Welcome to Fifth Minnesota Fiction!
Update 1-26-15: Ladies and gentlemen, the show is coming to an end. For all of you who have read, supported, and encouraged this blog and my writing--thank you. While many of these stories have already been previously published in book form, I am about to join the 21st century and publish in electronic reader format. As such, this blog will vanish into the ether March 1st. Thank you all, I hope you have enjoyed my meager offerings.
This is a blog dedicated to the essence of what my experience doing Civil War living history is all about--telling a good story. In the case of the Co. A, Fifth Minnesota, we strive to tell the stories of history--everyday lives caught up in the turmoils of strife and change. Our purpose, is to give room for some of those stories to grow, and find an end for themselves. The process of good Living History is much the same as that used to write a story, the difference is that with the written word it is the reader that acts it out in their head. With Living History, the participants take those great narratives and give them life themselves in action and word.
Here those stories we have begun can go on. I hope you will enjoy them as much as I do writing them! A word of warning though--be patient with me. Posts may be spread out a bit (I write these whenever real life allows) but something new is almost always cooking; it simply may take time to get them served up at the table.
A. Wade Jones
Thursday, July 22, 2010
Interlude at Camp Ford
“How? How could it be worse?” shot back a lanky man with a large hole in the right leg of his trousers. The man in the sling started to respond but then stopped, his lips screwed up in hesitation.
“We could be in Andersonville.” posed the gruff Irishman with the sergeant stripes, “But instead, we’re at Camp Ford. It could be worse, especially if all them tales we hear is so about some of them other camps--and double so for Andersonville. We got water and the food aint too bad.” O’Malley sat back, and folded his hands in his lap. The other men in the ramshackle shelter--a “shebang” as the men called them--nodded and murmured assent. They had been imprisoned at Camp Ford for almost four months, ever since the assault on a strategic railhead had gone terribly wrong. O’Malley, along with a mixed group of men from several units had been carted across the Louisiana border some miles into Texas and interned at Camp Ford. Their new home was little more than a log palisade enclosure, set with guard towers at certain intervals along the fence. There were no structures to shelter the prisoners within, but necessity had proved the mother of invention. Scrounging from various sources, the prisoners had erected shanties for themselves. This slap-dash building meant that the camp interior was crowded and mismatched by appearance--with log huts shouldering into canvas tents, and even dug out trenches with wooden planks and canvas for roofs. Rumor had it that the camp had once been a rebel training camp before it was prison, and O’Malley felt some pity for any man who might have had to do his basic training here. Still, it wasn’t as bad as it could be, though it was crowded. Over 4000 men were now quartered in a space of about 10 acres, which had already been increased in size once due to a large influx of prisoners. So in addition to O’Malley and a handful of 5th Minnesota lads, soldiers of nearly one hundred regiments called this place home--plus an odd duck gathering of Union sailors. O’Malley smiled to himself and chuckled a little thinking of the sailors. The Navy kept to themselves, choosing to camp together in their tidy little sod and canvas hut. Keeping to oneself wasn’t really all that uncommon of course, as pretty much all the various groups by state or service did so--but none so ferociously as the New Yorkers. The “Empire Staters”, true to their Eastern “Yankee” tendencies, made their familiar bond a thing of honor amongst them and as such proved a source of aggravation for everyone else. While gambling, stealing and fighting happened amongst every group, the New Yorkers seemed to have a special gift for such activities. It was wise to give way if a group of them came ambling along, cheering their camp motto--”New York City against the world!”
