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[132]

Chapter 14: Columbia.--presidential election.

We arrived at Columbia in a drenching rain, were taken out of the cars, and remained in a field near the depot until the next morning. We had no chance to make a fire, and were wet, cold and hungry. Along the tracks were cars filled with families who had fled from Charleston and Atlanta. We saw several very beautiful ladies among them, dressed well, and wearing jewelry, but they were silent and sullen.

We were guarded by the Columbia Cadets, a fine body of young men from the military school. The command was given to fall in, and we were informed that we must march about a mile to a camp ground, and should be made very comfortable. On the way we passed the Confederate money factory. As the girls employed there came to the windows we called to them to throw us out a bushel or two, as they could make plenty more. They laughed, threw kisses at us, and for a moment we forgot that we were prisoners, and felt that we were going out on a picnic. We marched about two miles, and arrived at our camp ground. This consisted of several acres, covered with a second growth of wood. A guard line was made around it, and sentries were posted. Twenty feet from the guard line was the dead line. This time it was a furrow ploughed around the camp. Our cadet guards were relieved by the militia, and we were turned in like so many hogs. [133]

These were the comfortable quarters promised. The wood and water were outside the lines, and we had to wait our turn to go out. No sinks were provided, and only twelve men were allowed out at a time. It was terrible. Nearly every man in prison suffered from diarrhea. It was no uncommon sight to see one hundred men standing in line; many were obliged to remain there nearly all the time.

We were in this condition for more than a week, then eight axes and ten shovels were given the fifteen hundred prisoners, and the guard line was extended an hour a day, to give us a chance to cut wood and gather brush for shelter. Our little mess located under a tree, and our rule was that one should always be at home; but for some cause one day all were absent for a few moments, and when we returned could not find where we lived, as our tree had been cut down.

We had heard much of the sunny south, and did not expect cold weather, but the night of October 9 was so cold that we could not sleep, and a white frost covered the ground in the morning. Our rations were in keeping with the place. A pint of corn-meal, bitter and half bran, a day, and a pint of sorghum molasses for five days. We named the prison Camp Sorghum. Many could not draw the molasses, having nothing to put it in, but my old pitcher worked in handy for that purpose.

As soon as possible we began to build huts. We increased our mess to five, one having a blanket. We dug a hole in the ground two feet deep, covered it with poles set up on ends, then with brush, and outside a coating of dirt. This was first rate when it did not rain, but as soon as the dirt became wet it would soak through the brush and drop on us as we tried to sleep. At night four would lie down, then [134] the fifth would squeeze in, covering us with our only blanket. When we wanted to turn over some one would say, “About.” The odd man would get up, all turn over, then he would jam in again. So we lay, packed like sardines in a box, keeping alive from the warmth we received from each other.

After a while sinks were dug, and the lines extended so as to take in the brook that ran in the rear of the camp. Nearly all the men were barefoot, and it was laughable to see us wash. We stood in the water, which was very cold,. and danced while we washed our faces and hands.

Besides our other troubles we were in constant fear of being shot by the guard. One evening, as we were gathered in little groups around the fires, we heard a shot and saw Lieutenant Young of the 4th Pennsylvania cavalry throw up his hands and fall dead. Upon investigation we learned that one of the guards had asked another if he supposed he could hit a man at that distance. A doubt being expressed he drew up his piece and fired, with the result as stated. Another time an officer was waiting with his axe on his shoulder to go out for wood. He was standing several feet from the dead line when the guard fired,--killing him instantly. We made every possible effort to have the rebel officers take some action that would prevent our comrades from being murdered. The guard who did the shooting was relieved one day, and the next appeared on duty on the front line of the camp. As far as we could learn he was never reprimanded.

The presidential election was drawing near, and was the subject for discussion in the prison. The rebels were much interested in it, and their papers were filled with complimentary words for General McClellan, the Democratic nominee. [135] They were sure that his election would bring peace, and that the south would gain its independence. They tried to impress us with the idea that the election of McClellan meant liberty for us, but as much as we desired release from captivity, we had learned that what the rebels desired was just what they ought not to have.

The election was held October 17. Why that day was selected I do not remember, but it is possible because we could not wait longer. We were to vote by States, the senior officers of each having charge of the poll. It was an exciting day. General McClellan had many warm friends, who had followed him in battle and loved him as their first commander, but it was evident by the debates that “honest Abe Lincoln” was the favorite with the majority. The polls opened at nine A. M.; the ticket distributors were on hand as at home. I think the polls closed at twelve M. Then all rushed to the bulletin board, where the returns were posted, to learn the result. Lincoln received one thousand twenty-three, McClellan, one hundred forty-three, and two hundred four did not take interest enough to vote. We Republicans were delighted, and expressed our joy by giving three hearty cheers. It told us that a large majority believed in the wise administration of Abraham Lincoln, and although many of them had been in prison sixteen months their faith had not been shaken. The excitement did us all good. The vote of Massachusetts was Lincoln, forty-three; McClellan, five. The only States that went for McClellan were Kentucky — and Tennessee. Kentucky gave McClellan fifteen, Lincoln, thirteen; Tennessee, McClellan, thirty-one; Lincoln, twenty-six.

We had another pleasant event. One day some boxes came in, sent by our sanitary commission. They contained [136] drawers, shirts, handkerchiefs and a few dressing gowns. There was enough for one article to each officer, and we drew them by lots. McGinnis was lucky, as he drew a dressing gown, and his clothing being worn out he used it for a full suit. He had been sick, and his hair had fallen from his head; he looked like the “priest all shaven and shorn” as he walked about the prison. I was not so fortunate, as I drew only a handkerchief.

The wardrobes of all required replenishing. I wore the same shirt I had on when captured, and although it had not been washed oftener than was necessary it was too thin for comfort. My light blue pants were worn at the knees and fringed at the bottoms, so I cut off the skirts of my dark blue coat to repair them. My hat was open at the top and the rim was nearly separated from the crown. I found an old piece of tent and made a new crown, and with the thread raveled out of the canvas sewed on the rim. My boots were worn out, and my feet were bare.

No meat of any kind was issued to us at Columbia, but we drew some one day quite unexpectedly. A wild boar rushed out of the woods. It passed the guard and came into camp. Every one was after it, and Captain Brown of a Pennsylvania regiment threw himself on the back of the hog and with his knife cut its throat. Without waiting to dress it, he began cutting off pieces and throwing them to the crowd. The smell of fried pork soon pervaded the camp, and in fifteen minutes after the boar passed the guard every particle was devoured.

Once in a while an officer would trade for a little meat, and while they did not entertain company frequently they sometimes gave banquets. Captains Hastings and Creasey and [137] Lieutenants Cross, Moody and Chute messed together. One day they obtained a shin bone with a little meat on it, and were going to have a grand dinner. I was invited as their special guest. They had some rice and made dumplings out of their corn-meal ration. Captain Hastings was cook, but we sat around to rake the fire and make suggestions. We would taste of it as it boiled, and could hardly wait for the captain to pronounce it cooked. The kettle rested on two sticks, and just as we were getting ready to take it from the fire the back stick burned in two and over went the soup. We looked at each other for five minutes without speaking, then I arose, said I guessed I would not stop to dinner, and went back to my quarters a hungry, broken-hearted man.

The officers were constantly escaping. Every night the guard would fire, and while no one was wounded we knew some one had passed out. The rebels called the roll or counted us every day. This was done by driving all to the dead line and counting from right to left. After the right had been counted we would skip down through the camp and fall in on the left. In that way we made our number good, but so many were recaptured and brought — back that they mistrusted what we were doing, and made us stand in line until all were counted.

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