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    Chapter 41

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    Chapter 42
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    CLOTHING: ITS RAPID DETERIORATION, AND DEVICES TO REPLENISH IT--DESPERATE
    EFFORTS TO COVER NAKEDNESS--"LITTLE RED CAP" AND HIS LETTER.

    Clothing had now become an object of real solicitude to us older
    prisoners. The veterans of our crowd--the surviving remnant of those
    captured at Gettysburg--had been prisoners over a year. The next in
    seniority--the Chickamauga boys--had been in ten months. The Mine Run
    fellows were eight months old, and my battalion had had seven months'
    incarceration. None of us were models of well-dressed gentlemen when
    captured. Our garments told the whole story of the hard campaigning we
    had undergone. Now, with months of the wear and tear of prison life,
    sleeping on the sand, working in tunnels, digging wells, etc., we were
    tattered and torn to an extent that a second-class tramp would have
    considered disgraceful.

    This is no reflection upon the quality of the clothes furnished by the
    Government. We simply reached the limit of the wear of textile fabrics.
    I am particular to say this, because I want to contribute my little mite
    towards doing justice to a badly abused part of our Army organization
    --the Quartermaster's Department. It is fashionable to speak of "shoddy,"
    and utter some stereotyped sneers about "brown paper shoes," and
    "musketo-netting overcoats," when any discussion of the Quartermaster
    service is the subject of conversation, but I have no hesitation in
    asking the indorsement of my comrades to the statement that we have never
    found anywhere else as durable garments as those furnished us by the
    Government during our service in the Army. The clothes were not as fine
    in texture, nor so stylish in cut as those we wore before or since, but
    when it came to wear they could be relied on to the last thread. It was
    always marvelous to me that they lasted so well, with the rough usage a
    soldier in the field must necessarily give them.

    But to return to my subject. I can best illustrate the way our clothes
    dropped off us, piece by piece, like the petals from the last rose of
    Summer, by taking my own case as an example: When I entered prison I was
    clad in the ordinary garb of an enlisted man of the cavalry--stout,
    comfortable boots, woolen pocks, drawers, pantaloons, with a
    "reenforcement," or "ready-made patches," as the infantry called them;
    vest, warm, snug-fitting jacket, under and over shirts, heavy overcoat,
    and a forage-cap. First my boots fell into cureless ruin, but this was
    no special hardship, as the weather had become quite warm, and it was
    more pleasant than otherwise to go barefooted. Then part of the
    underclothing retired from service. The jacket and vest followed, their
    end being hastened by having their best portions taken to patch up the
    pantaloons, which kept giving out at the most embarrassing places. Then
    the cape of the overcoat was called upon to assist in repairing these
    continually-recurring breaches in the nether garments. The same
    insatiate demand finally consumed the whole coat, in a vain attempt to
    prevent an exposure of person greater than consistent with the usages of
    society. The pantaloons--or what, by courtesy, I called such, were a
    monument of careful and ingenious, but hopeless, patching, that should
    have called forth the admiration of a Florentine artist in mosaic.
    I have been shown--in later years--many table tops, ornamented in
    marquetry, inlaid with thousands of little bits of wood, cunningly
    arranged, and patiently joined together. I always look at them with
    interest, for I know the work spent upon them: I remember my
    Andersonville pantaloons.

    The clothing upon the upper part of my body had been reduced to the
    remains of a knit undershirt. It had fallen into so many holes that it
    looked like the coarse "riddles" through which ashes and gravel are
    sifted. Wherever these holes were the sun had burned my back, breast and
    shoulders deeply black. The parts covered by the threads and fragments
    forming the boundaries of the holes, were still white. When I pulled my
    alleged shirt off, to wash or to free it from some of its teeming
    population, my skin showed a fine lace pattern in black and white, that
    was very interesting to my comrades, and the subject of countless jokes
    by them.

    They used to descant loudly on the chaste elegance of the design, the
    richness of the tracing, etc., and beg me to furnish them with a copy of
    it when I got home, for their sisters to work window curtains or tidies
    by. They were sure that so striking a novelty in patterns would be very
    acceptable. I would reply to their witticisms in the language of
    Portia's Prince of Morocco:

    Mislike me not for my complexion--
    The shadowed livery of the burning sun.

    One of the stories told me in my childhood by an old negro nurse, was of
    a poverty stricken little girl "who slept on the floor and was covered
    with the door," and she once asked--

    "Mamma how do poor folks get along who haven't any door?"

