Saturday, February 25, 2017

Diary of 1st Lieutenant Lemuel A. Abbott: Friday, August 12, 1864

Another day still finds us marching in dust and under a scorching sun. The heat has indeed been intense. Many a poor soldier has fallen out on the way from exhaustion and sunstroke. We have passed through Newtown and Middletown, both of which were nearly deserted, and those left are bitter secessionists. We have been chasing the enemy, which accounts for our marching so hard; its rear guard left Newtown as we entered it. We camped for dinner here and to wait for stragglers to catch up.

An amusing thing occurred here. Three young officers, Lieutenants D. G. Hill, G. P. Welch and myself, went to the only hotel to get dinner, but found the front door locked and the blinds all drawn. The back yard and garden containing vegetables, fruit trees, flowers, etc., in luxuriance, was inclosed by a high brick wall about eight feet high with an entrance on a side street. A matronly-looking attendant unlocked the door at our request, and admitted us to the garden and back door of the hotel, which stood open to the kitchen, which we entered, the attendant remaining within hearing. Here we found the landlady, who declared in an assumed, distressed manner that she had nothing in the house to eat, the enemy having taken everything she had, at the same time relating a tale of woe which I presumed might be partially true, if not wholly so. Soon, however, after parleying, she produced a plate of fine hot tea biscuit, nervously forcing them into our very faces, saying, "Have biscuit! have biscuit!" which, rest assured, we did.

After this I started to leave. The colored woman who had admitted us, having heard all that was said, hid by the corner of the house en route to the garden entrance, and when I passed shyly told me that a table in the parlor where the curtains were down, was loaded down with a steaming hot dinner with the best the house afforded, prepared for a party of rebel officers who had fled about when it was ready because of the approach of our army. I returned to the kitchen bound to have that dinner just because it had been prepared for rebel officers and told the landlady what I had discovered, and that we must have that dinner, but were willing to pay her for it. Seeing she was outmanoeuvered and that her duplicity was discovered, she looked scared and laughing nervously led the way to the parlor, where we found the table actually groaning with steaming viands as though prepared for and awaiting us. She graciously bade us be seated, presided at the table with dignity and grace as though nothing had happened, and we met her with equal suavity, laughter and dignity as though she was the greatest lady living, she admitting when through, that she had had a “real good time.” We paid for the dinner and parted good friends.*

* The landlady had a young son — a lad — who a few years later, after the war, graduated from West Point and was assigned to the Sixth U. S. Cavalry, my regiment. One evening years afterwards in quarters at Camp Apache, A. T., among other stories I related this to a lot of officers, when Lieutenant , who was present, to my surprise informed me it was of his mother we got our dinner ,and that he had heard her laughingly relate the incident. He was a good officer and fellow, but knowing what rabid secessionists some members of the family were, including himself, the charm of his friendship was gone, but I never let him know it. He is now many years dead. The landlady was very stubborn, and unwilling to oblige us until cornered, when her detected duplicity disconcerted her, and with a nervous laugh she yielded to our demand because she thought she had to. Otherwise we should have only helped ourselves in a courteous way and paid her for what we got.

SOURCE: Lemuel Abijah Abbott, Personal Recollections and Civil War Diary, 1864, p. 132-4

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