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Four Bummers and a Baby
(Based on a true story of the 1989 Battle of Atlanta reenactment, more or less. It is written after the classic Talbott style of fiction - as he is my literary hero. S.Hall)

 Chapter 1 – Jest Bummin’ ‘Round

 The four had been walking for half an hour without spotting another human being. The countryside was flat, although interrupted by numerous sections of overgrowth and occasionally a shallow creek. This made it quite difficult to quickly get to one’s destination – if only one of them knew where that destination was.

 Four Yankee soldiers where on foraging detail from Samuel Holmes’ Brigade. Soldiers detailed for such duty operated on the outskirts of the army. Their duty was to locate food and supplies which the Union army could utilize, "confiscate" it as needed, and return to their regiment so the rest of the boys have something to eat after a long days’ march.

 Uncle Billy Sherman’s army was encircling Atlanta. With all the foraging details, more food was gathered than could possibly be eaten. Of course, no food stuffs, buildings of military value, or certain personal valuables could not be left for possible use by the Confederates. So, what wasn’t used was destroy by military necessity. It certainly made sense to the four bummers. And they carried out their duty with eagerness, pride, authority, and gusto.

 Today’s bummin’, however, was slim pickings. Only one farm house had been encountered resulting in only two skinny chickens and a gold cased watch which the lady of the house did not want to part with. Undoubtedly, if the time piece had been left in her possession it would have subsequently been used by some local militia officer to launch a coordinated attack on the Federal army. That time piece absolutely and necessarily had to be confiscated, and it would serve the Union cause well.

 The four men had been together since their regiment was founded before Shiloh. Much had happened since that time and regiments were much smaller than when originally mustered in. Men who go through many good times, but occasionally very rough times, form a bond that only death (or a St Louis painted lady sprinkled with French toilet water) can break. These four Union comrades-in-arms were Pvt Hall, Pvt Racine, Pvt Strother and Cpl Papen.

 Chapter 2 – The Find

 As they broke through one clearing, a modest 2-story farm house with outbuildings was sighted a few hundred yards away. No persons or animals were in view. As they carefully approached and entered the front door, it became apparent that the homestead was deserted.

 Wait! A noise from upstairs! Pvt Hall led the bummers single file up the narrow staircase to a small bedroom. All four .58 caliber Springfields were loaded, capped, and cocked, at the ready lest rebels show their heads. Hall slowly pushed the creaking door open with the end of his barrel and spied a lone piece of furniture.

 "Blazes!" Hall exclaimed. "Thar’s a young’un in the crib". Sure enough a small infant, no more than 9 months old, laid in a plain wooden crib making noises such that babies make. It was bundled in a worn, homemade quilt. The four soldiers gathered round the crib in disbelief. Crudely written on the headboard were the words "Baby Whitney."

 Papen reach into the crib and after a five minute examination said "It’s a girl! Why would someone jest leave a baby ‘lone? How long has she been here? What should we do?"

 Pvt Hall thought they could take it to his "traitorous cousin" living close to Atlanta, but Strother correctly pointed out they already had more kids than they can remember the names of and it would take several days to back track. That was time these four did not have.

 The baby looked up at the bummers each one in turn – smiling and cooing. That is until she viewed Pvt Strother which set the baby immediately and uncontrollably crying at the top of her lungs. "Now why did ya’ go and look at it fer?" Cpl. Papen shouted at Strother as he popped him in the forehead with the barrel of his ’61 Springfield. "Yer makin’ it cry!"

 Strother stumbled back and fell on his butt – that is it goes with out saying, his good side. He placed his hand to his forehead and upon revealing a rivulet of blood started giggling uncontrollably. "I didn’t do nothin’ to it!" This giggling at the oddest times was not unusual for Pvt Strother. He had always been a touch slow, but ever since a near miss at Shiloh he behaved oddly in a large degree. During the fight at the Hornet’s Nest, a minnie ball glanced off the side of his head then striking Pvt Whitson between the eyes. Little blood was lost to both men and Whitson recovered nicely. Captain Don said that Strother was hit in the Phrenological organ of "Mirthfulness" causing said organ to become diseased. This undoubtedly led to the odd giggling behavior. Captain Don was a powerful smart man so it must be true.

 "We can’t jest leave it here" said Racine. "We gotta take it with us."

