THE ADVENTURES OF SIDNEY SAWYER:
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The Father of Waters or David M. Smeltz)
The Father of Waters
again, ancient General Sidney Thomas Sawyer charges his snifter, licks
his pencil and scribbles another installment of his notorious memoirs.
Sawyer is lured from the arms of his loving wife Amy and the spectacular
bosoms of the stunning Pietronella by General Grant’s own pappy. There
is a fortune to be made smuggling Rebel cotton north on the Father of
Waters. Instead of easy graft Sidney is cornered by Confederate
raiders, joins the Johnny cavalry, and
runs foul of sinister Rebel fanatics. Deserting Confederate service, Sidney
finds sanctuary as a slave driver on a Yazoo Delta plantation. Abusing all notions of
Southern hospitality he bulls the plantation matriarch all over the parlor.
Sawyer flees outraged kinfolk and Southern lawmen with the help of
the faithful old slave Uncle Remus. Dodging bullets and bloodhounds through frozen
swamps with a string of runaways in tow, Colonel Sawyer rejoins the
Union Army just in time for Grant’s greatest Campaign. Marching through
the Mississippi’s famous mud, battling over vermin infested bayous on
ironclad monsters, swimming from burning riverboats, and frolicking with
beautiful Confederate spies, our hero shirks, malingers, and sometimes
even fights from Memphis to Jackson. Shoulder to shoulder with heroic
Sergeant Huckleberry Finn, Sawyer leads Hawkeye infantry against the
impregnable fortress of Vicksburg. Wounded, captured, starved, and
threatened, Sidney is rescued by two most unlikely angels. On the Fourth
of July, high above Vicksburg, in a desperate duel with a gang of
villains, Sidney Sawyer triumphs as blood flows like a river down the
bluffs and into the Father of Waters.
The Father of Waters:
Sidney runs the Vicksburg Batteries with the Union Navy-
Pemberton was no fool. He had the river picketed with sentry bateaus and even in the dark there was no missing the blunt bow of Porter’s flagship the Benton. We were too far behind to hear the shouts and the crunch as the gunboat ran the bateau under but the sentries got off a half-dozen shots of warning that we did hear and then the line of ships went to full power with a throb of machinery that could be heard through the night like a landslide. Shouts came from ahead in the fleet and more came from the shore on the Louisiana side. In seconds the shore was lit with huge fires that the Rebels had primed with tar and oil.The flotilla was back-lit like it was daylight. The Confederate guns opened with a smash that shook the night and blinding tongues of flame shot into the night like comets. The fleet answered with broadsides that actually shook the river itself as if the water was alive. The Reb gunners on the bluff had all winter to sight the batteries in on where the boats would have to be, and their high perch meant their shot would slam smack into the armor and not bounce away. They couldn’t miss and didn’t. From my spot crouching behind the hay I could follow the fight from the continuous blasts of light from the heavy guns of the fleet. Shot after Confederate shot struck home bashing at the ironclad armor like hammers at a forge in hell. And then a coal barge lashed to the port side of a Pook Turtle in the center of the line broke loose and the gunboat slewed hard to starboard, got caught in the current and in seconds was steaming upstream dead back into the fleet. Boats scattered to the right and left and for long minutes, while fire thundered down on their decks, they steamed in great circles trying to come about and flee past the enemy artillery. All the while they cannoned back with every gun they could bring to bear and as the Henry Clay steamed into the melee the noise was enough to shatter the molars in your jaws. Then the ironclads at the front of the line were suddenly past the batteries and beyond the range of the grayback gunners. They ceased their fire and between the booms of the Confederate guns we could hear the cheers of the Navy crews. But now the hayclad Clay was finally in range and the bonfires on the far shore silhouetted us to the Rebels on the bluffs.
It’s a terrible and beautiful thing to be under fire from great cannon in the black of night. First you see from high up, the white flash from the muzzle reaching into the dark as it blasts its missile into the air. The fuse burns a bright line of red fire like a shooting star, up into the sky but instead of blinking out it blinks faster and faster as the shell tumbles through the air, and then it comes down at you like a meteor with the boom of the gun reaching you in the same instant as the evil shriek of the shell that rushes past you faster than light, and the ball strikes the River just by the rail and the water gushes over you like a Niagara. And then instead of one shooting star it’s three. Then as the lines of red fire arc out and down they are joined by five more, and then five more, and I’m out of the hay and gripping the sticky rail and damn the paint, and the booms reach you all at once. Screams and curses sound from the bow as the water cascades over you like a solid wave, and then comes the terrible crash as the shot rips into the boat.
