by Jim Paw-Paw Wilson
Illustrated by Jock Dempsey
Neither Robert nor I said much as we drove through town. For one thing, folks were all out on the streets, saying goodbye to their sons and fathers. Many waved to us, and I heard more than a few say, "God be with you, lads!" and other similar sentiments.
And for another, both Robert and I were having a bit of a struggle with our own emotions. At least I was and the occasional sniff from the other side of the wagon seat indicated that Robert was as well, though I was careful not to look.
When we got to the muster ground, the officers were already there. One waved for us to join the other wagons. There were only six, one for each of the five companies, and one for powder and shot. Our wagon made the seventh and as we were pulling into place, the surgeon's wagon pulled in, making the eighth and last. Meanwhile, men were straggling in from all directions.
The teamster from one of the company wagons came over to talk to me.
"Will, a trace chain broke this morning as I was hitching up. I was able to adjust the other chains to make up for it, but it would be better welded. Do you think there will be time now, or had we best wait till we bivouac for the night?"
"I really don't know how much time we have. It wouldn't take long to build a fire and fix it, but would take a while to get set up. Check with one of the officers and see what they say."
Nodding in agreement, he left to check with his company commander. Shortly he returned, saying that the captain thought we'd better wait till the evening.
"Bring it to me as soon as you get un-hitched," I told him. "I'll set up the forge as soon as Robert and I do that."
"I'll do the un-hitching, Will," Robert said, "I don't need to set up anything. After I've put the horses on the picket line, I'll come back and help."
"That would be a big help, Robert! Thank you!"
"There may come a time when I need help, and I know you will be there for me. We are in this together, we should work together. I can pump a bellows, too, for that matter, and will do so willingly."
"Then we are a team of two. Pulling in the same harness!" I joked.
"No, just the two halves of one horse," Robert replied, "but I'm the end with ears on it!"
The teamster laughed as hard as I did! "Much of the smithing you will do will probably come from our wagons," the teamster said. "I am sure you can call on any of us for help if you need us. We should also plan to set up our own defense so as not to need help from the companies."
"Good point." Robert said. Why don't we all get together this evening, after we eat, and talk that out."
The lieutenant colonel came in our direction, calling all of the teamsters to a group.
"When we move out, the colonel has asked that all of the wagons stay together as a wagon train. You may set your own order of march." Then he returned to where the other officers were gathered.
I spoke first saying, "I think the surgeon's wagon and the powder wagon should be in the middle of the train for protection. We could have the wagon from Company A, then the carpenter and blacksmith's wagon, then Company B followed by the surgeon, Company C, the powder wagon and finally Company D, and E. Each day we could rotate, with the lead wagon falling back to the trail, but the surgeon and the powder wagon should always remain in the middle for safety. Then over the course of time, each wagon will rotate from the rear up to the lead position. That way, we'll each have at least one dust free day a week."
The rest agreed that this should be a workable plan, and that we could at least try it. We can have a short teamsters meeting each night to keep everything working smoothly.
It was almost funny, watching the company commanders trying to get the troops into some kind of formation. We needed to be on the way, but nobody seemed to know what to do. Finally, the colonel took charge. He called all the officers to him, told each company commander where to stand, then called for all the soldiers to stand behind their company commanders. That finally got things together, at least somewhat. Then the commander led the way down the road with the militia following him and our wagons following the regiment.
It was more of a straggle, than a march, but at least we were all headed in the same direction! As the last of the troops left the pasture where we had met, the wagon from Company A started moving, with the rest of us falling into our places.
Not long before sunset, the colonel stopped at a farm house just off the road and asked if we might spend the night in one of their pastures. The farmer gave his permission, and led us to a nice level pasture with a stream to one side and a large haystack. The troops started setting up their tents, and those of us with wagons chose a corner of the pasture to set up in. Robert suggested that we use the corner, so that we could use the wagons and the corner fence line to form a temporary corral for the horses.
