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THE ADVENTURES OF SIDNEY SAWYER:
The Year of Jubilee!
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The Civil War’s greatest scalawag, Sidney Sawyer is back in the third installment of his notorious memoirs. Well dosed with gin, tonic and lime the ancient impostor perches on the Lake Erie bluffs and records his greatest and most deplorable adventure. Teamed with the President’s personal Hebrew chiropodist (Lincoln’s feet had more corns than Kansas) he delivers the North’s ultimatum to Jeff Davis. While warning the Rebels of the Emancipation Proclamation he brawls with John Hay, frolics with Washington tarts, dallies with murderous Confederate widows, escapes down lightning rods, and with Sojourner Ursa Major (the stunning, classically educated, but deadly Negro lady), conducts runaways to the Jubilee on the Underground Railroad. Our reluctant hero flees slave catchers, battles bushwhackers, and near drowns in the Potomac rapids only to be sent back into the soup by Lincoln to spy on his own generals on the bloodiest day in American history. Sidney survives bloody Antietam to face his most bitter foe on the bluffs above Harpers Ferry as President Lincoln proclaims the Year of Jubilee!
“Attend to me gentlemen. This is my policy concerning the Union and Slavery. I will save the Union while I live. Our adversaries must be made to understand that the sooner the Union is mended the more it will be like the Union as it was.
Some would save the Union only if at the same time they could save slavery. I do not agree with them. Some would not save the Union unless at the same time they could destroy slavery. I do not agree with them. My paramount objective is not to either save or destroy slavery– it is to save the Union.
If I could save the Union by freeing all the slaves, I would do it. If I could save the Union by not freeing any of the slaves, I would do it. If by freeing some of the slaves and leaving others alone, if it would save the Union, I would do that.
What I do concerning the negro race I do because I believe it will help me save the Union and what I forbear doing I do not do because I do not believe it will help save the Union. I will do less when I believe it hurts the cause, and I will do more if I believe it will help the cause. My oft-expressed personal wish that all men everywhere should be free is not to be a consideration in my policy concerning the colored race. The only consideration is what will soonest and with least cost mend the Union. If our Southern citizens wish to truly maintain their culture and institutions they must end this adventure, and soon, before a true revolution sweeps the land. And sirs, I will lead this revolution.”
Sweet God in heaven! Rustic, folksy, joke loving Ol’ Abe was going to wipe away the Southland with her pride, and plantations, and slaves and arrogance as a spring flood erases towns and farms when the Father of Waters overwhelms its banks and crashes through the levees. Unless the South gave up now, right now, we would have a real revolution on our hands and the South would fight to the last ditch. They would rather die than allow four million free n––rs live among them. And they would die. I was actually shivering despite the heat in the executive office and the wool of my uniform. They would die because we would kill them. It would be a war we would simply have to win. Millions in the North would reckon that no man would ever be free if we couldn’t free these slaves. Our game at freedom would be a fool’s game. The game would be lost and no one would ever play it again. Every man in the North would see it plain as the stars. Freedom or death! Hell, even the Micks and Square heads and Dagos flooding in from Europe would see it and pitch in to help with the slaughter. Damnation– I realized with a start the n––rs themselves would be in the fight! Didn’t old Jim already take up the gun as a jayhawker in Kansas? Arm the darkies and it’s a new world. No wonder Lincoln would die of grief without his cornball jokes.
But there was still the puzzle of why Lincoln was telling us all this. It was the Confederate government that needed to know the Ancient’s thoughts, not a staff major and a Jew corn cutter and I asked him as much.
“Why Colonel Sawyer your question drives straight to the heart of the matter.”
When my eyes bulged he gave an ugly but happy grin. “Yes, you heard me correctly Colonel. You will need more rank to have success in your next assignment. Mr. Nicolay will see to formalizing your brevet rank.”
I turned to Zacharie in wonder and he gave me an oily look to show he knew what was coming.
“But Mister President, you warned me to use discretion. Mum’s the word. What am I to do with this information?”
“Why Colonel Sawyer you are to take it to Richmond. I am sending you to see Jefferson Davis.”
I sat there with my mouth open thinking it rich to be a colonel at twenty-four. Well, rank is where you find it. And I was off to bullyrag old Jeff Davis no less. Nagging two presidents in the same week– Auntie would be so proud.
“Sunday. Eleven o’clock, after church.”
