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Chapter 25

THE "PLYMOUTH PILGRIMS"--SAD TRANSITION FROM COMFORTABLE BARRACKS TO
ANDERSONVILLE--A CRAZED PENNSYLVANIAN--DEVELOPMENT OF THE BUTLER
BUSINESS.

We awoke one morning, in the last part of April, to find about two
thousand freshly arrived prisoners lying asleep in the main streets
running from the gates. They were attired in stylish new uniforms,
with fancy hats and shoes; the Sergeants and Corporals wore patent
leather or silk chevrons, and each man had a large, well-filled knapsack,
of the kind new recruits usually carried on coming first to the front,
and which the older soldiers spoke of humorously as "bureaus." They were
the snuggest, nattiest lot of soldiers we had ever seen, outside of the
"paper collar" fellows forming the headquarter guard of some General in a
large City. As one of my companions surveyed them, he said:

"Hulloa! I'm blanked if the Johnnies haven't caught a regiment of
Brigadier Generals, somewhere."

By-and-by the "fresh fish," as all new arrivals were termed, began to
wake up, and then we learned that they belonged to a brigade consisting
of the Eighty-Fifth New York, One Hundred and First and One Hundred and
Third Pennsylvania, Sixteenth Connecticut, Twenty-Fourth New York
Battery, two companies of Massachusetts heavy artillery, and a company of
the Twelfth New York Cavalry.

They had been garrisoning Plymouth, N. C., an important seaport on the
Roanoke River. Three small gunboats assisted them in their duty. The
Rebels constructed a powerful iron clad called the "Albemarle," at a
point further up the Roanoke, and on the afternoon of the 17th, with her
and three brigades of infantry, made an attack upon the post.
The "Albemarle" ran past the forts unharmed, sank one of the gunboats,
and drove the others away. She then turned her attention to the
garrison, which she took in the rear, while the infantry attacked in
front. Our men held out until the 20th, when they capitulated.
They were allowed to retain their personal effects, of all kinds,
and, as is the case with all men in garrison, these were considerable.

The One Hundred and First and One Hundred and Third Pennsylvania and
Eighty-Fifth New York had just "veteranized," and received their first
instalment of veteran bounty. Had they not been attacked they would have
sailed for home in a day or two, on their veteran furlough, and this
accounted for their fine raiment. They were made up of boys from good
New York and Pennsylvania families, and were, as a rule, intelligent and
fairly educated.

Their horror at the appearance of their place of incarceration was beyond
expression. At one moment they could not comprehend that we dirty and
haggard tatterdemalions had once been clean, self-respecting, well-fed
soldiers like themselves; at the next they would affirm that they knew
they could not stand it a month, in here we had then endured it from four
to nine months. They took it, in every way, the hardest of any prisoners
that came in, except some of the 'Hundred-Days' men, who were brought in
in August, from the Valley of Virginia. They had served nearly all their
time in various garrisons along the seacoast--from Fortress Monroe to
Beaufort--where they had had comparatively little of the actual hardships
of soldiering in the field. They had nearly always had comfortable
quarters, an abundance of food, few hard marches or other severe service.
Consequently they were not so well hardened for Andersonville as the
majority who came in. In other respects they were better prepared,
as they had an abundance of clothing, blankets and cooking utensils,
and each man had some of his veteran bounty still in possession.

It was painful to see how rapidly many of them sank under the miseries of
the situation. They gave up the moment the gates were closed upon them,
and began pining away. We older prisoners buoyed ourselves up
continually with hopes of escape or exchange. We dug tunnels with the
persistence of beavers, and we watched every possible opportunity to get
outside the accursed walls of the pen. But we could not enlist the
interest of these discouraged ones in any of our schemes, or talk.
They resigned themselves to Death, and waited despondingly till he came.

A middle-aged One Hundred and First Pennsylvanian, who had taken up his
quarters near me, was an object of peculiar interest. Reasonably
intelligent and fairly read, I presume that he was a respectable mechanic
before entering the Army. He was evidently a very domestic man, whose
whole happiness centered in his family.

