Meet us on:
 
Entire Site
    Try our fun game

    Dueling book covers…may the best design win!

    Random Quote
    "The law must be stable, but it must not stand still."
     

    Subscribe to Our Newsletter

    Follow us on Twitter

    Never miss a good book again! Follow Read Print on Twitter

    Chapter 63

    • Rate it:
    Launch Reading Mode Next Chapter
    Chapter 64
    Previous Chapter
    DREARY WEATHER--THE COLD RAINS DISTRESS ALL AND KILL HUNDREDS--EXCHANGE
    OF TEN THOUSAND SICK--CAPTAIN BOWES TURNS A PRETTY, BUT NOT VERY HONEST,
    PENNY.

    As November wore away long-continued, chill, searching rains desolated
    our days and nights. The great, cold drops pelted down slowly,
    dismally, and incessantly. Each seemed to beat through our emaciated
    frames against the very marrow of our bones, and to be battering its way
    remorselessly into the citadel of life, like the cruel drops that fell
    from the basin of the inquisitors upon the firmly-fastened head of their
    victim, until his reason fled, and the death-agony cramped his heart to
    stillness.

    The lagging, leaden hours were inexpressibly dreary. Compared with many
    others, we were quite comfortable, as our hut protected us from the
    actual beating of the rain upon our bodies; but we were much more
    miserable than under the sweltering heat of Andersonville, as we lay
    almost naked upon our bed of pine leaves, shivering in the raw, rasping
    air, and looked out over acres of wretches lying dumbly on the sodden
    sand, receiving the benumbing drench of the sullen skies without a groan
    or a motion.

    It was enough to kill healthy, vigorous men, active and resolute, with
    bodies well-nourished and well clothed, and with minds vivacious and
    hopeful, to stand these day-and-night-long solid drenchings. No one can
    imagine how fatal it was to boys whose vitality was sapped by long months
    in Andersonville, by coarse, meager, changeless food, by groveling on the
    bare earth, and by hopelessness as to any improvement of condition.

    Fever, rheumatism, throat and lung diseases and despair now came to
    complete the work begun by scurvy, dysentery and gangrene, in
    Andersonville.

    Hundreds, weary of the long struggle, and of hoping against hope, laid
    themselves down and yielded to their fate. In the six weeks that we were
    at Millen, one man in every ten died. The ghostly pines there sigh over
    the unnoted graves of seven hundred boys, for whom life's morning closed
    in the gloomiest shadows. As many as would form a splendid regiment--as
    many as constitute the first born of a populous City--more than three
    times as many as were slain outright on our side in the bloody battle of
    Franklin, succumbed to this new hardship. The country for which they
    died does not even have a record of their names. They were simply
    blotted out of existence; they became as though they had never been.

    About the middle of the month the Rebels yielded to the importunities of
    our Government so far as to agree to exchange ten thousand sick. The
    Rebel Surgeons took praiseworthy care that our Government should profit
    as little as possible by this, by sending every hopeless case, every man
    whose lease of life was not likely to extend much beyond his reaching the
    parole boat. If he once reached our receiving officers it was all that
    was necessary; he counted to them as much as if he had been a Goliath.
    A very large portion of those sent through died on the way to our lines,
    or within a few hours after their transports at being once more under the
    old Stars and Stripes had moderated.

    The sending of the sick through gave our commandant--Captain Bowes--a
    fine opportunity to fill his pockets, by conniving at the passage of well
    men. There was still considerable money in the hands of a few prisoners.
    All this, and more, too, were they willing to give for their lives.
    In the first batch that went away were two of the leading sutlers at
    Andersonville, who had accumulated perhaps one thousand dollars each by
    their shrewd and successful bartering. It was generally believed that
    they gave every cent to Bowes for the privilege of leaving. I know
    nothing of the truth of this, but I am reasonably certain that they paid
    him very handsomely.

