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- Frank on the Lower Mississippi - 23/23 -
Nearer and nearer came the sound of oars, and suddenly a large flatboat, crowded with men, loomed up through the darkness.
"On deck, there!" whispered Frank, leaning over the rail and speaking to a sailor on the forecastle. "Slip that anchor."
There was the rattling of a chain as this order was executed, and as the man sprang through one of the ports, a sheet of flame covered the forecastle, and two twenty-four pound shells went crashing and shrieking among the rebels.
The pilots rang the bell for the engineers to "come ahead," and as the Boxer turned out into the river, thus bringing her broadside guns to bear on the boat, two more shells completed the ruin. The rebels were caught in their own trap. Their boat was sinking, half their number either dead or wounded, and all who were able to swim were springing into the water and making for the nearest shore.
It was so dark Frank could not see the havoc that had been made among the guerrillas, and he was about to give them another broadside, when he heard loud cries for quarter. That boat was disposed of, and he turned to look for the other, (for Captain Wilson had said there were two of them,) but it was not to be seen. As he afterward learned, the guerrillas, having been completely deceived as to the force of the Boxer, had crowded sixty men into one boat, thinking that force sufficient to insure an easy victory. After running up the river nearly a mile without seeing any signs of the boat, the Boxer returned to her station, and found the rebel craft hard and fast aground. Her deck was covered with dead and wounded, and Frank at once turned his attention to taking care of the latter. Twenty-three wounded guerrillas were conveyed on board the vessel, and delivered into the charge of the doctor and his steward, together with nearly a dozen prisoners, who, being unable to swim, had not dared to leave the boat. The dead were left where they had fallen. The Boxer then returned to her anchorage, and Frank, feeling safe for the remainder of the night, ordered hammocks to be piped, a command which the sailors gladly obeyed, for their soft mattresses were much more comfortable than the hard deck. By the time every thing had been restored to order, the quarter-master reported the Manhattan approaching. Frank answered her signals, and as she came alonside, Captain Wilson sprang on board.
"How is it, captain?" he inquired, as Frank met him at the gangway. "Mercy!" he exclaimed, as he entered the door and saw the wounded rebels lying in rows on the deck. "Lively while it lasted, wasn't it? How many men have you lost?"
"None, sir," replied Frank. "If the rebels fired a shot at us, I don't know it."
"When I heard the firing," continued the captain, "I was afraid you had neglected to make preparations to receive them, and had got yourself into a bad scrape. But I see you are able to take care of yourself."
The captain then returned on board his vessel, which moved out into the river and came to anchor at a short distance from the Boxer, while Frank retired to his room and fell asleep, well satisfied with his night's work.
Early the next morning, a single rebel appeared on the bank, with a flag of truce, and a boat being sent out from the Manhattan, he was conveyed on board that vessel. In a short time, however, it returned and set the rebel on board the Boxer.
"I want permission to bury our dead," said the guerrilla, on being shown into the cabin.
"You must see Captain Wilson about that," replied Frank. "I have no authority while he is here."
"I have just been to see him," replied the rebel, "and he sent me to you. He says you command this station."
This was a compliment seldom paid a young officer; but the fact was, Captain Wilson was so elated at Frank's success, that he determined to take every opportunity to make his approval known. The young commander, of course, granted the request, and soon after the Manhattan steamed down the river.
About a week afterward, a tin-clad came up, and her captain came on board the Boxer and presented Frank with written orders to report to Captain Wilson without delay.
"I expect," said he, "that you will take my old station. If you do, you will have your hands full, for boats are fired into every day; but, somehow, I was always at the wrong end of my beat to meet the rebels."
