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Chapter 58

WE LEAVE SAVANNAH--MORE HOPES OF EXCHANGE--SCENES AT DEPARTURE
--"FLANKERS"--ON THE BACK TRACK TOWARD ANDERSONVILLE--ALARM THEREAT
--AT THE PARTING OF TWO WAYS--WE FINALLY BRING UP AT CAMP LAWTON.

On the evening of the 11th of October there came an order for one
thousand prisoners to fall in and march out, for transfer to some other
point.

Of course, Andrews and I "flanked" into this crowd. That was our usual
way of doing. Holding that the chances were strongly in favor of every
movement of prisoners being to our lines, we never failed to be numbered
in the first squad of prisoners that were sent out. The seductive mirage
of "exchange" was always luring us on. It must come some time,
certainly, and it would be most likely to come to those who were most
earnestly searching for it. At all events, we should leave no means
untried to avail ourselves of whatever seeming chances there might be.
There could be no other motive for this move, we argued, than exchange.
The Confederacy was not likely to be at the trouble and expense of
hauling us about the country without some good reason--something better
than a wish to make us acquainted with Southern scenery and topography.
It would hardly take us away from Savannah so soon after bringing us
there for any other purpose than delivery to our people.

The Rebels encouraged this belief with direct assertions of its truth.
They framed a plausible lie about there having arisen some difficulty
concerning the admission of our vessels past the harbor defenses of
Savannah, which made it necessary to take us elsewhere--probably to
Charleston--for delivery to our men.

Wishes are always the most powerful allies of belief. There is little
difficulty in convincing a man of that of which he wants to be convinced.
We forgot the lie told us when we were taken from Andersonville, and
believed the one which was told us now.

Andrews and I hastily snatched our worldly possessions--our overcoat,
blanket, can, spoon, chessboard and men, yelled to some of our neighbors
that they could have our hitherto much-treasured house, and running down
to the gate, forced ourselves well up to the front of the crowd that was
being assembled to go out.

The usual scenes accompanying the departure of first squads were being
acted tumultuously. Every one in the camp wanted to be one of the
supposed-to-be-favored few, and if not selected at first, tried to "flank
in"--that is, slip into the place of some one else who had had better
luck. This one naturally resisted displacement, 'vi et armis,' and the
fights would become so general as to cause a resemblance to the famed
Fair of Donnybrook. The cry would go up:

"Look out for flankers!"

The lines of the selected would dress up compactly, and outsiders trying
to force themselves in would get mercilessly pounded.

We finally got out of the pen, and into the cars, which soon rolled away
to the westward. We were packed in too densely to be able to lie down.
We could hardly sit down. Andrews and I took up our position in one
corner, piled our little treasures under us, and trying to lean against
each other in such a way as to afford mutual support and rest, dozed
fitfully through a long, weary night.

When morning came we found ourselves running northwest through a poor,
pine-barren country that strongly resembled that we had traversed in
coming to Savannah. The more we looked at it the more familiar it
became, and soon there was no doubt we were going back to Andersonville.

By noon we had reached Millen--eighty miles from Savannah, and
fifty-three from Augusta. It was the junction of the road leading to
Macon and that running to Augusta. We halted a little while at the "Y,"
and to us the minutes were full of anxiety. If we turned off to the
left we were going back to Andersonville. If we took the right hand
road we were on the way to Charleston or Richmond, with the chances in
favor of exchange.

At length we started, and, to our joy, our engine took the right hand
track. We stopped again, after a run of five miles, in the midst of one
of the open, scattering forests of long leaved pine that I have before
described. We were ordered out of the cars, and marching a few rods,
came in sight of another of those hateful Stockades, which seemed to be
as natural products of the Sterile sand of that dreary land as its
desolate woods and its breed of boy murderers and gray-headed assassins.

Again our hearts sank, and death seemed more welcome than incarceration
in those gloomy wooden walls. We marched despondently up to the gates of
the Prison, and halted while a party of Rebel clerks made a list of our
names, rank, companies, and regiments. As they were Rebels it was slow
work. Reading and writing never came by nature, as Dogberry would say,
to any man fighting for Secession. As a rule, he took to them as
reluctantly as if, he thought them cunning inventions of the Northern
Abolitionist to perplex and demoralize him. What a half-dozen boys taken
out of our own ranks would have done with ease in an hour or so, these
Rebels worried over all of the afternoon, and then their register of us
was so imperfect, badly written and misspelled, that the Yankee clerks
afterwards detailed for the purpose, never could succeed in reducing it
to intelligibility.

We learned that the place at which we had arrived was Camp Lawton, but we
almost always spoke of it as "Millen," the same as Camp Sumter is
universally known as Andersonville.

Shortly after dark we were turned inside the Stockade. Being the first
that had entered, there was quite a quantity of wood--the offal from the
timber used in constructing the Stockade--lying on the ground. The night
was chilly one we soon had a number of fires blazing. Green pitch pine,
when burned, gives off a peculiar, pungent odor, which is never forgotten
by one who has once smelled it. I first became acquainted with it on
entering Andersonville, and to this day it is the most powerful
remembrance I can have of the opening of that dreadful Iliad of woes.
On my journey to Washington of late years the locomotives are invariably
fed with pitch pine as we near the Capital, and as the well-remembered
smell reaches me, I grow sick at heart with the flood of saddening
recollections indissolubly associated with it.

As our fires blazed up the clinging, penetrating fumes diffused
themselves everywhere. The night was as cool as the one when we arrived
at Andersonville, the earth, meagerly sodded with sparse, hard, wiry
grass, was the same; the same piney breezes blew in from the surrounding
trees, the same dismal owls hooted at us; the same mournful
whip-poor-will lamented, God knows what, in the gathering twilight.
What we both felt in the gloomy recesses of downcast hearts Andrews
expressed as he turned to me with:

"My God, Mc, this looks like Andersonville all over again."

A cupful of corn meal was issued to each of us. I hunted up some water.
Andrews made a stiff dough, and spread it about half an inch thick on the
back of our chessboard. He propped this up before the fire, and when the
surface was neatly browned over, slipped it off the board and turned it
over to brown the other side similarly. This done, we divided it
carefully between us, swallowed it in silence, spread our old overcoat on
the ground, tucked chess-board, can, and spoon under far enough to be out
of the reach of thieves, adjusted the thin blanket so as to get the most
possible warmth out of it, crawled in close together, and went to sleep.
This, thank Heaven, we could do; we could still sleep, and Nature had
some opportunity to repair the waste of the day. We slept, and forgot
where we were.

John McElroy