George VanArsdale
August 21, 1863 - Friday
Ithaca, New York

If At First You Don't Succeed

It was a slow day at the smithy. George had finished all his duties with the horses, and Hiram had no customers come in.

George said, "I saw another recruitment tent up on the Heights. Newspaper says it's a cavalry outfit, reorganizing from a veteran infantry regiment."

Hiram asked, "So it's time to enlist again, then, is it?"

"Yes. I will keep trying until I succeed. Cavalry sounds right to me, so I hope they don't reject me for being underage."

"Well, I've heard tell of young fellows who did this..." Hiram got a slip of paper and a pencil. He wrote the number 18 on the paper. "Here, put this in your shoe. That way, if somebody asks you if you're over eighteen, you can honestly say yes."

For once, George genuinely laughed at one of Hiram's jokes.

And Hiram had another idea. "Come with me, George."

"Where are we going?"

"You'll see."

They walked into a barber shop. George was puzzled. "Why are we here, Hi?"

"Just sit in the chair while I talk to the man."

Hiram took the barber aside and talked to him in a very low voice. The barber seemed to resist the idea, shaking his head and looking doubtful, but Hiram was insistent. The barber then draped a rubberized cloth on George and started mixing some foam in a cup. George asked, "What's the idea? Am I getting a haircut?"

"No, George. You're gettin' a shave."

"I don't need a shave."

"And that's the problem. Ya look like you've never shaved. That peachfuzz o' yers has never grown longer, and has never been cut. Once a boy starts shaving, then the hairs get more determined, and grow with a vengeance. Kinda like you! Ha ha ha!"

The shave didn't go as well as one might have expected. George was nicked by the razor several times. You'd think a professional barber wouldn't be able to stay in business very long if he was always cutting the customers, George thought. After the shave, George looked at himself in the mirror. Hiram came over and pointed at the cuts. "There. Now it looks like you cut yourself shaving. And there's none o' that peachfuzz on your face anymore."

The barber apologized. "Sorry for the cuts, young man. But Hi is right. To the discerning eye, you do have the appearance of being closer to eighteen now."

Hiram asked George, "Got that paper in your shoe?"

"Yes, sir. I am over eighteen." It sounded much more convincing this time.

"You're ready. Good luck!"

George's second enlistment went very differently from the first, in several respects.

There was a different class of volunteers this time. The men who volunteered for the cavalry seemed more interested in the dashing uniform, the dashing image of riding to battle on horseback rather than marching everywhere on foot. The epitome of this type was one fellow with black hair and a waxed mustache who came and stood in line wearing knee-height boots, highly polished, with spurs. He wore his hat at a rakish angle and stood in poses while waiting his turn to sign up.

The soldier at the table, wearing two yellow chevrons on his sleeve, did a double-take when he saw who was standing in front of him. Shaking his head a tad, he dipped his pen in the ink and said, "Name?"

The fellow announced, in a theatrical way, "Harrison McMasters."

"Born in what county?"

"Cayuga."

"Age?"

"I am twenty-two years of age."

"Occupation?"

"Bookkeeper."

"Hair, black. Eyes, brown. What's your experience with horses?"

"I have made the acquaintance of several horses."

"In what way?"

The fellow started fidgeting a bit, digging his shiny boot toe into the ground. "Through transportation. And whenever I pass by a horse standing by the sidewalk, I make a point of patting it or making pleasantries."

"Have you ridden on horseback?"

"Twice, as a child. I enjoyed it tremendously, and look forward to doing it again in the service of my country."

The soldier looked towards the right, where the recruiting officer was engaged in a conversation with a visitor. "Captain Boyer?"

To his conversation partner, the captain said, "I beg your pardon." The captain looked at the recruiting table. "Yes, corporal?"

"This fellow here rode horseback two times as a child, and has made the acquaintance of several horses he has passed by in the street."

"Is that so? I think the infantry or the artillery would very much like to have him."

"Yes, sir." The corporal turned back to McMasters. "Thank you for coming, Mister..." He glanced at the sheet. "McMasters, but we decline your enlistment at this time."

McMasters sputtered, "Now, look here, I have come all this way..."

The corporal raised his voice sternly. "You are dismissed. Next!"

It was George's turn. He said to McMasters, "Pardon me, please." McMasters left in a huff.*

The corporal dipped his pen in the ink. "Name?"

"George VanArsdale."

"VanArsdale, is that one word or two?"

"One, capital V Van, capital A Arsdale, squeezed together."

"Born in what county?"

"Tompkins."

"Age?"

"I am over eighteen."

The corporal smiled up at George. "Shall I put down eighteen, then?"

George gulped. "Yes."

"Occupation?"

"Blacksmith's apprentice."

"Is that so? You know how to shoe horses?"

"Yes, sir, I do."

"Ever ridden a horse?"

"Oh, yes."

"Know how to use a curry comb?"

"Heh. All too well."

One fellow in line, a yellow-haired boy, asked loudly, "Ain't you that fellow works for Hiram Black?"

George had a sinking feeling that he'd been outed as underage again. But he had to answer truthfully. "Yes, that's right."

The fellow told the recruiters, "This here fellow really knows horses. I work at a livery, and everybody's always talking about the fellow at Black's who can make the most ornery horse stand still for shoeing or any kind of handling. 'Take that horse to Black's,' that's what everybody says."

Captain Boyer told the corporal, "Sign that boy up, corporal! We need his kind."

George signed his name, and the Captain clapped his shoulder. "Welcome to the Fifteenth New York Cavalry, son!"

George stepped aside and waited to see what happened with the yellow-haired fellow. George heard the fellow give his name as Hezekiah Morris. After the fellow was finished with his enlistment, George spoke with him. "I remember you, from Black's Smithy. The high-strung black mare. So your name's Hezekiah?"

"Yeah. Call me Hez. Your name's George?"

George nodded. "Thanks for what you said."

"All I did was tell the truth. Everyone knows how good you are with horses."

"Well, I guess we'll be spending a lot of time with horses now!"

"And maybe with each other, too." George didn't know how true Hezekiah's prediction would turn out to be.

* * *


© 2019 Tom Sloper. All rights reserved. May not be re-published without written permission of the author.