A Soldier's Adventures.
by Charles Henry Wilcken.
The year 1848 was an eventful one for the dukedoms, Schleswig and Holstein. The king of Denmark issued an open letter declaring Schleswig to be his province and thus deprived it of all former rights and privileges. To this Schleswig objected, and as the two dukedoms had always shared their fortunes together, Holstein stood by the side of her sister and they declared their independence.
A provisional government was soon established, and as Denmark was mustering her forces to suppress the insurrection, an army was organized and thrown to the front. All this was the work of a few weeks.
The spirit of liberty was burning in the hearts of all. Old and young volunteered to defend their country. The workshops were deserted, the plow left standing in the field and the counting rooms were emptied. All gathered their guns and weapons of war and rallied around the standard and "Schleswig. Holstein stammverwandt Wanke nicht, mein Vaterland" was the watch-word.
Under these existing circumstances, although only seventeen years old, I also caught the spirit of the times--"to bleed for my country." Being bound as an apprentice to the milling business, I made my wishes known to my employer, to which he objected, and I think now, justly, although at the time it seemed cruel and very unpatriotic. Every journeyman had left and only three apprentices remained, I being the oldest and most efficient at the time.
For a few days I tried to be contented, but I could not. Reports of victories and defeats came daily. This was too much for my youthful imaginations, and so one bright night, I "skipped by the light of the moon," and in a few days found myself walking in the streets of Schleswig in the uniform of a sharpshooter, proud as a peacock.
A few weeks of tiresome drilling as a recruit fitted me to join the ranks of the regiment then on the vanguard facing the enemy.
I should now soon be initiated into the realities of a soldier's life in time of war. Standing picket guard is a different thing from walking up and down in front of the general's quarters in a garrison. Our outposts were within gunshot of the enemy and in order to be safe, pits were dug in the ground deep enough to protect the whole body, except the head. These pits were frequently filled with water and mud to the depth of a foot or more, from rain, and at night time one was obliged to keep up a constant moving of the feet to prevent them from freezing fast in the mud. Every sound would startle a person, thinking perchance the enemy's scouts were approaching to capture a guard. I remember one dark night when on double picket at the edge of a grove of timber not over half a mile from the enemy's camp, we noticed something moving in the underbrush. At times the object disappeared, then again we would plainly hear the cracking of the dry wood, and also hear the steps of someone walking. You can imagine our feelings, (up to this time I had not tasted powder,) expecting every moment to hear the discharge of a gun that would end our mortal career. Finally the object came in sight more plainly. All that darkness permitted us to see was a something black. My partner had instructed me to be ready with my rifle and fire as soon as he had. He called the person three times to halt, and received no answer. My heart was creeping up towards my throat as the words "Halt! who is there?" in a clear and firm voice came from his lips, for he was an old soldier. But there was no answer nor moving of the object. Again he called and again no answer. Now for the last time, (I was nearly choked,) no answer. Bang! went my gun and in a moment the air was rent with the most pitiable and agonizing groans of a dying calf.
Our suspense was over, and my heart returned again to its proper place. During those few moments of agony I thought of almost everything, and wished myself back to my good old employer and the comfortable bed in the dear old mill.
In my next I will endeavor to give some of my experiences as a scout, and also my feeling previous to my first engagement in battle.
--Juvenile Instructor, Aug 15 1885 pp. 245-246.
The firing of a gun on picket is the signal of alarm and arouses the whole army. Patrols are at once sent out to ascertain the cause. It also disturbs the enemy, and scouts are started in various directions to watch all movements, and it takes some time before everything is restored to its usual condition. Frequently, on such occasions, the scouts of both parties will come upon each other and an engagement on a small scale follows, resulting often in the death of several and the capture of others.
Scouting is rather a dangerous business especially in the country named. The field fences are made of dirt thrown up, with a ditch on each side and a heavy growth of willow or hazel brush on it. One's nerves are always on a strain whenever an object is seen, and every sound startles a person thus engaged. It is of the utmost importance to keep all movements secret in order to ascertain the position and strength of the enemy. Great caution must be observed, together with a good deal of daring, for to find out anything the outposts, or pickets, must be passed.
The enemy, of course, is also on the alert, and keeps its scouts moving. A soldier on scout duty never knows the moment when he will be taken prisoner or be shot, for everyone understands that his first chance is the best, and that self preservation is the first law of nature.
Many a hair-breadth escape I have had on those expeditions of which I shall speak hereafter. It was my fortune to be called to that duty as I rather liked it. Although dangerous, it was of a character to suit my disposition. In those days I lived for fame, fun and adventure. I often now contrast my situation then with that of my young brethren in these valleys. The teachings I received were to destroy life, theirs is to save. I had no other aim in life than to eat, drink and be merry, they to labor for the establishment of the Kingdom of God and the overthrow of the powers of the evil one; to teach their fellow-men the principles of life and salvation, and lead them out of darkness into light, thus becoming saviors on Mount Zion. O how grateful and thankful they ought to be! They should improve every opportunity that comes within their reach to qualify themselves for the high and important duties awaiting them.
