SUMMARY: A view of Charles Main's first eight months as an Army officer on the Texas frontier, via a letter written to his best friend and fellow officer, Billy Hazard.
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DISCLAIMER: Charles Main, Billy Hazard, Elkhannah Bent and all other characters related to the North and South trilogy belong to Wolper Productions, Warner Brothers Television and John Jakes.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: This story is a continuation of Charles Main’s experiences in Texas, first started in the story, ”Dear Orry”. The story is a combination of canon from the trilogies of both John Jakes’ novels and the miniseries they were based upon.
June 28, 1857
Camp Cooper, TX
It was grand to receive your recent letter. I noticed that it had been written last February. The fact that I managed to receive it after four months seems like a miracle. It usually takes longer for anyone here out West to receive mail from the East.
How is Fort Hamilton treating you? I would say that I envy you, but I must admit that I am relieved to be far away from the East. Texas has grown on me these last eight months. I feel somewhat at home amidst the wild terrain, clear air and very little rules. But do not worry. My heart still remains with my family back in South Carolina. And you.
Speaking of the Mains, have you written to Cousin Brett since graduation? I have recently received a letter from her, in which she described Cousin Ashton’s wedding to James Huntoon, last winter. Frankly, I am relieved that Army duty prevented me from attending the wedding. I doubt that I could have mustered the effort to wish the “happy” couple well, considering how I feel about them both. And you should consider yourself one lucky man for escaping any possible matrimony with my stormy Cousin Ashton. Fortunately, that buffoon James will have to deal with her. My gut instinct tells me that poor James will barely be able to succeed.
Texas has proven to be very agreeable for me . . . from a certain point of view. Although a Texas winter can be a frozen hell, both the autumn and the spring out here can be quite beautiful. The skies seem more clear than anything I have ever experienced in South Carolina or West Point. As you can imagine, I have adjusted easily to living on an Army post on the frontier. Our company usually spent time with mounted drills and the practice of using a saber and a carbine rifle. Although the carbine can be useful to a cavalry trooper, I fail to see the usefulness of a saber. My company’s first officer, an Ohioan named Lafayette O’Dell, consider the saber useless. He likes to call them pigstickers. There have been occasional alarms about Indian attacks from nearby settlers. The alarm usually has something to do with the theft of a horse or stock. Our Delaware trackers have found signs of Northern Comanche in the area, but we have yet to encounter even one of them.
If I must be honest, our main problem here at Camp Cooper seemed to be boredom. The nearest white women live on the farms and ranches miles from the post, which leaves us with very little opportunities for socializing. I believe that an officer from one of the infantry companies is married and his wife lives with him. But one cannot organize a cotillion around one woman. And I suspect that Mrs. Thorpe will not remain very long. All is not lost. The men – including myself – have encountered some lively Indian squaws. But a dance social is the last thing on our minds when we meet them.
Last fall, I had dug a garden to keep me occupied. I just recently began planting seeds for a vegetable garden. Before you fall out of your chair laughing, tending a garden is a lot preferable to being driven out of my mind by sheer boredom. The chief sport among the officers here at Camp Cooper seemed to be arguments. They quarrel and debate over just about every subject in existence. The officers argue about weapons, food, women, drink, the Indians and the character of the Second Cavalry’s commander, Robert Lee. Another favorite topic seemed to the First Cavalry’s Colonel Albert Sidney Johnston’s recent campaign against the Mormons.
Adjusting to Texas has been easy for me. Adjusting to the men I serve with is another matter. Most of the enlisted men in Company ”K” hail from Ohio. And the rest are immigrants from Europe. When I had first arrived, I found it difficult to earn their respect. Being the only Southerner in Company ”K” did not help my cause. Due to an unpleasant experience with a trooper named Halloran, I managed to earn the animosity of most of the other men. About a month after my arrival last fall, Halloran had failed to report for morning formation. I found him in the stables, drunk. After ordering Halloran to return to his bunk and sleep off the liquor, the fellow attacked me with a knife. I managed to disarm him, but unfortunately it took several punches to stop him from attacking me. Halloran ended up with a broken rib. Now, most of the men consider me nothing more than another Justin La Motte – a brutal slaveowner with a penchant for beating slaves.
Fortunately, I cannot say the same about my relationship with the two officers in Company ”K”. When I first arrived in Texas, both the company’s commander, Captain Baldwin Wayne and the first officer, Lieutenant O’Dell, went out of their way to help me adjust to the Texas frontier. Captain Wayne turned out to be a jovial Ohioan who had graduated from West Point in ’44. As you know, Lieutenant O’Dell – or Lafe – not only taught me about the uselessness of sabers, but just about everything about Army life here at Camp Cooper. He had advised me to wear more casual clothing, instead of a formal uniform; to start my vegetable garden and he always complimented me in front of the men. Although I am afraid his efforts on that part have proven to be futile. Unfortunately, this situation with my two senior officers did not last. About two months ago, Captain Wayne was transferred to the War Department in Washington City. And Company ”K” acquired a new commander.
His name is Elkhannah Bent. Like me, he hails from the South. From Georgia, as a matter-of-fact. One would pity poor Lafe for becoming the only Yankee officer in our company and for feeling left out. Instead, Captain Bent ended up becoming the odd man out. Aside from two years in Mexico, he has never served on the frontier. And quite frankly, no one likes him. Including yours truly. I don’t know, Billy. There is something about Captain Bent that leaves me feeling uneasy. Since his arrival at Camp Cooper, many of us have noticed that he presumes to be the foremost authority on military matters. Some of his views on war and the possibility of a new kind of warfare has frightened a good number of officers on this post. He certainly harbors a low opinion of Colonel Lee and the Army muckety-muck back in Washington City. The man refuses to adjust to more casual dress prevalent here on the frontier, despite Lafe’s advice.
More importantly, I have caught Captain Bent staring at me in a strange manner on several occasions. When I had first introduced myself, there had been a flicker of . . . almost hatred in his eyes. I can only assume that my family’s name is familiar to him. He seemed to be the same age as Cousin Orry and your brother George. I wonder if he had attended West Point with them. Like them, he had served in the war against Mexico, ten years ago. Like Cousin Orry and your brother. I plan to write to Orry about the captain. Could you ask your brother if he ever knew an Elkhannah Bent at West Point. I would be more than obliged.
Take care, Billy. I hope you will write back upon receiving this letter. And do not forget to write to Cousin Brett. I believe she would be more than thrilled to hear from you.
Your friend always,