Welcome to Fifth Minnesota Fiction!

Update 1-26-15: Ladies and gentlemen, the show is coming to an end. For all of you who have read, supported, and encouraged this blog and my writing--thank you. While many of these stories have already been previously published in book form, I am about to join the 21st century and publish in electronic reader format. As such, this blog will vanish into the ether March 1st. Thank you all, I hope you have enjoyed my meager offerings.


This is a blog dedicated to the essence of what my experience doing Civil War living history is all about--telling a good story. In the case of the Co. A, Fifth Minnesota, we strive to tell the stories of history--everyday lives caught up in the turmoils of strife and change. Our purpose, is to give room for some of those stories to grow, and find an end for themselves. The process of good Living History is much the same as that used to write a story, the difference is that with the written word it is the reader that acts it out in their head. With Living History, the participants take those great narratives and give them life themselves in action and word.

Sometimes, I sit about and think about what it was like for the people we portray; how they coped with those issues that are touched on at an event, but never quite get to live out. I know I have always wondered what those first days were like for those companies of the 5th that had initially been left behind in Minnesota, upon rejoining their regiment in the south. Were they accepted? Did people question their skills, and ability to handle the pressures of battle? This is what spawned the idea for my first short story about the Fifth Minnesota; and this collection.

Here those stories we have begun can go on. I hope you will enjoy them as much as I do writing them! A word of warning though--be patient with me. Posts may be spread out a bit (I write these whenever real life allows) but something new is almost always cooking; it simply may take time to get them served up at the table.

A. Wade Jones

Saturday, April 30, 2011

Of Pork Barrels and Smoked Yanks

February, 1864
If being in winter camp could be dull, monotonous and uncomfortable, then being in the stockade while in winter camp was a sight worse. How had he ended here, pacing the straw covered floor of the log frame building in which he was to spend the next week? Oh, Private Henry Bollum knew alright -- and all in all it had been worth it. He was not the type usually to fall under the eye of the provost, as he was not normally given to actions which would result in corrective action of any kind. But, he had gone all in this time -- charged with insubordination and reckless mischief. What choice had he really had?  He sat down again and leaned his head back against the wall with a sigh. In the end this would be worth it, he knew, and smiled to himself as he thought back to the Monday last when this had all began.


To say that the discovery of the ingredient required to create a bit of heaven in the doldrums of winter camp was a miracle wasn’t quite accurate. After all, there had been a lot of trial and error over the last few days. Yet all the same, Bollum had it. His patience alone had guided him simply by the law of averages to discover what he now called ‘the secret’ -- but he preferred to think of it as Divine Intervention. Falling to his knees, he clasped his hands together and said a prayer of thanks.

“What you doing? Lost your wits at last?” said Private Noah Cartwright, slipping into the small earth, log, and canvas hut and out of the cold of the day. Bollum jumped, and shook his fist at his friend. Cartwright was from the 50th US colored regiment down the hill, and the only Negro that Bollum had ever known personally.

“I’m praying, ’aint you never seen a man pray before?”

Cartwright smiled and laughed as he took a seat and warmed his hands near the fire.

“Why you got to go and sneak up on a fellow like that anyway?” Bollum laughed and smiled. “Near scared me half to death!”

“What you got to pray for today Henry; it’s cold out there an’ the land is froze!? Say, how’s that barrel I fetched you?” asked Cartwright, stepping over and examining the makeshift flue of the chimney.  Bollum resumed stirring the simmering pot that was situated over the coals.

“Good, no sign of it catching a-light at all. But that’s not what I was praying over -- Noah, can you keep a secret? I don’t mean no simple secret neither, I mean a real darling.”

Cartwright smiled, and chuckled. “What are you on about, Henry? You agitated fierce today!”

“No, you damn fool, listen! You see this?” Bollum tenderly stirred the simmering pot, the steam rising from it beginning to give off a scrumptious aroma. Cartwright breathed in heavily, leaning over for a better look.

“What you made there? I didn’t notice much of the smell before now, but it’s making my bread basket turn somersaults with craving. What is that, Henry?”

Bollum beamed with pride, he gestured to the simmering mixture as he might if he were introducing his firstborn son. The brownish liquid began to take on a golden color and a mouth watering aroma began to fill the hut.

“This, my dear friend, is ‘Bollum’s Heaven in a Pot.’ ”

Cartwright sniffed deeply and smiled.

