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    Chapter 79

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    Chapter 80
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    GETTING USED TO FREEDOM--DELIGHTS OF A LAND WHERE THERE IS ENOUGH OF
    EVERYTHING--FIRST GLIMPSE OF THE OLD FLAG--WILMINGTON AND ITS HISTORY
    --LIEUTENANT CUSHING--FIRST ACQUAINTANCE WITH THE COLORED TROOPS--LEAVING
    FOR HOME--DESTRUCTION OF THE "THORN" BY A TORPEDO--THE MOCK MONITOR'S
    ACHIEVEMENT.

    After a sound sleep, Andrews and I awoke to the enjoyment of our first
    day of freedom and existence in God's country. The sun had already
    risen, bright and warm, consonant with the happiness of the new life now
    opening up for us.

    But to nearly a score of our party his beams brought no awakening
    gladness. They fell upon stony, staring eyes, from out of which the
    light of life had now faded, as the light of hope had done long ago.
    The dead lay there upon the rude beds of fallen leaves, scraped together
    by thoughtful comrades the night before, their clenched teeth showing
    through parted lips, faces fleshless and pinched, long, unkempt and
    ragged hair and whiskers just stirred by the lazy breeze, the rotting
    feet and limbs drawn up, and skinny hands clenched in the last agonies.

    Their fate seemed harder than that of any who had died before them.
    It was doubtful if many of them knew that they were at last inside of our
    own lines.

    Again the kind-hearted boys of the brigade crowded around us with
    proffers of service. Of an Ohio boy who directed his kind tenders to
    Andrews and me, we procured a chunk of coarse rosin soap about as big as
    a pack of cards, and a towel. Never was there as great a quantity of
    solid comfort got out of that much soap as we obtained. It was the first
    that we had since that which I stole in Wirz's headquarters, in June
    --nine months before. We felt that the dirt which had accumulated upon
    us since then would subject us to assessment as real estate if we were
    in the North.

    Hurrying off to a little creek we began our ablutions, and it was not
    long until Andrews declared that there was a perceptible sand-bar forming
    in the stream, from what we washed off. Dirt deposits of the Pliocene
    era rolled off feet and legs. Eocene incrustations let loose reluctantly
    from neck and ears; the hair was a mass of tangled locks matted with nine
    months' accumulation of pitch pine tar, rosin soot, and South Carolina
    sand, that we did not think we had better start in upon it until we
    either had the shock cut off, or had a whole ocean and a vat of soap to
    wash it out with.

    After scrubbing until we were exhausted we got off the first few outer
    layers--the post tertiary formation, a geologist would term it--and the
    smell of many breakfasts cooking, coming down over the hill, set our
    stomachs in a mutiny against any longer fasting.

    We went back, rosy, panting, glowing, but happy, to get our selves some
    breakfast.

    Should Providence, for some inscrutable reason, vouchsafe me the years of
    Methuselah, one of the pleasantest recollections that will abide with me
    to the close of the nine hundredth and sixty-ninth year, will be of that
    delightful odor of cooking food which regaled our senses as we came back.
    From the boiling coffee and the meat frying in the pan rose an incense
    sweeter to the senses a thousand times than all the perfumes of far
    Arabia. It differed from the loathsome odor of cooking corn meal as much
    as it did from the effluvia of a sewer.

    Our noses were the first of our senses to bear testimony that we had
    passed from the land of starvation to that of plenty. Andrews and I
    hastened off to get our own breakfast, and soon had a half-gallon of
    strong coffee, and a frying-pan full, of meat cooking over the fire--not
    one of the beggarly skimped little fires we had crouched over during our
    months of imprisonment, but a royal, generous fire, fed with logs instead
    of shavings and splinters, and giving out heat enough to warm a regiment.

    Having eaten positively all that we could swallow, those of us who could
    walk were ordered to fall in and march over to Wilmington. We crossed
    the branch of the river on a pontoon bridge, and took the road that led
    across the narrow sandy island between the two branches, Wilmington being
    situated on the opposite bank of the farther one.

    When about half way a shout from some one in advance caused us to look
    up, and then we saw, flying from a tall steeple in Wilmington, the
    glorious old Stars and Stripes, resplendent in the morning sun, and more
    beautiful than the most gorgeous web from Tyrian looms. We stopped with
    one accord, and shouted and cheered and cried until every throat was sore
    and every eye red and blood-shot. It seemed as if our cup of happiness
    would certainly run over if any more additions were made to it.

