Our “N’Yaarkers,” swift to see any opportunity for dishonest gain, had
taken to bounty-jumping, or, as they termed it, “leppin’ the bounty,”
for a livelihood. Those who were thrust in upon us had followed this
until it had become dangerous, and then deserted to the Rebels. The
latter kept them at Castle Lightning for awhile, and then, rightly
estimating their character, and considering that it was best to trade
them off for a genuine Rebel soldier, sent them in among us, to be
exchanged regularly with us. There was not so much good faith as good
policy shown by this. It was a matter of indifference to the Rebels how
soon our Government shot these deserters after getting them in its hands
again. They were only anxious to use them to get their own men back.
The moment they came into contact with us our troubles began. They stole
whenever opportunities offered, and they were indefatigable in making
these offer; they robbed by actual force, whenever force would avail;
and more obsequious lick-spittles to power never existed–they were
perpetually on the look-out for a chance to curry favor by betraying
some plan or scheme to those who guarded us.
I saw one day a queer illustration of the audacious side of these
fellows’ characters, and it shows at the same time how brazen effrontery
will sometimes get the better of courage. In a room in an adjacent
building were a number of these fellows, and a still greater number of
East Tennesseeans. These latter were simple, ignorant folks, but
reasonably courageous. About fifty of them were sitting in a group in
one corner of the room, and near them a couple or three “N’Yaarkers.”
Suddenly one of the latter said with an oath:
“I was robbed last night; I lost two silver watches, a couple of rings,
and about fifty dollars in greenbacks. I believe some of you fellers
went through me.”
This was all pure invention; he no more had the things mentioned than.
he had purity of heart and a Christian spirit, but the unsophisticated
Tennesseeans did not dream of disputing his statement, and answered in
“Oh, no, mister; we didn’t take your things; we ain’t that kind.”
This was like the reply of the lamb to the wolf, in the fable, and the
N’Yaarker retorted with a simulated storm of passion, and a torrent of
“—- —- I know ye did; I know some uv yez has got them; stand up agin
the wall there till I search yez!”
And that whole fifty men, any one of whom was physically equal to the
N’Yaarker, and his superior in point of real courage, actually stood
against the wall, and submitted to being searched and having taken from
them the few Confederate bills they had, and such trinkets as the
searcher took a fancy to.
I was thoroughly disgusted.
BELLE ISLE–TERRIBLE SUFFERING FROM COLD AND HUNGER–FATE OF LIEUTENANT
BOISSEUX’S DOG–OUR COMPANY MYSTERY–TERMINATION OF ALL HOPES OF ITS
In February my chum–B. B. Andrews, now a physician in Astoria, Illinois
–was brought into our building, greatly to my delight and astonishment,
and from him I obtained the much desired news as to the fate of my
comrades. He told me they had been sent to Belle Isle, whither he had
gone, but succumbing to the rigors of that dreadful place, he had been
taken to the hospital, and, upon his convalesence, placed in our prison.
Our men were suffering terribly on the island. It was low, damp, and
swept by the bleak, piercing winds that howled up and down the surface of
the James. The first prisoners placed on the island had been given tents
that afforded them some shelter, but these were all occupied when our
battalion came in, so that they were compelled to lie on the snow and
frozen ground, without shelter, covering of any kind, or fire. During
this time the cold had been so intense that the James had frozen over
The rations had been much worse than ours. The so-called soup had been
diluted to a ridiculous thinness, and meat had wholly disappeared.
So intense became the craving for animal food, that one day when
Lieutenant Boisseux–the Commandant–strolled into the camp with his
beloved white bull-terrier, which was as fat as a Cheshire pig, the
latter was decoyed into a tent, a blanket thrown over him, his throat cut
within a rod of where his master was standing, and he was then skinned,
cut up, cooked, and furnished a savory meal to many hungry men.
When Boisseux learned of the fate of his four-footed friend he was,
of course, intensely enraged, but that was all the good it did him.
The only revenge possible was to sentence more prisoners to ride the
cruel wooden horse which he used as a means of punishment.