 "Yer right. We can’t leave her here to die" Hall concurred. He reached around to the back of his belt and pulled a knife from its sheath. He then lifted off Papen’s haversack, emptied the contents onto the floor, and cut two holes: one in each bottom corner. He reached into the crib, lifted baby Whitney up, and carefully placed her into the haversack so her little legs poked through the two holes. Her head poked out of the top, but could easily be covered over with the flap.

 "It’s a perfect fit" squealed Strother with delight.

 Racine picked up a piece of spilled hard tack from the floor and gently propped it behind the baby’s head for support. "This worm castle should make fer a dandy pillow". Whitney looked up, burped, and smiled.

 "We need to get back to the brigade" announced the Corporal and they collected their Springfields and extra clothes for Whitney, then headed out.

 As they arrived where the main column was bivouacked, the other boys were already in formation and the 1st Sergeant was conferring to the side with the company officers. The four bummers passed in front of the double rank of soldiers. Papen stopped and lifted the flap of his haversack. "Looky what we found boys!" A collective and touching "Ahhhhh" went up from the entire Holmes Brigade as Whitney smiled that special little baby smile and wiggled those tiny little legs through the holes cut in the haversack.

 "What the hell is going on over there!!" Goodness gracious - they had not thought about how the evil 1st Sergeant Kirtley might react to having a baby in camp. Papen quickly closed and buckled the flap of his haversack as Strother and Racine casually moved between Whitney and from where the ogre 1st Sergeant was walking. "Fall in on the end, you shirkers. We’re marchin’ out NOW!" he shouted over the muffed noises coming from the haversack. As the four bummers fell into the short end of the line, Whitney’s excited little legs flapped like elephant trunks as they dangled from the holes in the haversack.

 The entire company was on the move within two minutes. This was strange because by this time of day (late afternoon) they were usually cutting branches to make shebangs, plucking chicken feathers, and building a rousing fire to boil coffee and cook a hot meal. After several quarter miles the regiment halted just short of a magnificent plantation.

 Apparently, the company was suppose to secure a pleasant dwelling for General John "Black Jack" Logan and his staff to stop at the next day. "This will do very nicely" stated Captain Don as he surveyed the buildings, "and it will be a comfortable nights sleep for us tonight, too." And it was. After running off what servants were still around, everyone began to stake out their claim, as it were. All the boys were pretty well fagged out and individual messes found comfy spots to spend the night.

 Racine, Hall, Papen, and Strother, and of course baby Whitney, requisitioned a small room. Strother stood near the door, occasionally giggling with that half-vacant, half-idiotic, half-crazed look in his eye. In other words, he was acting normal for himself. This was more than enough to steer the other soldiers away from the room affording them some degree of privacy, which was the whole idea. Whitney was a lovely child and hardly made a sound all night.

 Chapter 3 – The Great Conflagration

 Just before dawn, the evil 1st Sergeant Kirtley came around to make sure everyone was still there and generally wake everyone up by making a lot of commotion. By this time, Whitney’s baby cloth needed to be changed. Cpl Papen ordered Racine to take his turn and do his duty. Racine rolled his eyes, but carried on with the dirty deed none the less. They had all studied and figured out how to remove and replace the wet baby cloth the night before, even though none of them had ever performed such an act in their entire lives. Racine laid Whitney on a table and unfastened the cloth.

 "Great gallopin’ horny toads!! She done messed her drawers!!" Racine shrieked. All four were hit at once by an aroma reminiscent of artillery horses that are two-days dead. Papen ordered him to do his job quickly so the rest would not suffocate. Pvt Hall gagged, trying to avoid making fresh "mulligan stew". Strother giggled a little, then his face transformed very serious as his gills turned green. Papen took off his forage cap and covered his nose, in vain.

 Racine poured the water from a pitcher into a "thunder pot" or commode. Holding his nose with one hand, he lifted the soiled cloth between his thumb and index finger. At arm’s length he dunked it up and down in the water until it was clean.

 At that moment, the evil 1st Sergeant Kirtley went running down the hallway screaming "Company – fall in on the double. The General’s comin’." This noise gave poor little Whiney such a startle that she flailed her arms and legs. Of course, being on her back she did not move anywhere, but she did succeed in kicking over an oil lamp which was illuminating the room. The lamp tipped over and smashed on the floor. The blazing oil spread out quickly on the floor dashing any hope for smothering the flames. In a few seconds, the room was hotter than a June bride on her wedding night.

