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    Chapter 32

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    Chapter 33
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    The gradually lengthening Summer days were insufferably long and
    wearisome. Each was hotter, longer and more tedious than its
    predecessors. In my company was a none-too-bright fellow, named Dawson.
    During the chilly rains or the nipping, winds of our first days in
    prison, Dawson would, as he rose in, the morning, survey the forbidding
    skies with lack-luster eyes and remark, oracularly:

    "Well, Ole Boo gits us agin, to-day."

    He was so unvarying in this salutation to the morn that his designation
    of disagreeable weather as "Ole Boo" became generally adopted by us.
    When the hot weather came on, Dawson's remark, upon rising and seeing
    excellent prospects for a scorcher, changed to: "Well, Ole Sol, the
    Haymaker, is going to git in his work on us agin to-day."

    As long as he lived and was able to talk, this was Dawson's invariable
    observation at the break of day.

    He was quite right. The Ole Haymaker would do some famous work before he
    descended in the West, sending his level rays through the wide
    interstices between the somber pines.

    By nine o'clock in the morning his beams would begin to fairly singe
    everything in the crowded pen. The hot sand would glow as one sees it in
    the center of the unshaded highway some scorching noon in August. The
    high walls of the prison prevented the circulation inside of any breeze
    that might be in motion, while the foul stench rising from the putrid
    Swamp and the rotting ground seemed to reach the skies.

    One can readily comprehend the horrors of death on the burning sands of
    a desert. But the desert sand is at least clean; there is nothing worse
    about it than heat and intense dryness. It is not, as that was at
    Andersonville, poisoned with the excretions of thousands of sick and
    dying men, filled with disgusting vermin, and loading the air with the
    germs of death. The difference is as that between a brick-kiln and a
    sewer. Should the fates ever decide that I shall be flung out upon sands
    to perish, I beg that the hottest place in the Sahara may be selected,
    rather than such a spot as the interior of the Andersonville Stockade.

    It may be said that we had an abundance of water, which made a decided
    improvement on a desert. Doubtless--had that water been pure. But every
    mouthful of it was a blood poison, and helped promote disease and death.
    Even before reaching the Stockade it was so polluted by the drainage of
    the Rebel camps as to be utterly unfit for human use. In our part of the
    prison we sank several wells--some as deep as forty feet--to procure
    water. We had no other tools for this than our ever-faithful half
    canteens, and nothing wherewith to wall the wells. But a firm clay was
    reached a few feet below the surface, which afforded tolerable strong
    sides for the lower part, ana furnished material to make adobe bricks for
    curbs to keep out the sand of the upper part. The sides were continually
    giving away, however, and fellows were perpetually falling down the
    holes, to the great damage of their legs and arms. The water, which was
    drawn up in little cans, or boot leg buckets, by strings made of strips
    of cloth, was much better than that of the creek, but was still far from
    pure, as it contained the seepage from the filthy ground.

    The intense heat led men to drink great quantities of water, and this
    superinduced malignant dropsical complaints, which, next to diarrhea,
    scurvy and gangrene, were the ailments most active in carrying men off.
    Those affected in this way swelled up frightfully from day to day. Their
    clothes speedily became too small for them, and were ripped off, leaving
    them entirely naked, and they suffered intensely until death at last came
    to their relief. Among those of my squad who died in this way, was a
    young man named Baxter, of the Fifth Indiana Cavalry, taken at
    Chicamauga. He was very fine looking--tall, slender, with regular
    features and intensely black hair and eyes; he sang nicely, and was
    generally liked. A more pitiable object than he, when last I saw him,
    just before his death, can not be imagined. His body had swollen until
    it seemed marvelous that the human skin could bear so much distention
    without disruption, All the old look of bright intelligence had been.
    driven from his face by the distortion of his features. His swarthy hair
    and beard, grown long and ragged, had that peculiar repulsive look which
    the black hair of the sick is prone to assume.

    I attributed much of my freedom from the diseases to which others
    succumbed to abstention from water drinking. Long before I entered the
    army, I had constructed a theory--on premises that were doubtless as
    insufficient as those that boyish theories are usually based upon--that
    drinking water was a habit, and a pernicious one, which sapped away the
    energy. I took some trouble to curb my appetite for water, and soon
    found that I got along very comfortably without drinking anything beyond
    that which was contained in my food. I followed this up after entering
    the army, drinking nothing at any time but a little coffee, and finding
    no need, even on the dustiest marches, for anything more. I do not
    presume that in a year I drank a quart of cold water. Experience seemed
    to confirm my views, for I noticed that the first to sink under a
    fatigue, or to yield to sickness, were those who were always on the
    lookout for drinking water, springing from their horses and struggling
    around every well or spring on the line of march for an opportunity to
    fill their canteens.

