A lumberjack bought a replacement axe from me and put these two axe heads toward the price. There is a certain functionality and simplicity to these that is instantly notable. That they are also rather pleasant to look upon is a nice aside.
Axes like these are a splendid and necessary tool as well as an efficient weapon in times of desperate need. I think I will make up a handle for each and set one in the woodshed and the other in the firebox. They have much life left in them. They just aren’t new.
William Billinghurst was a highly skilled gunsmith out of Rochester, New York. During my time in the war I ran across a couple of his rifles being used as sharpshooter arms. They were among the finest muzzle loading arms I have ever seen and any man who was lucky enough to own one was very lucky indeed. The man was a true artist in the manufacture of rifles. After the war I have seen several in the arms of those traveling west or the well to do. I fear though that the art and beauty of artisans like Mr. Billinghurst will be badly impacted by the plethora of high quality military arms that have flooded the surplus market and the relatively affordable high quality Ballard, Remington, Sharps and Winchester rifles.
I suspect I will not ever be able to afford the fine work of men such as Billinghurst or the other I mentioned, instead I will have to be content with military surplus arms. If that is what it takes to be content… I am a very content man indeed.
The home and business my wife and I built stands on the side of a hill. A customer for my tavern enters on the ground level of the first floor. A customer to the bakery or inn enters on the second floor. Just to the east of our place stands a lightning struck willow tree that refuses to go quietly into the night. Looking out the door of the tavern you can look across the road to the creek hear the water passing happily by. From the door of the inn you can see the road as well as the new telegraph line that heads down the road. Many a traveler has seen the candle in the window of the inn and smelled the fresh baked bread of Mrs. Mina; taking such as an invitation they have become contented customers.
Mrs Mina has a tradition that she has enacted of making a dish called “hop n john” for Christmas. While I admit I am not fond of rice I will eat it and like it. As she provides a loaf of her wonderful sourdough bread close to hand and as often as not one of her pies or bear sign… I will not complain.
The first Christmas in the inn an Englishman shared a bottle of Sherry with us and I have to admit it is a tradition that has taken hold. If I am unable to procure a bottle of Sherry I set back a bottle of my Porto Kopke for the occasion.
Every Christmas I look forward to a pleasant meal, good liquor and a beautiful view from my door. The first thing Christmas morning I set the fire and step outside with my pipe and enjoy the quiet, peaceful view. Then I get the scent of bread and know to thank the lord for what I have.
Mrs. Mina takes little Miss Freedom to church on Christmas day and I remain at the inn in a quiet silence remembering those friends who are gone forever from this earth. I toast their memory and pray that they shall never be forgotten. I look forward to a new year that will be better than the last.
Merry Christmas to all and to all a good night.
Years ago while in the Legion, my copain Remi, told me that ‘no woman was worth dieing for, killing for was an entirely different matter.’ I found recently that he was quoting some ancient Roman. I think he was right. Until I met my Mrs. Mina I would not have thought twice of killing for a woman that I fancied. But I would not even consider letting myself die for her. Today I would gladly die for my woman; though I would much prefer killing for her.
Between my Mina and a few men of my regiment in the late war I learned my letters. I learned that a fine book is as good as a fine friend. I learned the gift of knowledge and education. I am a man who appreciates the gifts given to him and the gift of literacy was truly priceless.
My Mina is a priceless gift that God has granted me. Over the years of my life she and other women are what has kept me sane. It is a woman’s soft touch and gentle voice that can calm the savage beast. But it is on occasion that a savage beast is needed to protect that bearer of a soft touch and gentle voice.
I am an old soldier with a fondness for fine drink. A soldier has only limited funds upon which to garner himself such. So how does he acquire it? When the opportunity presented itself I simply took what caught my fancy. As time passed and my career as a soldier neared its end I came upon the idea to found my own tavern. Then I could sell as well as sample my wares. It was an idea smiled upon by the ancient Greek God of drink, Dionysus… well he didn’t seem to complain.
I have always had a fondness for fine cognac. I have also sampled some finer incarnations of other liquors. Port, in particular the Portugese Porta Kopke, is a suitable substitution for fine Cognac. In the Legion I found Claret a pleasant, if weak substitute for cognac. It was not until I reached America that I discovered the pleasure of fine Scotch… but I think I may prefer it to my fine cognac.
The large majority of my customers were content with beer; heathens. As a businessman I must cater to the tastes of my clientele. That their taste for inexpensive beer allows me to purchase what I favor is all that much more sweet.
My lovely wife bakes sourdough bread every day to feed those who would grace my tavern and feeds those who would pay to sleep in a bed free of flees and lice on the third floor. I charge them a nickle a night, a quarter if they do not wish to share their bed with other men. I have never felt shame for what we offer those who wish a safe and soft place to sleep. None have ever complained… at least not out loud. I have made it very clear that any man who insults my wife insults me and as I am a man who has never borne an insult such foolishness has never been an issue. Those who know me, know I will gladly kill for that which I hold precious and I hold my beautiful wife very precious indeed.
As I close down my tavern every night I propose three toasts. Viva La Legion! Viva La Lincoln! And Finally, viva la United States! Any man who fails to raise a glass to my toasts will never again grace my tavern.
I have often had young men ask me what it meant to be on picket or skirmish duty. For the men I commanded no man went on picket with less than what he would need if we were suddenly told to prepare for a march. Every one of my men would have his fully loaded knapsack or blanket roll easy to hand as well as his full forty rounds and often more. One of the ways to guarantee my wrath was to arrive for duty with an empty canteen.
I have always felt that an unloaded weapon is nothing more than an awkward club. When we went on picket, skirmish duty or patrol weapons were loaded. On more than a few occasions we traded bullets with Rebel raiders, partisans and honest to god soldiers of the Confederacy. More than once we also moved and had my men not had their gear close to hand no one else would have packed and carried it for them.
