Beneath Two Flags or The Story of a British Deserter by John Dutton
This is a copy of a narrative which was included in my book. It may be of interest to those who have not read "Where Brave Men Sleep".
John Dutton settled in the Town of Croghan, Lewis Co. after his Civil War service and, although his home which was located on Rt. 812 no longer stands, the crossroads is still known as Dutton's Corners.
Mr. Dutton had his experiences printed by the Carthage Republican Tribune for gifts to friends and family. I have a rather worn copy of the phamplet and there are probably still a few in existance, but I am sure they are rather scarce.
[I also received an e-mail telling me that John Dutton was not the author of Under Two Flags, another of my contributions. So I checked the site and found that Lola Yousey is noted as the author. Let me state most positively that that the copy in my possession names John Dutton on the cover and on the inside cover of this book. I researched this prior to publication and found an article in a back copy of the Carthage Rebublican Tribune (a local newspaper) with portions of the book quoted and stating that he had authored the book and was having it printed by the afore mentioned firm.]
Dear readers:-The following story, I solemnly affirm is the true history of my life, from the time of birth until the present day.
Perhaps, there may be those who would question the truth of the following narrative. If so, they have a cordial invitation to address a letter to me at my post office, Croghan, Lewis Co., N. Y., or pay me a personal call, at my home, the Flower and Fruit farm near Jerden Falls, N.Y. They will meet with a sincere welcome, and all questions will receive prompt attention, from your friend,
Names of my comrades, who crossed the St. Lawrence river with me January 29, 1863 : Henry Norris, Henry Grantam, Henry Bennett, Geo. O’Keff, H. McCune, Peter O’Neil, James Doyle, John O’Brien, Jeremiah Faix, F. Lane.
My English Home
These cold winter evenings when the wind sweeps in great blasts across the hills and valleys of this barren northland, my thoughts go back over the past years of my life, and I seem to be once again in far away England herding the great flocks of sheep on the hills, or as the scene changes, crossing once more the waves of the stormy Atlantic.
The scenes of former years pass vividly before my mind,-the journey on the ice, the burning prairies, and more clearly than the rest, the raging battles with the bloody battle ground strewn with dead and wounded, and as I listen to the sweep of the cold north winds, I long instinctively for the sunny clime of Texas and the pleasant southern states. Perhaps there are some who would wish to hear of my wanderings, as a soldier, so in my own simple language I will tell them the story of my life.
I was born in the pleasant town of Aldershot, England, in the year 1846. My father, who was a farmer, died in 1858. The first part of my life was spent in school and herding great flocks of sheep. I had six brothers but no sisters. At the time of my father’s death, there were stationed in Aldershot 200,000 soldiers and many times, as I watched them about the barracks, I longed to be one of them. Each year the desire grew until at the age of fourteen I enlisted as a drummer in the 47th regiment.
My mother was opposed to my determination, however, and as I was not of legal age, had me taken out. This treatment failed to make me any more contented with my former life, so I soon rejoined again, this time she refused to interfere in my plans. For five months we were stationed at Aldershot, while every week Queen Victoria came to review the soldiers when they were drilling. After leaving Aldershot we went to Folkestone, thence to Dover. Dover is a large, beautiful city nearly opposite Paris,France.
The barracks were situated on the large chalk hills above the city, and above the barracks farther up on the hill was a large castle in which was a gun inscribed “Sponge me well and keep me clean for I carry a ball to Calias green.” The huge gun actually did carry a ball to Cailas, France, which the castle overlooked. From the barracks to the city was a large tunnel. While at Dover I went on a furlough to Aldershot to see my mother, returning to the regiment the last of December, in time to leave with the army for Glasgow, Scotland, where we stayed four months. After leaving there we were called to Liverpool, England; thence to Dublin, Ireland.
In a Foreign Country
On June 17, 1861, we left Dublin on the Golden Fleece bound for Canada, land of the Maple Leaf. Our voyage across had not many exciting incidents. True, our ship caught fire twice, but it was instantly subdued. Day by day we glided over the peaceful waters of the ocean, and day by day I left my boyhood’s home far behind; but my heart was filled with a youth’s ambition and I little dreamed of what the future had in store for me. If I had, would I have come? Oh, I know not!