Of course, the New Yorkers weren’t the only issue. There were the many officers in internment as well, which led to issues of rank and command. O’Malley scratched his head and took his time in enjoying dispatching squirming lice between his thumb and forefinger. Yes, there were a lot of officers--7 colonels; 4 majors; 48 captains; 90 lieutenants; 1 doctor (but HE was useful!) and 1 bombastic Naval captain. While honestly most of them were fine, several were downright horrid, and spent most of their time trying to devise how they might be considered as “fully in charge, and in command”. Much of the time this really didn’t matter all that much, and amounted to little more than additional brawling or factional thievery. Where it became a disaster though was when a spokesperson was required to speak to the camp commandant regarding grievances or general negotiation. It came to head at last when the New Yorkers sent their colonel to see the commandant--only to have a second colonel show from Indiana, followed by a major from Iowa and all claiming to speak for the “gathered regiments”. After that, a spokesperson was chosen for the men from amongst those officers who seemed most capable of handling the job. This of course was not the end of the issues, but at least the soldiers in general gained representation.
Their lives at Camp Ford were both dull and difficult. From time to time it would rain for days at a time, forcing them to remain within their shelters as the ground around them became soupy mud. When the rains quit, it could be become blisteringly hot and the ground would end up baked to a sandy grit which would blow about with the slightest wind. They had a makeshift hospital, but no medicine and so everyone knew that if you got seriously ill--you died. Still, the doctor and his steward T.J. Robinson did their best to relieve suffering and fight the scurvy, dysentery and diarrhea that was widespread in the camp. O’Malley flexed his left hand, trying to work the stiffness from his joints which plagued him. He had taken a bad fall in the wild moments after the confusion and terror in those last moments that they had possession of the Ward Yards; he’d healed but not fully. It could have been worse of course; he knew that certainly men he had considered friends had died or been made invalids. He wondered how Stephenson, Honan, and the Dills brothers had faired in that mess that came afterward.
“Mick”, spoke a withered looking young man from the tarp covered door way, “laundry. Come on out and boil your stuff.”
O’Malley stared at Beyer, whom the boys once called “Rooster”, and nodded. He ambled out of the hovel with the other men and began to strip his clothes. Nearby a crooked looking soddy, a big pot was boiling and naked and near naked men tossed their clothes in. An Ohio man named Miller was stirring the lot with a ragged bit of lathe board, as steam arose from a tangled mess of clothes another man was fishing out of the pot.
“Glad its laundry,” said “Rooster” at O’Malley’s elbow, “grey-backs were getting pretty bad. I wouldn’t ever thought to get lice, but this whole adventure has proven apt to expose me to many firsts.” O’Malley smiled wanly, and chuckled.
“Sometimes I have no idea what you are on about ‘Rooster’, but as to lice--well, yes it’s more than time to boil them buggers.” No matter how they tried to keep clean, when you crowded so many men together it was inevitable that the scourge of lice and other vermin would follow. O’Malley often pondered that such was the way of the habitation of men, more so since becoming a prisoner of course since he had time to give to such things. No matter how clean they started out, put a group of men together long enough and disease and vermin would result. It begged the question then; did this prove that men--by their nature--were corruption? Michael O’Malley laughed at the absurdity of his philosophical frame of mind, and started to strip his clothes for his turn at the boiling kettle. It was hard to allow oneself deep intellectual thought when you were waiting to be deloused.
Overhead the sky was a grayish blue, reminding one of polished steel. The mood was equally heavy today, and no doubt would worsen as the morning went on. It wasn’t surprising he supposed, they were in a prison camp after all, and the battle for morale was an all consuming process. Each group within the camp had done their best to encourage high spirits, often assigning the responsibility to whoever was brave or crazy enough to take it on their shoulders. The Ohio boys had a particularly energetic pair of fellows worried with morale who seemed to know their work very well; often mustering effort equal of Titans to produce rag-tag plays and minstrel shows which worked wonders on spirits. Beyond such things, it came down to the bolstering influence of pards upon one another; and sometimes the sheer blunt effort of that imaginary force which rank has in a volunteer army. A spring breeze came up, and O’Malley shivered a little as he stood near naked and plucked a louse from the back of ‘Rooster’ who stood next to him.
“Thanks.”, said ‘Rooster’ as he rubbed his hands together trying to stay warm.
“Cheers.”, responded O’Malley as he flexed--carefully--his still somewhat painful arm.
“So, I hear that the Ohio boys are working up another show.”
