Co. B. 1st Btn. 1st Rpl. Reg. Eng.
Washington Barracks, D.C.
Will scratch you a few lines before I start on the hike tomorrow for I won't get to mail any letters along the line. We start tomorrow to Ft. Foote, 45 miles. Will be out two nights and get to Fort Thursday some time. The trip has already cost Uncle Sam a good pair of tan kickers, but as long as he furnishes them I can wear them out for the old gent. I've had so much practice since I came here that I could outwalk a mule team. I don't think anymore of walking to Annapolis (5 miles) than I used to walk to Trevlac.
You needn't be anyways uneasy about us boys being treated like they treated Wesley for we aren't the kind that Wesley is. Of course, there's lots of boys in the guardhouse who are innocent. I know that I've done things that they would have slapped me in for a week for and didn't know it until afterwards. I always got by with it but a fellow could stand a week of anything and he would come out a wiser, if not a better, boy than he went in. If he didn't know what to do next time, he would know what not to do. Ha!
Army life is just exactly what one makes it. He can make it lively and pleasant or he can make it unpleasant and miserable if he wants to. But once a fellow learns to keep shy of the traps, which a fellow can get in and be doing his duty at the same time, he is ok. There are times when a fellow gets so many things to do at once that no one could do them all, and if he doesn't do them all he will be called to account for it, and no excuse goes.
For instance, I was put on guard duty and also detailed to the kitchen all at the same time. So I just got dressed up and shouldered my rifle and went on guard. When they called out their kitchen detail, McCoy was missing. So they put on someone else and looked for me. I, of course, was found walking my post. If I'd gone to the kitchen and a guard was missing. I'd been in bad. If I'd gone to the officer about it; I'd got a cussing for bothering him. So when they found out where I was, the blame for the blunder fell where it belonged - on the First Sergeant. Not a word was said to me. They got my name mixed up with a McCoy and kept us both guessing until we finally got together and got to know each other. Then we worked at it together. That First Sergeant has all the office work such as keeping account of the men's names and naming guards and all kinds of details. He knows about as much about bookkeeping as little Wardie does.
First Night of Hike
Had a fine day of it only it was as hot as a regular bake oven. Only 3 fell out of our company but about 75 fell out of C Company and the whole company went yellow. Will tell you some time what happened but take it from me, we pretty near had a war all our own. C Company is going to get split up in small groups and some won't see freedom for a long time.
Our Captain put the focus to gambling and 4 fellows had to try him out. They are under arrest here now. Also, another fellow who got in bad with a girl over at Annapolis. I guess he is in pretty bad. I heard the Captain tell him the morning he was arrested that the only place for him in civil or military life was behind the grates, and that he would put him where he belonged. He said he would fix him and fix him right. There's no use to pass the buck on the Capt. for his word is law and a fellow is a fool to try to buck the Captain.
I guess they will give me a new job soon. I never got out of camp this AM till I sprained my ankle and turned a handspring. The same Lieutenant who picked me up a time or two coming over here got me again, saw I was the same fellow and took my name. That's the way they do to find out a fellow's faults. If a fellow does the same thing several times, they get to know him by name and watch him the same way of a guy who gets in trouble. Two or three times and they get to know him as a fellow who is always late to his duty or who is always dirty and slouchy, or who is always clean and always on the job. Up coming they mark them with their faults or habits, or honor, as the case may be, then when a company is shipped out they sort them accordingly and put every class of men where they fit best. If a fellow never makes a habit of some certain thing, either bad or good, he can stay under the same officers for months. Then they never know him from any other, they are just men, the same as your chickens are chickens to you. You never know one from the other unless one gets crippled or makes a habit of getting on the table or laying every day.
I wouldn't have sprained my ankle this AM but was trying to let out my gun strap so I could sling it on my back. I didn't have my eyes on the ground and stepped in a rut and "down went dugan". Didn't break her very bad, just enough to stop me a few minutes then I was back with my squad. It hasn't swelled but just a little tonight. They put one fellow on as teamster who was always dropping out on the march. One thing sure, they can't ever say they hauled me in on the escort wagon. As far as I am concerned, I could walk any man in the company to death. The captain, too, if my ankles would stand it.
They had 17 on the wagon when we got over to the range and any one of them would make two of me. Even little George Prosser made it in and those big dudes stretched out on the escort wagons and the kitchen looked like butchering day at Pumpkin Center. Ha! Ha! They don't like to be kidded about it, either. Makes them sore as thunder. When the wagons pull past as we go into camp, we just yell and whoop at them. All they can do is cuss. Ha!
Shoot, this is all right if a fellow just doesn't look at the bad part too long at a time and works everything to have all the fun he can which is plentiful in the Army. These hikes are just the dope; they make the blankets feel so good at night. Ha! Ha! Anyway, there's no fun in sitting around until he gets a 15 or 20 mile hike and then it's one of the greatest pleasures in a lifetime. It's like Paw was by the 7-year itch. He liked to have it because it felt so good to get to scratch it. Ha! That's the way with hiking. The funny part always comes last.
No trouble much today, only one fell out. They took his pack off and hauled it and made him hike in. I didn't even get tired today. I would have liked to've gone on in to the Fort. We are only a half days hike from camp now.
