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Chapter 72

DULL WINTER DAYS--TOO WEAK AND TOO STUPID To AMUSE OURSELVES--ATTEMPTS OF
THE REBELS TO RECRUIT US INTO THEIR ARMY--THE CLASS OF MEN THEY OBTAINED
--VENGEANCE ON "THE GALVANIZED"--A SINGULAR EXPERIENCE--RARE GLIMPSES
OF FUN--INABILITY OF THE REBELS TO COUNT.

The Rebels continued their efforts to induce prisoners to enlist in their
army, and with much better success than at any previous time. Many men
had become so desperate that they were reckless as to what they did.
Home, relatives, friends, happiness--all they had remembered or looked
forward to, all that had nerved them up to endure the present and brave
the future--now seemed separated from them forever by a yawning and
impassable chasm. For many weeks no new prisoners had come in to rouse
their drooping courage with news of the progress of our arms towards
final victory, or refresh their remembrances of home, and the
gladsomeness of "God's Country." Before them they saw nothing but weeks
of slow and painful progress towards bitter death. The other alternative
was enlistment in the Rebel army.

Another class went out and joined, with no other intention than to escape
at the first opportunity. They justified their bad faith to the Rebels
by recalling the numberless instances of the Rebels' bad faith to us,
and usually closed their arguments in defense of their course with:

"No oath administered by a Rebel can have any binding obligation. These
men are outlaws who have not only broken their oaths to the Government,
but who have deserted from its service, and turned its arms against it.
They are perjurers and traitors, and in addition, the oath they
administer to us is under compulsion and for that reason is of no
account."

Still another class, mostly made up from the old Raider crowd, enlisted
from natural depravity. They went out more than for anything else
because their hearts were prone to evil and they did that which was wrong
in preference to what was right. By far the largest portion of those the
Rebels obtained were of this class, and a more worthless crowd of
soldiers has not been seen since Falstaff mustered his famous recruits.

After all, however, the number who deserted their flag was astonishingly
small, considering all the circumstances. The official report says three
hundred and twenty-six, but I imaging this is under the truth, since
quite a number were turned back in after their utter uselessness had been
demonstrated. I suppose that five hundred "galvanized," as we termed it,
but this was very few when the hopelessness of exchange, the despair of
life, and the wretchedness of the condition of the eleven or twelve
thousand inside the Stockade is remembered.

The motives actuating men to desert were not closely analyzed by us,
but we held all who did so as despicable scoundrels, too vile to be
adequately described in words. It was not safe for a man to announce his
intention of "galvanizing," for he incurred much danger of being beaten
until he was physically unable to reach the gate. Those who went over to
the enemy had to use great discretion in letting the Rebel officer, know
so much of their wishes as would secure their being taker outside. Men
were frequently knocked down and dragged away while telling the officers
they wanted to go out.

On one occasion one hundred or more of the raider crowd who had
galvanized, were stopped for a few hours in some little Town, on their
way to the front. They lost no time in stealing everything they could
lay their hands upon, and the disgusted Rebel commander ordered them to
be returned to the Stockade. They came in in the evening, all well
rigged out in Rebel uniforms, and carrying blankets. We chose to
consider their good clothes and equipments an aggravation of their
offense and an insult to ourselves. We had at that time quite a squad of
negro soldiers inside with us. Among them was a gigantic fellow with a
fist like a wooden beetle. Some of the white boys resolved to use these
to wreak the camp's displeasure on the Galvanized. The plan was carried
out capitally. The big darky, followed by a crowd of smaller and nimbler
"shades," would approach one of the leaders among them with:

"Is you a Galvanized?"

The surly reply would be,

"Yes, you ---- black ----. What the business is that of yours?"

At that instant the bony fist of the darky, descending like a
pile-driver, would catch the recreant under the ear, and lift him about
a rod. As he fell, the smaller darkies would pounce upon him, and in an
instant despoil him of his blanket and perhaps the larger portion of his
warm clothing. The operation was repeated with a dozen or more. The
whole camp enjoyed it as rare fun, and it was the only time that I saw
nearly every body at Florence laugh.

