Chapter 17: the exchange and return north.

We left Columbia, but no one knew where we were going. After a slow run of three hours the engine struck a cow; as the cow would not get off the track the engine did, and we were delayed several hours, but we did not mind that. Having no destination, we might as well be in one place as another. After being two days on the cars we arrived at Charlotte, N. C.

It was quite evident that the rebels were near the last ditch. Our South Carolina guard would not go into North Carolina, and we had a new guard from the latter State. We left the cars and marched to camp, where an order was read, signed by Adjutant-General Cooper, that a general exchange of prisoners would begin at once. Many took no stock in the order and escaped, but the guard did little or nothing to prevent them, and the next day the officers commanding in the city requested us to remain in camp, as they had a strong police guard in the city and we might get into trouble.

We had had some fun mixed with our misery. Our band had retained their instruments, and while they. had not played at Camp Sorghum for want of strings, with the money we received they bought new ones, and our glee club was as good as ever. The citizens often came from the city to hear --them sing. [175]

One day we had a rich treat. The adjutant of an Ohio regiment wrote a song called “Sherman's march to the sea,” Major Isitt and Lieutenant Rockwell arranged the music, and one night the glee club sang it from the steps of the hospital. The boys went wild over it, and even the rebels could not fail to appreciate it. We also organized the I. O. of M. E. (Independent Order of Mush Eaters), and met in house No. 9. It was not a charitable organization, as we had no charity for any one. Our meetings were opened by the prisoners forming a circle, one man in the centre with a stick. He must do something for the entertainment of the brothers, then give the stick to another, who must do the same, and so on, until all had done their part.

We brought out some fine talent, and were the liveliest crowd in prison. Often we would go out and catch some fellow, who was despondent and nearly dead with the blues, bring him before the Grand Mogul and try him for some offence by court-martial. While he would get mad, kick and swear, it revived him, gave us lots of fun, and as we elected him a Mush Eater, it gave him a chance to enjoy the meetings. I remember one lieutenant of an Illinois regiment who had dug a hole in the ground and declared that he would not come out, but would die there. One night he came out, was tried and sentenced to be marched around the camp. The sentence was duly executed, the comb band playing the “Rogue's march.” He began to improve after that, attended the meetings regularly, and, I believe, was elected to the office of Deputy High Grand M. E. We undertook to capture a captain of a Tennessee regiment, called “Puddinghead Hayes,” but, as he could whip any two of us, we let him alone. [176]

One afternoon at three o'clock the order was given to “fall in.” It was an uncommon call at this hour, and “exchange” thoughts came to all. Soon the adjutant introduced us to a new commander, a Dutchman who had just come from the north, having been captured at Gettysburg. Said he: “Ghentlemens, I comes to take command of you. I have been in Fort Delaware fifteen months. You peoples teach me how to behave myself. I does for you all I can. You treats me like ghentleman, I treats you like ghentlemen. This place not fit for hogs. I sends in one hundred load of straw, right away, quick. Break ranks, march!” He went through our quarters and swore worse than we could at our treatment. He then went to the hospital, had a row with the surgeon because he had done nothing to make us comfortable, and kicked up a row generally in our behalf. We felt that “the morning light was breaking” for us, and that we should now be made comfortable. The major came in the next day with more suggestions, but in a day or two we saw him no more. He was not the man the rebels wanted, as they were not anxious for our comfort, and his official head was removed as soon as he made requisition for the straw.

On the 20th, two hundred of us left to be exchanged. We had quite a pleasant ride to Salisbury. Here I saw some of my men, the first I had seen since we left them at Macon, in July. I remember two, my first sergeant, James Smith, and Private Jerry Kelly. I dare not undertake to describe their condition; they were nearly starved to death and could only walk by the aid of sticks. They told me of the other boys captured,--that Lubin, a young recruit, had died three days after entering Andersonville; that Sergt. Geo. E. Morse and Levi Wooffindale of Company G, and many [177] others, had died at Andersonville, Florence and other prisons; for, like us, they had been carted from one place to another, but their faces brightened as they said, “Not one of the boys went back on the old flag.” I had been proud of the 19th regiment from the first day I joined it, but never did I see the time when I loved and respected those boys more than that day.

