I never believed in anything but the beauty of differential calculus until I served in the U.S. Cavalry with Lieutenant Beau Kerry.
Now the world seems wrapped in moira, the Greek idea of destiny, and when I watch the stars swing across the heavens I wonder.
Who designs our lives?
Does God exist, and if He does, is He an ironic God or is He just?
I’ve pondered these matters for many years and am no closer to understanding than I was when I served with Kerry.
My name is Elliot Lloyd, and I’m the author of the first Kerry biography, published in 1878.
Biographies are supposedly autobiographical fact, but I created Kerry.
My book inspired a stream of tomes, until writing about Kerry (which was not his real name) became an industry.
I would never have predicted this mythic future in July 1870, when I first saw him standing on the headquarters’ porch at Fort Davis, Texas.
From the first, I sensed something wrong.
Kerry’s disgusting striker stopped the mule team hauling the wagon–Kerry’s good-looking bay trotting behind–and Kerry grinned at me from the front seat.
Command had transferred Kerry and company from Camp Grant, Arizona Territory.
On the surface, Kerry looked much like other men, although he was a natural horseman, even outriding Comanches and they were the best riders I’ve ever seen.
Kerry was literally part of the animal, jumping on and off without touching a stirrup. He just grabbed the pommel and sprang on.
He seemed like a confident man, loose jointed, walking freely, swinging his arms. But Kerry didn’t look at home on the ground like he did in the saddle.
No, Kerry’s wrongness lay in his character, although it was difficult to identify the exact malady.
At Davis, other officers talked about each other, who was desperate for a transfer, which company commanders were competent and which ones were fools.
We did know about certain situations we didn’t talk about; such as Mrs. Colonel Dietrich. That could be dangerous.
Most of all, we talked about our recent war, that great catastrophe, the whirlwind which swept tens of thousands of we stout Union men to our silent, and often shallow, graves.
When not wearing out our back ends on a horse, which was most of the time, we sat in the rear of the sutler’s store trading stories around tiny tables covered with wet beer rings.
One officer would remark to the other, “You were attached to Burnside, did you see action at Fredericksburg?”
Or, “Did I tell you about the time we had that devil Mitchell surrounded and the son-of-a-bitch still fought his way clear?”
Discussions would go on for hours and lead to anything about the war, even to comparing the merits of a ten-pound Parrott gun to a twelve-pound Napoleon smoothbore cannon.
Kerry never mentioned the war. Never once.
And he never commented on another man’s story.
Instead, he sat back in his chair laughing, his legs outstretched, his hair flopping on his collar and in his eyes and told fantastical tales about Apaches.
Kerry was almost Irish in the way he recalled events. Everything was a story. Except he never told a story about his family or his schooling or anything that happened before Camp Grant.
It was suspicious.
Some of us wondered if he was concealing a poor background.
After mulling about that, we decided Kerry was too well-spoken and educated for a poor background.
But we could never place him.
Kerry was also moody, and when he wasn’t joking seemed to darken and stare inward, as if he had something on his mind.
Years later, my hunch about his character was proven true, or maybe it was, while I drank with a friend in a smoky Kansas saloon that smelled like beer and too many sweaty men.
I told my friend about Kerry and the Espajo Canyon fight and he asked, “Was this Kerry a yellow-haired man, could outride a Comanche?”
“Yeah, how’d you know?”
“Well, he sounds like Robert Mitchell, the one who vamoosed when the federals tried to arrest him in Virginia. He had a price on his head. Also, folks called him Beau. He was one of the rebs’ boy generals.”
“I remember him.”
“You know our black troops manned Fort Wolcott?”
“There was talk about that.”
“Right. Mitchell’s warmongers took the fort and they went crazy and started slaughtering the men who surrendered, even the white officers. Fort Wolcott was a butcher’s yard. We had five hundred at the fort, and the rebs sent sixteen hundred. We had a gunboat on the river was supposed to protect Wolcott, but when the rebs showed up, the stupid ass crew found out the gun ports were sealed. Why would anyone seal a gun port!”
“Mitchell took part in this?”
“Nobody knows. Mitchell told reb newspapers he wasn’t leading his men when they climbed the walls. He said he didn’t know anything about the massacre until it was over. He claimed our troops refused to surrender. I don’t care what he said. I favor hanging the bastard, if we ever find him.”
My friend’s story might have been enlightening, if he had told me when I served with Kerry.
But the Kerry I knew did not resemble General Mitchell
(referred to by Union troops as “That Devil Mitchell.”)
The Lieutenant Kerry I knew spent his free time reading and ordering books – he scribbled on order forms while sitting with us–and he nicknamed people and places with phrases he found in Don Quixoteand Faust.
Our humorous lieutenant called me Llewelyn, after the famous Welsh prince.
Lloyd is a Welsh name, although my family has been in the new world since before the American Revolution. Everyone who is anyone in Boston knows us.
Julius Caesar’s book about the Gallic wars was one of Kerry’s favorites, and he even dared compare Caesar’s battles to his own successes.
Explaining his promotion from second to first lieutenant, Kerry laughed, beat on his chest with a closed fist and said “The barbarians attacked, but the legions stood firm.”
Meaning, Apaches ambushed C company, Third Cavalry, in Greasewood Springs, but our boys didn’t run.
It was a bad place to be trapped. It’s a watering hole littered with so many teamsters’ bones the entire frontier calls the place Bonetown.
Then there was Tom Smith, Kerry’s striker, or trooper-servant, if you please.
Smith said he was from Kentucky, and that hillbilly had an accent which twanged like a banjo.
The man knew nothing about grammar.
If Kerry was suspicious, Private Smith was peculiar, scratching the bristles on his chin as he spoke to his superiors, puffing on a clay pipe and sucking the few teeth he had left in his mouth.
It didn’t seem to bother Kerry, an officer who was supposed to embody the qualities of a gentleman, that his striker was grimy, refused to shave and spoke disrespectfully to his betters.
When I complained about Smith, Kerry shrugged. Smith was “a good man,” he said.
Obviously, Kerry had low standards, which is what you would expect from a man who rose from the ranks.I understand he began his Army career as a mere sergeant; at least, in the Union army.