Chapter 23: Homeward bound.
- Homeward bound. -- a feast. -- too happy to sleep. -- on the Atlantic. -- ice for the sick(?). -- home at last.
The place selected for our camp was a side-hill pasture, with a few trees scattered over it for shade. The military authorities had made the best preparation they could, in the brief time since the captain of cavalry had reported us. A load of hospital tents had been hauled out and distributed for our use, but we did not put them up that night. We did not need them. Bob and I carried one up under a tree and folded it to lie on. It was about sun-set when we reached our  camping-ground. Stragglers kept coming in till ten o'clock, when, of the thirty-three hundred that had been turned loose, about seven hundred had reached our lines. Just before dark a wagon came loaded with bread — the first wheat bread we had seen in a long time. We got a loaf apiece and ate it. Then came four barrels of boiled meat — the kind known to the trade as “mess pork,” but known to the soldiers by a different name. We secured a good piece of that, and ate it. Then came coffee by the barrel. We took our old bucket and drew a quart of that, and drank it. Then Bob said he wouldn't go down the hill again, no matter what they brought. Presently the cry was raised, “They are issuing whiskey.” I proposed to Bob that we go and get our share, but he said he was too tired. I then told him I would go and draw his ration, and bring it to him. I went, told the man I had a “pard” who was sick, and drew both rations in our bucket, and went back. When I got to our tree, Bob was gone, so I set the whiskey down to wait till he came. Soon he came  limping up the hill. After I had gone, he became anxious, for fear they would not give me his ration, so he limped down, took his turn, and had drawn and drank his “gill.” We made equitable division of what was in the cup, and thus had three gills to two men. We had travelled about twenty miles that day, and ought to have been tired, but the excitement, the pork, the coffee and the whiskey, took away all drowsiness. We sat and talked of home, and what we would do when we got there, till far into the night. Finally we decided that we must sleep, or we would not be fit for anything next day. So we lay down and remained silent a good while, but I never was wider awake in my life. Bob lay so still that I could not tell whether he was asleep or not, so I whispered softly, “Bob!” “What do you want?” “I can't sleep.” “Neither can I. ” After awhile we decided that we must go to sleep. We lay quite still for a long time. Suddenly  Bob arose to a sitting posture, and gathering our sock, which still contained about a pint of meal, he called out, “Oats! Here goes the last of the Confederacy,” and taking the sock by the toe, he began to swing it around his head, strewing the meal all over me, himself, and our tent. That put sleep out of the question, so we got up and chatted, till we heard the bugle across the creek, blow reveille. When it was day, we found that eleven of those who had struggled so bravely to keep up, and had greeted the flag with the head of the column, were dead. That mother and sister, waiting in their darkened northern home, may never know how hard their dear one tried to come, nor how he almost succeeded. A train of wagons and ambulances, with surgeons and nurses, went out on our back track, to look after those who had given out by the way. It took them three days to go and return. They found a good many who, with a little help, were able to straggle into camp; some who were past walking, some dyingand  some already dead. They were scattered along the entire road, to where we were turned out. The dead were buried, and the living brought in and cared for. We stayed in Jacksonville about three weeks. During this time we drew new clothes, had our hair trimmed, beards shaved, and changed till we hardly knew each other. We were then put on a steam boat and taken to Fernandina, where we were put on an ocean steamer, called “Cassandra.” That evening we steamed out upon the Atlantic, and began to enjoy (?) a sea voyage. We put in at Port Royal, and took aboard a large lot of ice, and four or five nice military officers. We asked those who loaded the ice, what it was for, and they told us it was furnished by the Sanitary Commission, for the sick soldiers. We supposed that meant us-but we soon found we were mistaken. It was kept in a refrigerator built on purpose, that opened on, the top deck, and was securely locked up. They expected it to be kept for the use of the ship's officers and those nice military  fellows in the cabin. We thought it a clear case of misappropriation. The next morning when the steward went to get a piece, to fix up mint-slings, and such luxuries, he found the door wide open and the ice all gone. You guess! In three or four days we reached Fortress Monroe. Then Annapolis, where we disembarked. Then over the Baltimore & Ohio railroad to Camp Chase, Ohio-where we were discharged on the 16th of June. Then home. I was to my folks as one from the dead. They had given me up. Mother told me that she would never be any surer that I was dead, unless I should die at home, than she had been. What a time we had. There were no dry eyes. Does the reader ask what became of my old comrades, Cudge and John? They were murdered by an agent of the United States Government. They got to Vicksburg, and were exchanged all right, and were to be sent North for discharge. The steamboat “Sultana” was at the  landing. If she had been in good condition, five or six hundred men would have been a good load for her; but the inspectors had condemned her as unsafe. Yet in the face of this fact, the agent was induced by some means to give her the extraordinary load of eighteen hundred human beings! She did not run far, till she exploded and burned up. Nearly all on board perished. Charley Higgins, of my company, one of the few survivors of that catastrophe, told me this: John, Cudge, and himself had lain down between the engines; Charley in the rear, John in the middle, and Cudge in front, or next to the boilers. When the boilers burst, Charley and John sprang up; but seeing Cudge lie still, Charley ran to him and took hold of him to help him up. But something had struck and killed him! John and Charley then ran and jumped into the river among the hundreds of struggling mortals. Charley was picked up about five miles below swimming and floating with the current. John was never found.