More than thirty thousand were crowded into the pen at Andersonville. They had seen their comrades die at the rate of two hundred a day; they had been offered plenty of food and clothing, and no fighting, if they would renounce their allegiance to the old flag and join the southern Confederacy, but they said, “No No! Death before dishonor!” and waited to join their comrades beneath the starry flag if they lived free, if not to join those who had been loyal and true in the camp on the other shore.

We went from Charlotte to Goldsboro, where we arrived the next morning. Here we saw the worst sight that the eyes of mortal ever gazed upon. Two long trains of platform cars, loaded with our men, came in. They had been three days on the road, expecting to be exchanged at Wilmington, but as the city was being bombarded, were turned back. As they were unloaded not one in fifty was able to stand. Many were left dead on the cars, the guards rolling them off as they would logs of wood; most of them were nearly naked, and their feet and hands were frozen; they had lost their reason; could not tell the State they came from, their regiment or company. We threw them what rations we had, and they would fight for them like dogs, rolling over each other in their eagerness to get the least morsel. I remember one poor fellow who had lost his teeth by scurvy; [178] he would pick raw corn out of the dirt by the railroad track and try to eat it. We gave them everything we had. I took my only shirt from my back and threw it to them; others did the same. The rebels allowed us to mingle with them, and with tears streaming down our cheeks we did what we could.

Lieutenant McGinnis and I were looking for our men, when we found one named Thompson, of his company. He was a noble fellow, one of the largest men in the regiment; the only clothing he had on was part of a shirt and that was covered with vermin; he had lost his sight and was almost gone; he died while we were with him. I took a little fellow in my arms and carried him across the street; he could not have been over sixteen years old, and did not weigh more than fifty pounds; he died just as I laid him down.

The men were marched to a camp, and the route was strewn with dead and dying. The citizens gathered around, but I saw or heard no expressions of sympathy. One of our officers said, “My time is out, but all I ask is a chance to once more take the field; I would try and get square.” A rebel officer heard him, and replied, “You are just the man I would like to meet.” Our officer stepped out and said, “Here I am, I have been more than a year in prison, but I will whip you or any other rebel you can furnish.” The rebel sneaked away, and said he would not disgrace himself by fighting a Yankee except in battle. We wished he had given our man a chance.

We were again ordered on board the cars, and it was reported that we were going to Richmond for exchange. We went as far as Raleigh, where we halted, left the train and marched to an old camp. There were a few houses standing, but not [179] enough to hold one-fourth of our number. The rain came down in torrents and we stood all night under the trees. I never passed a more uncomfortable night, for besides being wet and cold, I suffered with hunger.

On the 23d they loaded us on the cars again, and had just started, when the engine ran off the track. This time the cause was an open switch. We believed that the switch was intentionally left open, but the train ran so slowly that we were off the cars as soon as the engine left the track, and no one was hurt. We were then taken to Camp Holmes, some three miles out of the city, and paroles were made out and signed. This settled the question of escape and we began to feel happy. We remained here until the 26th, and began to think that the parole was another trap to keep us with a small guard. All were excited, and had they not moved three hundred at noon I don't believe a man able to travel would have remained in camp that night.

On the morning of the 27th we found ourselves in Goldsboro again, and were marched to camp. Here we had to sign another parole, as the first was not made out properly. All these delays were terrible; our nervous condition was such that we could not sleep, and days were as long as weeks. We received very little food, and here I sold the last thing that would bring a dollar,--the buttons on my jacket. These brought me eighteen dollars,--two dollars each. It would buy just food enough to sustain life. At night the rebels gave us some rations, but, hungry as we were, we sent all to the enlisted men.

The 28th, at five P. M., we again went on board the train, and at daylight, March 1, were at Rocky Point, three miles from our lines. Here we left the cars, the rebel guard formed [180] in line and we were counted through. As soon as we passed the rebel lines we ran down the road, cheering and singing. About a quarter of a mile further on the guard stopped us and formed us in some kind of order. Although we were with the boys in blue we did not fully realize that we were free, and clung to all our prison outfit. We marched about a mile to the northeast bridge on the Cape Fear River, and on the other side saw an arch covered with the stars and stripes. In the centre of the arch, surrounded by a wreath of evergreen, were the words, “Welcome, brothers!” I have no idea what the joy will be when I pass through the pearly gates and march up the golden streets of the New Jerusalem, but if it is half as great as it was the morning of March 1, 1865, when for the first time for nearly nine months I saw the old flag, I shall be satisfied.