    When we arrived at the bank of the river opposite Wilmington, a whole
    world of new and interesting sights opened up before us. Wilmington,
    during the last year-and-a-half of the war, was, next to Richmond, the
    most important place in the Southern Confederacy. It was the only port
    to which blockade running was at all safe enough to be lucrative. The
    Rebels held the strong forts of Caswell and Fisher, at the mouth of Cape
    Fear River, and outside, the Frying Pan Shoals, which extended along the
    coast forty or fifty miles, kept our blockading fleet so far off, and
    made the line so weak and scattered, that there was comparatively little
    risk to the small, swift-sailing vessels employed by the blockade runners
    in running through it. The only way that blockade running could be
    stopped was by the reduction of Forts Caswell and Fisher, and it was not
    stopped until this was done.

    Before the war Wilmington was a dull, sleepy North Carolina Town, with as
    little animation of any kind as a Breton Pillage. The only business was
    the handling of the tar, turpentine, rosin, and peanuts produced in the
    surrounding country, a business never lively enough to excite more than a
    lazy ripple in the sluggish lagoons of trade. But very new wine was put
    into this old bottle when blockade running began to develop in
    importance. Then this Sleepy hollow of a place took on the appearance of
    San Francisco in the hight of the gold fever. The English houses engaged
    in blockade running established branches there conducted by young men who
    lived like princes. All the best houses in the City were leased by them
    and fitted up in the most gorgeous style. They literally clothed
    themselves in purple and fine linen and fared sumptuously every day, with
    their fine wines and imported delicacies and retinue of servants to wait
    upon them. Fast young Rebel officers, eager for a season of dissipation,
    could imagine nothing better than a leave of absence to go to Wilmington.
    Money flowed like water. The common sailors--the scum of all foreign
    ports--who manned the blockade runners, received as high as one hundred
    dollars in gold per month, and a bounty of fifty dollars for every
    successful trip, which from Nassau could be easily made in seven days.
    Other people were paid in proportion, and as the old proverb says, "What
    comes over the Devil's back is spent under his breast," the money so
    obtained was squandered recklessly, and all sorts of debauchery ran riot.

    On the ground where we were standing had been erected several large steam
    cotton presses, built to compress cotton for the blockade runners.
    Around them were stored immense quantities of cotton, and near by were
    nearly as great stores of turpentine, rosin and tar. A little farther
    down the river was navy yard with docks, etc., for the accommodation,
    building and repair of blockade runners. At the time our folks took Fort
    Fisher and advanced on Wilmington the docks were filled with vessels.
    The retreating Rebels set fire to everything--cotton, cotton presses,
    turpentine, rosin, tar, navy yard, naval stores, timber, docks, and
    vessels, and the fire made clean work. Our people arrived too late to
    save anything, and when we came in the smoke from the burned cotton,
    turpentine, etc., still filled the woods. It was a signal illustration
    of the ravages of war. Here had been destroyed, in a few hours, more
    property than a half-million industrious men would accumulate in their
    lives.

    Almost as gratifying as the sight of the old flag flying in triumph, was
    the exhibition of our naval power in the river before us. The larger
    part of the great North Atlantic squadron, which had done such excellent
    service in the reduction of the defenses of Wilmington, was lying at
    anchor, with their hundreds of huge guns yawning as if ardent for more
    great forts to beat down, more vessels to sink, more heavy artillery to
    crush, more Rebels to conquer. It seemed as if there were cannon enough
    there to blow the whole Confederacy into kingdom-come. All was life and
    animation around the fleet. On the decks the officers were pacing up and
    down. One on each vessel carried a long telescope, with which he almost
    constantly swept the horizon. Numberless small boats, each rowed by
    neatly-uniformed men, and carrying a flag in the stern, darted hither and
    thither, carrying officers on errands of duty or pleasure. It was such a
    scene as enabled me to realize in a measure, the descriptions I had read
    of the pomp and circumstance of naval warfare.

    While we were standing, contemplating all the interesting sights within
    view, a small steamer, about the size of a canal-boat, and carrying
    several bright brass guns, ran swiftly and noiselessly up to the dock
    near by, and a young, pale-faced officer, slender in build and nervous in
    manner, stepped ashore. Some of the blue jackets who were talking to us
    looked at him and the vessel with the greatest expression of interest,
    and said:

    "Hello! there's the 'Monticello' and Lieutenant Cushing."

