Andersonville


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The business of signing the paroles was then begun in earnest. We were
separated into squads according to the first letters of our names, all
those whose name began with A being placed in one squad, those beginning
with B, in another, and so on. Blank paroles for each letter were spread
out on boxes and planks at different places, and the signing went on
under the superintendence of a Rebel Sergeant and one of the prisoners.
The squad of M's selected me to superintend the signing for us, and I
stood by to direct the boys, and sign for the very few who could not
write. After this was done we fell into ranks again, called the roll of
the signers, and carefully compared the number of men with the number of
signatures so that nobody should pass unparoled. The oath was then
administered to us, and two day's rations of corn meal and fresh beef
were issued.

This formality removed the last lingering doubt that we had of the
exchange being a reality, and we gave way to the happiest emotions.
We cheered ourselves hoarse, and the fellows still inside followed our
example, as they expected that they would share our good fortune in a day
or two.

Our next performance was to set to work, cook our two days' rations at
once and eat them. This was not very difficult, as the whole supply for
two days would hardly make one square meal. That done, many of the boys
went to the guard line and threw their blankets, clothing, cooking
utensils, etc., to their comrades who were still inside. No one thought
they would have any further use for such things.

"To-morrow, at this time, thank Heaven," said a boy near me, as he tossed
his blanket and overcoat back to some one inside, "we'll be in God's
country, and then I wouldn't touch them d---d lousy old rags with a ten-
foot pole."

One of the boys in the M squad was a Maine infantryman, who had been with
me in the Pemberton building, in Richmond, and had fashioned himself a
little square pan out of a tin plate of a tobacco press, such as I have
described in an earlier chapter. He had carried it with him ever since,
and it was his sole vessel for all purposes--for cooking, carrying water,
drawing rations, etc. He had cherished it as if it were a farm or a good
situation. But now, as he turned away from signing his name to the
parole, he looked at his faithful servant for a minute in undisguised
contempt; on the eve of restoration to happier, better things, it was a
reminder of all the petty, inglorious contemptible trials and sorrows he
had endured; he actually loathed it for its remembrances, and flinging it
upon the ground he crushed it out of all shape and usefulness with his
feet, trampling upon it as he would everything connected with his prison
life. Months afterward I had to lend this man my little can to cook his
rations in.

Andrews and I flung the bright new tin pans we had stolen at Millen
inside the line, to be scrambled for. It was hard to tell who were the
most surprised at their appearance--the Rebels or our own boys--for few
had any idea that there were such things in the whole Confederacy, and
certainly none looked for them in the possession of two such poverty-
stricken specimens as we were. We thought it best to retain possession
of our little can, spoon, chess-board, blanket, and overcoat.

As we marched down and boarded the train, the Rebels confirmed their
previous action by taking all the guards from around us. Only some eight
or ten were sent to the train, and these quartered themselves in the
caboose, and paid us no further attention.

The train rolled away amid cheering by ourselves and those we left
behind. One thousand happier boys than we never started on a journey.
We were going home. That was enough to wreathe the skies with glory, and
fill the world with sweetness and light. The wintry sun had something of
geniality and warmth, the landscape lost some of its repulsiveness, the
dreary palmettos had less of that hideousness which made us regard them
as very fitting emblems of treason. We even began to feel a little good-
humored contempt for our hateful little Brats of guards, and to reflect
how much vicious education and surroundings were to be held responsible
for their misdeeds.

We laughed and sang as we rolled along toward Savannah--going back much
faster than the came. We re-told old stories, and repeated old jokes,
that had become wearisome months and months ago, but were now freshened
up and given their olden pith by the joyousness of the occasion. We
revived and talked over old schemes gotten up in the earlier days of
prison life, of what "we would do when we got out," but almost forgotten
since, in the general uncertainty of ever getting out. We exchanged
addresses, and promised faithfully to write to each other and tell how we
found everything at home.

So the afternoon and night passed. We were too excited to sleep, and
passed the hours watching the scenery, recalling the objects we had
passed on the way to Blackshear, and guessing how near we were to
Savannah.

Though we were running along within fifteen or twenty miles of the coast,
with all our guards asleep in the caboose, no one thought of escape.
We could step off the cars and walk over to the seashore as easily as a
man steps out of his door and walks to a neighboring town, but why should
we? Were we not going directly to our vessels in the harbor of Savannah,
and was it not better to do this, than to take the chances of escaping,
and encounter the difficulties of reaching our blockaders! We thought
so, and we staid on the cars.