O’Malley nodded. “Good, I can’t wait to see what they do this time. That fella what dressed up as Mrs. Washington in that last one they put on--what was his name?”
“Peters I think.” laughed ‘Rooster’.
“Well, we could use another show. Spirits is low, and I can’t say I don’t understand why. Finding it hard to stay sunny and charmin’ me-self these days.”
‘Rooster’ laughed and turned his head slightly. “When were you ever charming?”
“I can be charmin’”, retorted O’Malley with a frown, “when needs as be the case.”
Clothes boiled, the better part of the afternoon was spent tending to their clothes at the drying lines. Some ingenious boys from an Indiana company had worked up a long set of pits in which they kept low fire and hot coals; these assisted in drying the garments that men hung from the lines strung up over the whole affair. The only trick was making sure ones garments didn’t slip into the coals and catch fire or scorch. O’Malley was always surprised that the guards had allowed the prisoners to have so much twine for the lines they used, since it seemed someone could think to use it to climb over the palisade. Apparently they weren’t concerned--or maybe had never considered the possibility since no squawk had been heard in the construction of the drying lines. Of course, that also could be due to the rumor that went about regarding the captain of that same Indiana company which had built the drying lines to begin with.
His name was Captain Davis Lea, and the story went that in exchange for selling out his fellow prisoners by informing on plans to at escape and mayhem, he got special privileges. The Indiana boys from his company did seem to luck out when it came to work details--they almost never were assigned to them--but they didn’t really prove anything. O’Malley knew a lot of the lads from Captain Lea’s company, and they seemed decent enough. It could be that the Captain himself was the only bad apple there, since deflecting work details from his men could only mean he didn’t desire to serve them himself--after all, men and officers alike served side by side here. Reaching out, O’Malley felt his blouse hem and finding it dry retrieved it from the line. He slipped back into his clothes, feeling warmer and pleased with the delicious sensation of clean clothes.
“When I get home, and out of this whole sick-brained affair,” pronounced ‘Rooster’ with a slight skip in his step, “I am going to bathe twice daily and never wear the same clothes.”
“Then ye best be rich,” responded O’Malley as he pulled his worn cap on his head, “or you’ll never carry it off.”
The sky had cleared overhead, and as the day wore on the soldiers busied themselves as they always did--work details, repairing their ram-shackle huts and tents, gambling, singing songs, and plotting a myriad of disobedient deeds and escapes. When they returned to their hut, having collected the ration for their group from a foul mouthed and even more foul tempered butternut clad sergeant, O’Malley deposited his load and stood stretching his sore arm when he noted someone waving at him. It was sergeant Peel, an Iowan, his pale blue eyes steely as he stood across the road from their hut waiting.
“Make sure you lot divide that out honestly, I’ll be back shortly”, said O’Malley as he left his hut-mates with the rations and made his way to meet with Peel across the street. The Iowan seemed in the mood for secrecy, as he stepped around the corner as soon as O’Malley reached him thus obliging the Irishman to follow.
“Alright now Peel, what’s with all the sneaking and skulking then?” asked O’Malley when he caught up.
The Iowans expression softened for a moment, but he clearly was here on business.
“Mike, the Steward has called a meeting. Seems our worries might have been confirmed.” said Peel, tight lipped. O’Malley felt a knot form in his gut, and responded flippantly--such was his nature when faced with trouble.
“Robinson. You can call him by name Peel, it aint no kind of code or nothing’”
“Hang it all, Robinson then,” responded Peel tersely, revealing how this news had unsettled him, “be at the hospital tonight at the usual time.”
Peel turned and was gone, leaving O’Malley scratching his scruffy chin in thought. He turned what this message likely meant over in his head a few times, the reality of it becoming ever more like a stone in the pit of his stomach. He turned his thoughts to dinner, and returned to his hut where his pards awaited. For now, he would act as though nothing were awry, beyond that they were interred in a prison camp--but that was nothing new. He would have to focus his energies on what awaited him later; sneaking half way across camp after curfew without being caught to partake in a highly prohibited gathering to discuss some very disturbing news.
