The following articles were also written by Private James Montgomery Bailey (aka “High Private Manton” ) following his release from captivity and return to duty with the 17th CVI. They were published in the Danbury Times in the fall of 1863.
The first three parts are posted separately and cover his participation at Gettysburg. The remaining parts cover his time spent as a prisoner of war, from his capture on July 1st through his parole and release the following month. A big thank you to Bridget Carroll, gr. gr. granddaughter of Pvt. John Augustus Lowden, 17th Connecticut Volunteer Infantry, Company I for transcribing these articles!
And – as of April 2014, the missing 10th part is no longer missing, thanks to Keith Miller. Keith was able to supply the missing part from the 1866 version that Bailey printed after his purchase of the newspaper.
Note: question marks in parentheses— (?)—are words that could not be deciphered on the microfilm. The phrase “unreadable line” means the text was blurred out completely on the microfilm. Although some spelling errors have been corrected, in most instances they were left in because it appears they were deliberately misspelled or were the common vernacular/spelling in the 1800s. The transcription is faithful to the original with minimal spelling corrections. Grammar was not changed as it is the writing style of James Montgomery Bailey. Bailey had a tendency to use commas and semi-colons quite a bit. They are placed in the transcriptions as he did in his article.
SUNNY SOUTH IN SLICES
By H.P. Manton, G.A.S.A.R.
Slice Fourth (10/8/1863)
My companion was quite talkative, and it was wonderful to see the ground he got over in the few rods to the hospital. The first question he put to me as we emerged into the streets was—
“Do you think the Conscription Bill will pass?” He appeared to be quite eager in the inquiry and I could not conceal the pleasure I felt in the hasty assurance that it would.
“Well, I don’t know but it will,” he answered. “Yer folks seem bound to fight it out but I reckon they’ll get sick of it bye and bye. After they get a few more whippings like this they’ll want peace fast enough I reckon.”
I ventured a doubt about the whipping, gently intimating that his judgement might be a grain too premature.
“Ain’t yer three month’s men time about out?”
“It is out.”
“I forget the exact date, but it was sometime during the summer of ’61.”
“Not them, d-n it, but the three monthers you have got by now?”
“We haven’t got any that I know of, nothing less than nine months.”
“Where’s Hooker—is he here?” he then asked.
“No, he has been superseded.”
“The devil he has—by who?”
“My God!” he exclaimed, and then subsided into silence for a couple of seconds.
“Is that the hospital,” pointing to the church.
I answered in the affirmative.
“I’ll go in with you, and see if there’s any more.”
“Mead, Mead,” he repeated as we ascended the steps; “It beats hell who he is.” As his question was principally directed to himself, I made no answer.
I found Otis in the porch, and made the two acquainted. We then put on our haversacks and canteens and followed him into the street. I cast a glance back at the red flag, and thought mournfully on my medicinal plans. Turning down the street, we pursued our way through the crowd, halting every ten feet to allow the corporal time to interchange congratulations on the result of the day, with squads of comrades. At one of these steps, a young smart looking Rebel came up and asked if there were an Albany boy there.
“I am one,” I replied somewhat surprised at such a question from such a source.
“Bully!” he joyfully exclaimed, shaking my hand with all the vigor of an old friend. Then followed inquiries about home and its friends, for he also proved to be an Albany boy, although in a Rebel uniform. Producing a letter carefully folded in a piece of newspaper, he handed it to me, saying:
This is my parents. I have no chance of mailing it, but as you may get paroled soon, you will. Will you do it for me? There is nothing contraband in it.”
I promised that I would, and upon that we shook hands and parted.
Here our Corporal left us, bidding us to follow down the street till we come to the fields, where we would be taken in charge. We succeeded in making our way to the outskirts, where we fell in with a cavalryman who had several prisoners in tow.
“Oh, Yanks,” he shouted, “this way, and I’ll take care of you.”
We went over to him. I inwardly observing that the peculiar negro idiom was not confined to a few, but limited to nearly all, both officers and men. In recording conversation with them, I shall not copy the style, but merely give the words, leaving the former job to the reader’s imagination. As soon as we joined them, we moved off under the leadership of the horseman. I walked by his side and he being very loquacious, characteristic, we held quite a confab. He led off, starting with a question, another characteristic.
“I heard that Hooker was relieved—how is it?”
“You heard aright.”
“Well, it does beat the devil how you do make Generals. Who got Joe’s place?” he continued.
“General Meade of the 5th Corps.”
“Meade, Meade, let me see. He was at Fredericksburg, wasn’t he?”
“I believe he was.”
“I don’t know him,” he said, “I reckon he isn’t a very good General. You don’t get anything like old Lee. I reckon you fellows imagined you had an easy thing of it up here; thought we wouldn’t show much fight off our own ground, didn’t you?” and he laughed good-humoredly.
“I didn’t think much about it,” I returned. “concluded you would go back with your tails reversed, and that was all that was necessary on that head.”
“Well, you now see how easy it is for us to flog you, and for you to get disappointed,” he said.
But I couldn’t see it, and so told him.
“What, Yank,” he exclaimed, “don’t you believe you are licked; if not why did you run?”
Instead of answering his question, I asked him whom he supposed he had whipped.
“Why your army, to be sure,” he replied with an assurance truly refreshing.
“What, the Army of the Potomac?”
“Why, my dear sir,” I rejoined, gazing upon him with the deepest compassion, you have been fighting the advance guard of our Army, and them only, driven back.”
He didn’t seem to relish this intelligence and felt half inclined to accept it as Yankee gas but he said nothing more on the subject.
“What Corps do you belong to?” he next asked me.
“The Eleventh,” I replied, feeling the blood creeping up to my face at the acknowledgment.
“Why you are the fellows that met us at Chancellorsville, aint you?”
“Yes,” I answered, wishing he would change the subject.
“I reckon we made it pretty hot around there. What did you think—didn’t you think hell had come?”
“I concluded it wasn’t far off when I saw its devils,” I replied.
He laughed at the allusion, and asked me if our corps was always put in the front.
“It seems so,” I said, “to the shame of the Commanding General.”
“Your folks missed it when they took away McClellan. Reb that I am, I will say that old Bolivar—Gen. Lee—was afraid of him and it ain’t everybody that can scare him I reckon. Yes sir, little Mac. Was a smart man, and if it hadn’t been for his digging, the devil himself could not have stopped him on the Peninsula. I never could see why he was removed.”
I could not help but remark the deference which the rebel troops paid to McClellan, whenever his name was brought up on the march to Richmond. I do not say this in order to excite an argument on the relative merits of our Generals, God knows I am sick of that, but I mention it as something very strange, considering, acknowledging I do not except some of the explanations published concerning it.
Leaving the road we struck off to the right through the fields. I saw with pleasure that we were going direct toward the battle ground. I could now find out who were killed and wounded.
As we left the road, a barefooted soldier passed us on his way to the front. This afforded food for some more questions and eulogies from our guide, and after we got in the lot and he explained that there was another body of prisoners at the point of woods which we would join, he began— “Did you notice that man without shoes?”
“Yes, I did.”
“I reckon your men don’t have to go that way; but what would they do if they had to go barefeet month after month, wouldn’t they desert?”
“Some of them, doubtless – would yours?”
“Never; such a thought never comes into their heads. Why, they glory in just such sufferings, the harder they have it, the better they like it.”
I didn’t doubt what he said; it was not policy to do so; but I could not help but think that the same motive which prompted Jack to decline his supper, induced them, or a majority of them, to accept what was laid upon them.
He had an exalted idea of our artillery, and asked me if I thought theirs was as good. My experience being very limited I could not give him any satisfaction. He thought it was inferior to ours, and the acknowledgement was very gratifying, for I considered whence it came.
We passed through a line of battle lying in the wheat. We were showered with questions from them, such as; “Got a pocket knife to sell?” – “What will you take for your blanket?”—“Give me a canteen,”— “Where’s old Hooker?”—“Going to Richmond, Yankees?” etc. etc. After passing the line, I cast a glance toward the woods, and saw a body of our boys under guard leaving towards the road. Our cavalry man saw them and cried out for them to halt, but they not hearing, he bid us to continue on slowly, while he would ride ahead and stop them until we caught up. We soon joined them, but I missed the field. Reaching the road we followed it for a quarter of a mile and then halted side of an orchard. We stayed here about half an hour, and were then taken back aways. Here we met a large column of prisoners, who were being filed into a field, and counted as they entered. We waited until they passed in, and then followed them. There were quite a number of us now, between two or three thousand. As yet I had seen none of our Company and concluded that Billy and myself were the only ones that had decidedly got a foot in it. While I set about to find a place for the night, which was now drawing nigh, Billy searched around in hopes of finding some of the boys. In a few moments he returned and startled me with the information that several of them were a little ways off, and grasping me by the arm, hurried me through the crowd to where they were.
