Chapter 2

A considerable traffic had been carried on for some time between the bulwark of the Christian religion, and the savages of North America, bordering on this new settlement. The traders of that bulwark, carried out bibles, and in return, received scalps. What use spiritual, or temporal, these savages could make of Bibles, is immaterial, as it is not the use of a thing that always gives it a value. Certain it is, that little use could be made of a bible by these people in the way of reading it. Nor if they did read it, could they understand it, without commentators to build up orthodox systems of faith, with the various points in controversy, between the catholic and protestant churches; much less those doctrines which distinguish the Calvanist, Arminian, Socinian, and other creeds. But as to the use of scalps with the bulwark, it could not be difficult to comprehend, if the use of a skin dressed in the hair be understood; which, I take it, is the case with almost all that manufacture gloves, or muffs, for the ladies in any country. Children’s scalps, and the scalps of young females, were in request particularly for these purposes; and hence it was that the savages made their inroads into the settlement, attacking whole families for the sake of these; and as it was not uncommon to meet with some resistance on the part of the relations; and the young men even went so far as to shoot some of these depredators in taking off the scalps, it occasioned affrays, which at last had the appearance of national hostility, and war ensued. The savages after having made a pretty good hunt, as the phrase is, and taken scalp-peltry, retreated usually in great haste; inasmuch as they were liable to be pursued, and brought to an account for this outrage; as well as for the purpose of recovering property, which they were not always scrupulous of carrying with them, and not paying for according to the value.

Pursuing some of these, a party had gone out from the settlement, amongst whom was Teague.

The bog-trotter reflecting with himself that the savages were not likely to be overtaken, and so no great danger of fighting in the case, did not greatly hesitate to be one; inasmuch as if they should overtake these freebooters, there was such a thing as running from them, as well as after them. But after a few hours march, coming upon a trail of these, which appeared to have crossed from the settlement, in a transverse direction, the word Indians was given; which Teague no sooner hearing, than he began to retrace his steps with some alacrity.--It was on a ridge or bend of a hill; the Indians crossing the hill, had gone into the valley, and come round again nearly to the place where the whites had ascended it. It happened therefore very naturally, that the Indians and the bog-trotter, though neither meaning it, had fallen in with each other; the bog-trotter on the flank of the Indians. It had been for the sake of water to boil their kettles, that these savages had gone down to the valley, and encamped the night before. Being now on their way to regain their direction, it happened that the came into the rear of the party pursuing them. The bog-trotter had by this time accelerated his speed considerably, and the declivity of the hill was such that he found it impossible to arrest himself, being under the impetus of the projectile motion which he had acquired; and seeing nothing before him but death from the tomahawk of at least sixty Indians, and nevertheless being unable to stop his career, no more than could a stone projected from the precipice, he raised the tremendous shout of desperation; which the savages mistaking for the outcry of onset, as it is customary with them when they are sure of victory, to raise the war-whoop; magnifying the shout by their imaginations into that of a large party overtaking them, they threw away their packs and scalps, and made their way towards the Indian country; not doubting but that the whole settlement was in pursuit of them.

When the party of whites came up to the brow of the hill, and saw the bog-trotter in possession of the ground and the booty, they took it for granted, that singly and alone, he had discomfitted the Indians. It was a devil of an engagement, said he; by de holy fader, I must have shot at least a hundred of dem; but de fun o’ de world was to see de spalpeens carrying of de wounded on deir backs like de tiefs in Ireland dat stale shape. Tiefs of de world, why did you stay so long back and not come up to de engagement. Looking for Indians before o’ your face. Spalpeens, if I had had two or tree good tight boys along wid me, when I came up wid dem, I could have kilt de whole, or made dem prisoners. Bad luck to d ye, if it wasn’t for de shame o’ de ting upon de country, I would have a court martial upon de matter; but as to de packs and de booty, it is all my own. I had taken dem before you come up; and a devil a hand had you in de victory.

This was not dissented to, and the matter was accommodated, on its being agreed that nothing more should be said about the court martial.

Though upon a small scale this was thought a very brilliant affair of the bog-trotter. A sword was offered him, and there was a talk of making him a major general. In a republican government, the honest souls of the people are lavish of their gratitude; though they sometimes mistake the merit, or demerit of services. And how can it otherwise be when the people cannot themselves be all present to see what is done; nor, if they were present, and could see, are the bulk capable of judging in what case success is to be attributed to design or to execution; and indeed where the design and execution may have been all that human foresight and resolution could promise or perform, yet the event may have been unfortunate. Fortune de grace, applied to an individual, may be applied to measures. There is a fatality in some cases that baffles the wisest councils, and the most heroic enterprize; and again a kind of magic, or something like a charm that turns to account what in nature and the ordinary course, ought to have produced nothing but disappointment, and the reverse of what has come to pass. -Old generals are not always the most successful, because they are afraid of accident and leave too little to chance, while the know nothing, fear nothing, has oftentimes been the secret of fortunate adventure.