The sky was grey-white as the moon tried its best to shine through the cotton-like clouds which thankfully blanketed the sky tonight. It was best for what O’Malley was about--making it difficult for the sentries and guards in the towers to spy him as he crept across camp from the shadow of one hut to another. Of course, the other side of that coin was that he couldn’t see where he was going terribly well. But then, that was the benefit to wandering back and forth all day with nothing better to do in a camp like this--it tended to afford one a good mental map. He felt his heart in his throat only once, when he almost walked headlong into a sentry who crossed the road in front of him with a lantern in hand. Luckily for O’Malley, the guard had the lantern up at eye level in attempt to get a better look at something off in the opposite direction of where the Irishman was pressed up against the wall of a nearby hut. Thanking every saint he could remember the name of when the sentry wandered down the lane, O’Malley hurried along and arrived at last at what passed as the hospital at Camp Ford. He gave the short knock pattern of a pass code and the door opened to him, revealing nothing as the room within was bathed in darkness. He could hear several persons breathing within, and as the door was shut and latched again behind him, someone struck a Lucifer and gave light to a very sad stump of what once was a candle. Though the wick burned, it gave very little light, though this too served their purpose well. After all, this was not exactly a sanctioned gathering.
O’Malley looked about at the familiar faces, and nodded. T. J. Robinson, the hospital steward was here; pale eyed Peel; Fitzgerald, a red headed Irishman from the New Yorkers sat picking his teeth; Smythe, an Ohioan and next to him Felman from Illinois. These men, along with O’Malley, comprised the camps answer to captivity. This was the escape committee; and though they were not elected or even largely known to the men of the camp, they took their work very seriously. Robinson had started the committee some months before, when he had looked down at the ruined bodies of two 17 year old lads returned to the hospital for burial upon being caught attempting to escape. He had said more than once, that the sight of these two young men had snapped something inside him, and made him realize that someone had to organize resistance to their captivity. O’Malley always thought it a strange facet of a man who also openly admitted to having chosen the medical corps because he knew he could never willingly take the life of another human being. Robinson kept the rolls of those interred at Ford, as well as a detailed accounting of those that died here. Perhaps all those names had worked on his sensibilities a bit as well. For now though, O’Malley set aside his thoughts and listened intently as the meeting began. Robinson smiled thinly to them all and he spoke.
“Gentlemen, I’m afraid we have a problem. It is not something we were completely unaware of, simply lacking proof. While we still do not have definitive proof of who, we now know for absolute certain of the what. Someone is giving aid to the enemy in this camp, in the form of information.”
Robinson halted a moment to let that sink in before he spoke again. “You may recall that we let slip the rumor of an escape set for last night in camp, and though our boys talked it up amongst themselves as they often do, we made sure to give only the full details of the rumor to two persons in particular. These specific persons were discussed last time, being those that we had the most speculation about regarding their behavior and scuttle-butt from the men.”
Smythe nodded and hung his head. “Lieutenant Borland and Captain Lea.”
Robinson frowned. “Yes. We know by the action that the guards took tonight that it has to be one of the two of them, though I wish I could say otherwise.” For several moments the group was quiet, the only sound the wind blowing outside over the odd assortment of huts and tents in the camp.
“So,” spoke Fitzgerald, “what’s to be done about them then?” Everyone one looked from one to another.
“We have to be very careful here,” said Felman, “there are things to be considered.”
“We shut them up”, said Peel, a flash of cold in his steel eyes.
“But which one?” said O’Malley with a shrug, “It could be either of them, or one or both? Couldn’t it?”
“Can we take a chance?” responded Peel.
“I don’t know that I am comfortable with the idea of dealing with both--what if we got the wrong man?” said Felman nervously.
“What do we mean by ‘dealing with’ anyway? What are we talking about?” said Fitzgerald.
