Cyrus Thomas.

The frontier schoolmaster: the autobiography of a teacher ... together with an essay on the management of our public schools online

. (page 26 of 31)
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that I had also assisted in rescuing him from the toils of
slavery after he had once obtained his freedom, she mani-
fested great gratitude, and asked that I would assist her in
finding her father. I related her history and that of her
parents, so far as I knew it, to the wife of the officer with

382 The Frontier Schoolmaster.

whom she was then remaining, and an interest in her being
thus awakened, it was decided that the lady would take
her to Washington, in which place the whereabouts of her
father could easily be ascertained.

I returned to my quarters after this interview, meditating
on the strange mutation of affairs which had again given me
information respecting the almost forgotten fugitive slave,
Tim, and given me also another opportunity of showing him
a kindness. It was a pleasant, happy reflection, too, that,
through the dispensations of an Omnipotent Judge, Tim's
hopes of again living with his family would be realized.
Yes, the poor fellow would now no longer be obliged to
watch and skulk among his fellow men to preserve his
own liberty, and to pray and plan for means by which he
could secure that of his wife and children. God had relieved
him of this burden, and not only to him and his, but to
millions of his race, had he proclaimed the joyful tidings of


Battle of the Wilderness Spottsylvania Tom O'CalIaghan,my friend,
is shot, and I avenge his death His friend Sargem's grief The
severe fighting We receive our mail, and I get a letter from Ruth
Battle of Cold Harbor We are ordered to Harper's Ferry
Monocacy The Shenandoah Valley John Brown Our return
to Washington My confinement in hospital My recovery My
old acquaintance, Baxter, turns up unexpectedly, in humble cir-
cumstances I return home.

As it is not in my province to give a history of the Ameri-
can Rebellion, I shall not detail to the reader the various
changes that were made in our Army Corps and Divisions,
nor the marches, counter-marches and manoeuvTing which
preceded the battle of the Wilderness. Up to this time I
had never been directly under fire of the enemy, nor had I
witnessed the excitement and ghastliness of the battle field.

During the several days fight which here occurred,
although our division was kept in reserve we were exposed
much of the time to the shells of the enemy, and several of
our regiment passed to

" The bourne whence no traveller return?."

The battle of Spottsylvania soon followed, and here prob-

384 The Frontier Schoolmaster.

ably occurred one of the most desperate fights of the whole
war. It might perhaps, above all others, be regarded the
battle in which the respective combatants strove to the
utmost for the supremacy. It was here that in assaulting
a rebel earthwork my old pupil, Tom O'Callaghan, was
killed. Poor fellow, ever since I entered the army he had
been a friend. The position of teacher, which I formerly
occupied towards him, seemed never to have been for-
gotten ; he always treated me with kindness, and never
addressed me in any but terms of the greatest resp ct.

During the battle of Spottsylvania we received an order
to capture a rebel earthwork from which sharp-shooters had
harassed us and picked off many of our men.

There was no hesitation, we felt as keenly as our officers
the necessity of doing the work, and although many of our
brave fellows fell in crossing the space that intervened
between us and the breastwork, we never hesitated but
rushed on, and were soon in a hand to hand fight with our
foes in their entrenchment. Tom O'Callaghan and myself
mounted the parapet together, and just as we were in the
act of leaping down on the other side, a tall rebel, not ten
feet distant, shot Tom through the chest. I shall never
forget the look which the poor fellow gave me as he fell and
rolled over on his back. It seemed to say,

" Styles, do you see this ? Will you avenge me ? "

He lived long enough to know my answer. His slayer,
who was just in the act of aiming his revolver at me,
the next instant fell forward, and their life blood oozed
out and mingled in the same pool. I would have spoken
to Tom, but there was no time. I pressed his hand and was
hurrying away when a rebel rushed upon me with fixed
bayonet, and would no doubt have driven it through my

The Frontier SchoolTnaster. 385

body, had not one of our men, at that instant, shot him
tl in nigh the head.

It was a fearful fight, but quickly over. I recoil from
portraying in detail the bloody scene. In less than three
minutes after we had reached the breastwork, the rebels,
although they had fought with desperation, turned and fled.
Giving a loud hurrah, we followed them until we came in
range of one of their batteries, when we turned back. I
immediately sought my friend Tom amongst the dead and
dying with which the ground was covered, and found him
just in time to see his spirit take its flight.

