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    Chapter 67

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    Chapter 68
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    OFF TO CHARLESTON--PASSING THROUGH THE RICE SWAMPS--TWO EXTREMES OF
    SOCIETY--ENTRY INTO CHARLESTON--LEISURELY WARFARE--SHELLING THE CITY AT
    REGULAR INTERVALS--WE CAMP IN A MASS OF RUINS--DEPARTURE FOR FLORENCE.

    The train started in a few minutes after the close of the conversation
    with the old Georgian, and we soon came to and crossed the Savannah River
    into South Carolina. The river was wide and apparently deep; the tide
    was setting back in a swift, muddy current; the crazy old bridge creaked
    and shook, and the grinding axles shrieked in the dry journals, as we
    pulled across. It looked very much at times as if we were to all crash
    down into the turbid flood--and we did not care very much if we did, if
    we were not going to be exchanged.

    The road lay through the tide swamp region of South Carolina, a peculiar
    and interesting country. Though swamps and fens stretched in all
    directions as far as the eye could reach, the landscape was more grateful
    to the eye than the famine-stricken, pine-barrens of Georgia, which had
    become wearisome to the sight. The soil where it appeared, was rich,
    vegetation was luxuriant; great clumps of laurel showed glossy richness
    in the greenness of its verdure, that reminded us of the fresh color of
    the vegetation of our Northern homes, so different from the parched and
    impoverished look of Georgian foliage. Immense flocks of wild fowl
    fluttered around us; the Georgian woods were almost destitute of living
    creatures; the evergreen live-oak, with its queer festoons of Spanish
    moss, and the ugly and useless palmettos gave novelty and interest to the
    view.

    The rice swamps through which we were passing were the princely
    possessions of the few nabobs who before the war stood at the head of
    South Carolina aristocracy--they were South Carolina, in fact, as
    absolutely as Louis XIV. was France. In their hands--but a few score in
    number--was concentrated about all there was of South Carolina education,
    wealth, culture, and breeding. They represented a pinchbeck imitation of
    that regime in France which was happily swept out of existence by the
    Revolution, and the destruction of which more than compensated for every
    drop of blood shed in those terrible days. Like the provincial 'grandes
    seigneurs' of Louis XVI's reign, they were gay, dissipated and turbulent;
    "accomplished" in the superficial acquirements that made the "gentleman"
    one hundred years ago, but are grotesquely out of place in this sensible,
    solid age, which demands that a man shall be of use, and not merely for
    show. They ran horses and fought cocks, dawdled through society when
    young, and intrigued in politics the rest of their lives, with frequent
    spice-work of duels. Esteeming personal courage as a supreme human
    virtue, and never wearying of prating their devotion to the highest
    standard of intrepidity, they never produced a General who was even
    mediocre; nor did any one ever hear of a South Carolina regiment gaining
    distinction. Regarding politics and the art of government as, equally
    with arms, their natural vocations, they have never given the Nation a
    statesman, and their greatest politicians achieved eminence by advocating
    ideas which only attracted attention by their balefulness.

    Still further resembling the French 'grandes seigneurs' of the eighteenth
    century, they rolled in wealth wrung from the laborer by reducing the
    rewards of his toil to the last fraction that would support his life and
    strength. The rice culture was immensely profitable, because they had
    found the secret for raising it more cheaply than even the pauper laborer
    of the of world could. Their lands had cost them nothing originally, the
    improvements of dikes and ditches were comparatively, inexpensive, the
    taxes were nominal, and their slaves were not so expensive to keep as
    good horses in the North.

    Thousands of the acres along the road belonged to the Rhetts, thousands
    to the Heywards, thousands to the Manigault the Lowndes, the Middletons,
    the Hugers, the Barnwells, and the Elliots--all names too well known in
    the history of our country's sorrows. Occasionally one of their stately
    mansions could be seen on some distant elevation, surrounded by noble old
    trees, and superb grounds. Here they lived during the healthy part of
    the year, but fled thence to summer resort in the highlands as the
    miasmatic season approached.

