The harrowing ceremonial of parting is ended. The train moves slowly out of the station, and a murmur of sobs and cheers echoes until it is far beyond the easternmost limits of the city. After a journey of two days and a night the train readied Philadelphia. Jack was all eyes and ears for the spectacle the country presented. In every station through which the regiment passed crowds welcomed the blue-coats. Women fed them, or those who seemed in need, thinking, perhaps, of their own distant darlings receiving like tenderness from the stranger.
In Philadelphia, the regiment marched across the city to resume its journey. It was a cold spring night, and the regimental quartermaster and commissary had made no provision for the men. Indeed, as the observant Jack afterward learned, it was part of the plan of the groups that first began to create great fortunes during the war to make the soldiers pay for their rations en route to the seat of war, or depend upon the charity of citizens along the railway lines. The Government paid for the supplies just the same, while the money went into the pockets of contractors and quartermasters. After a weary tramp through what seemed to the soldiers the biggest city in the world, the regiment, with blistered feet, hungry and cross, were halted before a long, low wooden building, through whose rough glass windows cheerful lights could be seen. A rumor spread that they were to have a hot supper, and, sure enough, they were marched in, dividing on each side of four long tables that stretched into spectral distance, in the feeble glimmer of the oil-lamps hanging from the ceiling. Most of the men in Jack’s company, at least, were gently nurtured, but the steaming oysters, cold beef, and generous “chunks” of bread, filled their eyes with a magnificence and their stomachs with a gentle repletion no banquet before or after ever equaled. The feast was set in the same place during four years, by the Sanitary Society, I think, but the memory of that homely board, plenteously spread, is in the mind of many a veteran who faced warward during the conflict.
ON THE POTOMAC.