I found this story, written by a member of the 15th Mississippi Infantry identified only as “Judge,” in The Atlanta Constitution, May 16, 1886. It’s a funny little article, but it does point out the hardships faced by many Confederate soldiers due to the lack of timely payment from the Confederate government.
A WAR INCIDENT
A Rich Story of Adventure – The New Moon and the Seven Stars, or the Biter Bit.
In the spring of 1863, the regiment to which I belonged, the 15th Mississippi infantry, was ordered from Port Hudson, La., to Tulahoma, Tenn., as was understood. We went as far as Montgomery, Ala., and for some cause unknown to the writer, were ordered back to Mississippi. But what I wish to tell you occurred on the way from Port Hudson to Montgomery.
We had not been paid off in a good long while, and as a consequence were all out of money. As usual, we were extremely anxious to get hold of anything to eat that was more palatable than corn bread and blue bull beef. If we did this we had to buy it, and, as I said money was scarce. We were in Jackson, Miss. I was emphatically hungry for something extra and set about borrowing a small sum with which to purchase it. Our good Major Terry lent me two dollars out of a five-dollar bill. Now, you must remember that Major Terry had only five dollars. He let me have two dollars, with the full understanding that three dollars in change had to be returned to him so you will see that I had no control of three dollars of the money. After I got the money I set about investing it. I went to a little shop on the right-hand side of the street that led from the confederate house, by the governor’s mansion, to the capitol. The little shop was just next to the confederate house and was kept by an Irish woman, the wife of a railroad man, as I then understood.
Now let me, in a few lines, describe an average confederate store’s stock at that time. It generally consisted of dilapidated veils, currycombs, ribbons – faded and ancient – sleighs, saws, artificial flowers – tangled, twisted and old – calico, at several dollars per yard, boiled eggs, pies, breeches at fabulous prices, and to cut the description short a confederate stock consisted of a conglomerated mass of misfitted and ill-assorted heterogeneousness. Such were the contents of the shop to which I repaired and it was as good as the average – the very best stocks generally had in addition to the above, parasols and fish-hooks.
The question was, how should I spend my two dollars. I didn’t want any veils or wheel-whirls, but I wanted something ‘to chaw’ as we used to classically express it. I knew the woman sold hard boiled eggs and I knew they were two dollars per dozen. I thought a dozen eggs would ‘go further’ than two dollars’ worth of anything else, and decided to get them, but while negotiating for the eggs, I saw a very fine half-moon pie put into the stove. I wanted it, too, but the two dollars wouldn’t get the eggs and the pie also. So I resolved to lift (not steal) the pie while the woman went into a little back room for the eggs, which she kept already boiled. The strategy that I put into practice was to call upon the woman, hurriedly, for the eggs just at the moment when the pie was not quite ready to take from the stove and yet so nearly done that it would be just ready for ‘lifting’ while she was counting my eggs. Now this was a nice calculation and no one but a regular rebel infantry man with just two borrowed dollars to go upon could have made it. So just in the nick of time I said: ‘Madam, get me a dozen eggs just as quick as you can. I’m in a big hurry.’ Just as I had expected, she glanced at the pie (the stove door was open – maybe it had no door) it looked too pale – not quite brown enough. I suppose she calculated that it would be just about right to take up by the time she got me the dozen eggs.
We were in a kind of middle-room. As soon as her back was well turned, I lifted the pie. Jerusalem, how hot it was! I danced it around on the tips of the fingers of my right hand while I unbuttoned the bosom of my over-shirt, so that I might poke the pie into my bosom between my overshirt and undershirt. I worked fast for I heard the woman coming with the eggs, in fact so great was my hurry that I thrust the red hot pie not between the two shirts but under both of them, right next to the naked skin – slap up against the hide! ‘Gewhilikens! The whoopee! oo! oo! oo! oh! hoo! hoo! oop-ee! hell!’ were something like the expressions that I wished to give voice to. No use a talkin’, fellow citizens, that pie hurt me, and as the woman had returned, I couldn’t jerk it out of my bosom, nor could I yell, but I had to ‘grin and endure it,’ while she (we had gone to the front room) was giving me my eggs and Major Terry’s three dollars. I would have sloped, but I had to wait for the three dollars. As she counted out the eggs and change I leaned over to the left, so that the hot pie could fall from my devoted side.
To make matters worse, by some means or other I squeezed several wads of hot dried apples out of the pie, and every wad put in its work, and the devil of it was, the woman was a long while giving me the change. As soon as I got out of the house I clawed that pie out of my bosom with a kind of underscored emphasis. I had got beat at my own game. I couldn’t keep the thing to myself. I told the boys of my regiment and showed them where I was branded with a half moon and seven stars – the wads of hot apples fixed the stars – allow me to say they were fixed stars. For weeks afterwards the boys would now and then bawl out: ‘Hello judge! When will the moon change?’
Now, the readers of THE CONSTITUTION – a paper for one dollar, worth fifty-two dollars per year – must not think that I was a thief and that I stole that pie. What the lawyers call ‘felonious intent’ didn’t enter into the taking of that pie. I didn’t feel mean while taking it. I only felt like owning the pie, and I got it, and – well, it got me too, and I felt mean afterwards.
After the war was over and hard-boiled eggs had ceased to be a staple commodity, and half-moon pies and confederate overshirts had been relegated – numbered among the things that were – I, in company with one of my brothers, was in Jackson. I told him this tale, and requested him to help me hunt up the woman shop-keeper. We found her in much better and nicer quarters. She was the proprietress of a West Jackson bakery. I told her the foregoing tale. She enjoyed its recital and exclaimed when I had finished it: ‘Oh, and I knew you had the pie, jist, and that is the rason I was so long makin’ the change, honey; but I don’t care at all. I wish you had got all my stuff, ye southern b’ys, for in a few wakes the Yankees robbed me of all the goods I had. Now be sated, yez, and yez brother and ate of whatever yez wants, at my expense, for it is as free as wather;’ and we took our seats at a nice table, in a clean room and partook of a magnificent dinner, to which we were truly welcome and for which the good woman would receive no remuneration.
Meridian, Miss., May 10, 1886
Thus far I have not been able to figure out the identity of “Judge,” the unlucky pie thief. I believe I have, however, discovered who the owner of the bakery was. “Judge” mentioned in his article that he visited the bakery owner after the war in her shop at West Jackson. I searched through the post-war Jackson newspapers, and found only one bakery in West Jackson that fit the with the information found in the article. In 1869 I found an ad for the “Pearl Street Bakery,” proprietor M. McLaughlin.
I looked for “M. McLaughlin” in the United States Census, had no luck in 1870, but struck paydirt in 1880: Michael L. McLaughlin, age 42, occupation merchant, and his wife, Mary E. McLaughlin, age 37, occupation housewife. Michael listed his birthplace as Ireland, and Mary gave her birthplace as Mississippi, but both her parents were born in Ireland. I can’t say for certain the McLaughlin bakery was the one that “Judge” wrote about, but it does fit the limited information given in the article. If I find any additional information about the identity of “Judge,” or the Pearl Street Bakery, I will add an update to this post.