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Diary of Captain Robert E. Park, Twelfth Alabama regiment. [continued from August Number.]

October 26th, 1864

Much excitement in the hospital caused by an order to Dr. Chapel, Chief Surgeon, to select the worst wounded prisoners for exchange. Of thirty officers in my ward, only one was chosen to be sent South. The selection was left to that ignorant, [173] incompetent and unfeeling fanatic, Dr. Knowles. Any other surgeon would have sent Major Hanvey and myself South, as neither of us will be fit for active service in months, if ever again. Knowles will send only those who have lost an arm or leg, fearing the others, if allowed to breathe once more their free Southern air, may recover too speedily, and soon return with fresh ardor to their places in the Confederate army. Instead of being treated with the generous kindness due brave men, wounded and captured in honorable battle, we are talked to and treated as if we were criminals, and our minds, instead of having their asperities softened by magnanimity, are actually daily hardened and steeled against our uncharitable, harsh and cruel captors. It is an unnatural and diabolical policy to keep in durance vile sick and wounded prisoners, who are unable to injure their enemies, or serve their friends, for months, perhaps years, when, by exchanging for an equal number of their own disabled men in Southern prisons, they could diminish greatly the number of deaths, and alleviate a vast deal of unnecessary suffering, both physical and mental. There is intense and grievous disappointment felt at only one of thirty officers being chosen for exchange.

October 27th

Wrote a long letter by Private Watkins, of Fourteenth North Carolina, to my sister in La Grange, Georgia. He promised to conceal it until he can mail it on his arrival at Savannah. Few letters by flag of truce are ever forwarded.

October 28th

After eating my meagre breakfast, and lying down, discouraged and troubled at my failure to be sent off for exchange, I gave myself up to unpleasant thoughts of the unpromising and gloomy future before me. While thus ruminating, I saw the matron of the hospital, a large, rough-faced woman, walking slowly up the centre of the ward, glancing from right to left at the wounded men lying disconsolate on their bunks, and stopping as she reached mine. She approached me and said: “You are looking pale, and I guess have been right badly hurt.” I replied that I suffered a good deal, and needed more to eat than was furnished me; to which she said, “I guess you get all you are entitled to.” Soon after she proposed to cheer me up by singing to me, to which I readily assented. To my surprise and amusement, she began the well known, thread-bare Yankee song, “Rally round the flag, boys rally round the flag.” Its inappropriateness didn't seem to strike her, until, at the close of the first stanza, I mildly suggested that the song suited Union soldiers, and not unrepentant “Rebels” like [174] myself and comrades. I learned from her that some good Baltimore ladies had sent a supply of clothing to the hospital for the destitute prisoners, and, as I certainly came under that head, she promised to get me a suit on my procuring an order from the Chief Surgeon. She is coarse and ignorant, but seems to be kind-hearted.

October 29th, 30th and 31st

Some convalescent prisoners, who were rude and severe in their conversation, while complaining of the scarcity of their food, and the neglect of their comrades and themselves by the surgeon, were punished by being locked up all night in the “Dead House,” where those who died were placed while preparations were being made for their burial. The room was kept in utter darkness, the dead bodies lying, uncoffined frequently on the floor, and I imagine keeping forced company with the dead in such a manner was anything but cheerful and agreeable. Who, but an unfeeling wretch, would think of such a heartless punishment!

November 1st

Maryland was proclaimed a Free State to-day. I suppose Lincoln and Stanton will lose no time in recruiting soldiers from among the newly-freed negro slaves. Sheridan and Beast Butler would make suitable commanders for them. Cannons are firing, bells ringing, and flags flying in Baltimore. I could see the firing from Federal Hill. The so-called freedom of the ignorant and helpless negroes will prove a misguided and mock philanthrophy. They will never be so well cared for, nor so happy, as in a state of slavery to humane masters. Gold closed in Wall street yesterday at 229. There is much speculation in it, and apparently little confidence in greenbacks. The latter is rapidly depreciating, and bids fair to become as valueless as Confederate money.

November 2d and 3d

Am not at all well, and take some pills. Gold closed at 246 last night. There seems to be a financial panic.

