DUGANNE - TWENTY MONTHS IN THE DEPARTMENT OF THE GULF
C H A P T E R X L I I I .
Camp Ford - West View
From a lithograph of a sketch made by James F. McClain
Courtesy of the East Texas Historical Association
WITH the flush tide of prisoners, from Red River and Arkansas, came back that wandering tribe of Federal soldiers, under Lt.-Col. Leake, to whom we had bidden "God speed," on their paroled march, about the first of April. They had been halted near Marshal, scarcely half-way between Camp Ford and Shreveport, and had remained there till subsequent Red River misunderstandings broke off arrangements for exchange. Meantime, a few newly-arrived prisoners, taken at the battle of Saline River, in Arkansas, brought us the welcome intelligence that Steel had succeeded in baffling the rebels, and withdrawing, without loss, from Camden.
As the month of April drew to a close, we counted more than three thousand captured men within the corral; and the necessary crowding and exposure, as well as personal neglect among some squads, threatened a heavy sick-list for the summer. About this time, a change of rebel commandants took place; Col. Allen being superseded by Col. Anderson, at Tyler, and the charge of prisoners devolving thereafter on a Lieutenant-Colonel, named Borders.
Another regime speedily began to make itself felt. Our new rebel ruler was a bitter secessionist, of the demonstrative sort; and he speedily contrived to become obnoxious to many Federal officers and men. Col. Allen and his lady, with their son, the lieutenant, bade us farewell, and we were left to the "tender mercies" of unsympathizing strangers; a fact which several soon had reason to regret. For, whatsoever fault might have been found with Col. Allen, during his administration, he was always regarded to be conscientious, and was, moreover, an educated gentleman. Good Mrs. Allen, his wife, was an especial favorite, and with sufficient cause; for her acts of kindness to Federal prisoners were neither "few nor far between."
All are not foes, even in a land of foes; and we had acknowledged this truth in witnessing the kindly ministrations of good and motherly Mrs. Allen. Few forgot that Col. Allen was a West Point graduate, and so, undoubtedly, many were disposed to judge him harshly on the score of his ingratitude. But, though his treason to the government which fostered him had been a hundred-fold, there was charity enough in kindly Mrs. Allen to have covered it with a mantle of forgetfulness. We all respected her; a plain, good matron -- really "a mother in Israel" to the sick or sorrowful prisoner, whoever he might be. At morning, after roll-call, we were sure to spy a little handmaid of this Lady Bountiful slipping into our corral, with sundry niceties, wrapped in napkins, for some invalid; a couple of eggs, a little plat of butter, a few wheaten slices, or a bit of tempting cake. If one of our sick craved for tea, or "Lincoln coffee," or a cup of honey, our good "mother," as she liked to have us call her, never rested till she could procure the treat. I doubt not this benevolent woman was an angel at her husband's side, entreating favors for the "Yankee prisoners." Certainly we traced many a needed privilege or long-petitioned-for amelioration to the influence of Mrs. Allen. Who so pleased as she, to hurry over with some scrap of news, which might impart the hope of "an exchange?" Who strove to cheer the more despondent -- jested with the merrier ones, and talked on solemn subjects with the serious? When we gathered near the "quartermaster's grave," on Sabbath days, to hear our chaplain preach and pray, the wife of Col. Allen always came and sat among the prisoners, listening to the Word with them, and singing to Our Father, who has drawn no line between his love for North and South. When all of us lie down in our last camping-ground, and when, awakened by a celestial reveille, we pass in grand review of souls before our Infinite Commander, there will be no roll-call of birth-places. I trust, in that dread hour, the prayers which this good "mother" offered for the soldiers of both North and South, will have been answered by the God to whom she prayed; and that the comrades of our prison-yards will meet dear Mrs. Allen in a clime where peace shall be proclaimed to all of us forever.
It was though kind Mrs. Allen that many pleasant Texan ladies came to visit the corral and chat with our imprisoned officers; loyal Union dames and maidens among them, too; as we discovered, from time to time. And once we were descended upon by the Texan Muse, in the person of sweet, but rebellious, Miss Mollie Moore.
