Victual Particulars

MagruderOne of my favorite stories comes from Miller’s Photographic History, but I never knew its source.

…until recently. In The Grayjackets: and How They Lived, Fought and Died for Dixie (Richmond, 1867), by “a Confederate” [James Dabney McCabe] I have found the yarn.

I’ll tell it the way you see it in Miller’s.

In May 1862, when John B.  Magruder’s force was holding the lower Peninsula against McClellan’s army, the general and his staff stopped at a lady’s house and asked if they could be served dinner. She obliged.

Then a private from Louisiana chanced by the same house and also asked for a meal. “Yes, sir,” she replied, “but as I am preparing dinner for General Magruder and staff, and have not room at my table for more, you will have to wait for a second table.”

“Very well, ma’am,” The grateful soldier answered. “Thank you.” He then took a seat near the dining room. When her servants had laid down several fine dishes, the lady proceeded to invite the officers in from the parlor. This gave the Louisiana private his chance: he entered the dining room, seated himself at the table, and started digging in.

A surprised Magruder rather haughtily declared, “This dinner was engaged, sir.”

“That’s all right,” the private responded. “Sit down; there’s plenty for all of us, I daresay.”

“Perhaps, young man, you don’t know whom you are talking to,” Magruder said, growing more perturbed.

Said the private: “Don’t worry about that, general.  I used to be particular who I ate with before this war, but now I don’t care, so long as the victuals are clean.”

Try saying that to your boss at the next company luncheon!

10 Responses to Victual Particulars

    1. They didn’t call him “Prince” John, for nothing! Have you heard how, in one of her visits to the United Sates, Queen Elizabeth was greeted cordially by an African-American lady in Chicago with that same charming lack of deference?

      1. I remember that, in fact.

        One I don’t recall personally is the time King George and Queen Elizabeth (the present sovereign’s parents) visited the White House and were introduced to Babe Ruth, who stuck out his hand and said, “hiya, King!”

  1. I had not heard that story, but just another example of why it’s important to read the primary documents written by the participants to gain a real understanding of history.

  2. Yes: McCabe’s Grayjackets is something just a little short of a “beach read,” but enriching nevertheless, John! Thanks for this!

  3. One of the reasons I subscribe to Grammarly is because of posts like this one. I had always mispronounced “victuals,” thinking it must be an upper class word for sure. I now know it is pronounced “vittles.” There was a little kerfluffle about this, ending up with many of us who had mis-pronounced the word. So “vittles” it is, and can’t you just hear that hungry soldier saying his piece?

  4. Hey, Meg. I remember in 10th grade English when I wrote a little story as spoken by a Southern soldier, Mr. Dillard commented that I either misspelled vittles or mispronounced it when I read my paper to the class. You just don’t forget being called out like that. Let’s see…that was 52 years ago!

    1. Actually, of the 20-something words given by Grammarly, victuals was the one almost 90% missed, even if it was the only one. My thoughts are that it is an archaic sort of word, but Civil War folks read it almost weekly somewhere, if not more often. Shame on Mr. Dillard! I teach math to middle school kids, & I try never to embarrass them, although sometimes they embarrass themselves!

      The best follow-up to the victuals/vittles bit that I read was this: “Tender Victuals–Food for Erudite Cats.” Ya gotta laugh.

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