“I think that is clear enough Fitz,” responded Peel with a coldness which made O’Malley look at the man he thought he knew.
“Even so, lets not beat about the bush, lets be plain”, interjected Smythe.
“We must consider them the enemy”, said Robinson with a grim look on his face.
“We have to silence them.” interrupted Peel.
The group was quiet again, Robinson a look of consideration on his face as he stared at Peel who sat across from him, staring back. Smythe looked nervous, and stroked the short beard on his jaw. Fitzgerald stood up and paced, watched by Felman. O’Malley sat back on his stool, cradling his stiff arm with the other and considered what was being discussed; the killing of fellow soldiers. Not that any of them (with the exception of Robinson) hadn’t already added that particular sin to their souls--or at least tried to--in the time that they had served on the battlefield. But this would be different; this would be murder. O’Malley realized that if indeed one of these two officers had been passing information to the enemy, they were the enemy, and had the blood of several soldiers caught and killed in the process of attempting escape on their hands. Did that make this thought easier?
“You all know me,” Robinson said quietly, his face obscured in the pale light of the pathetic candles flame, “I am not a man of violence. I do not turn to such things easily or without great thought. But I think we must consider what is best to do here.”
Robinson’s words hung in the shadows. No, O’Malley realized. It didn’t make this any easier.
“On the one hand,” continued Robinson, “we may be wise to let them alone and feed them false information that assists in screening real escape attempts.”
“The risk being in the guards ignoring them when too many tips prove worthless, and cultivating some other informant”, added Smythe. O’Malley had heard that the man had been an attorney before the war. He could see it in the way his mind worked sometimes.
“Exactly. If we--”, Robinson paused ever so slightly, revealing his distaste for his own words, “decide to deal with the guilty, then we serve ourselves in removing the spy as well as sending a message to others that treating with the enemy is unhealthy.”
Fitzgerald smiled and shook his head. “That’s all fine and good, but ye know that means we’d have to do it. And which one does we aim for?” This set off a short murmur of discussion, as the reality of what they were considering began to move into the more mundane logistics and issues of narrowing their target. O’Malley noted that Peel did not join in, but had taken a place against the wall and was standing watching them with his arms crossed. As Robinson called for quiet, Peel returned to his seat. He looked to O’Malley to be a man who had come to his own decision regarding the issue, and the Irishman began to wonder what storms were raging inside the quiet Iowans thoughts.
“We haven’t much longer to meet, and with things as they are I dare not drag this out longer than any necessary. I think that we have come to the realization that this must be done, but the issue at hand is insuring we have the right man before we act.” said Robinson in that self-assured tone of his which would have seemed cocky in any other person. In Robinson, it just seemed to fit, and even Peel seemed to relax a bit as he listened to their unofficial leader. There was general murmur of assent, and several nods.
“I think we ought to elect someone to investigate further, try to decide the truth of the matter.” added Smythe as he turned to O’Malley, “I would like to nominate O’Malley.”
One moment O’Malley had been intently listening, and the next several eyes had turned to take him in--now the center of that conversation. Fitzgerald was nodding, and Felman was agreeing with the selection.
“Now wait a moment then lads,” said O’Malley standing up, “why me?”
Smythe stood and patted the agitated Irishman on the shoulder. “It’s simple Mike; you’re well known and have friends in several camps. You aren’t known to be staunchly in any one camp politically, and you have the gift for explaining anything away.”
“He’s being polite,” said Felman, “he means you can lie better than any two men here.”
O’Malley opened his mouth to defend himself, but then realized the reasoning was sound. Peel wandered over, his pale blue eyes less steely than normal. “Don’t worry Mike, I’ll help however I can.”, he said with a smile.
