13 - FLORENCE PRISON and the JOURNEY HOME
We stayed on the racing grounds for about a week and then we were taken to Florence; a railway station situated in the woods near the big swamp. Here was a fine well dug by General Marion, familiarly known as the "Swamp Fox", who greatly harassed the British during the Revolutionary War. We could still plainly see the ruins of the Fort. There was a large hollow sycamore tree which was named Marions's Magazine because of his storing great quantities of ammunition in it. It was always a great surprise to the British to see his ammunition replenished without an expedition for it. The well was walled by the stones from the walls of Marion's house, it was said.
It was while here that arrangements were hurriedly made to take five hundred of the sickest and decrepit back to Charleston for exchange, and by the good grace of Lieutenant Reese, I was one of the number being booked as a nurse - and the boys who I had tried to help in there troubles were eager to have me as a nurse. We dug wells in the sand for our water supply, and it was fairly good though being on the borders of the great swamp. The old inhabitants there said that when the wind blew from the Southeast, or seaward, the water rose higher in the wells.
A few days later we were in Charleston again. By this time Sherman was is Savannah. The Confederate transport was ready to take us out to Foster's boats. The worst crippled were the Siamese twins and John W. January. The former were able to move about only on their hands and hips, there limbs having been rendered useless by scurvy. January's feet had been eaten away to the ankles by the same disease, and later gangrene had added it's work. He had kept the bones of his feet as he separated them from the remainder of his feet with a pair of little scissors, which a fellow prisoner, who had been a dry goods clerk, gave to him. He carried the bones in a sack with him.
While the Siamese twins were boarding the boat, sliding along on their hands and butts, a Rebel officer offered his assistance - "Get away you damned Rebel, we can get on here without your help" was their independent, but ungracious, reply. At this time I was busy with January. I had him on my shoulders, not much of a load as he was a mere skeleton of a seventeen year old boy. But as light as he was, and weak as I was, just as we reached the top of the gangplank I stumbled and fell - throwing my charge onto the boat. It was a funny sight I'm sure, but it didn't feel very funny to our bony frames. An officer grabbed me by the arm and said "my God man, you don't mean to say that you have the strength in your bony frame to carry that poor boy". He looked at us compassionately, and said to January "well my poor boy, you got good enough to pull through, you'll live allright". "Of course I'll live, I haven't pulled through this far to lie down and die now" said January courageously.
We had only six miles to ride across the bay to Foster's boats. And here we were put on the Hendrich Hudson, a merchant ship for transport which had brought supplies. Though we were wearied by the awful hardships and knocking around of our prison life, we were overjoyed in leaving the southern waters. As we passed Cape Hatteras, a violent wind was rolling in the sea in tremendous waves, until we were alarmed and expected to be finished by the water instead of the battlefield after all. Some of us were deathly sick and felt indifferent as to what might happen to us. One of our boys, unable to stand the strain of the sickness, passed away. Another one died while in the act of eating his meal. These two were all that died while in route to Annapolis. The trip consumed about forty eight hours.
The afternoon of the second day was very beautiful as we steamed up Chesapeake Bay. Oh how our hearts throbbed with excitement and joy of the thought of home, and that the loved ones who we were going to be seeing soon. But Ah, how things changed many of us, wasted and worn. Very strict supervision was enforced over our diet. As the Doctor said - "now you boys know, Uncle Sam is not stingy in dealing with you in this way, it's for your own good. Why you know, your stomach's are no larger than your fists on account of the starvation and diet you've had."
They had started to feed us, some of us, with pork as our meat dish, and it was while eating this that one of the boys died. I was fortunate in not getting seasick, but had an altercation with a steward over his refusing to get medicine for one of our boys who was very sick. I soon succeeded in getting an audience with the doctor for our division. The result was the steward learned of a duty he must perform whether he felt inclined or not. It had hurt his pride but he had to overcome it.
Upon arriving at Annapolis we were immediately transferred to the temporary hospital which occupied a whole block. It consisted of bunks, bathrooms or tanks, barbershop, dining room, cookhouse etcetera, all under one roof. There were six or seven hundred troops here, most of whom had been recovered by General Grant. They were not so run down as we, but were very sick, many of them having had pneumonia.
Our first treat in the institution was a haircut and a bath. A quantity of quick lime was used by the barbers to dispose of the gray backs, which were really matted in the heads of a great many. Even the beards of some of us was as much infested with this vermin as the hair on the crown of our heads. It might be wondered how men would allow vermin to remain upon them to such an extent. But when it was remembered that there was neither comb nor brush applied, or allowed us in prison, and the extent to which we were infested, one could begin to understand a condition should exist when this thorough cleaning process began. Somehow, probably, though not due entirely to my own extraordinary exertion, I fortunately was not so infested as were many of the others. The barbers who performed their art upon we fellows from Andersonville, were real heroes.
Words cannot describe the improvement in our feelings after the renovating process in the hospital. Yes, life was again becoming sweet to us, sweet and clean. Of course many couldn't enjoy the exuberance periods of youth for now they were youths in years only. To some such was lost forever to them. Their youth had been cruelly broken by the hellishness of Andersonville prison. All who had loved ones to go to had written to announce the joyful news that we're coming home. Oh how far away seemed the great rolling prairies beyond the Alleghenies, yes, and beyond the hills of Ohio and the swamps of Indiana on to the valley of the great Mississippi that winds it's way from the beautiful lakes of Minnesota to spread it's waters into the Gulf of Mexico.
Andy Johnson and myself were the only ones of our Company who were well enough to proceed on our way homeward in a short time. The remaining five were too sickly to remove from the hospital.
Our parole allowed us to return to our homes for fifteen days and after that time we were expected to go to the parole camp at Chicago. Before leaving the hospital we were allowed a new uniform each. At Baltimore we secured the necessary papers for our parole. We then boarded a Baltimore and Ohio passenger train for Chicago. A whole carload of us, eighty, departed upon that train for home.
Our first stop was Fort Wayne Indiana. Upon arriving there we were starveling hungry so we proceeded to get something to eat. There was a small store near the depot where we tried to get a supply of eatables, but the proprietor promptly refused our request saying "you boys haven't any money and I am not going to feed you hungry fellows". We understood that this was a secessionist town. Instantly he locked the door to prevent us from entering the store, then as quicker than words can tell it, as part of our boys grabbed a railroad tie which was nearby, and using it as a battering ram, smashed in the door. We took a box of crackers, and in fact, everything that was handy that appealed to our taste. It was an unlawful act of course, but we were cheered by the passengers of the train. Some of whom shouted "kill him! kill him! he's a Copperhead!". He made his departure in a great hurry from the unpleasant scene. We filled canteens with molasses to eat with the crackers.
Our next stopping place was Chicago, and upon arriving here we were met by officials of the soldiers home; several officers of the Army who were disabled for service, and also citizens of the city, to escort us to the home. We found many who were waiting to shortly return to their regiments. We stayed in the home until early the following morning when we started on the last of our journey for home.