    This, then, was the naval boy hero, with whose exploits the whole country
    was ringing. Our sailor friends proceeded to tell us of his
    achievements, of which they were justly proud. They told us of his
    perilous scouts and his hairbreadth escapes, of his wonderful audacity
    and still more wonderful success--of his capture of Towns with a handful
    of sailors, and the destruction of valuable stores, etc. I felt very
    sorry that the man was not a cavalry commander. There he would have had
    full scope for his peculiar genius. He had come prominently into notice
    in the preceding Autumn, when he had, by one of the most daring
    performances narrated in naval history, destroyed the formidable ram
    "Albermarle." This vessel had been constructed by the Rebels on the
    Roanoke River, and had done them very good service, first by assisting to
    reduce the forts and capture the garrison at Plymouth, N. C., and
    afterward in some minor engagements. In October, 1864, she was lying at
    Plymouth. Around her was a boom of logs to prevent sudden approaches of
    boats or vessels from our fleet. Cushing, who was then barely
    twenty-one, resolved to attempt her destruction. He fitted up a steam
    launch with a long spar to which he attached a torpedo. On the night of
    October 27th, with thirteen companions, he ran quietly up the Sound and
    was not discovered until his boat struck the boom, when a terrific fire
    was opened upon him. Backing a short distance, he ran at the boom with
    such velocity that his boat leaped across it into the water beyond. In
    an instant more his torpedo struck the side of the "Albemarle" and
    exploded, tearing a great hole in her hull, which sank her in a few
    minutes. At the moment the torpedo went off the "Albermarle" fired one
    of her great guns directly into the launch, tearing it completely to
    pieces. Lieutenant Cushing and one comrade rose to the surface of the
    seething water and, swimming ashore, escaped. What became of the rest
    is not known, but their fate can hardly be a matter of doubt.

    We were ferried across the river into Wilmington, and marched up the
    streets to some vacant ground near the railroad depot, where we found
    most of our old Florence comrades already assembled. When they left us
    in the middle of February they were taken to Wilmington, and thence to
    Goldsboro, N. C., where they were kept until the rapid closing in of our
    Armies made it impracticable to hold them any longer, when they were sent
    back to Wilmington and given up to our forces as we had been.

    It was now nearly noon, and we were ordered to fall in and draw rations,
    a bewildering order to us, who had been so long in the habit of drawing
    food but once a day. We fell in in single rank, and marched up, one at a
    time, past where a group of employees of the Commissary Department dealt
    out the food. One handed each prisoner as he passed a large slice of
    meat; another gave him a handful of ground coffee; a third a handful of
    sugar; a fourth gave him a pickle, while a fifth and sixth handed him an
    onion and a loaf of fresh bread. This filled the horn of our plenty
    full. To have all these in one day--meat, coffee, sugar, onions and soft
    bread--was simply to riot in undreamed-of luxury. Many of the boys--poor
    fellows--could not yet realize that there was enough for all, or they
    could not give up their old "flanking" tricks, and they stole around,
    and falling into the rear, came up again for' another share. We laughed
    at them, as did the Commissary men, who, nevertheless, duplicated the
    rations already received, and sent them away happy and content.

    What a glorious dinner Andrews and I had, with our half gallon of strong
    coffee, our soft bread, and a pan full of fried pork and onions! Such an
    enjoyable feast will never be, eaten again by us.

    Here we saw negro troops under arms for the first time--the most of the
    organization of colored soldiers having been, done since our capture.
    It was startling at first to see a stalwart, coal-black negro stalking
    along with a Sergeant's chevrons on his arm, or to gaze on a regimental
    line of dusky faces on dress parade, but we soon got used to it. The
    first strong peculiarity of the negro soldier that impressed itself, upon
    us was his literal obedience of orders. A white soldier usually allows
    himself considerable discretion in obeying orders--he aims more at the
    spirit, while the negro adheres to the strict letter of the command.

    For instance, the second day after our arrival a line of guards were
    placed around us, with orders not to allow any of us to go up town
    without a pass. The reason of this was that many weak--even dying-men
    would persist in wandering about, and would be found exhausted,
    frequently dead, in various parts of the City. Andrews and I concluded
    to go up town. Approaching a negro sentinel he warned us back with,

    "Stand back, dah; don't come any furder; it's agin de awdahs; you can't
    pass."

