“Why all the morphine?”
“The Navy Master Quartermaster looked up from his manifest at the Army Supply Sergeant and motioned him closer. When he was certain that those about them were bustling about with the herculean task of unloading enough munitions and mutton for a Grand Army, he said sotto voce: “Big attack. Tomorrow. At dawn.”
The Supply Sergeant nodded knowingly. “Of course. Been talk. Now I know for sure. Say?”
“What does your manifest show? For the morphine that is.”
“Four hundred fifty crates. No more. No less. To be delivered at once to the front. For those poor devils who get to go over the top at dawn and face certain death and dismemberment. The wounded will be crying for their mommas and morphine this time tomorrow.”
“So they will, Master Quartermaster. But 450 crates. Seems like too much of a good thing. If you know what I’m saying.”
“What exactly are you saying, Supply Sergeant?”
The Supply Sergeant winked conspiratorially at the Master Quartermaster and whispered: “So happens I know people in the city who would pay dear for just one crate of morphine.”
“You mean degenerates and moral reprobates and draft dodgers?”
“I mean degenerates and moral reprobates and draft dodgers with cold, hard cash.”
The Master Quartermaster took another long look at his manifest and said:
“Seems like this figure was wrote out with a pencil. Suppose it could be rubbed out and changed to read: 430 crates of morphine. A 3’s as good as a 5. Who’s to notice, Supply Sergeant?”
“Precisely, Master Quartermaster. And I am prepared to make this simple matter of subtraction worth your time and attention.”
“I want half of what you get for it!”
“All right, you get half.”
“Let’s shake on it.”
“Fine. Let’s shake on it.”
And so the Master Quartermaster and Supply Sergeant shook on the deal to split the proceeds from the illicit sale of 20 soon-to-be critically needed crates of morphine to a nefarious fellow lingering at the end of the dock with a freight wagon and fast team of strong horses.
The sale was consummated, the ill-gotten gains were duly split down the middle, and the Master Quartermaster and Supply Sergeant went on about the business of getting guns and butter to the fighting men at the front.
No one, they decided, would miss those 20 crates of morphine.
There would be plenty to go ’round after the dawn offensive.
But there was not.
And, wouldn’t you know, the Supply Sergeant unexpectedly found himself at the front at dawn because the General of the Grand Army had ordered every able-bodied cook, bottle washer, drover, privy dipper, and supply sergeant to support the great attack by the grand blue tide that was to sweep the enemy from his fixed positions and raise the flag of victory over the smoldering ruins of his capital city.
But plans went awry when an unexpected wind sailed the opening artillery barrage clear over the clearly visible enemy fortifications. The artillery spotters had been right on the money, but then the General of the Grand Army had forgotten to order his chaplains to pray for nary a lick of wind.
The Grand Army’s great guns fired and fired and fired, but that following wind from nowhere took those rounds 100 yards or more beyond the enemy’s trenches and breastworks where they churned the obliterated fields into further obliteration.
Seeing all this through his Swiss optics, the General of the Grand Army nonetheless ordered the attack. He had 10 soldiers for his adversary’s 1, and he was going to win this wicked war once and for all, at whatever cost to men and materiel.
So the General of the Grand Army ordered his adjutants to order the buglers to sound the attack, and sound it they did, and when the great blue army charged at the gray and brown clad men in their unscathed fortifications, the secessionists poured down a punishing fire on their screaming adversaries.
Hot lead hailed from the rebel heights, and the men in blue were too many and in such close ranks that they could only take the hits in heads, extremities, and bellies.
The lucky ones were those shot in the head. They died instantly and went to that old soldiers’ home in the sky.
Less fortunate were those whose arms and legs were shattered by the balls of lead fired by boys who could hit a squirrel in a tree at 300 yards. If the stretcher-bearers found them in time, they faced a certain date with the “saw bones.”
But the true unfortunates were those shot in the belly. Their innards ripped asunder, they would sink to their knees and weep and wail for their mommas and morphine.
The Supply Sergeant, who had never expected to see a second of combat duty due to his political connections, suffered just such a fate.
He howled like a banshee from the white hot pain of it, and, do you know, there might have been morphine for him after the men in blue retreated in defeat, but the Grand Army was 20 crates short due to a deal with the devil before the dawn offensive.