"The Battle of Nashville: An Attack of General Debility"

First published in the Wasp (San Francisco), July 14, 1883.


A line in last Tuesday's dispatches, to the effect that a French colony in Senegal has been attacked by typhus fever, recalls an incident of the civil war. After the battle of Nashville I happened to be serving on the staff of the illustrious General Sam Beatty, of Ohio. His command was at one time greatly scattered in pursuit of the enemy, who retired sullenly, and one brigade of it held a peculiarly exposed position some ten miles from General Sam's headquarters. There was a telegraph, however, and one day the commander of this brigade sent the general a dispatch which read thus: "Please relieve me; I am suffering from an attack of General Debility." "The ablest cavalry officer in the Confederate army," said my honored chief, showing me the telegram. "I served under him in Mexico." And he promptly prescribed three regiments of infantry and a battery of Rodman guns.

I was directed to pilot that expedition to the scene of the disaster to our arms. I never felt so brave in all my life. I rode a hundred yards in advance, prepared to expostulate single-handed with the victorious enemy at whatever point I might encounter him. I dashed forward through every open space into every suspicious looking wood and spurred to the crest of every hill, exposing myself recklessly to draw the Confederates' fire and disclose their position. I told the commander of the relief column that he need not throw out any advance guard as a precaution against an ambuscade -- I would myself act in that perilous capacity, and by driving in the rebel skirmishers gain time for him to form his line of battle in case I should not be numerically strong enough to scoop up the entire opposition at one wild dash. I begged him, however, to recover my body if I fell.

There was no fighting: the forces of General Debility had conquered nobody but the brigade commander -- his troops were holding their ground nobly, reading dime novels and playing draw poker pending the arrival of our succoring command. The official reports of this affair explained, a little obscurely, that there had been a misunderstanding; but my unusual gallantry elicited the highest commendation in general orders, and will never, I trust, be forgotten by a grateful country.