The Army of the US Historical Sketches of Staff and Line with Portraits of Generals-in-Chief
ESPRIT DE CORPS
By Capt. Charles King
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WHAT a cry went up in the British army when the fiat went forth a few years' since, depriving those proud old regiments of the line of the designations they had borne for twice a century! With what sorrow were the old colors, with their blazoned numbers sent back to "Horse Guards" and with what wild wonderment were the new received! How strange it seems to those who have read and revelled in the history and traditions of that most gallant, if often most misled of armies, to see no more in print of the doings of the 55th, the 88th—dashing old "Faugh a Ballaghs"; the 28th, they of the Square at Quatre Bras and Waterloo; the 1st, the 44th, the 9th, 21st and 47th, all old and war-tried foot regiments—and then the Highlanders—the 42d, the blessed old 93d—Colin Campbell's pets, he who never addressed them except by their numerical designation! Where are all the old numbers now? Gone to be replaced by such clumsy appellations as the South Staffordshire Light Infantry, the Northumberland Fusiliers, the West Middlesex Sharpshooters, and the "Horse Guards" only knows what all.
Of course, we know, that many a "corps" that bore aloft its number on its colors, had none the less some pet name in which it took pride—notably the Highlanders—and by the same token were there not others like the 50th that struggled under sobriquets most undeserved? But the 88th were "The Connaught Rangers," the 25th "The Kings Own Borderers," the 42d the famous "Black Watch"; and then we had the "Royal Scots," the "Cameron Highlanders," the "Sutherland Highlanders," the "Buffs," and so on ad infinitum, almost, but one must draw the line with the limits of the army. How those fellows must have felt when their old names and numbers were stripped at the whim of a new War Ministry! Is there any one in our service competent to say?
Of course, with their cavalry, it was different. To be sure, some of the merry old Light Dragoon regiments of the Peninsula and Charley O'Malley days had been transmogrified into hussars, or lancers, but the change was not great. Think of the glorious trio that made up Ponsonby's Heavy Brigade at Waterloo and then, under gallant Scarlett, whipped ten times their weight at Balaklava—"The Union Brigade" where the rose, the shamrock and thistle charged side by side. The Royals of England, the Inniskillens of Ireland and the Scots' Greys whose "terrible grey horses" made Napoleon wince at Waterloo. What soldier would not glory in pointing to the number of his regiment of Heavies, and saying I am of the "K. D. G's."—or the Royals—or the Scots' Greys!
Then take the beautiful Light Brigade, they whom Lucan launched and Cardigan led to their fruitless sacrifice. The world never saw jauntier
horsemen than those fellows of the 8th or 11th Hussars, or the 17th Lancers—the "Death or Glories" whose snow-white plastrons have gleamed all over the globe. They at any rate preserve their numbers and the concomitant "honors." So, too, in the French—so, too, in the German service.
"These legends and traditions" attached to regiments that have won a name are handed down from generation to generation, and every youngster joining has to study them up and pass his "quizzing" on any and all material points, or he is no true soldier. Is it not the custom in the Prussian service for one regiment at least—the 1st Guard Fusiliers—to turn out on State occasions in the towering, stately, visorless, high pointed and ornate head-dress—resembling more the mitre of a bishop of the Greek Church than any martial top-piece—that was worn by this regiment in the days of Frederick the Great, and doubtless introduced among his impressed Potsdammers by his royal father? Do they not even now, when on review, march past with the utterly absurd goose-step required of them in 1750? "It keeps up the regimental tradition." That is all it is for, say they. But looking about us, it strikes the writer that it is a great deal—a very great deal.
What have we in the service of the United States to foster Esprit de Corps?—to preserve regimental tradition?
No distinctive uniform, of course; no "from-time-immemorial-headgear" like the Scots' Greys or the Coldstreams. No peculiar facings that tell the looker on "Ah! there goes the —th. They're the fellows that held the 'Molino'," or "Look there! That means he belongs to the Seventh. They lost half their number in one Indian fight years ago." We have few banners, colors or standards to speak of. Old England brings (she says "fetches") hers reverently home and places them with pomp and prayer ceremony and presented arms and uncovered heads, high on the inner walls of her grand old churches. We, when ours become downright shabby, get a new set, after six months' correspondence and the Lord only knows I how many endorsements; but what becomes of the old ones—who can say?
After all who seems to care much, anyhow? About the only time we ever saw them was when we went to call on Mrs. Colonel and noted them still eking out the feeble frontier ornamentation of the rather cheerless room. They looked a little more in need of dusting, perhaps, but did we ever see them brought forth under escort of "such a company" and received with wholesale honors? Did we really have a color-bearer selected, with his corporals, "from those most distinguished for bravery, and for precision under arms and in marching"?—And did they have any distinctive badge? Well—in a few regiments—with "live" colonels, yes; but in most cases, I fear me, no.
