A Soldier’s Harsh Life ~ by Pam Crooks

The heroes in my two-book connected series, THE MERCENARY’S KISS and HER LONE PROTECTOR, are soldiers.  Mercenaries, specifically.  They were soldiers for hire who commanded a handsome price from the War Department to fight for America’s freedoms in their own way. Undercover, nonconforming, but no less effective.

Both educated in West Point Military Academy, their dreams to be a soldier in the traditional sense fall apart, but they remain fierce patriots. They travel throughout the world to fight with skills and daring few soldiers could imagine.  Their life isn’t easy–or safe. They battle betrayal, harsh environments, malaria . . . and emerge victorious.

Soldiers throughout the nineteenth century didn’t have it any easier.  Worse, most likely. Oh, my, many of these soldiers were young.  Late teens, fresh-faced, and eager to serve.  It wasn’t long before their determination is tested, for sure.

A typical routine for a calvary on the march would be like this:

  • 4:45 am – First Call. No hitting the snooze button. Soldiers had to get up and moving NOW.
  • 4:55 am – Reveille and Stable Call. They came to order, saddled the horses, and harnessed the mules.
  • 5:00 am – Mess Call. Breakfast, both prepared and eaten.
  • 5:30 am – Strike Camp – meaning take down tents and store equipment.
  • 5:45 am – Boots & Saddles – the soldiers mount up.
  • 5:55 am – Fall In – Calvary is assembled and ready to march.
  • 6:00 am – Forward March!

An hour and fifteen minutes to accomplish all this!  No dawdling allowed.

Some days, they traveled thirty, maybe sixty miles. Imagine sitting in the saddle that long! The men rode in columns of four when the terrain allowed. Single file, if it didn’t. If the wind and snow blew hard, they rode hunched in the saddle, their eyes slitted against the stinging wind, their hats pulled low over their eyes.

At night, they might have to sleep on snow. If they didn’t die of pneumonia, frostbite and gangrene often set in, and Army surgeons chopped off blackened fingers and toes. In the South, the heat was brutal, water scarce, and the flying insects merciless.  The feared threat of an Indian attack was constant.

Fresh meat was in short supply.  Soldiers reported the meat putrid and “sticky”. Yuck! Clean water was a precious commodity, too. Soldiers suffering extreme thirst desperately drank water wherever they could find it, even if it was green with slime, which only brought on instantaneous vomiting when they were already weak and dehydrated.

Even if decent water could be found, their canteens were lacking.

Wooden canteens tended to leak and/or dry out.

The water in India rubber canteens tasted terrible.

Tin canteens were probably best, but in extreme heat, the water got hot.

If a soldier was pulled out of the field and ordered to a post, amenities were minimal.  Barracks at a fort were small, overcrowded, poorly constructed, poorly ventilated, cold in winter and hot in summer. Privacy was non-existent for most. Privies were outside and bathhouses rare. In fact, despite the War Department’s stipulation that the men should bathe at least once a week, one officer reported that after 30 years in the Army, not once had he seen a bathhouse at a fort.

Still, not every soldier thought his time in service to his country was endlessly miserable.  One young lieutenant wrote his mother, “I could live such a life for years and years without becoming tired of it. There is a great deal of hardship, but we have our own fun. If we have to get up and start long before daybreak, we make up for it when we gather around campfires at night. You never saw such a merry set as we are–we criticize the Generals, laugh and swear at the mustangs and volunteers, smoke our cigars and drink our brandy, when we have any.”

I like his attitude, don’t you?

What is the farthest you’ve ever traveled?  Have you ever had a miserable trip?

A number of years ago, to celebrate our anniversary, my husband and I traveled to Cape Cod in the fall, hopeful to see the beautiful colors.  Alas, it had been too warm and rainy that year, and we didn’t see a SINGLE leaf that had turned color.  Worse, on the way home, more stormy weather cancelled flights, and we were forced to spend the night at the Boston airport.  I can still remember those creaky cots they gave us to sleep on.  Although my husband slept, I couldn’t relax out of fear someone would steal our luggage.  I was in tears checking my watch constantly.  I can’t remember being more miserable, and that night is still vivid in my memory.

Let’s chat, and I’ll give away an ebook copy of THE MERCENARY’S KISS to a winning commenter.

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Pam has written 30 romances, most of them historical westerns, but her newest releases are contemporary sweet romances featuring the Blackstone Ranch series published by Tule Publishing. Stay up on the latest at www.pamcrooks.com

40 thoughts on “A Soldier’s Harsh Life ~ by Pam Crooks”

  1. Aside from flying to Hawaii for our honeymoon and a trip we took to Spain before we were married, we have taken two long road trips. For the middle son, we did a huge college road trip in which we took the auto train to FL, the drove to Miami, hit more schools going north and through the panhandle, and we covered almost all of the Southern states in a trip that was close to 3600 miles round-trip. This past summer, we drove to Dallas and back, plus visited my parents in Tennessee, and we covered 3100+ miles.

