CHAPTER XXXVI

THE RETURN HOME

THE first gun fired at the American Flag, on the 12th of April, 1861, at Fort Sumter, reverberated all over Europe, and was hailed with joy by the crowned heads of the Old World, who hated republican institutions, and who thought they saw, in this act of treason, the downfall of the great American experiment. Most citizens, however, of the United States, who were then sojourning abroad, hastened home to take part in the struggle,-- some to side with the rebels, others to take their stand with the friends of liberty. Among the latter, none came with swifter steps or more zeal than Jerome and Clotelle Fletcher. They arrived in New Orleans a week after the capture of that city by the expedition under the command of Major-Gen. B. F. Butler. But how changed was society since Clotelle had last set feet in the Crescent City! Twenty-two years had passed; her own chequered life had been through many shifting scenes; her old acquaintances in New Orleans had all disappeared; and with the exception of the black faces which she beheld at every turn, and which in her younger days were her associates, she felt herself in the midst of strangers; and these were arrayed against each other in mortal combat. Possessed with ample means, Mr. and Mrs. Fletcher set about the work of assisting those whom the rebellion had placed in a state of starvation and sickness.

With a heart overflowing with the milk of human kindness, and a tear for every sufferer, no matter of what color or sect, Clotelle was soon known as the "Angel of Mercy."

The "General Order No. 63," issued on the 22nd of August, 1862, by Gen. Butler, recognizing, and calling into the service of the Federal Government, the battalion of colored men known as the "Native Guard," at once gave full scope to Jerome's military enthusiasm; and he made haste to enlist in the organization.

The "Native Guard" did good service in New Orleans and vicinity, till ordered to take part in the siege of Port Hudson, where they appeared under the name of the "First Louisiana," and under the immediate command of Lieut.-Col. Bassett. The heroic attack of this regiment, made on the 27th of May, 1863, its unsurpassed "charge," its great loss, and its severe endurance on the field of battle, are incidents which have passed into history. The noble daring of the First Louisiana gained for the black soldiers in our army the praise of all Americans who value Republican institutions.

There was, however, one scene, the closing one in the first day's attack on Port Hudson, which, while it reflects undying credit upon the bravery of the negro, pays but a sorry tribute to the humanity of the white general who brought the scene into existence. The field was strewn with the dead, the dying, and the wounded; and as the jaded regiments were leaving the ground, after their unsuccessful attack, it was found that Capt. Payne, of the Third Louisiana, had been killed; and his body, which was easily distinguished by the uniform, was still on the battle-field. The colonel of the regiment, pointing to where the body lay, asked, "Are there four men here who will fetch the body of Capt. Payne from the field?" Four men stepped out, and at once started. But, as the body lay directly under the range of the rebel batteries, they were all swept down by the grape, canister, and shell which were let loose by the enemy. The question was again repeated, "Are there four men who will go for the body?" The required number came forth, and started upon a run; but, ere they could reach the spot, they were cut down. "Are there four more who will try?" The third call was answered in the affirmative, and the men started upon the double-quick. They, however, fell before getting as far as the preceding four. Twelve men had been killed in the effort to obtain the body of the brave Payne, but to no purpose. Humanity forbade another trial, and yet it was made. "Are there four more men in the regiment who will volunteer to go for Capt. Payne's body?" shouted the officer. Four men sprang forward, as if fearful that they would miss the opportunity of these last: one was Jerome Fletcher, the hero of our story. They started upon the run; and, strange to tell, all of them reached the body, and had nearly borne it from the field, when two of the number were cut down. Of these, one was Jerome. His head was entirely torn off by a shell. The body of the deceased officer having been rescued, an end was put to the human sacrifice.


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