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Another Letter from Orpheus C. Kerr.


March/April 1862

From The Missouri Democrat, Friday, March 7, 1862.


[From the N. Y. Sunday Mercury.]

EDITOR T. T.—The Grand Army of the Potomac, my boy, is still requiescat in pace and mud; and at the request of the superintendent of a celebrated lunatic asylum, Secretary Stanton has forbidden the press to publish any news whatever. A Friend of Justice represented to the Secretary that the order would affect but few newspapers in the country, as it is a well known fact that a majority of the journals of the United States of America never attempt give any news; but the Secretary said that he never read any paper but the Weehawken Patriot, and had addressed a letter to that sheet, showing that his sole object in issuing the order was—not to fetter the press, but to give General McClellan proper credit before the country.

Not being a statesman, my boy, and not wearing spectacles, I can’t see the matter in thin light. In fact, as I have said before, the order is really given for the relief of lunatic asylums; as there is good reason to believe that a persistence of the press in giving reliable war news for another six months, would make all our fellow countrymen as crazy as so many Congressmen.

I know a man, my boy, who was driven to lunacy by reliable war news. He was in the prime of life when the war broke out, and took such an interest in the struggle, that it soon became nearly equal to the interest on his debts. With all the enthusiasm of vegetable youth, he subscribed for all the papers, and commenced to read the reliable war news. In this way he learned that all was quiet on the Potomac, and immediately went to congratulate his friends and purchase six American flags. On the following morning he wrapt himself in the banner of his country, and learned from the papers that all was quiet on the Potomac. His joy at once became intense, he hoisted a flag on the lightning rod of his domicil, purchased a national pocket handkerchief, bought six hand organs that played the Star-Spangled Banner, and drank nothing but gunpowder tea. In the next six months, however, there was a great change in our military affairs; the backbone of the rebellion was broken, the sound of thunder came from all parts of the sky, and fifty-three excellent family journals informed the enthusiast that all was quiet on the Potomac. He now became fairly mad with bliss, and volunteered to sit up with a young lady whose brother was a soldier. On the following morning he commenced to read Bancroft’s History of the United States, with Hardee’s Tactics appended, only pausing long enough to learn from the daily press that all was quiet on the Potomac. Thus, in a fairy dream of delicious joy, passed the greater part of this devoted patriot’s life, and even as his hair turned gray, and his form began to bend with old age, his eye flashed in eternal youth over the still reliable war news. At length there came a great change in the military career of the Republic, the rebellion received its death wound, and Washington’s birth-day boomed upon the United States of America. It was the morning of that glorious day, and the venerable patriot was tottering about the room with his cane, when his great-grandchild, a lad of twenty-five, came thundering into the room with forty-three daily papers under his arm.

“Old man!” says he, in transport, “there’s great news.”

“Boy, boy!” says the aged patriot, “do not trifle with me. Can it be that—”

“Bet your life—”

“is it then a fact that—”


“Am I to believe that—”


It was too much for the venerable Brutus; he clutched at the air spun once on his left heel, sang a stave of John Brown’s body, and stood transfixed with ecstacy.

“Thank Heaven,” says he, “for sparing me to see this day.”

After which he became hopelessly insane, my boy and raved so awfully about all our great generals turning into mud larks that his afflicted family had to send him to the asylum.

This veracious and touching biography will show you how dangerous to public health is reliable war news, and convince you that the Secretary’s order to the press is only a proper sanitary measure.

I am all the more resigned to it, my boy, because it affects me so little that I am even able to give you a strictly reliable account of a great movement shortly to take place.

Yesterday, as I sat sipping the oath in room, and attentively examining a mirror which reflected with life-like accuracy the young woman doing up her back hair in a room across the street, my page, Mr. Mortimer Montague, introduced a fascinating youth, whose serpentine locks, big bouquet, and parishable gloves, made me think of a barber confounded with a tailor under pledge of compromise with a ladies’ shoe-maker.

“Your name, sir?” says I, with a slight cough.

“Wykoff,” says he.

“Why cough?” says I; “why, how can I help coughing, when my visitor puts on airs enough to give anybody a cold?”

“Joke,” says he, smiling like a Miss. Gambler when he steps ashore at New Orleans with his pockets full of winnings. “I come,” says he, “to tell you some information concerning McClellan’s plan for an advance to Manassas.”

“How did you get it, my Adonis?” says I.

“I am acquainted with one of the chambermaids at the White House,” says he, “and she divulged the plan.”

“Well,” says I, “here’s the Treasury note, and now for the plan.”

The beautiful stranger cleared his throat with a lozenge, and says he:

“The plan is this: A secret circular is to be immediately issued to all the brigadiers on the Potomac, informing them that a new bar-room has just been opened at Manassas, with free lunch every day. It is calculated that this exciting document will produce an immediate advance of the whole Potomac army to the point named, as the brigadiers are all such strict temperance men that they would consider it their religious duty to immediately put the liquor out of the way. Nothing, in fact, could prevent an immediate and irresistible advance under such circumstances.”

“Admirable young man!” says I, “if what you say be true, Manassas is doomed. The South is destined to speedy humiliation; for our soldiers will pitch ’er and tumble ’er about so that whatever peace we offer her she will be but too glad to goblet up while she can.”

From this conversation, my boy, you can infer what you choose; but it seems sound. The South will be whipped at her stronghold, even if it be strong h’old ale. A Britisher ventured to tell the general of the Mackerel Brigade the other day that he didn’t think the South could be beaten.

“The South!” says the general, suffering a bit of lemon-peel to come to the front in his mouth, “The South!” why my dear old Rosbif, we can liquor without half-trying!”