The guns on the bluff were huge smoothbore monsters that were meant to rip through the iron armor of the Navy. They tore through the flimsy Henry Clay as if it was gossamer, leaving ragged tears through the pine planking and scattering burning hay in clouds of flame. The crew didn’t wait for disaster, clever lads. They swarmed up from the engine spaces like monkeys seconds before heavy shot shattered the boilers with an explosion that lifted the deck sharp enough to buckle my knees. The port wheel was swept away as if by a great hand taking the davits holding the port boat with it. As the Clay settled the bum-boat launched itself and the crew swarmed aboard. I almost sobbed with fright. There was no way to reach the boat over the wreckage of the huge wheel. I turned to flee through the salon to the starboard side and salvation, but flames filled the cabin and the blast of heat drove me to the rail. Now the damned hay wasn’t armor, it was death, catching fire with great whooshes of flame and driving me along the rail, closer to the stern. Another great shell swept through the woodwork with a swarm of splinters and I flipped backward into the dark River with the water filling my boots, trying to drag me down. It happened so fast that even though the boilers were blown and the paddle wheels shattered, the Clay was still making way ahead of me as it sank. It went down like a brick with a great hissing of drowning flame and as I struggled to kick off my boots I gave my toe a good stubbing. I believe it was on one of the hogsheads of salt-horse that were sinking about me by the score.
Ancient General Sawyer remembers the courage of the slaves during the Civil War-
I haven’t thought about Januarius in almost fifty years and why should I? He was only a dizzy darkie, one of thousands of colored folk who died making their bid for freedom seeking shelter under the wings of the Union Army. I knew why I ran– I ran for my life. I knew I couldn’t just sit about Eudora Pond Plantation pinching the brandy, rogering the help and trying to get under Linda Lou’s skirts. The War would catch up with me there, Union or Confederate, either side would see me in a prison camp or standing before a wall puffing on my last cheroot. I had to get back to the Union Army before they noticed I was missing and no mistake. That’s why I ran, but my pilgrims didn’t have to run.They could have hunkered down and waited for the issue to be settled by the white armies, and if God was good, the Yankees would win and they wouldn’t have had to run after all. But they did. They ran to be free. All over the South by the hundreds and then the thousands and before it was over, in a solid black mass, they ran to wherever the blue army was marching. And thousands of them, like Janny and Brutus, died for it.
Amy’s at church, the big
Episcopal pile down Delaware Avenue with the Tiffany windows and the mahogany
woodwork. We’re Baptists and our church is a barn compared to the opulence
those blue bloods bring to Jesus. Once a month or so my Amy and the girls like to rub elbows with what
passes for quality here in Buffalo. Anyway, when she’s out I can punish the brandy to my heart’s content,
and when I’m in the sauce it’s easier to write gospel. The gospel is, those runaway Negroes
like Sambo, Janny, Brutus, Gus, and Sweet Pea were heroes.The pilgrims I met the year before in
Virginia fleeing on the Underground Railroad, fat Button, Walnut, and Sojourner
Ursa Major– they were heroes too. They all had more sand than the likes of me could ever muster and
Sojourner was the bravest woman I ever met. Walnut lost his life to the
Virginia provost. Sambo was caught
and slaughtered like a hog. Brutus
was torn to pieces by Rebel artillery and Janny was shot down on top of a
drowned dog in a Mississippi swamp. They died, as thousands of them died, but they didn’t die as slaves. They died as free men and freedom’s a
fine thing to die for. They were
free the second they ran, and even though they made a hash of it, they were
free as any citizen of old Rome or any English yeoman who went buccaneering on
the Spanish Main against the Dons in the earlies. Black men or white men– with freedom it makes no difference. You’re free the second you snap your
thumb at the consequences and take that first step away from your
And it wasn’t just the runners. A hundred thousand darkies put on Yankee blue, chipped in their antes like men-o-war, and came at ol’ Marse over the blade of a bayonet. At first the white troops hooted them as trained apes fit only to peel spuds for their betters, but I never did. It was a darkie wench named Button who pulled me, half drowned, from the Potomac Rapids in ’62 while Reb bush-poppers drew their beads from the Virginia side. It was another darkie wench, Sweet Pea who propelled me through the swamps in ’63 when I had dog bites in one arse cheek, birdshot in the other, and Mississippi man-hunters were coming on in a rush. It took the rest of the Army until ’64 and the Siege of Petersburg to realize a colored boy could assault the works and stop a minié every bit as good as a white boy, but I already knew. And I knew why they did it. They did it because they were men, and men long to be free, and men have the courage to reach for it and grab it whenever there is any glimmer of a chance, even if it means they could die in the reach. And when it comes to freedom and courage the color of a man’s hide isn’t even a speck of weight on the scales. All men long to plot their own course and trim their own sails, and I thank God that I was born with a white skin because in this world that makes freedom as easy as birth. I don’t know if I could ever have the courage of a Januarius or a Sweet Pea and seize my freedom on a dare like those cotton delta darkies did during the Civil War.