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Chapter 22


There were two regiments guarding us--the Twenty-Sixth Alabama and the
Fifty-Fifth Georgia. Never were two regiments of the same army more
different. The Alabamians were the superiors of the Georgians in every
way that one set of men could be superior to another. They were manly,
soldierly, and honorable, where the Georgians were treacherous and
brutal. We had nothing to complain of at the hands of the Alabamians;
we suffered from the Georgians everything that mean-spirited cruelty
could devise. The Georgians were always on the look-out for something
that they could torture into such apparent violation of orders, as would
justify them in shooting men down; the Alabamians never fired until they
were satisfied that a deliberate offense was intended. I can recall of
my own seeing at least a dozen instances where men of the Fifty-Fifth
Georgia Killed prisoners under the pretense that they were across the
Dead Line, when the victims were a yard or more from the Dead Line, and
had not the remotest idea of going any nearer.

The only man I ever knew to be killed by one of the Twenty-Sixth Alabama
was named Hubbard, from Chicago, Ills., and a member of the Thirty-Eighth
Illinois. He had lost one leg, and went hobbling about the camp on
crutches, chattering continually in a loud, discordant voice, saying all
manner of hateful and annoying things, wherever he saw an opportunity.
This and his beak-like nose gained for him the name of "Poll Parrot."
His misfortune caused him to be tolerated where another man would have
been suppressed. By-and-by he gave still greater cause for offense by
his obsequious attempts to curry favor with Captain Wirz, who took him
outside several times for purposes that were not well explained.
Finally, some hours after one of Poll Parrot's visits outside, a Rebel
officer came in with a guard, and, proceeding with suspicious directness
to a tent which was the mouth of a large tunnel that a hundred men or
more had been quietly pushing forward, broke the tunnel in, and took the
occupants of the tent outside for punishment. The question that demanded
immediate solution then was:

"Who is the traitor who has informed the Rebels?"

Suspicion pointed very strongly to "Poll Parrot." By the next morning
the evidence collected seemed to amount to a certainty, and a crowd
caught the Parrot with the intention of lynching him. He succeeded in
breaking away from them and ran under the Dead Line, near where I was
sitting in, my tent. At first it looked as if he had done this to secure
the protection of the guard. The latter--a Twenty-Sixth Alabamian
--ordered him out. Poll Parrot rose up on his one leg, put his back
against the Dead Line, faced the guard, and said in his harsh, cackling

"No; I won't go out. If I've lost the confidence of my comrades I want
to die."

Part of the crowd were taken back by this move, and felt disposed to
accept it as a demonstration of the Parrot's innocence. The rest thought
it was a piece of bravado, because of his belief that the Rebels would
not injure, him after he had served them. They renewed their yells, the
guard again ordered the Parrot out, but the latter, tearing open his
blouse, cackled out:

"No, I won't go; fire at me, guard. There's my heart shoot me right

There was no help for it. The Rebel leveled his gun and fired. The
charge struck the Parrot's lower jaw, and carried it completely away,
leaving his tongue and the roof of his mouth exposed. As he was carried
back to die, he wagged his tongue rigorously, in attempting to speak, but
it was of no use.

The guard set his gun down and buried his face in his hands. It was the
only time that I saw a sentinel show anything but exultation at killing a

A ludicrous contrast to this took place a few nights later. The rains
had ceased, the weather had become warmer, and our spirits rising with
this increase in the comfort of our surroundings, a number of us were
sitting around "Nosey"--a boy with a superb tenor voice--who was singing
patriotic songs. We were coming in strong on the chorus, in a way that
spoke vastly more for our enthusiasm for the Union than our musical
knowledge. "Nosey" sang the "Star Spangled Banner," "The Battle Cry of
Freedom," "Brave Boys are They," etc., capitally, and we threw our whole
lungs into the chorus. It was quite dark, and while our noise was going
on the guards changed, new men coming on duty. Suddenly, bang! went the
gun of the guard in the box about fifty feet away from us. We knew it
was a Fifty-Fifth Georgian, and supposed that, irritated at our singing,
he was trying to kill some of us for spite. At the sound of the gun we
jumped up and scattered. As no one gave the usual agonized yell of a
prisoner when shot, we supposed the ball had not taken effect. We could
hear the sentinel ramming down another cartridge, hear him "return
rammer," and cock his rifle. Again the gun cracked, and again there was
no sound of anybody being hit. Again we could hear the sentry churning
down another cartridge. The drums began beating the long roll in the
camps, and officers could be heard turning the men out. The thing was
becoming exciting, and one of us sang out to the guard:

"S-a-y! What the are you shooting at, any how?"

"I'm a shootin' at that ---- ---- Yank thar by the Dead Line, and by ---
if you'uns don't take him in I'll blow the whole head offn him."

"What Yank? Where's any Yank?"

"Why, thar--right thar--a-standin' agin the Ded Line."

"Why, you Rebel fool, that's a chunk of wood. You can't get any furlough
for shooting that!"

At this there was a general roar from the rest of the camp, which the
other guards took up, and as the Reserves came double-quicking up, and
learned the occasion of the alarm, they gave the rascal who had been so
anxious to kill somebody a torrent of abuse for having disturbed them.

A part of our crowd had been out after wood during the day, and secured a
piece of a log as large as two of them could carry, and bringing it in,
stood it up near the Dead Line. When the guard mounted to his post he
was sure he saw a temerarious Yankee in front of him, and hastened to
slay him.

It was an unusual good fortune that nobody was struck. It was very rare
that the guards fired into the prison without hitting at least one
person. The Georgia Reserves, who formed our guards later in the season,
were armed with an old gun called a Queen Anne musket, altered to
percussion. It carried a bullet as big as a large marble, and three or
four buckshot. When fired into a group of men it was sure to bring
several down.

I was standing one day in the line at the gate, waiting for a chance to
go out after wood. A Fifty-Fifth Georgian was the gate guard, and he
drew a line in the sand with his bayonet which we should not cross.
The crowd behind pushed one man till he put his foot a few inches over
the line, to save himself from falling; the guard sank a bayonet through
the foot as quick as a flash.

John McElroy