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Chapter 20

PRIZE-FIGHT AMONG THE N'YAARKERS--A GREAT MANY FORMALITIES, AND LITTLE
BLOOD SPILT--A FUTILE ATTEMPT TO RECOVER A WATCH--DEFEAT OF THE LAW AND
ORDER PARTY.

One of the train-loads from Richmond was almost wholly made up of our old
acquaintances--the N'Yaarkers. The number of these had swelled to four
hundred or five hundred--all leagued together in the fellowship of crime.

We did not manifest any keen desire for intimate social relations with
them, and they did not seem to hunger for our society, so they moved
across the creek to the unoccupied South Side, and established their camp
there, at a considerable distance from us.

One afternoon a number of us went across to their camp, to witness a
fight according to the rules of the Prize Ring, which was to come off
between two professional pugilists. These were a couple of
bounty-jumpers who had some little reputation in New York sporting
circles, under the names of the "Staleybridge Chicken" and the "Haarlem
Infant."

On the way from Richmond a cast-iron skillet, or spider, had been stolen
by the crowd from the Rebels. It was a small affair, holding a half
gallon, and worth to-day about fifty cents. In Andersonville its worth
was literally above rubies. Two men belonging to different messes each
claimed the ownership of the utensil, on the ground of being most active
in securing it. Their claims were strenuously supported by their
respective messes, at the heads of which were the aforesaid Infant and
Chicken. A great deal of strong talk, and several indecisive knock-downs
resulted in an agreement to settle the matter by wager of battle between
the Infant and Chicken.

When we arrived a twenty-four foot ring had been prepared by drawing a
deep mark in the sand. In diagonally opposite corners of these the
seconds were kneeling on one knee and supporting their principals on the
other by their sides they had little vessels of water, and bundles of
rags to answer for sponges. Another corner was occupied by the umpire,
a foul-mouthed, loud-tongued Tombs shyster, named Pete Bradley.
A long-bodied, short-legged hoodlum, nick-named "Heenan," armed with a
club, acted as ring keeper, and "belted" back, remorselessly, any of the
spectators who crowded over the line. Did he see a foot obtruding
itself so much as an inch over the mark in the sand--and the pressure
from the crowd behind was so great that it was difficult for the front
fellows to keep off the line--his heavy club and a blasting curse would
fall upon the offender simultaneously.

Every effort was made to have all things conform as nearly as possible to
the recognized practices of the "London Prize Ring."

At Bradley's call of "Time!" the principals would rise from their
seconds' knees, advance briskly to the scratch across the center of the
ring, and spar away sharply for a little time, until one got in a blow
that sent the other to the ground, where he would lie until his second
picked him up, carried him back, washed his face off, and gave him a
drink. He then rested until the next call of time.

This sort of performance went on for an hour or more, with the knockdowns
and other casualities pretty evenly divided between the two. Then it
became apparent that the Infant was getting more than he had storage room
for. His interest in the skillet was evidently abating, the leering grin
he wore upon his face during the early part of the engagement had
disappeared long ago, as the successive "hot ones" which the Chicken had
succeeded in planting upon his mouth, put it out of his power to "smile
and smile," "e'en though he might still be a villain." He began coming
up to the scratch as sluggishly as a hired man starting out for his day's
work, and finally he did not come up at all. A bunch of blood soaked
rags was tossed into the air from his corner, and Bradley declared the
Chicken to be the victor, amid enthusiastic cheers from the crowd.

We voted the thing rather tame. In the whole hour and a-half there was
not so much savage fighting, not so much damage done, as a couple of
earnest, but unscientific men, who have no time to waste, will frequently
crowd into an impromptu affair not exceeding five minutes in duration.

Our next visit to the N'Yaarkers was on a different errand. The moment
they arrived in camp we began to be annoyed by their depredations.
Blankets--the sole protection of men--would be snatched off as they slept
at night. Articles of clothing and cooking utensils would go the same
way, and occasionally a man would be robbed in open daylight. All these,
it was believed, with good reason, were the work of the N'Yaarkers, and
the stolen things were conveyed to their camp. Occasionally depredators
would be caught and beaten, but they would give a signal which would
bring to their assistance the whole body of N'Yaarkers, and turn the
tables on their assailants.

We had in our squad a little watchmaker named Dan Martin, of the Eighth
New York Infantry. Other boys let him take their watches to tinker up,
so as to make a show of running, and be available for trading to the
guards.

One day Martin was at the creek, when a N'Yaarker asked him to let him
look at a watch. Martin incautiously did so, when the N'Yaarker snatched
it and sped away to the camp of his crowd. Martin ran back to us and
told his story. This was the last feather which was to break the camel's
back of our patience. Peter Bates, of the Third Michigan, the Sergeant
of our squad, had considerable confidence in his muscular ability.
He flamed up into mighty wrath, and swore a sulphurous oath that we would
get that watch back, whereupon about two hundred of us avowed our
willingness to help reclaim it.

Each of us providing ourselves with a club, we started on our errand.
The rest of the camp--about four thousand--gathered on the hillside to
watch us. We thought they might have sent us some assistance, as it was
about as much their fight as ours, but they did not, and we were too
proud to ask it. The crossing of the swamp was quite difficult. Only
one could go over at a time, and he very slowly. The N'Yaarkers
understood that trouble was pending, and they began mustering to receive
us. From the way they turned out it was evident that we should have come
over with three hundred instead of two hundred, but it was too late then
to alter the program. As we came up a stalwart Irishman stepped out and
asked us what we wanted.

Bates replied: "We have come over to get a watch that one of your fellows
took from one of ours, and by --- we're going to have it."

The Irishman's reply was equally explicit though not strictly logical in
construction. Said he: "We havn't got your watch, and be ye can't have
it."

This joined the issue just as fairly as if it had been done by all the
documentary formula that passed between Turkey and Russia prior to the
late war. Bates and the Irishman then exchanged very derogatory opinions
of each other, and began striking with their clubs. The rest of us took
this as our cue, and each, selecting as small a N'Yaarker as we could
readily find, sailed in.

There is a very expressive bit of slang coming into general use in the
West, which speaks of a man "biting off more than he can chew."

That is what we had done. We had taken a contract that we should have
divided, and sub-let the bigger half. Two minutes after the engagement
became general there was no doubt that we would have been much better off
if we had staid on our own side of the creek. The watch was a very poor
one, anyhow. We thought we would just say good day to our N'Yaark
friends, and return home hastily. But they declined to be left so
precipitately. They wanted to stay with us awhile. It was lots of fun
for them, and for the four thousand yelling spectators on the opposite
hill, who were greatly enjoying our discomfiture. There was hardly
enough of the amusement to go clear around, however, and it all fell
short just before it reached us. We earnestly wished that some of the
boys would come over and help us let go of the N'Yaarkers, but they were
enjoying the thing too much to interfere.

We were driven down the hill, pell-mell, with the N'Yaarkers pursuing
hotly with yell and blow. At the swamp we tried to make a stand to
secure our passage across, but it was only partially successful. Very
few got back without some severe hurts, and many received blows that
greatly hastened their deaths.

After this the N'Yaarkers became bolder in their robberies, and more
arrogant in their demeanor than ever, and we had the poor revenge upon
those who would not assist us, of seeing a reign of terror inaugurated
over the whole camp.

John McElroy