But we have some regiments, Laus Deo! in which tradition and legend and fellowship seem to go hand in hand. I love to get a letter from a Second Cavalryman and see its soldier crest and the motto "Toujours Prêt" on the envelope. It has its proud story written out in full, and Rodenbough and his comrades have told its glorious past. The divided days of the Seventh are gone forever, please God, and a splendid regiment, one in
pride and purpose, has sprung from the thrilling episodes of its early history. Yet who is to gather and edit those scattered records of savage fight, cruel suffering and final triumph. Price, long before they laid him in his grave, put his shoulder to the wheel (and his hand in his pocket) and gave us a compilation of the regimental returns of the Fifth (Cavalry). Wilhelm has done the same for the gallant old Eighth Infantry. Powell told the story of his old love—the Fourth—before promotion took him from it; and even one of those "aggregations of batteries," the First Artillery, has found its Boswell in Major Haskin.
None the less, regimental histories are few and far between. Young officers entering the service to-day, look in vain in the dusty shelves of the regimental library, for some book or pamphlet which will give them an inkling of the past service of the command with which their lot is to be cast until they have doubled the years of the life now so full of enthusiasm. Finding nothing, they apply to some graybeard among the field officers or captains. "Tell me something of the service of the Steenth. Where was it during the war?" And in nine cases out of ten he will come away disappointed. "I don't know." "I wasn't with it during the war. The 'nth' was my regiment then." Or, "I was commanding a brigade of volunteers. I don't know who CAN tell you, unless you ask old Spigots, yonder. Seems to me he was Regimental Quartermaster in those days."
There is many a reason why our officers have not been to blame in this matter. The reorganization of '71 resulted in such a shaking up and reshaking that, as one gallant soldier of the "old Army" remarked in answer to a query: "What regiment do I belong to? Well, I have been borne on the rolls of four different ones in the last sixty days, and I'm d-d if I know which to report to."
The policy adopted by the Government in stationing its troops on the great frontier for years, after the Civil War, is another. Regiments were broken up and scattered broadcast over an entire department, merged with troops of other commands; placed under the orders of field officers of totally different organizations, and such a thing as esprit de corps knocked higher than any kite the famous Gilderoy ever dreamed of. In one four-company post has it not happened that no two of the companies (including cavalry troops) belonged to the same regiment? Other reasons—indifference due to long years of knockabout service on part of the seniors and sarcastic rebuffs at the expense of the juniors; the transfer on promotion of field officers to regiments, in which they found themselves as much at home as a cat in a strange garret; the absence of any distinctive regimental march to be played by the band when half a dozen companies got together on some surprising occasion. All these and others have tended to stifle the growth of the precious vine that thrives with such vigor in the heart of every English or German regiment and, twining its tendrils about every individual in the corps, holds them together in bonds indissoluble.
But, things are changing. With every day regiments are brought more and more into garrisons by themselves. Wondrous to tell there are posts where all the ten companies bear the same number over the crossed rifles on their forage caps and where the colors are actually saluted. By regi-
mental order the Third Infantry never marches in review except to the stirring "six-eight" swing of the "Rifle Regiment," composed and dedicated to them by Sousa. The Seventh Cavalry never parades without "Comanche" draped in mourning, and—mirabile dictu, the forage "expended" in feeding the gallant old steed, who has never done a stroke of work nor carried a rider since '76, has not been stopped against somebody by a government hitherto as unalterably opposed to sentiment as Gradgrind himself. It makes one think of Andrew Jackson's response to the would-be defamers of heroic old Captain C——. "Gets drunk every day of his life, does he? Well, so he shall, if it's any comfort to him and, by the Eternal, the United States shall pay for his whiskey".
The old Fifth—the banner infantry regiment, in the days when Billy Chapman, "Beau" Neill and R. B. Marcy were among its model captains, and best known since as "Miles' Mounted Infantry" in the tough Indian campaigns of the seventies, has never lost the touch of the elbow that seemed so utterly lacking in the regiments raised in '61 and then split up like so much kindling wood in '66. So, too, "The Fourth that fought at Tippecanoe" and the old Sixth. Matters indeed have, changed, for at last, comes a formulated scheme to foster, promote and preserve the regimental feeling that for years at least was a minus quantity.
If ever a scheme was started by the Military Service Institution of the United States that should command the respect and cooperation of every officer who has a. pride in his corps and regiment, it is that embodied in General Abbot's circular of Nov. 10th. The idea of having printed in successive numbers of the JOURNAL, historical sketches of each regiment in the service, and of the Staff corps that have been so essential to the army in peace or war, is simply an inspiration.
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