Game

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I do not think I ever saw as many wild birds gathered together as in the early winter of 1863. The Combahee raid had swept away the negroes from the river after the crop was planted, and the rice had ripened and fallen at its own will. Perhaps the early migrants among the ducks had sent wireless messages to their friends in Canada, or perhaps the huge flocks passing over looked down at the land and thought it good. Whatever the cause they swarmed there in countless thousands. A wild duck is a very smart “proposition.” They can calculate to a nicety how far a fowling piece can carry, and then will cover the expanse of a flowed field, leaving along the banks just the necessary width of clear water. It is only when a young bird gets bossy and knows better than his daddy that you can bushwhack him from the bank. When I took Ross Davis to Myrtle Grove to show him more birds in one place than he had ever seen separately in one place in his life, this very thing happened. A fool duck thought he would see what uniform Ross wore, so he edged in towards us. Ross grabbed my gun! Bang! The duck was dead! And Ross reared up his tall figure as if to invite my admiration of that figure as well as of his shooting. But his face fell as I asked how he was going to retrieve that duck. We had never a dog and never a boat. Ross swore he would never leave his duck—shot, mind you, on Mr. Heyward’s land with my gun. There was no help for it! Off came his uniform! Off came lots of other things, until Ross stood up in the altogether.

And the day was cold, and a fierce northwest wind blew, coming from the land whence came Sherman’s hard heart! A skim of ice lay upon the water where the banks gave shelter. In Ross plunged boldly wading where he might and swimming where he must, and thus brought out his duck. Dripping and shivering he drew clothing over his “demned moist” but pleasant body, and smiled cheerfully as I suggested a quick walk and some of that old brandy. Man is a funny creature! All this for one little duck when I would have given him a dozen out of Cook Renty’s larder. But then, though a poor thing, it was his own!

How I love to let my thoughts linger over those weeks, for they were like a bookmark between the happy chapters of a dying past, and the lurid pages of a tragic future. Within a year poor Ross was to add his life to a thousand others, sacrificed in vain to repel invasion of their country and to guard their firesides; for he fell before Petersburg, shot through the heart.

D. E. Huger Smith, A Charlestonian’s Recollections