My astonishment was only equaled by my gratification, on beholding the faces of eight of Co. C. There was a wringing of hands just then, the remembrance of which, fairly brings tears to my eyes.
In coming to the rear they had passed over ground on which we fought, and had seen many of our boys that were shot. Of Charles Brotherton I learned of Dick’s fatal wound. He saw many of them, and had time to inquire into the nature of their wounds, but no more, as the guard hurried him off.
“I never had anything come so hard on me,” said he in his narration, “as it was to leave them without doing anything for them, but there was no alternative; I had to go.”
For some time we sat there relating our mode of being taken, and then overcome by fatigue stretched ourselves out for rest. It was a long time before I fell asleep. The novelty of my position, together with the memory of the exciting scenes through which I had passed, kept me away, gazing up at the stars, and ruminating on what had been, what was, and what was to be. There was a strange stillness pervading the air. The firing had ceased since dark, and now not a single gun could be heard. But there was something quite oppressive in the unnatural quiet that reigned. I felt that many forms were moving about at no great distance – that heavy columns were forming for a terrible struggle, and that Death was making his grim preparations for a horrible feast. Alas! That many human passions should so triumph over human pity. It could hardly seem possible that those bright stars were shining down on men plotting and thirsting for fellow blood. Yet I knew it would be so, and bemoaning the cause that should beget such a necessity, I muttered a prayer for mercy, and fell asleep.
Slice Fifth (10/15/1863)
The night passed quietly and in the morning we were moved back a short distance, although far to the right of our lodging place. When we started I thought it was to begin a direct march for their Capitol, and was somewhat surprised at the halt which indicated more than a mere rest. As a matter of course there were a thousand rumors afloat. Squads would get together and discuss the leading topic, which, like the fabled city, had sprung up in a moment. The excitement was very great, not loud exactly, but yet deep. Drawing close to the nearest group we are enabled to find out the cause through their conversation.
“How do you know they will give us a parole here?” asks one.
“Why, their Major says they will.”
“Of course they will,” adds another, “and in proof of it you will see our officers get us together according to our Regiments.”
“How about that report that the parole is illegal,” inquires another.
“I don’t see how it is, in fact can’t see how it can be. It has always been accepted heretofore and I don’t see why it ain’t good now. Some pretend to say that Halleck has issued an order that no prisoners not paroled in Richmond shall be received.”
“How the h-ll are we to know anything about that,” chimes in one. “I never heard of it before.”
“Nor I,” says another, and he finds a dozen echoes.
“Well, there has been such an order,” claims another, “and I heard it read on dress parade.”
“Just before Chancellorsville.”
“Well, it may have been read on our parade,” said a doubter, “and I wouldn’t have been the wiser. Blowed if I ever heard anything the stupid adjutant read.”
“Well what if Halleck has issued an order the South hasn’t agreed to it, and so it’s of no account. It’s got to be agreed upon by both parties in order to make it a law, if I look at it aright.”
“That’s so,” said another eagerly, “and for my part I shall except a parole if it’s offered. I don’t believe our Government is so inhuman to refuse it and put us back in the ranks.”
“I don’t know about that,” was the gruff rejoinder from one who was evidently not very deeply impressed with the War Department’s humanity.
“Damned if I care much,” exclaimed the eager one, “better to get out of their accursed hands here than to march clear to Richmond, half starved at that.”
“I haven’t heard them say anything about it,” was the reply. “But what they say depends on circumstances more than conviction, I guess. If they think they will be paroled too, they’ll urge us to accept, but if not, why of course they’ll advise us to go to Richmond. Misery loves company you know.”
Here we will leave the group, having accomplished our errand, an explanation of the prevailing excitement. The officers captured with us, now came from the adjoining lot where they were staying and mixed among the men. We had only one commissioned officer with us, Lieut. Bartram of Co. G. recently promoted. We showered him with questions but he could give us no satisfaction. He knew that we were to be offered a parole, which we could act our own pleasure about accepting. He had us form two ranks, in alphabetical order, and then proceeded to take our names. The same process was being gone through in the different Regiments, and altogether the spectacle was quite a novel one. The field in which we were was part on the side hill and part in the valley. We being on the hill. I had a good view of the whole. Here and there were parts of the Regiments drawn up the length of the lines so varying as a woman’s face, officers and sergeants were flitting among them, while up from the mass came the jargon of a thousand mingled questions. In the background were the gray backed guard of foot and mounted infantry, gazing curiously on the scene. The officers finished their work and retired, letting us to con over the great question, and decide on our course. I never was in a more puzzled scrape before in all my life, and my evil star has always done a profitable business. To take the parole on the field was a great temptation, as it promised something to eat, of which I stood greatly in need, with a very dim prospect of getting. Of course this was not all the blessings it embraced, but being a principal one I give it. To refuse parole was to get an excursion ticket to Richmond, with the return not made out. But we might be recaptured by our army before we reached the Potomac, came a suggestion, and one which induced hundreds to risk a refusal. Where were the army? Since the night before nothing had been heard from them but rumors. The apparent inactivity, in my estimation, concealed a promise of glorious activity before Lee got back to his traitorous soil. I was convinced that Mead would not give up with what had been done. This silence foreboded no good to the joyous Confeds, a Yankee trick was planning for their especial benefit, which, I felt assured they would soon realize.
I had just arrived at this very plausible conclusion when the report of a gun to the left of us down the gorge, reverberated among the hills. It was instantly succeeded by another, and then another, whose echoes were hid in the deep roar that followed. I shall not soon forget that cannonading, like that of Chancellorsville, it partook hugely of the damnable, and was so near us that the whizzing of shells could be plainly heard. We could not see the combatants, except on the Rebel Battery posted in a small clearing, and this was not long in sight, our wall served pieces sending it into disorder to the woods. We feared one time that these kind intentions on our Army’s part would be the death of us, and we crowded to the upper end of the field, as far as possible. Just before dusk the firing ceased, and all became quiet again with the exception of now and then a single gun and the hope of escape on that onslaught grew beautifully less, and soon disappeared.
As yet we had nothing to eat. Some of us were fortunate enough to have brought with them a full haversack, but of course this was not the case with me. Being possessed with a hankering for Maryland soft bread, I concluded to patronize the farmers on our route, thus neglected to fill my haversack with “tack.” The thought of being captured had never entered my mind, consequently I made no provisions, for what I didn’t expect. But there seemed to be plenty of time for repentance, so I put it off for a more convenient period. Then came back the old question with ten fold fury, and fairly sick of “parole” I consigned the whole Confederacy to a premature grave, and looked about for a place for the night. I soon found a good spot beneath a thorn apple tree, and notifying Billy, we threw down our baggage and then followed suit. I got right up again so did Otis, with our hands very tenderly on the seat of honor and next moment was busily pulling out sundry thorns. We now took the precaution to clear away a place before laying down again, and then we had a fine bed.
Not long after this, one of the Rebel officers rode among us with the cheering information that some cattle had been shot for our benefit, and if we sent out our butchers we could have the meat. I could think of no follower of the knife and steel among us, and knowing that if we trusted to the generosity of others our supper would be in anticipation only.
At this juncture The’d. Morris volunteered to go.
“You,” I asked in surprise, “what do you know about butchering?”
“More than you do.”
“I trust so or you’ll be of no avail out there.”
“Somebody let me take their knife, and I’ll shew them what I can do,” he exclaimed in that quick, hurdy-gurdy way, that had become his second nature.
“Well, The’d. get all you can,” we cried out to him as he bounded out in the darkness.
I felt relieved now that he had gone, for I felt sure that if anybody could get it, he would be likely to. A strange boy, careless, reckless, yet owner of a heart capable of holding a half dozen some hearts that I know of. Half an hour afterward he returned with both hands full of beef.
“How did you make out, The’d?” cried someone.
“Look and see,” was the dry reply as he threw it down and proceeded to cut it up.
“How many are there of us, Monty?” he asked.
“Ten in all, I believe. Where did you get that liver?”
“Out where we were butchering. The guard out there wasn’t going to let me help at first. I told him I could do it as well as the next one, and after I got to work he said that I could handle the knife better than their butcher. If I didn’t snake things about there it’s curious. One big fellow wasn’t going to give me any of the beef at all, but the guard made him. He had cut the liver for himself, but as soon as I got my meat I made a grab for it, and got off before he saw me. “Won’t he rip, tho’ when he finds his liver missing?” and the wild boy laughed heartily at the picture his mind drew up of the “big fellow’s” grief.
The meat was finally cut up, and distributed, and after cooking it, we ate supper, and prepared for the night. I was soon asleep, and slept until morning, undisturbed.