“Leave your hairbrush at home my little darling.” I shouted at the slamming door.
The next Sunday was August twenty-third. Mrs. B actually showed up with her Book of Common Prayer. I remember the date because is it was when the last of McClellan’s troops debarked from Yorktown and Fort Monroe. The only Yankees in Virginia now were the ones north of the Rappahannock or dug in uselessly behind the Yorktown lines– or the forgotten souls in Libby Prison. At least today the secesh had something to praise God about.
It turned out our romp after services was worse, or better, than all the hazing I ever endured as a West Point plebe rolled into one sweaty afternoon. She said she wanted her fornication on her terms and she showed me she meant it. After we got our wind back from our first round instead of rearranging her bonnet, to my surprise she straddled me again and wiggled her tight buns in a way that Little Sidney had no choice but to present himself for advanced maneuvers. Christopher Columbus, but where did she get her strength? Galloping the Carolina backcountry and whipping her Daddy’ Sambos no doubt. For a tiny thing she could take punishment like a pugilist. Other than her udders she was all muscle and must have been held together with wire. If she didn’t mind thrashing away at me, then I didn’t hold back at bulling her. Tenderness was no part of our romance. By the time we were done she had clawed rips in the bedding and strips across my Ace o’ Hearts bullet wound. I thought by gravy that was grand fun, but now let me crawl to the knacker’s yard 'cause that’s all that’s left of me. But she wasn’t done with me yet. When she could finally talk again she began to tease me and bully me and tickle me trying to enlist Little Sid for a third campaign. Not on my life you nasty little Confederate quail. Even the belt of whiskey I sloshed from the decanter with a palsied hand wasn’t going to revive me. It was clear she was trying to teach me who was the top rail in this love festival and if I had had the strength I would have bundled her out into the hall and locked the door. She knew a lot of tricks though, rot her boots. For the first and only time in my presences she made a joke, and it was so unexpected that it took my mind off my ravaged carcass and worked. She called Little Sidney her own little Royal Bengal Lancer and then remarkably began to sing to the poor tuckered out little wreck. Camp Town Ladies, no less and on the "Doo Daa’s" she did remarkable things with … well let’s just say by the time she got to "Gwain to run all night, Gwain to run all day,” we were off and running in our third gallop.
As I said, she was a wicked, evil little baggage and she practically killed me that Sunday and it wasn’t with kindness.
Sidney and Sojourner battle slave catchers on the Underground Railroad
And then I felt pulling and scrapping on the twine that was wrapped about my elbows. Brave little Sunday, bless his frisky heart was behind me in the gloom with a kitchen knife and was sawing away at my bonds. It was a damn sharp one too for the careless bastard nicked my elbow but I didn’t fault him, dear child.
From Loomis’s chamber came a crescendo of thrashing. Loomis gave a piercing yell and Sojourner a hysterical, “That fo you Marse Loomis. That fo all of us.” And then a scream that sounded for all the world like a small black woman giving the Rebel Yell.
The guard half got up and muttered, “Damnation Dick. Leave some for us.”
I felt Sunday’s first rip at the bonds lashing my ankles to the front legs of the chair when the chamber door flew open and the quiet parlor became a slaughterhouse.
It was a sight I’ll never forget. Sojourner was suddenly framed in the doorway, naked, hair down and wild about her head, breasts smeared with blood that looked black in the dim glow of the candle and a huge cavalry pistol held before her with both hands. Her arms were black with blood up to her elbows and the look on her face was horrible with a snarl like a witch from some terrible African folklore.
The guard tried to spring from the big chair but with no hesitation Sojourner pulled the trigger and the blast threw him back, dead before his arse hit the cushions. Walnut and Button both jumped up in horror and surprise and I managed to lurch to my feet with my legs still lashed to the chair. The last provost slammed open his bedroom door with a crash and rushed into the parlor barefoot in his long woolen drawers with his pistol pointed at the ceiling. Button and little Sunday were screaming fit to wake the dead and when the trooper saw the Major, naked, wild, smeared with gore like a black Banshee and pointing her smoking gun at his face he gave a little "eek" that was lost in the din and dropped his gun as if his hand had gone lifeless. Unarmed or not Sojourner jammed the muzzle in his gut and pulled the trigger. The small click of the misfire sounded as loud as a boiler bursting and with a roar the big cracker rushed her. It was Katy-bar-the-door and no mistake as Button hit the trooper in the back with her chains and all of her two hundred and fifty pounds pummeling his shoulders as they went down on top of Sojourner in a heap. Sunday, the game little pup rushed to the goose pile and with a squeal set to with teeth and nails. Too bad he left the kitchen knife on the floor by the door. Walnut stood like a stump quaking with his gorilla mouth open, stinking like a privy as he finally lost all control and loaded his drawers. It was a fine little battlefield and as I tried to hop to the guard’s dropped pistol Boscoe rushed in from the mudroom and let fly at the first target he took a bead on.
