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Chapter 33

"POUR PASSER LE TEMPS"--A SET OF CHESSMEN PROCURED UNDER DIFFICULTIES
--RELIGIOUS SERVICES--THE DEVOTED PRIEST--WAR SONG.

The time moved with leaden feet. Do the best we could, there were very
many tiresome hours for which no occupation whatever could be found.
All that was necessary to be done during the day--attending roll call,
drawing and cooking rations, killing lice and washing--could be disposed
of in an hour's time, and we were left with fifteen or sixteen waking
hours, for which there was absolutely no employment. Very many tried to
escape both the heat and ennui by sleeping as much as possible through
the day, but I noticed that those who did this soon died, and
consequently I did not do it. Card playing had sufficed to pass away the
hours at first, but our cards soon wore out, and deprived us of this
resource. My chum, Andrews, and I constructed a set of chessmen with an
infinite deal of trouble. We found a soft, white root in the swamp which
answered our purpose. A boy near us had a tolerably sharp pocket-knife,
for the use of which a couple of hours each day, we gave a few spoonfuls
of meal. The knife was the only one among a large number of prisoners,
as the Rebel guards had an affection for that style of cutlery, which led
them to search incoming prisoners, very closely. The fortunate owner of
this derived quite a little income of meal by shrewdly loaning it to his
knifeless comrades. The shapes that we made for pieces and pawns were
necessarily very rude, but they were sufficiently distinct for
identification. We blackened one set with pitch pine soot, found a piece
of plank that would answer for a board and purchased it from its
possessor for part of a ration of meal, and so were fitted out with what
served until our release to distract our attention from much of the
surrounding misery.

Every one else procured such amusement as they could. Newcomers, who
still had money and cards, gambled as long as their means lasted. Those
who had books read them until the leaves fell apart. Those who had paper
and pen and ink tried to write descriptions and keep journals, but this
was usually given up after being in prison a few weeks. I was fortunate
enough to know a boy who had brought a copy of "Gray's Anatomy" into
prison with him. I was not specially interested in the subject, but it
was Hobson's choice; I could read anatomy or nothing, and so I tackled it
with such good will that before my friend became sick and was taken
outside, and his book with him, I had obtained a very fair knowledge of
the rudiments of physiology.

There was a little band of devoted Christian workers, among whom were
Orderly Sergeant Thomas J. Sheppard, Ninety-Seventh O. Y. L, now a
leading Baptist minister in Eastern Ohio; Boston Corbett, who afterward
slew John Wilkes Booth, and Frank Smith, now at the head of the Railroad
Bethel work at Toledo. They were indefatigable in trying to evangelize
the prison. A few of them would take their station in some part of the
Stockade (a different one every time), and begin singing some old
familiar hymn like:

"Come, Thou fount of every blessing,"

and in a few minutes they would have an attentive audience of as many
thousand as could get within hearing. The singing would be followed by
regular services, during which Sheppard, Smith, Corbett, and some others
would make short, spirited, practical addresses, which no doubt did much
good to all who heard them, though the grains of leaven were entirely too
small to leaven such an immense measure of meal. They conducted several
funerals, as nearly like the way it was done at home as possible. Their
ministrations were not confined to mere lip service, but they labored
assiduously in caring for the sick, and made many a poor fellow's way to
the grave much smoother for him.

This was about all the religious services that we were favored with.
The Rebel preachers did not make that effort to save our misguided souls
which one would have imagined they would having us where we could not
choose but hear they might have taken advantage of our situation to rake
us fore and aft with their theological artillery. They only attempted it
in one instance. While in Richmond a preacher came into our room and
announced in an authoritative way that he would address us on religious
subjects. We uncovered respectfully, and gathered around him. He was a
loud-tongued, brawling Boanerges, who addressed the Lord as if drilling a
brigade.

He spoke but a few moments before making apparent his belief that the
worst of crimes was that of being a Yankee, and that a man must not only
be saved through Christ's blood, but also serve in the Rebel army before
he could attain to heaven.

Of course we raised such a yell of derision that the sermon was brought
to an abrupt conclusion.

The only minister who came into the Stockade was a Catholic priest,
middle-aged, tall, slender, and unmistakably devout. He was unwearied in
his attention to the sick, and the whole day could be seen moving around
through the prison, attending to those who needed spiritual consolation.
It was interesting to see him administer the extreme unction to a dying
man. Placing a long purple scarf about his own neck and a small brazen
crucifix in the hands of the dying one, he would kneel by the latter's
side and anoint him upon the eyes, ears, nostrils; lips, hands, feet and
breast, with sacred oil; from a little brass vessel, repeating the while,
in an impressive voice, the solemn offices of the Church.

His unwearying devotion gained the admiration of all, no matter how
little inclined one might be to view priestliness generally with favor.
He was evidently of such stuff as Christian heros have ever been made of,
and would have faced stake and fagot, at the call of duty, with
unquailing eye. His name was Father Hamilton, and he was stationed at
Macon. The world should know more of a man whose services were so
creditable to humanity and his Church:

The good father had the wisdom of the serpent, with the harmlessness of
the dove. Though full of commiseration for the unhappy lot of the
prisoners, nothing could betray him into the slightest expression of
opinion regarding the war or those who were the authors of all this
misery. In our impatience at our treatment, and hunger for news, we
forgot his sacerdotal character, and importuned him for tidings of the
exchange. His invariable reply was that he lived apart from these things
and kept himself ignorant of them.

"But, father," said I one day, with an impatience that I could not wholly
repress, "you must certainly hear or read something of this, while you
are outside among the Rebel officers." Like many other people, I
supposed that the whole world was excited over that in which I felt a
deep interest.

"No, my son," replied he, in his usual calm, measured tones. "I go not
among them, nor do I hear anything from them. When I leave the prison in
the evening, full of sorrow at what I have seen here, I find that the
best use I can make of my time is in studying the Word of God, and
especially the Psalms of David."

We were not any longer good company for each other. We had heard over
and over again all each other's stories and jokes, and each knew as much
about the other's previous history as we chose to communicate. The story
of every individual's past life, relations, friends, regiment, and
soldier experience had been told again and again, until the repetition
was wearisome. The cool nights following the hot days were favorable to
little gossiping seances like the yarn-spinning watches of sailors on
pleasant nights. Our squad, though its stock of stories was worn
threadbare, was fortunate enough to have a sweet singer in Israel "Nosey"
Payne--of whose tunefulness we never tired. He had a large repertoire of
patriotic songs, which he sang with feeling and correctness, and which
helped much to make the calm Summer nights pass agreeably. Among the
best of these was "Brave Boys are They," which I always thought was the
finest ballad, both in poetry and music, produced by the War.

John McElroy