On our side we obeyed another law of political economy: We clung to our
property with unrelaxing tenacity, made the best use of it in our
intercourse with our fellows, and only gave it up after our release and
entry into a land where the plenitude of cooking utensils of superior
construction made ours valueless. Then we flung them into the sea, with
little gratitude for the great benefit they had been to us. We were more
anxious to get rid of the many hateful recollections clustering around
But, to return to the alleged soup: As I started to drink my first ration
it seemed to me that there was a superfluity of bugs upon its surface.
Much as I wanted animal food, I did not care for fresh meat in that form.
I skimmed them off carefully, so as to lose as little soup as possible.
But the top layer seemed to be underlaid with another equally dense.
This was also skimmed off as deftly as possible. But beneath this
appeared another layer, which, when removed, showed still another; and so
on, until I had scraped to the bottom of the can, and the last of the
bugs went with the last of my soup. I have before spoken of the
remarkable bug fecundity of the beans (or peas). This was a
demonstration of it. Every scouped out pea (or bean) which found its way
into the soup bore inside of its shell from ten to twenty of these hard-
crusted little weevil. Afterward I drank my soup without skimming.
It was not that I hated the weevil less, but that I loved the soup more.
It was only another step toward a closer conformity to that grand rule
which I have made the guiding maxim of my life:
‘When I must, I had better.’
I recommend this to other young men starting on their career.
The room in which we were was barely large enough for all of us to lie
down at once. Even then it required pretty close “spooning” together–
so close in fact that all sleeping along one side would have to turn at
once. It was funny to watch this operation. All, for instance, would be
lying on their right sides. They would begin to get tired, and one of
the wearied ones would sing out to the Sergeant who was in command of the
“Sergeant: let’s spoon the other way.”
That individual would reply:
“All right. Attention! LEFT SPOON!!” and the whole line would at once
flop over on their left sides.
The feet of the row that slept along the east wall on the floor below us
were in a line with the edge of the outer door, and a chalk line drawn
from the crack between the door and the frame to the opposite wall would
touch, say 150 pairs of feet. They were a noisy crowd down there, and
one night their noise so provoked the guard in front of the door that he
called out to them to keep quiet or he would fire in upon them. They
greeted this threat with a chorus profanely uncomplimentary to the purity
of the guard’s ancestry; they did not imply his descent a la Darwin, from
the remote monkey, but more immediate generation by a common domestic
animal. The incensed Rebel opened the door wide enough to thrust his gun
in, and he fired directly down the line of toes. His piece was
apparently loaded with buckshot, and the little balls must have struck
the legs, nipped off the toes, pierced the feet, and otherwise slightly
wounded the lower extremities of fifty men. The simultaneous shriek that
went up was deafening. It was soon found out that nobody had been hurt
seriously, and there was not a little fun over the occurrence.
One of the prisoners in Libby was Brigadier General Neal Dow, of Maine,
who had then a National reputation as a Temperance advocate, and the
author of the famous Maine Liquor Law. We, whose places were near the
front window, used to see him frequently on the street, accompanied by a
guard. He was allowed, we understood, to visit our sick in the hospital.
His long, snowy beard and hair gave him a venerable and commanding
Newsboys seemed to be a thing unknown in Richmond. The papers were sold
on the streets by negro men. The one who frequented our section with the
morning journals had a mellow; rich baritone for which we would be glad
to exchange the shrill cries of our street Arabs. We long remembered him
as one of the peculiar features of Richmond. He had one unvarying
formula for proclaiming his wares. It ran in this wise:
“Great Nooze in de papahs!
“Great Nooze from Orange Coaht House, Virginny!
“Great Nooze from Alexandry, Virginny!
“Great Nooze from Washington City!
“Great Nooze from Chattanoogy, Tennessee!
“Great Nooze from Chahlston, Sou’ Cahlina!
“Great Nooze in depapahs!”
It did not matter to him that the Rebels had not been at some of these
places for months. He would not change for such mere trifles as the
entire evaporation of all possible interest connected with Chattanooga
and Alexandria. He was a true Bourbon Southerner–he learned nothing and
There was a considerable trade driven between the prisoners and the guard
at the door. This was a very lucrative position for the latter, and men
of a commercial turn of mind generally managed to get stationed there.