One day we noticed a huge mass of porpoises swimming ceaselessly around our ship and the captain remarked we were to have a storm before long and sure enough by night it came in all its fury. The rain fell in torrents, while the lightning flashed and great volleys of thunder filled the air, and the angry waves dashed against the ship in all their fury. But the noble Golden Fleece, with her load of human freight, passed on her way unscathed by the terrific tempest. Thankful indeed were the fifteen hundred soldiers on board when morning dawned and all were safe.
We landed at Quebec, July 4, 1861. There we left our beloved Golden Fleece, and one bright day in July three boat loads of soldiers, to the strains of martial music, glided up the peaceful waters of the St. Lawrence and entered Montreal. Glorious city of Montreal! Beautiful indeed, is this great city of Canada, but I must not stop, no, ah no, my readers, you will tire of my narrative. I must go on, but make you understand, and inspire you with the enthusiasm I feel as I live over and over again in my thoughts the days of my soldiering life.
For two years we lived at Montreal, and then we were hurriedly called to Kingston, and about the time we were called to Kingston, some of us began thinking about deserting the British army and going to the States to take part in the Civil War which was then in progress.
Accordingly, one night when all our plans were made thirteen of us answered at the roll call at six o’clock and then stole quietly down below the fort and reaching the river in safety, began our perilous journey across the St. Lawrence on ice to Cape Vincent.
Our progress across was slow and toilsome and we were tired out when we reached Long Island, which was midway of the river. We sat down to rest underneath a huge tree. While there we heard the soldiers fire the signal gun at the fort, and knowing our escape was discovered, we arose to continue our journey, but one of my comrades, being intoxicated, was unable to go on. In vain did we endeavor to have him come with us, but knowing every minute was precious, and we must not endanger our own chances we went on without him. Three feet of snow covered the entire island and with the wind of the storm at our side, by which we knew we were in the right direction, we struggled on through the high drifts, each moment becoming deeper. As mile after mile was passed, we grew tired and discouraged. Would we never reach Cape Vincent? Anxiously we asked the question while none replied. Suddenly, however, a faint light burst upon our tired gaze, and we started on with renewed courage; at least we were nearing some place, whether Cape Vincent or not. Before we dared to enter the village, however, we sent one of our comrades ahead of us. Being assured that we had reached Cape Vincent we begged for a night’s lodging at the engine house, as it was now one o’clock on Sunday morning and all the hotels were closed. Permission being granted us, we made ourselves as comfortable as possible, and being very weary soon fell asleep. So the second chapter of my life closes, and a new one begins. My first night in the States was spent in the engine room at Cape Vincent, with the cold north wind moaning unceasingly around it, and the snow blowing in sheets against the windows.
Life in the States
Sunday morning at nine o’clock it was still storming, but nevertheless after a hasty breakfast, we started to walk to Chaumont, whiched we reached at one o’clock that day. We stayed at the hotel that night, and the next morning we enlisted in the 18th New York Cavalry, and Tuesday took the morning train for Watertown to be sworn in. We stayed at the barracks and Wednesday while we were strolling about the city, we met some of the Canadian officers. They wished us to return to the British army, telling us if we did so, we would not be punished for deserting; but we refused to go. For two weeks we stayed at the barracks and became pretty well acquainted with the city, when we had orders to go to Albany. It was the last of February when we went to Albany where we were stationed under guard for seven days. Then we left for New York city where we stayed for one day, taking the train for Washington. There we joined the regiment and were under guard until we were called to Gettysburg.
There I saw the first of the rebel army and, under General Sheridan, we routed them in our first battle. I left there on the bloodstained battlefield six of the comrades who had braved the waves of the stormy Atlantic and the perils of the cold journey across the St. Lawrence only to fall at the first battle in the free states. It was with heavy hearts the remaining four of my comrades came from the battle, and glad indeed were we all when orders came for us to leave for New Orleans, thence to Greenville. While at Greenville, which was a few miles north of New Orleans, several of us had the fever, and were in the hospital many weeks. There another one of my comrades died. His name was Henry Bennett and he was deeply mourned by his companions. After leaving there we were sent to Baton Rouge, La., and while we were going, the rebels rolled large bales of cotton into the waters to stop our progress, which they failed to do, however, as we landed and made our way on foot.