Sargent, like myself, had gone through the fight unharm-
ed, and seeing him a little distance off, I ran and informed
him of our friend's fate.

We went back to his lifeless form, where Sargent gave
himself up to the emotions of grief which filled his breast.
They had been neighbors from boyhood, had enlisted at the
same time, and during the time I had been in the army,
they had always manifested a strong feeling of friendship
for each other. It was no wonder then that he felt Tom's
death keenly ; and I could fully appreciate his feelings too,
when, after looking on the form of his companion for a
moment, and then on that of the one who had shot him,
he placed his hands over his face, and exclaimed, in anguish
of spirit :

" Oh, this dreadful, horrid war ! "

It was, indeed, dreadful, and as I looked around upon the
ghastly slain, and thought of the households and friends
that would mourn their loss, the solemn truth, embodied in
the lines,

" Man'- inhumanity to man

Make* countless thousands mourn."

386 The Frontier Schoolmaster.

was impressed upon ine with a force a thousandfold more
potent than I had ever felt it before.

Tom O'Callaghan was unmarried ; his mother was dead ;
his father was still the same dissipated man that he was in
Tom's boyhood, hence, he probably would feel his loss but
little. He had two or three children besides Tom, but, as
they had long been separated, seeking a livelihood in places
far apart, they had but little love for each other, and, con-
sequently, Sargent was doubtless the deepest mourner in
the world, save one for poor Tom. Like myself, Sargent
had a wife and child, and, as we walked away, he said :

" It is well that Tom was neither a husband nor father.
It would be hard for our families, Mr. Styles, to learn that
we had met his fate ; " and the tears started afresh as he
thought of the grief such tidings would carry to his fire-

The subject was too harrowing for me to speak of, and I
made no reply. This was the second day of the fight, and
as we had as yet gained no decided advantage, there was
still hot and bloody work to be done. It seemed impossi-
ble that we could escape death exposed another day as we
had been on that, and it was more than probable that the
sad scene Sargent had been contemplating would soon

I say that such an event seemed more than probable,
yet, the inner feeling of security from death on the battle
field, which I have already mentioned, buoyed me up, and
nerved me for my work. I wondered whether all our sol-
diers enjoyed the same feeling, yet I feared to ask any lest
I might find that they did, and, consequently, my reliance
on the premonition would be destroyed.

The Frontier Schoolmaster. 387

The enjoyment of this assurance I thought might be a
blessing vouchsafed the soldier to sustain him in his work.
But through all my stay with the army, I dreaded death
far less on my own account than I did for the little group
in Foreston that was praying without ceasing for my pre-
servation and return.

Fighting continued for many successive days, and nu-
merous square miles were made gory with the blood of the
best men in the contending armies. Not privates alone but
officers of all ranks, those who had won laurels on other
battle fields, largely swelled the lists of the killed.

Some days after moving from Spottsylvania Court House,
and before crossing the North Anna, we received our
mail from the North. It was a joyful event, as we had
received none before for nearly three weeks.

It was a sad sight to see the scores of letters addressed
to poor fellows who since we received our last mail had
gone to their final resting place ; letters written by those
who far away were praying for the preservation of fathers,
husbands, brothers and sons, and anticipating years of
comfort and pleasure in their society after their return.
Sargent was standing by me when the name of Thomas
O'Callaghan was called. He took the letter, and with tear-
ful eye, glancing at the superscription, said,

" It is from , the girl whom Tom intended to

marry when he went home. I shall write to her to-morrow
and return her picture, which I found in his pocket before
he was buried."

I received a long letter from Ruth, in which was the
following paragraph, which displays the wonderful power of
our magnetic union :

388 The Frontier Schoolmaster.

" I fear, my dear husband, that you are either ill, or that
serious danger or difficulties of some kind affect you.
During the last few days an indefinable feeling of uneasi-
ness with regard to you has possessed me. Did I not
enjoy that feeling which you say you enjoy, that God will
answer our prayers and permit you to return, it seems to
me that I must become insane. I still adhere to my reso-
lution of not reading the war news in the papers ; I never
could endure it."