Our first battle was fought in and around the city of Schleswig. Our army was but poorly equipped, being in its infancy. We had only a few regiments of regulars, the larger portion being volunteers. The Danes with a superior force and a better equipped and disciplined army made the attack. This was in the Spring of 1848. Here it was that I had my first lesson on the battlefield.
The regiment to which I belonged was situated a short distance from the city. We were busy preparing our breakfast when we heard the discharge of a cannon. It was the signal for the fight. In a few moments the air was filled with the deafening roars of cannons and muskets, the sounding of bugles, the beating of drums and the yells of the attacking party. All was now hurry. Our trumpeter sounded the "rally," and soon we were marching in double-quick to the front.
As is customary just before battle, a large portion of spirits had been divided out to the soldiers, and I confess that, in order to drown my fears, I had partaken freely, so as to be about "half past."
In nearing the line of battle, and while marching in a narrow lane, singing our war song, we met a transport of wounded and dying soldiers, carried on litters and ambulances to the rear. This gave a severe shock to our assumed gaiety, and I became at the sight of this as sober as if I had never tasted a drop of anything. My blood ran cold in my veins; but there was no backing out for me, and I had to make the best of it. My pride assisted me not to expose my feelings to my comrades, for I always had a decided dislike for a coward.
We were soon drawn up in line of battle, taking the position of a reserve, and were constantly exposed to the artillery fire of our enemies, with no chance to use our own weapons. We had to stand and take it for about half an hour before we came into action. this was the most terrible thirty minutes of my life. Comrades were falling to the right and to the left, mutilated in the most fearful manner by the exploding shells from the enemy's guns. In front of us the contending parties were cut down like weeds by the rifle, the sword, the bayonet and the grape shot, while we were idle lookers on, awaiting our turn. In fact we did wish for that moment to come, and our waiting seemed an age. Finally the signal was given to advance. My hair raised on end until I had discharged my gun, then all fear left me and I went to work in good earnest, never thinking any harm could befall me. I fired that day ninety shots, and was in three charges upon the enemy where we engaged in a hand to hand fight, using mostly our bayonets and the butt of our guns.
At the close of the battle, which lasted all day and terminated in our favor, I was adorned with six bullet holes in my uniform and a few scratches of the skin. I had been all day without food, taking a drink of whisky now and then to keep up my strength, and when night closed in upon us I was very near exhausted; in fact I dropped down with my gun in my arm and soon was lost to any and everything around me.
This was my first experience of the kind and a hard one it was. I learned, however, several things during that day which were of great benefit to me in after life.
--Juvenile Instructor, Sep 1 1885 p.259.
The next work was that most disagreeable to any soldier--"clearing of the battlefield"--which was commenced as soon as we had a few hours' rest. The doctors and the ambulance corps care for the wounded from the commencement of the fight, but are not able to attend to all the work, so the different battalions assist as soon as they are at liberty. While in battle, all the finer and humane feelings will leave a person, and a soldier in time of action is nothing but a demon in human form. He has no sympathy for the sufferings of his comrades; all he cares for is to destroy. I have seen soldiers use the dead for pillows and card tables. Whenever a lull or cessation of firing occurred for a short time in the line, I have seen them rifle the pockets of those who had fallen, and strip them of such clothing that happens to be a little better than their own; in fact under this influence there is nothing too cruel and low for them to do.
But after the carnage is over this spirit leaves, a better one takes possession of the soldier and then he is a man again, with all his nobler attributes predominating. You may then imagine his feeling when called upon to assist in taking care of the wounded and dying, who perhaps have been lying all day in the scorching sun or the chilling rain, as the case may be, without any assistance whatever, not even a kind hand to give them a drop of water to moisten their parched and burning lips.
It is most heartrending to see the horribly mutilated forms still living in the throes of death. Some crying for help; some begging to have an end put to their misery; some uttering the most agonizing groans; some praying, while others are cursing and swearing in the vilest manner. Then again the shrieks and utterances of pain when taken hold of to be removed into the hospital is beyond description; and I have always felt that I would rather be in two or three engagements than to assist in one clearing of the field.
The burying of the dead is soon accomplished. Large, deep, square pits are dug, the dead are placed therein in layers, and if lime is handy a covering of it is put upon each layer, together with a cloth or blanket, to separate them from each other. In the absence of lime dry earth is used. After a pit is filled in this manner it is covered with earth, the chaplain will say a few words of prayer, if time and circumstances will permit, a volley of musketry is fired over the grave, and the funeral is ended. Frequently as many as a hundred or more are thus placed in one hole.
