The Color Guard, A Corporal’s Notes, James Kendall Hosmer.

Nov. 30. —We woke up the morning after we came aboard, — Warriner, Bias, and I. Company D woke up generally on the cabin-floor. Poor Companies H and F woke up down in the hold. What to do for breakfast? Through the hatchway opposite our stateroom-door, we could see the waiters in the lower cabin setting tables for the commissioned officers. Presently there was a steam of coffee and steaks; then a long row of shoulder-straps, and a clatter of knives and forks; we, meanwhile, breakfastless, and undergoing the torments of Tantalus.

But we cannot make out a very strong case of hardship. Beef, hard-bread, and coffee were soon ready. Bill Hilson, in a marvellous cap of pink and blue, cut up the big joints on a gun-box. The “non-coms,” whose chevrons take them past the guard amidships, went out loaded with the tin cups of the men to Hen. Hilson, — out through cabin-door, through greasy, crowded passage-way, behind the wheel, to the galley, where, over a mammoth, steaming caldron, Hen., through the vapor, pours out coffee by the pailful. Hen. looks like a beneficent genius, — one of the “Arabian Nights” sort,—just being condensed from the smoke and mist of these blessed hot kettles. He drips, and almost simmers, with perspiration, as if he had hardly gone half-way yet from vapor to flesh.

I have been down the brass-plated staircase, into the splendors of the commissioned-officers’ cabin,—really nothing great at all; but luxurious as compared with our quarters, already greasy from rations, and stained with tobacco-juice; and sumptuous beyond words, as compared with the unplaned boards and tarry odors of the quarters of the privates. Have I mentioned that now our places are assigned? The “non-coms”— noncommissioned, meaning, not non compos; though evil-minded high privates declare it might well mean that — have assigned to them an upper cabin, with staterooms, over the quarters of the officers, in the after-part of the ship. The privates are in front, on the lower decks, and in the hold. I promise, in a day or two, to play Virgil, and conduct you through the dismal circles of this Malebolge. Now I speak of the cabin of the officers. The hatches are open above and below, to the upper deck and into the hold. Down the hatch goes a dirty stream of commissary-stores, gun-carriages, rifled-cannon, and pressed hay, within an inch or two of cut-glass, gilt-mouldings, and mahogany. The third mate, with voice coarse and deep as the grating of ten-ton packages along the skids, orders this and that, or bays inarticulately in a growl at a shirking sailor.

Five sergeants of our company, and two corporals of us, have a stateroom together,—perhaps six feet by eight. Besides us, two officers’ servants consider that they have a right here. Did any one say, “Elbowroom”?


The Color Guard, A Corporal’s Notes, James Kendall Hosmer
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