The date of this letter showed that the last few days
which sh 3 mentioned referred to those in which our last
battle occurred. I wrote to her that day, giving a full
account of the fight, but never intimating that we were antici-
pating an immediate renewal of the scenes in another place.

At the battle of Cold Harbor, which next followed,
Sargent's left arm was taken off by the bursting of a shell,
in consequence of which he was sent to hospital, and after
nearly recovering he was discharged. Though maimed for
life, a pension which he afterward received served with his
other sources of revenue to make his family comfortable.

Early in July, the division to which I belonged was
ordered to Harper's Fer/y, to contest the advance of the
Eebel General Early into Maryland. Nothing save the
close of the war and a discharge from the army could have
given us greater pleasure. Owing to the long campaigns
and constant fighting, the soldiers of our Corps were nearly
exhausted, and a respite, however brief, was regarded a god-
send by us all. For two months, twenty-four hours had
not elapsed that we were not within gun shot of the
enemy > and not an hour that we had not been obliged to
listen either to the roar of musketry or of cannon.

The Frontier Schoolmaster. 389

As for myself, I wondered at my powers of endurance.
In a few days after the above order was given the battle of
Monocacy was fought. Although in this engagement two
men were shot down by my side, a musket ball was sent
through my coat and another through my hat, I escaped
unharmed. I began to imagine that I possessed a charmed

During the first days of August, the campaign of the
Shenandoah Valley was inaugurated. On the tenth of that
month our forces, thirty thousand strong, marched into
Charlestown, the place made famous by the trial and execu-
tion of John Brown, to whose memory I have paid tribute
in a preceding chapter.

As the incident had rendered the place one of deep interest
to me, I marched through the streets with something of the
same feeling I fancy that the Moslem approaches the shrine
of Mecca. As if in retributive justice for this foul deed,
the marks of decay and desolation were everywhere visible
in the town.

I almost fancied that I could hear the voice of a prophet
proclaiming woe and desolation to it, not unlike that which
was pronounced against Babylon. The whole army seemed
possessed with the same feelings, and thousands of voices
broke forth singing, " John Brown's body lies mouldering
in the ground," and several bands played the air to which
these words were set.

It was my good fortune to have the honor of participating
in all the succeeding important battles of the Shenandoah
Valley, Winchester, Fisher's Hill and Cedar Creek. In
December, we returned to Washington, and soon after our
division moved to Hatcher's Kun as a supporting column

390 The Frontier Schoolmaster.

to those who had gone to destroy the Weldon Railroad,
which was being used by the enemy. During this expedi-
tion, while we were standing several hours in line of battle,
in mud and water six inches deep, I caught a severe cold
which proved of serious consequence to me, and prevented
my performing further service during the war. Neglecting
this cold too long, I was soon obliged to go into hospital at
Washington, where congestion of the lungs, fever and utter
physical prostration compelled me to remain during the
entire winter. It was a great blessing and pleasure to me
to have Euth come and spend a month nursing me during
the time that I was the most prostrated. She was desirous,
as well as myself, that I should return home after I had
become sufficiently convalescent ; but my physician forbade
it, declaring that the cold, changeable climate of Canada
would be more than my constitution could stand until I
had become much stronger. He advised that I should
remain here until the warm weather of spring had set in ;
and having much confidence in his judgment I reluctantly
accepted the advice.

It was about the middle of March, after I had become
sufficiently strong to ride out occasionally with a friend
residing in the city, who had been in the army but dis-
charged on account of ill health, that I was greatly sur-
prised by falling in with an old acquaintance who has
already figured in these pages.

A few miles out from Washington, and on a spot where
numberless regiments had encamped preparatory to being
sent on their campaigns, stands, or did stand, a building
which at that time was used as a factory for utilizing the
carcasses of animals which had died or been killed in that

The Frontier Schoolmaster. 391

section. Horns and hoofs were here made into glue ; the
hair was preserved for various purposes while the carcasses
themselves were manufactured into soap. An unwhole-
some stench pervaded the place, so that none with delicate
nerves or fastidious tastes would be likely to visit it except
with an eye to business. While riding near this factory
one fine morning with my friend, we chanced to meet a
portly looking gentleman with heavy side whiskers walking
leisurely with a hickory. His face was very red, betoken-
ing indulgence to considerable extent, while his habiliments
were exceedingly seedy.