    He would not allow us to argue the case, but brought his gun to such a
    threatening position that we fell back. Going down the line a little
    farther, we came to a white sentinel, to whom I said:

    "Comrade, what are your orders:"

    He replied:

    "My orders are not to let any of you fellows pass, but my beat only
    extends to that out-house there."

    Acting on this plain hint, we walked around the house and went up-town.
    The guard simply construed his orders in a liberal spirit. He reasoned
    that they hardly applied to us, since we were evidently able to take care
    of ourselves.

    Later we had another illustration of this dog like fidelity of the
    colored sentinel. A number of us were quartered in a large and empty
    warehouse. On the same floor, and close to us, were a couple of very
    fine horses belonging to some officer. We had not been in the warehouse
    very long until we concluded that the straw with which the horses were
    bedded would be better used in making couches for ourselves, and this
    suggestion was instantly acted upon, and so thoroughly that there was not
    a straw left between the animals and the bare boards. Presently the
    owner of the horses came in, and he was greatly incensed at what had been
    done. He relieved his mind of a few sulphurous oaths, and going out,
    came back soon with a man with more straw, and a colored soldier whom he
    stationed by the horses, saying:

    "Now, look here. You musn't let anybody take anything sway from these
    stalls; d'you understand me?--not a thing."

    He then went out. Andrews and I had just finished cooking dinner, and
    were sitting down to eat it. Wishing to lend our frying-pan to another
    mess, I looked around for something to lay our meat upon. Near the
    horses I saw a book cover, which would answer the purpose admirably.
    Springing up, I skipped across to where it was, snatched it up, and ran
    back to my place. As I reached it a yell from the boys made me look
    around. The darky was coming at me "full tilt," with his gun at a
    "charge bayonets." As I turned he said:

    "Put dat right back dah!"

    I said:

    "Why, this don't amount to anything, this is only an old book cover.
    It hasn't anything in the world to do with the horses."

    He only replied:

    "Put dat right back dah!"

    I tried another appeal:

    "Now, you woolly-headed son of thunder, haven't you got sense enough to
    know that the officer who posted you didn't mean such a thing as this!
    He only meant that we should not be allowed to take any of the horses'
    bedding or equipments; don't you see?"

    I might as well have reasoned with a cigar store Indian. He set his
    teeth, his eyes showed a dangerous amount of white, and foreshortening
    his musket for a lunge, he hissed out again "Put dat right back dah, I
    tell you!"

    I looked at the bayonet; it was very long, very bright, and very sharp.
    It gleamed cold and chilly like, as if it had not run through a man for a
    long time, and yearned for another opportunity. Nothing but the whites
    of the darky's eyes could now be seen. I did not want to perish there in
    the fresh bloom of my youth and loveliness; it seemed to me as if it was
    my duty to reserve myself for fields of future usefulness, so I walked
    back and laid the book cover precisely on the spot whence I had obtained
    it, while the thousand boys in the house set up a yell of sarcastic
    laughter.

    We staid in Wilmington a few days, days of almost purely animal
    enjoyment--the joy of having just as much to eat as we could possibly
    swallow, and no one to molest or make us afraid in any way. How we did
    eat and fill up. The wrinkles in our skin smoothed out under the
    stretching, and we began to feel as if we were returning to our old
    plumpness, though so far the plumpness was wholly abdominal.

    One morning we were told that the transports would begin going back with
    us that afternoon, the first that left taking the sick. Andrews and I,
    true to our old prison practices, resolved to be among those on the first
    boat. We slipped through the guards and going up town, went straight to
    Major General Schofield's headquarters and solicited a pass to go on the
    first boat--the steamer "Thorn." General Schofield treated us very
    kindly; but declined to let anybody but the helplessly sick go on the
    "Thorn." Defeated here we went down to where the vessel was lying at the
    dock, and tried to smuggle ourselves aboard, but the guard was too strong
    and too vigilant, and we were driven away. Going along the dock, angry
    and discouraged by our failure, we saw a Surgeon, at a little distance,
    who was examining and sending the sick who could walk aboard another
    vessel--the "General Lyon." We took our cue, and a little shamming
    secured from him tickets which permitted us to take our passage in her.
    The larger portion of those on board were in the hold, and a few were on
    deck. Andrews and I found a snug place under the forecastle, by the
    anchor chains.