 "Great balls of fire!" shouted Hall. Strother turned a brighter shade of green, then ash white – the color of death. "Let’s skedaddle" Papen yelled from under his forage cap, still covering his nose from Whitney’s dastardly deed. Racine snatched Whitney up and raced for the door carrying her in one hand and her baby cloth in the other, still holding it at arm’s length with two fingers. The other three grabbed the Springfields, traps, and accoutrements and in 10 seconds had dashed outside the plantation house. They stood there huffing and puffing to the bewilderment and bemusement of the rest of the company who were already fallen in.

 Just then a group of a dozen riders galloped up to the house – it was ol’ Black Jack and his staff. Racine quickly hurled Whitney into Papen’s haversack which the Corporal had just put on. By this time, thick black smoke started to billow from the open front door. In short order, the entire house was in flames.

 "Who’s responsible for this" bellowed Logan. The entire company turned in unison and gazed at the four pards. "Well, well, well. Bully for you boys. Congratulations, you’re heroes. That house belongs to that traitorous snake, Confederate Vice President Stephens. Ha, ha! This will teach him a lesson he won’t soon forget, by thunder". And the General led the disbelieving company in a rousing three cheers and a tiger for the fortuitous mess.

 Later, Captain Don and the evil 1st Sergeant Kirtley led the company by columns of fours away from the smoldering ruins to join up with the rest of the Federal army. It was a most peculiar and interesting sight. The company was at right shoulder shift marching in step to a snappy drum cadence. Fastened to the tip of his ramrod by her collar, Cpl Papen was carrying a bare-bottomed Whitney high in the air. Pvt Hall’s rifle-musket carried a still wet baby cloth as it fluttered, drying in the breeze. Pvt Racine’s weapon bore two small chickens tied together at the feet and looped over his ramrod. Pvt Strother marched along, always out of step with the rest of the boys. Under his breath he sang to himself to the tune of "Rally Round the Flag".

"Yes we’ll burn the traitor’s house
Cause she kicked the oil lamp.
Shouting the battle cry of freedom.
And the babe who saved the day
For the four who gone astray.
Shouting the battle cry of freedom…"

 So as the column marches down the pleasant country lane, the blue mass steps as one to the beat. From the tips of three Springfields, swaying in time to the step, were Whitney, a baby cloth, and two chickens. And baby Whitney smiled in satisfaction as the call of nature dribbles down her leg onto Pvt Strother’s slouch hat who is marching behind Papen. Strother stops his singing, looks up, holds out his left hand and observes "It’s startin’ ta rain."

 "Just a quarter mile more, boys" shouts Captain Don.

 Chapter 4 – Salvation in the Swamp

 There was a battle brewin’ for sure. The Holmes Brigade was marching at the head of the division that day and a call came down from the "Grand Puba" to shake out skirmishers. The Holmes boys split under Capt Don and the Lt Fannin as they quickly moved forward on the left and right. The four bummers were with Capt Don. Whitney was at her place, swinging from Cpl Papen’s haversack. At this point, the company was not exactly in what you call a proper skirmish line formation. On one side the terrain was hilly. The other side was swampy and covered with very tall grass. A trail meandered here and there and where there wasn’t a trail, they made one. The boys quietly followed in single file so not to create a big rukus, just in case there were some Johnnies around.

 "Now Whitney darlin’" whispered Papen, "you best keep a lid on that little mouth of yourn". Whitney kicked her legs to and fro, gurgling slobber from her mouth, and slapping the side of the haversack with her hands. She was having a gay ol’ time.

 But this was no time for play. Distant sounds of muskets were heard over a hill to the left and rear. It grew from a few pops to an almost constant rattle of musketry. No major volleys yet. That terrain was very hilly, wooded, and broken with ravines and streams. It would take a while for the division to get on line. "It sounds like their skirmishers found our division" growled the evil 1st Sergeant Kirtley.

