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W. H. Macy

Inquirer and Mirror (Nantucket)
Vol. 55, No. 48 (May 29, 1875)
p. 1.

Our "War-Meeting" at Lumberton.


      It was in the summer of '62, when Rebellion was a power in the land, and the tide of war was sweeping northward. The army of Pope was pressed back upon Washington; Lee was bursting into Maryland and threatening Pennsylvania; the star of Antietam had not risen. "Six hundred thousand more" were called for to stem the torrent, and to preserve a government for our children.

      It was a time when the country had need of men; earnest, brave-hearted, patriotic men. The military fever had reached our quiet little country-town, and Union-saving and rebellion-crushing were the staple topics of discussion wherever two or more were gathered together. Anxious matrons nerved themselves to act the part of the Roman mother of old; and damsels of sixteen became suddenly fired with the spirit of '76.

      A "war-meeting" had been called to respond to the appeal of the nation's Chief Magistrate, and as the types expressed it "to take measures for filling the quota of Lumberton." Old Levi Pendergast, a "prominent man" in more senses than one, and familiarly spoken of by his fellow-townsmen as "the mayor," was expected to preside thereat, and the gathering bade fair to be the most enthusiastic one yet assembled in this usually quiet locality.

      Among the formidable list of vice-presidents, as announced for the information of the Lumbertonians, the name of Albert Converse was, as usual, conspicuous. With little real talent, but with unbounded assurance and ambition for notoriety, he had acquired a high reputation for patriotism and devotion to his country's cause. A reputation cheaply earned by bluster and threats of what he had almost made up his mind to do.

      Converse, senior, had established a snug and profitable business in light dry goods and trimmings, and had brought Albert up in his own footsteps, "Converse & Son" said the gaudy signboard over the door of the trimming-store of Lumberton at the period of our story. Most emphatically "& Son" – indeed there were not wanting gossips who declared "Converse & Father" to be the more correct reading; for the old gentleman had little active connection with the business. He was little more than a silent partner, at this time, while Albert had things very much his own way. Silence formed no part of the son's tactics, whether the sale of tape and needles, or the salvation of his beloved country, chanced to be the subject in question at the moment.

      It was on the afternoon preceding the evening for which the great war-meeting was assigned, that he stood leaning against the neat fence in front of Farmer Bartlett's, earnestly conversing with a young lady on the other side of it. I am not going to describe Maria Bartlett, for no description of mine would do justice to her. Her bright face and neat little figure were the ideal of at least half the young men in Lumberton; while those who knew her best could attest the mental and moral beauty which made the jewel worthy of the casket.

      It was generally supposed by the Lumberton gossips that young Converse stood highest in her favor of all her many admirers; in short, that it was to be a match between the two. This supposition was perhaps based rather upon his easy assurance and apparent feeling of perfect security in the matter, than upon any conduct on her part. She had tried to avoid giving cause for any such reports; but as people would talk, and as she herself would not talk – at least, about a matter of this sort – the wiseacres were not undeceived. She respected the young man as a friend, and, above all, as un active and stirring patriot. But further than this, she had hardly asked herself what she thought of him.

      "You are going this evening, Maria, are you not?" he said.

      "To the war-meeting, do you mean?"

      "Yes. Seats are reserved especially for ladies, and I hope to see you occupying one of them."

      "Well, if it will help the cause any, I am sure I shall be glad to be present."

      "Of course it will!" said Albert, with a burst of fervor. "It almost makes me willing to put my own name on the enlistment-roll, to see young ladies lending the aid and encouragement of personal presence at a rallying-meeting."

      "Almost!" said Maria, archly. "And why not quite? If I knew that my influence would make you enlist, I am sure I would not fail to be there."

      "Well, you see," said the young man, pertly, yet not without a blush, "there's a great deal to be considered about that. We all have certain places to fill in the world, and it is our duty to try and fill that for which we are best adapted."

      "I understand," answered his beautiful tormentor. "The square posts shouldn't be set in the round holes, and vice versa. You think that would be the case if you became a soldier?"

