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    Chapter 21

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    Chapter 22
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    DIMINISHING RATIONS--A DEADLY COLD RAIN--HOVERING OVER PITCH PINE FIRES
    --INCREASE ON MORTALITY--A THEORY OF HEALTH.

    The rations diminished perceptibly day by day. When we first entered we
    each received something over a quart of tolerably good meal, a sweet
    potato, a piece of meat about the size of one's two fingers, and
    occasionally a spoonful of salt. First the salt disappeared. Then the
    sweet potato took unto itself wings and flew away, never to return.
    An attempt was ostensibly made to issue us cow-peas instead, and the
    first issue was only a quart to a detachment of two hundred and seventy
    men. This has two-thirds of a pint to each squad of ninety, and made but
    a few spoonfuls for each of the four messes in the squad. When it came
    to dividing among the men, the beans had to be counted. Nobody received
    enough to pay for cooking, and we were at a loss what to do until
    somebody suggested that we play poker for them. This met general
    acceptance, and after that, as long as beans were drawn, a large portion
    of the day was spent in absorbing games of "bluff" and "draw," at a bean
    "ante," and no "limit."

    After a number of hours' diligent playing, some lucky or skillful player
    would be in possession of all the beans in a mess, a squad, and sometimes
    a detachment, and have enough for a good meal.

    Next the meal began to diminish in quantity and deteriorate in quality.
    It became so exceedingly coarse that the common remark was that the next
    step would be to bring us the corn in the shock, and feed it to us like
    stock. Then meat followed suit with the rest. The rations decreased in
    size, and the number of days that we did not get any, kept constantly
    increasing in proportion to the days that we did, until eventually the
    meat bade us a final adieu, and joined the sweet potato in that
    undiscovered country from whose bourne no ration ever returned.

    The fuel and building material in the stockade were speedily exhausted.
    The later comers had nothing whatever to build shelter with.

    But, after the Spring rains had fairly set in, it seemed that we had not
    tasted misery until then. About the middle of March the windows of
    heaven opened, and it began a rain like that of the time of Noah. It was
    tropical in quantity and persistency, and arctic in temperature. For
    dreary hours that lengthened into weary days and nights, and these again
    into never-ending weeks, the driving, drenching flood poured down upon
    the sodden earth, searching the very marrow of the five thousand hapless
    men against whose chilled frames it beat with pitiless monotony, and
    soaked the sand bank upon which we lay until it was like a sponge filled
    with ice-water. It seems to me now that it must have been two or three
    weeks that the sun was wholly hidden behind the dripping clouds, not
    shining out once in all that time. The intervals when it did not rain
    were rare and short. An hour's respite would be followed by a day of
    steady, regular pelting of the great rain drops.

    I find that the report of the Smithsonian Institute gives the average
    annual rainfall in the section around Andersonville, at fifty-six inches
    --nearly five feet--while that of foggy England is only thirty-two. Our
    experience would lead me to think that we got the five feet all at once.

    We first comers, who had huts, were measurably better off than the later
    arrivals. It was much drier in our leaf-thatched tents, and we were
    spared much of the annoyance that comes from the steady dash of rain
    against the body for hours.

    The condition of those who had no tents was truly pitiable.

    They sat or lay on the hill-side the live-long day and night, and took
    the washing flow with such gloomy composure as they could muster.

    All soldiers will agree with me that there is no campaigning hardship
    comparable to a cold rain. One can brace up against the extremes of heat
    and cold, and mitigate their inclemency in various ways. But there is no
    escaping a long-continued, chilling rain. It seems to penetrate to the
    heart, and leach away the very vital force.

    The only relief attainable was found in huddling over little fires kept
    alive by small groups with their slender stocks of wood. As this wood
    was all pitch-pine, that burned with a very sooty flame, the effect upon
    the appearance of the hoverers was, startling. Face, neck and hands
    became covered with mixture of lampblack and turpentine, forming a
    coating as thick as heavy brown paper, and absolutely irremovable by
    water alone. The hair also became of midnight blackness, and gummed up
    into elflocks of fantastic shape and effect. Any one of us could have
    gone on the negro minstrel stage, without changing a hair, and put to
    blush the most elaborate make-up of the grotesque burnt-cork artists.

