On the morning of the 6th of October, twelve thousand American and French soldiers lay encamped in the form of a broad semi-circle almost a mile from the British earthworks about Yorktown. Still nearer, in a deep ravine, above which were some outworks that had been abandoned by the British on the approach of the allies, were the outposts; and these, lacking tents, had hutted themselves with boughs. Intermittently came the roar of a cannon from the British lines, and those in the hollow could occasionally see and hear a shell as it screeched past them overhead; but they gave not one-tenth the heed to it that they gave to the breakfast they were despatching. Indeed, their sole grumblings were at the meagreness of the ration which had been dealt out to them the night before ere they had been marched forward into their present position; and as a field officer, coming from the American camp, descended into the ravine, these found open expression.
“’T is mighty fine fer the ginral ter say in the ginral orders that he wants us if attacked ter rely on the bagonet,” spoke up one of the murmurers loud enough to make it evident that he intended the officer to overhear him; “but no troops kin fight on a shred o’ salt pork and a mouthful of collards.”
The officer halted, and speaking more to all those within hearing than to the man, said: “You got as good as any of the Continental regiments, boys, and better than some.”
“That may be, kun’l,” answered the complainant, “but how about the dandies?”
“Yes,” assented the officer. “We sent the French regiments all the flour and fresh meat the commissaries could lay hands on, I grant you. Is there one of you who would have kept it from them for his own benefit?”
“P’raps not,” acknowledged another, “but that don’t make it any the less unfairsome.”
“Remember they come to help us, and are really our guests. Nor are they accustomed to the privation we know too well. General Washington has surety that you can fight on an empty stomach, for you’ve done it many a time, but he is not so certain of the French.”
The remark was greeted with a general laugh, which seemed to dissipate the grievance.
“Lord!” exclaimed a corporal; “them fine birds do need careful tending.”
“’T ain’t ter be wondered at thet the Frenchies is so keerful ter bring their tents with ’em,” remarked a third. “Whatever would happen ter one o’ them Soissonnais fellers, with his rose-coloured facings an’ his white an’ rose feathers, if he had ter sleep in a bowery along o’ us? Some on ’em looks so pretty, thet it don’t seem right ter even trust ’em out in a heavy dew.” As he ended, the speaker looked down at his own linen overalls. “T ain’t no shakes they laughs a bit at us an won’t believe we are really snogers.”
“’T is for us to make them laugh the other way before we’ve done Cornwallis’s business,” remarked the officer. “But make up your minds to one thing, boys, if their caps are full of feathers and their uniforms more fit for a ball-room than for service, these same fine-plumaged birds can fight; and there must be no lagging if we are to prove ourselves their betters, or even their equals.”