“It looks like slum -- but it don’t smell like no slum I ever had!”

“Slum? This aint no slum! THIS,” Bollum gestured to the gently boiling mixture, “is ‘Heaven in a Pot!’ Anyone can make slum my friend, I mean what is slum?”

“Anything you got to boil in the pot with salt horse”

“Exactly! This, though, is not just anything in the pot, no sir! It has a secret ingredient which brings out the flavor and sticks to the ribs!” responded Bollum, looking very pleased with himself. Cartwright nodded.

“All right then -- can I have a taste?”

Bollum looked at his friend, hands upon his hips for a moment. At last he nodded, took up a small tin cup from a peg near the hearth and served up a small portion. He wiped the sides of the cup with the hem of his blue coat, and handed it over to the expectant Cartwright. Bollum stood watching his friend, who blew on the contents of the cup before raising it to his lips and gingerly sipping. By this point, Bollum was nearly jumping about in place in anticipation of his friend’s response.

“Well?! How is it?”

Cartwright lowered the cup, his face glowing with pleasure. “Henry, I don’t know what to say! This is the best -- well you’re right it aint no slum -- well it’s fine! Very fine indeed!”

“It is, isn’t it? I was just throwing things together for a slum and, well without giving anything away, I was short on something for flavor and that’s when I found the secret ingredient! It was an accident really, that’s what makes this so fine, like an act of the Almighty or something!”

Cartwright chuckled at the excitement of his friend, and finished the cup with a wet slurp. He sighed loudly and passed the cup back to Bollum. “Secret? What you got in there that makes that taste so fine then, huh? Don’t hold out on old Cartwright now!”

Bollum cocked an eyebrow, and frowned. “You are the same age as I am Cartwright, you ’aint old!”

“Well, for friendship sake then! What is it in this here ‘Heaven’?”

Bollum crossed his arms and smiled.

“Aint gonna tell me, huh?”

“No chance brother, I’m holding this closer than the Almighty. This little wonder is gonna make me a success after this war is over.”

Cartwright nodded; he had heard Bollum’s great dream many times before. “After the war,” Bollum would always say “I am gonna open myself an eating house  -- not some two bit shanty either! -- a fine establishment for regular hard working folk. I’ll open up down in St. Paul along the river, what with all that steamboat crew and train workers needing good food between runs I ought to clear a good living!”

Cartwright always felt a pang of envy when his friend would dream this way, feeling the great gulf between the two of them open up for what might lie in store for them, when and if this war ever really came to an end. Bollum could dream easily; for him the future was not such a new prospect. For Cartwright -- a slave until the Federals had occupied the land around Vicksburg and given him the chance to fight for his own and his peoples freedom -- the ‘future’ was a strange and uncertain concept. So, for that matter, was a word which so many bandied about without a second thought: freedom. What would they really have when this war ended? Some believed it would mean equality for the Negro people; Cartwright felt that was less likely than a state generally better than slavery. One had only to see the attitudes of some of the very men in this army which had given him his freedom from slavery. Not that he held any less admiration for the entity that had freed him from the work he had done for the Chase family; Cartwright loved the army. He loved being a soldier, and wearing the blue suit of the Union. But he had always been a realist, and tried to see things for what they truly were. People were to be taken one at a time, which was how he always hoped others would consider him. His friend Bollum had started thinking aloud about what his place would be like when he had it, when suddenly Cartwright got a flash of genius.

“What if I bought in to this place you want to set up?” he said, interrupting Bollum mid-sentence and leaving his friend with a confused look on his face.

“What?” asked Bollum as he stirred the ‘Heaven’.

“I got $10 saved, some in gold, the rest in Greenbacks. If I threw my stake in with you after this whole thing be over -- we’d be well on our way!”
A funny look crossed Bollum’s face, but then he smiled. “That might work. We’d be partners then, work it together, eh?”

Cartwright smiled and put out his hand, which Bollum took and shook enthusiastically. “I aint no hand for cooking, but I can do figures. I was Mr. Chase’s clerk for six years, so I know something or two about keeping books.”

His friend smiled broadly and nodded. “Good, cause I aint got no talent for the business parts! I can cook though, thanks to being the oldest boy of a squabble of children and Mother dead.”

“Didn’t you have no sisters?”

