A South Carolina Training.
FROG LEVEL, April 10, 1810.
In the bosom of that beautiful valley which receives the sparkling waters of the Oolanoy, the scene of the following sketch is laid ; no spot on earth can be more enchanting. The majestic Table Rock, rearing its bald front on your left, as if frowning upon the occupations of the world below--the variegated peaks of a thousand mountains, which do homage to his greatness--and the undulations of the beautiful valley dotted with cottages, and fields of waving corn, present a tableau as enchanting as the valley of Rasselas. Had I the pencil of a Claude, with what enthusiasm would I dwell upon the picture ; but it would be murder for an unskillful artist to soil its beauties. Nor is it my province to deal in the romantic--I skim the surface of life, and give thee the men and manners of the time--I belong to the school of Hogarth.
It was a melting day in August, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and--when tight breeches were all the fashion, that I chanced to “ drop in” upon the muster-ground of the Pumpkintown Particulars. Hitching the Black Dwarf to a black Gum, and twisting a few of the Virginia weed into my mouth, I sauntered up to the scene of action. In the space of a few years the military had experienced a complete revolution--an entire re-organization had taken place--new laws, new boundaries, new books, and new officers had come into existence like magic. Many a poor devil who had never dreamt of ambition, woke up and found two epaulettes upon his shoulders, and a system of tactics in his hands, about the uses of which he knew quite as much as the “ Boston Notion” knew about the forthcoming Nos. of “ Marmaduke Myddleton.”
The new notions of the day had even invaded the sanctity of Pumpkintown.--New boundaries had been drawn for the beat, new officers elected, and new books prescribed. No longer would Jim Adel’s old chapeau, which was more like an inverted side saddle of ’76 than any earthly appurtenance, be an heirloom to the company. Their kingdom had passed away.
But I said it was a melting day--yes, a man’s lips would almost fiz when they touched the bubbling fountain--but no matter, hot or cold, men had to do their duty ; the new Colonel had come up to drill the boys and make a speech. Well, the Col. spoke to the Captain, the Captain spoke to the orderly, and the orderly, a frisky little black-eyed, dark-skinned fellow, in a green frock and nankeen tights, began.
“ Oh, yes!--oh, yes ! All you what belongs to Captain Alsop’s company parade.” And a motley crew they were ; there might be seen many a stalwart mountaineer, six feet two inches, with a coon skin cap, and tail flying in the wind, set carelessly on his head, copperas hunting shirt and trowsers, his feet penned into moccasins, and his trusty rifle thrown carelessly across his arm, a fac simile of Joe Powell’s “ bone and sinew of the State ;” and there were all manner of forms and uniforms, and features, and sayings, and doings, that characterize a peculiar and original people.
“ Fall in men, fall in, tallest men to the right ; step up there Jo. Gaskin, close to that Chesnut,--you next, Jim Hoxey ; come up men--look sharp ! faced to the right and ordered arms,--stick to the corn row--there now, that’ll do--how you come it ! Front face !--where in the hell are you men looking to on the left ? you call that front !--turn to me, I’m front--there now.”
“ Keep cool, orderly,” cries Jo. Gaskin, “ it’s mighty hot--you mout fry up sich a day as this.”
“ You be d--d, mind your business, Jo., and keep them dressed on the right.”
“ Who’s to take care of the left, orderly ?”
“ Let it take care of itself,--it’s always wrong any how. Now when I say in two ranks form company--the 2nd sergeant, you Tom Billet, and Josh Wise there, the next man, will hold fast, and all the other fellows as they come up will drap in you--each rar rank man kivering his file leader. Now, then--in two ranks form company--march !--Hold fast there, Tom Wise !--didn’t I tell you ? Hello there, Bill Griffin, ketch a hold o’ them d--d jackasses and fix ‘em right.” Whereupon Bill took hold and jerked them into place in less than no time, one by one, as they came up. “ There, now,” says Bill. “ And it’s very strange, boys, you have to be pulled in every time,” says the orderly. “ We don’t like the work, orderly--the gear an’t right,” cries Jake Reese. “ Silence, men !” cries the orderly, and the orderly spoke to the captain, and the captain came to the front and cried, “ Officers, posts !” whereupon every son of a gun scampered off behind the rear rank, to lay down in the shade of the Chestnut.
