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Chapter 64

ANOTHER REMOVAL--SHERMAN'S ADVANCE SCARES THE REBELS INTO RUNNING US AWAY
FROM MILLEN--WE ARE TAKEN TO SAVANNAH, AND THENCE DOWN THE ATLANTIC &
GULF ROAD TO BLACKSHEAR

One night, toward the last of November, there was a general alarm around
the prison. A gun was fired from the Fort, the long-roll was beaten in
the various camps of the guards, and the regiments answered by getting
under arms in haste, and forming near the prison gates.

The reason for this, which we did not learn until weeks later, was that
Sherman, who had cut loose from Atlanta and started on his famous March
to the Sea, had taken such a course as rendered it probable that Millen
was one of his objective points. It was, therefore, necessary that we
should be hurried away with all possible speed. As we had had no news
from Sherman since the end of the Atlanta campaign, and were ignorant of
his having begun his great raid, we were at an utter loss to account for
the commotion among our keepers.

About 3 o'clock in the morning the Rebel Sergeants, who called the roll,
came in and ordered us to turn out immediately and get ready to move.

The morning was one of the most cheerless I ever knew. A cold rain
poured relentlessly down upon us half-naked, shivering wretches, as we
groped around in the darkness for our pitiful little belongings of rags
and cooking utensils, and huddled together in groups, urged on
continually by the curses and abuse of the Rebel officers sent in to get
us ready to move.

Though roused at 3 o'clock, the cars were not ready to receive us till
nearly noon. In the meantime we stood in ranks--numb, trembling, and
heart-sick. The guards around us crouched over fires, and shielded
themselves as best they could with blankets and bits of tent cloth.
We had nothing to build fires with, and were not allowed to approach
those of the guards.

Around us everywhere was the dull, cold, gray, hopeless desolation of the
approach of minter. The hard, wiry grass that thinly covered the once
and sand, the occasional stunted weeds, and the sparse foliage of the
gnarled and dwarfish undergrowth, all were parched brown and sere by the
fiery heat of the long Summer, and now rattled drearily under the
pitiless, cold rain, streaming from lowering clouds that seemed to have
floated down to us from the cheerless summit of some great iceberg; the
tall, naked pines moaned and shivered; dead, sapless leaves fell wearily
to the sodden earth, like withered hopes drifting down to deepen some
Slough of Despond.

Scores of our crowd found this the culmination of their misery. They
laid down upon the ground and yielded to death as s welcome relief,
and we left them lying there unburied when we moved to the cars.

As we passed through the Rebel camp at dawn, on our way to the cars,
Andrews and I noticed a nest of four large, bright, new tin pans--a rare
thing in the Confederacy at that time. We managed to snatch them without
the guard's attention being attracted, and in an instant had them wrapped
up in our blanket. But the blanket was full of holes, and in spite of
all our efforts, it would slip at the most inconvenient times, so as to
show a broad glare of the bright metal, just when it seemed it could not
help attracting the attention of the guards or their officers. A dozen
times at least we were on the imminent brink of detection, but we finally
got our treasures safely to the cars, and sat down upon them.

The cars were open flats. The rain still beat down unrelentingly.
Andrews and I huddled ourselves together so as to make our bodies afford
as much heat as possible, pulled our faithful old overcoat around us as
far as it would go, and endured the inclemency as best we could.

Our train headed back to Savannah, and again our hearts warmed up with
hopes of exchange. It seemed as if there could be no other purpose of
taking us out of a prison so recently established and at such cost as
Millen.

As we approached the coast the rain ceased, but a piercing cold wind set
in, that threatened to convert our soaked rags into icicles.

Very many died on the way. When we arrived at Savannah almost, if not
quite, every car had upon it one whom hunger no longer gnawed or disease
wasted; whom cold had pinched for the last time, and for whom the golden
portals of the Beyond had opened for an exchange that neither Davis nor
his despicable tool, Winder, could control.

We did not sentimentalize over these. We could not mourn; the thousands
that we had seen pass away made that emotion hackneyed and wearisome;
with the death of some friend and comrade as regularly an event of each
day as roll call and drawing rations, the sentiment of grief had become
nearly obsolete. We were not hardened; we had simply come to look upon
death as commonplace and ordinary. To have had no one dead or dying
around us would have been regarded as singular.

Besides, why should we feel any regret at the passing away of those whose
condition would probably be bettered thereby! It was difficult to see
where we who still lived were any better off than they who were gone
before and now "forever at peace, each in his windowless palace of rest."
If imprisonment was to continue only another month, we would rather be
with them.

Arriving at Savannah, we were ordered off the cars. A squad from each
car carried the dead to a designated spot, and land them in a row,
composing their limbs as well as possible, but giving no other funeral
rites, not even making a record of their names and regiments. Negro
laborers came along afterwards, with carts, took the bodies to some
vacant ground, and sunk them out of sight in the sand.

We were given a few crackers each--the same rude imitation of "hard tack"
that had been served out to us when we arrived at Savannah the first
time, and then were marched over and put upon a train on the Atlantic &
Gulf Railroad, running from Savannah along the sea coast towards Florida.
What this meant we had little conception, but hope, which sprang eternal
in the prisoner's breast, whispered that perhaps it was exchange; that
there was some difficulty about our vessels coming to Savannah, and we
were being taken to some other more convenient sea port; probably to
Florida, to deliver us to our folks there. We satisfied ourselves that
we were running along the sea coast by tasting the water in the streams
we crossed, whenever we could get an opportunity to dip up some. As long
as the water tasted salty we knew we were near the sea, and hope burned
brightly.

