A Victorious Union

by Oliver Optic

Chapter XVIII: “The Reign of Christianity”

Additional Information
  • Year Published: 1893
  • Language: English
  • Country of Origin: United States of America
  • Source: Optic, O. (1893). A Victorious Union. Boston, MA: Lee and Shepherd Publishers.
  • Readability:
    • Flesch–Kincaid Level: 9.0
  • Word Count: 2,149
  • Genre: Adventure
  • Keywords: 19th century literature, american literature, blue and the gray, civil war
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Captain Breaker took Christy by his right arm to support him as they returned to the deck of the Bellevite, and to assist him over the bulwarks. The wounded had all been cared for, and the crew were swabbing up the deck; but the moment they discovered the captain and the executive officer on the rail, they suspended their labor and all eyes were fixed upon the latter.

“Three cheers for Mr. Passford!” shouted the quartermaster who had been at the wheel when Christy sprang into the mizzen rigging.

Three heartier cheers were never given on the deck of any ship than those which greeted the hero of the action as he appeared on the rail. Not satisfied with this demonstration, they all swung their caps, and then gave two volleys more. There was not a man that did not take part in this triple salute, and even the officers joined with the seamen in this tribute.

“I hope Mr. Passford is not badly wounded, sir,” said Quartermaster Thompson, touching his cap most respectfully. “And I speak for the whole ship’s company, sir.”

“Mr. Passford is not very severely wounded, Thompson,” replied the commander, while Christy was acknowledging the salute. “He did not mention the fact that he was hurt, and lost more blood than was necessary, so that he is very weak.”

The quartermaster reported the answer of the captain to the ship’s company, whereupon they gave three more cheers, as Christy and his supporter descended to the deck; and the hero acknowledged the salute. At the companion they encountered Dr. Linscott, who had just come on deck from the cockpit. Graines was standing near, waiting for an opportunity to speak to his late associate in the expedition.

“You gave us a bad fright, Mr. Passford,” said the surgeon, as he took the right hand of the wounded officer. “But you will do very well now. I have something here which will keep you comfortable;” and he proceeded to place the left arm in a sling, which he adjusted with great care, passing a band from it around his body so as to prevent the member from swinging, or otherwise getting out of position.

“Is it necessary that I should take to my berth, Dr. Linscott?” asked the patient. “I am feeling very nicely now; and since my arm was dressed it gives me very little pain.”

“Dr. Davidson ordered you to your berth because you were so weak you could not stand,” replied the surgeon.

“But I have got over that, and I feel stronger now.”

“We will see about that later, Mr. Passford. Captain Breaker, all our wounded except a few light cases, which my mates can treat as well as I can, are disposed of,” added the doctor.

“I am very glad to hear it,” replied the captain.

“May I stay on deck, doctor?” asked Christy, who did not like the idea of being shut up in his stateroom while the arrangements for the disposal of the prize were in progress.

“You may for the present if you feel able to do so,” answered the surgeon. “But you must have a berth-sack or an easy chair on deck, and keep very quiet.”

“Punch!” called the commander; and this was the name of the cabin steward, who was not, however, as bibulous as his surname indicated. “Pass the word for Punch.”

The steward, like everybody else on board able to be there, was on deck, and immediately presented himself.

“Bring up the large easy-chair at my desk, and place it abreast of the mizzen mast,” added the commander.

Something else called off the attention of Captain Breaker at this moment, and the surgeon remained in conversation till Punch reported the chair in position. Dr. Linscott conducted Christy to it, and adjusted him comfortably, sending for a blanket to cover his lower limbs. The captain soon returned, and saw that the patient was easy in a position where he could see all that transpired on the deck.

“As you have finished your duties on board of the Bellevite, I desire to reciprocate the kindness of Captain Rombold in attending to Mr. Passford when perhaps he needed the attention of his own surgeon more than our patient, and I desire to have you dress the Confederate commander’s wound,” said Captain Breaker.

“With all my heart!” exclaimed the surgeon earnestly. “I will be with you in a moment, as soon as I procure my material;” and he hurried below.

“You will find me with Captain Rombold,” added the commander, as he hastened to the deck of the prize.

“I am glad to see you again, Captain Breaker,” said the Confederate chief very politely.

“I have come to tender the services of our surgeon, who has disposed of all our seriously injured men, to dress your wound, in the first instance, for I fear you were more in need of such assistance than my officer when you so magnanimously called Dr. Davidson to dress Mr. Passford’s wound. He will be here in a few minutes,” returned Captain Breaker, proceeding to business at once.

“I am exceedingly obliged to you, Captain, for I am beginning to feel the necessity of attending to my wound. The thirty-pounder, which was to have reduced the ranks of your crew by one-half, as I am assured it would have done, made terrible havoc among my own men. In addition to the dead who have already been committed to the deep, we have a great number wounded,” replied Captain Rombold. “The cockpit is full, and I have given up my cabin to the surgeon, who is extremely busy. I accept the services of Dr. Linscott very gratefully.”