But I will leave this unpleasant picture and return to the life in camp, which is to a young man full of interest and <p.283> amusement, though connected with a great many privations. The diet, for instance, is one day pork and beans with plenty of coffee and hard bread; the next day rice and beef are served, then beans and pork again for a change; hence the frequent robbing of hen roosts and pig pens by the soldiery. The poor farmer that chances to live near the seat of war is always to be pitied; but a soldier will do most anything for a change.
Plenty of fun and amusement are indulged in, such as singing, dancing, music, athletic sports, etc., also a great deal of drinking and gambling, which of course are always demoralizing. Anything is done to pass away time as pleasantly as possible, for with the greater portion the maxim is, "Eat, drink and be merry, for to-morrow you may die."
During the year 1848 several battles were fought, but nothing of any moment occurred. We took our winter quarters at Hadersleben, and had a general good time, with plenty of drill and guard duty.
The Spring of 1849 opened with a skirmish on the third and fourth of April, near Sundewitt, which resulted in the retreat of the Danes into their own country, Jutland. They took position at Kolding, which place we attacked on the twenty-third of April. The bridge crossing a small river, which is the dividing line between Jutland and Schleswig, was baricaded and had to be taken by storm. It was then the hand to hand fight began in the narrow streets of Kolding, in which the citizens took part, women as well as men. They would throw boiling water, rocks, bricks and even the tiles of the roofs down upon us, and make things very unpleasant for us in general. But we succeeded in routing our opponents and took possession of the town, to the great discomfort of the inhabitants.
They had acted hostile towards us, and as a punishment to them we were permitted to "sack" the town, or in other words, allowed to do as we liked for three hours. During these three hours the people suffered terribly. the soldiers were infuriated against them. Several of our comrades had been poisoned by citizens: having asked for something to drink they were given water with poison mixed in it. Some had been scalded, while others received wounds and bruises from brickbats and tiles. The saloons and whisky shops were visited first, and in a short time almost every man was drunk or under the influence of liquor. This of course, made them more wild and cruel. Houses and furniture were demolished, valuables taken, women ravished, and all manner of cruelties and wickedness were committed. If anyone interfered he was simply cut down.
A scene like this beggars description, and the people upon whom such a fate falls are indeed to be pitied.
During this day's engagement, a portion of our company, numbering one hundred, had become severed from the body of the regiment by some mistake of our officers, and almost became surrounded by the enemy. While this movement was being made, a body of hussars, the finest men and horses I ever saw, prepared to make charge upon us in order to make short work of us. Our position was behind a low embankment, running nearly parallel with the turnpike, upon which the horses came dashing along at full speed. It was an awful, grand sight.
We had received strict orders not to fire until the command was given; but for every one to cover his man.
In a few moments they were upon us, and almost simultaneous with the command, "right wheel," of their captain, the word "fire," from our captain was heard, and only one man remained in the saddle, he made good his escape; all of the others were slain.
The captain was not killed; his horse was shot from under him. He "played the 'possum," and as soon as some of our men made towards him, they were forbidden to do him any harm. "Let him alone," shouted our commander, "he is a brave man and deserves to live."
At the time, I thought it was the grandest sight I ever beheld, to see a fine body of men sent to eternity in one stroke, but now it is terrible to contemplate.
Here in this little encounter, I realized more than ever before, the necessity of obedience and implicit confidence in my leader.
As I have stated, we were commanded not to fire until orders were given, under penalty of death. This was very trying under the circumstances, seeing a body of horsement, the flower of the Danish army, with drawn sabres, glittering in the sunlight, rush down upon us like an avalanche, expecting every moment to be cut to pieces and trodden under the horses' feet, and no liberty to fire.
But obedience was our salvation. Had we been permitted to use our guns we would perhaps have disabled a few before they reached us, but the main body would have been upon us when our guns were empty, and our doom would have been sealed. In those days it took longer to load a rifle than it does now. Breach loaders were then unknown to us.
We had proved our leader and had implicit confidence in him, we would have done and dared anything he commanded, not because we were obliged to, but we loved him, and understood his ability, wisdom and courage.
I frequently compare our position as Latter-day Saints, with a well organized army. We have our commander-in-chief, our generals, colonels, majors, captains, lieutenants and non-commissioned officers, all of us have enlisted under the banner of Jehovah, and made a covenant with Him to serve Him with all our might, mind and strength.
As good soldiers we should love our officers, have implicit confidence in them and yield obedience to their wishes and commands. They receive their orders from the great Captain of our salvation for our good, for our benefit and for our safety. From them they are given to us, and the prompter we are in carrying them out the better for us, the faster will we advance and the more abundantly will we be blessed. There is nothing more pleasant than to have confidence in our leaders, no matter what condition of life we are placed in, and there is nothing that I know of, that will weaken our faith and blight our hopes quicker than to lose confidence in them. A Latter-day Saint should train himself to be blind to the faults and failings of his superiors and always remember that he cannot judge them from his standpoint.