 There seemed to be someone coming up ahead. "Off the trail and into the tall grass boys!" Capt Don motioned in a shouted whisper. Everyone darted to the right about 20 feet off the trail. Unfortunately, the swamp was there and the four bummers found themselves standing in brackish water, hunched down in the tall grass so not to be seen. "The whole blasted rebel army is comin’ down dat trail – I knows it" uttered Pvt Strother. "Shhhh" hissed Racine. "They ain’t seen us yet and they won’t, if ya’ keep your big trap shut!"

 Whiney was up to her waist in water, which wasn’t a bad thing. Her wet baby towels were getting a bit ripe. A little washing just might do the trick. Now it must be pointed out that the Holmes Brigade boys, after being in the field for nearly a month without a bath, did not exactly smell like Parisian rose water, especially in this very hot, very humid hell hole called northern Georgia. However, the organ of smell became adapted to its environment, similar to the principle of Phrenological organs being adaptive in nature. But these baby smells were new to the olfactory sense and were noticeable to the boys. Hopefully, the rebels would not notice too. Whitney splashed her tiny hands in the water.

 It was the rebels! It must have been two or three companies – about 80 souls in all – coming down the same trail towards us. "If we hadn’t ducked into the grass, we’d a been in a pickle fer sure" whispered Pvt Hall as the last of them passed. Like a good prizefighter, a soldier needed to know when to swing and when to duck.

 Just then a small water snake slithered close to were the water-logged Strother stood. "SNAKES! I CAINT STANDS SNAKES!" hollered Strother as he bounded in three giant hops from the watery grass back onto the path. Everyone, including Capt Don, evil 1st Sergeant Kirtley, the other three bummers, and the rest of the boys all gaped at Strother with their mouths open, thinking "Lordy, what has he done now?"

 Capt Don motioned with his arm – sword and scabbard in hand "Back on the trail boys – quickly now – and skedaddle!" Everyone was back on the trail just as the rebels came running back to see what all the fuss was about. Pvt Racine took off his slouch hat and whacked Strother over the head, "Ya idiot, that little snake weren’t goin’ ta hurt ya!" Strother responded "You know I ain’t fond of snakes" as he let out a nervous laugh that sounded more like a cackle of an old hen.

 The rebel minnie balls started to buzz around and between the boys. "Git the lead out a yer brogs" shouted Pvt Hall as he pushed Papen’s back to get him to run faster. One ball clipped the strap to Papen’s haversack and it, along with Whitney, when flying off to the left falling in tall grass and weeds.

 The four bummers and the rest of the boys continued to run single file down the trail as fast as they could with the rebels in hot pursuit. Cpl Papen hadn’t even noticed the loss of his haversack. Hall had seen it though. "We lost Whitney – we gotta go back!" he shouted as a minnie ball put a new crease in his faded slouch hat. But no one was going to stop as long as they were being shot at.

 The baby was oblivious to the hot little situation that had developed. She picked a handful of grass and start chewing it. As the rebels passed where Whitney feasted on the grass like a young calf, she stopped chewing, strained til her little face turned red, and proceeded to fill her baby cloth to over flowing. Her faced then changed from a contorted grimace to a satisfied smile. The huge noise from Whitney’s business stopped the rebels in their tracks and they slowly stepped toward where the sound had emanated from. As they got closer, they heard baby sounds. Closer still as they encircled the site, muskets loaded, cocked, and aimed. Just as they got close enough to see that it was a precious little baby, that curiously different, pungent, rancid wave of soiled baby smell hit them like a round of double canister. They stopped in their tracks, their backs straightened, and eyes started to water. One young rebel, no older than 16, turned to the side and vomited on the unfortunate pard next to him. They all, more or less, turned various shades of green.

 At that, they all turned and ran like a hare being chased by a bobcat. The strange, overpowering aroma made them queasy and weak-kneed, and they wanted to flee as fast as they could. The Holmes boys slowed down, then stopped, when the hail of minnie balls stopped. What was going on? After a few minutes, Capt Don led the men back toward where they had come. Cpl Papen, Pvts Hall, Racine, and Strother arrived first. "Oooo doggy" bellowed Racine. "My poor baby Whitney!" cried Papen. "I ain’t never smell something so vile…" exclaimed Hall. Strother looked puzzled as he picked his nose, "I don’t smell nuttin’."