When the captain had returned on board his vessel, the Boxer got up steam, and, in obedience to her orders, started down the river. They found Captain Wilson the next day, and Frank was assigned a new station. His beat was about five miles in length, and was a noted place for guerrillas. Steamboat captains dreaded to pass it, for their boats were fired into, and often badly cut up. The rebels had a battery of three guns, with which they were constantly dodging from one point to another, always taking good care, however, to keep out of reach of the gun-boats. On the second day Frank arrived at his station, and while running idly about--for his orders from Captain Wilson were to "keep moving"--a steamer passed them on her way up the river, and Frank ordered the pilot to round-to and follow her. The order was obeyed, but they had not gone more than half a mile, when a battery, mounted on a point which ran for some distance out into the river, opened on the steamer. The Boxer was at that moment behind the point and out of sight of the rebels, who, however, were soon made aware of her presence; for they had scarcely fired two rounds before a shell dismounted one of their guns. Their surprise was complete, and abandoning their battery, they ran into the woods for protection. The Boxer rounded the point, all the while shelling the woods, and Frank, seeing the guns deserted, landed with his vessel and secured them. That guerrilla station was, for the present, broken up. So thought Frank, who ordered the pilot to proceed up the river until he found the Manhattan. The next day the battery was delivered up to Captain Wilson, who sent it by the dispatch-boat to Mound City, which was then the naval station.
From that time hostilities along the river gradually ceased. The Boxer for nearly a year ran from one end of her beat to the other without encountering a single armed rebel. Then came the news of the glorious success of the Army of the Potomac, followed by the intelligence of a general surrender of the rebel forces. The Boxer was dressed with flags, salutes fired, and officers and crew looked forward with impatience to the time when they would be permitted to return home. At length came the long expected order to report to the admiral at Mound City, where the reduction of the squadron was rapidly going on.
Although Frank was impatient to see his quiet little home once more, he was reluctant to part from his crew, whom, upon his arrival at the navy-yard, he had received orders to discharge. One by one the sailors came into the cabin, and the hearty grasp of their hands, and the earnest manner in which they wished their commander "plain sailing through life," showed that their feelings were not unlike his own.
One morning, upon inquiry at the navy-yard post-office, Frank was presented with two official documents, which proved to be leaves of absence for himself and Archie for three months, "At the expiration of that time," so read the document, "if your services, are no longer required, you will he honorably discharged from the navy of the United States. Acknowledge the receipt of this leave, and send your address to the department."
As soon as this order had been complied with, the cousins began to make preparations to start for home. Their trunks had been packed several days before, in readiness for an immediate departure, and in three hours after the receipt of their leaves they had taken their seats in the train bound for Portland. The ride had never seemed so long, nor had the cars ever moved so slowly: but, in due time, they reached the city in safety. Frank remained but one day in Portland, for he was anxious to reach home. The "Julia Burton" still made her regular trips from Augusta to Lawrence, and on the third day he reached the village. Brave was the first to welcome him as he stepped out of the hack that had conveyed him from the wharf to the cottage, and not recognizing his master, muffled up as he was in his heavy overcoat, he stood at the gate, growling savagely, as if to warn him that he had ventured close enough. But one word was sufficient. The faithful animal had not forgotten the sound of the familiar voice, and bounding over the fence, he nearly overpowered his master with caresses.
The meeting with his mother and sister we shall not attempt to describe. Those who have passed through similar scenes can easily imagine that joy reigned supreme in that house.
About a week after his arrival at home, Archie Winters and his parents reached the village, the latter having "taken a holiday" in honor of the young paymaster's safe return. The cousins spent their furlough in visiting their old hunting and fishing-grounds, and in calling upon their friends. George and Harry Butler had returned, the former with an empty sleeve, having lost his arm in the Battle of the Wilderness. But all their companions had not been as fortunate as themselves. More than one had been offered upon the altar of their country, and many a familiar face was missing.
At the expiration of their three months' leave, Frank and Archie received their honorable discharges from the service, the sight of which recalled vividly to their minds many a thrilling scene through which they had passed. How changed the scene now from that when they had first bid adieu to their homes, to join the ranks of their country's defenders! "Then a gigantic rebellion was in progress; armed men sentineled each other from Virginia to the Rio Grande; and the land was filled with the crash of contending armies. Now, the rebel forces are vanquished, their banner in the dust; the slave empire that was to rise upon the ruins of the Republic is itself in ruins; and the soldiers and sailors of the Union, returning their weapons to the arsenals, have exchanged their honored blue for the citizen's garb, and resumed their peaceful avocations, as modest and unassuming as though they had never performed the deeds of valor that have filled the whole civilized world with wonder."
Frank and Archie are proud of the part they have borne in the war of the Rebellion, and will never forget their varied and eventful experience in the MISSISSIPPI SQUADRON.
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