Our only safety and deliverance from our enemies is based upon the condition of obedience. "If you will do my will and keep my commandment I will fight your battles and will lay low all your enemies," says our Commander-in-chief, and we know that He can do it. but if we are disobedient and instead of keeping His laws break them, we must suffer the consequences, and I think we do at the present time. My opinion is that there will be no deliverance until Israel will humble themselves, repent of their sins and do as they are told.
How often within the last few years has General John Taylor together with his staff and field officers cried to the people, "set yourselves aright, put your houses in order and serve God with full purpose of heart."
If these orders had been strictly carried out we would now behold different results.
--Juvenile Instructor, Sep 15 1885 pp. 282-283.
On the seventh of May, 1849, we had a skirmish at Gudsae, the Danes retreating to Fredericia, where a continuous skirmishing was kept up from the eighth of May until the fifth of July, resulting in the loss of many a precious life. Fortifications of the strongest kind were thrown up on both sides, which indicated that some day a terrible battle would be fought there. Preparations to this end were made by both parties, and all available forces were drawn together.
On the evening of the fifth of July, we noticed the city of Fredericia becoming very lively and noisy, and it grew more tumultuous as the night advanced. Singing of war songs and the shouting of the soldiers indicated that they were freely indulging in something stronger than water.
A little before day-break, they made the attack on our works and were met with a vigorous cannonade of grape-shot, which mowed them down at a fearful rate, but the reserves kept pressing on filling up their ranks, and it seemed that nothing could turn them. In one instance that came under my observation, they took the fort with an overwhelming majority, entering by the gate. Our men were all slain but a few. These few turned the mouth of one of the cannon, which was loaded with double grape-shot, towards the gate. The moment the gate gave way, and the Danes crowded in, our men fired, making a clean sweep of everything in the way. Then they ran through the opening over the dead bodies, to a place where a train of powder had been laid, connected with a magazine under the fort. By the time this was accomplished, hundreds of the enemy had gathered in the fort. A match was put to the powder, and the scene that followed was horrible. Not a soul was saved! Arms, legs and other parts of the bodies of the victims were scattered around for a considerable distance.
A great many cavalry charges were made that day, as well as a great deal of hand to hand fighting, with the sword, the bayonet and the butt end of the gun. Every inch of ground was bravely contested and the loss on both sides was terrible. Of course our enemies suffered the most on account of the position we were occupying. We were on the defensive and they were the attacking party.
Another incident occurred to which I was an eye-witness, although not a participant. I happened that day to be detached as one of the couriers, consequently was with the commanding general on some elevated position, which by the way, is the best place in the battle. The duty of these couriers is to carry orders from the commanding general to any part of the line of battle, and is at times very dangerous.
A battery of mounted artillery, consisting of eight pieces, had been cutting their way through a grove of timber. On entering the open ground and before forming a line, the enemy mistook them for cavalry, and in a moment formed a solid square. This chance was not neglected by the commanding officer of our artillery. He immediately made a dash upon them, and when within a short distance sent a shower of grape-shot from his eight pieces into them. The slaughter was fearful, for in the confusion it took the square some time to scatter, thus giving plenty of time to repeat the dose.
The day was full of incidents. The fight continued until late and the slaughter was great. We had to retreat for the first time since the war commenced, hence our stubbornness. <p.291> But in reality it was no victory for the Danes. Their losses were heavy. Several of their best generals had falle, and when we gave way they were glad to let us alone, following us but a very short distance. No troops could have fought more violently than they did on that day, especially, where all the odds were against them. And let me say in connection with this that it is hard to find a nation that will do any better work in the battlefield than the Danes. They will act very deliberately and stand fire almost like trees, rooted firmly in the ground. They have only one fault, and that is, if routed once they are slow to take position again, and if the victorious party takes advantage of the situation, they can keep them on the retreat all day.
In relating these incidents that were disastrous to our foes, the reader must not imagine that our party did not meet with similar defeats, for we certainly did, and as often and disastrous. I am only telling my side of the story.
This battle was the last of the season of 1849, and it seemed that with it our good star had left us. Negotiations for peace were commenced, during which time some of our regiments went into winter-quarters at Altona, while some were stationed in other cities. The Winter was spent in the usual way. On the 24th and 25th of July, 1850, we had the first engagement of the season. both parties suffered heavily, and on this occasion the captain of the little body of hussars I made mention of in my last, made another similar charge which terminated the same way, and cost him his life.