“Not a one! Eight boys, me on down to the baby what lived when my mother died birthing him. Father was sad to see me grown and on my own; not for my absence but for the loss of my dumplings! Still, he married again. I imagine she filled in nice.”

There was a sound and the door opened, ushering in Private Cooper, one of Bollum’s fellow hut mates. He stopped in the draft of the open door and scowled at Cartwright. “I thought I smelled something off. I figured it was Bollum boiling laundry and calling it chow; but now I see it was one of you people.”

“Shut your mouth, Cooper, this man is a friend of mine!” said Bollum quickly, stepping forward with balled fists. Cooper put up his hands, and backed up.

“No need for getting like that! I’ll leave and let you two finish holding hands.  When that one is gone I’ll come back.”  He left the door slightly ajar, and Bollum went over and kicked it shut.

“I cannot abide that man!” he growled.

“Aint his fault he hasn’t manners or sense -- growing up in the pig slop with the other animals will do that. Beside, I’ve heard worse,” calmed Cartwright, as he left and smiled to his friend. Bollum turned back to his bubbling pot and set a lid down over the mixture as Cooper wandered back in.

“Rotten taste in friends -- but for a change whatever you is boiling there is pleasant; I guessing that ’aint no laundry then?”

Cooper made to lift the lid to investigate what was cooking, but Bollum shouldered him aside and carried the pot out the door. “HA! You are more likely to catch a weasel asleep! You ’aint never getting none of this!” he shouted as he hurried into the cool day and along the company street towards someone he could trust -- the Chaplin. As he made has way along ‘Saint Anthony Avenue’ -- as this street had been christened -- he realized the risk he was taking. Even with the lid in place the aroma of the ‘Heaven’ was seeping out, and he was surrounded by men whom had been thoroughly transformed into ravenous beasts by the rigors of Army life. Surely, the Federals ate so much better than the Rebels did, that much was an established fact. Unfortunately, that didn’t mean that WHAT the Federals ate was always quite so appetizing. Nothing could rouse men from slumber, vice, or duty faster than the awareness of something not only different to eat -- but actually enjoyable to consume. Bollum had seen it before, in an incident still reminisced about on occasion around the fire at night -- the “Lemon Macaroon Affair”.

It had all started innocently enough one cold autumn afternoon the year before, when Private Henry Dahlgren had received in the post a large package. By chance, the post had run faster than normal and the contents -- two dozen lemon macaroon cookies baked lovingly somewhere by feminine hands -- were not yet hard as stone. Worst of all they had retained the faintest sent of their former freshly baked goodness (there was a great deal of debate about this being completely true, but that hardly mattered in regards to the outcome) which drew a crowd in no time. Poor Dahlgren learned a horrible fact of life in an Army camp: there are no secrets -- but especially when you receive a package containing anything remotely edible. At first, Dahlgren shared openly with his pards. He made a wise career choice in using two of the baked gems to smooth his relations with a third sergeant, which everyone agreed made sense. Of course by this point the wolves had begun to gather around poor Dahlgren, who like the lone shepherd never really had a chance. A mob descended, everyone wanting just a taste. Dahlgren, stalwart and brave, drove them off. That night, someone stole his package and by the next morning word in camp was that Private Dahlgren’s lemon macaroons had been delicious for having been packed up in a box for so many weeks.

Heads were turning already as Bollum went, trying not to rush and knock the lid ajar. Spill even a drop of ‘Heaven’ and they would catch the full aroma of this masterpiece -- and where would he be then?

“Whatcha got there?” asked a lanky looking solider who had stopped repair on the side of his hut as Bollum went by.

“Laundry -- boiled my socks is all.” Bollum didn’t slow to converse. He was almost there, just across the cross street at ‘Ramsey Avenue’ and up towards the officers quarters and he was home free. The Chaplin was not only a good man and a friend, but an illness as a child had nearly left him without the sense of smell -- what better place to hide his creation until he was sure it was complete? He was so close to something he felt would make his name in eating houses, a dish travelers would seek out and his place would get famous for. He realized suddenly how absurd the whole thing seemed: hiding a pot of boiled soup in an Army camp in the midst of a terrible civil conflict -- but then absurdity was commonplace in war, so maybe it actually made sense after-all. That was when he realized someone had called his name; or rather someone had called for ‘Private Bollum’, meaning it was likely official -- a non-com or a full blown officer. It proved to be the latter, much to his dismay. Bollum halted, and stood at attention with his pot in hand.

