July/August 1999 | Volume 50, Issue 4
A soldier’s timeless meditation on the frustrations of military life
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.