    I made liberal use of the Creek for bathing purposes, however, visiting
    it four or five times a day during the hot days, to wash myself all
    over. This did not cool one off much, for the shallow stream was nearly
    as hot as the sand, but it seemed to do some good, and it helped pass
    away the tedious hours. The stream was nearly all the time filled as
    full of bathers as they could stand, and the water could do little
    towards cleansing so many. The occasional rain storms that swept across
    the prison were welcomed, not only because they cooled the air
    temporarily, but because they gave us a shower-bath. As they came up,
    nearly every one stripped naked and got out where he could enjoy the full
    benefit of the falling water. Fancy, if possible, the spectacle of
    twenty-five thousand or thirty thousand men without a stitch of clothing
    upon them. The like has not been seen, I imagine, since the naked
    followers of Boadicea gathered in force to do battle to the Roman

    It was impossible to get really clean. Our bodies seemed covered with a
    varnish-like, gummy matter that defied removal by water alone.
    I imagined that it came from the rosin or turpentine, arising from the
    little pitch pine fires over which we hovered when cooking our rations.
    It would yield to nothing except strong soap-and soap, as I have before
    stated--was nearly as scarce in the Southern Confederacy as salt. We in
    prison saw even less of it, or rather, none at all. The scarcity of it,
    and our desire for it, recalls a bit of personal experience.

    I had steadfastly refused all offers of positions outside the prison on
    parole, as, like the great majority of the prisoners, my hatred of the
    Rebels grew more bitter, day by day; I felt as if I would rather die than
    accept the smallest favor at their hands, and I shared the common
    contempt for those who did. But, when the movement for a grand attack on
    the Stockade--mentioned in a previous chapter--was apparently rapidly
    coming to a head, I was offered a temporary detail outside to, assist in
    making up some rolls. I resolved to accept; first because I thought I
    might get some information that would be of use in our enterprise; and,
    next, because I foresaw that the rush through the gaps in the Stockade
    would be bloody business, and by going out in advance I would avoid that
    much of the danger, and still be able to give effective assistance.

    I was taken up to Wirz's office. He was writing at a desk at one end of
    a large room when the Sergeant brought me in. He turned around, told the
    Sergeant to leave me, and ordered me to sit down upon a box at the other

    end of the room.

    Turning his back and resuming his writing, in a few minutes he had
    forgotten me. I sat quietly, taking in the details for a half-hour, and
    then, having exhausted everything else in the room, I began wondering
    what was in the box I was sitting upon. The lid was loose; I hitched it
    forward a little without attracting Wirz's attention, and slipped my left
    hand down of a voyage of discovery. It seemed very likely that there was
    something there that a loyal Yankee deserved better than a Rebel.
    I found that it was a fine article of soft soap. A handful was scooped
    up and speedily shoved into my left pantaloon pocket. Expecting every
    instant that Wirz would turn around and order me to come to the desk to
    show my handwriting, hastily and furtively wiped my hand on the back of
    my shirt and watched Wirz with as innocent an expression as a school boy
    assumes when he has just flipped a chewed paper wad across the room.
    Wirz was still engrossed in his writing, and did not look around. I was
    emboldened to reach down for another handful. This was also successfully
    transferred, the hand wiped off on the back of the shirt, and the face
    wore its expression of infantile ingenuousness. Still Wirz did not look
    up. I kept dipping up handful after handful, until I had gotten about a
    quart in the left hand pocket. After each handful I rubbed my hand off
    on the back of my shirt and waited an instant for a summons to the desk.
    Then the process was repeated with the other hand, and a quart of the
    saponaceous mush was packed in the right hand pocket.

    Shortly after Wirz rose and ordered a guard to take me away and keep me,
    until he decided what to do with me. The day was intensely hot, and soon
    the soap in my pockets and on the back of my shirt began burning like
    double strength Spanish fly blisters. There was nothing to do but grin
    and bear it. I set my teeth, squatted down under the shade of the
    parapet of the fort, and stood it silently and sullenly. For the first
    time in my life I thoroughly appreciated the story of the Spartan boy,
    who stole the fox and suffered the animal to tear his bowels out rather
    than give a sign which would lead to the exposure of his theft.

    Between four and five o'clock-after I had endured the thing for five or
    six hours, a guard came with orders from Wirz that I should be returned
    to the Stockade. Upon hastily removing my clothes, after coming inside,
    I found I had a blister on each thigh, and one down my back, that would
    have delighted an old practitioner of the heroic school. But I also had
    a half gallon of excellent soft soap. My chums and I took a magnificent
    wash, and gave our clothes the same, and we still had soap enough left to
    barter for some onions that we had long coveted, and which tasted as
    sweet to us as manna to the Israelites.
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    Chapter 33
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