Four of our company were already dead. Jacob Lowry and John Beach were
standing near the gate one day when some one snatched the guard’s blanket
from the post where he had hung it, and ran. The enraged sentry leveled
his gun and fired into the crowd. The balls passed through Lowry’s and
Beach’s breasts. Then Charley Osgood, son of our Lieutenant, a quiet,
fair-haired, pleasant-spoken boy, but as brave and earnest as his gallant
father, sank under the combination of hunger and cold. One stinging
morning he was found stiff and stark, on the hard ground, his bright,
frank blue eyes glazed over in death.
One of the mysteries of our company was a tall, slender, elderly
Scotchman, who appeared on the rolls as William Bradford. What his past
life had been, where he had lived, what his profession, whether married
or single, no one ever knew. He came to us while in Camp of Instruction
near Springfield, Illinois, and seemed to have left all his past behind
him as he crossed the line of sentries around the camp. He never
received any letters, and never wrote any; never asked for a furlough or
pass, and never expressed a wish to be elsewhere than in camp. He was
courteous and pleasant, but very reserved. He interfered with no one,
obeyed orders promptly and without remark, and was always present for
duty. Scrupulously neat in dress, always as clean-shaved as an old-
fashioned gentleman of the world, with manners and conversation that
showed him to have belonged to a refined and polished circle, he was
evidently out of place as a private soldier in a company of reckless and
none-too-refined young Illinois troopers, but he never availed himself of
any of the numerous opportunities offered to change his associations.
His elegant penmanship would have secured him an easy berth and better
society at headquarters, but he declined to accept a detail. He became
an exciting mystery to a knot of us imaginative young cubs, who sorted up
out of the reminiscential rag-bag of high colors and strong contrasts
with which the sensational literature that we most affected had
plentifully stored our minds, a half-dozen intensely emotional careers
for him. We spent much time in mentally trying these on, and discussing
which fitted him best. We were always expecting a denouement that would
come like a lightning flash and reveal his whole mysterious past, showing
him to have been the disinherited scion of some noble house, a man of
high station, who was expiating some fearful crime; an accomplished
villain eluding his pursuers–in short, a Somebody who would be a fitting
hero for Miss Braddon’s or Wilkie Collins’s literary purposes. We never
got but two clues of his past, and they were faint ones. One day, he
left lying near me a small copy of “Paradise Lost,” that he always
carried with him. Turning over its leaves I found all of Milton’s bitter
invectives against women heavily underscored. Another time, while on
guard with him, he spent much of his time in writing some Latin verses in
very elegant chirography upon the white painted boards of a fence along
which his beat ran. We pressed in all the available knowledge of Latin
about camp, and found that the tenor of the verses was very
uncomplimentary to that charming sex which does us the honor of being our
mothers and sweethearts. These evidences we accepted as sufficient
demonstration that there was a woman at the bottom of the mystery, and
made us more impatient for further developments. These were never to
come. Bradford pined away an Belle Isle, and grew weaker, but no less
reserved, each day. At length, one bitter cold night ended it all.
He was found in the morning stone dead, with his iron-gray hair frozen
fast to the ground, upon which he lay. Our mystery had to remain
unsolved. There was nothing about his person to give any hint as to his
HOPING FOR EXCHANGE–AN EXPOSITION OF THE DOCTRINE OF CHANCES–
OFF FOR ANDERSONVILLE–UNCERTAINTY AS TO OUR DESTINATION–ARRIVAL AT
As each lagging day closed, we confidently expected that the next would
bring some news of the eagerly-desired exchange. We hopefully assured
each other that the thing could not be delayed much longer; that the
Spring was near, the campaign would soon open, and each government would
make an effort to get all its men into the field, and this would bring
about a transfer of prisoners. A Sergeant of the Seventh Indiana
Infantry stated his theory to me this way:
“You know I’m just old lightnin’ on chuck-a-luck. Now the way I bet is
this: I lay down, say on the ace, an’ it don’t come up; I just double my
bet on the ace, an’ keep on doublin’ every time it loses, until at last
it comes up an’ then I win a bushel o’ money, and mebbe bust the bank.
