THE TALE OF CAPTAIN J.W. NORTON
of the Army
of the Union
June 17, 1862. The South was in collapse. Louisiana was open to us. I had, each day, to requisition victuals for our troops, and was aided in this endeavour by a score of brave men. The rebels were not yet ready to lay down their arms. The region was far from safe. I headed further and further west and questioned many freed slaves. From them I learned of a plantation on the coast. Its name was Derceto.
We received a less than hearty welcome. Only Pickford, the owner, behaved in a friendly manner. While my men counted cattle and grain reserves, I learned what I could from him. The man was most unusual and possessed an extraordinarily cultured mind. At nightfall, I gave orders for the men to bivouac at Derceto. Pickford invited my second in command, lieutenant Patterson, and myself to dine.
The evening was splendid and our host proved a most entertaining conversationalist. While coffee was being served, Patterson went to inspect the men’s camp. The cigar Pickford offered me was so acrid that my head began to spin.
I remembered camp-fire tales of fellow officers trapped by devilish Confederate tricks. My mind floated in a foul and dense fog, from which emerged the enlarged and deformed face of Pickford. He grinned at me.
Patterson’s return chased off the nightmare. I heard shouts and firing from outside and found the strength to take out my revolver. I fired three shots. Pickford fell to the floor. Patterson then helped me out of the burning house. The air was filled with smoke. We resembled a company in disorderly retreat. I saw slaves leaping into the flames of that inferno. They were trying to save Pickford’s life.