A cold, gray Winter morning was just breaking as we reached Savannah.
Our train ran down in the City, and then whistled sharply and ran back a
mile or so; it repeated this maneuver two or three times, the evident
design being to keep us on the cars until the people were ready to
receive us. Finally our engine ran with all the speed she was capable
of, and as the train dashed into the street we found ourselves between
two heavy lines of guards with bayonets fixed.

The whole sickening reality was made apparent by one glance at the guard
line. Our parole was a mockery, its only object being to get us to
Savannah as easily as possible, and to prevent benefit from our recapture
to any of Sherman's Raiders, who might make a dash for the railroad while
we were in transit. There had been no intention of exchanging us. There
was no exchange going on at Savannah.

After all, I do not think we felt the disappointment as keenly as the
first time we were brought to Savannah. Imprisonment had stupefied us;
we were duller and more hopeless.

Ordered down out of the cars, we were formed in line in the street.

Said a Rebel officer:

"Now, any of you fellahs that ah too sick to go to Chahlston, step
fohwahd one pace."

We looked at each other an instant, and then the whole line stepped
forward. We all felt too sick to go to Charleston, or to do anything
else in the world.

CHAPTER LXVI.

SPECIMEN CONVERSATION WITH AN AVERAGE NATIVE GEORGIAN--WE LEARN THAT
SHERMAN IS HEADING FOR SAVANNAH--THE RESERVES GET A LITTLE SETTLING DOWN.

As the train left the northern suburbs of Savannah we came upon a scene
of busy activity, strongly contrasting with the somnolent lethargy that
seemed to be the normal condition of the City and its inhabitants. Long
lines of earthworks were being constructed, gangs of negros were felling
trees, building forts and batteries, making abatis, and toiling with
numbers of huge guns which were being moved out and placed in position.

As we had had no new prisoners nor any papers for some weeks--the papers
being doubtless designedly kept away from us--we were at a loss to know
what this meant. We could not understand this erection of fortifications
on that side, because, knowing as we did how well the flanks of the City
were protected by the Savannah and Ogeeche Rivers, we could not see how a
force from the coast--whence we supposed an attack must come, could hope
to reach the City's rear, especially as we had just come up on the right
flank of the City, and saw no sign of our folks in that direction.

Our train stopped for a few minutes at the edge of this line of works,
and an old citizen who had been surveying the scene with senile interest,
tottered over to our car to take a look at us. He was a type of the old
man of the South of the scanty middle class, the small farmer. Long
white hair and beard, spectacles with great round, staring glasses,
a broad-brimmed hat of ante-Revolutionary pattern, clothes that had
apparently descended to him from some ancestor who had come over with
Oglethorpe, and a two-handed staff with a head of buckhorn, upon which he
leaned as old peasants do in plays, formed such an image as recalled to
me the picture of the old man in the illustrations in "The Dairyman's
Daughter." He was as garrulous as a magpie, and as opinionated as a
Southern white always is. Halting in front of our car, he steadied
himself by planting his staff, clasping it with both lean and skinny
hands, and leaning forward upon it, his jaws then addressed themselves to
motion thus:

"Boys, who mout these be that ye got?
"One of the Guards:--"O, these is some Yanks that we've bin hivin' down
at Camp Sumter."

"Yes?" (with an upward inflection of the voice, followed by a close
scrutiny of us through the goggle-eyed glasses,) "Wall, they're a
powerful ornary lookin' lot, I'll declah."

It will be seen that the old, gentleman's perceptive powers were much
more highly developed than his politeness.

"Well, they ain't what ye mout call purty, that's a fack," said the
guard.

"So yer Yanks, air ye?" said the venerable Goober-Grabber, (the nick-name
in the South for Georgians), directing his conversation to me. "Wall,
I'm powerful glad to see ye, an' 'specially whar ye can't do no harm;
I've wanted to see some Yankees ever sence the beginnin' of the wah, but
hev never had no chance. Whah did ye cum from?"

I seemed called upon to answer, and said: "I came from Illinois; most of
the boys in this car are from Illinois, Ohio, Indiana, Michigan and
Iowa."

