“One Last Tack to Immortality”
By Alexander Arnell
“Hell and Death,” Austin muttered vehemently aloud as he looked out of the scuttle of his sleeping berth. “Will I ever set foot on Texana soil?” Austin Perkins lay in his hammock in the vessel Columbia. The Columbia had been charged with transporting of Colonel Fanning’s foreign volunteers from Velasco to Copano. The trip should have taken only a couple of days, but the bark Columbia had now been at sail 9 days and had been in site of Copano for some seven days. A well read man Austin thought, “I am afraid that Aeolus the Greek King God of the Winds has favored Zephyr the God of the West Wind over Eurus the God of the East Wind on this trip.” Again, Autin muttered aloud, “Ad eundum quo nemo ante iit” – (To boldly go where no man has gone before)
Austin lay in a hammock just 18 inches from his nearest neighbor and fellow Private Jon Moat. Austin was very lucky in the location of his hammock, in the small cramped hold of the small bark that he and the rest of his company commanded by Colonel Bullock traveled. Thirty-five souls cramped into a space of a large chicken coup. Austin lay and slept on the end of the row, close to an opening, called a scuttle. The scuttle was a vent to the outside world that gave him cool crisp fresh air. To his right lay the stairs to the main deck, referred to in navy terms as a ladder.
The company which Austin and John were members was called Colonel Bullock’s company even though Cornel Bullock was not on the Columbia, having been left in Velasco due to illness. The Columbia was on the last legs of a voyage to help the Texians win their independence from the oppressive regime of Santana Anna. The trip was the shortest leg of the volunteers’ long trip from Mobile, Alabama.
Even though the trip had been long and laborious many felt no sorrow because they often talked among themselves how their trip failed in comparison with the voyage their ancestors’ endured from Europe to America to find religious freedom, land, and fortune.
The Gulf airs and currents had fought against the small bark the greater part of the final leg. Even though the bark’s landing sight had been in clear view for several days now it never appeared to come closer.
“Austin there, I can not stand the foul stench of this hold anymore,” said John. “Let us proceed up the companion ladder for a walk on the deck.” Austin replied, “The puke, urine, and fleeces smell is getting to you John?” “Personally I do find the stench less pleasing than the hog smell from the next hold.” Said John, “Hog perfume is bad but it does not bother me as much since we had hogs on the farm my whole life. Do not get me wrong, the foul quality of both holds is truly horrendous but I have had to live with worse. What I really miss is seeing the sky.”
Austin Perkins and John Moat both foreign volunteer solders mustered out of MaconGeorgia for the newly recruited company of men rolled out of their hammocks. To reach the latter they to step over other’s personal stores of dried and salted food, possible bags, kegs of powder, boxes of lead ingots and bedrolls, to climb up the companion ladder.
The land to the west where the fabled Texana lay was a pale brown. No tall trees could be seen. Only short evergreen trees and small scrub trees broke up the endless gray brown landscape. The sky was littered with a pleasant sprinkling of clouds that were a dull flamingo pink turning into a darker purple made so by the setting sun. One may say you can smell the sea, but Austin and John could smell the land.
Gazing at the object of their travel’s destination, they heard the steps of the ship’s boy Wade Hamm. Cornel Bullock had warned his volunteers against faradizing with the sailors. Bullock had said many times, “The Captain of the ship has a strong aversion to, in his words, water drinking cargo that are in way of sailing the ship. Leave the ship’s crew to do their duty unhindered” Most of the company’s freedom fighters had no problems with this decree since they were deadly sick with the moving decks of the bark thus staying below. Luckily, Austin and John had not contracted seasickness. Having time on their hands Austin and John longed for the open airs and routinely snuck out on deck.
During their clandestine meetings on deck together, Austin and John had befriended Wade, a ship’s boy only a few years younger than themselves. They kept their secret rendezvous to the evening time, which was the second watch of the ship that was now being overseen by Wade, since the ship’s second officer was down with the gout. Wade being the lowest rank of the wardroom enjoyed Austin and John’s company. Wade enjoyed as well the feeling of superiority of knowing more of the sea and sail than Austin and John.
“Wade,” asked John “Why do we continue to lie within cannon shot of the shore and not go in?”
Wade replied, “You have to understand that a ship is governed by the wind, current and the tides. These three days hence the wind, as it most often does this time of year in this part of the Gulf of Mexico, blows from the land. Which you may see is against us. Furthermore, we are on the ebb of the spring tide, which you may not know is the strongest flow of the tide in the lunar month. Even though we are gaffed rigged we have to beat into the wind which is the reason for our serpentine movements. Although we are making 4 knots head way we are fighting a 3-knot current and at our best we say were we started. We are lucky we are not ship rigged or as you land lubbers say square rigged. If we were we would have to make 6 to our 4 tacks and even lose more distance to the current.”
“Dam the reason, said John I am itching to get off this big raft and stand on a surface that says still.”