    No wood was issued to us. The only way of getting it was to stand around
    the gate for hours until a guard off duty could be coaxed or hired to
    accompany a small party to the woods, to bring back a load of such knots
    and limbs as could be picked up. Our chief persuaders to the guards to
    do us this favor were rings, pencils, knives, combs, and such trifles as
    we might have in our pockets, and, more especially, the brass buttons on
    our uniforms. Rebel soldiers, like Indians, negros and other imperfectly
    civilized people, were passionately fond of bright and gaudy things.
    A handful of brass buttons would catch every one of them as swiftly and
    as surely as a piece of red flannel will a gudgeon. Our regular fee for
    an escort for three of us to the woods was six over-coat or dress-coat
    buttons, or ten or twelve jacket buttons. All in the mess contributed to
    this fund, and the fuel obtained was carefully guarded and husbanded.

    This manner of conducting the wood business is a fair sample of the
    management, or rather the lack of it, of every other detail of prison
    administration. All the hardships we suffered from lack of fuel and
    shelter could have been prevented without the slightest expense or
    trouble to the Confederacy. Two hundred men allowed to go out on parole,
    and supplied with ages, would have brought in from the adjacent woods,
    in a week's time, enough material to make everybody comfortable tents,
    and to supply all the fuel needed.

    The mortality caused by the storm was, of course, very great. The
    official report says the total number in the prison in March was four
    thousand six hundred and three, of whom two hundred and eighty-three
    died.

    Among the first to die was the one whom we expected to live longest.
    He was by much the largest man in prison, and was called, because of
    this, "BIG JOE." He was a Sergeant in the Fifth Pennsylvania Cavalry,
    and seemed the picture of health. One morning the news ran through the
    prison that "Big Joe is dead," and a visit to his squad showed his stiff,
    lifeless form, occupying as much ground as Goliath's, after his encounter
    with David.

    His early demise was an example of a general law, the workings of which
    few in the army failed to notice. It was always the large and strong who
    first succumbed to hardship. The stalwart, huge-limbed, toil-inured men
    sank down earliest on the march, yielded soonest to malarial influences,
    and fell first under the combined effects of home-sickness, exposure and
    the privations of army life. The slender, withy boys, as supple and weak
    as cats, had apparently the nine lives of those animals. There were few
    exceptions to this rule in the army--there were none in Andersonville.
    I can recall few or no instances where a large, strong, "hearty" man
    lived through a few months of imprisonment. The survivors were
    invariably youths, at the verge of manhood,--slender, quick, active,
    medium-statured fellows, of a cheerful temperament, in whom one would
    have expected comparatively little powers of endurance.

    The theory which I constructed for my own private use in accounting for
    this phenomenon I offer with proper diffidence to others who may be in
    search of a hypothesis to explain facts that they have observed. It is
    this:

    a. The circulation of the blood maintains health, and consequently life
    by carrying away from the various parts of the body the particles of
    worn-out and poisonous tissue, and replacing them with fresh,
    structure-building material.

    b. The man is healthiest in whom this process goes on most freely and
    continuously.

    c. Men of considerable muscular power are disposed to be sluggish; the
    exertion of great strength does not favor circulation. It rather retards
    it, and disturbs its equilibrium by congesting the blood in quantities in
    the sets of muscles called into action.

    d. In light, active men, on the other hand, the circulation goes on
    perfectly and evenly, because all the parts are put in motion, and kept
    so in such a manner as to promote the movement of the blood to every
    extremity. They do not strain one set of muscles by long continued
    effort, as a strong man does, but call one into play after another.

    There is no compulsion on the reader to accept this speculation at any
    valuation whatever. There is not even any charge for it. I will lay
    down this simple axiom:

    No strong man, is a healthy man

    from the athlete in the circus who lifts pieces of artillery and catches
    cannon balls, to the exhibition swell in a country gymnasium. If my
    theory is not a sufficient explanation of this, there is nothing to
    prevent the reader from building up one to suit him better.
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