    Soon we heard that one hundred and fifty dollars each had been sufficient
    to buy some men out; then one hundred, seventy-five, fifty, thirty,
    twenty, ten, and at last five dollars. Whether the upright Bowes drew
    the line at the latter figure, and refused to sell his honor for less
    than the ruling rates of a street-walker's virtue, I know not. It was
    the lowest quotation that came to my knowledge, but he may have gone
    cheaper. I have always observed that when men or women begin to traffic
    in themselves, their price falls as rapidly as that of a piece of tainted
    meat in hot weather. If one could buy them at the rate they wind up
    with, and sell them at their first price, there would be room for an
    enormous profit.

    The cheapest I ever knew a Rebel officer to be bought was some weeks
    after this at Florence. The sick exchange was still going on. I have
    before spoken of the Rebel passion for bright gilt buttons. It used to
    be a proverbial comment upon the small treasons that were of daily
    occurrence on both sides, that you could buy the soul of a mean man in
    our crowd for a pint of corn meal, and the soul of a Rebel guard for a
    half dozen brass buttons. A boy of the Fifth-fourth Ohio, whose home was
    at or near Lima, O., wore a blue vest, with the gilt, bright-trimmed
    buttons of a staff officer. The Rebel Surgeon who was examining the sick
    for exchange saw the buttons and admired them very much. The boy stepped
    back, borrowed a knife from a comrade, cut the buttons off, and handed
    them to the Doctor.

    "All right, sir," said he as his itching palm closed over the coveted
    ornaments; "you can pass," and pass he did to home and friends.

    Captain Bowes's merchandizing in the matter of exchange was as open as
    the issuing of rations. His agent in conducting the bargaining was a
    Raider--a New York gambler and stool-pigeon--whom we called "Mattie."
    He dealt quite fairly, for several times when the exchange was
    interrupted, Bowes sent the money back to those who had paid him,
    and received it again when the exchange was renewed.

    Had it been possible to buy our way out for five cents each Andrews and I
    would have had to stay back, since we had not had that much money for
    months, and all our friends were in an equally bad plight. Like almost
    everybody else we had spent the few dollars we happened to have on
    entering prison, in a week or so, and since then we had been entirely
    penniless.

    There was no hope left for us but to try to pass the Surgeons as
    desperately sick, and we expended our energies in simulating this
    condition. Rheumatism was our forte, and I flatter myself we got up two
    cases that were apparently bad enough to serve as illustrations for a
    patent medicine advertisement. But it would not do. Bad as we made our
    condition appear, there were so many more who were infinitely worse,
    that we stood no show in the competitive examination. I doubt if we
    would have been given an average of "50" in a report. We had to stand
    back, and see about one quarter of our number march out and away home.
    We could not complain at this--much as we wanted to go ourselves,
    since there could be no question that these poor fellows deserved the
    precedence. We did grumble savagely, however, at Captain Bowes's
    venality, in selling out chances to moneyed men, since these were
    invariably those who were best prepared to withstand the hardships of
    imprisonment, as they were mostly new men, and all had good clothes and
    blankets. We did not blame the men, however, since it was not in human
    nature to resist an opportunity to get away--at any cost-from that
    accursed place. "All that a man hath he will give for his life," and I
    think that if I had owned the City of New York in fee simple, I would
    have given it away willingly, rather than stand in prison another month.

    The sutlers, to whom I have alluded above, had accumulated sufficient to
    supply themselves with all the necessaries and some of the comforts of
    life, during any probable term of imprisonment, and still have a snug
    amount left, but they, would rather give it all up and return to service
    with their regiments in the field, than take the chances of any longer
    continuance in prison.

    I can only surmise how much Bowes realized out of the prisoners by his
    venality, but I feel sure that it could not have been less than three
    thousand dollars, and I would not be astonished to learn that it was ten
    thousand dollars in green.
    Next Chapter
    Chapter 64
    Previous Chapter
    If you're writing a John McElroy essay and need some advice, post your John McElroy essay question on our Facebook page where fellow bookworms are always glad to help!

    Top 5 Authors

    Top 5 Books

    Book Status
    Finished
    Want to read
    Abandoned

    Are you sure you want to leave this group?