The next few days were the same for everyone else, but for O’Malley the normal routine seemed to take on all new meaning, and obstacles. He had to devise reasonable motivations to be near each of his subjects of interest through out the day, which was proving impossible. Captain Lea wasn’t so far from where his daily routine took him, but Lieutenant Borland was situated about as far from where O’Malley was typically found as possible. It became clear that he would simply have to focus upon one man at a time, and hope that which ever he started with either proved the traitor right off or the opposite, and thus eliminated the need to investigate further at all. For the ease of location, this meant that he would focus first upon the often gossiped name of Captain Lea; and so on a relatively bright Sunday morning after a make-shift mass O’Malley began his work. He started trying to get better acquainted with the Indiana men from Lea’s company, and though it took time he eventually made hay. It turned out that two of the fellows--Franklin and Jameson--were avid but awful hands at cards. The opportunity arose one night when it became apparent that the two men were trying to help their situation by cheating, only to be caught doing so. As the group descended into chaos of the angry cheated and the fleeing cheaters, O’Malley served as the pair’s savior by rescuing them from a very unhappy mountain of humanity dressed in the faded blues of a Union sailor. As the prison guards arrived in groups at the sight of the brawl, O’Malley led the pair into his hut with a suggestion that they lay low for a little before starting back for their own quarters.
“Thanks pard,” said Jameson with a fast smile, “without you that sea beast would have made jelly of us!”
“No doubt,” said O’Malley with a chuckle, “and ye two best be wary for a bit lest ye runs into him again before he forgets yer faces.”
“Don’t know what they were getting’ so worked up over anyway!” said Franklin as he peeked out into the street beyond the huts doorway, “we are playing for buttons, aint like it was real coin!” O’Malley shrugged, but said nothing. He went and looked out into the lane, and then turned to his guests.
“Looks safe enough now boys, but if ye take me advice ye will avoid the pasteboards for a few days.” smiled O’Malley, ushering them towards the doorway.
“We wont forget this pard,” said Jameson with that smile of his, “you ever needs anything, you come see us!”
He would. He most certainly would.
It was a month before O’Malley made any progress towards his goal, and the longer it went the more anxious the Committee became. It wasn’t just that they felt the traitor should be punished, but lives were on the line. Three New Yorkers ended up lucky to be alive when they attempted to outrun the pack of hounds that the guards employed to track escapees. As it was, one would lose his right arm, thanks to the mauling he had received before the dogs had been called off. No one dared warn men off of attempts at escape, less the traitor get wind of it and the situation get worse. But a month into the assignment, O’Malley finally met Captain Lea. He had been sitting with his pards Jameson and Franklin when in walked an older man with hard eyes and a drooping mustache. He had a limp which was noticeable, but carried himself like someone who was a hard case. His two friends stood up, saluting the Captain--something O’Malley rarely saw anymore. But, slowly he climbed to his feet and followed suit.
“Who is this man?” asked the Captain with a sharp huff.
“A friend of ours Captain,” responded Jameson smartly, “sergeant O’Malley, Sir.”
“A pleasure to meet you Captain.” said O’Malley with the nod.
“5th Minnesota, Company A, Sir.”
Captain Lea brushed his mustache and looked O’Malley up and down. “Well, a sergeant ought to know to come to attention when an officer appears. I trust you will remember that in the future?”
O’Malley suddenly thought that he hoped Lea was giving aid to the enemy, because he didn’t like his manner one bit. “Yes Sir, sorry Sir.”
Captain Lea nodded and continued on his way, and O’Malley turned to Jameson with a frown. “Is he always like that?
“The Captain is alright,” responded Jameson as he settled back in place, “a little stuffy but well worth getting on his good side!”
“Hush up!” said Franklin, looking past O’Malley to Jameson.
“Oh hush yourself! Mike is a good egg, why not tell him?”
O’Malley looked from one to the other and chuckled. “Tell me what? What the hell is the two of ye talkin’ about?” Franklin stared hard at Jameson, who in turn stared him back. It was obvious that Jameson won after a moment because Franklin sighed and threw his hands up.
“Alright fine, you’re right. Tell him”, said Franklin with a shake of his head. Jameson leapt from his stool and crowded in close to O’Malley, looking all the world like a child with a wicked secret to share.
