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 ones 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 Shermans 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 wasnt 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.
Todays 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. "Thars a
youngun 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 "Its 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 didnt 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 Hornets 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 cant jest leave it here" said Racine.
"We gotta take it with us."
"Yer right. We cant 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 Papens 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.
"Its a perfect fit" squealed Strother with
Racine picked up a piece of spilled hard tack from the floor
and gently propped it behind the babys 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
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. Were 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, Whitneys 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
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, Whitneys 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 arms 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 Generals
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
"Great balls of fire!" shouted Hall. Strother turned
a brighter shade of green, then ash white the color of death. "Lets
skedaddle" Papen yelled from under his forage cap, still covering his nose from
Whitneys 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 arms 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
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
Papens 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
"Whos 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, youre heroes. That house belongs to that traitorous
snake, Confederate Vice President Stephens. Ha, ha! This will teach him a lesson he
wont 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
Halls rifle-musket carried a still wet baby cloth as it fluttered, drying in the
breeze. Pvt Racines 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
"Yes well burn the traitors 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 Strothers slouch
hat who is marching behind Papen. Strother stops his singing, looks up, holds out his left
hand and observes "Its 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 Papens 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 wasnt 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
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
aint seen us yet and they wont, if ya keep your big trap shut!"
Whiney was up to her waist in water, which wasnt 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
hadnt ducked into the grass, wed 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
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 werent goin ta hurt ya!" Strother responded
"You know I aint 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 Papens
back to get him to run faster. One ball clipped the strap to Papens 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
hadnt 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
Whitneys 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 aint never smell something so vile
" exclaimed Hall. Strother
looked puzzled as he picked his nose, "I dont 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 dont 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 Whitneys 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
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
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
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.