      "Well – not exactly so, perhaps. If I should enlist, I should, perhaps, do my duty under fire as well as the average of my neighbors. But the question is whether I cannot serve my country better by persuading others to go than by going myself? Perhaps I can coax or hire half a dozen others to go, and if so, I have a right to stay at home myself."

      "A plausible arugment[sic]," returned the young girl, "and truly a convenient one for those who can make use of it in these trying times. But I might say, according to your theory that it is every patriot's duty to do all he can for the cause, that you ought to coax and hire those half-dozen, and then add your own name as the seventh. But, honestly, don't you think that if one of your position and standing in Lumberton were to come forward and head the list of volunteers, your example would do more than your speeches at the war-meetings, or your contributions in money, towards filling the quota?"

      "O, I think we shall be able to fill the quota without my name on the list."

      "Very likely," said Maria, with mischievous dryness. "But the government wouldn't object, I suppose, to accepting one more than the quota. And, besides, it wouldn't prevent your having an opportunity to persuade others; but, on the contrary, would add to the point and vigor of your exhortations. Your[sic] would then combine precept with example, and would have the right to say to your fellow-townsmen, Come! instead of Go! Would not your appeal come with a better grace?"

      "Well, perhaps it would," he admitted, nervously. "But really, Maria, I think you are rather severe and exacting, when you consider how much I am willing to do for the country."

      "Is it for the country you are willing to do so much, or is it for the purpose of filling the quota, and thus escaping service yourself? Now don't be offended that I put such a home question. I should be sorry to doubt your sincerity when you make, as you yourself must know, such loud professions. But I do think there is no way for you to prove it, so effectual as to volunteer for personal service. However, if you don't feel equal to that sacrifice, why – you must do the next best thing, I suppose," she added, bestowing, it this cadence the "unkindest cut of all."

      Converse winced a little under it, but his effrontery and self-possession came to the rescue. "The next best thing, then, I take it, is to talk and persuade others. There are many young men of our acquaintance, Maria, who will not even do that. There's John Rawson, for instance. You may talk about the war in his hearing, and you can hardly get a word out of him. He acts as if he was nervous and frightened, as soon as the subject is mentioned; looks glum, and thinks, and whistles to keep his courage up," he added, with a sneer.

      "Judge not hastily," said Maria. "I do not believe that John Rawson is, at heart, lukewarm in the great cause; nor do I believe he is cowardly. He may have what seem to him good reasons for much thought and few words on the subject; but I think, sooner or later, he will show that his heart is in the right place, and his courage equal to any occasion."

      "I hope so, I'm sure," returned Converse, "and that he will do no discredit to his fair champion."

      For the girl had spoken warmly on this subject, and as if she were personally interested in John Rawson. She blushed slightly at her own warmth, but seemed willing to abide by all that she had said.

      "But, seriously, Maria, would you be glad to hear that I had enlisted, and was going into the field of danger, perhaps never to return?"

      "Certainly I would," was the ready answer. "I would be glad to hear it of every young man in the town, without exception."

      She was cool enough about it, Converse thought, as he parted from her, with the understanding that she would be present at the rally that evening. But he could not understand the sort of patriotic fervor which would quietly make a sacrifice of everything, even to life itself, for the great cause. It was all very well to be patriotic, as a means of acquiring cheap notoriety; but the possibility of placing his own life in jeopardy had scarcely so much as occurred to his mind.

      The old town hall was crowded to its full capacity that evening. It seemed as if all Lumberton had turned out for the occasion, and the meeting-place of the ordinarily staid and quiet townsfolk had become a very focus of enthusiasm.