About ten o’clock, A.M., we were drawn up in lines again, as on the day previous. The paroling officer of the Confederacy was present, rolls in hand. He addressed the different regiments on the nature of the parole, and called their names. Those in favor of accepting it stepped one pace in the front of the line, while others retained their position. While this was transpiring, our Company got together a little knot, and anxiously discussed the momentous question. I will not give our conversation in full, but merely state the result. I don’t recollect ever passing through such a mental ordeal in so short a time. The case involved disgrace, suffering, and supposed relief. On which side was that relief? Alas! None could tell we could only conjecture. If the parole was illegal, to accept it were disgrace, perhaps death. If legal, to refuse it would be great misery, deep regret, and perhaps death. Reader, please imagine yourself in the same pickle, and decide for yourself. But remember and don’t attempt it after a hearty meal or you will not then be able to judge it properly. The case was simply this: One side was safe—WHICH WAS IT?”
“Let it be decided either one way or the other,” I exclaimed; “God knows that this conflict is worse than the whole march to Richmond.”
We finally concluded to accept it, and had no sooner done so than the officer approached, and with beating hearts, and anxious faces, we resumed our place in line. He called up the sergeants, and showed them the pledge. Daniels did not stay about him as long as the rest, and when he came back to us his face wore a troubled look.
“Well, what’s the result?” asked Sears, as we crowded around.
“Well, I had seen the pledge, but it don’t read as some I have seen; I am a little suspicious of it, for my part,” was the reply.
“What does he say about it?”
“Well, he says our Government may have issued an order against it, but his Government has not been notified of it. He don’t advise us to take it, or refuse, and altogether it didn’t seem to be exactly the right thing. I don’t want to get myself into any worse scrape than I am in.”
“Will you refuse it?”
“I hardly know what to do.”
The sergeants had all returned to their companies, who were clamorously engaged in cross-examining the officer on their own hook. Commanding silence, he read the pledge, which was nearly as follows:
“We the undersigned prisoners of war captured at Gettysburg, July 1st, 1863, do solemnly swear to perform no duty whatsoever for the U.S. Government, until we are legally exchanged according to the cartel of July, 1862.”
In conclusion he said:
“This is the legal parole used by both parties before. As to whether your Government will accept it or not, I do not know, I leave that for you to judge but I see no reason why they should not. When you have sworn to it you will be marched to Carlisle—30 miles distant—and there delivered into the hands of your friends. I will now call off your names, and wish you to use your own pleasure as to accepting or refusing. Those that accept will step one pace to the front and there remain.” And then he began. Co. A came first and I noticed that most of them stepped out. Then came Co. B; ours was next. My heart was in my throat, my brain whirled and all I could hear was a strange murmuring, as names were called and responded to.
I looked up at him eagerly, anxiously, while my heart fairly ceased to beat. He was to decide; on him now depended the result. What would he do? On the instant that intervened seemed to hang an age. Then he answered—
“Here,” but did not move.
My name was next, but I answered calmly and retained my place. The conflict was over, the shock past, and I felt better. The officer now left us to attend to others, and we sat down to speculate. In an hour or so he returned and then those who had accepted the parole were drawn up in a separate line, preparatory to taking the oath. Again he read the parole, and gave any that chose to, a chance to retract, adding—
“As I said before, the parole is valid with us, but how your Government will look upon it, I don’t know. Of course my Government has no power to control yours. If you are captured again without being exchanged, we will be forced to do our duty, which would be to hang you.”
This decided speech had quite an effect, and many of them repented and came over to our side. Still a few held out, and they were sworn. The remainder of us were marched into another lot—and here we will part for this week.
Slice Sixth (10/22/1863)
In this separate lot we were placed to await the “Onward to Richmond” move. As the greater part of the prisoners had refused the pseudo parole, I concluded there would be no lack of interest on the march, but afterwards I discovered that mutual suffering may draw men together, but it is not conducive to sociability. To be sure that afternoon was spent socially, but long before our weary march ended the boys settled into the belief that all that was needed of them was to growl at the rations, and cook, and eat them, filling up the intervals with sundry concise expressions, not calculated to be of special benefit to the Confederacy. As it drew near sun-down we began to feel the effects of our compulsory fast, doubly aggravated by the non-appearance of any alleviance. It seemed as if hunger had contracted to file a road through my ribs, with every prospect of success. The gnawing was painful, peculiarly heightened by seeing the paroled draw a ration of flour and bake it into cakes right under our very nose. The fact of their drawing led us to infer that we were similarly favored, and I watched for the appearance of the staple; but I watched in vain. Night closed upon us without bringing the looked for relief, and affairs in that lot assumed the hue of masculine eyes at the close of a Donybrook Fair.
But the Johnnies had not entirely forgotten us. Near sunlight there was a cry of rations from some of the watchers and instantly everybody was on alert for a rally. I followed the throng and came upon a nearly empty flour barrel, surrounded by nearly a hundred men, with as many different toned voices attained to the utmost in enumerating their wants and claiming their rights. By dint of incessant jamming, and some pretty expert wriggling, I managed to get a sight at the centre of attraction, but only a sight, and barely that. I saw nearly a million of hands, at least it appeared so then, grasping all manner of tins, alternatively diving in, and waving over the barrel—the whole further set off by a musical clangor of intelligent Dutch and doubtful English. I got out of the crowd as soon as possible, and feeling to see if my nose had stood the shock of the extended cups it had unavoidably run against, I sought for an explanation of this precarious way of dealing out rations. An indignant outsider tenderly rubbing his barked shins, quickly posted me. It appears that the Confeds had rolled two barrels of lour in the lines, with the injunction to divide it around. The representatives of the 45th New York happened on the spot, and with commendable zeal they burst in the heads, and during the next thirty seconds were entirely oblivious to everything but the flour; diving into it headlong, and carrying off enough behind their ears so my informant averred—to feed a small regiment. Of course this monopoly was of short life. Others got the scent, and hurrying to the scene of operations they expedited matters by punching the heads of the gallant 45tth New York and supplanting them in their attentions at the barrels. But the flour was about gone and a moment or two after two empty barrels were the only remnants of the conflict, except a number of sore heads and confused ideas. I went back to my bed heartsick, concluding that if this was to be the mode of “weighing out,” I had better devote the remainder of my energies to digging a grave, and getting into it. These unhappy thoughts, however, were a few minutes after chased away by the cheering cry of more flour, with a request for a sergeant from each regiment to come and draw it. This looked more like business, and after seeing Daniels and two others start on the mission, I lay down again to con over the best means of cooking my share. I was somewhat deliberating whether it was better to breakfast off of pancakes or shortcake, and had not fully settled the question when Sergeant returned with our ration. I might devote a few moments to describing the quaint picture interestingly presented by us as we grouped around Daniels and watched the process of dividing by the bright light of the moon. But I forbear to tire your patience. Already have I strung this narrative farther than I expected to do on the start, but I trust to your benevolence, and I promise a reform. A half a pint to a man was our allowance of flour that night, but how long it was to last we were left to imagine—I hardly cared—I have got my flour safe in my haversack under my head and without asking any questions I was content to fall asleep. In the morning we were waked quite early by an officer riding among us, commanding a pack up. I noticed that the clear sky of the night before was hidden by heavy, leaden clouds which appeared anxious to empty their contents on us. A half an hour afterward I took leave of the scene of my great struggle, and forcing a bold look, turned my face resolutely with the throng.
We kept along to the right, on a nearly parallel with the rebel front, for a few moments, when we struck the Chambersburg turnpike, and followed it to the rear. We had barely began our march when the clouds made good their representation, and forthwith poured down upon us their treasuries, and continued to pour till noon with an energy worthy of a better cause. For miles we plodded on, passing detachments of soldiers, ammunition trains, and numbers of baggage wagons filled with wounded, and then we filed off from the road back into a large pasture, and by the side of a goodly brook finding that our march for the time being was ended, the clouds condescended to dry up, and the drenching pour ceased. Soon after reaching here we had another half pint of flour weighed out to us and about two or (unreadable line)
fresh from the brine. We stayed here nearly three hours, and in the meantime we were joined by another column of yanks, which swelled our number to a little over three thousand. I could not help but despond over my Fourth of July dinner—a small cake of baked dough, and an abbreviated piece of meat tortured over a few coals. With feelings of indescribable regret I recalled the substantial viands served up by the maternal Manton, on previous Anniversaries, til I felt like cussing every object in my reach, especially the blind recklessness that had got me into the infernal scrape. But as usual I soon calmed down and chewed my meal in silence, wondering where the next Fourth would be spent.