    The people we saw at the stations along our route were melancholy
    illustrations of the evils of the rule of such an oligarchy. There was
    no middle class visible anywhere--nothing but the two extremes. A man
    was either a "gentleman," and wore white shirt and city-made clothes,
    or he was a loutish hind, clad in mere apologies for garments. We
    thought we had found in the Georgia "cracker" the lowest substratum of
    human society, but he was bright intelligence compared to the South
    Carolina "clay-eater" and "sand-hiller." The "cracker" always gave hopes
    to one that if he had the advantage of common schools, and could be made
    to understand that laziness was dishonorable, he might develop into
    something. There was little foundation for such hope in the average low
    South Carolinian. His mind was a shaking quagmire, which did not admit
    of the erection of any superstructure of education upon it. The South
    Carolina guards about us did not know the name of the next town, though
    they had been raised in that section. They did not know how far it was
    there, or to any place else, and they did not care to learn. They had no
    conception of what the war was being waged for, and did not want to find
    out; they did not know where their regiment was going, and did not
    remember where it had been; they could not tell how long they had been in
    service, nor the time they had enlisted for. They only remembered that
    sometimes they had had "sorter good times," and sometimes "they had been
    powerful bad," and they hoped there would be plenty to eat wherever they
    went, and not too much hard marching. Then they wondered "whar a
    feller'd be likely to make a raise of a canteen of good whisky?"

    Bad as the whites were, the rice plantation negros were even worse,
    if that were possible. Brought to the country centuries ago, as brutal
    savages from Africa, they had learned nothing of Christian civilization,
    except that it meant endless toil, in malarious swamps, under the lash of
    the taskmaster. They wore, possibly, a little more clothing than their
    Senegambian ancestors did; they ate corn meal, yams and rice, instead of
    bananas, yams and rice, as their forefathers did, and they had learned a
    bastard, almost unintelligible, English. These were the sole blessings
    acquired by a transfer from a life of freedom in the jungles of the Gold
    Coast, to one of slavery in the swamps of the Combahee.

    I could not then, nor can I now, regret the downfall of a system of
    society which bore such fruits.

    Towards night a distressingly cold breeze, laden with a penetrating mist,
    set in from the sea, and put an end to future observations by making us
    too uncomfortable to care for scenery or social conditions. We wanted
    most to devise a way to keep warm. Andrews and I pulled our overcoat and
    blanket closely about us, snuggled together so as to make each one's
    meager body afford the other as much heat as possible--and endured.

    We became fearfully hungry. It will be recollected that we ate the whole
    of the two days' rations issued to us at Blackshear at once, and we had
    received nothing since. We reached the sullen, fainting stage of great
    hunger, and for hours nothing was said by any one, except an occasional
    bitter execration on Rebels and Rebel practices.

    It was late at night when we reached Charleston. The lights of the City,
    and the apparent warmth and comfort there cheered us up somewhat with the
    hopes that we might have some share in them. Leaving the train, we were
    marched some distance through well-lighted streets, in which were plenty
    of people walking to and fro. There were many stores, apparently stocked
    with goods, and the citizens seemed to be going about their business very
    much as was the custom up North.

    At length our head of column made a "right turn," and we marched away
    from the lighted portion of the City, to a part which I could see through
    the shadows was filled with ruins. An almost insupportable odor of gas,
    escaping I suppose from the ruptured pipes, mingled with the cold,
    rasping air from the sea, to make every breath intensely disagreeable.

    As I saw the ruins, it flashed upon me that this was the burnt district
    of the city, and they were putting us under the fire of our own guns.
    At first I felt much alarmed. Little relish as I had on general
    principles, for being shot I had much less for being killed by our own
    men. Then I reflected that if they put me there--and kept me--a guard
    would have to be placed around us, who would necessarily be in as much
    clanger as we were, and I knew I could stand any fire that a Rebel could.