He was a man something over fifty, and bore all appear-
ance of one who had seen better days, but, either from
dissipation or untoward fortune, was now in reduced
circumstances. As we iieared him, and he raised his eyes,
I was startled ; his countenance seemed wonderfully
familiar, and yet I could not tell when or where I had
seen him. As he passed us I turned round to get another
look. Could it be possible ? Was it Baxter, the former
representative of McClintock County, who had treated
me so ignominiously in Montreal, some years before ?
He certainly very closely resembled that worthy, and
I determined to learn his name. Two boys were coming in
the road about ten rods distant. On meeting them I said :

" Can one of you young gentlemen tell us who that man
is whom we just passed ? "

" Yes, sir," said one of them promptly, " that is Mr.
Baxter, what's a boss in the soap factory over thar."

The idea was too ridiculous, and I burst into a hearty
laugh. The boy's face reddened, and he evidently thought
I was making fun of him.

392 The Frontier Schoolmaster.

" Don't be offended, my boy," I said, giving him a small
coin, " I wish to ask you a few questions. Do you know
where Mr. Baxter came from ? "

" I aint sure," he responded, " but I believe he came
from Vermont."

" No, Jack," interposed the other boy, " he come from
Canady. Father works in the factory, and he said so."

" How long has he been here ? "

" 'Bout two years, I guess."

" And where does he live ? "

" Up thar, in that house he's jest gwine into." -

I looked back, and saw him entering an unpainted, un-
pretentious looking house, a few steps back from the road.

Having driven on a little further, in which time I
gave my friend a brief account of my acquaintance with
Baxter, we returned; and such was my curiosity to learn
how it was that he appeared in that place, and in circum-
stances so different from those in which I had known him,
I determined to ascertain from himself.

Halting at the house and alighting, I knocked, with the
intention of asking for a glass of water, when Baxter him-
self came to the door.

" How do you do, Mr. Baxter ? " I said.

He stiffly acknowledged my salutation, and after looking
at me sternly and enquiringly for a moment, asked if I
would walk in. As I stepped inside, I said :

" You do not recognize me, I perceive."

He replied :

" Your countenance seems familiar, but I certainly can-
not say where I have met you."

" My name is Styles," I said, " and I went with you

The Frontier Schoolmaster. 393

once on an electioneering trip from Dr. Sutherland's to
Hilton, when you were canvassing the County of McClin-

Had an angel appeared to him that instant, I do not
think he could have been more surprised.

At first his countenance flushed ; he looked bewildered,
stammered out something, and then seizing me by the hand,
shook it until I thought my arm would have to be ampu-

" Who have you here," he exclaimed, looking out towards
the carriage.

" A friend," I replied.

" Well, ask him in, ask him in, by all means ; you are
going to dine with me to-day."

I invited my friend in and introduced him, but declined
remaining more than a few moments.

Baxter showed us into the parlor, which was provided
with a faded and nearly worn-out carpet, the scanty furni-
ture corresponding well with it in respect to its dilapidated
appearance. A care-worn woman, who, in her younger
days, might have been handsome, and whom he introduced
to us as his wife, left the room as we entered. As we seated
ourselves, Baxter said :

" How is it, Mr. Styles, that you chance to be down here ?
I am astonished to see you here."

"Your astonishment cannot exceed mine," I said, "at
seeing you here ;" and I then related briefly to him how
it happened that I was a soldier. " Well, now," he said,
" let's have a little wine, and I will then gratify your curi-
osity." Saying this, he went out and in a moment returned
with a bottle and glasses. We each took a glass of port
with him when he commenced as follows :

394 The Frontier Schoolmaster.

" I suppose you saw a paragraph in the Montreal papers
two or three years ago, about a little difficulty I had there.''

I had seen nothing of the kind, yet not wishing to say so,
lest it might prevent our hearing the truth of the matter, I
remained silent a moment, trying to devise some ingenious
answer without telling a falsehood ; when interpreting my
silence as an answer in the affirmative, he continued :

" Well, they tried pretty hard to make forgery of it, but of
course that was all nonsense. I knew I could easily defeat
them, but as business was very dull in the city, and I did
not care to remain, especially since some of my old friends
had deserted me, I concluded to try my fortune elsewhere,
and so I drifted down this way."