November 4th, 5th, 6th and 7th

Have been quite sick with dysentery, caused, no doubt, by improper food. Knowles put me on what he calls “low diet,” but what is really “starvation fare.” Have received a kind letter from brave Captain Hugh E. Malone, of the Eighth Georgia, now wounded in both legs and a prisoner at Johnson's Island, Lake Erie. He is a near neighbor to my mother in Georgia, and a most capable and popular officer. Has been a prisoner since the battle of Gettysburg, and, during his confinement, was elected to the Georgia Legislature--a graceful compliment to real merit. My young lady friends in Winchester [175] write me often, always addressing me as “Dear cousin.” Their letters cheer and gladden me, greatly relieving the tedious monotony of prison life. Many of the prisoners receive letters from ladies in the North, whom they never saw, claiming to be “sisters,” “cousins” and “aunts,” offering to send supplies, if permitted. These noble women seek by this means to show their sympathy for us and our beloved cause. God will abundantly reward these gentle ministers of love and charity, who thus seek to do good to us who are “sick and in prison.” The papers are full of the presidential election contest between Lincoln and McClellan. While I prefer it, I have no hopes of the latter's election. The Southern people respect him as a true soldier and gentleman, who, while conducting his army through Southern territory, always bore in mind the rules of civilized warfare, and restrained his soldiers from acts of depredation and lawlessness. Yet his humane mode of war does not suit the Christian (?) North as well as the barbarous style of the barn-burner Sheridan and his robber followers. Sheridan laid the lovely Valley of Virginia to waste, and, according to his official report, burned 2,000 barns filled with wheat and hay, 70 mills stored with flour and grain, and drove off or killed 7,000 cattle and sheep, besides a number of horses. The axe and torch finished what the sword had left. For this vandalism he was promoted, while the humane McClellan was dismissed from his command. Such is Yankee civilization, humanity and christianity! The gentleman and scientific soldier is removed from power and disgraced, while the ruffian, robber, house and mill-burner and cattle thief is given higher office, lauded to the skies and made a hero of. It is matter of sincere congratulation that our chivalrous Southern leaders, Lee, Jackson, Stuart, Hampton, Rodes and others, are made of far different material from that which makes up the bloody butcher Grant, the bummer Sherman, the barn-burner Sheridan, the mulatto-women-lover Custer, and the degraded Beast Butler.

November 8th

Day of election for Northern President. Lincoln received 11,000 majority over McClellan in Baltimore. The Democrats were intimidated and kept away from the polls.

November 9th

The election news indicates that Lincoln and Stanton's bloody and despotic rule will continue four years more. The renegade Andrew Johnson was rewarded for betraying and deserting his native section, which had time and again heaped undeserved [176] honors on his unworthy head, by being chosen Vice-President.

November 10th

To my surprise and indignation, Knowles gave orders for no more meals to be carried to me, and that I should go to the tables on the ground floor provided for convalescents. I am required to go down and then up three steep flights of stairs, when I have not yet learned to use my crutches with any skill or ease, and have never yet attempted to walk out of my ward, and am still forced to carry my wounded leg and foot in a cloth swing suspended around my neck. Surely he cannot be in earnest, for he knows I am not able to go up and down those steps. My dinner was not brought me as formerly, and as I did not attempt to descend to the dining room, I had none. We have only two meals a day, breakfast and dinner: I have missed my dinner, and must go supperless to bed. Our meals are so scanty, that we can't afford to miss one. The loss of vital force and strength by the constant suppuration from my wound, which is still far from well, requires nutritious food, and plenty of it, to satisfy my craving appetite. As I lay on my hard and narrow bunk, my mind wanders to home and mother, and the recollections of the good things she has prepared for me in the past comes welling up before me, and drives away sleep. I feel famished, almost wolfish, I am so very hungry.

November 11th

I awoke early and ravenously hungry. Breakfast, after what seemed to me an endless delay, was brought to Major Hanvey and two or three others. None was brought to me, and I feel faint and sick from fasting. Dr. Knowles seemed to purposely avoid coming near me, but I called him, and asked that my meals be sent me as heretofore, declaring my inability to get down the precipitous steps. He replied that the exercise would do me good, and I must go down to my meals. I am sorry I made the request, as he has never been known to grant one. I missed my breakfast. It has been over twenty-four hours since I tasted food, and six or eight more must elapse before dinner hour. No wonder I became home-sick and desperately blue. How fully and painfully I realized that

Homeless, near a thousand homes I stood,
And, near a thousand tables, pined and wanted food.