About two o’clock—I am not particular as to the hours, being too poor to carry a watch—we were marched around in a circle to be counted, and then took the road again and started for the front. The rain in duty bound began to pour, and altogether it was as dreary a day as ever a novelist described. If such weather attended Cain’s banishment I do not blame him for crying his punishment was greater than he could bear. Some of the time left the road and followed the lots, flooded with water, in order to allow the trains of the wounded to pass. As bad as was my position, heart-sick, drenched and hungry, I could not help but feel that it was preferable to the poor wounded, who lay helpless, taking the storm as many of the wagons were uncovered, being of all descriptions, and entirely destitute of springs. Jounce, twitch, jounce – my heart fairly bled equal to their wounds. But they had no business to be soldiers, so turned my attention from them, and amused myself instead by counting the drops as they ran down my back. Finally the road was cleared and we moved more rapidly. It was whispered that w were to be taken to our lines under a flag of truce, and exchanged on the field, but this hope was cut off in its birth, by the head of the column filing off to the right and taking a road that pointed suspiciously toward the Potomac. Then I resigned all hope of an early sight of Co. C, and prepared myself for the worst. What that was to be I had but a clouded conception, but I was not long befogged. It all developed itself in regular style, much to my edification. That night we bivouacked in a wet field. Our guard, Jenkins’ Brigade, were a pretty good set of fellows. We could ask no better treatment nor expect it from our own men. They had a passion for trading which our men willingly encouraged as long as anything was left to trade for. A number of the rebels off duty would come up to our line and offer their rations to a similar sized crowd of Yanks for exchange for any little article suiting their fancies. The bargaining was carried on in good truth, both parties appearing as if they had never proved targets for each others practice. It would be hard for a stranger to realize that these men were sworn to murder each other, they seemed so entirely oblivious of it themselves. But this world is pronounced a strange one, though between you and me I don’t see how folks know it never having seen any other. There was but little sleep had that night, it raining most of the time. In the morning we started again, and marched until about ten o’clock that night; two or three hours were lost however at noon when we were compelled to lay by while part of their army passed us. Here I first saw Gen. Lee. I was somewhat disappointed in his appearance. His renowned prowess of Generalship impressed me with the belief that he was right the opposite of a short thick human, with almost white hair, and a red face. He was dressed in gray pants and a short, coarse looking coat of nearly a black color, something darker than a brown. You or I might pass him a dozen in that very same dress and never suspect it was Reb’s old Bolivar. After leaving here the marching became more wearisome, as we were among the mountains, especially the last two hours during which we toiled right up in the dark, and through seas of mud, with a train of wagons nearly filling the narrow road, and crowding us in all directions. It was very dark, and I was very sleepy, so between them both I had my hands full to keep on my feet. Just before beginning the ascent I had taken off my stockings and carried them under my arm, believing they hurt my feet. While indulging in a nap, for a number of us really slept while walking, I let fall my stockings and awoke too late to recover my loss. I have the pleasing assurance however that they have gone toward Mantonizing that road. At last we reached the summit, and were marched into a field adjoining a large hotel, probably a summer resort, though I bemoaned the fate that forced me to resort there, and there we stayed for the night. I never threw myself on the ground half as quick, nor went to the land of Nod with such dispatch as on that night. In the morning I drew an ounce of meat, and soon after we started again. My journal of that day leads off with “Raining again as usual. Oh such dreary weather, and such a hapless tramp.” I suspect by this and other like expressions, that I must have been somewhat low spirited about then – shouldn’t wonder if a medical student could have driven a cheap bargain with me about that time—but I mustn’t digress. We marched until noon, reaching a little place called Waterloo, which looked as if it had been pitched lengthways from the mountains, going half way in underground, then dug out, washed, and spread out to dry. This was my first impression of the village and someway or other I have never got rid of it. Here we stayed some time, drawing our half pint of flour, piece of meat, and cooking them. While here we had a pretty good view of Longstreet’s corps as they marched by flaunting their flags, and playing their bands. I notice that there is not the discipline among their troops as among ours. They march with no regard to files, and I can’t say that I once saw a private salute an officer. The latter mingle freely with the former who take it as a matter of course, the result of which freedom is more confidence and less distrust between them than with us. In dress also the officers are very plain, which puzzles an enemy to detect them in a fight, thus combining safety and economy, and I might add sense, but I won’t. Their insignia of rank differs from ours—instead of the shoulder they use the collar for the marks, one stripe designates a 2nd Lieutenant, two a 1st, and three a Captain; one star for a Major, two for a Lt. Col. And three for a Colonel. The Generals have stars also, but I forget how they are distinguished from Regimental officers. Their Generals rank in the following order: Brigadier, commanding Brigade; Lieutenant, a Division; Major, a Corps; and full General, which is Mr. Lee himself, commanding the whole.
Slice Seventh (10/29/1863)
Leaving Waterloo, the next place we came to was Waynesboro, which we entered just after dark. We heard the town clock strike 9 and 10 before we got into the country again—not that the place is so large, but our progress was very slow owing to the long wagon trains on the road with us. We marched all that night, and at 9o’clock next day passed through Hagerstown. Here we met with much sympathy from the ladies and children who cheered for McClellan and the Union, and bid us to be of good cheer. At the Potomac, and here halted in a field, whose freshly cut up soil showed the marks of a heavy cavalry fight. I would not forget to mention that just before reaching this place, we pass two dead cavalrymen laying in the road, with a third, a Captain laying over and stripped to his drawers. This was a sad sight, and a year ago I might have shuddered over it, but now I merely looked, and then wondered if they died hungry. At this stop we drew another ½ pint of flour and about two, or three ounces of meat, which we immediately set about to cook. The remainder of the day passed quietly. At night, when I fell asleep, everything above appeared lovely, not a cloud was to be seen over the whole surface of the sky. About day-light I awoke and found my pockets full of water, and my cap on an exploring expedition. I got up, wrung out my legs and arm, and sat down in the mud to shiver and think. I bowed my head on my knees, and for a whole hour kept that position, the rain beating in a steady stream down upon me. But I did not notice it. I was utterly prostrated and discouraged, perfectly indifferent to everything but my wretched feelings. The sky above did not look more dreary and forbidding than my wretched future. But these gloomy feelings could not last. I finally shook them off, and set about to get my cheerless meal. Toward noon the clouds broke and the rain ceased. Soon after we marched out of a lot toward town, and then halted. Here we stayed nearly an hour, and then marched back to our former place. The sun had now come out, and helped us a great deal in drying our things and the mud. It was very strange that we had been brought back instead of going over the river. There were questions asked concerning it, but not by me; I didn’t care. The time till night I whiled away in roasting wheat, and longing for something more substantial. At dark we drew the regular rations, ½ pint flour and two or three ounces of meat. That night the weather favored us and we slept good.
The next day at 1 P.M., we left camp and marched through Williamsport to the river. The rebels intended to cross us on a well laid pontoon just below the village but Kilpatrick anticipated them, and took the bridge to warm his shins. This left them in a decided fix and had they not the old ferry boat of the place and three or four pontoons, I hardly know what they would have done. The way of getting us across the river was quite peculiar, and powerfully tedious. The four pontoons were stationed at stated intervals at a rope stretched from one shore to the other. The first one took a load, about 40, drawed up to the side of the next, transferred the load to it, and pulled back to the shore for another. The other boats repeated the performance. This had a strong look of Chivalry, but none of facility. I became impatient at the delay, and had the satisfaction of knowing that was all the good it did. At last they became impressed that if this course of action went on unaided, Judgement day would be apt to overtake them, if not the Yankees. So they went to work and got the dilapidated ferry boat in operation, and forthwith opened an opposition line. While we were waiting our chance, Otis went back a little ways—and got two biscuits and a small piece of meat; I also got a piece of cooked meat from a little boy, for half a dollar. At midnight we crossed in the pontoons. The ride was quite pleasant, greatly enhanced by a momentary prospect of going overboard, and dying with my nose in under mud. At last we got across, and finding the rest equally fortunate, spread down for the night. It was daylight before the last load came over. We expected here to draw rations, but were told we would not get them till we reached Martinsburg, 11 miles distant. Before leaving here we formed in three divisions, and were placed under the care of Imboden’s Brigade, a detachment of cavalry, and the Washington, La. Battery.
