As best I can recall, it was in the spring of 1952 when my mother discovered an alarming deficit in her inventory of bath towels. My feigned innocence was a short lived refuge, but I get ahead of myself.
I was a 9-year-old in the 3rd grade of B.H. Carroll elementary school, on the short south side of Fort Worth, Texas. Pretty much regardless of the weather, and not owning a bike, I walked the nine blocks daily to and from school. In those days we had a 30 minute recess about midday. It was widely believed by students and educators alike, that the break in academic doldrums allowed pent up energy to be expelled in a beneficial and harmless manner on the playground.
Sometimes there were supervised games, like soccer or dodgeball, but sometimes we were allowed the freedom of our own devices, and those days gave birth to “The Corps.” My interest in the Civil War sprang from watching Nick Adams in the old black and white television show “The Rebel,” and playing with a 100 piece set of blue and gray plastic Yank and Reb soldiers posed in numerous heroic positions of combat. Although both armies were numerically equal, and contrary to this and other later learned historical rumors, my Confederates always won.
One day during a free recess period, I developed the majestic persona of Confederate cavalry Colonel Silas Ransom of Texas, a master horseman, strategist, and tireless defender of the South from the invading horde of Northern vandals. As an afterthought, my mother had a bath towel of a beautiful golden hue. I brought it to school and kept it in my locker until a free recess, when it became my cavalry cape, a virtual symbol of command and invincibility. As I recall my armament was two pistols, a carbine, a saber, and a gigantic Bowie knife. Over time by necessity a rope, a boot knife, a derringer, and a 3rd pistol tucked away in my saddle bags were added to offset an imagined five to one Yankee advantage. Yankees were always imaginary figments of our fertile Southern minds.
Very quickly other sons of the South rallied to the cause. We gained a Captain, a Lieutenant, a Sergeant, and finally a single lowly private, a kid we didn’t like too much but recruits were hard to come by. It was about this time in the struggle that the rest of the corps noticed I was the only one with a cape, and in order to avert mass desertion more of my mother’s bath towels were sacrificed.
I think my steed was named Pegasus or maybe it was Bucephalus. Soon the entire corps had suitably named sons of sea biscuit as mounts to complement their billowing capes. Although combat was routinely quite deadly to the imaginary Lincolnites, I cannot recall a single fatality to our intrepid band. Flesh wounds aplenty but nobody died.
One day a new kid came into our class. After learning of our battlefield invincibility, he wanted to be a Yankee, and he wanted a cape as well. We curtly informed him that we killed all Yankees, and only Confederates were issued capes. He promptly reported our organization to a playground monitor (another term for spy) who reported us in the finest Pinkerton fashion to our teacher.
And so it was that a carpetbaggin snitch and a 3rd grade scallywag teacher vanquished our undefeated band of brothers. The corps were forcibly disbanded, our capes furled and sent homeward. I’m not sure mother ever got them all clean.
High Private Robert Grumble Hayden
6th Texas Infantry Alamo Rifles 63rd Tennessee Infantry
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