I went down to Accomac early in the week, my boy, having heard that Captian Villiam Brown and the conic section of the Mackerel Brigade were about to march upon Fort Muggins, where Jeff Davis, Beauregard, Mason Slidell, Yancey, and the whole rebel Congress were believed to be intrenched, mounted on my gothic steed Pegasus, who only blew down once in the whole journey, I repaired to Villiam’s department, and was taking notes of the advance, upon a sheet of paper spread on the ground, when the commander of Accomac approached me, and says he

“What are you doing, my bantam?”

“I’m taking notes,” says I, “for a journal which has such an immense circulation among our gallant troops that when they begin to read it in the camps, it looks, from a distance as though there had just been a heavy snow storm.”

“Ah!” says Villiam, thoughtfully, “newspaper and snow storms are somewhat alike; for both make black appear white. But,” says Villiam, philosophically, “the snow is the more moral; for you can’t lie in that with safety, as you can in a newspaper. In the language of Gen. Grant at Donelson,” says Villiam, sternly; “I propose to move upon your works immediately.”

And with that he planted one of his boots right in the middle of my paper.

“Read that ere Napoleonic dockymnent,” says Villiam, handing me a scroll. It follows:


Having noticed that the press of the United States of America is making a ass of itself, by giving information to the enemy concerning the best methods of carrying on the strategy of war, I do hereby assume control of all special correspondents, forbidding them to transact anything but private business; neither they, nor their wives, nor their children, to the third and fourth generation.

I. It is ordered that all advice from editors to the War Department, to the General commanding, or the Generals commanding the armies in the field, be absolutely forbidden; as such advice is calculated to make the United States of America a idiot.

II. Any newspaper publishing any news whatever, however obtained, shall be excluded from all railroads and steamboats, in order that country journals, which receive the same news during the following year, may not be injured in cirkylation.

III. This control of special correspondents does not include the correspondent of the London Times, who wouldn’t be believed if he published all the news of the next Christian era.

By order of

Villiam Brown, Eskevire,
Capt. Conic Section Mackerel Brigade.

I had remounted Pegasus while reading this able State paper, my boy, and had just finished it, when a nervous member of the advance guard accidentally touched off a cannon, whose report was almost immediately answered by one from the dense fog before us.

“Ha!” says Captain Villiam Brown, suddenly leaping from his steed, and creeping under it—to examine if the saddle-girth was all right—“The fort is right before me in the fog, and the rebels are awake. Let the Orange County Company advance with their howitzers, and fire to the northeast.”

The Orange County Company, my boy, instantly wheeled their howitzers into position and sent some pounds of grape toward the meridian, the roar of their weapons of death being instantaneously answered by a thundering crash in the fog.

Company 5, Regiment 3, Mackerel Brigade, now went forward six yards at double-quick and poured in a rattling volley of musketry, dodging fearlessly, when exactly the same kind of a volley was heard in the fog, and wishing that they might have a few rebels for supper.

“Ha!” says Captain Villiam Brown, when he noticed that nobody seemed to be killed yet; “Providence is on our side, and this unnatural rebellion is squelched. Let the Anatomical Cavalry charge into the fog, and demand the surrender of Fort Muggins,” continued Villiam, compressing his lips with mad valor, “while I repair to that tree back there, and see if there is not a fiendish secessionist lurking behind it.”

The Anatomical Cavalry immediately dismounted from their horses, which were too old to be used in a charge, and gallantly entered the fog, with their sabers between their teeth, and their hands in their pockets—it being a part of their tactics to catch a rebel before cutting his head off.

In the meantime, my boy, the Orange County howitzers and the Mackerel muskets were hurling a continuous fire into the clouds, stirring up the angels, and loosening the smaller planets. Sturdily answered the rebels from the fog-begat fort; but not one of our men had fallen.

Captain Villiam Brown was just coming down from the top of a very tall tree, whither he had gone to search for the masked batteries, when the fog commenced lifting, and disclosed the Anatomical Cavalry returning at double-quick.

Instantly our fire ceased, and so did that of the rebels.

“Does the fort surrender to the United States of America?” says Villiam to the captain of the Anatomicals.

The gallant dragoon sighed, and says he:

“I used my magnifying glass, but could find no fort.”

At this moment, my boy, a sharp sunbeam cleft the fog as a sword does a vail, and the mist rolled away from the scene in the two volumes, disclosing to our view a fine cabbage patch, with a dense wood beyond.

“Ha!” says he, sadly, “the garrison has cut its way through the fog and escaped, but Fort Muggins is ours! Let the flag of our Union be planted on the ramparts,” says Villiam, with much perspiration; “and I will immediately issue a proclamation to the people of the United States of America.”

Believing that Villiam was somewhat too hasty in his conclusions, my boy, I ventured to insinuate that what he had taken for a fort in the fog, was really nothing but a cabbage inclosure, and that the escaped rebels were purely imaginary.

“Imaginary!” says Villiam, hastily, placing his canteen in his pocket. “Why, didn’t you hear the roar of the artillery?”

“Do you see that thick wood yonder?” says I.

Says he, “It is visible to the undressed eye.”

“Well,” says I, “what you took for the sound of rebel firing, was only the echo of your own firing in that wood.”

Villiam pondered for a few moments, my boy, like one who was considering the propriety of saying nothing in as few words as possible, and then he looked angularly at me, and says he:

“My proclamation to the press will cover all this and the news of this here engagement will keep until the war is over. Ah!” says Villiam, “I wouldn’t have the news of this affair published on any account; for if the government thought that I was trying to cabbage in my Department it would make me Minister to Russia immediately.”

As the Conic Section of the Mackerel Brigade returned slowly to headquarters, my boy, I thought to myself; How often does man, after making something his particular forte discover at last that it is only a cabbage patch, and hardly large enough at that for a big hog like himself.

Yours, philanthropically,

Orpheus C. Kerr