    Denise

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  2. I get up early, but getting ALL that done in an hour? And no shower? No way I’m signing up for that.

    I’ve had miserable trips on the motorcycle – 700 mile days, torrential, cold rain, stuck in a traffic jam in 110 degrees in a leather coat – but since 99% of it was glorious, I’ll take it!

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    • I can totally equate riding a horse to riding a motorcycle, Laura. Not much wiggle room to stretch a tired hiney without stopping. 700 mile days? How exhausting! And those weather extremes – my goodness! Yes, miserable!

      But those who love to ride love, love their motorcycles, and like you, feel the occasional inconvenience is worth the joy.

      Glad you’re an early morning riser! So nice to see you on our blogs bright and early, filly sister.

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  3. I traveled to Brazil and on the way home we had luggage weight issues, really tight connection flights in unknown airports, customs, which was in the wee hours of the morning, and then unexpected flight changes, and missing luggage. Holy cow was it exhausting. I hope never again to repeat it.

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    • Yikes, Kellie! Sometimes, travel (especially international) is not for the faint of heart!! It takes real savvy to negotiate unfamiliar surroundings, language barriers, currency differences, to say nothing of those airports that are so huge, you need to take a train to get from one terminal to another! I can feel my stress level fluttering now . . .

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  4. As a newlywed, traveled from Ohio to Guam. Twenty two hours to get there, with multiple stops along the way. Traveled alone, the first time on a plane. My husband was in the Navy at the time.

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    • Oh, Julie, you were so brave!! That is a huge undertaking for a first-timer. I don’t think I would’ve had the courage.

      Well, as a newlywed who missed her husband, maybe I would!

      My father never, ever let my mother travel alone, and I’ve grown to be the same way. At this point in my life, I can’t think of a single place I’d need to go if I had to get there by myself.

      Thanks for sharing, Julie!

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  5. What an amazing blog of soldier life. Thank you for sharing.
    The longest have ever traveled was last year when we went to Yellowstone. It was such a fun and amazing trip, so it did not seem long. We ended our trip at close to 2200 miles. I ready to do it again.
    The most miserable trip I ever took was when I was young. We were going to Branson, MO for vacation and our car air conditioner went out. So we got to experience some truly fresh air at 55 mph. The speed limit way back then. Ha ha!
    I love riding and can ride forever, but to stay in the saddle for 30 miles a day would be rough.
    Your book’s sound great. Congrats on your release.

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    • Good morning, Tonya! 2200 miles from Kansas to Yellowstone – wow! I remember the pics you posted and how much you loved that trip. You’re so right – attitude is everything. If you’re having fun and loving the traveling experience, the miles just melt away, don’t they?

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    • Six-month pregnancy aside, turbulence is stressful, Teresa!!! I remember the one and only plane trip (short, thankfully) I took by myself was on a puddle jumper, and the turbulence was rocky enough, a magazine fell right off my lap. Of course, the thought of crashing enters one’s mind. Yikes!

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  6. The farthest I’ve riden in a car was from Vermont to Florida. Not a unpleasant ride. We used to cram 8 people in a station wagon to drive to New Hampshire when we were kids. I loved it. Thank you for sharing.

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    • I had to smile at the thought of cramming kids into a station wagon, Charlene. We would do the same thing to travel to Iowa (just a couple of hours) and us kids would sit shoulder-to-shoulder. Back then, seat belts weren’t a requirement yet, and a couple of my brothers would sprawl in the very back, facing the car behind us.

      But I admit, it made me a little car sick to ride backwards like that!

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  7. We used to do weekend getaways with Mom for her birthday, just her and us four girls. One time, we went to a place that was still recovering from being hit by four hurricanes a few years prior. It was the WORST place (my opinion!!!) that we’d ever stayed in, and it was the MOST expensive place we ever stayed! Mom and I hated the space we were given, and couldn’t wait to come back home! It wasn’t that far from our house, but it sure felt like it, after our experience there! The furthest distance I’ve gone was to Vegas for a weekend, and that was a wonderful time!

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    • Oh, a girls trip! What fond memories for you all with your mom (except this one, at least.)

      I agree – having to pay alot of money for uncomfortable and unsightly accommodations is the worst and doesn’t seem fair. Unfortunately, the motel has you over a barrel, right?

      I’ve also been victim to gorgeous pictures on the Internet of a place to stay, but when we arrive, it’s dated, not very clean, and the pictures were totally staged. Sigh . . .

