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Chapter 7:

  • Macon
  • -- a Southern Unionist in the rebel army -- beneath a Georgia sun -- secession speech -- thoughts of home-political prisoners -- horrible place -- offer of the Gospel-Lieutenant A. P. Collins -- contemplated escape -- robes of blood! -- Pinning a Federal soldier to the ground.

We were next taken to Macon, Georgia. Traveling by night in box-cars, we had little opportunity to see the country. We were much annoyed on this trip by drunken, profane, and sleepy guards. Their cuffs and curses were almost too intolerable to be borne.

On board the train, however, there was one companionable and intelligent gentleman. I regret that I cannot record his name, for he was a worthy man, and a lover of his country. He related to me many strange inconsistencies of rebeldom. Said he:

I am here in the army. I was a Douglas Democrat, and opposed this war until my life was threatened. My only alternative was to become a soldier. You may think your case a hard one, sir, but I would readily exchange with you, for then I should not be compelled to [92] fire upon any who rallied beneath the stars and stripes. I was in the Mexican war, and there followed the dear old flag until it floated proudly over the metropolis of the enemy.

He also informed me that he had a family dependent upon him for a livelihood, and complained of a government that paid eleven dollars a month to soldiers, and allowed fifty dollars per barrel to be exacted for flour, and all other necessaries in proportion. Pointing to his coarse shoes, he said:

These cost me eleven dollars; this flimsy clothing I wear cost ten dollars a yard. Once times were good and we were content and happy; but now my family is suffering, and I know not my own fate, I know not whether you are a Christian or not; but, sir, my hope is in the Lord. He knows my heart; and although I am compelled to do what I believe to be wrong, I feel that God will forgive me for my family's sake.

He was a member of the Methodist Church South, an uneducated man, but honest and humble. He remarked that, if our conversation were overheard, we would both be in danger of immediate death.

The morning light appeared at last, and we [93] were passing through a level, boggy country, very thinly inhabited.

Soon after dawn, the long, shrill scream of the locomotive announced that we were approaching a place of some note. In a few minutes we were in Macon depot; but of our destiny or doom we knew nothing. At this time there were about six hundred of us. Not until ten o'clock were we permitted to move, hungry and hampered as we were. Then we were taken from the cars, and for the first time set our feet on the traitor-cursed soil of Bibb county, Georgia. In a short time we were driven, like a herd of mules, to the fair-ground, an area of three acres, surrounded by a picketfence. Within were several large, rough, wooden buildings thrown together for the purpose of holding Yankee prisoners.

It was now the 29th of May, and the noonday heat was intense. They kept us sweltering in the broiling sun for more than two hours, and our sufferings were excessive. Suddenly the attention of the crowd was attracted by a pompous-looking individual, who mounted a stump in the enclosure, and began, with violent gesticulations, to harangue the prisoners.

The substance of this speech is herewith appended, though I confess my inability to transmit [94] it in the patois in which it was spoken. It is reported to serve as a specimen of the average of Southern logic and oratory, such as often harried our unwilling ears:

Prisoners, you have been committed to my charge, and you know that you are invaders of our soil. You have been stealing our property, and running them off to Canada and other places. And when we appealed to you to deliver up our slaves, you passed liberty bills in your States, nullifying a law that had been passed by the legislature, declaring that you would not regard the Fugitive Slave Law. We, in assuming the position we now do, are acting as a safeguard to our slaves, and protecting them as our property-property to which we have the right guaranteed to us by God himself, when he said, ‘Servants, be obedient unto your masters.’ But you of the North have violated the Word of God, and the Constitution of the once United States. When we asked to secede from you, giving you all your rights, and demanding only our own, your government waged an unholy war against us — have carried it into our country with all its carnage, destruction, and bloodshed. The God of battles is turning all things in our favor, and we are driving your army from our soil-taking your [95] men prisoners, which is your own sad experience. Now, prisoners, you are in my charge, and I am sure you cannot expect me to treat you only as invaders of our soil, and murderers of our countrymen. Notwithstanding all this, I shall try to do the best for you, as poor unfortunate prisoners, that the conscience of a brave and gallant officer would allow him. While you obey my orders strictly, you shall not suffer. But if you disobey them, you must expect to take the consequences.

After this address, embodying so much profundity and wisdom, we were surrounded by a heavy guard, and taken within the guard-lines located on the grounds referred to.

What a dreary spot for our abode, to be endured we knew not how long! A gloomy, dismal pen was to be our habitation. The only shade afforded us was that of a few straggling pine-trees, beneath which we sat at times, brooding over our forlorn and desolate situation. Oh! how wearily passed the days! how sadly the nights! How much did our thoughts revert to the “loved ones at home,” and how in imagination did we realize the loneliness of their sorrowing hearts!

Mr. Rogers-before spoken of-came and informed me that a group of men standing at a [96] little distance were from Tennessee and Mississippi, with several of whom he was well acquainted, and asked me to accompany him to where they were. I did so, and learned that there were seven hundred from those States in prison, many of whom had been incarcerated ten or twelve months without any change of clothing, or any comfort to relieve the gloom and monotony of prison life. Among them were lawyers, doctors, and clergymen-persons who had been accustomed to the luxuries of refined society, and the endearments of home. A volume might be written, recording the reflections, sufferings, and experiences of each of these brothers, shut up there in a loathsome prison for faithful adhesion to their loyalty. During that night I slept but little, and said less. My mind was busy in contemplation.