While at Baton Rouge occurred an amusing incident which I will relate to you.
One night while on duty I was obliged to stand in a small thicket; it was a dark night and after I had been there a short time I began to get very tired. Just as I began to think to myself, how tiresome it all was, I heard a noise in the brush near me. In a second I was alert, but it had ceased and all was still. Suddenly I heard it again. “Halt!” I cried, ”Who goes there?” No answer came. Once more I called, but receiving no reply, I fired. All was perfect stillness. The next morning the sentry reported finding a dead mule in the thicket. Great was the amusement of my friends when this was told. Not more laughable is my mistake however, than that of one of my comrades who shot a pig one night, but much more substantial was the latter, as we were honored with roast pig for our dinner.
We stayed at Baton Rouge until Lee laid down his arms and surrendered. But even then General Smith refused to do so, and started for Mexico a few days after General Sheridan began his famous march to the sea. For thirty-one long days did we march across the burning plains of Texas, from Baton Rouge to San Antonio, in pursuit of the fleeing rebels. Dreary, indeed, was the march across the long prairie where each day we saw some of our company fall dead from the intense heat. Some days we were obliged to go nine miles out of our way to obtain water, and many were the sleepless nights passed while on our way. After reaching San Antonio we found Smith had already crossed the boundary. Four months after, three companies of us were sent to Camp Verda where an Indian attack was feared.
Camp Verda was far up above the plains where its warm days and clear nights made it an ideal place in which to live. Many were the nights we lounged about outside the tents beneath the star-decked sky of Heaven and listened to the songs of love and home and told stories of our numerous adventures. There was also another side to our camp life. Many were the nights also in which our picket line was doubled and we were obliged to stay out until the small hours of the morning. We had enough beef while there, as the “boys” would shoot a steer and when part of it was eaten the prairie wolves would devour the rest, keeping up a continual fighting to see which should get the largest share; and some times the cattle would form a ring around a steer after it was killed and we could not get it. But surely you have heard more than enough of life at Camp Verda; you will be getting tired, I must hurry on.
After leaving there we went to San Antonio and thence to Clinton. There we turned in our horses and were mustered out, May 30,1866. While at Clinton five of our company went to guide the paymaster on his way to San Antonio. Three of them happened to be in advance of the rest; and when the stage came to Clinton that day, the driver reported finding two men dead by the road. Examination proved that they were the two who went with the paymaster, while to my grief, one of them was O’Brien, one of my comrades, who came from Kingston that winter night so long ago. Men were at once sent for them, and they were brought into camp for burial. It was afterwards discovered they had been killed by the noted guerilla, Buck Taylor. Hearing one night of his being at a dance and desiring revenge, the soldiers surrounded the house in which the dance was held; but he blew out the lights and escaped and even the horses he had taken were never recovered.
Leaving the Army
After leaving Clinton we went to Galveston, to take a boat for New Orleans. Two days later we arrived in New Orleans, where one of my old time comrades, Henry Norris determined to remain. But the rest of us after receiving our pay took the train for New York.
The second day after landing, I went to Watertown. After leaving there I went to work at Great Bend.
I worked for Rastus Freeman drawing cord-wood to Watertown. He kept a hotel, but I toiled on the farm for him about a year. Then I went as hostler to the Getman House at Theresa, where I stayed for about two years. But my roving spirit could not be contented long in a place, so I made an engagement to work for Alexander Dickson, at Oxbow, on a farm there. During the short hot summers, we were very busy, but in the winter there was but little work to be done, so one winter I hired out to a man below Gouverneur, returning to Mr. Dickson’s again in the Spring.
There I worked until the year 1872, when I was married to Ellen Peeler, who was employed there also.
The next year, my wife and I bade them farewell and with many promises not to forget our friends, we moved to a farm below the village of Antwerp. I drew iron ore to Alpine, Lewisburg and Sterlingville during the winter-time, and after a short period we went to work for Robert Dickson, on a farm, where we stayed a year, going from there to Hammond, thence to Rossie, and at last back to Antwerp, where I stayed for three years, being employed by Samuel Weeks. At that time I had three daughters and one son. I had grown more and more discontented with my surroundings, and I determined to find a more pleasant place in which to cast my lot in life. After making several unsuccessful trips, I found the exact place for my home, but I will tell you more in another chapter.