In the picture above you see one of the men of my mess; William Young. A splendid soldier with a never ending love of the great bard he was with the Regiment almost from the beginning. He was neither the youngest or oldest man in my company but he was what I would consider the typical man of the Regiment. He was young, proud and full of piss and vinegar. He was also well educated and one of the men who helped to teach me my letters. Several times he helped to organize plays for the entertainment of the men; I believe Taming of the Shrew and Much Ado About Nothing were two ones he put forward. I admit to being familiar with Julius Caesar and Richard III prior to that but my horizons were broadened.
After the war he married a young woman who gave him a child. They moved away to the west where opportunities abounded. I have heard it rumored that he died in an accident helping to build the great trans continental railroad. Another rumor had him joining the Regular Army after the war and gaining a commission as a surgeon. I would like to hope the latter rumor is true.
The things they carried Display
It never fails to amaze me just how little a soldier needs to survive while on campaign. For the better part of the war I carried as little as possible while on campaign and all of the men in my regiment learned a lesson I had learned years prior. If you do not absolutely need it there is no reason to carry it.
I carried my rifle, bayonet and cartridge box with forty rounds inside and often another forty to sixty spread elsewhere about me. A haversack with a plate and spoon jammed full of rations and a tin cup that doubled as a soup bowl, coffee cup and in desperate times as a shovel. My canteen held water not only for me but for cleaning the fouling from my rifle. My blanket roll held a “housewife,” necessities bag with a comb, tooth powder and tooth brush. There was also always at least one, occasionally two pair of dry socks, a dry shirt and in the cooler times a sleeping cap. When opportunity presented itself I would tuck a bottle into my blanket roll. As often as not I tucked a rubber blanket into my belt so that if rain commenced I could easily reach it and wrap it around me as a good poncho. Many a soldier carried a little more, letters, writing paper, a testament or a bible but anything I could not carry rode in my armorers tool box in the Regimental baggage. Some men carried the shelter half in their blanket roll as well but not all, as often as not men would forgo that little bit of extra cloth for the night sky as their roof.
One man in my mess carried a hatchet, another a good steel pan and every other man carried what extra rations we might have acquired. With a pipe, tobacco, lucifers in a match safe and a pocket knife on the person a man was fairly well set to survive on campaign. We were lucky enough to have a quartermaster system that did a decent enough job keeping up with us to keep us in rations and munitions. The rebels on the other side of the fence were not always so lucky.
The Romans said that if a man has more possessions than he can carry for more than a mile his possessions own him. If that is true most of my regiment was in good stead.
A young child with wonder in her eyes was quite curious as to what a veteran builder was doing. He was using a beam or mortise drill with a corner chisel to construct the mortise and tenons for a stable. You can see his old cavalry jacket in front of the canvas lean to we had rigged as a wind break. To me what is most telling about the man is his hands, work hardened by a lifetime of manual labor. Willy was a Cavalryman during the war and is an absolute genius with his Sharps carbine or any hand tool he lays his hands upon.
Little Miss Freedom is a well loved and well clad young lady with a knitted jacket made by her mother who is quite the artisan with a pair of knitting needles or a crochet hook.
I have always liked seeing children about a work site. They play but they also see and learn what is being done. They typically manage to stay from underfoot and eagerly jump at the opportunity to help with small jobs and to fetch and carry.
“Every soldier had his own cross to bare; it was but a shadow compared to that of Christ but it was ours.” Quote from an unnamed 4th MN VI soldier post war.
I remember Seth commenting that every soldier had his own cross to bear; but such a cross was but a mere shadow to what the Christ had borne. But our cross was ours. Seth is a well educated young man. I cannot recall ever seeing him without his bible close to hand. He is a religious man with a gentle soul. I knew him prior to the war when I worked on his family farm. He was so young; the war aged and hardened him. It changed him from a boy with boyish dreams to a man. But it never changed him from the good soul I knew before the war.
His mother wrote me a letter early in the war asking me to watch over him as though he were my own child. Mrs Barnaby had lost her husband to fever that spring. Seth with his lovely sister were all that she had. I asked Mrs. Mina to write the words I gave her and in doing so promised that I would do as I could to send him home at the end. Four years later Seth returned home with his head held high intact in body and spirit. He had been in the line in every battle we participated in but he came home a whole man. I do not claim credit for such but believe it was his faith that carried him through the war.
I have many times watched faith carry men through trying times, giving them sustenance when hungry and courage when in fear. I understand a man has need of his faith for it will carry a man through when all else might fail. Some I believe have real faith while others merely give it lip service. Faith does not define a man but it may well carry him through if his luck holds.
I was raised a Catholic but have little faith in religion or God. At some point I picked up the belief that in the end the Angel of Death would come for us all. The Angel of Death took the form of a beautiful woman, a last comfort, who would take the soul to its final destination. I have yet to see the Angel of Death but I have often seen her work. It is a small comfort to me for I look forward to the time I will see her; I suspect I have sent her much work over the years.
I was near to forty before I learned to read much past my name. My wife and several of my men took it upon themselves to learn me my letters. It took them quite a lot of effort but they accomplished their task admirably.
The three books you see here were the books from which I learned my letters and I believe what gave me my first real formal education. Blackstone gave me an understanding of the laws of civilization. Plutarch gave me a knowledge of history and William Shakespeare gave me an appreciation of the art of the written and spoken word. While in the desert my copain Remi would often read aloud to the men in the barracks from Shakespeare, it was worthy entertainment. During the war, William and others, would read aloud from Shakespeare. They even did several plays for the entertainment of the Regiment.