It was about 10 o’clock when we left. Excepting the pangs of hunger, I felt pretty good. The day was pleasant, and believing we were beyond all obstacles, our moving would be more to the point, and not so drearily as on the other side of the river. We did move fast, a little too fast, for a hot sun and an empty stomach. The officers perceived this and slackened the pace. That night we were three miles beyond Martinsburg camping in a wood. We went to sleep without the promised rations. The next morning we were up betimes, looking for that loaf of bread that had been promised each of us. I found many of the boys gathered near two covered wagons on the road; two guards were there to protect the property, which I found out was bread. I hurried down to them just as one of the drivers began to toss the bread out. There was an enterprising number of snatches made, and two or three, as usually the case, got it nearly all. But an officer riding up, put a stop to this promiscuous dealing out and sent the wagons on ahead. He then stationed two guards about four feet apart and told the men to march out. As they had to pass between these two soldiers they were compelled to form two ranks, which was exactly what he wanted. Otis and I formed a file, and as we passed out congratulated myself on now getting something to eat and in my heart of hearts praised the officer for his timely interference. But alas for human expectations, the bread did not stop as expected, neither did we, but kept on after it, hardly able to place one foot before the other out of sheer exhaustion. At noon we halted at Bunker Hill and after two wretched hours spent in dividing us up in squads of a hundred each, and taking our names, the bread was brought us and weighed out. It was in all kinds of forms—shortcake, rye biscuit, and wheaten loaves. I got one of the rye biscuits, and swallowed it down without a groan—the first I had eaten in nearly three days. But where did this food come from? The rebels said it was baked by the citizens of Martinsburg, from flour furnished by them, and at their request. But the truth leaked out. It appears that the citizens not only baked the bread, but done it voluntarily, and from their own flour, for the sake of the poor Union boys. The guard had their pick out of it first, taking all the meat, and kindly gave us the rest. If I were a profane patriot I would lay down my pen just here, and say damn an indefinite number of times, but I leave that to those willing to risk it, and will simply say that at the time I only swallowed my bread, and asked God to pity me for Christ’s sake. Relief was near at hand. Billy succeeded in borrowing twenty dollars, Confederate money, and in a few minutes afterward brought in a haversack of flour, for which he paid five dollars, the haversack holding about ten pounds. I shall never forget the welcome I gave it. I hovered over it, and gazed down on the white contents in painful eagerness. A terrible truth flashed upon me, and clasping my hands over my eyes, I sank on the ground. My God! I was starving! The past ten days of hunger, fatigue and exposure had made a coward of me, and I trembled like a leaf. Billy went to work, and soon had a cake baked which we instantly devoured. There had been a ration of fresh meat, weighed out. This I ate raw, not daring to wait.
Slice Eighth (11/5/1863)
Leaving Bunker Hill we marched quite late that night, and camped on the outskirts of Winchester. The next morning we went two miles beyond the place and halted for that night. We were now 90 miles from Staunton, where, we were told, we would take the cars for Richmond. In the afternoon we drew two rations of flour and meat, which was to last us till we reached Mt. Jackson, half way to Staunton. The next morning we made an early start, but soon came to a halt, and remained so for nearly two hours. In the meantime it began to rain in a mean, low-spirited way, and kept it up through the day. At Middletown we were compelled to leave the road on account of the swollen stream, and go around some distance; as it was we had to do some pretty tall fording—go in to our waist, nearly. It was quite a long way around, but perhaps, in justification of the old proverb, it was the surest. Just before dark we passed through Strasburg. If this place is a pocket edition of its namesake, there is one place in Europe I have no desire to visit. I could not help but think that if filth ever chased poverty up the Shenandoah, it must have cornered it at Strasburg. Two or three miles beyond the place we bivouacked. The next day we marched to within 5 miles of Mt. Jackson and the following morning we pushed on to the town. Here we drew up two days more of flour and meat, partly bacon. Billy brought two dozen biscuits at this place for four dollars. Soon after drawing rations we started again and marched 10 miles, halting for the night beyond New Market.
I have as yet said but little of buying food on the road, not wishing to encroach too much on your time and patience, for had I given you all the painful and ludicrous efforts to purchase food by the way, you would fain throw up your hands, and cry enough.
The guard did most of the buying, on commission. They were ordered to prevent us from leaving the ranks to get anything. Some carried out these orders to the full, others again were more compassionate. Whatever we got we paid dearly for. There was more dependence placed on Greenbacks than Confederate notes, as they would bring more. The officers, I believe, were allowed to buy whatever they chose to pay for. At new Market Otis made about as good a bargain as any I saw, purchasing a small loaf of bread for 50 cents. But to come back.
The next day we got marched to within 23 miles of Staunton, and that night drew a ration of crackers and bacon. Their tack is nearly as large again as ours. We got two of them for a ration. Just as we turned off the road it began to rain in great fury, and continued to do for nearly an hour. It then slackened up long enough for us to get supper, and then commenced again. This was a terrible night, especially to myself. All through the long dark hours I was in pain and misery. Once I tried to lay down by placing three canteens in the water and laying on them. I even slept a few moments in this precarious position, but the water drenched and chilled me anew, and I was forced to get up. The whole meadow was newly covered with water. Here and there our boys lay, a few brush in under them, and a rubber or a piece of tent covering them, a few fires were still burning, around which hovered shaking, weakened forms the flame lighting up their haggard faces and rendering them still more painful. Sick giddy and cold, I wandered from one fire to the other til morning came. Then the storm cleared away and finding a piece of board I put it under me and snatched an hour’s sleep. That day we marched within four miles of Staunton, camping at 5 P.M. A ration of tack and bacon was weighed out to us here. The next morning we marched a mile beyond the town, in a meadow beside Virginia Central R.R. here our rubber blankets, and tents were taken from us.
Our marching was now ended—the weary road had been gone over, and now another leaf was turned. What were to be its disclosures was a matter of conjecture, but concluding that I had enough trouble already, without anticipating any additional, I looked hopefully forward. It was well that I could not piece the future—God’s providence hid from me what I otherwise could not have faced. The day passed quietly, and at night we drew another ration. At 10 o’clock the next forenoon 700 of us were marched down to the depot, and shipped aboard the cars, it was the Sabbath—the church bells were calling the worshippers to their sanctuary, and the walks were filled with the citizens in their best clothes. I could not help but think of a quiet little village far away to the North, and wonder if the inhabitants were similarly engaged. The scene brought to memory the last Sunday at home, with its holy quiet and pleasant duties, and the contract made me heart sick. But it is all for my bleeding country, came the thought, and I tried to raise a little patriotism but it was no go on an empty stomach couldn’t fetch it. It was sometime after we got aboard before we started. In the mean time one of the citizens not over and above impressed with the solemnity of the day, brought a barrel of small cakes and sold them to us for one dollar per dozen. I watched this specimen of mercantile chivalry, as he dealt out the cakes to half a dozen little boys who quickly transferred them to the customers, with commendable interest. He said but little, and made much. God forbid that we should ever have to pay a dollar a dozen for cookies. The ride to Richmond was no tame affair; the cars were rickety, the track chronic and the engine wheezy. Twice, while going upgrade the locomotive came near being stuck, compelling the engineer to get out and gather dry wood for more steam.
We reached the Capital at 3 o’clock the next morning—were kept in the cars till about 6 o’clock and then marched to Cary St. and placed in Palmer & Cos Warehouse, opposite Castle Thunder, and a few doors from the Libby. Here we were closely searched and our haversacks, canteens and knapsacks taken from us. At noon a ration of bread, 4 oz. was given us, and we were marched across the river too Belle Isle, paroled and placed in the camp.
Slice Ninth (11/12/1863)
Belle Island, or more properly Belle Isle, is formed by a branch of the James River, lays opposite the upper end of the city, and is by far the busiest portion of the Capital. How large the Island was, I never had the means of knowing, as our powers of observation were somewhat limited. We were confined within a space of two acres, enclosed by a heavy breastwork, which gave our prison a fort like appearance; in fact when I first saw it, I believed it was erected for that purpose, but afterwards discovered the mistake. Outside this work patrolled our guard, with the chivalrous thoughts at home and their Confederate eyes on us. They had a peculiar way of singing out to us, when occasion required, and their (?) exclamations drew forth some smiles, but more damns, I fear. The enclosure was covered with tents, but they were miserable articles, only serviceable through the hot days. Skirting the water, and back of us on the hill were any number of goodly shades, but in the space allotted to us was not even a shrub. The soil was sandy and baked down, reflecting the hot rays of the sun in an uncomfortable manner. Those that were fortunate enough to be in tents could get along, but the poor victims that were compelled to home it in the streets, suffered considerably. Between us and the river were the tents of the Rebel officers in charge of us, and the never-to-be-forgotten centre of anxiety, the cook shanty. The institution claimed a vast deal of attention from us, filling our minds with anticipations, but never our stomachs with grub; more’s the pity. Alas, there was an aching void below our hearts, and the symptoms of it I shall always remember. But to return. I said that the part of Richmond in sight of us exhibited more life than any other. I judged from what I saw in passing through the city. The places of business were by no means crowded—the streets ditto. Women appeared to reign supreme with children to back her. The ladies had little or no comment for us, but the noisy young Confederate made up the deficiency. His demonstrations of joy at our appearance, interspersed by sun-dry doubtful grimaces were not to be mistaken. The branch of business most extensively engaged in was that of selling us infantile loaves of bread, at the rate of three for a dollar. That poor bread must have met with a terrible fright, as it was of a very shrinking disposition. I saw many of the citizen soldiers patrolling the streets; they were a promiscuous looking set, and strongly reminded me of certain prescriptions that needed to be well shaken before taking. If you wish to see one personally, I will give you the receipt for manufacturing. Take 2 yards of gray cloth—N.B. 3 aged hats of the same color will do as well—a second class crutch, a quart of alcohol, a bushel of hair, a deck of cards, 1 peck of swagger or according as the crutch will bear it, 1 ounce of chivalry well adulterated; boil the whole together for some time. After removing it from the fire, add about half a hundred weight of cayenne, with profanity to proportion and you have got one of the ‘City Battalion.’ P.S. If you could possible coax lightning to whack it once, it would add greatly to its general appearance. Caution your readers against mentioning this to tall gentlemen that wear long hair, and squint, for if Jeff should hear of this breach of confidence, he would never forgive it. Pardon this digression.
