A soldier’s timeless meditation on the frustrations of military life
In the autumn of 1856, 1st Lt. Orlando Bolivar Willcox was dispatched with his regiment to the malaria-infested swamps of Florida to participate in the Third Seminole War. Willcox, an 1847 West Point graduate, had previously seen service in Mexico and on the Great Plains and would one day establish an outstanding record of service as a Union general in the Civil War. Yet it was the eight long months he spent in Florida that proved the most trying service of his career.
Willcox, like the rest of the Army, saw few Seminoles during the campaign (they had taken refuge deep in the Everglades), but the war he and his comrades waged against boredom, homesickness, insects, and disease was increasing, and in the end proved as deadly to the American troops as anything the Seminoles themselves could have wrought. Marching twenty-eight miles inland from Fort Myers, Willcox and his regiment arrived at Fort Deynaud, which he described as looking “like a Hottentot village, & the garrison like scarecrows. They had been long reduced by fever & diarrhea, scarcely a corporal guard fit for duty; but their deep sunken eyes brightened at sight of us who had come to relieve them.” As the captain of the post marched away with what was left of his ragged, sickly command, his parting advice to the relieving garrison was “to blow out their brains.”
After six months at the worst post in the United States Army, Willcox, fed up with military life, ludicrous regulations, petty senior officers, low pay, and the trials of campaigning in the jungle, was prompted to write the following satire. He had lost his patience for Army red tape, but he certainly had not lost his sense of humor. Many of today’s Army veterans will likely smile and agree that, even after 140 years, some things haven’t changed.