My Last Pilgrimage
In the month of November,1880, I chanced to hear of a large tract of forest land, about twenty-five miles from Antwerp, where there was an abundance of work and good wages; and, as my wife’s sister and brother had taken up their residence there the year before, we decided to go also. Accordingly, we started one morning with our household accessories loaded on wagons. We reached Natural Bridge late that night, where a terrible snow storm overtook us, and had my brother-in-law not met us with sleighs, it is hard to say when we would have reached our new home. But at last it was reached and it was a small house one and one-half miles from the village of Jerden Falls.
My Readers, allow me to describe that village. Situated on the west branch of the Oswegatchie river was one of the largest tanneries in the state of New York. On either side of the river stood the dwelling houses, nestled in the green foot-hills of the Adirondack mountains, with the river gliding like a silver thread here and there among the willows which fringed its banks. The forest trees were tall and straight, standing closely together, with wild flowers stretching like a velvet carpet beneath them. An enterprising village of three hundred inhabitants, and thriving industry, owned by the Rice Brothers. Such was the Jerdan Falls of twenty years ago.
The landscape as it presents itself in the year 1907 is less pleasing. Away to the north and westward stretch long green meadows and brush-clad hills. A few evergreens and small willows still fringe the river’s bank to the eastward. Barren hills over which the forest fires sweep every year, a lone store; a few empty houses; one large beautiful farm house on the crest of a hill, and a tannery, long silent and fallen to decay over which the moss stealthily creeps, year by year,- such is the Jerden Falls of today.
For thirteen long years I toiled in that tannery, going back and forth from my work, which would amount to my walking 16,222 miles to and from the tannery.
After leaving there I bought a farm where I reside today, and all those who wish to question my story, have but to call on me at my residence on the four corners, “the flower and fruit farm.”
With a few closing remarks I will wish you adieu. My comrade Peter O’Neil, whom you will remember was left on Long Island in the St. Lawrence. Jan. 29,1864, I afterwards learned was captured by the British officers, and after a trial at Kingston, he was transported for ten years. It was a sorrowful fate for one who had served ten years in the Crimean war and until that time been a loyal and faithful subject. Three years ago the only surviving comrade beside myself of that ill-fated eleven who crossed the St. Lawrence that eventful night so long ago, died. Now I am the only one left, unless, perchance, the one who deserted us in Watertown be alive, which I have reason to doubt. So my story ends, I have traveled through England, Wales, Ireland and Canada and both the northern and southern states, and so, my dear readers, with the following lines I bring my story to an end:
My readers, do you think I am contented?
If so you will be surprised when I say, no.
There is just one wish to me that has not been granted,
Just one thing I long the most for now.
I have dwelt beneath the burning sun of Texas,
Also, the sweet and sunny clime of Spain,
I have sailed across the broad Atlantic Ocean,
But I long to see my English home again.
I have been within the battle’s raging furnace
And I’ve often listened to the bugle’s call,
I’ve been where the rifle balls fell thickest
And seen my loved companions wounded fall.
I’ve traveled many miles of drear prairies
And been in glorious cities of great fame,
But in spite of all adventures tho’ they’re many,
I long to see my English home again.
When I bade farewell to my old home in England
I shed no parting or regretful tear.
I little thought it was farewell, forever
To my mother, and my home, whom I loved dear;
And for many years, I’ve been contented
On America’s bright and sunny shore,
But now I’m getting old and feeble
And I long to see my English home once more.
John Dutton’s memory of past events had probably dimmed or faded over the intervening years. He could not have participated in the Battle of Gettysburg, Pa. ,which had been fought July 1st-3rd,1863. He did not join the 18th New York Cavalry until Feb.1,1864, months after the battle and the 18th did not fight at Gettysburg. Other than this error, his reminisces of this cavalry regiment generally agree with Frederick H. Dyer’s, A Compendium of the War of the Rebellion.
John Dutton’s grave can be seen in the Indian River Village Cemetery, Town of Croghan along with his other Civil War comrades.