The truth was--as we afterwards learned--the Rebels were terribly puzzled
what to do with us. We were brought to Savannah, but that did not solve
the problem; and we were sent down the Atlantic & Gulf road as a
temporary expedient.

The railroad was the worst of the many bad ones which it was my fortune
to ride upon in my excursions while a guest of the Southern Confederacy.
It had run down until it had nearly reached the worn-out condition of
that Western road, of which an employee of a rival route once said, "that
all there was left of it now was two streaks of rust and the right of
way." As it was one of the non-essential roads to the Southern
Confederacy, it was stripped of the best of its rolling-stock and
machinery to supply the other more important lines.

I have before mentioned the scarcity of grease in the South, and the
difficulty of supplying the railroads with lubricants. Apparently there
had been no oil on the Atlantic & Gulf since the beginning of the war,
and the screeches of the dry axles revolving in the worn-out boxes were
agonizing. Some thing would break on the cars or blow out on the engine
every few miles, necessitating a long stop for repairs. Then there was
no supply of fuel along the line. When the engine ran out of wood it
would halt, and a couple of negros riding on the tender would assail a
panel of fence or a fallen tree with their axes, and after an hour or
such matter of hard chopping, would pile sufficient wood upon the tender
to enable us to renew our journey.

Frequently the engine stopped as if from sheer fatigue or inanition.
The Rebel officers tried to get us to assist it up the grade by
dismounting and pushing behind. We respectfully, but firmly, declined.
We were gentlemen of leisure, we said, and decidedly averse to manual
labor; we had been invited on this excursion by Mr. Jeff. Davis and his
friends, who set themselves up as our entertainers, and it would be a
gross breach of hospitality to reflect upon our hosts by working our
passage. If this was insisted upon, we should certainly not visit them
again. Besides, it made no difference to us whether the train got along
or not. We were not losing anything by the delay; we were not anxious to
go anywhere. One part of the Southern Confederacy was just as good as
another to us. So not a finger could they persuade any of us to raise to
help along the journey.

The country we were traversing was sterile and poor--worse even than that
in the neighborhood of Andersonville. Farms and farmhouses were scarce,
and of towns there were none. Not even a collection of houses big enough
to justify a blacksmith shop or a store appeared along the whole route.
But few fields of any kind were seen, and nowhere was there a farm which
gave evidence of a determined effort on the part of its occupants to till
the soil and to improve their condition.

When the train stopped for wood, or for repairs, or from exhaustion,
we were allowed to descend from the cars and stretch our numbed limbs.
It did us good in other ways, too. It seemed almost happiness to be
outside of those cursed Stockades, to rest our eyes by looking away
through the woods, and seeing birds and animals that were free. They
must be happy, because to us to be free once more was the summit of
earthly happiness.

There was a chance, too, to pick up something green to eat, and we were
famishing for this. The scurvy still lingered in our systems, and we
were hungry for an antidote. A plant grew rather plentifully along the
track that looked very much as I imagine a palm leaf fan does in its
green state. The leaf was not so large as an ordinary palm leaf fan,
and came directly out of the ground. The natives called it "bull-grass,"
but anything more unlike grass I never saw, so we rejected that
nomenclature, and dubbed them "green fans." They were very hard to pull
up, it being usually as much as the strongest of us could do to draw them
out of the ground. When pulled up there was found the smallest bit of a
stock--not as much as a joint of one's little finger--that was eatable.
It had no particular taste, and probably little nutriment, still it was
fresh and green, and we strained our weak muscles and enfeebled sinews at
every opportunity, endeavoring to pull up a "green fan."

At one place where we stopped there was a makeshift of a garden, one of
those sorry "truck patches," which do poor duty about Southern cabins for
the kitchen gardens of the Northern, farmers, and produce a few coarse
cow peas, a scanty lot of collards (a coarse kind of cabbage, with a
stalk about a yard long) and some onions to vary the usual side-meat and
corn pone, diet of the Georgia "cracker." Scanning the patch's ruins of
vine and stalk, Andrews espied a handful of onions, which had; remained
ungathered. They tempted him as the apple did Eve. Without stopping to
communicate his intention to me, he sprang from the car, snatched the
onions from their bed, pulled up, half a dozen collard stalks and was on
his way back before the guard could make up his mind to fire upon him.
The swiftness of his motions saved his life, for had he been more
deliberate the guard would have concluded he was trying to, escape, and
shot him down. As it was he was returning back before the guard could
get his gun up. The onions he had, secured were to us more delicious
than wine upon the lees. They seemed to find their way into every fiber
of our bodies, and invigorate every organ. The collard stalks he had
snatched up, in the expectation of finding in them something resembling
the nutritious "heart" that we remembered as children, seeking and,
finding in the stalks of cabbage. But we were disappointed. The stalks
were as dry and rotten as the bones of Southern, society. Even hunger
could find no meat in them.

After some days of this leisurely journeying toward the South, we halted
permanently about eighty-six miles from Savannah. There was no reason
why we should stop there more than any place else where we had been or
were likely to go. It seemed as if the Rebels had simply tired of
hauling us, and dumped us, off. We had another lot of dead, accumulated
since we left Savannah, and the scenes at that place were repeated.

The train returned for another load of prisoners.

John McElroy