One who did not understand the situation would have thought that an insane asylum had been turned loose. We hugged each other, laughed, cried, prayed, rolled over in the dirt, and expressed our joy, each in his own way. Those who had clung to their meal threw it high in air, and for once meal was plenty.

The 6th Connecticut were encamped near, and their band played national airs as we marched over the bridge. We also found our true friend, the colored man, not as a slave, but as a man and a comrade, clothed in loyal blue and fighting for a flag that never, until President Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation, had protected him. As soon as we were over the bridge they began to provide for our wants. Hard-tack boxes were burst open, coffee and meat were furnished in abundance; but we had been starving so long that we did not think it would last, and I remember [181] that I packed my old jacket — now fastened together with wooden pins — full, and as it settled down crowded in more. We drank so much coffee that we were nearly intoxicated.

We cheered the boys who had provided so well for us, and started for Wilmington. We did not march, but hobbled along as best we could, anxious to get as far as possible from the rebels. We clung to our instruments, and carried the big base viol by turns. It was my turn to carry it, and McGinnis and I started down the railroad. We had gone but a short distance when we met an officer, who asked me where I got the big fiddle. I told him I had played it in church before I enlisted; that I carried it with me when I left home and had it on picket; was in the middle of a tune when the rebels came on me, and as I could not stop playing was captured. The man looked at me and said, “I believe that's a d — d lie.” “Well,” I said, “you have a right to think so,” and we moved along. I do not remember what became of the instrument.

Arriving at Wilmington, we were collected together and rations were served. Here we were placed under guard to prevent our eating too much, but we would capture the rations each side of us and fill our pockets. As soon as we had eaten all we could, we would pass out, and in half an hour try to flank in again. The sanitary commission were on hand with barrels of weak milk punch and gave us all we wanted; as we wanted everything to eat or drink that we saw we destroyed large quantities of it. While standing on the street an officer rode up whom I recognized as Col. Henry A. Hale, formerly a captain in my regiment. He was serving on the staff of the general commanding the department. He took me to a gunboat in the river and [182] bought me a suit of sailor's clothes. After a good bath I was transformed from a dirty prisoner into a respectable Jack Tar. I threw my old clothes overboard, and they floated down the stream freighted with a crew which had clung to me closer than a brother for the past nine months, and whose united voices I thought I heard singing “A life on the ocean wave” as they passed out to sea.

I returned to the city and walked about, often meeting some of the men of my regiment, among them Michael O'Leary of Company F, who looked as though he had just come off dress parade, having a new uniform and his shoes nicely polished. He was delighted to see me, said that the rebels had urged him to take the oath of allegiance, but he had told them he could never look Mary Ann in the face if he went back on the old flag. He told me of a number of the men who had died, among them my old friend Mike Scannell. That night I stood in front of the theatre, my hands in my empty pockets, wondering if I should ever have money enough to purchase a ticket.

March 3, we went on board the transport “General Sedgwick,” bound for Annapolis. We pulled out near Fort Fisher and lay over night. Some of us went on shore at Smithfield and had a nice time. On the 4th we got under way. It was the second inauguration of President Lincoln, and all the ships were gaily decked with flags. We passed out over the bar. The ship was crowded; my berth was on the floor between decks. I find the last entry in my diary is, “Oh, how sick I am!” I did not come on deck for four days, and suffered more than I can tell. The sea broke over the ship, and the water came down the hatchway. A western officer, suffering near, aroused me by exclaiming, “My [183] God! Jack, there is a board off somewhere; don't you see the water coming in?” I didn't care if they were all off.

We arrived at Annapolis and quartered in the several hotels. The following day we received two months pay. I bought a good uniform of a Jew for seventy-five dollars. It was a nice blue when I first put it on, but before I arrived home it was as brown as a butternut. We ate from six to ten meals a day for a week, then received thirty days furlough and came home to friends who had almost given us up for dead.

I never looked better than when I arrived home. I had bloated so that I was the picture of health, and no matter what account I gave of prison life my face contradicted it, so I said little. After thirty days at home I did not feel able to return, and received an extension. The war was nearly over, Richmond had fallen, and I was miles away, a paroled prisoner, not allowed to bear arms until exchanged.

While at home I had the pleasure of meeting my old comrade, Isaac H. Boyd. He had started as a private in Company A, and was now major of the regiment. I left him one Saturday at the Providence depot in Boston, he returning to the front. In two weeks I received his body at the same depot. He was killed in the last battle of the war, the day before Lee surrendered,--one of the bravest officers who ever drew a sword.