    We were halted in a vacant lot, and sat down, only to jump up the next
    instant, as some one shouted:

    "There comes one of 'em!"

    It was a great shell from the Swamp Angel Battery. Starting from a point
    miles away, where, seemingly, the sky came down to the sea, was a narrow
    ribbon of fire, which slowly unrolled itself against the star-lit vault
    over our heads. On, on it came, and was apparently following the sky
    down to the horizon behind us. As it reached the zenith, there came to
    our ears a prolonged, but not sharp,

    "Whish--ish-ish-ish-ish!"

    We watched it breathlessly, and it seemed to be long minutes in running
    its course; then a thump upon the ground, and a vibration, told that it
    had struck. For a moment there was a dead silence. Then came a loud
    roar, and the crash of breaking timber and crushing walls. The shell had
    bursted.

    Ten minutes later another shell followed, with like results. For awhile
    we forgot all about hunger in the excitement of watching the messengers
    from "God's country." What happiness to be where those shells came from.
    Soon a Rebel battery of heavy guns somewhere near and in front of us,
    waked up, and began answering with dull, slow thumps that made the ground
    shudder. This continued about an hour, when it quieted down again, but
    our shells kept coming over at regular intervals with the same slow
    deliberation, the same prolonged warning, and the same dreadful crash
    when they struck. They had already gone on this way for over a year,
    and were to keep it up months longer until the City was captured.

    The routine was the same from day to day, month in, and month out, from
    early in August, 1863, to the middle of April, 1865. Every few minutes
    during the day our folks would hurl a great shell into the beleaguered
    City, and twice a day, for perhaps an hour each time, the Rebel batteries
    would talk back. It must have been a lesson to the Charlestonians of the
    persistent, methodical spirit of the North. They prided themselves on
    the length of the time they were holding out against the enemy, and the
    papers each day had a column headed:

    "390th DAY OF THE SIEGE,"

    or 391st, 393d, etc., as the number might be since our people opened fire
    upon the City. The part where we lay was a mass of ruins. Many large
    buildings had been knocked down; very many more were riddled with shot
    holes and tottering to their fall. One night a shell passed through a
    large building about a quarter of a mile from us. It had already been
    struck several times, and was shaky. The shell went through with a
    deafening crash. All was still for an instant; then it exploded with a
    dull roar, followed by more crashing of timber and walls. The sound died
    away and was succeeded by a moment of silence. Finally the great
    building fell, a shapeless heap of ruins, with a noise like that of a
    dozen field pieces. We wanted to cheer but restrained ourselves. This
    was the nearest to us that any shell came.

    There was only one section of the City in reach of our guns and this was
    nearly destroyed. Fires had come to complete the work begun by the
    shells. Outside of the boundaries of this region, the people felt
    themselves as safe as in one of our northern Cities to-day. They had an
    abiding faith that they were clear out of reach of any artillery that we
    could mount. I learned afterwards from some of the prisoners, who went
    into Charleston ahead of us, and were camped on the race course outside
    of the City, that one day our fellows threw a shell clear over the City
    to this race course. There was an immediate and terrible panic among the
    citizens. They thought we had mounted some new guns of increased range,
    and now the whole city must go. But the next shell fell inside the
    established limits, and those following were equally well behaved, so
    that the panic abated. I have never heard any explanation of the matter.
    It may have been some freak of the gun-squad, trying the effect of an
    extra charge of powder. Had our people known of its signal effect, they
    could have depopulated the place in a few hours.