    Both vessels speedily received their complement, and leaving their docks,
    started down the river. The "Thorn" steamed ahead of us, and
    disappeared. Shortly after we got under way, the Colonel who was put in
    command of the boat--himself a released prisoner--came around on a tour
    of inspection. He found about one thousand of us aboard, and singling me
    out made me the non-commissioned officer in command. I was put in
    charge, of issuing the rations and of a barrel of milk punch which the
    Sanitary Commission had sent down to be dealt out on the voyage to such
    as needed it. I went to work and arranged the boys in the best way I
    could, and returned to the deck to view the scenery.

    Wilmington is thirty-four miles from the sea, and the river for that
    distance is a calm, broad estuary. At this time the resources of Rebel
    engineering were exhausted in defense against its passage by a hostile
    fleet, and undoubtedly the best work of the kind in the Southern
    Confederacy was done upon it. At its mouth were Forts Fisher and
    Caswell, the strongest sea coast forts in the Confederacy. Fort Caswell
    was an old United States fort, much enlarged and strengthened. Fort
    Fisher was a new work, begun immediately after the beginning of the war,
    and labored at incessantly until captured. Behind these every one of the
    thirty-four miles to Wilmington was covered with the fire of the best
    guns the English arsenals could produce, mounted on forts built at every
    advantageous spot. Lines of piles running out into the water, forced
    incoming vessels to wind back and forth across the stream under the
    point-blank range of massive Armstrong rifles. As if this were not
    sufficient, the channel was thickly studded with torpedoes that would
    explode at the touch of the keel of a passing vessel. These abundant
    precautions, and the telegram from General Lee, found in Fort Fisher,
    stating that unless that stronghold and Fort Caswell were held he could
    not hold Richmond, give some idea of the importance of the place to the
    Rebels.

    We passed groups of hundreds of sailors fishing for torpedos, and saw
    many of these dangerous monsters, which they had hauled up out of the
    water. We caught up with the "Thorn," when about half way to the sea,
    passed her, to our great delight, and soon left a gap between us of
    nearly half-a-mile. We ran through an opening in the piling, holding up
    close to the left side, and she apparently followed our course exactly.
    Suddenly there was a dull roar; a column of water, bearing with it
    fragments of timbers, planking and human bodies, rose up through one side
    of the vessel, and, as it fell, she lurched forward and sank. She had
    struck a torpedo. I never learned the number lost, but it must have been
    very great.

    Some little time after this happened we approached Fort Anderson, the
    most powerful of the works between Wilmington and the forts at the mouth
    of the sea. It was built on the ruins of the little Town of Brunswick,
    destroyed by Cornwallis during the Revolutionary War. We saw a monitor
    lying near it, and sought good positions to view this specimen of the
    redoubtable ironclads of which we had heard and read so much. It looked
    precisely as it did in pictures, as black, as grim, and as uncompromising
    as the impregnable floating fortress which had brought the "Merrimac" to
    terms.

    But as we approached closely we noticed a limpness about the smoke stack
    that seemed very inconsistent with the customary rigidity of cylindrical
    iron. Then the escape pipe seemed scarcely able to maintain itself
    upright. A few minutes later we discovered that our terrible Cyclops of
    the sea was a flimsy humbug, a theatrical imitation, made by stretching
    blackened canvas over a wooden frame.

    One of the officers on board told us its story. After the fall of Fort
    Fisher the Rebels retired to Fort Anderson, and offered a desperate
    resistance to our army and fleet. Owing to the shallowness of the water
    the latter could not come into close enough range to do effective work.
    Then the happy idea of this sham monitor suggested itself to some one.
    It was prepared, and one morning before daybreak it was sent floating in
    on the tide. The other monitors opened up a heavy fire from their
    position. The Rebels manned their guns and replied vigorously, by
    concentrating a terrible cannonade on the sham monitor, which sailed
    grandly on, undisturbed by the heavy rifled bolts tearing through her
    canvas turret. Almost frantic with apprehension of the result if she
    could not be checked, every gun that would bear was turned upon her, and
    torpedos were exploded in her pathway by electricity. All these she
    treated with the silent contempt they merited from so invulnerable a
    monster. At length, as she reached a good easy range of the fort, her
    bow struck something, and she swung around as if to open fire. That was
    enough for the Rebels. With Schofield's army reaching out to cut off
    their retreat, and this dreadful thing about to tear the insides out of
    their fort with four-hundred-pound shot at quarter-mile range, there was
    nothing for them to do but consult their own safety, which they did with
    such haste that they did not spike a gun, or destroy a pound of stores.
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