Looking over the belongings that John and Austin carried on deck Wade asked, “Why is your musket so long in barrel?” Austin glance at John feeling he may get back some of their lost superiority of not knowing the ways of the sea. Austin said, “This is not really a musket. It is a rifle. As you can see there are groves in the barrel which we call rifling. The rifling makes the ball spin for a truer shot. John said, “Why you can shoot the eye out of a rabbit at hundred yards as easy as kiss your hand with a Kentucky long rifle.” “Are they really worth the effort,” asked Wade? Austin replied, “Well, it would be fair to say I could stand at an extreme distance and pick off old Santa Anna himself and not worry my old mamma that one ball of his whole army striking me back.” “So say he.” said Wade. Wade looked at Austin’s side. Wade asked, “What is that bag you carry with your rifle?” Austin pulled out a deer hide brown bag. The bag was shaped like a lady’s purse with fringe on the flap. Stamped on the flap of the bag was the image of a bear and Austin’s initials.
Austin said, “It is my possible bag. I carry every thing I may possibly need to keep my rifle in firing condition. I carry a skinning knife, flint knapper, ram, needle, bullet mold with dipper along with cleaning supplies among other things.
“How is it you know so much about rifles,” asked Wade? Austin took a moment and said. “My father’s sister married a man from Kentucky. His name was Steve Stevens. He was kin to the Georges, which lived on the next farm. He was an Alcoholic of the best kind being kind and generous when under the spirits. He also was mighty famous for having webfeet. Nevertheless, we all have a burden to bear. Old Steve was a gunsmith that made Kentucky long rifles. He learned his trade starting at the age of 12 by being an apprentice with the famous John Philip Beck of Lebanm County Pennsylvania until old John died in the year 11.”
Austin stopped for a moment to watch a seagull dip to take a fish from the see for its supper. Austin continued, “I used to love going to Steve’s shop and watch him take a sheet of iron he bought from Savanna, heat it up and roll it around a mandrel. Once he rolled and hammer welded the sheet into a barrel, he would hammer it into an octagon shape. The rifling he placed in later with a cutting tool he had on a stick placed on another machine that made the groves. The machine determined the twist of the groves, which gives the spiral to the ball for its uncommon accuracy. If I were to help old Steve with the hammering, he would give me a sniff of the old mountain dew if you follow my meaning.”
Wade asked. “Pray tell me of the wonderful looking wood your rifle is made from?” Austin said, “The stock of my rifle is made out of curly maple. The name of the maple comes from the wood’s strip markings. Steve had a cousin in the western part of Virginia that milled the wood for him. Curly maple is used for it abundance, hardness, superior strength and fine grain which, you understand are great qualities for a long arm.”
“Enough Austin!” cried John, “The boy is a sailor and not interested in smiting.” What John really meant was I am tired of listening to you again about gun smiting. An awkward silence filled the sea air. Wade never a person to enjoy silence among friends ventured, “John why did you sign up with Fanning?”
“I can say it in one name,” said John, “Santa Anna.” After grimiest crossed John’s face and sole he shrugged to continued his rant, “That bean eater thinks he is better than us. His interference with trade and business is unforgivable to even the most common Texian. When I was told he was quartering his troops upon private families well, I was steaming mad. You know that was the same thing them Red Coats did to my kinfolk when we were a colony of England. More so, that two-faced Santa Anna overthrew the Mexican constitution of 1824, which the citizens of Texana had sworn to support. Then he goes and establishes a ruthless dictatorship in its place. What do all dictators do first? Why, first they disarm, then reduce common folk’s rights into subjection just like that evil Napoleon tried in Europe hence the name Santa Anna the Napoleon of the West. I will not let anyone be made into political slave. We have to stop him before he invades Georgia and tries that same nonsense with us.”
Austin what about you,” asked Wade? Austin said, “My uncle C.J. Perkins had already joined up with Grace.” Besides, I do not want to miss-out on the fun. After some reflection Austin stated, “Being the second son of my family the farm will go to my older brother. Texana is big. The way I see it when this thing is over the Texians will be so happy for me helping them they will be giving me land for my service.”
“You there!” shouted the captain, “Dam your eyes, I told you lubbers to say off my deck! Back down below where you belong before I have you thrown over the side where you have to swim to shore.” Wade said, “Make haste you two!” “Mr. Hamm there, call the hands aloft to prepare to ware the ship,” shouted the captain in a voice that could be heard to the highest mast.” Thinking aloud the captain said, “One more tack and we will be in the lee of the barrier islands a beam Copano.” The captain looked for then found another of his ships boys. The captain yelled, “Mr. Kern now, go tell, Dithers, with my complements, to lower the red cutter as well to ready the best bower to prepare to warp the boat on to her mooring.” “Aye, Aye sir,” said Wade, “lower the red cutter as well to ready the best bower to prepare to warp the boat on to her mooring it is sir.” The captain said, “Make it so.”
Shouts and running feet filled the ship. Wade looked with sad tired eyes at Austin and John gathering their dunnage in the hold below and said, “Austin and John, if I don’t see ya again mates, good luck in defending Texania.” said Wade.