    In the same spirit I used to wonder how poor fellows got along who hadn't
    any shirt.

    One common way of keeping up one's clothing was by stealing mealsacks.
    The meal furnished as rations was brought in in white cotton sacks.
    Sergeants of detachments were required to return these when the rations
    were issued the next day. I have before alluded to the general
    incapacity of the Rebels to deal accurately with even simple numbers.
    It was never very difficult for a shrewd Sergeant to make nine sacks
    count as ten. After awhile the Rebels began to see through this sleight
    of hand manipulation, and to check it. Then the Sergeants resorted to
    the device of tearing the sacks in two, and turning each half in as a
    whole one. The cotton cloth gained in this way was used for patching,
    or, if a boy could succeed in beating the Rebels out of enough of it,
    he would fabricate himself a shirt or a pair of pantaloons. We obtained
    all our thread in the same way. A half of a sack, carefully raveled out,
    would furnish a couple of handfuls of thread. Had it not been for this
    resource all our sewing and mending would have come to a standstill.

    Most of our needles were manufactured by ourselves from bones. A piece
    of bone, split as near as possible to the required size, was carefully
    rubbed down upon a brick, and then had an eye laboriously worked through
    it with a bit of wire or something else available for the purpose.
    The needles were about the size of ordinary darning needles, and answered
    the purpose very well.

    These devices gave one some conception of the way savages provide for the
    wants of their lives. Time was with them, as with us, of little
    importance. It was no loss of time to them, nor to us, to spend a large
    portion of the waking hours of a week in fabricating a needle out of a
    bone, where a civilized man could purchase a much better one with the
    product of three minutes' labor. I do not think any red Indian of the
    plains exceeded us in the patience with which we worked away at these
    minutia of life's needs.

    Of course the most common source of clothing was the dead, and no body
    was carried out with any clothing on it that could be of service to the
    survivors. The Plymouth Pilgrims, who were so well clothed on coming in,
    and were now dying off very rapidly, furnished many good suits to cover
    the nakedness of older, prisoners. Most of the prisoners from the Army
    of the Potomac were well dressed, and as very many died within a month or
    six weeks after their entrance, they left their clothes in pretty good
    condition for those who constituted themselves their heirs,
    administrators and assigns.

    For my own part, I had the greatest aversion to wearing dead men's
    clothes, and could only bring myself to it after I had been a year in
    prison, and it became a question between doing that and freezing to
    death.

    Every new batch of prisoners was besieged with anxious inquiries on the
    subject which lay closest to all our hearts:

    "What are they doing about exchange!"

    Nothing in human experience--save the anxious expectancy of a sail by
    castaways on a desert island--could equal the intense eagerness with
    which this question was asked, and the answer awaited. To thousands now
    hanging on the verge of eternity it meant life or death. Between the
    first day of July and the first of November over twelve thousand men
    died, who would doubtless have lived had they been able to reach our
    lines--"get to God's country," as we expressed it.

    The new comers brought little reliable news of contemplated exchange.
    There was none to bring in the first place, and in the next, soldiers in
    active service in the field had other things to busy themselves with than
    reading up the details of the negotiations between the Commissioners of
    Exchange. They had all heard rumors, however, and by the time they
    reached Andersonville, they had crystallized these into actual statements
    of fact. A half hour after they entered the Stockade, a report like this
    would spread like wildfire:

    "An Army of the Potomac man has just come in, who was captured in front
    of Petersburg. He says that he read in the New York Herald, the day
    before he was taken, that an exchange had been agreed upon, and that our
    ships had already started for Savannah to take us home."

    Then our hopes would soar up like balloons. We fed ourselves on such
    stuff from day to day, and doubtless many lives were greatly prolonged by
    the continual encouragement. There was hardly a day when I did not say
    to myself that I would much rather die than endure imprisonment another
    month, and had I believed that another month would see me still there,
    I am pretty certain that I should have ended the matter by crossing the
    Dead Line. I was firmly resolved not to die the disgusting, agonizing
    death that so many around me were dying.