When it has been said that men have been taken from the plough, and put at the head of armies, it does not mean that they have been taken from drawing the plough, in the manner of oxen or other draft cattle; but that they have been taken from holding the plough, while these averia carucae, or beasts of the plough, not liable to be distrained by the common law, drew the plough. I cannot cite an instance of those actually in traces, being cut from these, and turning out great generals; but it could not be said to be far from this in some instances. For nature is above all art, and let what will be said about discipline, a little mother wit, as in all other sciences, goes farther to make a great commander, than tactics without it. The theory of keeping the head upright, and handling the firelock, is doubtless a good lesson to begin with; and the positions of the body, and the movements of the feet are, beyond all question, useful to be taught to the young soldier; and on these will depend facing and forming; wheeling, and flanking off with slow or quick movements. But with all this the general has little to do. It is the office of the drill sergeant, and the adjutant of the regiment, or of the subalterns and officers inferior to a general. It takes a long time to be perfect in these; but the eye that can chuse a ground, that can arrange and dispose a force, a mind that can reach the exigencies of the day with foresight, relieve and remedy unforeseen accidents, make the general. A weak mind, and slow perception, with all the tactics that can be taught, and all the lessons, from experience, that can be given, whether from reading or seeing service, can go but a little way. A military man may have Folard in his head, with all the notes that may have been written upon him, and yet be unequal to the conduct of an army; for general rules cannot in their nature be applied to particular cases; and something new in most, if not in all cases, will occur to diversify the situation, so that good sense and natural judgment, is the first thing to be considered in the appointment of one who is to conduct an expedition. But it is not an easy matter, or rather it is not possible to discover and select such with certainty, for officers, at the commencement of a war. The pressure of affairs must throw them up, as the element of air rises when terrene substances subside. A war alone can find out choice spirits to whom a command may be entrusted. For a long time merit may be obscured, and talents remain undistinguished; while even cowardice and blunders may, in a particular instance, give a temporary reputation.

Teague was spoken of as a major general, when he ought to have been dismissed the service, could the truth have been ascertained. But appearances were in his favour; for who could think that but for the most desperate courage, he would have attacked sixty or an hundred Indians-fifty or sixty, at least, it was said? For, the prisoners rescued, spoke of there being that number. These prisoners, chiefly consisting of individuals half dead, were incapable of distinguishing the circumstance of the bog-trotter, being precipitated upon their captors by an involuntary centripetal force; or the ell of despair, from that of desperate resolution. And, as their gratitude was lively for their deliverance, they yielded to no cold examination of the manner in which it was brought about. As for Teague, like Achilles, he claimed every thing for himself--

Nihil non arrogat armis.

Though but of the grade of a corporal when he went out, he now thought himself entitled to be made general O’Regan. He had at this time, certain it is, the perfect confidence of the people, who were clamorous for his appointment, and indeed he might be said to be forced upon the governor.

Teague, said the governor, in my presence you know that you are no such kill devil as the people take you to be. This affair of yours was but matter of accident; and instead of being promoted, you ought to have been broke for it. Were you not actually running away when you fell in with the Indians?

Love your shoul, now, said the bog-trotter, that is always the way wid your honour, to make noting of de greatest battle dat was ever fought since the days of chevalry, as dey call it; or Phelim O’Neal, one of my own progenitors, who kilt a score of men wid his crooked iron; and dey were noting de wiser for it. How could I get down to de bottom o’ de hill, if I hadn’t jumped upon dese Indians when I saw dem, and de party of militia dat were after me, but so far behind? Had dey come up in time, de devil burn an Indian dat would have escaped, or gone to deir own country, bad luck to dem. Give me a tight little bit od an army wid me, and if I dont take de whole o’ dem widin tree months at fardest, den you may say, I am not Teague O’Regan. My life for it, I will give a good account o’ dem.

