Books

My Confession by Samuel Chamberlain

The Book in 3 Sentences

  1. This book is a bizarre travel memoir mostly concerning the Mexican American War. The author gets kicked out Boston at a young age and rambles the country more or less witnessing war crimes and fighting cavalry fights. It serves as a dramatic lesson in how the world has changed if nothing else.

Summary + Notes

Now while I was ready to forgive the sinner for his insult to me, I felt it was my Christian duty to punish him for his blasphemy.

Thus I lost confidence in woman’s love, and faith in religion, and went forth shunned as if I was another Cain.

She was sorry I was a Yankee, but when I assured her that I had never made a wooden Nutmeg or peddled a wooden Clock in my life she thought better of me. She

made an objection to having his Sable majesty ride inside, but I was verdant to Southern customs. A young Virginian, the master of the Negro, got into a rage and swore, “that the boy was worth twelve hundred dollars, and doggone his buttons if he would allow him to catch his death a cold for all the cursed Yankees that ever wore Store Clothes.”

the frightened inmates thought the whole house was on fire. I cried out that the fire was in the roof and seeing a row of Fire Buckets hanging in the Hall, I threw them down, rushed with two to the well, filled them, and run up the Stairs, asking one of the teachers to see they were all filled and brought up.

We formed a plan to elope to the North, and without waiting for the tie to be severed that bound her to Laboyce we would marry and be happy for life!

Our company, the Alton Guards, elected our own officers, as did all the other volunteers.

The Company was composed of the floating population of a Mississippi River town, wild reckless fellows, excellent material for soldiers, but requiring strict discipline to curb their lawless spirits.

The Rangers were the Scouts of our Army and a more reckless, devil-may-care looking set, it would be impossible to find this side of the Infernal Regions. Some

Take them altogether, with their uncouth costumes, bearded faces, lean and brawny forms, fierce wild eyes and swaggering manners, they were fit representatives of the outlaws which made up the population of the Lone Star State.

The warm body was carried out, sawdust was sprinkled over the bloodstained floor, Glanton carefully wiped his knife on the leather sleeve of his jacket, and matters in the Bexar Exchange resumed their usual course.

We went for each other, and he very foolishly run onto the point of my “Arkansas toothpick” and was badly cut for his want of judgement. I was seized by the guard, old Spanish irons were placed on me, and I was thrust into the “Callaboose,” a room about twenty feet square, inhabited by a very select society of Indians, Texans, Horsethieves, Murderers and the vilest characters of the lawless frontier.

This family placed me under the greatest obligations by their extreme kindness.

But I resisted and triumphed and the honor of the house of Ritter suffered not at my hands.

strolling under the shade of the sheltering woods. Katherine lay reclining in my arms, her arms pressed around me as of old, and I—well, my nature is too volcanic to play the Joseph too often!

Here I have listened to thrilling stories of Napoleon’s campaigns, related by an old cavalryman of fifty years’ service who had served in Italy, Egypt and in the Russian campaign, and at the age of seventy was still a vigorous soldier in the United States service.

On seeing us the “Rackensackers” broke ranks, and surrounded us yelling and whooping like Indians. Their officers had no control over them, and only our bold front saved our defenseless prisoners from being massacred by these brave chivalric sons of the South. Finding they could not butcher our charge, they went off at a jump to find other victims. Woe to the cripples and sick women who fell in their way, for their cruelty was only exceeded by their insubordination.

No man of any spirit and ambition would join the “Doughboys” and go afoot, when he could ride a fine horse and wear spurs like a gentleman.

No one was punished for this outrage; General Wool, in a general order, reprimanded the Arkansas Cavalry, but nothing more was done. The direct cause of the massacre was the barbarous murder of a young man belonging to the Arkansas Regiment. But this murder was undoubtedly committed in retaliation for the outrages committed on the women of the Agua Nueva ranch by the volunteers on Christmas day.

Most of them were wild reckless young fellows, with the most inflated ideas of their own personal prowess and a firm belief that their own State could whip the world and Mexico in particular. This independence of character, and self-confidence was fatal to their efficiency as soldiers. Many of them were duelists and desperados of the frontier, quite famous in their own locality as fighting men, to whom the wholesome restraints of discipline seemed tyranny in its worst form. The battles of the Alamo, San Jacinto and Mier, with the exploits of their demigods Crockett, Travis, and Bowie, caused them to religiously believe that a dozen Southern gentlemen armed with the Kentucky rifle and that southern institution, the Bowie Knife, could travel all over Mexico.

They took no care of their arms—not one Carbine in fifty would go off—and most of their Sabres were rusted in their scabbards. This shameful state of affairs seemed to have no remedy; the War was a southern democratic one, and ex-Governor Yell of the great and sovereign State of Arkansas, and ex-Senator Marshall, of the immaculate and still greater State of Kentucky, were men of too much importance to take advice, much less orders, from a little Yankee general like Wool. “We come here to fight sir!

Sergeant Gorman was reduced to the ranks for seeing a Ghost.

Under the cliffs at the pass the Surgeon and his assistants were busy preparing amputating tables.

The air was so clear we could see every movement: The Infantry knelt down, the Cavalry lowered their lances and uncovered, and their colors drooped as the benedictions were bestowed. This ceremony offered a striking contrast to conditions in our lines; there was not a Chaplain in our army!

I heard General Taylor say, “Steady boys! Steady for the honor of Old Mississippi!”

The Mexicans had a heavy battery of three guns, manned by Irish deserters from our army. These desperadoes were organized as a battalion known as the Battalia San Patricio, or Legion of Saint Patrick; the commander was the notorious Reilly, who ranked as a Colonel in the Mexican Army.