As soon as we had the wagon parked, I started setting up to repair the chain. Lowering the tailgate of the wagon and pulling down the legs to support it, I pulled the stump from where it is stored, set it on the ground just to the right of the tail gate, set the anvil on top if it and secured it with the chain that I had carried for that purpose. Pulling the forge to the back of the tailgate, I put a couple of scoops of charcoal on top of a handful of shavings. Robert had said that he would save shavings and scraps for me to use in starting the fire and there was a bucket in the wagon for that purpose. With the fire laid, I pulled the bellows handle from its storage place, put it through the bracket on the side of the wagon, and hooked it to the lower board of the bellows. Lowering the side of the wagon, I got a pair of tongs and my hammer from my tool box, placing them on the forge and anvil. Striking a light on a piece of char cloth, I soon had a merry little blaze going in my tinder. Transferring the flame to the pile of shavings in the forge, I brushed it from my tinder and put my flint and steel away. Hanging the shovel, poker, and rake from their hooks on the forge, I was ready for the teamster when he brought me the chain.
When he arrived, I took the chain from him, and thanked him for saving the broken link.
"I didn't know whether you could use it or not," he commented, "but I couldn't see any sense in just throwing it away."
"You were quite right. Iron is dear, and I couldn't carry much with me. Tell everybody to save every piece they find."
Grasping the link with a pair of tongs, and putting a tong ring on the reins, I placed the link in the fire. I reached for the bellows handle, but Robert forestalled me, saying, "I can do that. You watch the heat of the iron.
The handle was set up so that I could watch the forge and pump the bellows at the same time, but it would be easier with someone else pumping. I wiped off my anvil, and when the link was at a bright yellow heat, I pulled it from the fire. Quickly straightening it out, I scarfed the ends, and re-shaped it ready for welding. Returning the link to the fire and cautioning Robert to not pump so hard that he burned up the link, I got a small tin of flux from the tool box. When the link was almost to welding heat, I slipped it through the two pieces of broken chain, and fluxed the end that I was going to weld. Putting it back into the fire, and asking Robert for more air I watched it closely. When it was sparking nicely, I took it to the anvil, laid it on the face and tapped it with the hammer to marry the joint. Once I was sure that it was sound, I then took it to the horn and shaped it to match the other links. Since it had broken at a worn spot, it was a little shorter than the other links. I re-heated it and working at the horn, carefully stretched it so it was the same as the rest of the chain.
I had not gotten my slack tub from the wagon, so I walked down to the stream, still holding the hot link with the tongs, while the rest of the chain dragged behind me. When I got to the stream, I quenched the link till it was cool to the touch. Taking it back to the wagon, I used a scraper to clean the fire scale from it and checked the weld one final time.
When I handed the repaired chain to the teamster he commented that the only smith he had ever seen who could weld a chain that quickly and neatly was Master John. That made me feel very good, but all I did was ask him who he thought had trained me!
Since there was nothing else to repair or make at the moment, I spread the fire so it would go out faster, and put my tools back in the tool box.
Robert had gathered fire wood for the evening fire, and taking a scoop of coals from the forge, I soon had it lit. The same lieutenant colonel who had told us about setting our line of march came to us and complimented us on arranging our affairs so well. He then asked if we had elected a sergeant or wagon boss. We told him that we had not, and didn't see any real need for doing so. He replied that the colonel expected us to have one, so we said we would elect one at our evening meeting. He also told us that we should draw our rations with Company A this week. Since we are not assigned to any company, we have to draw our rations from each company in turn. We went to draw our rations, and brought them back to the fire to cook. The other teamsters were starting to gather around our fire, each bringing their own cup and rations. But they had kept a place in the circle around the fire for Robert and me.
We all cooked our own food and ate. There wasn't much talk, eating is a serious business. When Robert and I had finished eating, I took our plates and cups down to the stream. Rinsing them in the running water, I scrubbed them with sand from the stream bed, rinsed them well and carried them back to the wagon.
When I got back to the fire, the teamsters were talking about who should be elected sergeant. One of them said that since I had suggested a line of march that worked well, I should be elected. I tried to talk them out of it, but Robert seconded the motion and before I really knew what was happening, I was a sergeant. What did I do to deserve this? Well, if I am a sergeant, I guess I must act like a sergeant.
Fortunately Master John had talked a lot about his time with General Washington, and I remember much of what he said. I hope I remember enough!Continued in chapter 6