“Yes Sir?”

The officer was a lieutenant he didn’t know very well, but was from one of the other regiments within the 5th Minnesota because he bore an embroidered number 5 on his cap and he had seem him in battalion drill. His heavy mustache twitched as he approached, gloved hands clasped behind his back in appraisal.

“What do you have there, Private?” asked the officer, his brushy brown eyebrows cocked in a look of feigned ignorance.

“Some slum, Sir.”

“Slum?” the eyes brows knitted together.

“Yes Sir, you know -- a little bit of everything boiled to death in water. Soldiers stew.”

“Ah. Where are you taking a pot of slum then?” Bollum noticed the lieutenant seemed to say slum just as another man might say “garbage”.

“To the Chaplin, Sir.”

The lieutenant smirked, and nodded “The Chaplin is an officer, and dines with the Officers mess, private. Why would you bring him a pot of simple slop--”

“Slum, Sir.”

“--Slum for his dinner when I know for a fact, he eats with the Officers Mess? Private, I think you have liquor in that pot.” With this, the lieutenant took a stop closer and poked a bony finger into Bollum’s shoulder with a scowl of disapproval upon his face. Bollum couldn’t believe this man, and had to stifle a smirk.

“It’s not liquor, Sir, honestly. I was simply going to see the Chaplin to have him taste it for me.” As he said it, Bollum knew he was only digging himself deeper with the officer. Worst yet, he was starting to draw an audience. It could be the “Lemon Macaroon affair” all over again, but perhaps much worse.

“The Chaplin isn’t yours to monopolize like that, private! Besides, I don’t believe a word of what you are saying! You’re a liar, and I shall have you out!” The lieutenant reached forward suddenly and drew the lid from the pot, the look of certain victory rapidly melting from his face as the dishwater colored liquid within sloshed back and forth. Bollum gritted his teeth, trying not to spill the precious slum as the lieutenant replaced the lid with a frown. “What is that?”

“Slum, Sir, just as I told you.”

“Don’t take that insolent tone with me, private! It looks awful, but if it is to the Chaplin you go I shall accompany you.” The lieutenant gestured onward, and though it meant he was moving again he also had company. Bollum didn’t so much worry that the lieutenant would want to keep the slum for himself, as that he would end up ordering it dumped out. It was the kind of thing that self important bad egg big bugs tended to do when they couldn’t find any other way to make your day miserable. The lieutenant knocked on the door of the modest hut that served the Chaplin for quarters and waited. Suddenly, the thought that no one might be home hit Bollum and fear rose up in him. Why had he not simply stayed put? Why had he let Cooper rile him up so?  The lieutenant seized upon the pause, and started to reach out to take Bollum by the shoulder when the door opened and the Chaplin stood before them.

“Oh, hello there, Private -- Lieutenant -- I must say I am surprised to see you. What can I do for you two?”

Bollum smiled, knowing he was hopefully soon to be free. But as he was about to launch into the same explanation he had given to the lieutenant, the officer piped up behind him.

“Good morning Chaplin. This private here has cooked up something for you, some kind of soldiers stew, he says.” The Chaplin looked confused, and looked at Bollum who gave him a pleading glance.

“Oh, how kind and Christian of him. I shall take it then -- thank you, Bollum.” The Chaplin reached out and took the pot from him, private Bollum smiling quietly that things seemed to be going well enough. Of course in life, that is usually when most to be on guard and this moment was no different.

“Well, Chaplin, if you are for trying it, I wonder if you would mind I did as well,” said the lieutenant suddenly stepping forward and smiling at Bollum.  “It’s so different from anything I have ever tried, and I suppose it is good for an officer to try new things -- even get to know his men through experiencing their lot -- or in this case, food.”

Bollum frowned, and the Chaplin stammered. He looked at Bollum, truly uncertain what was going on and why this had been brought to him beyond the fact that the private was his friend, and this lieutenant was clearly goading the situation along. It seemed there was no way but to see it through, and try his best to serve the interests of friendship. The Chaplin gestured in through the door into his hut, simple but which suited his needs well enough. Here he would do his best to meet the needs of the army, and the men that made it. He placed the pot upon a wobbly camp table, and stepped back as the other two men stood expectantly. “Well, I suppose I ought to give this kind offering a try!” he said as he reached down to take a hold of the lids handle. The moment of truth arrived, and as the lid came away from the pot, the aroma of the contents began to immediately fill the space. As expected, the Chaplin was immune. He stood studying the golden hue of the broth within, and stirred it once and then twice with a large spoon he produced from a makeshift shelf. He dipped into the slum, filled his spoon and quietly brought the sample to his mouth. The Chaplin’s watery blue eyes turned this way and that, before he smacked his lips and smiled.