Impelled by my craving appetite, some time before the dinner hour, I adjusted the cloth swing around my neck and leg, took up my rude crutches, and began to hobble, as best I could, from my [177] ward across two others to the stairs which I must descend. Arrived at the head of the stairs, I paused and looked with dread down the narrow, steep steps. I was so unaccustomed to my crutches that I felt sure I would lose my balance, and fall headforemost, if I tried to use them. So, tightening the cloth swing, and drawing the knee of my left (wounded) leg nearer my breast, and taking my crutches in each hand, I sat down, and began the laborious and painful descent. I would put my right foot down on a step, then raising my body with my arms and hands, would lower my hips to the next step above my foot, dragging my crutches after me, and, keeping my wounded leg elevated to prevent the painful rush of blood to my foot, I slowly made my way down the stairs. Frequently I would meet and be overtaken by nurses and convalescents, who would ask, “Why don't you have your meals carried to you?” and add, upon my explaining, “It is a d-d shame to make a cripple go down these steps.” After nearly half an hour I reached the lower floor, and soon found myself surrounded by a crowd of sick and wounded men, all impatient for the door of the mess-room to open. There were many weary, emaciated men and boys among them, and none looked as if they had enjoyed a “square meal” in weeks. Each strove to be nearest the door, that he might enter first. At last the door was opened, and all rushed eagerly in, the strong pushing the weak, and quickly took their seats, seized the food placed before them, and lost no time in devouring it. I was shown a seat at the end of the officers' table. Some cabbage, and two slices of loaf bread, three-quarters of an inch in thickness, were in a tin plate in front of me. Near by was a tin cup of soup, or “pot liquor,” as our negroes call it. In a very few minutes, I might say seconds, all the tables were cleared of their contents, and the men had left the room. Though not satisfied, I felt infinitely better after I had eaten all placed before me. All of it tasted well, too, and I felt like imitating Oliver Twist, and begging for “more.” I was not at all fastidious about it, and had no dyspepsia. No Southerner in a Yankee prison ever had that well known disease, so peculiar to over-fed Americans. A Yankee prison can beat any mineral springs for curing dyspepsia. They put you on “low diet.” Before ascending the long and dreaded flights of stairs, I sat down on a bench in front of the building, and very soon Dr. Knowles came and stood near me. He remarked that I “had taken my exercise finely, and would enjoy my meals more.” In reply to his attempt [178] at sarcasm, I said no one but an inhuman monster would force me to crawl down and up those stairs in my weak state; that if my poor meals could not be carried to me, I might at least be permitted to use the dumb-waiter in descending to and ascending from the mess-room. He smiled grimly, said I “would soon get used to it,” and walked away. I went up the steps on my knees and hands, dragging along my crutches, and halting often on the way. Was very tired indeed when I reached my bunk.

November 12th

Rising early I descended by the same tedious process as yesterday. Breakfast for the officers consisted of two slices of loaf bread, and some black, but very weak coffee, minus sugar and cream. The privates had only one slice of bread and cup of coffee. How wistfully the brave fellows looked at our two pieces of bread, as they snatched up and quickly ate their single slice. The true heroes of this war are the brave, self-denying, illy fed and poorly clad Confederate privates. All honor to them!

November 13th, 14th and 15th

A new batch of wounded prisoners came in from Winchester. Among the officers are Major Geo. H. Kyle, of Baltimore, A. D. C. to General Breckinridge, wounded in the stomach and both arms; Captain M. Russell, Sixtieth Georgia, right arm amputated near the shoulder; Captain J. G. Rankin, Thirty-eighth Georgia, wounded in the arm; Lieutenant S. R. Murphy, Thirty-first Georgia, wounded in mouth and cheek; Lieutenant J. P. Arrington, formerly of Fifth Alabama, A. D. C. to General Rodes, wounded in the knee. Lieutenant Murphy is an old schoolmate of mine, and lives in Hamilton, Georgia. Captain Rankin was born, reared and educated in Massachusetts, but married at Stone Mountain, Georgia, and is a sincere and unflinching defender of the South, his adopted home. He chafes much under confinement, and longs for exchange. He is a leading Free Mason, has been master of his lodge, and is a very intelligent gentleman. Exchanged some Confederate money for five dollars in greenbacks, and buy loaf bread, butter, mince pies, postage stamps, etc., from the sutler. The rations bought are very acceptable. There is an encouraging rumor that 10,000 prisoners are to be exchanged immediately at Savannah. Heaven grant it may be true, and that we may escape this horrible imprisonment, and be once more in dear “Dixie's land.”

