Tag Archives: Potomac River

A Christmas Bird Under Bombardment: 1862

turkey platter


A Christmas Bird Under Bombardment

A Good Dinner at Last

“I wake up at night to laugh about some things that happened in the army,” said Capt. Williams of the old One Hundred and Second Pennsylvania. “I remember that on one occasion when three companies of one regiment were on picket duty at Great Falls on the Potomac, we prepared for a big time and didn’t have it. The night before Christmas the boys concentrated all their thought on a Christmas dinner. An old man was sent off to Rockville on a foraging expedition with instructions to get a turkey or never come back. He came back the next morning with as fine a turkey as ever gobbled, a twenty pounder, and it was cooked in splendid style by men who knew how to do that sort of thing. It was on the table in the house at the reserve post, and with carving knife and fork in hand I was on my feet making a flourish preparatory to an attack on the turkey, when, crash! came the plastering down on the table.

“The crash was followed by a terrific explosion that tore out one corner of the house. It was followed by another crash that sent half the shingles flying from the roof. A third explosion sent more of the ceiling down on the table and on those about it. Then we comprehended that we were being bombarded and we lit out, leaving the turkey in the ruins. The rebels had placed three guns in position on the opposite side of the river and, getting range at first fire, had opened on our picket post. We didn’t care much about the house, and we regarded the shooting at us as a question of privilege, but our mouths watered whenever we thought of the turkey in the ruins.

“The rebels, of course, kept up their fire on the old house until it was pretty well demolished. In the meantime we gave them our undivided attention and when they retired the men who had been at dinner proceeded to investigate the ruins of the old house. The turkey was excavated, was submitted to a cleansing process, and was eaten. I have attended a great many Christmas dinners since the time, but I don’t remember one that had more jollity in it than our dinner on cold turkey at Great Falls. I never see a fellow with a carving knife and fork but that I look unconsciously up to the ceiling to see whether any bombshells are coming through or not, and I suppose that I have laughed 1,000 times over the consternation that spread over the faces of the boys when that first block of plastering came down on our turkey. Inter Ocean “Curbstone Crayons.”

Springfield [OH] Globe-Republic 26 March 1886: p. 2

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  There is, Mrs Daffodil, notes, an “insider” joke in the description of the turkey as a “20 pounder,” which was also the nomenclature for a piece of field artillery used in the American Civil War, perhaps the type that brought the plaster—and the house—down upon the turkey.  The good-humoured Captain might have had the adage “Hunger is the best sauce” written specially for him.

Mrs Daffodil invites you to join her on the curiously named “Face-book,” where you will find a feast of fashion hints, fads and fancies, and historical anecdotes

You may read about a sentimental succubus, a vengeful seamstress’s ghost, Victorian mourning gone horribly wrong, and, of course, Mrs Daffodil’s efficient tidying up after a distasteful decapitation in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales.


The Huntress Bags an Interview with John Quincy Adams

John Quincy Adams, 1843

John Quincy Adams, 1843


How A Woman once Interviewed John Quincy Adams

As a boy, being fond of bathing in the Potomac, I frequently resorted thither at early hours of summer mornings. The favorite point for such enjoyment was at ” the sycamores,” so called because a group of those trees stood on a certain part of the shore. The location was in the immediate vicinity of the present Washington Monument. There I had sometimes the honor of attempting to rival the natatory skill of John Quincy Adams.

It was his custom to seek the refreshment of the River of Swans—Pow-tow-mack—at the dewy hours of four or five A.m. My young companions and I encircled him as minnows may swim about a whale, but with no fear, for among children he was as a child.

A strange incident occurred there one day. Mrs. Anne Royal, a stout, aged, and eccentric widow of a Revolutionary soldier, had come to Washington some time before and undertaken the publication of a weekly paper entitled “The Huntress,” in size little beyond a sheet of foolscap, blurred print, and more typographical errors than lines. Biographical accounts of gentlemen of the Cabinet and of Congress were its main features, with notices, too, of distinguished ladies of the metropolis. If the elite furnished her, on her call, with proper data and proper pay, their lives were made glorious in the next number of the unique journal, and they were also presented as angels, either masculine or feminine; but if her visit, as did happen now and then, met with refusal, the imaginative editor would invent wonderful circumstances and attribute them to such personages. These, in publication, startled, and even terrified the subjects thereof and all their society friends. So it became necessary to buy off the vengeful madam and to obtain from her a pleasant report. Cases of fancy were often more profitable to the Royal treasury than those which were authentic. So severe and denunciatory was the editorial tone of this Saturday visitor that it soon created dread in all quarters, and few were brave enough to provoke her wrath by declining the application of the proprietor. The demand granted, the consequent laudation proved scarcely more acceptable, being extravagant to absurdity, and read with general laughter.

No paper of the period in Washington, not even the stately and venerable “National Intelligencer,” could compare in extent of local subscription with the list of “The Huntress. ”

The active and resolute madam would have it, and made it so, by going from house to house, office to office, stores, departments of the Government, in a word everywhere, of course including Congress assembled. By love or by fear she usually succeeded. Soon as the queer little sheets issued from the press, and while they were yet damp, Mrs. Royal, huge basket on arm, bore them through the city, acting as carrier.

The enterprising widow had long sought an opportunity to pay her respects to the Honorable John Quincy, but somehow—perhaps John Quincy knew—fate failed to favor her.

She chanced to learn the early summer morning practice of his late Excellency, and the very next day repaired to the river and the sycamores. There he was, serenely disporting. She looked on with self-congratulation. The swimmer approached the shore at last, nearer and nearer, till he observed her ladyship in waiting, then, the stream admitting, stood, head and neck exposed above the surface.

Thus situated, a prisoner, she addressed him, introduced herself, and held sufficient talk to furnish subject for a fine article in the following “Huntress,” which accomplished, she retired, and once more all was ” quiet on the Potomac.”

Saginaw [MI] Evening News, 24 January 1887: p. 1

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: One can scarcely imagine the austere figure in the photograph as nature made him, but, of course, at this time men and boys were accustomed to bathe in the nude.

Mrs Royall [that is the correct spelling] had come to Washington to try to collect her late husband’s pension, as she had been disinherited by her husband’s family and left penniless. It is said that Mr Adams supported her application after being held captive in the Potomac and that she became a friend of the family. Mrs Royall was exceptionally outspoken and was derided as a virago by the many targets of her journalistic censure. There were actually threats to duck her as a scold, (one would have liked to have seen them try!) but she was merely fined instead. She was the first woman to interview a United States President and is regarded as the first American woman journalist.

Mrs Daffodil invites you to join her on the curiously named “Face-book,”where you will find a feast of fashion hints, fads and fancies, and historical anecdotes. You may read the Mrs Daffodil story, “A Spot of Bother,” in the compilation of that name on Amazon or on Barnes & Noble.