“Very nice Henry, it warms the body well. I think you have something good there.” Bollum knew that the Chaplin was lying, since he had previously admitted that with the loss of his sense of smell, most food carried very little taste for him. He used a great deal of pepper when he could get it as a result, simply so as to taste something of what he ate. Bollum sincerely hoped that the lieutenant didn’t know any of that, and that he hadn’t truly meant to try the Heaven in a Pot. What if he liked it? What if he wanted the receipt? He would have to lie, lest he gave away the secret of what he hoped might someday prove his fortune when he got back home. On the other hand, maybe he wouldn’t like it. No, how could he not? Suddenly Bollum realized the lieutenant was raising a spoonful of his own towards his mouth, and stood frozen between finding someway to keep this man from tasting his creation and simply giving himself over to the most fervent prayer for delivery he had given since last seeing action. In the end, the prayer won out -- but it was not Henry Bollum’s day for miracles.

“I don’t know why you would call something that is so surprisingly flavorful by such a base sounding name!” said the lieutenant with a genuine grin of surprise as he returned for a second helping, “why, Private, I must admit that I was gravely mistaken! This is quite good!”

Bollum gave a feeble grin and shrugged. “Thank you sir, that’s most kind.”

“It’s quite like nothing I have ever had!” added the lieutenant, relishing his second spoonful. The Chaplin looked at a loss for what to do, and stood nervously rearranging buttons.

“Simple soldier stew, really nothing special about it at all --”

“Nonsense! Why this is just the thing to set spirits to rights in this cold and wet season!”

“Oh, Lieutenant, Sir -- I’m sure it is nothing compared to what--”

The suddenly jovial officer clapped a hand upon Bollum’s shoulder with a friendly familiarity and shook his head. “Private, this is perfect! To be honest, even those of us in command find winter quarters dull and a drain upon our good cheer -- but thanks to your slur--”

“Slum, Sir.”

“--oh, yes -- horrible name -- you might well find yourself the object of a great many cheers from your officers! I will see to it that you are granted ease this evening after mess, so you may come around and give the receipt to the cooks.”

And there it was, appearing upon the horizon with terrifying reality -- the ruin of his hopes of a signature dish and fortune to boot. There had to be a way around this, some way to dodge it yet. He would find a way, there was no other option. He thanked the lieutenant, who cheered his concoction once more and reminded him to report to the cooks as soon as mess was through. When he was gone, the Chaplin patted Bollum on the shoulder and ushered him out of his hut. Stopping him just outside, the Chaplin apologized if he had not been of assistance, and suggested that he might add pepper to the slum to give it a bit more taste.

On his way back to his hut, Bollum stopped briefly to watch the efforts of a crowd to extinguish a chimney fire. Using a pole, the men had knocked the blackened ruins of the barrel which had served as the chimney to the ground, sending sparks floating haphazardly through the crisp winter air. While prized, these cast off barrels within which the Quarter-Master shipped salt pork, sometimes proved dangerous due to their saturation by inflammable grease. A lucky ember could set the pork grease alight, leading to serious trouble for the occupants of the unfortunate dwelling. The excitement was abating, so Bollum wandered on with his thoughts returning to his own predicament. He didn’t want to just give over the receipt of his own “Heaven in a Pot”, but if he didn’t he would face certain trouble. He could give the cooks a list of the ingredients without revealing that which had proved to make it so delicious -- but then it would just be slum. That lieutenant would be made to look a fool, and he would in turn make the cooks suffer. They would of course plead innocence, citing that they had only followed the receipt given to them. As such, in the typical ‘manure rolls down hill’ fashion of life in the Army, trouble would find him in the end. Bollum looked down at the pot which held his joy, and unceremoniously tipped the contents into a clump of weeds. For a moment the spot steamed a heavenly aroma slightly tinged with an earthy scent, as the ground greedily soaked up the golden broth. He would simply have to take his chances and give over the receipt. As he entered the hut though, the thought of loosing his secret suddenly lost its importance as a hand closed on his throat and another shoved him hard into the wall. A small candle stick clanged loudly as it toppled from its make-shift perch to the floor, as Cooper’s hard face came into focus with an unpleasant smile.