In this engagement I was forty-eight hours in the saddle. Two horses were shot from under me, and I was obliged to go on foot after we were beaten and had to retreat. The enemy followed us a distance of ten miles and harrassed us considerably. We were terribly used up, and I came to the strange conclusion that advancing is far more pleasant than retreating.
At one time during these two days our company, numbering two hundred men had possession of a large brick-yard, I mean an old country one, with plenty of necessary buildings on it, for brick in that country cannot be dried in the sun. We were attacked, and after a stubborn resistance, were compelled to retreat. Then we made the attack and took possession; and so it was repeated four times. At the last charge I was the highest ranking non-commissioned officer that was left, and it fell to me to take command. We retook the yard and maintained it until the whole of the army was beaten, and a general retreat sounded.
I think about seventy men were all that were left of our two hundred. The contest lasted about three hours. After the battle, I was promoted, and received a token of honor, of which I am proud to this day.
On the 8th of August, we had a skirmish at Duvenstedt and Sarrebruck; on the 8th of September, another one at Suderstapel; on the 12th of September, one near Missunder; and on the 29th of the same month, one at Touning.
The next battle, and the last one of the war, was a charge on the city of Fredrickstadt, situated in a marsh on the river Eider.
The Danes had thirteen weeks time to fortify the city and had done it most effectually. We besieged the place for seven days, keeping up a constant cannonade at their works.
Our company was stationed all this time with a battery of artillery and were constantly exposed to the shells of the enemy. For protection we would get into ditches waist deep in water.
On the morning of the seventh day, we were released to have a chance to dry our clothes and rest a little. It was my birthday, the 5th of October, and I had made up my mind to have a good time that evening with a few of my particular friends. Just as we were getting ready to sit down to supper, an alarm was sounded. Of course, everything had to be left in order to be on time at the place of gathering. A charge on the city had been agreed upon by our commanders, and we were ordered in quick-time to the front to act as flankers to one of the storming columns.
The night was dark, but at and around Fredrickstadt it was light enough. Fifty pieces of battery had bombarded the city and set it on fire. Several wooden steeples of Churches were ablaze, rockets were sent up constantly, and a person could easily see to read within a mile of the town. Shells were filling the air with their tails of fire until they exploded, and on the ground could be seen a steady glimmering of musketry fire.
Several columns were formed for the attack; several charges were made without success, and after very heavy loss and hard work, we were compelled to give it up. It was then about two o'clock in the morning. A more grand and awful sight cannot be imagined than was this night's work of destruction. I shall always remember that birthday of mine. This was the winding up of hostilities. Prussia and Austria compelled us to lay down our arms and accept the terms they chose to make with Denmark in our behalf, by sending a hundred thousand men into our country.
I well recollect how I felt. Death would have been preferable to the majority of us. We felt disgraced and betrayed by our own countrymen; and it seemed as though we had nothing left to live for. Under this feeling, after we were discharged, a great many of our men enlisted under the Brazilian government, which had by permission, established a recruiting office in hamburg and other places. Prussia was very glad to have all liberal-minded men leave the country.
My captain and I also enlisted, he as major and I as first lieutenant. But my father, finding out my design, entreated me to desist, which I did; for which I am today more thankful than I was at the time.
--Juvenile Instructor, Oct 1 1885 pp. 290-291.
It was with reluctance that I yielded to my father's wishes to give up my military career, for by this time I loved it, and was in a way, where I had reason to expect success and promotion, and, as I have already stated, fame and adventure were my motto. But I loved my father, and did not wish to hurt his feelings; so, after arranging matters with the officers of the Brazilian government, and bidding a hearty adieu to my brave and good captain, I started for home in company with my father and received a warm welcome from the family.
After a good rest and visit I returned to my old occupation, taking charge of one of my old master's mills.
Nothing of not occurred until the year 1853, when I married my present partner in life, bought a mill in Dahme, on the coast of the Baltic, and settled down, as I thought then, for life, as is generally the custom in that country when one gets married. But fate willed it otherwise. My Heavenly Father had a work for me to do of more imporatance than the one I was then engaged in, and to accomplish His object certain circumstances had to be brought to bear--I had to pass through the mill.
Prussia and Austria in their treaty with Denmark had given that power almost the same control over Schleswig and Holstein, as it had before the war. In order to punish and subdue the liberal feeling prevailing in the dukedoms, all those who had served as officers in the war against them, were drafted to serve a term in the Danish army. I was honored with a prospect of a four year's position in the king's horse guard, and was to report at Copenhagen on a certain day in the year 1857. To this my pride could not submit, and instead of reporting at Copenhagen, I bid farewell to the land of my birth with the intention to join two of my brothers who were then in business in South America.
On arriving in England I met a host of old war-companions, who had left home and friends for the same reason as I had. We had a jolly good time as long as money lasted; and when at the end of several weeks I wanted to buy my passage for Buenos Aires I found myself short of funds, having only enough left to secure steerage on a sailing vessel for New York. Another new experience.
