Saturday, May 23, 2020

"The Veteran"

For Memorial Day Weekend
I published a post earlier this week, but as Memorial Day is upon us, I am posting twice in one week.

This is a typescript of a hand-written story on 3 sheets of lite brown paper, size 12 1/2” x 8”.   I purchased the story from an on-line antiques dealer, who was selling 2 personal artifacts that had belonged to Arthur Kent, the Great nephew of Austin Stearns.  Sergeant Stearns is the author of "Three Years With Company K"  The tin dish and tin cup pictured in this post both belonged to Austin Stearns.  The dish he is writing about (top photo) is pictured in the Time-Life "Echoes of Glory" series, page 225 in "Arms And Equipment of The Union."

The Veteran.
or the autobiography of a Dish.

I am nothing but an old tin dish.  My sides are battered and burned and there is nothing about me that is pleasing to the eye, or that would attract attention, but I have a history, and if you will bear with me I will give a short account of my self.  I was designed by Copl. Charles Parker and made by Clark & Perry, tinsmiths of Ashland Mass.  There were six Hopkinton boys, and two of them brothers of Mrs. Clark in the same Company with Parker, so mr. Clark made made a group of 7 dishes, one for each.   We were made with handles and the name of each boys was stamped upon it, and also on the bottom.  If you look closely you can see my masters name now.  Oh how bright and shiny we looked that morning in July ’61 when Mr Clark string us on a wire and carried us down to Fort-Independence in Boston Harbor and gave us to the young men, who were there learning to be soldiers.  How proud we were of our looks, but not more so than those who then became our masters.  Now we were part and parcel of Co. K, 13th Regt. Mass Infantry.  Towards the last of July ’61 we with the other belongings of the soldiers started for the seat of war.  In the earlier days of the war, there were what was called “Company Cooks,” or men detailed to do the cooking

page 2 (back of sheet 1)

My master being fond of me, kept me in a good degree of cleanliness, washing and wiping me as often as once a week, or oftener if water was plenty.  I noticed when he wiped me with grass or leaves he al chose the greenest.  The fall and winter passed by without any thing worthy of note.   My master going regularly three times a day to the cook house to get his rations. I always accompanied him to hold his coffee.  In the spring of ’62 Company Cooks were discontinued with us, and each man with the exception of bread had to cook his own rations and make his coffee, I was now put to a severe test, for I was then set on a bed of hot coals, and my shiny sides were change to what you see them now.  It was down at Rappahannock Station in the summer of ’62 that my master lent me to one of his comrades to make his coffee, he only filled me half full, and when I got hot the solder melted on the upper half of my handle, and when he drew me away from the fire my handle was useless.   He returned me to my master with the remark that I was –––––––an old dish.  My master thought differently; for he went & with out a file or tool of any kid, twisted off a piece of telegraph wire using I fear using many swear words, and with his bayonet he pierced my sides and made a bale as you see it now, not very handsome, but very serviceable.  I was suspended now, by a stick or oftener the bayonet or ramrod, in the blaze and smoke of the fire, In addition to coffee

page 3 (new sheet of paper)

I have had soups of all Kinds, Beans, Rice, Potatoes, and in fact all the nameable and unnameable dishes that were ever concocted  by the ever fertile brain of the soldiers cook in me, If skillygalee, and lobscouse were not not cooked in me, I was used to mix them in.  I used to be strapped to my masters Knapsack or havasack, and at times his canteen:  he has carried me thousands of miles through many of the most desperate battles fought by the army of the Potomac, and many times in the thickest  of the fight.  I had been so long with him, I had almost become a part of him, for of all the articles he had when he started for the seat-of-war, I was the only one he had left  
After I was old and burned and smokey he got a little cup that he called his drinking-cup, at which I was at first Jealous of, = but I soon found out that it could never take my place, and as long as I did not leak,   I was supreme.    In the spring of ’64 my masters time was almost out, and it was after we had passed through the three days fighting in the Wilderness, and I had rode all night strapped to his knapsack to prevent my making a noise by rubbing against my old friend the canteen,  down towards Spottsylvania, halting Just a few minutes for the dawn to come, so we could see, as the cavelry outpost said the enemy were in a revine Just ahead.  The morning was very hot and My master was very tired, and when we started, passing the cavelry out-posts they smiling to think that we were releaving them of a very disagreeable job, said “you will find them soon”;  The bullets began to sing and we were in for hot work, my master uncooked his knapsack, let it drop,

p. 4 (back of sheet 2)

to the ground.  I thought my time had come and I should be left to an inglorious  fate and so when I struck the ground, I made as loud a noise as I could to attract his attention  He heard me, stopped, turned round, and coming where I lay, Kneeled down and unhooked me from the Knapsack, and taking off his canteen passed the strap through my bale, and putting the same on said “Old dish we have been so long together that if one goes both go”.   I was happy, for I knew if master was spared to go home, I should go too.   My fondest hopes were realized, for after two months more of hard service, and when we were lying before Petersburg, the order came for the regiment to pack up and go home.  Many of the boys threw their dishes away, but my master put me in his haversack, and I arrived home in safety,   as I have  said before, I am only an old tin dish: no poet has ever sung, or romancer told story of my doings, and like the other old and servicable friend of the soldier = the army mule = have only received abuse, when we did our best to serve.

I will relate an  incident, that happened to one of my kind. One night in bivouace, when the boys were busy cooking their supper, my friend filled with water and coffee, was perched upon rails, in a very careless position, when nearly ready to boil, a member of the awkward squad thought to change his position;  he hit the rail with his foot, and my friend fell off, spilling its contents;  it so enraged the owner that without saying a word to the one causing the

page 4 (sheet 3)

mischief, he kicked the cup, and with expressions like these “Darn that cup” = “Darn the man that made that cup” = and “Darn the man that won’t darn the man that made that cup, Hurrah for Jeff Davis”.  He kicked and stamped it out of all semblance of ever being a cup, and out of the limits of our bivouace, came sullenly back, and took a seat by the fire amidst the shouts and laughter of his comrades.  In less than half an hour he was trying to borrow another dish to make coffee in.   A few years ago in the town where I was a fair was held, by the local grand Army Post and I was among the relics that were on exhibition.  My master had labeled me “The Veteran” whatever that might mean, and a paper stating my service and the uses I had been put to. 
My mistress wanted to clean me up, scrape my burned and blistered sides, and as she said make me respectable, but my master objected, and as I had no voice in the matter I went in the condition in which I was in.  I created considerable comment, and some said, “What a horrid old dish”,  And “Do you think any one would eat or drink any thing made in it?”  Others sneeringly remarked the “Old Vet” and passed by without a second look.  A few came and gazed at me long and earnestly, and said I was rightly named, for I was in truth a Veteran.  I sit around in unused places, but at times my master gets me out, and as he fondles me says, “this is my old dish, and where he went I went also, and that as long as he lives, I shall have a place,” so I am content.

NOTE:   The handwriting is in neat cursive, brown ink, with occasional corrections or revisions written above a line in pencil. 

The 3 sheets of paper are folded in thirds and a circular grease stain penetrates all three sheets, where the tin dish rested upon it. —Bradley M. Forbush, transcribed May 21, 2020.

No comments:

Post a Comment