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Sundown at Harper's Ferry for the Father General

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Sundown at Harper's Ferry for the Father General

Post  Father General on Tue Mar 12, 2013 12:25 am

By Sunday afternoon, Harper’s Ferry was a quiet place, despite the Confederate soldiers congregating there, in fact, it was so quiet the townsfolk were surprised to hear church bells calling them forth from their basements to services.

Emerging from their shelters, they knew which church was calling them by the peal and tone of each bell. There was no apparent danger, for the well-disciplined Confederate soldiers entered no homes, and the enlisted ranks spoke to nobody.

Officers kept to themselves, simply acknowledging the passage of nervous citizens with nods.

None of this was what they expected from a victorious army, but then, who could expect someone like the Father General?

Surprised civilians found their churches guarded by soldiers dressed so fine that they could hardly be real. They were the soldiers of the First Mississippi Volunteer Rifles and they stood in stark contrast to the balance of the corps which occupied their town. They wore boots, when many others were barefoot and their coats and trousers were gray and manufactured, not homespun. Their rifles were sparkling clean, already polished since the morning’s battle.

At every entrance to every church, a silent watch of these guards was posted, stern and unwavering.

In one particular parish on the southern edge of town, the people found the doors open to invite them, their preacher silently meekly in the front-most pew. Families filed in and sat down in silence. Once the church was filled, they waited.

Up the steps came the heavy sound of boots, and into the room strode the Father General. Dressed in an all-white uniform trimmed in gold, he looked even more resplendent than his much-favored soldiers. Despite his beard and locks, he was a young, dashing figure. Mounting the pulpit, his eyes sparkled with a brilliant radiance that even the new-married ladies found enchanting.

If the Father General was a splendid sight, his words were quite the opposite, filling even the most pious with dread. After a short sermon, lasting only an hour, the riot act was read.

No woman should be molested, no property touched, on the condition that each citizen attend church faithfully twice-a-week, and those with Union sympathies confined themselves to their abodes. Those with grievances against his army were encouraged to make report, as well as to share grievances against the recently departed General Georgia, whom he promised to bring to justice.

No soul exited church that evening with their heart untouched. The townfolk felt two extremes. Here was obviously a good Christian man whose army would respect their property, rights, and virtues – yet would at the slightest infraction have a man shot as quickly as he would utter a morning prayer.

The people did not quite know what to make of their conqueror. No matter – for they were not alone. Perhaps few, except those who knew him better, were prepared to render a verdict.

Following his sermon, the Father General proceeded to the two remaining churches in town and repeated his performance. Finally, the evening well along, he made his way to his prize, the arsenal at Harper’s Ferry.

He expected the place to be a shambles, given all the activity of the prior days, but nothing could have prepared him for what he eventually found.

Outside, the stench was unbearable. Literal mounds of human excrement and refuse littered the grounds, a gift from the recently departed Glorieta Hairlifters, who were savages in every way imaginable. His mouth covered with a silk handkerchief, the Father General quickly made his way to the main building where he expected to find the spoils of war stacked for his perusal.

When the door was opened to him, he entered to find not rows of cannon, hub-to-hub, but rather an empty space. In fact, the room was stripped entirely bare and the floor swept clean, an absolute contrast to the morass outside.

His mouth hung agape and for the first time many men saw the Father General surprised. He walked the length of the building, almost as if doing so would cause kegs of powder and crates of rifles to appear – but none did.

Halfway through his inspection of the empty structure, he observed a single sheet of paper on the floor. Carefully laid in the middle, its presence was obviously deliberate.

He picked up the note, which read:

Dear Father General,

Here is your arsenal. How do you like it?

Sincerely,

Lt. General M. T. Georgia

The Father General swallowed hard, his heart filling with rage. He had been cheated of his prize. Now, an entire arsenal worth of material was on its way to McClellan before Richmond and he could do nothing. With the material went his justification for attacking against orders. He had waited for Sunday, perhaps a day too long.

He crumpled the note and littered it on the floor. Striding out, not a man dared to do anything but salute.

__

Monday morning found General Hebert rushing into a cabinet meeting. He was also entering an ambush. At the very outset, he was asked to give a report – his opinion of the Father General – a lunatic, he said. Then he was asked what should be done at Harper’s Ferry. A careful attack, led by a selected commander, but not the Father General.

It was only after he delivered his recommendation that he was told the awful truth. The Father General had already attacked the morning before and had won a great victory.

The cabinet did not yet know that the arsenal was discovered empty.

This revelation sparked much anger and resentment as Hebert threatened to resign and cabinet ministers called for the Father General to be court martialed whilst still others demanded his promotion.

The debate took much of the morning until President Davis adjourned the meeting for an extended lunch – to allow tempers to cool.

In the warming Richmond afternoon, Davis ended the debate. He ordered the Father General should report to Richmond directly to give an account of his disobedience. In fact, it would be a court martial. If the Father General were guilty, he should face military justice. But if innocent, he should be treated with proper respect.

And so the orders were issued and by Tuesday evening, the Father General was presented with papers which relieved him of his command. He was expecting such a thing however, and had already provided General Blackstreet with careful instructions regarding the care of the army and the civilians he should encounter.

Perhaps most surprisingly, he presented to General Blackstreet a cigar, carefully sliced in half.

General Blackstreet,

I wish to commend you for your gallant victory and subsequent harassment of the blue-bellied devil, whom Providence shall soon consign to Hell.

I leave in your command the Army of Western Virginia. Look after the men, provide for their needs and train them well. Maintain good discipline. Do not permit any vice, especially cards, dice, drink, tobacco, or fornication. Nor foul language. Foul language was a grievous sin and should be severely punished. Watch for foul language.

And dice.

Ensure the men perform drill not once, but twice each day, and keep the 1st Mississippi’s marksmanship up.

Ensure the men follow the cleanest regimen, for cleanliness is next to Godliness.

Respect the conquered peoples, for Providence shall be their judge, so it is written of these Canaanites.

Finally, I present to you this cigar, as a gift of thanks for your accomplishment. Although I think this a sin, and a terrible vice, I do indulge you this singular reward. To ensure you understand moderation however, I have cut it in two, that you may not consume all of it at once, for that would be gluttony.

I depart. Always be at your task, for ye know not when the master shall return.

-Maj. Gen. Matthew Neal

Sitting comfortably in the Father General's former headquarters tent, General Blackstreet folded the letter and put his feet up. He then promptly smoked both halves of his cigar.
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Father General

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