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DOWN THE ARKANSAS
They quitted not their armor bright,
The Lay of the Last Minstrel.
Last summer the wild and lonely banks of the Upper Arkansas beheld for the first time the passage of an army. General Kearney, on his march to Santa Fé, adopted this route in preference to the old trail of the Cimarron. When we came down the main body of the troops had already passed on; Price'sMissouri regiment, however, was still on the way, having left the frontier much later than the rest; and about this time we began to meet them moving along the trail, one or two companies at a time. No men ever embarked upon a military expedition with a greater love for the work before them than the Missourians; but if discipline and subordination be the criterion of merit, these soldiers were worthless
indeed. Yet when their exploits have rung through all America, it would be absurd to deny that they were excellent troops. Their victories were gained in the teeth of every established precedent of warfare; they were owing to a singular combination of military qualities in the men themselves. Without discipline or a spirit of subordination, they knew how to keep their ranks and act
man. Doniphan's? regiment marched through New Mexico more like a band of free companions than like the paid soldiers of a modern government. When General Taylor complimented Doniphan on his success at Sacramento and elsewhere, the colonel's reply very well illustrates the relations which subsisted between the officers and men of his command:
“I don't know anything of the maneuvers. The boys kept coming to me, to let them charge; and when I saw a good opportunity, I told them they might go. They were off like a shot, and that's all I know about it.”
The backwoods lawyer was better fitted to conciliate the good-will than to command the obedience of his men. There were many serving under him, who both from character and education could better have held command than he.
At the battle of Sacramento his frontiersmen fought under every possible disadvantage. The Mexicans had chosen their own position; they were drawn up across the valley that led to their native city of Chihuahua; their whole front was covered by
intrenchments and defended by batteries of heavy cannon; they outnumbered the invaders five to one. An eagle flew over the Americans, and a deep murmur rose along their lines. The enemy's batteries opened; long they remained under fire, but when at length the word was given, they shouted and ran forward. In one of the divisions, when midway to the enemy, a drunken officer ordered a halt; the exasperated men hesitated to obey.
“Forward, boys, for God's sake!” cried a private from the ranks; and the Americans, rushing like tigers upon the enemy, bounded over the breast work. Four hundred Mexicans were slain upon the spot and the rest fled, scattering over the plain like sheep. The standards, cannon, and baggage were taken, and among the rest a wagon laden with cords, which the Mexicans, in the fulness of their confidence, had made ready for tying the American prisoners.
Doniphan's volunteers, who gained this victory, passed up with the main army; but Price's soldiers, whom we now met, were men from the same neighborhood, precisely similar in character, manner, and appearance. One forenoon, as we were descending upon a very wide meadow, where we meant to rest for an hour or two, we saw a dark body of horsemen approaching at a distance. In order to find water, we were obliged to turn aside to the river bank, a full half mile from the trail. Here we put up a kind of awning, and spreading buffalo-robes on the ground, Shaw and I sat down to smoke beneath it.
“We are going to catch it now,” said Shaw; “look at those fellows; there'll be no peace for us here."
And in good truth about half the volunteers had straggled away from the line of march, and were riding over the meadow toward us.
“How are you?” said the first who came up, alighting from his horse and throwing himself upon the ground. The rest followed close, and a score of them soon gathered about us, some lying at full length and some sitting on horseback. They all belonged to a company raised in St. Louis. There
some ruffian faces among them, and some haggard with debauchery; but on the whole they were extremely good-looking men, superior beyond measure to the ordinary rank and file of an army. Except that they were booted to the knees, they wore their belts and military trappings over the ordinary dress of citizens. Besides their swords and holster pistols, they carried slung from their saddles the excellent Springfield carbines, loaded at the breech. They inquired the character of our party, and were anxious to know the prospect of killing buffalo, and the chance that their horses would stand the journey to Sante Fé. All this was well enough, but a moment after a worse visitation came upon us.
“How are you, strangers? whar are you going and whar are you from?” said a fellow, who came trotting up with an old straw hat on his head. He was dressed in the coarsest brown homespun cloth. His face
was rather sallow from fever-and-ague, and his tall figure, though strong and sinewy, was quite thin, and had besides an angular look, which, together with his boorish seat on horseback, gave him an appearance anything but graceful. Plenty more of the same stamp were close behind him. Their company was raised in one of the frontier counties, and we soon had abundant evidence of their rustic breeding; dozens of them came crowding round, pushing between our first visitors, and staring at us with unabashed faces.
“Are you the captain?” asked one fellow. “What's your business out here?” asked another.
“Whar do you live when you're at home?” said a third.
“I reckon you're traders,” surmised a fourth; and to crown the whole, one of them came confidentially to my side and inquired in a low voice, “What's your partner's name?"
As each newcomer repeated the same questions, the nuisance became intolerable. Our military visitors were soon disgusted at the concise nature of our replies, and we could overhear them muttering curses against us, not loud, but deep. While we sat smoking, not in the best imaginable humor, Tête Rouge's tongue was never idle. He never forgot his military character, and during the whole interview he was incessantly busy among his fellow-soldiers. At length we placed him on the ground before us, and told him that he might play the part of spokesman