Big useless Walnut turned towards Boscoe and did the only helpful thing he accomplished during the battle. He got shot. Boscoe hit him square in the middle of his big body and it was so sudden and unexpected that the big clown didn’t have the sense to fall. Thank heaven Boscoe didn’t know how to use a gun any better now than he did four days ago. It was a single action Colt. Hell, any fool knew all Colts were single action but Boscoe didn’t. He pulled the trigger again and again before he caught on with a snarl and clawed at the cock lever. That gave me the second I needed.
General McClellan takes command
McClellan reigned in Dan Webster with a dramatic slide of mud and turf, swept off his kepi and snapped the two generals a sharp salute. I had to give Little Mac high marks for style. I couldn’t have done it better. “At your service gentlemen!”
This was going to be good and I shoved my mount in between a brigadier and a major for a better look. Pope and McDowell returned Little Mac’s salute with all the spirit of wet dogs.
McClellan got right to the point. “General Pope I have been ordered by the President to assume command of all the forces in and around Washington. The Army of Virginia is merged with the Army of the Potomac.”
He gave only a faint self-satisfied smirk as he declared, “You are relieved sir.”
If we expected an explosion from Pope we were disappointed. The only explosions were from the distant guns far in the rear. He took it in stride and quietly asked, “Do you have any objections if Irwin and I continue on our way to Washington?”
McClellan responded, “Do I have objections? None at all. Go where you please.” The distant guns boomed again. “As for me, I will ride to the sound of the guns!”
At that Dan Webster gave a start and skittered sideways and reared. Mac took his hat and swung it over his head with a grim look on his handsome face and in that second a military miracle happened before my eyes.
A fat general from the first regiment of retreating infantry had ridden close to the powwow and had an expression of savage joy on his hairy face. He had a huge mustache drooping past his lips and a tear in the breast of his uniform with the bloody rag of a bandage poking out of the rip. While Dan Webster was doing his prance he raised his mud stained slouch hat and gave a shout. He certainly wasn’t wounded in the lungs.
“Hurrah-hurrah! Three cheers and a bulldog! Mac’s back in charge! Hip hip …”
There was no hurrah. There was a scream of hysteria the likes of which I had never heard. The thousands of sullen slouching whipped dogs in filthy blue went insane. Caps flew– packs went up. The men wept as if on command. They swarmed Dan Webster touching the saddle and bridle and stirrups. They kissed Little Mac’s legs and boots and even Dan Webster’s arse. McClellan took it in stride as if it was his due and no one even noticed when Pope and McDowell slunk off alone. The soldiers that only a moment before were a defeated mob jigged and danced and shouted and knelt in the mud and prayed. Lincoln said that an army is held together by love and I thought him a fool. But here it was– love by the bucket, slopping over the sides. In an instant a mob became an army once again and it was love for this man from this army that did it. The cheering went on and on and the news of salvation went down the length of the Army at the speed of a shout.
“Mac is back! Little Mac is back! Hallelujah, hallelujah and hurrah! He’s back, he’s back.”
The Army was straggled out ten miles back down the road, bunched up here and accordioned back there. We rode the length of the defeated army for those ten miles finding gloom and defeat in our front and leaving joy and resolve in our wake. The sight of McClellan on his huge black charger pounding down the line raising his kepi to each new wave of hosannas, resolve on his face and bold sash flying worked like a religious conversion. It recalled memories of Easter service as a child, when before he bored me senseless, the Reverend Mister Sprague described the resurrection with the dead leaping joyously from their graves. Each company and regiment we passed cheered, danced, capered and wept. Forage caps flew, regimental banners whipped back and forth in a frenzy of joy, soldiers fell back in column of march, muskets were shouldered at proper angle, and they swung along booming out John Brown’s Body, or The New York Volunteer, or Caddy Cadunk.