A somewhat autobiographical recollection of Former 1st Corporal Robert Grumble Hayden
‘‘Well yes he’s one of those who knows that life is just a leap of faith so spread your arms and hold your breath and always trust your cape,”
-from Guy Clark’s “Always trust your cape”
J.B. never did know who B.H. Carroll was, but thought he was a former principal of the elementary school which later bore his name.
J.B. began the 3rd grade there. Walking the eight blocks or so to and from school, every day rain or shine, fostered a work ethic that stayed with J.B. the rest of his life, and led to a certain air of independence and confidence as well. He was about as self assured and imaginative as any 8 year old you ever met.
J.B. wasn’t content to play ordinary games at recess. Often Mrs. Sullivan had other duties to perform during recess, leaving her young students in the care of a student monitor.
The monitor always tried to assert order and authority, but J.B. and a circle of rowdies simply went about their business as if the monitor didn’t exhist.
It didn’t matter if it was a boy or a girl, or if they fumed or cried, their presence just wasn’t acknowledged.
The monitors threatened, and often reported J.B. and his playmates, but it seldom resulted in more than having to write a few sentences on the blackboard.
A small price to pay indeed, for the glory of being an officer in the Confederate Calvary.
They rode bravely around the entire playground at will, astride coal black and dapple gray steeds so fast the wind could scarce keep up ! Sabres glistened in the bright sun, and their gray capes fluttered behind them as they scattered the inept Yankee hordes like prairie chickens in a tornado.
I don’t think J.B.’s mom ever quite understood her dwindled supply of bath towels. J.B. kept them in his locker at school, and after a few raids they became an acceptable faded gray. Since it was his game, and his capes, J.B. was naturally always the leader, and made life and death decisions of the group each day.
The strength of the Corps on any given day was limited to the exact number of capes available.
You could close your eyes and see the powerful war horses, and hear the bugled charge above the canon’s roar. The gunpowder burned through your nose and the rebel yell seared your throat dry. Colt pistols and sabres were always at the ready. For certain the dust and thirst were real enough, but no one rode without a cape.
J.B. was unmatched as a leader. His men never ran out of ammunition, despite always overwhelming the enemy with fusillades of deadly accurate fire.
The Corps generally consisted of no more than 5 hand picked men. By rank, they tended to be overladen with officers, although when anyone gave an order it was always faithfully and immediately executed by the entire Corps. J.B. issued rank at the onset of each tour of duty, with the line of command generally being Colonel, Major, Captain, Lieutenant, and Sergeant. Sometimes a new kid joining the group had to pay his dues as a Corporal, but the Corps had no privates. Apparently the privates supplied the mortality of the Corps, for rarely was an officer severely wounded, muchless killed. They were all pretty sure the cape had something to do with it.
The undoing of the Corps came quite unexpectedly one sunny day in the guise of a new recruit, whose name coincidentally was Sherman. While charging pell mell into a battery of canon fire, Sherman’s sorrel mount, I believe he had named her “Little Maggie,” suffered a grapeshot wound, throwing Sherman to the ground in a sprawling heap.
We all agreed it was performed beautifully and looked so real what with all the dust everywhere,..but wait!
The knee of Sherman’s pants had been ripped open as well, and we all stared in disbelief at the wet red stain on his torn trooper trousers. It was but a small flesh wound, but he had to go to the nurse’s office, and she called Mrs. Sullivan, who called the principal, who called Sherman’s mother, and J.B.’s mother.
The capes were carefully collected, folded, and dispatched homeward. The Corps was paroled, and the war of northern aggression had come to an end.