Saturday, February 13, 2010

Sea-sick in the Army

Ulysses S Grant was a Lieutenant during the Mexican War (1846-1848).  After capturing Mexico City, and after the treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo was finally ratified, many of the troops including Grant were eventually ordered to California, which had become US property.  In the summer of 1852, Grant was awaiting transport across the Isthmus of Panama.  This story from his memoirs struck me both for its humor and for the essential pathos of Army life that it depicts.  From the perspective of an individual soldier, I am not sure much has changed in the last 160 years.

One amusing circumstance occurred while we were lying at anchor in Panama Bay. In the regiment there was a Lieutenant Slaughter who was very liable to sea-sickness. It almost made him sick to see the wave of a table-cloth when the servants were spreading it. Soon after his graduation, Slaughter was ordered to California and took passage by a sailing vessel going around Cape Horn. The vessel was seven months making the voyage, and Slaughter was sick every moment of the time, never more so than while lying at anchor after reaching his place of destination. On landing in California he found orders which had come by the Isthmus, notifying him of a mistake in his assignment; he should have been ordered to the northern lakes. He started back by the Isthmus route and was sick all the way. But when he arrived at the East he was again ordered to California, this time definitely, and at this date was making his third trip. He was as sick as ever, and had been so for more than a month while lying at anchor in the bay. I remember him well, seated with his elbows on the table in front of him, his chin between his hands, and looking the picture of despair. At last he broke out, "I wish I had taken my father's advice; he wanted me to go into the navy; if I had done so, I should not have had to go to sea so much." Poor Slaughter! it was his last sea voyage. He was killed by Indians in Oregon.

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