Across the river from us were a number of large foundries doing Government work; they were going night and day. Every little while they would bring out new guns and test them in full sight of us. As they threw their shells directly over us I concluded the performance was intended as a sort of prelude to what we might expect in case the pieces should ever be depressed. President Davis’ mansion was perched on an eminence to the left of the foundries. I appeared like a nice little place, and not being the color of hemp, wasn’t very suggestive; probably J.D. chose it on that account. He honored the Island by a visit while I was there and I had a pretty good view of him. He reminded me very forcibly of our honest Representative, being tall, raw-boned, rural looking gent, and was modest in worldly adornments as our polished shaft of the White House.
We had no liberties to boast of on Belle Isle. Once a week, sometimes more, we were all marched out to be counted, and then marched back again. While I was in one of the place, they sent off three squads to City Point. You can probably imagine the excitement attending such an event. Everybody expected to be one that would leave, but us they didn’t take a thousand at either time, and as there were nearly four thousand there about all the time, somebody had to get dreadfully disappointed, and consequently somebody wouldn’t couch his language in the mildest terms. Some were too weak to go into the particulars, so they laid on their backs and looked their approval of the stronger ones.
There were forty-five of our regiment in the first squad from Staunton. When we were paroled there was an equal number added to us, and under charge of Sergeant Daniels we were marched into the enclosure as the third ninety of Gettysburgh victims. From one of Milroy’s men, 700 of whom were there when we arrived, I learned that the first come were the first served, that is would get off first, and as my informant said they took away a squad regular once a week. I flattered myself that I would soon be in the land of plenty and cavendish, and rejoiced to know my fears of a protracted visit at Cousin Samuels were perfectly groundless; but you haven’t forgotten my medicinal air castles. Alas that these also should have been erected as sand. Less eager for the Milroy men to leave, knowing that but another week would hold us. I swallowed my meat and daily pint of concentrated James River call soup in impatience and counted the days that turned suddenly into weeks, with the same spirit. Wednesday night had come—Saturday, the looked for day, was almost to us. In the forenoon another squad came down from Staunton. I gazed on them in pity and thanked my lucky star that I had come as I did. How are you star? O, confound you! My earnest desire is that the heavenly bodies will get into a (?) and you get drafted, with nary bounty. That aforesaid star actually got me to confidently impart to one of the new comers that possibly the Confeds might take more than our number at our turn, and thus include him. It’s my unbiased opinion that the said star is a copperhead in partnership with some unprincipled abolitionist, to undermine my peace of happiness, but I may be mistaken.
On the night in question, I was astonished by the announcement that a squad was to leave, followed by an order for Milroy’s men to get in readiness. The report flew like wild fire through the camp, and in ten minute’s time the main street to the entrance was in perfect jam. Germans of the ELEVENTH, with good enough to start an auction crowded up, yelling the numbers of their regiment, helping to render the reigning Babel still more Babelish. When it’s considered that the aforesaid foreign (?) had just come in that day, the reader will perceive how delightfully slim their chances were, and how gloriously absurd their anticipations. But the Teutons didn’t or wouldn’t see this, and still continued to gott for damn with an energy worthy of a better cause. After the first rush, I got back in my tent, which was near the entrance, and lay there listening to the officer as he called out the names and wondered whether they would take more than Milroy’s men. The crowd grew so dense that they had to force them back with the bayonet, and in order to maintain free communication, form an avenue, and maintain it by their bright arguments.
At last there was a lull, and believing they were through taking out, I stepped out the tent just in time to get run down by a certain Corporal whose eyes were considerably in advance of the remainder of his body and who face fairly shone with bread and butter exstacy.
“Ho now, Corporal, what the deuce is the matter?” I asked.
“Oh dear, Mont., is that you? Get your things together as fast as possible, for we are going off!”
“How do you know?” I cried, half stunned by such intelligence, and catching him by the coat.
“Just heard the Lieutenant ask for the first rolls, and our in among the very first, you know,” he replied, as he darted off for his furniture.
My earthly possessions were compressed in a very small space, being simply composed of a cup and spoon. These I knew I could get into transportable order very soon so I remained outside to learn the result. Always have made it a practice to never be calm more than four seconds at once, and in this instance I did not deviate in the least. The very image of Impatience about the time she was crowned, I balanced myself on one leg, and then on the other, inwardly estimating how much I would eat when I got the chance to try, and thinking of a hundred and one other things all at once. The rolls finally appeared, about fifty names were called, the officer returned to his tent. The guard returned to their posts, and we din’t go. I felt rather down, but not so much so, as I afterward thought I should. It was only the difference of a week, and I argued I could stand it. As I was about to enter my domicile, I saw the Corporal making past, with his household ornaments, muttering something that would easily rhyme with starvation. Those that were taken out were marched over to the city to take the cars in the morning, and we dispersed to our respective quarters to talk of the event and anticipate our turn.
Again the days began their usual routine also the sun, myself, and all other clever bodies. Saturday night came but I didn’t expect any to go on account of that squad of Wednesday night. Just at dusk as we were about to draw our soup, the doctor came to the entrance and called for the sick. At first they passed out uninterruptedly, but as soon as it was discovered that they were paroled as soon as taken out, there was a grand rush, and everybody was sick; the crowd far surpassed the preceding one. The men saw a faint chance of liberty, and all were interested. In vain were they ordered to fall back, they crowded the closer, each one convinced that he had been a native long enough, and was determined to quit-claim. Enraged at their obstinacy, the Lieutenant snatched a gun and charged over among them. AS quick as lightning, if not a little quicker, they about-faced and made all possible haste to get out of reach of the wrath in their rear. It was highly amusing to witness the retreat, and the screams of laughter greeted them from the non-combatants. Those in the front stumbled and fell, and their coworkers in the rear rolled them in abject fright, for their lst glimpse at their pursuer’s phiz led them to believe that he meant work. This movement succeeded in restoring peace for a few moments, but their anxiety to get out, and become the possessers of full stomachs one more, overcame their prejudices, and again they moved on the work, the well and sick somewhat mixed with complaints from one and curses from the other. Again did the Lieutenant change and again was the same ludicrous scene enacted much to the amusement of those that didn’t mix in. This time the guard came in and formed as on Wednesday night, and a repetition was thus prevented.
I could not help but laugh at the performance, but I suffered from apprehensions as I saw so many well men (?) sick, for I thought that doing so might fill out the usual quota without calling on the rolls. This I dreaded. Every hour spent there was one of suffering and I longed—God only knows how anxiously—to get away. While in the midst of these torturing reflections, the guard was called out and the officers turned away. I felt then like giving up entirely and I thought of Dave’s favorite desire whenever afflicted ‘wishing that he was dead, and had the money for his clothes,” and I fully reciprocated his feelings. But it would not do to give up. I was helpless, and consequently resigned, at least out to be, thought I fear I was far from it. The Sergeants were now called out for the rations, and we had our supper. After this was eaten, the Lieutenants again appeared with papers in hand and without any ado, began to call off names thereon. He called about a hundred, all strangers to us, and then rolling up the papers, turned away, and left us to our meditations, which were not over and above sanguine, you can safely venture.
Slice Tenth (from the reprinted edition on May 17, 1866)
Oh! God, that flesh and blood should be so cheap,
And bread should be so dear.” — Tom Hood.
Succeeding the event described in the last slice were some days of uninterrupted starvation. I was just beginnng to realize the suffering of my present postion, and my anxiety to leave the place grew stronger every hour. There was no end to the rumors shooting through the camp. Exaggerated stories, principally started by the guard passed currently with a great number of us, as bible truths, soon to be realized. One day there would be a report that three large transports were in waiting for us at City Point, and a delightful near time was designated for our leaving. On the following day the transports would be lost sight of in the report that we were to be sent into our lines but not exchanged during the war, and again that we were to be retained in Rebel keeping until the next exchange day, November 6th; followed by others more or less absurd, but too numerous to chronicle. At first these canards accomplished their desired and designed effect, viz: the exciting attention of the entire camp, but gradually they lost caste among numbers of us by their repeated failures to perform their promises. Still they maintained a strong hold on the weaker minds, and succeeded in assembling squads at any hour of the day to discuss their merits.