The blockade had cut off the Confederacy’s supplies from the outer world,
and the many trinkets about a man’s person were in good demand at high
prices. The men of the Army of the Potomac, who were paid regularly,
and were always near their supplies, had their pockets filled with combs,
silk handkerchiefs, knives, neckties, gold pens, pencils, silver watches,
playing cards, dice, etc. Such of these as escaped appropriation by
their captors and Dick Turner, were eagerly bought by the guards, who
paid fair prices in Confederate money, or traded wheat bread, tobacco,
daily papers, etc., for them.
There was also considerable brokerage in money, and the manner of doing
this was an admirable exemplification of the folly of the “fiat” money
idea. The Rebels exhausted their ingenuity in framing laws to sustain
the purchasing power of their paper money. It was made legal tender for
all debts public and private; it was decreed that the man who refused to
take it was a public enemy; all the considerations of patriotism were
rallied to its support, and the law provided that any citizens found
trafficking in the money of the enemy–i.e., greenbacks, should suffer
imprisonment in the Penitentiary, and any soldier so offending should
Notwithstanding all this, in Richmond, the head and heart of the
Confederacy, in January, 1864–long before the Rebel cause began to look
at all desperate–it took a dollar to buy such a loaf of bread as now
sells for ten cents; a newspaper was a half dollar, and everything else
in proportion. And still worse: There was not a day during our stay in
Richmond but what one could go to the hole in the door before which the
guard was pacing and call out in a loud whisper:
“Say, Guard: do you want to buy some greenbacks?”
And be sure that the reply would be, after a furtive glance around to see
that no officer was watching:
“Yes; how much do you want for them?”
The reply was then: “Ten for one.”
“All right; how much have you got?”
The Yankee would reply; the Rebel would walk to the farther end of his
beat, count out the necessary amount, and, returning, put up one hand
with it, while with the other he caught hold of one end of the Yankee’s
greenback. At the word, both would release their holds simultaneously,
the exchange was complete, and the Rebel would pace industriously up and
down his beat with the air of the school boy who “ain’t been a-doin’
There was never any risk in approaching any guard with a proposition of
this kind. I never heard of one refusing to trade for greenbacks, and if
the men on guard could not be restrained by these stringent laws, what
hope could there be of restraining anybody else?
One day we were favored with a visit from the redoubtable General John H.
Morgan, next to J. E. B. Stuart the greatest of Rebel cavalry leaders.
He had lately escaped from the Ohio Penitentiary. He was invited to
Richmond to be made a Major General, and was given a grand ovation by the
citizens and civic Government. He came into our building to visit a
number of the First Kentucky Cavalry (loyal)–captured at New
Philadelphia, East Tennessee–whom he was anxious to have exchanged for
men of his own regiment–the First Kentucky Cavalry (Rebel)–who were
captured at the same time he was. I happened to get very close to him
while he was standing there talking to his old acquaintances, and I made
a mental photograph of him, which still retains all its original
distinctness. He was a tall, heavy man, with a full, coarse, and
somewhat dull face, and lazy, sluggish gray eyes. His long black hair
was carefully oiled, and turned under at the ends, as was the custom with
the rural beaux some years ago. His face was clean shaved, except a
large, sandy goatee. He wore a high silk hat, a black broadcloth coat,
Kentucky jeans pantaloons, neatly fitting boots, and no vest. There was
nothing remotely suggestive of unusual ability or force of character, and
I thought as I studied him that the sting of George D. Prentice’s bon mot
about him was in its acrid truth. Said Mr. Prentice:
“Why don’t somebody put a pistol to Basil Duke’s head, and blow John
Morgan’s brains out!” [Basil Duke was John Morgan’s right hand man.]
REMARKS AS TO NOMENCLATURE–VACCINATION AND ITS EFFECTS–“N’YAARKER’S”–
THEIR CHARACTERISTICS AND THEIR METHODS OF OPERATING.
Before going any further in this narrative it may be well to state that
the nomenclature employed is not used in any odious or disparaging sense.
It is simply the adoption of the usual terms employed by the soldiers of
both sides in speaking to or of each other. We habitually spoke of them
and to them, as “Rebels,” and “Johnnies ;” they of and to us, as “Yanks,”
and “Yankees.” To have said “Confederates,” “Southerners,”
“Secessionists,” or “Federalists,” “Unionists,” “Northerners” or
“Nationalists,” would have seemed useless euphemism. The plainer terms
suited better, and it was a day when things were more important than
For some inscrutable reason the Rebels decided to vaccinate us all.
Why they did this has been one of the unsolved problems of my life.
It is true that there was small pox in the City, and among the prisoners
at Danville; but that any consideration for our safety should have led
them to order general inoculation is not among the reasonable inferences.