Capt. Alsop was a man of vast dimensions--a blooming personification of Jack Falstaff’s figure--with a propensity to take on fat like a Durham short-horn, and to perspire like a clergyman’s mare in the dog-days. He was a jolly soul, and loved his still beer and potatoes (with now and then a leetle brandy) far better than the military, but his great ambition set him on. Imagine such a person cased in a thick blue coat, with large plated buttons, begirt with a strap of brown leather of huge circumference, from which was suspended a rusty broadsword, which looked as if it had followed the captaincy since Adam was a boy, a blue stock round his neck, a striped homespun jacket, his nether extremities thrust into a pair of linen trowsers, all overshadowed by a hat of huge dimensions, whose brownish front told a tale of better times, and you have the tout ensemble of the greatest captain of the age--Capt. Alson, of the Pumpkintown Partculars.
“ ‘Tention, company--shoulder arms--rar rank open order--Sargeant’s step back--march, march back men.”
“ Look sharp, boys,” whispers the orderly, “ hold up your heads, something’s to be done !”
“ Right, dress !--All you men that hasn’t guns had better bring ‘em next time, or I’ll be obliged to notice it.”
“ Suppose we can’t get ‘em, Cap.,” says half a dozen fellows, “ what then ?”
“ Why, do without, that’s all. ‘Tention, close order, march--halt ! ‘tention--platoons, right wheel, (wait for the word, men) ; march--stops there, boys, I believe I’ve committed a slight mistake--as you were ! Tell off--well you, Jo. Gyton, are left of 1st Platoon, and Jim McCosh right of the 2nd. Now then, Platoons right wheel--halt, dress !”
“ Dress where, Captain ?” says Jo. Gyton. “ Why--oh, left dress--what am I thinking about ?”
“ Very well, boys--very well !” At this moment two or three boys appeared in front with game cocks in their hands for a fight--cockadoodledoo !
“ Put up them chickens, boys--no fighting till muster’s over. ‘Tention, men. Right into line, wheel, march--halt, dress.”
“ We’re wrong, Captain,” says Jo. Gyton, “ I ought to be in yonder.”
“ Well, that you might expect by paying no attention to my instructions.--About face !” --and the about face threw Tom Diggins and Dick Williams to the front, each with a game cock in his hand pecking away.
“ Damn it, boys, put them chickens under a barrel--no fighting, didn’t I tell you, till the muster’s over”--and away went Dick and Tom. “ Well, I believe we’re right now.”
“ No we aint, Captain, we’re wronger than ever.”
“ Well, let it stay so, it only makes it worse to try.--Now show the Col. how we can muster in a straight line--Company front.”
“ I said straight line,” says Jo. Hoxie.
And away they went, harum skarum over the field, in every sort of a line in trigonometry. At length a fence came afoul of the left flank of the company, and the Captain was taken all in a heap--a moment’s reflection and he cried out, “ defining his position” by the motion of his hands and body at the same time----
“ Ease round here--ease round here--now you come it !”
“ Hello there, Captain,” cries the Col,  “ where did you get that idee ?”
“ I give it up, sir,” says Alsop, “ it’s all my fault.”
“ Well, I said give it up,” says Bill Griffin.
“ And didn’t I say straight line,’ says Jo.
By this time the Captain began to puff and blow bravely--“ silence in rank, boys.” The oil of life finding its way out of every pore in the system, had “ insinuated” the blue stock, and tracing its course down the shirt-bosom, made a perfect calico concern of Alsop’s linen. The linen inexpressibles even exhibited traces of the fluid, and it was evident that the Captain would soon fling away the blue stock, or the blue stock would convert the captain.
At this juncture up came the Col. ; Alsop puffing off steam, and tipping his hat, said, “ if you have no objections, Colonel, I would be glad you would drill awhile ; I’d like to take off my coat and cool awhile,” and, suiting the action to the word, he threw off the old blue, and retired to the right.
Col. Reel was a strapping six-footer, as broad between the shoulders as Hercules, and long in the arms as a “ Rang a Tang,”--dark complexion, and a foxey, grey and red, bushy coat of hair--a hat which looked as though it had fought through the floods and fields of many years, and a broad-tailed linen coat and copperas trousers, and you have an idea.
