THE STEP THAT COSTS.
What between the doings of the camp and the daily visit to Washington, “soldiering” grew into an enchanting existence for the young warriors of the Caribee. Their quarters were on the high plateaus north and west of the city—which were in those days shaded slopes, that made suburban Washington a vale of Tempe. In the streets they saw bedizened officers, from commanders of armies down to presidential orderlies. In the Senate and House they heard the voices of men afterward potent in public councils.
What an exuberant, vagrant life it was! The blood warms and the nerves tingle after the tensions and heats of a quarter of a century as those days of sublime vagabondage come back. The melodious morning calls that waked the sleepy, lusty young bodies; the echoing bugle and the abrupt drum! And then the roll-call, in the misty morning when the sun, blear and very red, rose as if blushing, or apoplectic after the night’s carouse! It was an army of poets—of Homers—that began the never monotonous routine of these memorable days, for the incense of national sympathy came faint but intoxicating to the soldier’s nostrils in the visits of great statesmen, the picnics of civilians, the copious descriptive letters of correspondents and the daily scrawls from far-away valleys, where fond eyes watched the sun rise, noted the stars, to mark the special duties their darlings were doing in the watches of the night. And then the mad music of cheers when the news came that the young McClellan in West Virginia had scattered the adventurous columns of Lee, capturing guns, men, and arms, and forever saving the great Kanawha country to the Union! And in Kentucky the rebels had been outmanoeuvred; while in Missouri the glorious Lyon and the crafty Blair had, one in the Cabinet, the other in the camp, routed the secret, black, and Janus-like rabble of treason and anarchy.
To feel that he was part of all this; that, at rest in the iron ring girdling the capital, he was might in leash; that to-morrow he would be vengeance let loose—this was the sustaining, exulting thought that made the volunteer the best of soldiers. His heart was all in the glorious ardor for action. Night and morning he looked proudly at the sacred ensign waving lightly in the summer breeze, and he remembered that the eyes of Washington had rested on the same standard at Valley Forge; that the sullen battalions of Cornwallis had saluted it at Yorktown.