements, whiskey could be obtained, and though a single bottle often cost a whole month's wages, and intoxication was sure to be visited with the severest penalties, the guard house was seldom clear of prisoners confined for this offense.
The plan of campaign, was to connect St. Augustine and Tampa bay by a cordon of posts ; concentrate the army at Fort Mellon, on Lake Monroe ; and strike thence into the everglades, in hopes of drawing the wily foe from this, his last and strongest retreat. In pursuance of this plan, our battalion was ordered to Picolatti, on the St. Johns, sixteen miles west of St. Augustine. This place had been chosen before the war as a nucleus for a settlement, and promised to become a place of some importance. A large hotel had been built there in its palmier days, the upper part of which was now occupied as a hospital, while the cellar furnished the troops with barracks.
At Picolauti I stood my first guard. It was on the night of our arrival, and as our tents were pitched between the landing and the pickets, it became necessary to set a separate guard. Though not liable to this duty, I had volunteered on this night to take the place of a man who was just recovering from sickness, influenced not more perhaps by humanity than by a boyish desire of braving danger, if any was to be braved. The post assigned me was on the road leading from the landing to the fort, and at one o'clock I took my station, beside a tall black stump near the roadside, prepared to maintain it to the death. As the sergeant of the guard was about to take his leave, he observed to me, “ The first soldier killed in this war, was a sentinel on your post, and on that stump, (pointing to the one on which I leaned,) the yellow rascal scalped him.” This was decidedly encouraging to a youth of fifteen, on his first duty. Not being, however, a very firm believer in ghosts, or other imaginary foes, I took my post beside the stump, and kept my eyes wide open for the next two hours, with a kind of vague apprehension, that my scalp might chance to share the fate of my predecessor's. I met with no disturbance during my watch, though I must confess that now and then, as a wolf would howl or a rabbit dash through the rustling bushes, I would realize Virgil's description of his hero's feelings when he saw the shades of the departed, “ vox faucibus haesit, steteruntque comæ.” On the next day I took charge of the hospital, and saw no more field service during our stay of two weeks at Picolatii. In these few days we lost six of our comrades, who fell victims to the climate, through exposure to the drenching dews which characterize the nights in Florida. One of these was a young German, about seventeen years of age, who had run away from his parents and enlisted in New York. On the day of our arrival at Picolaiti he was seized of a fever, and in less than a week his campaign was over. I visited his chamber about midnight on the night of his death, and found the poor fellow literally wallowing in his own blood, whilst his attendants were seated on the floor busily engaged in gambling! He had been attacked with hemorrhage a few minutes before, and in his efforts to reach a cup of water which was placed near him, had fallen from his cot and lay covered with blood, calling most piteously upon his mother, whom he thought, in his delirium, he saw beside him. Neither his fall nor his cries could disturb the miserable wretches who sat busily engaged with their sport. When reprimanded for their brutal conduct, their only excuse was, that “they could get nothing to drink, and must have something to amuse themselves with!" Yet these men were the messmates of him who lay dying beside them! To such a state can familiarity with vice bring the mind of man.
From Picolatti we were next ordered to Fort Mellon, the point fixed on as the centre of operations for the campaign. We embarked in three steamboats, strongly fortified with pierced bulwarks, and armed with a four pounder each, for a protection and defense in case of attack. The voyage from Picolauti to Fort Mellon, a distance of nearly one hundred miles, is one of great natural beauty. Though the St. Johns passes through a country almost level, and destitute of the variety arising from alternate hill and dale, yet there is a rich wildness in the mingled forests, groves, and prairies, which skirt its banks, that must give pleasure to every lover of Nature. The magnolia grandiflora, with its large, rich leaves of living green; the tall palmetto, rearing its leafy summit upon a branchless stem ; the noble pine, scenting the air with its fragrance, and the majestic live-oak, covered with its mantle of long, gray moss, floating in the breeze like the beard of some venerable ancient, each in turn, and often in unison, lent their presence to beautify and adorn the scene. Besides these monarchs of the forest, the orange groves, with perpetual verdure and unfailing crop of fruit and flowers, and the innumerable varieties of nameless shrubs and plants that grow upon the banks, or on the very bosom of the stream, served to fill up the scene, Nor was animal life wanting to give variety to the picture. On every bank the lazy aligator was basking in the sun, enjoying the envied luxury of a sound, untroubled sleep; when roused by the puffing of the engines, he would roll sluggishly into the water, and lie concealed till the danger was past. We tried the power of our muskets upon the mail of some who slept more soundly than the rest, but the only effect was a peculiar grunt, and a little quicker movement towards the river. The lakes through which the river frequently passes, were alive with wild fowl of every kind, and the trees on the shores were inhabited by numerous kinds of tropical birds, among which we recognized the voice of many a little songster, who had migrated from our northern hills to pass his winter in the spring-like groves of a southern clime.
Our voyage was attended with no remarkable incidents, and early on the next morning we came to anchor off Fort Mellon, on the western bank of Lake Monroe. This post, which owes its name to a brave officer, who fell in its defense, was first built in 1836, and soon after sustained one of the fiercest attacks made by the savages during the war.