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      • It was a swanky place back in the day, with many celebrities flying in to stay there, and looked pretty good on the outside. The part my sisters stayed in was nice, but the part Mom and I were in, definitely not! I will say, the breakfast was really good! We usually had one really nice dinner while we were on the trip, not so with this one! The dinners at this place started at $50 for chicken!!! There’s no way you could fix chicken that would be worth $50 for me!! All in appearances!! I have stayed in some wonderful B & B’s that were soooo much better and cost a lot less!

  8. I have only been on a plane twice in my life. One time I took a airplane ride over the lake and thing here on a small plane just to say I had been on a plane. Then we flew to Florida to go and see Disney World and Sea World so that would be the farthest that I have ever traveled. I am still not much on the traveling thing. We did take some trips by car a few times.

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    • Good morning, Quilt Lady! We loved Florida and Disney World – so very different than Nebraska! But I understand how one might not be much of a traveler. Sometimes I think the anticipation and fun of planning a trip is actually more fun than the trip itself. One must be willing to roll with the punches – it seems every trip has a glitch of some sort.

      Thanks for stopping by!

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  9. I went to Japan as a very young child with my family, but I remember very little of it. This week I traveled with 3 of my children on the midnight train across Kansas for my son to have a follow up appointment with a specialist (he’s doing just fine). While the train was lovely and comfortable, traveling alone with 1 child can be tough, let alone 3. Thankfully they were all excellently behaved and the baby seldom fussed, which I’m sure my fellow travelers appreciated.

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    • Oh, my goodness, Jess! You’re a trouper! A midnight train? I didn’t realize they still had those. But hopefully, your children slept most of the way, which, now that I think of it, a midnight train was a brilliant idea. LOL

      Seriously, though, so, so happy your son is doing fine.

      Kudos to your parents for taking you on a very lo-o-ong trip to Japan when you were so young. No doubt that took some prep and serious entertainment to keep you occupied.

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  10. Both of these books are awesome! I am rereading Her Lone Protector right now. The farthest I’ve traveled is Aruba with cruise sisters. I five made five cruises with girlfriends from work. Most of them nurses. I was the only Admin person along. When I got sea sick, I was in good hands.

    You are a gifted author Pam. Thank you for providing hours of entertainment for me throughout my retirement years.

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    • Aruba. Ahhhhh. Going there would be heavenly! But sympathies on being sea sick – though I had to smile at the company you kept.

      Thank you, as always, for your kind words. They warm my heart, just like you do.

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    • Ooohh, Niagara Falls!! I absolutely must get there some day. It’s verrryyy far away from me, but it will be worth a long trip.

      And of course, Crystal, you’re entered in the drawing!

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  11. I’m not sure which is farther- Hawaii or Bahamas. The worst trip was years ago when we were coming home from Texas and the heater in the car quit about 3 states away in December (home was Michigan).

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    • Oh, either Hawaii or the Bahamas would be dream trips for me, Karijean! Both would be really far for me since I live in the Midwest. And oh, yeah, losing a heater in December would be verrryyy miserable!

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  12. I salute our military. Home of the Brave is right! A great blog and tribute, Pam.

    The farthest I’ve travelled was to Brasilia, Brazil which was job related, and a 4 week tour of the British Isles which was a vacation. The most miserable trip I’ve had was driving cross country from California to the East Coast by myself. My car broke down in Texas, in the middle of nowhere. I got it to a little filling station and got it fixed. Then driving on I got stuck in Memphis because of a snow/ice storm. Everybody was pulling off the road, and the motel was so crowded. I couldn’t wait for morning to come so I could get back on the road and get home! I can’t imagine doing that now.

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    • I so agree, Sharon. Our military suffered (and still suffer!) on multiple levels for us, don’t they?

      I could never travel alone that far like you did!!! I’m wondering if that was before cell phones? I cringe at all that could go wrong, and unfortunately for you, a few things did. Yes, a long night for you!!

      Thanks for sharing with us!

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  13. When I was in highschool we took a trip down to Florida and just before we left to drive home I came down with a cold. It was an awful one too, and the worst part was feeling nauseous in the back seat for most of the drive. When you’re sick all you want is to be home, not traveling and having to find food you can stomach along the way. We made it home okay but it wasn’t the funnest car trip back.

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    • Oh, being sick on a vacation is the worst – and it’s still a bad memory for you!! But my sympathies are with the rest of the people cooped up in the car with you. In this age of Covid, I can’t not help thinking of the germs. Ha-ha!

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  14. I flew with my daughter and some others, on a mission trip, all the way to Malawi, Africa. It was like an 18 hr trip, with a stopover for a couple of hours in England. But, this is NOTHING compared to what those poor guys went through!! I’ve read about our poor civil war soldiers having to eat maggots, etc., and I just can’t thank them enough in my heart, for what they endured! Thank you so much for your wonderful books!

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