 "Well then - good! Take Whitney and clean her up." Hall lifted her from the haversack with his bayoneted musket, the point picking her up by the back of her collar. He handed the musket along with Whitney to Strother who proceeded to walk to the edge of the swamp. He dunked her time and time again as the soiled baby cloth turned from brown to tan to almost white. The water grass within a ten foot circle immediately withered and died. Three dead fish and a turtle floated to the top of the water. Whitney squealed in delight at this watery amusement.

 Capt Don brought the others up. The evil 1st Sergeant Kirtley looked vilely at the baby, then motioned to half the men "You boys come with me to make sure the Johnnies don’t come back". They followed the enemy down the trail for about 50 yards and formed a skirmish line. Meanwhile, Cpl Papen took needle and thread from his housewife and repaired the torn haversack strap. Strother brought Whitney back from her bath and placed her in her temporary home, being careful to make sure her little baby legs stuck through the holes.

 When they finally found the rest of the division, the battle had already been joined and concluded in a draw. The Holmes boys were totally soaked and miserable: half from the swamp, half from wetting themselves, and half from the humidity. Their spirits were not dampened though as they told everyone about their brush with death and how little baby Whitney saved them all. Word of the incident quickly reached army headquarters. Uncle Billy Sherman himself visited the Holmes bivouac and presented little baby Whitney with a battlefield promotion to Corporal. Racine and Papen made a little set of kersey blue Corporal stripes and sewed them onto Whitney’s sleeves. Everyone in Holmes was very proud of Whitney, but none more than the four bummers.


 After saving the Holmes Brigade at the battle of Peach Tree Swamp and being promoted to Corporal, Whitney stayed with the four bummers through to the end of the rebellion. The five of them were there at the burning of Atlanta. If fact, it was another "Whitney oil lamp incident" that started the fire in the first place which left Atlanta in a conflagration of smoke and fire. Too bad. Uncle Billy was planning to stay in Atlanta for the Winter to rest, refit, and relax for several months as the Army had been fighting for a long time.

 The fire forced him to move the army to the coast in search on a good vacation stop. Whitney continued to have her little "fire" problem and part of Savannah was burned. Uncle Billy continued to move north as town after town was accidentally burned to the ground. By the time they got up to North Carolina, the war was over.

 The evil 1st  Sergeant Kirtley unfortunately did not survive the war. Three days before the final surrender he died of an unfortunate musket cleaning accident. He expired due to lead poisoning as a result of 8 minnie balls accidentally discharged into his back.

 Whitney ended the war achieving the rank of 3rd Sergeant. Of course, this was an honorary position because she could not walk or speak on her own accord.

 Cpl Papen became quite attached to baby Whitney. After the war and when she became of marrying age, about two years of age, they got hitched. (This age difference is apparently not all that uncommon in the part of Missouri he grew up in.) At GAR reunions, the boys called him "Playpen Papen", much to everyone's amusement and his chagrin. Papen kicked Whitney out of the house on her 13th birthday saying she was now too old for his taste. Whitney was last seen working at Miss Michelle's Social Palace near the St. Louis docks.

 Pvt Racine settled down and passed himself off as a lawyer. His crib complex was somewhat different from Papen and Whitney as he took up with an older woman. Sort of robbing the cradle in reverse. Several years later he was tarred and feathered and given a ride out of town on a rail - something about a "business" relationship with a Jackson County politician named Comingo. Nine years after this tar and feather incident, Comingo was elected the Governor of Missouri and he appointed Racine Attorney General.

 Pvt Hall went to work for the telegraph company. This form of communications became a boom business after the war. He made a comfortable living charging people money for communicating over long distances. His sprint to success was followed by a publishing concern for the local GAR and being elected Mayor of Grasshopper Falls, Kansas. However, within 18 months of the election, he was forced to flee for his life due to an election promise misunderstanding. He subsequently rejoined the army and spent several years at Ft Larned.

 Pvt Strother joined the regular army after Johnson's surrender. His dim wit apparently made him unemployable for anything other than the military. He spent some time in the Indian Wars. He was even part of a special unit which attempted to fly large, hot-air balloons to military use. His job was to load supplies into the balloon and during flights, if the load needed to be lightened, would throw supplies overboard. This job seemed to be the limit of his intellectual capabilities. He was last seen descending over hostile Apache territory in the southwest desert.

 The end, more or less.