There were on board four hundred Irish emigrants and ten of us Germans. The second day out we found ourselves possessors of a considerable amount of livestock, imported fresh and direct from Ireland. The reader, if acquainted with the procreative powers of the flea, may imagine to what an extent the increase was by the time we landed in New York, being seven weeks, making the trip, and this in hot weather. I do not think I had a place on my body the size of a silver dollar that was not raw from scratching.
I landed in Castle Gardens with fifty cents and two trunks of good clothing; but I felt that everybody was awaiting my arrival and that to get work would be no trouble at all. However, a few days convinced me to the contrary. I was much disappointed, and for the first time in my life found myself without money and without friends, a stranger in a strange land. The language and customs differed so widely from those of my native home that I began to feel I did not know a great deal after all.
For a man of the world to be without money in a strange land is something serious, his situation is not like that of a Latter-day Saint, traveling and preaching without purse or scrip.
I had tried throughout my life, (German fashion), to make myself believe there was no god that would hear and answer the prayers of His children and look after them; consequently, when I found myself far away from home and friends, I was indeed without a friend. And I felt it so much that on several occasions I went into a church in New York to find comfort; but there was none for me.
Not so with a Latter-day Saint. He knows, when in distant lands that there is an all-seeing eye that looks after his welfare, that not a hair of his head will fall to the ground unnoticed; and that his Heavenly Father will provide for him when in straightened circumstances. He has a Friend indeed, one that will not forsake him, one that is not like the one I had been used to rely on--money. In hours of trial a Latter-day Saint will seek his closet, bend his knees and empty his soul before his Maker, and receive comfort. His sorrows and troubles will leave him, for he has received the healing and comforting balm that heals all sores.
My experience in that great city was a terrible one. Work I could not get, and money I had none, while the cravings of nature demanded satisfaction. I had never before in my life known want. Kind and indulgent parents had always provided me with plenty, and I never knew the value of a dollar until then.
I had passed two weeks in this way, when one fine morning the landlord where I roomed turned me out of doors, keeping my trunks for past expenses. On that day I think I offered my services to at least fifty persons for my board, but without success, it was not my Heavenly Father's plan for me to stay in New York.
Towards evening, almost driven to desparation, I passed a recruiting office, and resolved to enlist rather than to spend the night upon the streets. Seeing a decent-looking fellow, the officers were glad to enlist me and soon found a government interpreter to do the talking.
Next morning I was shipped to Governor's Island, and soon transformed from a lone and friendless tramp to a U.S. soldier, enlisted for Utah, to wipe out the "Mormons." My temporary wants, of course, were at once relieved.
--Juvenile Instructor, Nov 1 1885 p. 333.
My stay at Governor's Island was short. A few days' drill prepared a lot of us to be shipped to Fort Leavenworth to be distributed among the several companies and regiments that were to make up the army sent for Utah. I heard it mentioned frequently that this division was the "flower of the American army," and I felt to say, "May the Lord take care of the balance." I never had in all my experience seen anything like it that was called a military organization.
As a rule, the American army is made up of the scum of the nation--a lot of men that are worthless to society. The drunkard, the loafer and the depraved find, when they are at their rope's end, an asylum in the army, and become the "defenders of their country."
Everything was so unlike German--no discipline, no care of dress, no punctuality nor order--it seemed to me more like a mob than a regular army, and I soon became disgusted with my situation.
In Germany things are quite different. Every able-bodied young man has to serve a certain time as a soldier. No matter how rich or how poor, he wears a coat of the same cloth, sleeps in the same kind of bed and has to perform the same kind of duty. Hence a soldier is respected, and has admittance into any society. Strict discipline is enforced, order and punctuality are observed, cleanliness is a specialty, dress and deportment are without a fault, and the drill is perfect.
I have seen regiments drawn up in line for drill, and it would seem as if the commanding general had a string in his hand, which he pulled every time a command was given. So perfectly were they drilled in the manual of arms that every motion was simulataneous.
The reader may imagine the pains taken with a recruit. It takes three months at least before he gets any instructions in the manual of arms. all this time is consumed in learning how to stand, to sit, to walk, to salute, to right and left wheel and to face about.
Preparations for starting were soon completed at Fort Leavenworth, and the march across the plains was begun. I was assigned to the light artillery. We had eight pieces of light caliber, very incompletely mounted. we had no small arms, except eight old condemned cavalry carbines--one for each cannon. It would have been next to impossible to hit the side of a barn with them at a hundred yards' distance.
Our sabres were strapped to the caissons, and in case of an Indian attack all of us would have been cut down before we could have got them. Only the commissioned and non-commissioned officers had revolvers. The reason the privates had none was, as I learned, because they could not be trusted with them. Theiy would either sell them for whisky or use them in their brawls with each other, which were of frequent occurrence.
