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

Dec. 1.—Each man now has his place for the voyage assigned him: so, if you can climb well, let us go down, and see the men below. It is right through the damp, crowded passage at the side of the paddle-wheel first. Here is a fence and a gate, impervious to the private; but in his badge the corporal possesses the potent golden bough which gains him ingress through here into Hades. Just amidships, we go in through a door from the upper deck. This first large space is the hospital; already with thirty or forty in its rough, unplaned bunks. From this, what is half-stairway and half-ladder leads down the hatch. A lantern is burning here; and we see that the whole space between decks, not very great, is filled with bunks, —three rows of them between floor and ceiling, — stretching away into darkness on every hand, with two-feet passages winding among them. “Hullo!” from a familiar voice. I look up and down, and off into the darkness. “Hullo!” again. It is from overhead. Sile Dibble, sure.

Here is another corner, behind a post, where is the pock-marked face of little Hines. (The business of Hines has been that of a “gigger:” puzzle over that, as I did.) I hear the salutes of men, but cannot see their faces; for it is beyond the utmost efforts of the little lantern to show them up. Presently I go on through the narrow passage, with populous bunks, humming with men, on each side,—three layers between deck and deck. I can only hear them, and once in a while dimly see a face. At length we come to a railing, over which we climb, and descend another ladder, into regions still darker, — submarine, I believe, or, at any rate, on a level with the sea. Here swings another lantern. Up overhead, through deck after deck, is a skylight, which admits light, and wet too, from above. It is like looking from the bottom of a well; and pretty uncomfortable is the truth that lies at the bottom of this well.

As above, so here again, there are three tiers of bunks, with the narrow passages among them. The men lie side by side, with but two feet or so of space; but are in good spirits, though sepulchred after this fashion. I should know this gray, knit cap, with its blue button, —McGill, in the top row, his toes within easy reach of the beams above; and Silloway comes crawling over, from regions more remote, to shake hands. Gottlieb, our small German, is in the centre tier; and in the lower row, just above the bolts of the deck, is Gunn, the old campaigner. The air seems not bad. It is dark in the day-time, except right under the skylight. A fortnight or so from now, a poor, emaciated crowd, I fear, it will be proceeding from these lower deeps of the “Illinois.” I go back with an uneasy conscience to our six feet by eight up above, so infinitely preferable to these quarters of the privates, though five big sergeants with their luggage share it with me, and two waiters have no other home; so that we overflow through door and window, on to the deck and floor outside.

Ed. and I turn in at half-past eight, lying on our sides, and interrupting one another’s sleep with, “Look out for your elbow!” “I am going over the edge!” “You will press me through into the Company C bunks!” This morning I took breakfast in the berth, — dining-room, study, and parlor, as well. There is room enough, sitting Turk-fashion, and bending over. Sergt. Hannum carves the lump of boiled beef with my dirk. “Jest the thing, I van!” December spits at us with miserable rain, like a secession lady. The steam of the officers’ soup comes up; but the gong does not mean us.

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

Comments on this entry are closed.