C Company is still coming but they are always yelling for a rest and slower hike. They are a disgrace to the American Army. The other day over in the Naval Camp, C Company was lined up for some purpose or another when the First Sergeant got sore at one fellow and jerked him out of ranks and kicked his a__ a time or two. The dude just changed ends with his rifle and swung it at the Sergeant's head with every ounce of strength in him. The Sergeant ducked and the rifle flew out of the guy's hands and hit the mud like a wet sock, kerflop. The guy went to the guard house and the Sergeant went free, but that night down at the machine gun range that same Sergeant thought he could talk to the Sailors just like he did the Soldiers. One of the big broad shouldered midshipmen swung one of his mitts into the Sergeant's face and he went down for counts. Well, the midshipman went to the guardhouse and the Sergeant is free again. Now if either one of those boys had just took it as it came and then put him on report to the Major, Mr. Sergeant would have gone to the ranks on equal terms with us all and they would have gone free.
The Naval officers just hate our First Sergeants because they talk so smart to the soldiers and the First Sergeant in B Company got two callings in one day from Naval officers for that very thing. The First Sergeants are the worst thorn there is in a Soldier's eye and the only way to get even is to just take whatever they hand out, then when he lays his self liable just report him, and his authority to talk smart will soon end. They can be court martialed for kicking a man either in ranks or out.
Both First Sergeants in B and C Companys are old Army men who have been in service since the Spanish American War and they've been pulling this dope on the new men and getting by with it. The new men are learning a few things and as soon as they learn to hold their temper and not strike back, the First Sergeants are going to have a peck of trouble.
I never have any trouble with this First Sergeant here and when I run on to him when out on leave in town, he is just as friendly as any private in camp. He is a No. 1 fellow to be out with but I've heard him cuss the whole company and heard him cuss some of the boys to their face. Gives me a kind of hankering to get something on him that will put him down and out, then just soak him for good.
After the Hike
Back again in Ft. Foote, but not to stay. We go to Washington DC Saturday. Have to hike it, too, but it is only about 7 or 8 miles. I have got young all at once and going to school. Now whadye think o' that??? It's straight goods, too, it's no s____house gazette news item. I've done signed up to study Lithography. That is reproducing maps and drawing maps, also retracing old worn out maps and plans or papers for use in the Engineers Corps for planning against the Dutch. Also, any old papers or maps that may be captured are taken by the Lithographers who retrace them and make others like them.
We all march into Washington Saturday and will be sent to all kinds of schools. This is the first move I've made in which I knew for certain where I was going. I don't know what is to become of Ft. Foote after we leave. All the officers go with us except our Captain and one Lieutenant. They go to Georgia. I hope Harley got into something under the Lieutenant. He is a white man's officer; his name is Gardner C. George. The Captain's name is Fred Hanson. He is all right so long as a fellow comes up to his idea of what a soldier should be; but if a fellow ever falls under his hoof once, he is one of the most unmerciful punishers alive. I never gave him a chance at me but I saw what he did for others. He has put several officers down and out here and the non-commissioned officers never know what is to come next. One day they have us out drilling us and think they are Corporals and Sergeants and the next day they stand beside us in the ranks. Two Sergeants have gone down and out and one is on trial this PM.
Colba Day is a witness on the trial this P.M. The Sergeant called a man a son of a ___and the man reported him. Day heard it all.
Well, I must close this time. Oh yes, you spoke about sending something to me. I've never seen my way far enough ahead to feel safe in saying "yes" until now. I guess I will be in Washington for some time, a month at least, so when I get there and find out what my address will be at the school, you can send anything you want. Now if you send anything like Fried Chicken or anything greasy, better put it in a wooden box for I've seen the boys get such things here in pasteboard boxes that were all crushed up and simply not fit to eat. The same way with cakes. I'll bet I've seen a train load of cakes come to camp in paste board boxes with a string around it and all crumbled up. A cake is safe in a pasteboard box if it has plenty of big brown paper around it but the postal clerks like cake, too, and a little paper box is pretty likely to get "accidentally" smashed unless there's enough paper around it to make it a plain case of mail robbing if they break into it.
Say, if you want to do a real favor, send me some little rags about the size of a ladies handkerchief for gun and bayonet cleaners. Just 5 or 6 will do of any old thing just so it isn't fuzzy. If a fellow gets new stuff, it's so full of lint he makes his gun worse than it was to start on. The old clothes we wear out, we have to turn the rags in before they will issue new clothes to us. If we fail to turn them in they make us pay the price of new stuff, and if they caught us tearing up anything we've got to clean guns or anything else, we'd be court martialed. When there are 500 to 1200 in a camp they keep every thing picked up that will clean a gun. Twice I got caught just before inspection and had to tear up a khaki handkerchief or else get caught with a dirty gun. I bought the handkerchiefs myself so I was safe but they cost 15 cents apiece. Over at the range they keep stuff to clean guns with and down at Camp Taylor they did, but a rag around this place is a scarce article, I said.
Well, I must close so answer soon and rest easy because I'm not going across as I expected. If I ever do go I won't have to go up front if I make good at school. As ever your son,