The gallant Colonels, not having time to settle their debate, decided to act independently, so when the enemy was within five hundred yards, Marshall gave the order to “Fire!” and Colonel Yell cried out, “Hold! Don’t fire until they are nearer!” The consequence was, some fired, others did not, but all turned and fled excepting Colonel Yell and a few officers of both regiments. Colonel Yell was killed—pierced by lance thrusts in the mouth and breast—and Marshall was senior beyond all dispute! Captain Porter of Arkansas and Adjutant Vaughan of Kentucky were also slain. Our column gave a wild Hurrah and charged the foe in the flank, taking them by surprise, and at a disadvantage.

On examining his body it was discovered that the shot which broke his thigh bone was fired by his own men (there being Buckshot in it). This was considered accidental, but believed otherwise, as battles often decide private grievances, as well as those of nations.

I halted at a spring and found my good steed apparently as fresh and as lively as when we set out. I raised up his head and gave him a drink of the whiskey (he was a regular old soldier), took some myself, let him drink at the spring, in which I bathed my head, and then tightening the saddle girth I was off again.

The guerillars, if possible, were guilty of worse acts than the Rangers, and the conflict was no longer war but murder, and a disgrace to any nation calling itself Christian. Our officers became disgusted with the many revolting acts committed by volunteers and Rangers, and no reports were ever made of these cruel raids.

This “Yankee” regiment was essentially an Irish one, the best material in the world to make infantry of, but requiring great efficiency on the part of the officers to enforce discipline. Unfortunately,

Visions of prize money flitted through our brains when a dignified little yellow-faced man, dressed in a suit of Nankeen, cut English fashion, came from the cuartel and stuck a pole surmounted by the Union Jack of England in one of the piles and, in the most pompous manner, informed our officers the silver was the property of Her Majesty Queen Victoria, and that the United States Government would be held to a strict accountability if it was molested! How potent is the power of Great Britain! Here thousands of miles away from all apparent power of that nation a miserable little cockney, with only the insignia of his country’s greatness, defies and threatens three hundred of Uncle Sam’s roughest riders. I believe that one of the Silver Pigs was sequestered by a graceless artillery officer, who not having the fear of Her Majesty’s displeasure, hid one in one of his guns, and thus it was brought to camp.

was already far gone in love; wild schemes flittered through my brain to adopt her as a sister, but alas!—man proposes and God disposes—platonic attachment between a wild Dragoon not yet out of his teens, and a young, passionate daughter of Mexico was an impossibility.

They were tried by a Court Martial, fifty sentenced to be hanged, the rest to dig the graves of their executed comrades, and “to receive two hundred lashes on the bare back, the letter D to be branded on the cheek with a red hot iron, to wear an iron yoke weighing eight pounds with three prongs, each one foot in length, around the neck, to be confined to hard labor, in charge of the guard during the time the army should remain in Mexico, and then to have their heads shaved and be drummed out of camp.”

During the war many of the females of the country had proved firm friends of “Los Gringos,” and we were often indebted to them for valuable information regarding the movements of the enemy, their own countrymen. Our fair female friends showed the utmost contempt for the weak dissolute “greasers,” and were public in their outspoken admiration of the stalwart frames, fair skins, blue eyes, and the kind and courteous demeanor of Los Barbarianos del Norte. This feeling was not confined to the lower classes; the señoritas ricas and the “doñas puros Castillanas” of the towns shared it with the poblanas and margaritas of the villages.

As might be supposed, this did not increase the love of the hombres for us, or render the position of the “Yankedos” now that their protectors were leaving the country, a pleasant one. They suffered fearful outrages from the returned Mexican soldiery and the ladrones of the country—they were violated, ears cut off, branded with the letters “U.S.” and in some cases impaled by the cowardly “greasers,” who thus wreaked their vengeance on defenseless women.

Through her influence I obtained the position of wagon master, at sixty-five dollars per month and two rations—a much better arrangement than the $7 a month I had been receiving as a Dragoon.

The bearer of this, Miss Ellen Ramsey, is desirous of going to California, and I have recommended you to her as a suitable party for her to contract a ‘Scotch marriage’ with, to enable her to do so. She will explain all. Yours, &c, Hugh Elmsdale.” This extraordinary epistle was written by a friend of mine, a clerk in the commissary Dept.

At Santa Cruz de Rosales, about 60 miles from Chihuahua, I sketched a monument built to commemorate a victory over the Comanches, who terrorize the country.

Colonel Washington, Majors Graham and Rucker gave the fair bride a chaste salute and the happy couple departed, hand in hand, to the bridegroom’s home, i.e., his tent.

Glanton had made two raids in the Indian country, with but small profit, and had met with considerable loss. There was in camp drying thirty-seven of those disgusting articles of trade, Apache scalps, cut with the right ear on, to prevent fraud, as some Indians have two circles to their hair.

Holden’s lecture no doubt was very learned, but hardly true, for one statement he made was “that millions of years had witnessed the operation producing the result around us,” which Glanton with recollections of the Bible teaching his young mind had undergone said “was a d——d lie.”

The Great Canyon of the Colorado at last!

I am satisfied that we were the first white men who ever saw the Great Canyon from this point. What is very singular in regard to it is that the cut is not through mountains, but through a level plain, with mountains rising above it from three to twelve thousand feet.

Their fields are irrigated by a system of canals from the Gila, the women doing the work of the fields while the men take care of the children and do the weaving.

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