“It is an ill wind that blows nobody any good,” is a saying whose age recommends it. These very rumors that were building up so many bright hopes only to knock them down again, served to divert my mind by their absurdities, and at times I forgot to be melancholy, and my thoughts would seek some other object less painful to contemplate than the surrounding misery. One of these stories however, I came to believe, that which stated, that we were to remain in Richmond until the next exchange day, and soon began to look on November sixth, as a day long to be remembered as one of peculiar interest and joy. To be sure it was a long time to look forward to in our painful position, but I prayed God to sustain me, and believed he would.
The Lieutenant in command of us was not such a very bad fellow. He had all of the Southern heat of temper, but none of its malignancy, which, I am sorry to say, is a common failing among that superior order of beings living south of the Potomac. He seldom troubled us, and seemed willing to oblige whenever possible, of an altogether different type was his subordinate, the Sergeant, whose duty it was to oversee the working squads, and make himself generally disagreeable. He was a tall, light haired person, with thin compressed lips, and an ugly look in his eyes. I concluded he was direct from Hades, and looked upon him as an animated monument of Satan’s architecture, sent on earth for the express purpose of tormenting Yankees, and raising the devil promiscuously. His disposition was cruel and extremely vindictive, of which he favored us with samples every little while. A bowie knife and revolver hung in his belt; the former he handled very carelessly, tickling obstinate ribs, and frightening the timid. Every morning he made his appearance in our midst in quest of a laboring squad to work on improvements. He had no troubles in getting them, as an extra ration was the award, and many gladly worked for it. About a fortnight before I left the Island, he had a regular detailed squad, under charge of Sergeant Blast of Co. B 4th Excelsior N.Y.V. This man proved a regular cut throat. He sold the rations he got for working, for two dollars apiece. After the new flag staff was completed, he was the first to raise their damnable flag, receiving a loaf of bread for the act. This breach of his allegiance so enraged his comrades that they swore they would take his life if ever the chance presented itself. He afterwards took the oath of allegiance to the Confederacy and entered their navy, where he will doubtless become a notable star in the Southern horizon.
One day the Confederate Sergeant called for eight good penman. I was particularly hungry just at that moment, and stimulated by the prospect of more bread, I responded to his call. Selecting the required number from a crowd of applicants, he marched us out of the enclosure, and put us in four tents, two in a tent. We were furnished with tables and stools, and told that we were to parole a number of prisoners just arrived. A number of the 55h Ohio and myself were together. We were furnished with duplicate sheets on which to enter the name of the prisoner, rank, Company, Regiment, where captured, and when captured, to which he signed his name. At the head of these rolls was the parole of honor, worded similar to the one read us at Gettysburg.
There was no small amount of amusement connected with the performance of this business. Many of the prisoners were easily bewildered by the cries of the Lieutenant, to align here, and go there. The majority of these were Germans, and their animated moves, and intelligible answers created many a laugh. Some of their names were not only unpronounceable, but really unspellable. I have a sample in mind, and will give it to you.
We were paroling a Teutonic Regiment, and our patience was fast giving out as also our inventive powers which we had tasked to the utmost, having literally guessed the orthography of half the names, when our hero hove in sight.
“What is your name, my man?”
“No answer was returned, and we looked up to find him gazing at us very complacently.
“What is your name?” a little louder.
“What is your name?” still louder.
Not being able to stand more I caught him by the collar, and assuming a very impressive tone, again enquired his name.
“Yaweop Schimmerpiller,” was the prompt reply.
“What Company do you belong to?”
“Der ‘leventh Corps,”
“No, no — Company I mean, don’t you belong to any Company?”
“What are you?”
“The devil you are”, exclaimed 55th: “who would have believed it? But what rank are you –are you a private?”
“A Sergeant, then?”
“Nicht, I beesh de cook.”
“That’s lucid,” muttered 55th.
“What Regiment do you belong to?”
“I b’longs to nicht Regiment, I beesh in der Independent company of bioneers,” he replied with a very intelligent look.
This will do for a specimen of our day’s troubles.
Several times I was out on this work which in addition to the extra rations I got, afforded me much amusement. At one time just before proceeding in business, the Lieutenant, after telling me of the loss of a particular friend made the following quaint observation, which I never shall forget.
“He isn’t the only one lost during the war. There was once a goodly number of us, considered as among the best young men of the city. We belonged to the Richmond Grays, a crack organization, of which you have doubtless heard, and which received the Seventh New York, and defrayed their expenses while here. When the mob tore down the stars and stripes in Richmond we were turned out to resist them. Now look at it. With the war literally forced upon them, they all went out to battle, and what few have not been killed or crippled for life are still in the army. But those d—d cowardly hucksters and blacklegs who were foremost in creating the trouble stayed at home, and have made themselves rich off their neighbor’s necessities.”
As I have said before, we had little to excite us on Belle Isle. One day we were taken out and searched for money. The Confederates caped quite a sum from this move, but much escaped their greedy clutch through the ingenuity of some of their would be victims. But I was growing weary of this constant longing. The very resignation I had practiced was getting tiresome. This accomplishment looks very pretty in Angelina Stork, or Don Mistletoe, and easy to imitate, but to a matter of fact person like myself, caught in a sensational predicament, it was different. The novelty of the conviction had worn off. Starvation resumed its old ugly look, and appeared no more like an affliction that must be patiently endured. I saw nothing to encourage me. I could draw no consolation nor encouragement from Don Mistletoe’s experience, his heroic stubble and divine triumph. Mistletoe was a sweet scented hero in a fashionable novel, who knew himself to be absolutely necessary in the last chapter, whilst I was but a simple private in the 17th Connecticut, that wore blue britches, and had an uncommon appetite. Mistletoe could go any number of years without anything but memories of Angeline to sustain him. I could not bear so many hours without doubling up like a chronic jack knife. The hard flesh that had cost me a year’s campaign to get on my frame, was going off like the dew before the rising sun, or some other slippery substance. I had grown weak and nervous, and felt like a dish-cloth half wrung out. The white faces and sunken eyes of those around me reflected my own wretched person. We were drawn strangely together by the one great suffering that afflicted each–alike subjected to the same despair, and the same hope. Bread and hope grew to be the two prominent subjects of our thoughts and conversation, and for the first time many a man cursed the day he enlisted, and left the happy home for the uncertain honors of War. What will not a man say and do in the delirium of suffering. Forbear to judge harshly of such a one until you have trodden the same press yourself. “You should be perfectly calm in such and such an emergency, and look for the best etc.,” but it requires some never to carry out these simple precepts.– Which think you was the easier for Job’s comforters to do, to condemn his repining or exemplifying his patinee. I think their course will give the desired answer. The boarders at Belle Isle Retreat had a forcible way of expressing their opinions on the existing state of affairs. They damned thi[n]gs with refreshing earnestness, and swore by all manner of objects, including everything. They knew the cause of our present trouble, and set up nights to indulge in a good swear at it. They took advantage of these hours on account of the coolness of the atmosphere, fearing sunstroke or convulsions in the sun shine. Once a day a regular we would have a fight, when every body that was able ran to see somebody pummel somebody else’s head, and return highly gratified with the amusement, so much so as to forget to swe[a]r at all for nearly two minutes.
The guard were expressly forbidden to hold any intercourse with the prisoners at all, but under cover of darkness, they would disregard this order, and barter, bread for greenbacks with an animation equaling that of the hungry Yanks. I do not say that all the guards were of this mercantile turn; once in a while the boys would come across a Tartar, who would promptly and even savagely repel their advances, enforcing his idea of the course by a menacing handling of his gun, which impressed the persumer with the belief that the weapon was as liable to go off when on a direct level with his head, as when two inches above it. There was one of these unflinching advocates of Southern Rights more noticeable than any of the rest. he was an unkempt piece of machinery and limped unromantically. He looked upon us as so many supernatuated [superannuated] goats, over-fed and too well treated, for whom he was compelled to sacrifice his valuable time, with no hope of recompense. One day he imparted in some of us the agreeable intelligence, that he would just as leave shoot us as so many dark snakes; and if we had had the faintest doubt of his good intentions, two days after dispelled it. There had been a large arrival of Western prisoners that morning, and the tents being all occupied they were obliged to lay out doors. One among them, a sick man, unacquainted with the rules, laid down on the embankment to take a nap. The argus eyes of our black snake hater observed this movement, and ordered him to go away. The man rose up with a wearied expression, bitterly explaining,
“For God’s sake, where will a man lay?”