Mr. Rogers conducted me the next night to a long board shanty, which was used as a hospital for the sick and wounded. When I entered, my heart sickened at the awful sight presented. There were confined within that rough wooden enclosure about one hundred sick and dying, with nothing upon which to rest their aching heads. We began the work of contributing as much as possible to their comfort, and of alleviating their sufferings. Most of them [97] were victims of typhoid fever. We had no light to guide us, and the only way we could distinguish the dead from the living was by touch. From time to time was it our painful duty to carry the dead bodies of these, our fellow-prisoners, and lay them upon the grass, where they would often be suffered to remain two or three days, when, being tumbled into rough boxes, they were put upon a dray, and taken we knew not whither. This night was one of gloom, loneliness, and desolation. Our bed was the hard floor, and sleep was too “coy a dame” to be won to conditions so comfortless and lorn. I lay longing for the morning which came at last; and never did I greet the light of day more joyously than the 30th of May, 1862. This was my first night in Macon, Georgia, among the sick, dead, and dying. The place or pen thus used for a hospital, and the ground enclosing it, were of such limited dimensions, that the large number of men found it impossible to be other than exceedingly uncomfortable, and their clothes became infested with bugs and vermin.

The night of the 30th passed wearily away, and ushered in the Sabbath-“soft halcyon on life's turbid waters.” The other ministers sought [98] to hold a meeting, and I went to the commandant to obtain his consent, which he granted. With a light heart, I returned to my brother ministers to report my success. A moment after, a note was handed us, stating that no religious services, public or private, would be permitted. After the lapse of a brief period, they concluded to send their own chaplain to preach to us. But we declined to hear him; and I was appointed to give our reasons therefor, which I did as pertinently as possible. They then threatened to force us to become listeners to sentiments which were utterly incompatible with our views of patriotism and Christianity. But they parleyed, and finally desisted from their threats.

It was here that I first became acquainted with Lieutenant A. P. Collins, a gentleman of refinement and culture, and with whom I was destined afterward to share incredible sufferings and perils. He was a religious man, and a graduate of the Ohio Wesleyan University at Delaware, Ohio. He had in his possession a portion of the Old and New Testament, and with this volume it was our wont every day to repair to the shade of the pine-trees for meditation, reading, and prayer. The idea of escaping [99] from our horrible imprisonment, which was every day growing more and more severe, seemed to enter both our minds at about the same time, and we agreed to make it a subject of special prayer. We shrank at the thought of abandoning our comrades in distress; but the hope of life, and the possibility of again striking a blow for justice and right, stimulated us while contemplating such a daring and dangerous project. We looked upon the height of the picket-fence that environed us, the vigilant guard of four hundred men that watched our every movement, and the battery of artillery planted within the enclosure, and our hearts oftentimes sank within us. But our friends were dying around us, and day by day we saw them deposited in rude boxes, hurried forever from our sight. Once we relinquished our hope of personal deliverance, and determined to remain with our brethren, and, if necessary, die with them. Many who perished there were noble men, though they passed away “unwept, unhonored, and unsung.” We now concluded to continue our prayer-meetings in the hospital. In this work we seconded the efforts of the Rev. Mr. Rogers, Dr. Doke, of East Tennessee, and Dr. Fisk, of Illinois. We [100] had not acquainted these gentlemen with our plans. Their names should never die, for

Midst fawning priests and courtiers foul,
The losel swarm of crown and cowl,
White-robed walked these noble men,
Stainless as Uriel in the sun.

Their deeds of mercy were too many for record here. No circumstances too repulsive, no night too dark, no duty too onerous, but they were ready for every good word and work. Where suffering and pain were, there were they present to alleviate and sympathize, and many a poor fellow, now gone to his long home, blessed them for prayers and consolations in the night of death.

These noble philanthropists determined to ask for something to mitigate the sufferings of the prisoners, and accordingly made an appeal through a humane surgeon for some bedding on which the dying men might rest. This man carried the message to the commandant, Major Rylander, but that dignitary utterly refused to listen to the appeal. The surgeon then endeavored to awaken his humanity and Christian feeling; but he replied to all this, by saying very emphatically:

Sir, I have laid off my robe of righteousness, and put on one of blood, and the best way [101] to get rid of these d-d Yankees is to let them lay there and rot.

Such was the conduct of this man Rylander.

We were compelled still to submit to our fate, though we employed every effort in our power to alleviate the sufferings of our dying friends. One case, in particular, attracted my attention. A political prisoner named Foote, who had formerly been a captain of a steamboat plying on the Florida rivers, being suspected as a Union man, was arrested and thrown into prison. He was occasionally visited by his wife, and so careful were the rebels, notwithstanding their boasted superiority, that two guards with loaded guns were invariably detailed to dog the footsteps of this woman. A system of perfect espionage was constantly maintained, and so suspicious were the rebels of each other, that they would not permit a single guard, in any case, to accompany a prisoner. An instance of the most barbarous torture it was ever my lot to behold, I witnessed while here. It was inflicted upon a young man from Illinois, for some offence unknown to me. He was taken and stretched upon the ground, face downward, his legs and arms drawn as far apart as possible, and then pinned to the ground by driving stakes across them; and in this state [102] of terrible torture was he left for twenty-four hours.

Acts like these filled our hearts with the most gloomy forebodings, and we began to seriously deliberate the propriety of consummating our previously contemplated escape. We were about three hundred and fifty miles from the nearest point where the stars and stripes could be reached by water, and two hundred and eighty miles by land. The distance seemed to be insurmountable, to say nothing of the impossibility of surviving the hot weather. But the hope of liberty gave zest to the project, and we determined at once and for ever to abandon the scene of so much horror and misery.

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