There are "burning Sapphos" in the South, to be counted by scores; feminine Tyrtaei, whose harps are constantly jingled with swords and daggers. It is these whose martial dithyrambics sound like drum-beats and bugle-calls on the tympani of young Dixie. It is these who, like mad Cassandras, dance ever in front of rebel ranks, chanting their fierce denunciations against northern foes. Had they the power, I verily believe they would add to their virgin faces and bosoms the talons of harpies, merely for the satisfaction of having a chance at the eyes of "hated Yankees." Not a houri of them but would promise immortal bliss in her arms hereafter to any ragged Johnny who dies sweetly and decorously for Dixie! Not a lovely Gorgoness of all but would venture "one eye," at least, on an opportunity to petrify some "polluted invader" with a Mudusan grimace.
To our prison-corral, under convoy of Mrs. Allen, came the young poetic lioness, though she did not present herself with many characteristics of a lioness. She did not roar nor enter rampant. Her mane was not blood-red nor fire-red, but I must aver that it had a soupcon of -- in fact, that it was of the peculiar tint which possessors thereof claim to be golden, but which a censorious world will swear to be of a croceous line. The poetic nose was retrousse, rather -- that must be confessed -- and the white brow and cheeks had been gilded in numerous small spots by the too fierce kisses of Apollo, in spite of all sunshades. But our Texan Sappho was neither masculine, leonine, rhinocerine, nor elephantine. She was simply a young, sharp, self-possessed, pale-faced, Jane Eyre sort of a little body, who might be taken for a genteel governess or a Yankee "school-ma'am," according to meridian; whose thin lips could curl with bitterness, and whose pale-blue eyes might kindle to white heat under strong provocation; whose temper would be saint-like with a lover and Hecatic with an enemy.
She sat, with her rebel friends, before my cabin door, while our gallant officers sang songs and played on violin and banjo. She kept time, with dancing toe, while Capt. May good-naturedly treated her to "Dixie," but grew fiery and curled her lip when the artful fellow abruptly turned his bowing into "Yankee Doodle." She exchanged badinage with the wits of our prison-circle, giving and taking some pretty sharp shafts with unruffled composure. And though she was loud in her expression of rebel enthusiasm, and regretted when our musicians had not the notes to accompany her, that she might sing us the "Black Flag Song," I think, on the whole, that Miss Mollie made a favorable impression, though she broke no Yankee hearts. To be sure, our minstrels were so retaliatory as to strike up the "Star-Spangled Banner" when she turned to leave us, and it is a historical fact that at least fifty stentorian voices roared out the national anthem as a parting salute to the lady. But we separated, nevertheless, the most friendly of enemies, and Miss Mollie Moore intimated that she might some time publish her "impressions" of us. Whether she has done so yet I cannot say; but I live in hopes of turning over, at some future day, the leaves of a handsomely-printed volume of this Texan girl's "poems," in the blue and gold of an appreciative Yankee publisher. May we all live to laugh over the little rebel's "Black Flag!"
I had the distinction of provoking another young poetess to the publication of a brace of lyrics in reply to some verses which were contributed to Mr. Cushing's journal at Houston. I regret that lack of space prevents the insertion of these breathings of the Texan muse; but must be content with a couple of rather conflicting stanzas, both addressed, though on different occasions, to my incarcerated Yankee self. The first extract is as follows:
"As a prisoner you came: as a freeman remain!
"Desertion from tyrants can ne'er be a stain;
"Beneath our bright banner we'll proudly enroll
"The Northern by birth but the Southern in soul!"
This, to be sure, was a tempting invitation; but, as I could not own the "soft impeachment" of being "Southern in soul" the next poetic salutation that I received was not quite so complimentary. "Let him alone!" said the indignant syren:
"The tyrant in his pride, and in his creed the puritan,
"Who prays for peace, and lifts the sword to slay his fellow-man;
"With "South or Hell" upon his brow combined,
"Behold that Ephraim's to his idols joined!"
"Let him alone!"
But the departure of our friendly Allens left the camp without visitors. And indeed the influx of prisoners had deprived our "Old Borough" of the country-village characteristics which formerly distinguished it. We were now a community of comparative strangers to one another. A thousand Federals -- the late captures at Marks' Mills -- arrived during May, and, with accessions also from Houston and other points, the population soon swelled to more than forty-three hundred men. The check-rein of rebel authority began to gall us. Col. Borders issued arbitrary orders. One morning we discovered posted on the market-place an order, purporting to be from the Confederate general at Shreveport, which ran as follows.