This was too much for the cayenne temperament of the Southerner. Raising his gun he muttered a curse and fired. The bullet passed through the poor man’s neck, killing him instantly and wounding another in the breast. This murder created great excitement in the camp, and left an impression on the minds of the prisoners that was not over and above favorable to the Confederacy. There was a show of vengeance made by the officers. The murderer was bolted from his beat to the Lieutenant’s tent where after a brief examination, he was bolted out of sight amidst a great deal of chivalrous bluster. In less than a week after he was on duty again. If that is a type of Southern justice, I am content to live in the North awhile longer.
I found the corpse lying in the Main street, with the ugly wound looking up to Heaven, as if appealing to god for that justice which man refused. Some comrade had tied the hands in a clasped position across the breast, as if trying to force the freed soul to be resigned. I turned from sight in pain, thinking of the poor wife, who had rejoiced that her husband had met no worse loss in that fearful battle than his freedom. God pity her, and the hundreds of others who cry against that strange decree.
Slice Eleventh (11/26/1863)
Before going further in my narrative it will be well to give you an insight in minor details of our living on Belle Isle, and I believe I can do it in no better way than by the history of a single day. About sunrise we would awake, stretch ourselves, and sigh a regret that dreams are naught but dreams after all; and taking our cups we would go to the sunken barrel at the end of our street, and have a wash. Returning to our tent, the time till breakfast, between 9 and 10 o’clock, would be spent. In laying around, counting the moments, and wondering when the meal would be ready. About half an hour before time the most anxious of the crowd would man the earthwork on the cook shanty side, and gaze eagerly at the movements of the cooks, envying every mouthful they took, and cordially damning them, sotto voice, for their tardiness. By the time the pails were placed out filled with meat, the crowd would have become quite dense, but this last named movement dispersed them as so many bayonets could not, and each man retired to his own quarters to await his ration. In an instant, all would be life in our tent. Daniels was the third Sergeant to draw and everything required must immediately be got in readiness—the blanket to bring the bread, the dish for the salt, and meat, and men to bring them in. Daniels drew for one hundred men, receiving 12 ½ loaves of bread, weighing 2 lobs each and 17 lbs of meat including bone, which invariably managed to be no small item in the weight. The hundred were divided into six squads, with a man from each to draw their ration from Daniels. When divided up each man would receive four ounces of bread, two of meat, and about twelve grains of salt to season it. The meat would be eaten slowly, every morsel accompanied by a sigh, and when at last it would be finished, we would lay quietly down, with our hunger but half appeased. The interval till supper, between three and four P.M., would be spent in our tent, the sun being altogether too hot to admit of promenading, even if our weakened state would have allowed us. Some of the boys got to making rings of the bones, and in this employment passed the time, but I was never noted for making anything but blunders, thus this interesting occupation was denied me. But there was one branch of service in which we could all indulge, stupidity or rank exempting none, and that was the assassination of that disagreeable vermin known as lice. I will not shock the sensibilities or my readers by relating the deeds of violence committed nor by giving the size and voracity of our bodily ailments, but I will simply assert that they were thick and that if they did not carry us off out of sight, it was not on account of any physical disability. Between these foes and thoughts of food we would divide our attentions till the fast increasing crowd at the earthwork reminded us it was near supper time. This meal would pass off like the preceeding one. The same ration of bread would be dealt out to us but instead of meat we would get nearly a pint of bean or rice soup, made from the water of the James River plentifully seasoned with gravel and about as weak as Southern reasoning. The boys designated it as condensed James River, and as for the beans and rice they principally existed in the name and imagination. About 6 P.M. the atmosphere would cool off, and then we would come out of our tents like so many juvenile crabs out of their holes, and interchange opinions with one another. I generally turned in about 8 o’clock, but would (unreadable line) seldom get to sleep till nearly midnight, and then the day would end.
Wednesday morning, Aug.29th I was taken with chills and fever and concluded I was in for a systematic course of the shakes and I looked forward to about as dreary a future as my particular star ever blessed or cursed me with. But the future is not known to any great extent to any man; and I rejoice to say that in the case mentioned I met with a heavy disappointment. About four o’clock that afternoon the doctor made his appearance in quest of the sick. Three weeks before that time I would have looked upon his visit as a signal for going off, but of late he had made similar calls, sorting out the sick and sending them over to the city to the hospital, so I attached no importance to this. But a few minutes after someone came in the tent and said that the sick were being paroled as fast as they were being taken out. Upon this I went to the entrance to see for myself. The camp was very quiet which confirmed my impression that there was no sign of going off on this move, but yet in plain contradiction to this was the paroling of the sick. What was it for? I asked myself. It had not been done to others sent to the hospital. I enquired of some that were leaving if they believe a squad was going to City Point, but they were as ignorant as myself. I could get no satisfaction from any one and was in doubts as what course to pursue. I wanted to return to our own lines, but I did not want to go to the hospital, for there would be no telling when I would get away. In despair I called Otis and gave him the particulars and we held a council of war. It is needless to give the minutes, but suffice to say we hit on the following plan which I concluded would work. I was to put on the excessive drooping style, and lean heavily on him while he carefully piloted me out to the paroling tent. After that he could take care of himself, the only thing necessary was to get that little embankment between him and the camp. After that the sailing was remarkably smooth, and we would run the risk for City point.
The plan was acted upon and worked admirably. We succeeded in passing the guards and Doctor’s scrutiny all right and in ten minutes were paroled and waiting our turn to cross over to the city. I must apologize for playing the sick one on the Confederates, but the reader will least believe that the end sanctified the means. I own to being of an artless disposition not given to deceiving, but will not deny that on that occasion I veered slightly from my usual course.
It is impossible to analyze my emotions as we crossed the river and looked my last on the white tents and familiar surroundings of the Belle Isle camp. A feeling of enthusiastic gratitude was struggling in my heart with dubious doubts as to how the apparent deliverance would end. I could not bring myself to believe that I was really going home and I dared not indulge in hopes for fear of their being blasted. As soon as we struck the other shore a woman came up to us with bread to sell. She gave four small loaves for a dollar and would take nothing but greenbacks in payment. A friend of mine managed to get four of the loaves, although he had no money, which he kindly shared with us. Probably Otis can explain the bit of financiering. From the place of landing we were marched to the Palmer Prison on Cary Street and left in the upper story for the night, first giving us a ration of bread. This move precluded all idea of a hospital, but yet I did not feel like hoping too strongly. There was a large number of prisoners on Belle Isle, and we might have been removed to make room. Ah, how obstinate is the human mind when it takes the notion. It looks upon every blessing in the light of a nightmare and being well acquainted with fickleness of the beast, exhibits no haste to mount it. So much for humanity, especially the feminine portion of it, bless their dear souls.
It was uncomfortably warm in that loft and for some time I could not get to sleep and when I did it was a poor affair and did not amount to much. At 2 o’clock A.M. we were aroused and taken out into the street, receiving a ration of bread as we passed out. From there we were marched to the depot of Richmond and Petersburg Rail Road, and loaded. At 3 ½ o’clock we started, crossed the river, and Richmond and its agony were out of sight. At dawn we passed a number of earth works but they were empty and had evidently been so for some time. The riding was tedious in point of time, but the prospect ahead was glorious enough, that is at times, for I must confess that had not as yet lost all dread of the result. “Oh dear,” thought I. “If I were only at City Point,” but I wasn’t at City Point so I continued to dangle my legs over the car-side, and stare at the sunny scenery.
At 9 o’clock or so we reached Petersburg, twenty-two miles from Richmond. After a delay of an hour or so, we shipped aboard the branch road for the Point. The cars on this route deserve special notice. Although the most of them were originally designed for freight, yet adverse circumstances have conspired to render them open. The Yankees that rode in these were compelled to straddle the splinters in order to keep off the track. A passenger car was attached to the end of the train filled with citizens, mostly ladies, bound for the North.
At 11 o’clock we rounded the bend at the Point, and the next moment were in front of the New York, flying the stars and stripes. I have said that we were paroled as sick; well, God knows we were sick but no outsider would have believed the fact had he been in sound of the cheer that went up from those weak stomachs at the sight of the old Flag. Of course I cheered with the rest and in attempting to thank God. I wondered whether any difficulty would be experienced in exchanging then I sat down and waited til the rolls were examined gazing anxiously at the boat and inwardly estimating the quantity of grub she contained. At last all was arranged and we were marched on board, each the (?) then the boat shoved off amid many “thank Gods” and tears of gratitude. I stood at the (?) rail and gazed at the fast receding place till it disappeared from view and then I felt safe and free—yes free! How blessed that simple word seemed to me as I kept repeating it to myself, with my eyes bent down on the water, and my thoughts lifted up to God.
And now, reader, my prison experience is over and we must part, but before closing I beg leave to thank you for your company, which you have so kindly given me on the painful road I have guided you over; and in the end I offer a prayer that you may never be placed UNDER Guard, nor see, as I did, Sunny South in Slices.”