h2g2 Literary Corner: Major von Borcke's Gap Year(s)

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Major von Borcke's Gap Year(s)

Major Heros von Borcke, CSA

Editor's Note: A brief word about Johann August Heinrich Heros von Borcke (23 July 1835 – 10 May 1895). He was born in the Fortress Ehrenbreitstein. His last name was Heros von Borcke. He was one of those Prussians: the kind that had a lot in common with Franz Werfel's Polish colonel, who had 'one of the finest minds of the Twelfth Century'. In other words, he was a German-speaking Klingon, albeit a good-natured one.

When the US Civil War broke out, Heros von Borcke, being bored, got the king's permission to go and fight for the Confederacy1. Why not? They couldn't have a war and not invite him, it wouldn't be polite. Besides, he could bring his expertise back home and use it for the greater glory of Sontar-….er, Prussia. Sure enough, when Heros von Borcke got home in 1866, it was just in time to go and fight the Austrians.

Battle was glorious, obviously, but it exacted a toll. Heros von Borcke, known as the 'Giant in Grey', or 'that Prussian with the big sword', was now running around with a bullet in him that he picked up near Gettysburg. So he retired to boss the peasants around. He proudly flew the Confederate flag over his battlements in what is now Poland. Stop and imagine that. . . I'm trying hard to look away from misplaced Dixie Land.

Heros von Borcke had a wonderful time in Virginia, and encountered many strange beasts. Here is a suitably annotated excerpt.

Fishing and Shooting2

A Confederate flag flying over a German castle.

We3 occupied ourselves now chiefly with fishing and shooting, as had the red Indians of these woods and streams4 two hundred years ago. The Chickahominy5 afforded us abundance of perch and cat-fish6, which were welcome additions to the supplies of our mess-table; but taking the fish was attended with many discomforts and difficulties. From the peculiar formation of the river-banks, high and densely skirted with trees, we were forced to wade about in the shallow stream, where we were vigorously attacked by the most voracious horse-leeches, which
fastened themselves on our exposed legs in such numbers as to make it necessary to go ashore every five minutes to shake them off. The small hare of Virginia darted about in every direction in the fields and thickets; but shooting the grey squirrel, which was quite new to me, afforded me the best sport; and from the great agility of the animal, it was by no means so easy a matter as one might suppose. The foliage of the hickory, in which the grey squirrel has his favourite abode, is very dense, and the active little creature knows so well how to run along the opposite side of the limb from the gentleman with the gun7, that one must be as much on the alert as his game to fire exactly at the moment when it is in sight and unprotected. The grey squirrel is smaller than the red or fox squirrel, and as it subsists principally on chestnuts and hickory-nuts, its meat is very delicate8 . I had some repugnance to eating them at first, as disagreeably suggestive, in their appearance, of rats9; but I soon learned to appreciate the game, and it became one of my most highly valued dishes.

Editor's Endnote: There is more – much more – in this amazing book. You want to read about the night the rattlesnake got into his tent, and he was forced 'to draw my keen Damascus blade [actually, it was from Solingen] and sever the reptile in twain'?
Enjoy all the martial hilarity of Memoirs of the Confederate War for Independence courtesy of archive.org.

The Literary Corner Archive

Dmitri Gheorgheni

19.06.17 Front Page

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1Do you remember Salome, Where She Danced? Now we know where the script writer got that Prussian.2Game, this time, not Yankees.3Heros von Borcke was a staff officer for General JEB Stuart, which was a big deal. Stuart fancied himself as the cavalier nonpareil, and elite Virginia society agreed. This beplumed cavalry, who seemed to think it was 1648 and they were off to rescue the Martyr King, did a lot of 'irregular' things, like riding around the Yankee armies, stealing horses and even, at least once, a whole train. They enjoyed their war, and would have gotten along with General McMahon of the movie War Machine.4In Virginia. It's still a breathtakingly lush and beautiful countryside, once you get away from the Greater Washington, D.C. area.5A river. Try to keep up.6Catfish look like this. They taste better than they look.7So that's why they do that.8Pah! He must have been really hungry. It is true that being able to shoot a grey squirrel makes you a marksman. The Editor's late father had a sharpshooter's medal from the Second World War. Southern mountain boys were in high demand in the infantry, because they'd been feeding Depression-era families on squirrel meat since they were eight or ten, and were amazingly proficient with a rifle. After the war, my dad shot squirrels exactly one time. The horrified reaction of his three kids – 'Aw, you killed it!' 'Squirrels are cute!' 'You expect us to eat that?' 'You know, there is plenty of food at the grocer's these days, and we're not exactly broke' – made it an unrepeatable experience. A gentle man, he retired his hunting skills gracefully, except for the time he tried to shoot a ground hog in his pyjamas. (Insert joke here.) He took to gathering in the supermarket meat section instead, spotting steak bargains.9Except they have beautiful plumy tails, which they use as umbrellas. There's one in my backyard now. It tried to raid the bird feeder, but we have that covered, heh heh. So it's cheerily carting away all those walnuts that fell on our heads last fall.

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