" And are you practicing law ? " I asked, as if ignorant
of his present occupation.

" no," he replied, " I am an overseer in a manufactory.
I wished to have something for my boys to do, and as this
seemed to be a good opening I secured it."

I did not ask what sort of a manufactory it was,
nor did I ask him further with regard to his trouble in
Montreal. By his own admission he was fearful of being
convicted of forgery, hence, had run away. Until that
moment I knew not that he had any children, and touched
with pity I forgave him his rascality towards me, and
cordially hoped that he might do well. After a moment's
silence he said :

" You knew my political principles in Canada, and of
course are quite aware that they would not be tolerated
here. I refer to my sympathy for the South at the com-
mencement of the Eebellion, and as an old friend you will
say nothing that will be injurious to me in this section,"

The Frontier Schoolmaster. 395

and as he uttered this he cast a searching look towards
both my friend and myself. Previous to that, I had
known nothing of his sympathies with the South. I only
remembered that his loyalty to " the old flag " on one
occasion had caused him to refuse to assist me, because I
was born in the States. I felt that he had need of sympa-
thy, however, and I promised him the favor of both my
silence and that of my friend.

After a few more remarks with him we bade him fare-
well with a promise to call again, if possible, at no distant
day, and then drove off. I did not see him again. In a
few days I received my discharge, and bidding farewell to
the scenes of war, I made my way to Canada.


Farming again sad affliction.

I WAS now at home again, happy in the presence of my
family, and hoping that during our earthly pilgrimage un-
toward fortune might never again call me from them.
There was such happiness in contemplating a quiet, peace-
ful life in this secluded spot the life of a farmer, so pleasant
and healthful, and wonderfully in contrast to that which I
had led for so long a time. Yet I could foresee that even
this must have its discomforts. Hardship and exposure
had shown their effect on my physical system, and it was
obvious to me that I was poorly prepared to confine myself
to severe labor. Though the vocation of agriculture may
be all that I have said, pleasant and healthful, it requires
bodily vigor and unintermitting industry in the person
who follows it to make it remunerative. A man whose
income is derived wholly from a small farm can ill afford
to hire labor, and especially if he has a family ; his own
hands must do the plowing, planting, sowing and reaping ;
in short everything, if he would thrive. This was the diffi-
culty under which I labored, the unyielding obstacle which

The Frontier Schoolmaster. 397

had prevented me from accumulating means. The money
I received on entering the army had gone to pay debts ;
that which was paid me afterward from time to time had
been used to employ help, so that now I was without the
funds necessary to carry on the farm, and was unable to do
it myself.

I had a piece of woodland which I determined to clear
and bring into pasture and tillage land, and thus be enabled
to increase the quantity of my stock. Soon after returning
I engaged wood choppers for the purpose ; hoping to realize
enough from the wood, timber, lumber and first year's crop
to more than pay for the expense of clearing.

It was another instance of miscalculation ; one of the
unhappy consequences of possessing idealty in a too large
degree. The expense was much greater than I had calcu-
lated, and the proceeds resulting from the sales I had hoped
to make were much smaller ; hence, I was again consider-
ably in debt. I found that my investments, though valu-
able, would make returns only in the lapse of time.

There is scarcely any business into which a man with-
out experience may enter with less surety of success than
he can farming. And yet the managing of it seems so
easy, so simple, that many a novice with a good capital
has rushed into it, following his theoretical notions until he
has either found himself in bankruptcy, or with his means
invested in improvements which will only bring back the
money in installments, in the course of a generation of

This disastrous experience in farming occupied my atten-
tion for a year after my return from the war, but scarcely
had I entered upon it ere I was doomed to affliction such
I had never before experienced

398 The Frontier Schoolmaster.

Dora, like the only child of all parents, was the idol of
the household. She had heard me spoken of so much during
my absence, and Ruth had so often talked to her respecting

Online LibraryCyrus ThomasThe frontier schoolmaster: the autobiography of a teacher ... together with an essay on the management of our public schools → online text (page 26 of 31)