An account of the attack, as it was given me by one engaged in it, may not be uninteresting, and will give an idea of the mode of Indian warfare. “I was,” said my informant, “on guard, on the post nearest the lake, the second night after our arrival, and about an hour before daybreak, as I was standing on the end of my beat farthest from the lake, talking with the sentinel on the next post, we noticed a steady waving motion of the grass, setting in the direction of the pickets, as if a strong current of air was passing over the prairie, bending down the tall grass in its course. After noticing it for some time, we both came to the conclusion that it was occasioned by the wind blowing through an opening in the hammock just in our rear, and paid no more attention to it at the time. At length, a suspicion flashed across my comrade's mind, that it might be occasioned by Indians; he stooped down in order to command a fairer view, and immediately rose, challenged, and fired. The report of the musket was followed by a groan, as of a dying man. In an instant a yell, as of a legion of devils, broke upon our ears, and four hundred rifles poured a leaden shower in the direction of the yet sleeping troops. The whole force of the Indians had passed within twenty yards of us, undiscovered, and when the alarm was given, had arranged themselves along the whole front of the unfinished breastwork, and in a few minutes more would have been within it, and the whole detachment must have fallen by their first murderous fire.”
As it was, the alarm was just in time. The troops had providentially slept on their arms, and almost before the first echo of the rifles had died away in the distant woods, their fire was returned from the sort with deadly effect. The Indians, who had succeeded in entering one end of the breastwork, were instantly driven back and compelled to take a more respectful distance. The battle raged for nearly three hours, and during the whole of this time several of the sentinels, including my intormant, were on their posts, unable to gain the fort, and frequently exposed to the fire of both parties. By lying close to the ground, however, and keeping quiet, they all escaped unharmed. The loss of the Indians in this attack could never be ascertained, as they invariably, even in the botest action, remove and conceal their dead and wounded. Their loss, however, must have been great, as they were exposed for several hours to a galling fire. The only soldier killed was the gallant Mellon, who fell early in the action.
At the close of the campaign of 1836, the post was abandoned on account of the sickness of the troops, and soon after was burned by the Indians, so that upon our arrival before it in the fall of '37, nothing reinained but the scathed and blackened pickets, which had so nobly defended our troops in the previous campaign.
The steamboats conveying the troops came to anchor before the fort, in order of battle, so as to bring their artillery to bear upon the pickets, in case our landing should be disputed. The flat boats, well fortified with bulwarks reaching above the oarsmens' heads, were then launched and manned, and ordered with all due precaution to effect a landing ; this was soon accomplished without opposition, and we once more took possession of the post. We found the fort completely in ruins. The houses of the officers, hospital, blockhouses, and every thing combustible, had been burned by the enraged Indians on its abandonment in the spring previous, and naught now remained but the incombustible palmetto pickets. The interior of the square was entirely overgrown with tall grass and weeds, which from their trampled condition gave evident proofs of having been recently visited by the Indians. Indeed, every thing seemed to indicate a hasty removal upon our approach.
On the night of our arrival we slept upon our arms, under the protection of the old pickets, beneath as beautiful a sky as ever shone on mortal. I had never before enjoyed the luxury of sleeping thus beneath the star-gemmed canopy of heaven, with naught to do but lay and gaze upon the surpassing beauty of a tropical sky; and the effect upon my mind was peculiar. It was impossible to sleep, or even to close my eyes upon a scene so rich and novel. I laid awake, and gazing upon the bright stars, thought of my distant home, where perhaps the selfsame stars were guiding a merry band of revelers over the frozen snow, whilst here the night was pleasant as midsummer. About midnight, our meditations were disturbed by the sudden report of a musket, followed by the soul-stirring cry, “ To arms !” In an instant, as if by magic, and almost ere the report of the musket had died away, a thousand men stood in rank, armed cap-a-pie, ready for battle. The alarm, however, proved to be a false one, caused by the accidental discharge of a sentinel's musket, as he was saluting the officer of the day on his round of inspection, and we were permitted again to sink to sleep or thoughtfulness with new food for reflection.
As Fort Mellon was designed to be a depôt of provisions for the campaign, the troops, together with a large body of mechanics, were at once set to work to build a number of large warehouses and blockhouses for the convenience and protection of the garrison.
While thus employed, we had a rare instance of punishment inflicted upon the really guilty, in the flogging of one of the mechanics who had given liquor to a soldier and thus procured his intoxication. Col. Harny, finding the man drunk, inquired where he obtained the means of intoxication, and having ascertained this point, he ordered the soldier under arrest, but tied the citizen up to a tree and gave him thirty-nine blows with a rod. It is needless to say, that no more liquor was either given or sold at the post, so long as Col. H. remained in command.
In a few days, nearly the whole effective force in the territory was mustered at Fort Mellon, to wait till the season should be far enough advanced to render it safe to pursue the campaign. A regular encampment was formed on a prairie about half a mile in advance of the fort, and here for more than a month, whilst waiting for the last traces of summer, with its hosts of sickly attendants to withdraw, we enjoyed all the far-famed pleasures of a soldier's life. Attendance on roll call at reveillé, drill at ten, and parade at sunset, with guard duty once a week, constituted the routine of duty. The remaining time was devoted to singing songs, telling tales, gambling, cooking and eating, or in any other way most convenient to the taste, or best adapted to kill time. War is no regarder of set time nor holy days. The Sabbath might have passsd unhonored and unnoticed, but for the weekly orders that on that holy day each soldier should appear on drill with clean shirt and shaven chin, with musket of uncommon brightness. This was our only notice of the Sabbath, and our only service was usually an extra drill. Thus passed away a month of listless inactivity in camp, while death was daily choosing his victims from our number. At length, the long hoped, for orders arrived to break up the encampment on the 25th of December, and proceed to accomplish the purposes of the campaign.
*E*. [To be continued.]