As luck would have it, we had no use for arms while crossing the plains. Everything went smoothly with the exception of a good deal of hard work and fasting. The commisary officers would sell the supplies to the different settlers or emigrants we would meet, and the boys had to go without. The only square meals I ever had were when I had been killing some game.
On the Sweetwater we met Captain Van Vliet, who was returning from Salt Lake City, where he had been sent by the government on business with President Brigham Young. He reported how things stood in the valley, and the preparations the Saints were making. this of course caused our commanders to be a little more cautious in their movements. a great deal of cheap talk was indulged in by the young West Point recruits about what they were going to do after arriving among the "Mormons," such as hanging the leaders and appropriating to themselves their wives and daughters.
Nothing of importance occurred until we reached Ham's Fork. Here we could see now and again little squads of men on horseback, peeping over the hills. Sometimes they would descend into the bottoms and set the grass on fire and burn the timber. This caused some uneasiness, as we could not turn out our horses to feed for fear they would be run off. The grass where we were camping had all been burned before we reached there, our supply of corn was very near exhausted, and all this began to tell severely upon our animals.
Now and again reports would reach us that the "Mormons" had tried to run off the teams from some of the other columns, that provision trains had been burned, etc. I could plainly see that our officers began to look at things more seriously. Cold weather was approaching, teams were poor, provisions scarce, and the heaviest and most dangerous part of the journey was before us.
I had by this time become so thoroughly disgusted with the life of an American soldier that I determined to throw up my commission, and leave for "greener fields and pastures new," when I found that orders had been given for our column to halt and await the arrival of the rear troops. Here an incident in my life occurred which is worth mentioning, as it is a testimony to me today that some unseen power was watching over me, even when I did not want to believe in anything of the kind.
The tenth infantry were camped a distance of two miles from us, and on the evening previous to my departure from the army my captain sent me there to get his watch, which was being repaired by one of the soldiers. I took his horse--a very good one--and before leaving he handed me his revolver for fear someone should intercept me. I got the watch, which was worth at least one hundred and fifty dollars, and started on my way back to camp, when a thought came into my head that I was pretty well fixed to go on my intended journey to Salt Lake City. The more I thought of this the more feasible it seemed to me; so when I found a place to ford the river, my mind was made up, and I started. No sooner had I reached the water's edge than I heard my real name called! (I had enlisted under an assumed name). This brought me to a stand in a hurry, and I began to reconnoitre the immediate vicinity; but I could neither find nor see anyone. So after a few minutes' thought I came to the conclusion that it was only my imagination, and I started once more. Again I heard the same <p.343> voice calling me, this time a little louder, which brought me again up standing. what to do and how to account for this I did not know, for I was sure that no living mortal in that part of the world knew my name. I finally made up my mind that I was only a coward, and did not have the courage that I had always thought I possessed, and that I would go one anyway. But when I wheeled my horse to proceed my name was again called in a still louder voice. A fear and trembling came over me to such a degree that I hurried from the spot and made my way for camp. I delivered the watch, pistol and horse and retired to bed, where sleep soon ended my reflections of what had transpired.
Next morning Colonel Alexander rode up to our camp with fifty cavalry, and we learned that he had been out all night patrolling around the different camps, watching the enemies. I am confident that if I had started, capture, imprisonment and disgrace would have been my lot. As it was I had spent a pleasant night, and in my dreams I was told to ask the captain for permission to go out hunting the following day, and that I should be led to meet some friends. My spirit, which had for some time previous been oppressed, had again assumed its natural buoyancy, and I felt better than I had done for months. After breakfast I saw the captain and asked him for permission to go hunting. He granted the request and cautioned me to be careful and not get taken prisoner by the "Mormons."
I took my gun, which was my private property, some ammunition and matches, and set out with a heart as light as a feather, knowing that my dream would be fulfilled. I had procured several days' provisions, examined a map and had determined on the course I ought to take. My steps were directed in such a way that on the following day I reached Fort Bridger, where William Hickman and a Mr. Callister met me, and proved to me friends indeed. I do not know that I was ever better cared for in my life than I was by these men, and I felt at once at home. A few hours after my arrival a herd of cattle were driven in, on their way to Salt Lake City. It proved to be those that Lot Smith had taken on Green River, and Mr. Hickman furnished me a horse to assist the boys in driving the cattle. He never even took my gun from me, which is contrary to any rule in war time. The captain under whose charge I was placed was Sidney Epperson.
--Juvenile Instructor, Nov 15 1885 p. 342-343.