“He is extremely happy to serve you.”

By this time the surgeon of the Bellevite appeared with one of his mates, and some pleasant words passed between him and his new patient.

“Now, where is your wound, Captain Rombold?” asked Dr. Linscott.

“In the right thigh,” replied the patient; and the bullet hole in his trousers indicated the precise spot.

“It will be necessary to remove your clothing, Captain,” continued the surgeon.

“My cabin is already turned into a hospital, and Dr. Davidson is hard at work there,” replied the patient. “I shall have to send for a berth-sack, and let you operate on deck, for”—

“My cabin is entirely at your service, Captain Rombold,” interposed the commander of the Bellevite. “It will afford me the very greatest pleasure in the world to give it up to you.”

“Oh, no, Captain!” exclaimed the sufferer, as he really was by this time. “That is too great a sacrifice.”

“Not at all; do me the very great favor to accept the use of my cabin,” persisted Captain Breaker. “How shall we move him, doctor?”

“Call four of your men; we will carry him to your cabin in his chair, just as he sits; and we can do it without incommoding him at all,” answered Dr. Linscott, as he sent his mate to call the men required.

“Really, Captain,”—the sufferer began, but rather faintly.

“The surgeon thinks you had better not talk any more, Captain Rombold,” interposed the commander. “Here are the men, and we will handle you as tenderly as an infant.”

“You are as kind as the mother of the infant,” added the sufferer with a slight smile; but he made no further opposition.

The four men lifted the chair, and the doctor instructed them how to carry it. The Bellevite had been moved aft a little so as to bring the gangways of the two ships abreast of each other. The commander was so interested and so full of sympathy for his injured enemy, now a friend, that he could not refrain from assisting with his own hands, and he directed the operations of the seamen when they came to the steps. They lifted the chair down to the deck of the ship, and then it was borne to the captain’s cabin.

The wounded commander was placed in the broad berth of the cabin, and the seamen sent on deck. Dr. Linscott, with the assistance of his mate, proceeded to remove the clothing of the patient, Captain Breaker aiding as he would hardly have thought of doing if the sufferer had been one of his own officers. The injury proved to be of about the same character as that of Christy; it was a flesh wound, but the ball had ploughed deeper than in his case, and was therefore severe. A stimulating remedy was given to the patient, and the doctor dressed the wound with the utmost care, as he always did, whether the patient was a commander or a coal-heaver from the bunkers.

The sufferer had revived somewhat under the influence of the medicine administered; and after taking the hand of Captain Rombold, with a hearty wish for his early recovery, the captain of the Bellevite took his leave, and went on deck.

He proceeded first to the chair of the wounded lieutenant, reporting to him the condition of the Confederate commander. Christy was extremely glad to hear so favorable a report of the condition of the patient, and so expressed himself in the heartiest terms. “Federal” and “Confederate” seemed to be words without any meaning at the present time, for all had become friends. The officers were vying with each other in rendering kindly offices to the vanquished, and even the seamen were doing what they could to fraternize with the crew of the Tallahatchie, while both were engaged in removing the evidences of the hard-fought action.

It was now only nine o’clock in the morning, and six hours had elapsed since the prize, with the West Wind in tow, had sailed from Mobile Point on what had proved to be her last voyage in the service of the Confederacy. Events had succeeded each other with great rapidity, as it may require a whole volume to report in detail a naval battle begun and ended in the short space of an hour.

The men were piped to breakfast; and during the meal there was an interchange of good feeling when it was found that the crew of the Tallahatchie had only a short supply of coffee and bread, intending to supply these articles at Nassau. The loyal tars were as magnanimous as the officers of both ships had proved themselves to be; and they passed the needed articles over the rails, till they exhausted their own supply, hungry as they were after six hours of active duty. The commander discovered what his men were doing; and he ordered the rations to be doubled, besides sending a quantity of ship bread and coffee on board of the prize. War had mantled his savage front, and Christianity was presiding over the conduct of those who had so recently been the most determined enemies.

There was something forward of the foremast to remind all who approached of the battle which had been fought. It was a spare sail which covered the silent and motionless forms of those whose loyalty to their country had led them through the gates of death to “the undiscovered country, from whose bourn no traveller returns,” but whose fadeless record is inscribed in the hearts of a grateful nation.

During or after a severe action on board a ship of war, the dead are usually disposed of with but little or no ceremony, as the exigency of the hour may require, as had been done on board of the prize. But Captain Breaker was more considerate, as the conditions permitted him to be; and the killed had been sewed up in hammocks, properly weighted.

“All hands to bury the dead;” piped the boatswain of the Bellevite, when breakfast was finished.

By this time the deck had been cleaned up, and dried off under the warm sun which had dissipated the fog and the morning mists. The bodies of the slain had been previously placed at the port gangway, covered with the American flag. The seamen removed their caps, the commander read the service, and the bodies were committed to the deep. The officers and seamen witnessed the ceremony with uncovered heads, and in reverent silence.