A few prisoners were brought in in December, who had been taken in
Foster's attempt to cut the Charleston & Savannah Railroad at Pocataligo.
Among them we were astonished to find Charley Hirsch, a member of Company
I's of our battalion. He had had a strange experience. He was
originally a member of a Texas regiment and was captured at Arkansas
Post. He then took the oath of allegiance and enlisted with us. While
we were at Savannah he approached a guard one day to trade for tobacco.
The moment he spoke to the man he recognized him as a former comrade in
the Texas regiment. The latter knew him also, and sang out,

"I know you; you're Charley Hirsch, that used to be in my company."

Charley backed into the crowd as quickly as possible; to elude the
fellow's eyes, but the latter called for the Corporal of the Guard, had
himself relieved, and in a few minutes came in with an officer in search
of the deserter. He found him with little difficulty, and took him out.
The luckless Charley was tried by court martial, found, guilty, sentenced
to be shot, and while waiting execution was confined in the jail. Before
the sentence could be carried into effect Sherman came so close to the
City that it was thought best to remove the prisoners. In the confusion
Charley managed to make his escape, and at the moment the battle of
Pocataligo opened, was lying concealed between the two lines of battle,
without knowing, of course, that he was in such a dangerous locality.
After the firing opened, he thought it better to lie still than run the
risk from the fire of both sides, especially as he momentarily expected
our folks to advance and drive the Rebels away. But the reverse
happened; the Johnnies drove our fellows, and, finding Charley in his
place of concealment, took him for one of Foster's men, and sent him to
Florence, where he staid until we went through to our lines.

Our days went by as stupidly and eventless as can be conceived.
We had grown too spiritless and lethargic to dig tunnels or plan escapes.
We had nothing to read, nothing to make or destroy, nothing to work with,
nothing to play with, and even no desire to contrive anything for
amusement. All the cards in the prison were worn out long ago. Some of
the boys had made dominos from bones, and Andrews and I still had our
chessmen, but we were too listless to play. The mind, enfeebled by the
long disuse of it except in a few limited channels, was unfitted for even
so much effort as was involved in a game for pastime.

Nor were there any physical exercises, such as that crowd of young men
would have delighted in under other circumstances. There was no running,
boxing, jumping, wrestling, leaping, etc. All were too weak and hungry
to make any exertion beyond that absolutely necessary. On cold days
everybody seemed totally benumbed. The camp would be silent and still.
Little groups everywhere hovered for hours, moody and sullen, over
diminutive, flickering fires, made with one poor handful of splinters.
When the sun shone, more activity was visible. Boys wandered around,
hunted up their friends, and saw what gaps death--always busiest during
the cold spells--had made in the ranks of their acquaintances. During
the warmest part of the day everybody disrobed, and spent an hour or more
killing the lice that had waxed and multiplied to grievous proportions
during the few days of comparative immunity.

Besides the whipping of the Galvanized by the darkies, I remember but two
other bits of amusement we had while at Florence. One of these was in
hearing the colored soldiers sing patriotic songs, which they did with
great gusto when the weather became mild. The other was the antics of a
circus clown--a member, I believe, of a Connecticut or a New York
regiment, who, on the rare occasions when we were feeling not exactly
well so much as simply better than we had been, would give us an hour or
two of recitations of the drolleries with which he was wont to set the
crowded canvas in a roar. One of his happiest efforts, I remember, was a
stilted paraphrase of "Old Uncle Ned" a song very popular a quarter of a
century ago, and which ran something like this:

There was an old darky, an' his name was Uncle Ned,
But he died long ago, long ago
He had no wool on de top of his head,
De place whar de wool ought to grouw.

CHORUS
Den lay down de shubel an' de hoe,
Den hang up de fiddle an' de bow;
For dere's no more hard work for poor Uncle Ned
He's gone whar de good niggahs go.

His fingers war long, like de cane in de brake,
And his eyes war too dim for to see;
He had no teeth to eat de corn cake,
So he had to let de corn cake be.

CHORUS.

His legs were so bowed dat he couldn't lie still.
An' he had no nails on his toes;

His neck was so crooked dot he couldn't take a pill,
So he had to take a pill through his nose.