I felt at home with my new companions. Brother Epperson did all in his power to make me feel so, and contrary to all rules of war, my gun was not taken from me until we arrived at the camp of General D.H. Wells. It made me feel bad to part with so good a friend as it had proven to me, but upon the promise that it should be sent to Salt Lake city and that I could call for it there, I felt better. I enjoyed myself exceedingly. Everybody was courteous to me and treated me with the greatest kindness. Everything was so different to the army; a different class of people, no swearing, no fighting. Everyone I saw and came in contact with seemed to enjoy himself, and was in possession of a different kind of spirit. Prayers morning and night were something novel to me, but I felt the influence of prayer and I cheerfully bent my knees with the brethren. Varied were my reflections as I passed the different camps and fortifications. I could plainly see that the "flower of the United States army," I had just left, would never be able to make their way through those mountain passes guarded by men like those I saw, and I felt to congratulate myself upon my good fortune. At times I used to pity the men when I heard them sing:
"Now let us be on hand .
By Brigham Young to stand."
I pitied them because I thought they were ignorant, and kept under a religious spell. I had only recently left the land of my birth, because I did not want to serve a despot. Thousands of lives had been sacrificed to break up this one man's power, and here in this supposed land of liberty I found a people that were enthusiastic to sustain, as I thought, that very same power. Little did I think then that I should soon change my mind and become as zealous a defender of that power as they were. But I learned that I had been wrong in my conclusions. I learned that it was a different power they were serving; in fact, I learned something about the work of God.
Being the first specimen that came from Uncle Sam, of course I attracted considerable attention and comment; and if I had been able to converse in the English language, I think I would have experienced a considerable strain on my lungs, for everybody was anxious to learn something of what was going on outside of Utah.
After some days' travel we arrived with our herd of cattle at the mouth of Emigration Canyon; and I shall never forget the feelings that came over me when I beheld this valley spread out before me. I cannot describe it, neither could I account for it at the time. A power forced me to seek some secluded spot and bend my knees in humble reverence before my Maker. I could not utter any words, but I felt to acknowledge for the first time for many years that there was a God that would take care of me and look after my welfare, notwithstanding my efforts to ignore Him. And I can assure you, dear reader, I felt humble; I felt my unworthiness, and in my heart did ask the Lord to forgive me and lead me in a better path. After this a calm, heavenly feeling came over me and I arose to my feet a new man. It seemed that I had found a haven of rest, and from that moment to the present this feeling has never left me. I have always felt at home in Utah and with the Saints, and when I have been away in distant lands my heart has yearned for the day when I should be permitted to behold it again. I hope and trust that I may always retain this feeling.
On our arrival in the city I was placed in charge of Brother L. John Nuttall, who was then camped with a detachment of the boys from Provo, awaiting orders to leave for the mountains. He also felt very much interested in me, and when ready to leave Salt Lake sent me to Provo with one of the brethren who was returning to that place. We have been friends up to this day. I went to board with Brother Porter for a few days, then started to work on a threshing machine belonging to Joshua Davis, Alexander Wilcken and bishop Blackburn, and engaged board with the former, and afterwards changed to Bishop Blackburn's. As I have stated I felt at home with the people, insomuch so that I declined to accept an offer from President Young for free transportation to California. I had made up my mind to cast my lot with the Latter-day Saints. I was studying the language and the principles of the gospel, and as soon as I understood that the only way to receive a remission of my sins was to repent and be baptized, I went into the water and entered into a covenant with my Heavenly Father, and received the Holy Spirit, which has ever since been a lamp to my feet and guided me through many trying circumstances. In the spring of 1858 I had an introduction to President Brigham Young. I shall never forget it. After a few questions he told me that if I would continue as I had commenced in this work that my enemies should not have any power over me, this I can truthfully testify has been fulfilled to this day. I had no enemies among the people, but when the army was permitted to enter these valleys they began to look after me, and many a narrow escape I have had to keep out of their grasp; but the Lord blessed me and protected me. In the fall of 1860 my wife and my two children arrived here from the old country; happy was our meeting after a separation of four years. I have since then had the pleasure to perform a mission to my native home and was extremely blessed in my labors, especially in gathering my genealogy. I obtained the names of about six hundred direct descendants of my father's family. I had also the <p.358> privilege to bring my mother, three of my nieces and my brother home with me, and it gives me great comfort to be able to take care of my mother in her old age. The Lord has also blessed me in increase. In 1857 I landed here alone, no relatives nor kindred in the Church, today we number thirty-seven, with a good prospect in the future.
I have during the time that I have been connected with the Church tried to prove myself thankful for all the blessings I have received, and with the help of God will spend the days of my life in the upbuilding of His kingdom.
The reader can see through this little narrative of mine how the Lord works to bring about His purposes, and how he rules and overrules the destiny of His people.
--Juvenile Instructor, Dec 1 1885 p. 357-358.
To learn more about Charles H. Wilcken, click here. To learn more about Hickmans in the Utah War, click here. To return to the Hickman Family index page, click here.