But, be that as it may, vaccination was ordered, and performed. By great
good luck I was absent from the building with the squad drawing rations,
when our room was inoculated, so I escaped what was an infliction to all,
and fatal to many. The direst consequences followed the operation.
Foul ulcers appeared on various parts of the bodies of the vaccinated.
In many instances the arms literally rotted off; and death followed from
a corruption of the blood. Frequently the faces, and other parts of
those who recovered, were disfigured by the ghastly cicatrices of healed
ulcers. A special friend of mine, Sergeant Frank Beverstock–then a
member of the Third Virginia Cavalry, (loyal), and after the war a banker
in Bowling Green, O.,–bore upon his temple to his dying day, (which
occurred a year ago), a fearful scar, where the flesh had sloughed off
from the effects of the virus that had tainted his blood.
This I do not pretend to account for. We thought at the time that the
Rebels had deliberately poisoned the vaccine matter with syphilitic
virus, and it was so charged upon them. I do not now believe that this
was so; I can hardly think that members of the humane profession of
medicine would be guilty of such subtle diabolism–worse even than
poisoning the wells from which an enemy must drink. The explanation with
which I have satisfied myself is that some careless or stupid
practitioner took the vaccinating lymph from diseased human bodies,
and thus infected all with the blood venom, without any conception of
what he was doing. The low standard of medical education in the South
makes this theory quite plausible.
We now formed the acquaintance of a species of human vermin that united
with the Rebels, cold, hunger, lice and the oppression of distraint, to
leave nothing undone that could add to the miseries of our prison life.
These were the fledglings of the slums and dives of New York–graduates
of that metropolitan sink of iniquity where the rogues and criminals of
the whole world meet for mutual instruction in vice.
They were men who, as a rule, had never known, a day of honesty and
cleanliness in their misspent lives; whose fathers, brothers and constant
companions were roughs, malefactors and, felons; whose mothers, wives and
sisters were prostitutes, procuresses and thieves; men who had from
infancy lived in an atmosphere of sin, until it saturated every fiber of
their being as a dweller in a jungle imbibes malaria by every one of his,
millions of pores, until his very marrow is surcharged with it.
They included representatives from all nationalities, and their
descendants, but the English and Irish elements predominated. They had
an argot peculiar to themselves. It was partly made up of the “flash”
language of the London thieves, amplified and enriched by the cant
vocabulary and the jargon of crime of every European tongue. They spoke
it with a peculiar accent and intonation that made them instantly
recognizable from the roughs of all other Cities. They called themselves
“N’Yaarkers;” we came to know them as “Raiders.”
If everything in the animal world has its counterpart among men, then
these were the wolves, jackals and hyenas of the race at once cowardly
and fierce–audaciously bold when the power of numbers was on their side,
and cowardly when confronted with resolution by anything like an equality
Like all other roughs and rascals of whatever degree, they were utterly
worthless as soldiers. There may have been in the Army some habitual
corner loafer, some fistic champion of the bar-room and brothel, some
Terror of Plug Uglyville, who was worth the salt in the hard tack he
consumed, but if there were, I did not form his acquaintance, and I never
heard of any one else who did. It was the rule that the man who was the
readiest in the use of fist and slungshot at home had the greatest
diffidence about forming a close acquaintance with cold lead in the
neighborhood of the front. Thousands of the so-called “dangerous
classes” were recruited, from whom the Government did not receive so much
service as would pay for the buttons on their uniforms. People expected
that they would make themselves as troublesome to the Rebels as they were
to good citizens and the Police, but they were only pugnacious to the
provost guard, and terrible to the people in the rear of the Army who had
anything that could be stolen.
The highest type of soldier which the world has yet produced is the
intelligent, self-respecting American boy, with home, and father and
mother and friends behind him, and duty in front beckoning him on.
In the sixty centuries that war has been a profession no man has entered
its ranks so calmly resolute in confronting danger, so shrewd and
energetic in his aggressiveness, so tenacious of the defense and the
assault, so certain to rise swiftly to the level of every emergency, as
the boy who, in the good old phrase, had been “well-raised” in a
Godfearing home, and went to the field in obedience to a conviction of
duty. His unfailing courage and good sense won fights that the
incompetency or cankering jealousy of commanders had lost. High officers
were occasionally disloyal, or willing to sacrifice their country to
personal pique; still more frequently they were ignorant and inefficient;
but the enlisted man had more than enough innate soldiership to make
amends for these deficiencies, and his superb conduct often brought
honors and promotions to those only who deserved shame and disaster.
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