      The assemblage was called to order by "Mayor' Pendergast, and the object was as before, "to respond to the call of the nation's chief magistrate, and to take measures for filling the quota of Lumberton. The number of men required would probably be twenty-five, or thereabouts, though the exact apportionment was not yet known. The chairman took this occasion to make the opening appeal to the young men to come forward and enroll their names. He could hardly find words to express his regret, that he had been ushered into the world at so early a period, and was, by his age, debarred the privilege of offering himself as a sacrifice. He was hardly able to restrain the ardor which impelled him, even now, at sixty years of age, to affix his autograph to the enlistment paper, which lay open, blank and immaculate, on a table in front of the secretary.

      He was followed by two or three other elderly citizens, much in the same strain. Really, it seemed that, for their sakes, the town clerk's record ought to be amended. It was inexorable, however; fixing the dates of their births at periods varying from forty-six to sixty years back, thus cruelly depriving them of the right of dying for their beloved country, as they must inevitably have done, had the figures indicated forty-four years and eleven months. They were unable to understand how any man born within that period of time could possibly curb his youthful ardor.

      But Mark Doolittle, an eccentric old gentleman, who now took the floor, had a more acute understanding. He could acknowledge that he was rather glad to know that he was superannuated. It was a great pity, he added, satirically, that the youngsters could not have been born before their fathers; as in that case the quota would have been filled up at once, and all parties been suited. For he supposed there were many youths present who wished they had passed the age of five-and-forty, that they might also make speeches to their fellow-citizens. "Dulce est pro patria mori," might read very pretty on a tombstone, but when it came to its practical application to one's own case, it seemed that one must have arrived at very mature ago in order fully to appreciate its beauties. He thought we had heard enough from exempts, and he wanted the men of serviceable age to take the floor and give us their opinions.

      Albert Converse was the first of the young men to ventilate his patriotism. He thought the quota of Lumberton ought to be filled before the meeting adjourned; and repeated all the stereotyped phrases of exhortation which occurred to him, to induce somebody to come up and fill it. But his logic did not seem to have much effect. Growing more desperate as he warmed with his subject, he expanded into spread-eagleism, and wound up by quoting the peroration of Webster's sledge-hammer reply to Hayne.

      He then announced to his auditors, that he meant to introduce the first recruit of the evening. Descending into the forum, he sought out Abel Stimson, a half-witted fellow who peddled peanuts and lozenges through the town in a basket, as a fit victim to be immolated at the country's altar. He had previously wrought upon this poor witling by presents and promises, until he had brought him into a fit condition to do his bidding. Abel had already taken the pen in hand to make his mark, when the cry of "Shame!' rung through the hall in a rich musical female voice.

      All eyes were turned towards the seats which had been reserved for ladies, in one of which Maria Bartlett sat, blushing and confused at her own temerity, while her young lady friends, who occupied places at her side, seemed as much astonished as the rest of the audience. Her embarrassment, however, was but momentary Having spoken one word, from an impulse which she found irresistible, she felt her conduct must he explained. Her courage rose to meet the occasion, and she stood erect upon her feet.

      "I ought, I suppose," she said, with a little touch of sarcasm, "to apologize for interrupting the proceeding. But it was out of the abundance of the heart that the word passed my lips. I wanted to ask if the men of Lumberton will look quietly, even approvingly on, and see this done? Does Abel Stimson understand, do you think, the obligations which he takes upon himself, when he makes his rude cross on the paper? Is this the best voluntary offering that we can make to our suffering country? Is it of such as he that our government has need, in this trying hour?"

      "Mr. Chairman," said Converse, rising nervously as soon as the young lady had taken her seat again, "I had thought that I was doing good service to the cause in bringing forward the first volunteer. We know that Abel Stimson is an able-bodied man, and will pass examination, which is all that we want. If we don't induce somebody to sign, we must stand the draft. Heaven forbid," he exclaimed, in a burst of patriotic fervor, "that the draft should stigmatize Lumberton!"

      Stimson, in the mean time, had dropped the pen, and backed away among the crowd. Converse, in fear of losing his "volunteer," beckoned and frowned, but all to no purpose. The "volunteer" continued backing out, with violent negative shakes of the head, and finally drawled out in a loud tone, "Noo! I won't! I do'wantogo!"