He began. “ Feller officers and sojers of the Punkintown Particulars--hem ! This is the first time I’ve been to your muster since I’ve been elected, but don’t think ‘twas cause I didn’t like to come here. I do like to come here, for--hem ! this is my old stomping ground, and you all went for me for colonel. Well, I’m but an ignorant farmer, and most of you could know as much as me if you’d try, but--hem ! as I was saying, I’ve come here to drill you a bit, and I arnt guine to keep you out long if you do right smart. I tell you”--another cock crowed in ranks--“ boys you better put them chickens under a barrel, you’ll soon be brought to a stand with so many cocks in ranks.”
“ Hurrah, colonel, it’s Jim Dillet here, a d---- son of a bitch, its jist his nateral crow.”
“ ‘Tention--as I told you, men, the main thing is attention--you can’t learn nothing no how without it in mustering--you can’t succeed in any business without attention--I don’t care if it’s fishing. Well, now, the main thing is to learn the fust thing fust--you must learn to march fust. ‘Taint no use trying to do without it. Capt. Alsop, fling your company into squads, and we’ll drill awhile--hem ! there now--you, captain, take that squad ; 1st lieutenant, another ; 2d, another ; ensign, another. Well, go ahead now, and try the wheelings and turnings and marchings ; and away they went, marching and countermarching, after no other mode or manner of tactics but that of the Pumpkintown Particulars.
The 2d lieutenant--a very conceited fellow--in his estimation could do wonders ; but he had an unfortunate knack of calling things by the wrong names,—for instance, he always said for squad, squadron, which never failed to raise a laugh.
“ Boys,” says he, “ have I said squadron this morning.”
“ Well you haint,” says Bill Muggin.
“ Well, tell me of it, if I do. You see men, I’m thinking of the horse--I am.--Well fellers, you went that lock-step to a nat’s heel, just now--hold up your heads, now--keep steddy and try it agin. Right face !--March !--(I ought to said by right flank fust, but it’s too late now--never cry for spilt milk)--file right !--very well. File left !--very well. Right wheel !--no, no,--file right !--there’s the colonel, now show him a turn ; we’re giving them other squads hell, I tell you ; just laying ‘em in the cool. ‘Tention, heads up !--now you come, we’ll file right round the colonel. Take care, Jim Gaskins--d--n your long legs,--don’t step so far,--now, (rising tip-toe) squadron--right turn !”
“ By h--l you said it,” cried Bill Muggins,--and the whole rank was in laughter and confusion.
“ Did I ?” said the enraged lieutenant.--“ Well, you did.”--“ Well G— d— that ron ; I wish it was out of the Alphabet. Right dress ! Halt ! Hello !--How in the devil’s all this--you’ve got mixed up so--there’s two or three rar ranks.”
“ All right, captain,” says Bill Wiggins, “ I’m jist kivering two.”
“ Well I think kivering one’s as much as you could do such a day as this.--Right wheel !--countermarch !--halt ! D--n it, as you were, take your places men.”
“ I say, Lefty,” cried Bill Muggins, “ you put your foot in it again.”
“ Silence, men.--Dress !”
The Col. took charge of the squad, and marched it up to the big chestnut. The other squads followed the example--they formed line and rest. The Col. came to the front--“Attention company !--front faces !--heads up ! Well, ‘fore I go any further, and fear I mought forget it, my neighbor Jim Slades’ old Kilbuck, the best deer dog in the county--[that’s a d--d lie, whispered fifty voices, my dog can lay it on]--and as we can’t do without him no how, if any of you has heard of him being tuck up, I’d be glad you’d let me know it, ‘fore I leave.--Well men, you’ve done very well to-day ; but when I say well, don’t understand me to mean so well that you can’t do better. Keep a striking, that’s my rule, and you’ll make a crop some time. I hope your captain will now take you up to the wagons, and treat you to as much gungers and liquor as you can drink, and all you that have wives may find them, when you go home, in a good humor, and you that have sweethearts find ‘em wanting courting. Captain dismiss your company. Capt. Alsop--‘Tention !--shoulder arms !--about face ! Dismissed till next muster day.”
Source: New York Spirit of the Times 10.10 (9 May 1840): 110. University of Virginia Alderman Library. Erin Bartels prepared this typescript.
 Original text reads “Col ,”.
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