Brits (November 18, 1864)

A stereo view of Fort Hell, a.k.a. Fort Sedgwick (Library of Congress).

A stereo view of Fort Hell, a.k.a. Fort Sedgwick (Library of Congress).

Theodore Lyman relates the visits of even more Britishers. The “Fort Hell” they visit was officially known as Fort Sedgwick. In his journal entry, Lyman wrote, “What is the reason that Englishmen, whether they know anything or not, always succeed in looking more or less idiotic?” In Meade’s Army: The Private Notebooks of Lt. Col. Theodore Lyman, David W. Lowe identifies Smyth as Henry Augustus Smyth, who published his observations in Minutes of Proceedings of the Royal Artillery Institution.

Warm it is this morning—too much so; I would prefer it frosty, but remember the farmer whom Jupiter allowed to regulate the weather for his own farm, and who made very poor crops in consequence. As Albert came last night, I honorably discharged the ebony John this morning, giving him a character, an antique pair of trousers and a dollar or two extra wages, whereat John showed his ivory, but still remarked, standing on one leg: “Er ud like er pass.” “What do you want a pass for?” asked I, in that fatherly voice that should always be used to a very black nig. “Go a Washington.” “If you go to Washington they’ll draft you, if you don’t look out.” “Oh,” said John, with the grave air of a man of mundane experience, “dem fellers what ain’t travelled none, dey gets picked up: but I’s travelled a right smart lot!” Whereupon the traveller departed. It should be stated that his travels consist in having run away from his master, near Madison Court House, and in having since followed the army on the back of a spare horse. We were favored with a batch of two J. Bulls (lately they have taken to hunting about here, in couples and singly). These were a certain legation person, Kirkpatrick, and an extraordinary creature named H____, who is said to have been once in the British army and to be now in Oxford—rather a turning about. He had a sort of womanish voice and a manner of sweet sap; his principal observations were: “Ao, inde—ed”; “Ao, thank you”; and “Ao, I wish you a good morning.” He had an unaccountable mania for getting shot through the head, and insisted on going to Fort Hell, and staring through embrasures; from which I judge he was more idiotic than he seemed. He was also, it would appear, very fond of fresh air, while his companion (who also disagreed with him on the shooting-through-the-head matter) rather liked a door shut. They were put in a log cabin to sleep, and H____ secretly opened the door at night; whereupon it came to rain and blow, and the Bulls awaked in the morning to behold their shoes and stockings sailing about the room! Really, General Hunt, to whom these creatures are usually billetted, ought to get board free from his many former guests for the rest of his life.

In the evening we had a charge on the enemy under a new form, or rather a very old one, for it was after the fashion of Samson’s foxes. A number of beef cattle, in a pen near Yellow Tavern, were seized, in the night, with one of those panics for which oxen are noted, and to which the name “stampede” was originally applied. They burst out of the enclosure and a body of them, forty strong, went, at full gallop, up the Halifax road, towards Petersburg! What our pickets did does not appear; one thing they did not do—stop the fugitive beef. On they went in wild career through the dark, with no little clatter, we may be sure. The Rebel videttes discharged their pieces and fled; the picket sentries opened fire; the reserves advanced in support, and fired too; heedless of killed and wounded, the oxen went slap through the whole of them; and, the last that was heard from that drove was the distant crash of a volley of musketry from the enemy’s breastworks! When the gray morn lifted, the first sight that greeted our disgusted pickets was a squad of grey-backs comfortably cutting savory steaks from a fat beef, the quarry of their bow and their spear! The evening brought us warm rain; also, as toads fall in a shower, one military Englishman, and one civilian Blue-nose. The Briton was a Major Smyth, of the Royal Artillery—a really modest, gentlemanly man, with a red face, hooked nose, and that sure mark of greatness, a bald head. The Blue-nose was modest also (the only one I ever saw) and was of the class of well-to-do, honorable Common-Councilmen; his name was Lunn, suggestive of “Sally Lunns.”

Theodore Lyman’s letter is from Meade’s Headquarters, 1863-1865: Letters of Colonel Theodore Lyman from the Wilderness to Appomattox, pp. 273-6. Edited by George R. Agassiz. Boston, Massachusetts Historical Society, 1922. Available via Google Books.

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