“Well now, I hear you came up with something that got you notice of the officers, eh? You’re playing for some stripes -- right?”  For a moment Bollum didn’t quite understand what Cooper was on about, but then it all began to make sense. He thought he had purposefully introduced the lieutenant to his pride and joy! Rather than answer, Bollum tried to kick his assailant, but missed and got bounced against the wall for his trouble. Cooper sniggered.

“So it’s true! Well, chum, you know I been working for that spot, and I ’aint about to have you go and steal it out from under me!” Bollum shook his head and managed to squeak, “Cooper, it’s not like that”  -- before the other man cut him off.

“You and that darkie conspiring to take what you know ought to be mine, rightful! That’s right; you think I forgot he was in here with that stew of yours, eh? Well, here’s what we are going to do: you are going to go and give that receipt just like that lieutenant wanted, and then be sure I get the credit! Oh, and don’t be thinking you can cross me, cause I’ll be going along with you!”

Now you might be thinking that by this point, Bollum surely must have been out of his mind with grief -- and yet you would be wrong. At first he had been, until the tiny ember of an idea began to kindle a plan to escape the snare he found himself in and perhaps even pay Cooper in proper kind for his rough treatment. He nodded in confirmation of his understanding and acceptance, and Cooper let him go but remained a menacing shadow before him.

“Now, you understand how this is going to be?” asked Cooper with growl. Bollum nodded, trying not to smile or give away just how lucky this turn of events had truly been.

“All right, all right -- the lieutenant wants me to bring the receipt to the cooks after mess, so I suppose I ought to be off to chow --” said Bollum as he started to make his way towards the door and past Cooper’s bulk. A sudden hand laid upon his shoulder in an aggressive sort of friendly gesture stopped him, and Cooper chuckled and began to guide Bollum along out the door.

“Oh now, I wouldn’t want my good friend to get lost on his way to the mess line and miss out on the best bits! Come along now friend, and we’ll enjoy some good food and then wander along over to the cooks to be sure that they receive my gift to the officers!” Bollum swallowed hard and nodded, pushed along outside towards the cook line by his new friend. Half dragged along by Coopers iron grip upon his shoulder, Bollum grimaced outwardly, but inside he was feeling elation. If he wanted all the credit, then that was exactly what he would have.


It would go down as the most rushed he’d been at an evening meal ever, and not only due to the looming presence of his new friend.  The long-winded reminder that the lieutenant expected him to report to the cooks promptly, delivered by a sergeant Johnson, assured the sense of haste as well. Cooper made a stunted attempted to claim that the slum was of his creation then and there, but the sergeant ignored him in favor of completing his task and returning to whatever it was that he might have been doing before being sent to find Bollum. This fact only seemed to intensify Cooper’s desire to ensure his scheme not only came off as planned, but was expedited with all possibly urgency. When the last of the warm stew they had been served had been eaten, Cooper had Bollum up by the elbow and pushed him along to see the cooks. A corporal, who was throwing wood into a box stove which sat in the yard behind the log-frame cook shack, stood up from his labor and gave them a quizzical look.

“Whatcha want? We’re finished serving.” The rust colored beard of the corporal needed a good trimming, but now wasn’t the time to point out such things. Cooper punched him in the shoulder blade and whispered,  “Tell him, and don’t forget what to say!”

Bollum winced from the blow and spoke. “I was asked to come around after mess with a receipt --”

The corporal stood and smiled. “Well, so you have! I heard tell that you have a slum that beats all, if that mealy mouthed stink-finger lieutenant is any judge.” The change in the man’s demeanor was so sudden that Bollum was lost for a moment before he realized that not only did they have no love for the officer in question, but that that extended to anyone favored by him as well. Still, there was nothing to do but carry on, for it was the only way to escape with his true secret intact.

“We’ll see what is what when them stripes are mine, and the ear of the officers too! Tell him, and be done with it!” said Cooper accentuating his words with a bony poke of his finger. Bollum took a breath and began, but didn’t get far before the sour corporal was interrupting him.

