Private William McCarter of the 116th Pennsylvania Infantry (Irish Brigade) wrote a colorful memoir and included this autumnal story about soldier and civilian interactions near Charlestown (now West Virginia) in October 1862. Here’s the account in his own words, and the language he recorded—which is apparently toned down—is left as it appears in the original.
An hour of our allotted time having now nearly expired, a backward movement was begun towards camp by a different and more circuitous route than the one by which we came. We had not proceeded far on our way when we arrived opposite a brown, rough-cast house with a large orchard. The place was stocked with apple trees still laden with the tempting fruit. On the ground beneath, many fine apples laid all around. The entire place was surrounded by a low iron railing or fence, which in several parts had been knocked down. The broken pieces laid on the ground, leaving openings large enough to admit persons from the outside.
Being very fond of a good apple, which is my favorite fruit at all seasons of the year, I proposed a raid on the orchard. The plan was willingly agreed to by all, thinking that under the circumstances there could be no hard or impropriety in doing so. Accordingly, I led the way trough one of the openings, followed by all of the boys except three who remained outside. They soon afterwards followed. Here the most amusing incident of my life in the army took place.
I had entered the enclosure, picked up an apple from the ground, a fine, big, juicy fellow, and commenced eating it. My left arm rested on the muzzle of my musket. A lady suddenly appeared at an open window in the house some 15 yards distant. Her hair was disheveled and she held a comb in her hand. Upon seeing me standing there all alone—for my companions, before joining me in the attack on the apples, had gone to quench their thirsty appetites by a draught of clear, cool water from a pump which stood at the corner of the house, nearly underneath the window at which the lady stood—she addressed me in the following language, leaning out of the window: “I say, you damned, infernal Yank, don’t touch one of my apples.”
I, however, heeded not the order. Continuing to feast on the delicious fruit, I eyed her ladyship with silent scorn and contempt. Seeing that no respect whatever was paid to her commands, she withdrew from her position. But a moment afterwards she returned, accompanied by a large black dog who thrust his head out of the window, growling and snarling at the invaders of his territory. The beast showed a set of under and upper teeth which would have done honor to any Virginia bloodhound. Even this had no effect on me. I was determined to secure several fine apples. By this time, the angry passions of the female Virginian had reached their highest pitch. After indulging for fully ten minutes in the most abusive, obscene and blasphemous language that I ever heard, she added, “Go home, you damned, thieving Yankees to your whoring mothers in the North.”
This was too much for any brave Irishman to stand, especially one clad in Uncle Sam’s uniform. It made my blood boil. Dashing my musket down on the grass, I picked up the largest apple near me and shouted “Now, you get!”
I hauled off with all my force, driving the fruit through the window, smashing the glass in a thousand pieces. This caused her ladyship to beat a hast retreat behind the wall inside. It protected her from the shower of apples which soon followed my attack on her fort.
The noise of the breaking glass, falling almost at their feet at the pump under the window, suddenly attracted the attention of my fellow soldiers. One of them remarked on seeing me throw the apple, “Look. What’s the matter? Bill’s got his Irish up.”
But the sound of his voice had scarce died away when a shower of empty stone, porter and other bottles came down upon their heads from an upper window in the house. They cut one poor fellow’s head severely and injured another. The bottles were very probably thrown by the same woman who had insulted me. This was the signal for a general uprising. Being much excited myself at the moment, I shouted to the boys, “Go at the windows with apples.” They made one grand rush for the place where I stood. Upon reaching it, they gathered up bushels of apples and then commenced a bombardment of the house. My Irish friends broke and smashed to pieces every pane of glass in the residence. They rendered its interior for the time a regular apple receptacle.
We boys then helped ourselves to the refreshing and beautiful fruit. We supplied our haversacks also without the least opposition or interference from anyone, no inmate of the dwelling attempting even to show a nose. Marching slowly out of the place on to the road, we trudged back to camp. There we divided the spoils, as far as they went, among the other members of the regiment. Our story caused much merriment and laughter throughout the Irish Brigade.
McCarter, William. Edited by Kevin E. O’Brien. My Life in the Irish Brigade. Da Capo Press, 1996. Pages 44-45.