The musket that isn't over the fireplace

The first thing in my memory about Grampy's house is his Civil War musket on the chimney pegs over the kitchen fireplace. I would be 10 that fall. The house, built in 1800, was 35 feet square with a hipped roof and a central chimney with eight flues.

Grampy's musket made a formidable presentation, and while a museum piece, it was also his varmint gun if he had to erase a fox or raccoon, or a ranging dog that was bothering the sheep. Knowing it was Grampy's battle gun, I was properly respectful, and would stand in awe to admire it. I did tease to fire it, and the recoil flattened me on the ground and I never teased again.

One day, Grampy said something that has bothered me ever since. He said his musket didn't belong there, as that was the place for the Queen's Arm. He said the Queen's Arm was there when he left for the Civil War in 1861, but that when he came home in '65 they took down the Queen's Arm and put up his musket, and he had no idea what became of the Queen's Arm.

We have Grampy's musket, with ramrod and bayonet, but all I know about the Queen's Arm is what Grampy told me that evening while we were finishing our bedtime snack of Early Harvest apple pie. Grampy said our ancestor, Old Joseph, went to fight for the queen in the big French and English skirmish that settled the ownership of Canada. Joseph was an old man, and had come up from Massachusetts as a boy to set up a salt business on the New Meadows River.

He was loyal to Her Majesty because he had been granted 100 acres of valuable oceanfront with a view and Foster's Point Island as well. Now that the queen needed help, he felt it prudent to join the Army. So poorly do the historians write their histories, we tend to forget that people were around before anybody else and a militia was in existence before the japes and rubes of Concord became embattled farmers.

That is, the queen had a standing army and we Colonials had our militia, and every settled township had its parade ground where competent officers taught the art of war. So Joseph said he was going to join the Army, and the family said, "What are you thinking of at your age? Come, come!"

Joseph said he'd thought it all out, and he was going to help the queen, and that was the end of the matter. So there was a compromise, and the family agreed that he could go if he'd take Luther with him to see that he didn't get hurt. Luther was a grandson, 17 years old.

Luther was agreeable, so they set out, the young man in his nonage and the old man in his dotage. Joseph was subject to the mal de mer, so they did not go by the troopship fleet, but walked along the shore. In this manner they got to Nova Scotia, where Joseph's regiment took part in several engagements under General Wolfe.

Luther stayed by Joseph to see that he didn't get hurt. When affairs in Nova Scotia were in hand, and the bagpipes were restored as legal tender, Wolfe regrouped and embarked for Quebec City, where he would save Canada from French domination. Joseph and Luther, again, walked and arrived two days ahead of the boats.

Grampy told me the family stories say that the Army disembarked at Point Levis, directly opposite the citadel of Quebec, and the soldiers could look across and see the French staring at them from the ramparts.

So a cannon was brought ashore and loaded, and touched off with the intention of putting a ball into the fortress. But the cannonball went a hundred yards and splashed into the St. Lawrence River, which caused the Frenchmen to cheer and jeer at such a feeble effect. The cannon was loaded again, with more powder, and this time the cannonball went about 200 yards before it splashed. The river was much wider than the cannoneer had supposed.

But with a little more powder each time, after shooting all morning, the attacking force was able to dump a cannonball into the fort, and they didn't hear any cheering and jeering. They saw no Frenchmen, either. The next day, Grampy said, was given over completely to the famous battle on the Plains of Abraham.

Now, speaking of historians, every one of them will tell you that both the contending generals, Wolfe and Montcalm, lost their lives in that struggle. But not one of them will tell you the much-more-important fact that Joseph Gould of New Meadows, District of Maine, Massachusetts Bay jurisdiction, took a bullet in his thigh. In the attendant confusion, Luther was able to stanch the wound, dress it, and assist Joseph to a place of safety, where he had care from a French family until he could walk home to Maine.

Grampy told me that when Joseph, supported by Luther, at last arrived at the home dooryard, one of Luther's younger brothers looked up from play and then went into the house to tell his mother, "Lute's back!"

Many years later I got acquainted with Dr. Gus Garcelon, who was a gun enthusiast and had a huge collection. I never saw the Queen's Arm of ancestor Joseph, but my grampy's story about it made the gun very real to me. I asked Gus what a Queen's Arm would be worth to a collector. Gus said, "I suppose it would be worth any price you put on it. I've got one, and it's not for sale. Why? Have you got one?"

And I said, "Just one, sort of."

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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