Early in May I returned to Annapolis, and was pleasantly quartered in the house of a Mr. Harper, the only man in the city who voted for President Lincoln in 1860. While standing on the street one day a small squad of prisoners passed. This was an unusual sight, as all had come through the lines weeks before. I heard a voice say, “How are you, captain?” [184] and looking up saw a white head sticking out of a bundle of rags, and recognized Sergt. Mike Scannell. I said, “Mike, you are dead.” “Not yet,” was the reply; “but I have been mighty near it. I was sent out to die at Andersonville, from there was taken to Blackshire, Fla., kept until the war was over, then taken within several miles of our lines and turned loose.” With him was Mike O'Brien of my company,--hard looking, but full of courage.

On the 15th of May I was discharged by general order, went to Washington, received my full pay, with transportation to West Newbury, Mass. I waited to see the grand review of the armies before returning home. The first day the Army of the Potomac passed. As the 2d corps drew near I became anxious, and walked towards the Capitol. The white trefoil came in sight, and at the head of the dear old regiment rode Colonel Rice. He saw me and turned out of the line to shake hands. Next came Captain Hume,--the only line officer commissioned when we were captured. He stopped, and the boys came from every company; for a few moments I held a reception. Colonel Rice urged me to come to the regiment, saying he had found a place for me. I informed him that I was discharged, and was going home, but he said, “Come and see me day after to-morrow.” In compliance with his request I went out to Munson's Hill to visit the regiment, and before night was mustered as captain, and assigned to the command of Company B.

The duty was very pleasant. I was in command of the regiment a few days during the absence of Colonel Rice and Captain Hume, and was two weeks on courts-martial detail. June 30 the regiment was mustered out of service, and left for Massachusetts, arriving at Readville July 3. We were [185] invited to take part in the parade in Boston July 4, and Colonel Rice was quite anxious that we should. After we went to our quarters for dinner Colonel Rice was called to Boston. Nearly all the officers had business there, and when we boarded the train found the men taken the same way. The colonel did not blame them, and said it was all right if we would report at 9 A. M. the next day at the Providence depot. All promised. I did not expect they would come but went to the station at the hour named. I found Colonel Rice and one private. We waited a while, but no more reported, and as we three would not make much of a show, concluded to give it up.

July 20 we assembled at Readville for final pay. The men returned to their homes and took up the duties of citizens which they had laid down to become soldiers,--and the 19th Regiment Massachusetts Volunteers became a thing of the past.

The regiment had been frequently complimented by its superior officers for soldierly conduct, and the following General Orders will show the opinion in which we were held:--

General order no. 21.

Headquarters 2d Army Corps, July 23, 1862.
The general commanding would hereby announce to this corps d'armee the fine appearance on the review to-day of the 19th Massachusetts and 1st Minnesota regiments. The condition of these regiments is an honor to their States, and reflects great credit upon their commanders.

By command of Major-General Sumner, Official. L. Kip, A. D. C. and A. A. G. W. D. Sedgwick, A. A G.


General order no. 105.

Headquarters 2d Division, 2d Corps, Edward's Ferry, Va., June 26, 1863.
The 15th and 19th Massachusetts Volunteers, for marching to-day in the best and most compact order, and with the least straggling from their ranks, are excused from all picket duty and outside details for four days.

By command of

Of the thirty-seven commissioned officers who left Massachusetts with the regiment in 1861 only one returned,--Col. Edmund Rice, who went out as captain and came home colonel commanding the regiment.

Fourteen officers and two hundred fifty men were either killed or died of wounds received in action, and four hundred forty-nine were discharged for disability, occasioned by wounds or disease contracted in the service.

In no better way can I close my story than by quoting from the 1865 report of Adjutant-General Schouler:--

“No regiment has had a more eventful history, or has fought more, fought better, or performed its duties with more promptitude and alacrity. During its existence the regiment has been engaged in forty-five battles and skirmishes, in six of which it has lost from one-third to five-sixths of its men. It has captured and turned over to the War Department seven stands of colors (1st Texas, 14th, 19th, 53d, and 57th Virginia, 12th South Carolina and 47th North Carolina) and six pieces of artillery. When it is said that the regiment has been characterized by the most kindly and brotherly feeling, the best discipline and alacrious obedience in all ranks, that it has been frequently commended and never censured by its superior commanders — the story is done.”

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