CHORUS.

One cold frosty morning old Uncle Ned died,
An' de tears ran down massa's cheek like rain,
For he knew when Uncle Ned was laid in de groun',
He would never see poor Uncle Ned again,

CHORUS.


In the hands of this artist the song became--

There was an aged and indigent African whose cognomen was Uncle Edward,
But he is deceased since a remote period, a very remote period;
He possessed no capillary substance on the summit of his cranium,
The place designated by kind Nature for the capillary substance to
vegetate.

CHORUS.
Then let the agricultural implements rest recumbent upon the ground;
And suspend the musical instruments in peace neon the wall,
For there's no more physical energy to be displayed by our Indigent Uncle
Edward
He has departed to that place set apart by a beneficent Providence for
the reception of the better class of Africans.


And so on. These rare flashes of fun only served to throw the underlying
misery out in greater relief. It was like lightning playing across the
surface of a dreary morass.

I have before alluded several times to the general inability of Rebels to
count accurately, even in low numbers. One continually met phases of
this that seemed simply incomprehensible to us, who had taken in the
multiplication table almost with our mother's milk, and knew the Rule of
Three as well as a Presbyterian boy does the Shorter Catechism.
A cadet--an undergraduate of the South Carolina Military Institute
--called our roll at Florence, and though an inborn young aristocrat, who
believed himself made of finer clay than most mortals, he was not a bad
fellow at all. He thought South Carolina aristocracy the finest gentry,
and the South Carolina Military Institute the greatest institution of
learning in the world; but that is common with all South Carolinians.

One day he came in so full of some matter of rare importance that we
became somewhat excited as to its nature. Dismissing our hundred after
roll-call, he unburdened his mind:

"Now you fellers are all so d---d peart on mathematics, and such things,
that you want to snap me up on every opportunity, but I guess I've got
something this time that'll settle you. Its something that a fellow gave
out yesterday, and Colonel Iverson, and all the officers out there have
been figuring on it ever since, and none have got the right answer, and
I'm powerful sure that none of you, smart as you think you are, can do
it."

"Heavens, and earth, let's hear this wonderful problem," said we all.

"Well," said he, "what is the length of a pole standing in a river,
one-fifth of which is in the mud, two-thirds in the water, and one-eighth
above the water, while one foot and three inches of the top is broken
off?"

In a minute a dozen answered, "One hundred and fifty feet."

The cadet could only look his amazement at the possession of such an
amount of learning by a crowd of mudsills, and one of our fellows said
contemptuously:

"Why, if you South Carolina Institute fellows couldn't answer such
questions as that they wouldn't allow you in the infant class up North."

Lieutenant Barrett, our red-headed tormentor, could not, for the life of
him, count those inside in hundreds and thousands in such a manner as to
be reasonably certain of correctness. As it would have cankered his soul
to feel that he was being beaten out of a half-dozen rations by the
superior cunning of the Yankees, he adopted a plan which he must have
learned at some period of his life when he was a hog or sheep drover.
Every Sunday morning all in the camp were driven across the Creek to the
East Side, and then made to file slowly back--one at a time--between two
guards stationed on the little bridge that spanned the Creek. By this
means, if he was able to count up to one hundred, he could get our number
correctly.

The first time this was done after our arrival he gave us a display of
his wanton malevolence. We were nearly all assembled on the East Side,
and were standing in ranks, at the edge of the swamp, facing the west.
Barrett was walking along the opposite edge of the swamp, and, coming to
a little gully jumped, it. He was very awkward, and came near falling
into the mud. We all yelled derisively. He turned toward us in a fury,
shook his fist, and shouted curses and imprecations. We yelled still
louder. He snatched out his revolver, and began firing at our line. The
distance was considerable--say four or five hundred feet--and the bullets
struck in the mud in advance of the line. We still yelled. Then he
jerked a gun from a guard and fired, but his aim was still bad, and the
bullet sang over our heads, striking in the bank above us. He posted of
to get another gun, but his fit subsided before he obtained it.

John McElroy