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Chapter 15: the Presidential election.

  • False Promises of exchange.
  • -- searching for acquaintances. -- Presidential election. -- the result

Any one can see by my description of Camp Lawton, that it was a better place than Andersonville. Still it lacked a good deal of being a fit place in which to spend the winter.

When Tom and I entered, about the first of November, 1864, there were about ten thousand men there. They were all corralled on the west side of the creek, and were without shelter, except such miserable apologies as we saw in Andersonville.

Nearly all the men in the prison were [133] from that horrid pen-taken out on promise of exchange, only to keep them docile and tractable till they could get them to a safer place.

It is mean to raise hopes and dash them down, and the effect was plainly seen here in the large number in which hope was dead, and who were anxious to be dead literally, as the only way to escape from woes that had become unbearable.

Tom and I wandered about among these miserable wretches till dark, searching for our acquaintances. We found none that day. At night we picked out a place, and spreading our quilt — that woman's gift, we laid us down on the damp ground, under the cold gray mists of a November night. Thousands lay about us who had not even the comfort that we derived from our quilt, but chilled and shook the night away, with nothing but a ragged shirt and pants to shield their starving bodies. We ought to have been thankful, but we were not.

Next day we renewed our search, and found a number of our regiment-among them my partners in the sack tent. As I [134] still owned my share in that fly, and as Tom had found some of his former messmates, we swapped our quilt for a blanket, tore it in halves, and dissolved partnership. We were not tired of each other. We were always friends — more than friends-we were “pards.” Get some old soldier to tell you what that means, and you will know how strong was our attachment. We could each get a better shelter by separating; hence we tore the blanket.

The most notable event of our sojourn in this pen was the Presidential election. The rebels furnished us with papers containing extracts from Northern papers calling the war a failure, and saying that if McCellan is elected he will bring it to a close. You who were in the loyal States during that campaign, doubtless understood all the questions at issue. Only one question reached the wretched prisoner in his dreary pen. And that was raised by that plank in the platform on which Little Mc. stood-“Resolved, That the war is a failure.”

Rebel officers came in and talked freely [135] with us, giving it as their opinion that if McClellan was elected, the war would close and we would all be at home before Spring. For this they furnished us abundant proof from the Northern press. As the day of election approached, we became deeply interested, and but little was talked of but the great question at issue and the probable result.

Oh, how anxious we were to go home! To leave all that wretchedness behind! But did we want the questions of the war to fail in order that we could go home?

If Lincoln was elected it meant that the war would go on; that we would probably have to languish in prison for dreary months to come. To many it meant death by slow torture!

We became somewhat excited, and determined to vote on the questions ourselves. We knew our vote would not be counted in the returns, but we wanted to know how the prisoners would vote.

We made all needed arrangements to secure a fair election, and when the day came we voted. We had no electors on our [136] tickets, but voted directly for Lincoln and McClellan. I do not remember the exact number of votes cast for each candidate? but it was about eight thousand for Lincoln and fifteen hundred for “Little Mc.,” in a camp of ten thousand.

Does the reader of to-day understand that vote? What did it mean? What did it say to those rebel officers who watched it so closely? It meant that we were willing to chill and starve; to endure the horrors of prison pens; to die, or worse, to become lunatics and idiots if need be, rather than see the war closed with dishonor to the American flag. It said to those rebels, Do your worst, we'll never ask you for peace.

It says to the historian: You may take at random four names out of five, from the lists of our volunteer soldiers and write them by the side of Marcus Regulus, of immortal fame.

The rebels had counted us in companies of one hundred, for the purpose of issuing rations to us. Each company had a mess sergeant, whose duty it was to call up his hundred, to be counted in the morning, and [137] to draw and divide the rations in the afternoon. We voted by these company hundreds, in this election. Rebel officers were in the pen nearly all the day, watching for the result. But in the afternoon when we began to count the vote, and the “Lincoln hirelings” began to shout, and the “Mudsills” began to sing “The star-spangled Banner,” “Red, white and blue,” etc., they left in disgust.

I met one, a major, down by the bridge, as he was leaving. I asked him if he was satisfied with the returns. He answered:

That's yo affah, suh; I don't care how you vote! Jeff Davis is my candidate.

-- Yet something in his tone did belie his words. We serenaded the guard that night by singing “John Brown.” [138]

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