November 16th

The aged father and sister of Major Kyle are permitted to visit him for ten minutes, and interview him in the presence of an armed sentinel and Dr. Butler, one of the hospital [179] surgeons. If the Doctor has any delicacy, he must feel humiliated at being required to play the spy, and eavesdrop a private family conversation. I hear Mr. Kyle paid Secretary Stanton five hundred dollars for the privilege of seeing his son. Another report is that Miss Kyle slipped one hundred dollars in gold in her brother's mouth, besides greenbacks in his hands, despite the vigilance of the guard and surgeon. I know Major Kyle has plenty of money, and bribes the guards to bring him articles, carry out letters, etc. He was one of the rioters, 19th of April, 1861, who attempted to drive back the Federal troops passing through Baltimore to Washington and the front. Mrs. Robert Carr, Mrs. P. H. Sullivan, Mrs. J. M. Coulter, Mrs. Egerton, the Misses Jamison, and other noble Baltimore ladies, send choice fresh vegetables, milk, clothing, etc., to our hospital, and while all are received, none of them are appropriated as intended by the generous, warm-hearted donors. I suppose the greedy Yankees eat the fruit and vegetables, and wear or sell the clothing sent to the hungry and ragged “Rebels.” At any rate, they are confiscated. The guards have orders to shoot any prisoner who puts his head out of a window. Two convalescent prisoners escaped a night or two ago by dashing through the gate into the street and city. They were fired at by the sentinels, but although the long roll was beat, the garrison aroused, and, with the city police, put in active pursuit, the daring youths were not recaptured. Their good fortune is to be envied. I learn they had relations who aided them in their hazardous attempt. Dr. Knowles took the names of a large number, who are to be sent to Point Lookout, we hopefully suppose for exchange. I am one of the rejoicing number.

November 17th, 18th and 19th

At the suggestion of Private Henry Curtright, of La Grange, Georgia, a wounded fellow prisoner, I write to Mrs. Joanna, D. C. 178 Preston street. She knows my relations in Georgia well, and may be able to communicate with them for me. A number of nurses and convalescents have been sent to Fort McHenry. I understand my negro cook Charles is there, a prisoner, and refuses to take the oath.

November 20th, Sunday

Had preaching in our ward. The attention was polite, the sermon very poor.

November 21st and 22d

We are hoping each day to be sent to Point Lookout, en route for exchange. I have been thirty-five days in Baltimore.

November 23d

Left on the boat S. G. Cannon for Point Lookout, [180] Maryland. I used my crutches more skillfully and swiftly on my way to the boat than I had ever done before. There seemed a prospect of home, sweet home, before me. The chill winds blew fiercely, and I passed a very cold, unpleasant night on deck. Arrived at the Point about 3 o'clock P. M., and was assigned to Ward Fourteen, General Hospital.

November 24th

Thanksgiving Day for the Lincolnites. Had a good dinner, better than any I have had since I left Winchester. We are anxious for a flag of truce boat to carry us to Dixie, and it is the perpetual theme of conversation. I bunk with Lieutenant Edmondson, of the Thirty-seventh Virginia, in order to keep warm.

November 25th

This is an intensely cold place. The Point is very bleak in winter, situated between Chesapeake bay and the Potomac river. The privates in the “prison pen” must suffer terribly, as they are thinly clothed, many in rags, and are poorly supplied with blankets and coal or wood. The fare is much better than at West's Buildings Hospital.

November 26th, 27th, 28th, 29th and 30th

Weather continues freezingly cold, and no truce boat yet. We are still hopeful, however.

December 1st to 9th

The officers have been separated from the privates, and put in ward “D,” a Swiss cottage. Lieutenant J. P. Arrington, A. D. C., and Adjutant W. B. L. Reagan, Sixteenth battalion Tennessee cavalry, and myself are in the same room. They are very genial, pleasant gentlemen. Adjutant Reagan has had a leg amputated above the knee, and is in very delicate health. All three of us use crutches.

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