"'Deed! All Westerners, air ye? Wall, do ye know I alluz liked the
Westerners a heap sight better than them blue-bellied New England
Yankees."

No discussion with a Rebel ever proceeded very far without his making an
assertion like this. It was a favorite declaration of theirs, but its
absurdity was comical, when one remembered that the majority of them
could not for their lives tell the names of the New England States, and
could no more distinguish a Downeaster from an Illinoisan than they could
tell a Saxon from a Bavarian. One day, while I was holding a
conversation similar to the above with an old man on guard, another
guard, who had been stationed near a squad made up of Germans, that
talked altogether in the language of the Fatherland, broke in with:

"Out there by post numbah foahteen, where I wuz yesterday, there's a lot
of Yanks who jest jabbered away all the hull time, and I hope I may never
see the back of my neck ef I could understand ary word they said, Are
them the regular blue-belly kind?"

The old gentleman entered upon the next stage of the invariable routine
of discussion with a Rebel:

"Wall, what air you'uns down heah, a-fightin' we'uns foh?"

As I had answered this question several hundred times, I had found the
most extinguishing reply to be to ask in return:

"What are you'uns coming up into our country to fight we'uns for?"

Disdaining to notice this return in kind, the old man passed on to the
next stage:

"What are you'uns takin' ouah niggahs away from us foh?"

Now, if negros had been as cheap as oreoide watches, it is doubtful
whether the speaker had ever had money enough in his possession at one
time to buy one, and yet he talked of taking away "ouah niggahs," as if
they were as plenty about his place as hills of corn. As a rule, the
more abjectly poor a Southerner was, the more readily he worked himself
into a rage over the idea of "takin' away ouah niggahs."

I replied in burlesque of his assumption of ownership:

"What are you coming up North to burn my rolling mills and rob my comrade
here's bank, and plunder my brother's store, and burn down my uncle's
factories?"

No reply, to this counter thrust. The old man passed to the third
inevitable proposition:

"What air you'uns puttin' ouah niggahs in the field to fight we'uns foh?"

Then the whole car-load shouted back at him at once:

"What are you'uns putting blood-hounds on our trails to hunt us down,
for?"

Old Man--(savagely), "Waal, ye don't think ye kin ever lick us; leastways
sich fellers as ye air?"

Myself--"Well, we warmed it to you pretty lively until you caught us.
There were none of us but what were doing about as good work as any stock
you fellows could turn out. No Rebels in our neighborhood had much to
brag on. We are not a drop in the bucket, either. There's millions more
better men than we are where we came from, and they are all determined to
stamp out your miserable Confederacy. You've got to come to it, sooner
or later; you must knock under, sure as white blossoms make little
apples. You'd better make up your mind to it."

Old Man--"No, sah, nevah. Ye nevah kin conquer us! We're the bravest
people and the best fighters on airth. Ye nevah kin whip any people
that's a fightin' fur their liberty an' their right; an' ye nevah can
whip the South, sah, any way. We'll fight ye until all the men air
killed, and then the wimmen'll fight ye, sah."

Myself--"Well, you may think so, or you may not. From the way our boys
are snatching the Confederacy's real estate away, it begins to look as if
you'd not have enough to fight anybody on pretty soon. What's the
meaning of all this fortifying?"

Old Man--"Why, don't you know? Our folks are fixin' up a place foh Bill
Sherman to butt his brains out gain'."

"Bill Sherman!" we all shouted in surprise: "Why he ain't within two
hundred miles of this place, is he?"

Old Man--"Yes, but he is, tho'. He thinks he's played a sharp Yankee
trick on Hood. He found out he couldn't lick him in a squar' fight,
nohow; he'd tried that on too often; so he just sneaked 'round behind
him, and made a break for the center of the State, where he thought there
was lots of good stealin' to be done. But we'll show him. We'll soon
hev him just whar we want him, an' we'll learn him how to go traipesin'
'round the country, stealin' nigahs, burnin' cotton, an' runnin' off
folkses' beef critters. He sees now the scrape he's got into, an' he's
tryin' to get to the coast, whar the gun-boats'll help 'im out. But
he'll nevah git thar, sah; no sah, nevah. He's mouty nigh the end of his
rope, sah, and we'll purty' soon hev him jist whar you fellows air, sah."

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