“Now hold your damn horses, don’t go telling me a receipt to remember! John! John!” said the bearded man turning and yelling into the cook shack, “bring out your journal and pencil so we can write down this receipt!”

“Yeah, yeah,” returned a gruff voice from the shack, which became the hulking form of a broad plough- horse of a man that wandered out to join them. “I got it here, Bill, this the fella then?”

Bollum suddenly felt that things where getting worse. The large man jerked a thumb in their direction, and frowned. The corporal -- who apparently was named Bill -- nodded and pointed towards Bollum. “Yes John, that fella there is the reason that you and I got cussed out for our -- what was it the lieutenant said?”

“Unimaginative swill,” finished the hulking John, wiping a hand on a tattered apron. Bollum suddenly felt his chance at escape vanishing, and wondered if Cooper still wanted to take the credit here. Clearly, when the lieutenant had informed the cooks of his arrival, he had also taken it upon him to complain about their work. Perhaps he had even compared his “Heaven in a Pot” to their endeavors, leaving behind a bad taste and bad blood towards the man they saw as showing them up. He was about to apologize, agreeing with them that the officer in question was a piece of work when Cooper spoke up.

“It wasn’t Bollum that came up with the idea for the slum, it was me -- and if I were you I’d watch how you talk. Now, do you have something to write this receipt down with or not?” Cooper stared defiantly at them, and John handed over a rough bound journal and a stubby pencil without a word. Taking it, he stepped hard on Bollum’s toe and whispered, “Now you just tell me what to write down, and don’t you think about trying anything! I know you were working to cheat me, but that’s it. You cross me, and I will break your damn legs!”

Bollum felt tears run from his eyes as Coopers mashed his toe, but followed along and whispered the ingredients to Cooper who wrote them down -- Bill the corporal and the living bulk that was John seemed none the wiser for this ruse. At last Bollum came to the secret additive, and taking a breath he whispered, “leather laces, three boiled in the whole mix until the grease rises.”  Cooper stood erect, his reaction clearly suggesting that he didn’t believe he had heard right.
“Are you serious?” Cooper said.

“I know, it’s mad, but it put the broth in the proper tone. The lieutenant seemed to like it, what can I say?” came the response. After a moment, the pencil scribbled on and the journal closed. Cooper gave John his pencil and journal back, and looked them both up and down a moment.

“Now, that is the receipt. Make it just as it is written there, and be sure that the lieutenant knows who was responsible. Cooper is my name, Josiah G. Cooper.” The cooks nodded, and Cooper --  head held high with dignity -- marched away.

John looked at Bill and shook his head. Bollum smiled and hobbled away to have an orderly look at his foot, afraid his toe might be broken.


February, 1864
Bollum kicked the log wall of the stockade cell and smiled to himself. Everything after that had gone off well enough; the cooks followed the receipt (and probably enjoyed initially serving the officers boiled shoe laces) resulting in the disgrace of the lieutenant. Apparently he had tried very hard to explain that when he had tasted the soldiers stew it had been delicious, though he had failed to sway opinions finally when the major had discovered a portion of leather lace in his bowl. He in turn had of course gone seeking his revenge for what he saw as a blatant attempt to disgrace him and disobey orders, turning first to the cooks and then to the man who had so eagerly claimed responsibility. Poor Cooper had had no idea when the lieutenant came knocking, and was so eager to take credit for his success that it took two or three kicks from the lieutenant’s boot before it began to sink in that he would not be promoted as he had hoped. He had been instead granted to the pioneers for work details, and promised he would never rise about private. All had worked out well, and as hoped -- except that the lieutenant had not forgotten him, and in the end Bollum, too, earned some time in the stockade. Still, it could have been worse! He sat down against the wall, and closed his eyes. After the war was over, he would open his eating house in St. Paul and working folks from all around would flock to try his famous “Heaven in a Pot”, and wonder just what the secret ingredient was.

1 comment:

  1. Not every moment for those that served during the American civil war was torment, fear and loss--sometimes you were simply bored or tired. Believe it or not, there are even times of levity and mirth, and I suppose that was that drove me to try my hand at a bit of comedy. However, it ought to be noted that the famed "Heaven in a Pot" is not a work of fiction! That's right, it DOES exist, and I can proudly say that I know the secret ingredient. Does it really taste good? YES! It's probably the best camp food I have ever had. The secret ingredient? I'll never tell.