I thought it of little consequence, said the governor, to countenance your ambition, Teague, in being a candidate for the legislature, or in being made a judge. The one or the other of these being a province in which property only is concerned; unless, indeed, in the case of a judge, in whose way, it may come sometimes to hang a person, though a jury must be accessary to it. But it is of more moment, to put a brigade or two of lives at a time, in the power of an incompetent person. It is not your inexperience that I so much distrust; for I am well aware, that as the good constitution of a patient often saves the credit of the physician, so the bravery of troops may gain a battle, which the want of skill in the commander had put in jeopardy. But it is your natural judgment that I distrust. I have never been able to discover in you, comprehension of mind that would seem to me to fit you for a general. I have no doubt of your being capable of being made, in due time, a good parade officer; attentive to the minutiae of dress, or movement of the body; or to wear the hat on a corner of the head; or to give words of command, such as face, march, halt, wheel, &c. in a broken sort of way, with the brogue on your tongue; but in all requisite comparing, and contriving, and reasoning, I have not a perfect confidence in your capacity. But as the people will have it so, in republican governments it cannot be avoided. Nor indeed in a monarchical government does it always follow, that the ablest men are appointed to offices. For favour, and family interest, will raise, and sometimes support, the unworthy. -But take notice that you not have got a great reputation, and much will be expected of you. The smallest disappointment in the expectation of the people, will trundle you down as fast as your fears precipitated you from that hill, above the Indians, where you got a victory, or at least a pretty good booty. You think that you will be able always to stay in the rear, and send your men on before you. On the contrary, it will behoove you sometimes to reconnoitre; and in that case, you will be under the necessity of exposing yourself to sharp-shooters, and batteries. A cannon ball may take your head off, though at the distance of a mile or two. The post of danger is not always a private station. Charles the twelfth of Sweden was shot through the head with a musket ball. General Moreau was but reconnoitering when he had both legs shot off, or shot through, as he sat on his horse. This thing called grape-shot, is a disagreeable kind of article, coming about the head and ears, like flakes in a snow-storm. You may escape, perhaps, with a few bullets in your belly, or groin: or with a shoulder taken off, or hip shot away; or if a skilful operator is at hand to take off an arm, it does not always follow that a man dies, though when the brains are out, there are very few that survive it. The smoke and fire of musketry and big guns, and the hurly burly of men pushing bayonets, is nothing to the war-hoop of Indians taking off scalps; which, I take it, you would not mind much, being a little used to think about it.

Here, O’Regan put his hand to his head as if feeling whether the scalp was yet on.

By de holy faders, said he, if dis is de way of being in one of dese battles, it is a better commission to be bog-trotting wid your honor. Keep d’ your papers, and give it to some fool dat will take it. I prefer de having a good warm scalp upon my head, dan all de commissions in de nation; and my legs and my arms to my body, and my body to my legs, and arms. For having been so long friends, why should dey be parted, having been so long togeder, slaping in one bed, and eating at one table? Dere is de paper; tell de people much good may it do dem. Some one dat has less wit may take it. I have occasion for all de brains dat I have in my own scull. Dose dat have dem to spare, may set up shop, and sell dem for a commission, I have done wid it.

The governor being thus relieved from his embarrassment, by the resignation of the bog-trotter, took back the commission. It was a sufficient apology with him to the people, that general O’Regan, for reasons best known to himself, had thought proper to decline the appointment of major-general.

Independent of any concern for the people, which the Governor might have had, it was matter in which his own reputation was involved, to have made such a person a general officer; not merely because a novice in military matters, but because nature had denied him talents. And though it might be a considerable time before his want of intellect, to any great extent, would be discovered; yet, unless by more than common good luck, it must, in time, appear. And when, for some blunder, he might be brought to a court martial; and, perhaps, for cowardice, be sentenced to be shot; it could not but be an unpleasant thing to him to have to approve the sentence, which he would be under the necessity of doing; and there might be no recommendation of mercy in the case.

There is something in being accustomed to hear sounds; for they affect less; and therefore amongst the ancients an old soldier, or veteran, as he was called, could stand better the clatter of the sword upon the shield, when the armies about to engage, to use the language of the poet,

“Clash on their sounding shields, the din of war;”

The sound of the trumpet, also; and above all, the shout of battle. So it must be of use, in our time, to be accustomed to the report of artillery, or any sort of firearm. But, in any other respect, I do not know that a subaltern, or other officer, who, in a subordinate capacity, may have served campaigns, has much the advantage of the inexperienced; and certainly their vigor of mind and body being less than younger men, are not so for enterprize. Yet at the commencement of a war, it is usual to look out for such as have seen service. But because an officer has behaved well in a subordinate station, it does not follow that he is equal to an independent command. It has been seen in the French revolution, in how short a time men have become generals, from the lowest grades. It is on this principle that I would sooner trust a man of good sense, who had never seen a battle, with the conduct of troops, than one who had seen the campaigns of half a century, without powers of mind. Inattention to this truth, is a great error, and the cause of much disaster to a young people.

O’Regan was no more fit for a general than my horse; but as I have said, it was not from his want of information and experience in military affairs; but from the actual want of sense in the man. And great credit is due to the governor, for managing matters so, as by an address to his fear, to make it his own act to decline the honour; when, not to have appointed him in the first instance, or to have superseded him afterwards, would have been a thing so unpopular, that it would have shaken his own standing to have attempted it. There is nothing so difficult as to manage the public mind. It must be done by the lever, or the screw, or other mechanical power; to speak figuratively, and not by direct force.