When he first came in he was thoroughly dazed by the greatness of his
misfortune. He would sit for hours with his face in his hands and his
elbows on his knees, gazing out upon the mass of men and huts, with
vacant, lack-luster eyes. We could not interest him in anything.
We tried to show him how to fix his blanket up to give him some shelter,
but he went at the work in a disheartened way, and finally smiled feebly
and stopped. He had some letters from his family and a melaineotype of a
plain-faced woman--his wife--and her children, and spent much time in
looking at them. At first he ate his rations when he drew them, but
finally began to reject, them. In a few days he was delirious with
hunger and homesick ness. He would sit on the sand for hours imagining
that he was at his family table, dispensing his frugal hospitalities to
his wife and children.

Making a motion, as if presenting a dish, he would say:

"Janie, have another biscuit, do!"

Or,

"Eddie, son, won't you have another piece of this nice steak?"

Or,

"Maggie, have some more potatos," and so on, through a whole family of
six, or more. It was a relief to us when he died in about a month after
he came in.

As stated above, the Plymouth men brought in a large amount of money
--variously estimated at from ten thousand to one hundred thousand dollars.
The presence of this quantity of circulating medium immediately started a
lively commerce. All sorts of devices were resorted to by the other
prisoners to get a little of this wealth. Rude chuck-a-luck boards were
constructed out of such material as was attainable, and put in operation.
Dice and cards were brought out by those skilled in such matters.
As those of us already in the Stockade occupied all the ground, there was
no disposition on the part of many to surrender a portion of their space
without exacting a pecuniary compensation. Messes having ground in a
good location would frequently demand and get ten dollars for permission
for two or three to quarter with them. Then there was a great demand for
poles to stretch blankets over to make tents; the Rebels, with their
usual stupid cruelty, would not supply these, nor allow the prisoners to
go out and get them themselves. Many of the older prisoners had poles to
spare which they were saying up for fuel. They sold these to the
Plymouth folks at the rate of ten dollars for three--enough to put up a
blanket.

The most considerable trading was done through the gates. The Rebel
guards were found quite as keen to barter as they had been in Richmond.
Though the laws against their dealing in the money of the enemy were
still as stringent as ever, their thirst for greenbacks was not abated
one whit, and they were ready to sell anything they had for the coveted
currency. The rate of exchange was seven or eight dollars in Confederate
money for one dollar in greenbacks. Wood, tobacco, meat, flour, beans,
molasses, onions and a villainous kind of whisky made from sorghum, were
the staple articles of trade. A whole race of little traffickers in
these articles sprang up, and finally Selden, the Rebel Quartermaster,
established a sutler shop in the center of the North Side, which he put
in charge of Ira Beverly, of the One Hundredth Ohio, and Charlie
Huckleby, of the Eighth Tennessee. It was a fine illustration of the
development of the commercial instinct in some men. No more unlikely
place for making money could be imagined, yet starting in without a cent,
they contrived to turn and twist and trade, until they had transferred to
their pockets a portion of the funds which were in some one else's.
The Rebels, of course, got nine out of every ten dollars there was in the
prison, but these middle men contrived to have a little of it stick to
their fingers.

It was only the very few who were able to do this. Nine hundred and
ninety-nine out of every thousand were, like myself, either wholly
destitute of money and unable to get it from anybody else, or they paid
out what money they had to the middlemen, in exorbitant prices for
articles of food.

The N'Yaarkers had still another method for getting food, money, blankets
and clothing. They formed little bands called "Raiders," under the
leadership of a chief villain. One of these bands would select as their
victim a man who had good blankets, clothes, a watch, or greenbacks.
Frequently he would be one of the little traders, with a sack of beans,
a piece of meat, or something of that kind. Pouncing upon him at night
they would snatch away his possessions, knock down his friends who came
to his assistance, and scurry away into the darkness.

John McElroy