"Hereafter, any Federal prisoner, being detected in trying to make his escape from the prison -- either in the act, or after he has made his escape -- will be shot by the one capturing him.
By order of
LT. COL. J. P. BORDERS,
Com'd'g Camp Ford Prison.
B. W. MCEACHAN,
Lt. & Acting Adjutant.
This unwarrantable threat created no little excitement. Other events transpired to make us feverish. A man was shot dead by a guard upon the Sabbath. The poor fellow was walking near the gate, but gave no provocation and received no warning. The brutal rebel shot him with a pistol. An effort was made to attribute this assassination to personal revenge. The murderer was said to have recognized the Federal soldier as one who had formerly guarded a Federal prison and treated him (the rebel) with severity. Few credited this story, however, and the bloody deed was probably a wanton act of cowardly hatred. Several sudden deaths, from exposure and latent physical cause, occurred about this time; and a number of guards were killed or wounded by accidental shooting. A poor soldier of the Maine volunteers fell dead before the door of my "shebang." Our sick were now numerous, and it became absolutely necessary to provide hospital accommodations for their treatment. An order from head-quarters, therefore, permitted parties of the prisoners to volunteer in finishing a building outside of our corral, for the reception of sick and convalescent Federals. This structure was one story high, 48 feet long, and 18 feet wide. Squads of our 19th Kentucky boys began the erection of an additional ward, 86 by 8 feet, and one story in height. The task of completing these hospital quarters was entered upon as a " labor of love" by Capt. Wilcox, of the 3d Missouri Cavalry, who assumed charge of the Medical Department, assisted by Maj. Morris, who had been likewise surgically educated. With Capt. Wilcox was associated Capt. Johnson, of the Sachem gunboat, Capt. Talley, Capt. Rider, Lieut. Steinhover of the 60th Indiana volunteers, and Lieut. James Delemater, of the 91st New York volunteers; the latter acting as a hospital steward. These officers, assisted by squads from the 5th, 6th, and 14th Kansas, and 9th Wisconsin regiments, the 19th Kentucky infantry, and others from various commands, were indefatigable in their exertions to fit up the hospital for their suffering fellow-prisoners. Their generous spirit was stimulated by the wants of our sick, who daily increased in numbers, and whose condition, at this period, is described in a letter, written by the Confederate post-surgeon, a copy of which I obtained through one of the assistants. It is as follows: --
TYLER, TEXAS, June 14th, 1864.
Surgeon J. M. HAYDEN,
Chf. Med. Bureau, T. M. D.
SIR: -- In obedience to orders, I reported to the officer in command of the camp of Federal prisoners at this place (Col. Anderson), who immediately placed me on duty, as surgeon in charge. I at once set about examining the sanitary condition of the stockade, and, although, my mind was prepared by representations to meet with abundant materials for disease, it fell far short of the reality. The enclosed ground is entirely too small for the number of men, (over 4500), and it would be impossible to make them healthy in such a crowded condition. The filth and offal have been deposited in the streets and between the quarters from which arises horrible stench. A great number of the enlisted men have no quarter nor shelter, and have to sleep out on the ground, with not even a blanket to cover them. Some of the sick are thus situated, and I am making preparations to provide for their wants and to make them comfortable. We have a hospital in course of erection, and will need bedding very much. The popular prejudice here is so strong against them that I can get no facilities from the people. I have sent to you for approval the requisition which I would have sent directly to the Medical Purveyor, but I thought your signature would be necessary. I am ready to receive, into hospital a few, if we had the articles, and they are not to be had here. No regular register of cases or deaths has been kept, up to a recent period, but I visited the grave-yard and counted 25 graves, a much smaller number than I was led to believe.
The names of those surgeons on duty here who have not passed the board, I will send you in a few days. I have not seen them all, but have carried out your directions with regard to their early appearance, as far as I have been able.
your obt. serv't,
F. W. MEAGHER.
From a lithograph of a sketch made by James F. McClain
Courtesy of the East Texas Historical Association
The hospital, up to the date of the above letter, had received between thirty-five and forty patients, seven of whom died, and two returned to the stockade. The supply of utensils and medicines was very meagre, of course, but the rooms were airy and the beds kept clean. The hospital rations issued were sugar, bacon or beef, flour, meal, salt, and candles.
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