      Maria had made up her mind to rise again, though she naturally shrunk from saying anything more in public; but she was anticipated by the call of "Mr. Chairman!" from the further end of the room.

      "Will the gentleman come forward so that his remarks can be heard?" said Mr. Pendergast.

      As he did so, Maria felt that she would have no need to speak again. It was John Rawson! with an expression on his manly face that told her so.

      "I am glad, Mr. Chairman," he began, "that we have all been put to shame this evening; and our thanks are due to the lady who has done it. If we cannot do better than to coax or wheedle Abel Stimson to head the list, I should say, let the draft take its course. It would, of course, involve some cases of peculiar hardships; but notwithstanding the patriotic horror of the last speaker, I see no more disgrace in being drafted for military service, than in being drawn to serve as a juror. I have said so many times in private conversation, and have been charged with lukewarmness for it.

      I am ready in person to serve my country; and I am surprised that a proposition has not yet been made here that would enable me to do so. I have waited, hoping some older man, or man of wealth, would move the payment of bounties. For, though I am willing to peril my own life, I am not willing to leave my mother and sister, who are dependent upon my earnings, to live upon the cold charity of their neighbors. They must be secured against want, and then I am ready for any personal sacrifice in defence of my native land."

      Loud applause, and cries of "Good!" followed John's speech, and several other young men declared their readiness to follow his example, if the bounties were paid. Some discussion ensued as to the amount the town should vote to each volunteer; but it was fixed at two hundred dollars, with "State aid" additional, and several names were enrolled before the meeting adjourned; that of John Rawson heading the list.

      The quota of Lumberton was filled in a few days, without including in the list the name of the witling Stimson or the enthusiastic vice-president, Albert Converse. The latter breathed more freely when this little matter was disposed of, but was as full of conceit and brag as ever. One might have supposed, without knowledge of the facts, that the whole enlistment-roll had been filled by his exertions, and that if the game ever came to an actual pinch, he would uphold the stability of the American Union, single-handed. But Maria Bartlett had learned to estimate his professions at their proper value; and he found that the progress of his ardent suit in that quarter was uphill work. A direct offer of his hand was met with a firm, though courteous refusal; much to the` astonishment of one who thought that such an offer ought to captivate any maiden in the village. She did not appear to be at all overcome by the honor which had been tendered her, nor did she reveal the secret of an interview between herself and the young mechanic, Rawson, on the last evening before his departure for the seat of war. Had she done so, her conduct might have been, in some sort explained; though the rejected suitor's astonishment might have been even greater than it was. But there is really no accounting for tastes, when young men and maidens are in question, and there is no gainsaying the old saw, that "Love will go where it is sent."

      It is not within the scope of our story to relate, in detail, how our young heroine's heart was torn when the report came that Sergeant John Rawson was among the "missing," though she felt always the sustaining influence of that spirit which upheld our foremothers in the Revolution, feeling that she had devoted her best and her all to the service of her country; how months of suspense passed, before news arrived that he was still living, a prisoner at Andersonville, on the point of being exchanged; or how he came home the mere wreck and shadow of his former self, to be nursed and cheered back to new life from the very jaws of death. All these things are written in the chronicles of Lumberton; and none of us can forget the happy evening when John Rawson and Maria Bartlett joined hands as they had already joined hearts, and their union seemed to all – unless it may have been the disappointed Converse – the fitting celebration of the restoration of the broader Union amid the blessings of national peace,

      The exciting scenes of war have dropped into past history; and the blooming matron can scarcely realize, now, that she ever stood erect in that "war meeting," and, under the strong impulse of the hour, raised her girlish voice, clear and indignant, to shame the assembled masculine wisdom of Lumberton. – American Union.


Author: Macy, William Hussey
Title: Our "War-Meeting" at Lumberton.
Publication: Inquirer and Mirror (Nantucket)
Vol/No/Date: Vol. 55, No. 48 (May 29, 1875)
Pages: 1
American Union, 1875?