    One of our best purveyors of information was a bright, blue-eyed,
    fair-haired little drummer boy, as handsome as a girl, well-bred as a
    lady, and evidently the darling of some refined loving mother. He
    belonged, I think, to some loyal Virginia regiment, was captured in one
    of the actions in the Shenandoa Valley, and had been with us in
    Richmond. We called him "Red Cap," from his wearing a jaunty,
    gold-laced, crimson cap. Ordinarily, the smaller a drummer boy is the
    harder he is, but no amount of attrition with rough men could coarse the
    ingrained refinement of Red Cap's manners. He was between thirteen and
    fourteen, and it seemed utterly shameful that men, calling themselves
    soldier should make war on such a tender boy and drag him off to prison.

    But no six-footer had a more soldierly heart than little Red Cap, and
    none were more loyal to the cause. It was a pleasure to hear him tell
    the story of the fights and movements his regiment had been engaged in.
    He was a good observer and told his tale with boyish fervor. Shortly
    after Wirz assumed command he took Red Cap into his office as an Orderly.
    His bright face and winning manner; fascinated the women visitors at
    headquarters, and numbers of them tried to adopt him, but with poor
    success. Like the rest of us, he could see few charms in an existence
    under the Rebel flag, and turned a deaf ear to their blandishments.
    He kept his ears open to the conversation of the Rebel officers around
    him, and frequently secured permission to visit the interior of the
    Stockade, when he would communicate to us all that he has heard.
    He received a flattering reception every time he cams in, and no orator
    ever secured a more attentive audience than would gather around him to
    listen to what he had to say. He was, beyond a doubt, the best known and
    most popular person in the prison, and I know all the survivors of his
    old admirer; share my great interest in him, and my curiosity as to
    whether he yet lives, and whether his subsequent career has justified the
    sanguine hopes we all had as to his future. I hope that if he sees this,
    or any one who knows anything about him, he will communicate with me.
    There are thousands who will be glad to hear from him.

    A most remarkable coincidence occurred in regard to this comrade.
    Several days after the above had been written, and "set up," but before
    it had yet appeared in the paper, I received the following letter:

    ECKHART MINES,
    Alleghany County, Md., March 24.

    To the Editor of the BLADE:

    Last evening I saw a copy of your paper, in which was a chapter or two of
    a prison life of a soldier during the late war. I was forcibly struck
    with the correctness of what he wrote, and the names of several of my old
    comrades which he quoted: Hill, Limber Jim, etc., etc. I was a drummer
    boy of Company I, Tenth West Virginia Infantry, and was fifteen years of
    age a day or two after arriving in Andersonville, which was in the last
    of February, 1884. Nineteen of my comrades were there with me, and, poor
    fellows, they are there yet. I have no doubt that I would have remained
    there, too, had I not been more fortunate.

    I do not know who your soldier correspondent is, but assume to say that
    from the following description he will remember having seen me in
    Andersonville: I was the little boy that for three or four months
    officiated as orderly for Captain Wirz. I wore a red cap, and every day
    could be seen riding Wirz's gray mare, either at headquarters, or about
    the Stockade. I was acting in this capacity when the six raiders
    --"Mosby," (proper name Collins) Delaney, Curtis, and--I forget the other
    names--were executed. I believe that I was the first that conveyed the
    intelligence to them that Confederate General Winder had approved their
    sentence. As soon as Wirz received the dispatch to that effect, I ran
    down to the stocks and told them.

    I visited Hill, of Wauseon, Fulton County, O., since the war, and found
    him hale and hearty. I have not heard from him for a number of years
    until reading your correspondent's letter last evening. It is the only
    letter of the series that I have seen, but after reading that one, I feel
    called upon to certify that I have no doubts of the truthfulness of your
    correspondent's story. The world will never know or believe the horrors
    of Andersonville and other prisons in the South. No living, human being,
    in my judgment, will ever be able to properly paint the horrors of those
    infernal dens.

    I formed the acquaintance of several Ohio soldiers whilst in prison.
    Among these were O. D. Streeter, of Cleveland, who went to Andersonville
    about the same time that I did, and escaped, and was the only man that I
    ever knew that escaped and reached our lines. After an absence of
    several months he was retaken in one of Sherman's battles before Atlanta,
    and brought back. I also knew John L. Richards, of Fostoria, Seneca
    County, O. or Eaglesville, Wood County. Also, a man by the name of
    Beverly, who was a partner of Charley Aucklebv, of Tennessee. I would
    like to hear from all of these parties. They all know me.

    Mr. Editor, I will close by wishing all my comrades who shared in the
    sufferings and dangers of Confederate prisons, a long and useful life.
    Yours truly,
    RANSOM T. POWELL
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