    The whole matter impressed me queerly. The only artillery I had ever
    seen in action were field pieces. They made an earsplitting crash when
    they were discharged, and there was likely to be oceans of trouble for
    everybody in that neighborhood about that time. I reasoned from this
    that bigger guns made a proportionally greater amount of noise, and bred
    an infinitely larger quantity of trouble. Now I was hearing the giants
    of the world's ordnance, and they were not so impressive as a lively
    battery of three-inch rifles. Their reports did not threaten to shatter
    everything, but had a dull resonance, something like that produced by
    striking an empty barrel with a wooden maul. Their shells did not come
    at one in that wildly, ferocious way, with which a missile from a
    six-pounder convinces every fellow in a long line of battle that he is
    the identical one it is meant for, but they meandered over in a lazy,
    leisurely manner, as if time was no object and no person would feel put
    out at having to wait for them. Then, the idea of firing every quarter
    of an hour for a year--fixing up a job for a lifetime, as Andrews
    expressed it,--and of being fired back at for an hour at 9 o'clock every
    morning and evening; of fifty thousand people going on buying and
    selling, eating, drinking and sleeping, having dances, drives and balls,
    marrying and giving in marriage, all within a few hundred yards of where
    the shells were falling-struck me as a most singular method of
    conducting warfare.

    We received no rations until the day after our arrival, and then they
    were scanty, though fair in quality. We were by this time so hungry and
    faint that we could hardly move. We did nothing for hours but lie around
    on the ground and try to forget how famished we were. At the
    announcement of rations, many acted as if crazy, and it was all that the
    Sergeants could do to restrain the impatient mob from tearing the food
    away and devouring it, when they were trying to divide it out. Very
    many--perhaps thirty--died during the night and morning. No blame for
    this is attached to the Charlestonians. They distinguished themselves
    from the citizens of every other place in the Southern Confederacy where
    we had been, by making efforts to relieve our condition. They sent quite
    a quantity of food to us, and the Sisters of Charity came among us,
    seeking and ministering to the sick. I believe our experience was the
    usual one. The prisoners who passed through Charleston before us all
    spoke very highly of the kindness shown them by the citizens there.

    We remained in Charleston but a few days. One night we were marched down
    to a rickety depot, and put aboard a still more rickety train. When
    morning came we found ourselves running northward through a pine barren
    country that resembled somewhat that in Georgia, except that the pine was
    short-leaved, there was more oak and other hard woods, and the vegetation
    generally assumed a more Northern look. We had been put into close box
    cars, with guards at the doors and on top. During the night quite a
    number of the boys, who had fabricated little saws out of case knives and
    fragments of hoop iron, cut holes through the bottoms of the cars,
    through which they dropped to the ground and escaped, but were mostly
    recaptured after several days. There was no hole cut in our car, and so
    Andrews and I staid in.

    Just at dusk we came to the insignificant village of Florence, the
    junction of the road leading from Charleston to Cheraw with that running
    from Wilmington to Kingsville. It was about one hundred and twenty miles
    from Charleston, and the same distance from Wilmington. As our train ran
    through a cut near the junction a darky stood by the track gazing at us
    curiously. When the train had nearly passed him he started to run up the
    bank. In the imperfect light the guards mistook him for one of us who
    had jumped from the train. They all fired, and the unlucky negro fell,
    pierced by a score of bullets.

    That night we camped in the open field. When morning came we saw, a few
    hundred yards from us, a Stockade of rough logs, with guards stationed
    around it. It was another prison pen. They were just bringing the dead
    out, and two men were tossing the bodies up into the four-horse wagon
    which hauled them away for burial. The men were going about their
    business as coolly as if loading slaughtered hogs. 'One of them would
    catch the body by the feet, and the other by the arms. They would give
    it a swing--"One, two, three," and up it would go into the wagon. This
    filled heaping full with corpses, a negro mounted the wheel horse,
    grasped the lines, and shouted to his animals:

    "Now, walk off on your tails, boys."

    The horses strained, the wagon moved, and its load of what were once
    gallant, devoted soldiers, was carted off to nameless graves. This was a
    part of the daily morning routine.

    As we stood looking at the sickeningly familiar architecture of the
    prison pen, a Seventh Indianian near me said, in tones of wearisome
    disgust:

    "Well, this Southern Confederacy is the d---dest country to stand logs on
    end on God Almighty's footstool."
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