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Chapter 14

HOPING FOR EXCHANGE--AN EXPOSITION OF THE DOCTRINE OF CHANCES
--OFF FOR ANDERSONVILLE--UNCERTAINTY AS TO OUR DESTINATION--ARRIVAL AT
ANDERSONVILLE.

As each lagging day closed, we confidently expected that the next would
bring some news of the eagerly-desired exchange. We hopefully assured
each other that the thing could not be delayed much longer; that the
Spring was near, the campaign would soon open, and each government would
make an effort to get all its men into the field, and this would bring
about a transfer of prisoners. A Sergeant of the Seventh Indiana
Infantry stated his theory to me this way:

"You know I'm just old lightnin' on chuck-a-luck. Now the way I bet is
this: I lay down, say on the ace, an' it don't come up; I just double my
bet on the ace, an' keep on doublin' every time it loses, until at last
it comes up an' then I win a bushel o' money, and mebbe bust the bank.
You see the thing's got to come up some time; an' every time it don't
come up makes it more likely to come up the next time. It's just the
same way with this 'ere exchange. The thing's got to happen some day,
an' every day that it don't happen increases the chances that it will
happen the next day."

Some months later I folded the sanguine Sergeant's stiffening hands
together across his fleshless ribs, and helped carry his body out to the
dead-house at Andersonville, in order to get a piece of wood to cook my
ration of meal with.

On the evening of the 17th of February, 1864, we were ordered to get
ready to move at daybreak the next morning. We were certain this could
mean nothing else than exchange, and our exaltation was such that we did
little sleeping that night. The morning was very cold, but we sang and
joked as we marched over the creaking bridge, on our way to the cars.
We were packed so tightly in these that it was impossible to even sit
down, and we rolled slow ly away after a wheezing engine to Petersburg,
whence we expected to march to the exchange post. We reached Petersburg
before noon, and the cars halted there along time, we momentarily
expecting an order to get out. Then the train started up and moved out
of the City toward the southeast. This was inexplicable, but after we
had proceeded this way for several hours some one conceived the idea that
the Rebels, to avoid treating with Butler, were taking us into the
Department of some other commander to exchange us. This explanation
satisfied us, and our spirits rose again.

Night found us at Gaston, N. C., where we received a few crackers for
rations, and changed cars. It was dark, and we resorted to a little
strategy to secure more room. About thirty of us got into a tight box
car, and immediately announced that it was too full to admit any more.
When an officer came along with another squad to stow away, we would yell
out to him to take some of the men out, as we were crowded unbearably.
In the mean time everybody in the car would pack closely around the door,
so as to give the impression that the car was densely crowded. The Rebel
would look convinced, and demand:

"Why, how many men have you got in de cah?"

Then one of us would order the imaginary host in the invisible recesses
to--

"Stand still there, and be counted," while he would gravely count up to
one hundred or one hundred and twenty, which was the utmost limit of the
car, and the Rebel would hurry off to put his prisoners somewhere else.
We managed to play this successfully during the whole journey, and not
only obtained room to lie down in the car, but also drew three or four
times as many rations as were intended for us, so that while we at no
time had enough, we were farther from starvation than our less strategic
companions.

The second afternoon we arrived at Raleigh, the capitol of North
Carolina, and were camped in a piece of timber, and shortly after dark
orders were issued to us all to lie flat on the ground and not rise up
till daylight. About the middle of the night a man belonging to a New
Jersey regiment, who had apparently forgotten the order, stood up, and
was immediately shot dead by the guard.

For four or five days more the decrepit little locomotive strained along,
dragging after it the rattling' old cars. The scenery was intensely
monotonous. It was a flat, almost unending, stretch of pine barrens and
the land so poor that a disgusted Illinoisan, used to the fertility of
the great American Bottom, said rather strongly, that,

"By George, they'd have to manure this ground before they could even make
brick out of it."

It was a surprise to all of us who had heard so much of the wealth of
Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia, to find the soil a
sterile sand bank, interspersed with swamps.

We had still no idea of where we were going. We only knew that our
general course was southward, and that we had passed through the
Carolinas, and were in Georgia. We furbished up our school knowledge of
geography and endeavored to recall something of the location of Raleigh,
Charlotte, Columbia and Augusta, through which we passed, but the attempt
was not a success.

Late on the afternoon of the 25th of February the Seventh Indiana
Sergeant approached me with the inquiry:

"Do you know where Macon is?"

The place had not then become as well known as it was afterward.

It seemed to me that I had read something of Macon in Revolutionary
history, and that it was a fort on the sea coast. He said that the guard
had told him that we were to be taken to a point near that place, and we
agreed that it was probably a new place of exchange. A little later we
passed through the town of Macon, Ga, and turned upon a road that led
almost due south.

About midnight the train stopped, and we were ordered off. We were in
the midst of a forest of tall trees that loaded the air with the heavy
balsamic odor peculiar to pine trees. A few small rude houses were
scattered around near.

Stretching out into the darkness was a double row of great heaps of
burning pitch pine, that smoked and flamed fiercely, and lit up a little
space around in the somber forest with a ruddy glare. Between these two
rows lay a road, which we were ordered to take.

The scene was weird and uncanny. I had recently read the "Iliad," and
the long lines of huge fires reminded me of that scene in the first book,
where the Greeks burn on the sea shore the bodies of those smitten by
Apollo's pestilential-arrows

For nine long nights, through all the dusky air,
The pyres, thick flaming shot a dismal glare.

Five hundred weary men moved along slowly through double lines of guards.
Five hundred men marched silently towards the gates that were to shut out
life and hope from most of them forever. A quarter of a mile from the
railroad we came to a massive palisade of great squared logs standing
upright in the ground. The fires blazed up and showed us a section of
these, and two massive wooden gates, with heavy iron hinges and bolts.
They swung open as we stood there and we passed through into the space
beyond.

We were in Andersonville.

John McElroy