George VanArsdale
15th New York Cavalry
Late September, 1863
Fort Tompkins
Staten Island, New York

After another scolding from the sergeant, George was feeling like a poor excuse for a soldier. He'd begged off going with the other fellows to see some sights or other. He just needed some time alone. He slumped off to the shore.

George was throwing rocks into the Narrows when two infantrymen happened by. One of them was a sergeant, the other a corporal. The sergeant said, "Need some help there, Cavalry?"

George looked at him. "What?"

The corporal said to the sergeant, "Oh, come on, Chauncey. We're supp..."

The sergeant interrupted, "Hold yer horses. Cavalry here needs to clear this shore of rocks. I think he can use some help." He then picked up a rock and tossed it into the water. He looked at the corporal. Some invisible signal passed between them, and the other fellow, too, commenced to pick up rocks and throw them into the water.

The sergeant, Chauncey, said, "Where you from, Cavalry?"

By this time in his Army career, George had had to answer this question several times. So he had finally figured out the best answer to this question. He said, "Caton."

Chauncey raised an eyebrow.

George said, "New York."

Chauncey grinned and said, in a comical attempt to mimic the dialect he'd heard some of the locals use, "New Yuawk? 'Zat so? Where in New Yuawk?"

George said, "South of Seneca Lake."

Chauncey said, "Finger Lakes! I was born and raised over by Silver Lake."

George felt calmed by the friendly chatter. "Never heard of Silver Lake."

"It's west of the other lakes, a lot smaller, probably the smallest. Southwest of Rochester." George threw a rock. Chauncey continued, "I grew up in Middlebury, but then we moved to Michigan. So that's where I'm from now. Michigan. My name's Chauncey Butler. Twenty-Sixth Michigan."

George shook hands. "George VanArsdale. Fifteenth New York Cavalry." George and the corporal also shook hands.

Chauncey broadly gestured over the Narrows and the Upper Bay, Brooklyn and Manhattan, and said, "We've been engaged in heroically keeping the peace since the draft riots last month." The corporal snorted. Chauncey continued, grinning, "That was irony. What we've really been doing is twiddling our thumbs and dodging rocks from ghetto thugs. Kinda nice to be throwing rocks ourselves, for a change." He hefted another one. "City's peaceful enough now."

The corporal snorted again. "If that city could ever be called 'peaceful,' it would have to be in comparison with utter chaos."

George said, "I never understood why they were rioting. It seems almost if the people in New York City have a whole different way of thinking about this war than everyone else. Does noone care about slavery, about the threat to democracy?"

Chauncey said, "Well, you have to understand that there are a lot of immigrants. Irish, German, Scotch, French... They weren't born here; this isn't their fight. They don't want to go to war. And they're poor; they're angry that rich men can just pay to stay out of the war."

The corporal added, "And then there's the coloreds. Some of the rioters say when the slaves are freed, the coloreds will all come north and take all the jobs for lower wages. And the damned Democrats that run the place keep talkin' hatred and fear, 'cause they want the war to end, even if it means preserving slavery."

Nodding, Chauncey said, "There's too much desperation in the City, too much anger, just too many straws on the camel's back." He threw a last stone into the water. "Well, this is what we've been doing. How 'bout your regiment?"

George said, "Still in training. Haven't even been issued horses or guns yet. Battalion's supposed to join up with the rest of our regiment in Washington soon, or so I hear."

Chauncey said, "Well, I think we made a dent in the rock population here. Pleased to meet you, Cavalry. Take care of yourself." With that, the two men made their exit. Oddly enough, George felt a little better.


Chauncey Butler (source: ancestry.com)

When George returned to camp, the place was all atwitter* with news. "We are heading to Washington tomorrow!"

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