You see the thing’s got to come up some time; an’ every time it don’t
come up makes it more likely to come up the next time. It’s just the
same way with this ‘ere exchange. The thing’s got to happen some day,
an’ every day that it don’t happen increases the chances that it will
happen the next day.”
Some months later I folded the sanguine Sergeant’s stiffening hands
together across his fleshless ribs, and helped carry his body out to the
dead-house at Andersonville, in order to get a piece of wood to cook my
ration of meal with.
On the evening of the 17th of February, 1864, we were ordered to get
ready to move at daybreak the next morning. We were certain this could
mean nothing else than exchange, and our exaltation was such that we did
little sleeping that night. The morning was very cold, but we sang and
joked as we marched over the creaking bridge, on our way to the cars.
We were packed so tightly in these that it was impossible to even sit
down, and we rolled slow ly away after a wheezing engine to Petersburg,
whence we expected to march to the exchange post. We reached Petersburg
before noon, and the cars halted there along time, we momentarily
expecting an order to get out. Then the train started up and moved out
of the City toward the southeast. This was inexplicable, but after we
had proceeded this way for several hours some one conceived the idea that
the Rebels, to avoid treating with Butler, were taking us into the
Department of some other commander to exchange us. This explanation
satisfied us, and our spirits rose again.
Night found us at Gaston, N. C., where we received a few crackers for
rations, and changed cars. It was dark, and we resorted to a little
strategy to secure more room. About thirty of us got into a tight box
car, and immediately announced that it was too full to admit any more.
When an officer came along with another squad to stow away, we would yell
out to him to take some of the men out, as we were crowded unbearably.
In the mean time everybody in the car would pack closely around the door,
so as to give the impression that the car was densely crowded. The Rebel
would look convinced, and demand:
“Why, how many men have you got in de cah?”
Then one of us would order the imaginary host in the invisible recesses
“Stand still there, and be counted,” while he would gravely count up to
one hundred or one hundred and twenty, which was the utmost limit of the
car, and the Rebel would hurry off to put his prisoners somewhere else.
We managed to play this successfully during the whole journey, and not
only obtained room to lie down in the car, but also drew three or four
times as many rations as were intended for us, so that while we at no
time had enough, we were farther from starvation than our less strategic
The second afternoon we arrived at Raleigh, the capitol of North
Carolina, and were camped in a piece of timber, and shortly after dark
orders were issued to us all to lie flat on the ground and not rise up
till daylight. About the middle of the night a man belonging to a New
Jersey regiment, who had apparently forgotten the order, stood up, and
was immediately shot dead by the guard.
For four or five days more the decrepit little locomotive strained along,
dragging after it the rattling’ old cars. The scenery was intensely
monotonous. It was a flat, almost unending, stretch of pine barrens and
the land so poor that a disgusted Illinoisan, used to the fertility of
the great American Bottom, said rather strongly, that,
“By George, they’d have to manure this ground before they could even make
brick out of it.”
It was a surprise to all of us who had heard so much of the wealth of
Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia, to find the soil a
sterile sand bank, interspersed with swamps.
We had still no idea of where we were going. We only knew that our
general course was southward, and that we had passed through the
Carolinas, and were in Georgia. We furbished up our school knowledge of
geography and endeavored to recall something of the location of Raleigh,
Charlotte, Columbia and Augusta, through which we passed, but the attempt
was not a success.
Late on the afternoon of the 25th of February the Seventh Indiana
Sergeant approached me with the inquiry:
“Do you know where Macon is?”
The place had not then become as well known as it was afterward.
It seemed to me that I had read something of Macon in Revolutionary
history, and that it was a fort on the sea coast. He said that the guard
had told him that we were to be taken to a point near that place, and we
agreed that it was probably a new place of exchange. A little later we
passed through the town of Macon, Ga, and turned upon a road that led
almost due south.
About midnight the train stopped, and we were ordered off. We were in
the midst of a forest of tall trees that loaded the air with the heavy
balsamic odor peculiar to pine trees. A few small rude houses were
scattered around near.
Stretching out into the darkness was a double row of great heaps of
burning pitch pine, that smoked and flamed fiercely, and lit up a little
space around in the somber forest with a ruddy glare. Between these two
rows lay a road, which we were ordered to take.
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