“How long has it been since you had a fine boiled beef--not the dried and desecrated type, but real fresh beef? A drink of aged, fine whiskey?” asked Jameson smacking his lips with excitement. His manner gave O’Malley a start, and he had to force himself to resist the urge to shove the man away. The thought of fresh beef, or whiskey did make his soul yearn though, and it was this feeling he let override all others. He was getting somewhere.
“Faith, I wouldn’t even know how long it’s been--ages no doubt!” O’Malley said with a glance to Franklin.
Jameson looked about and started to speak when two butternut clad sentries abruptly stepped into the hut and the one, with a scruffy beard and saggy eyes, jerked his thumb out the doorway and shouted; “Out for roll call. Come-on you lazy bastards, git!”
The three piled out, followed shortly by Captain Lea marching stiffly with the pair of guards looking more like they were under his order than the other way around.
Roll call was normally done twice per day; once in the morning and once before retreat was sounded and everyone was supposed to go to sleep. Every so often however, the powers that be would call one of these surprise counts just to keep the prisoners on their toes--and of course to try to catch out anyone not where they should be. Sometimes it was done just as a good housekeeping measure, but other times because the commander of the prison had heard that someone was thinking of an escape. O’Malley wondered which it was this time. Waving farewell to Jameson and Franklin, O’Malley made his way over to join his section, and pushed his way into the rank next to ‘Rooster’. The parade ground was dry, and men scuffed their feet in boredom--some marking out games of tic-tac-toe. Shortly, the baritone voice of the First Sergeant began to call out names of a section down the way, as others did the same for theirs. O’Malley just rocked back and forth on his heels and watched the Colonel who had command of the camp pace on the tall platform erected before the parade ground. A tall, stately man with a pronounced limp to his gait; but for all that proud and not to be underestimated.
He looked bored to the Irishman’s eyes; a man imprisoned here by his duty every much as O’Malley and his side were by theirs. Looking down at his feet, he tried to banish such thoughts from his mind. What help was it to start recognizing the humanity of his captors? What would it provide but the dawning of understanding for them, and an erosion of his hate for them? The sky above the assembled men opened into sudden sunshine, and a collective gasp of surprise issued from many parts. O’Malley looked up into the first true blue sky they had seen in several weeks, feeling his spirit lighten whilst at the same time the increased awareness that he was imprisoned. Trapped.
“Have you gone deaf?” asked ‘Rooster’ from beside him.
O’Malley snapped back from his thoughts and looked at his companion. “I’m sorry lad, what was that?”
“I said bad luck for us. You know…having the wood detail today.”
“Oh, yes,” responded O’Malley still a little absently, “still, it means we get out of the stockade for the afternoon. And depending which guards they send, we might be able to barter for some eats from the locals.”
‘Rooster’ nodded and considered that. It was a funny fact of being in custody here at Camp Ford, that depending upon what guard one found oneself with when outside on a detail, various options might be available which when a long way to improving life. Ford was only a very short distance from a small town--Salis Springs--and the land where they went to harvest wood took them very nearby there. The people of this town seemed not to be aware that the prisoners were supposed to be their enemy, either that or they simply didn’t care, for they would treat with the men in trade. What, you may ask, would a soldier imprisoned even have to trade with the locals? Crafted goods. With so much down time between details and delousing, many of the Union prisoners spent their time fashioning all manner of wooden crafts from various scraps they could lay hands to. Some men made little boxes; others improvised musical instruments or carved figures. For whatever reason, these people of Salis Springs found these items desirable; and in return often offered food stuffs and other items which would go a fair way to making life more livable to the men interred at Camp Ford. Of course, this all depended upon the guards assigned to your detail. Many of then didn’t care what you did, so long as they returned with the same number of men they left with and the quota of wood required. Others simply took a cut of whatever you traded for, in exchange for looking the other way. Of all the guards one could end up with, the last you would want was Corporal Fry, and his little gang of cronies.
Corporal Fry, a thin faced man in middle age, seemed determined to fight the war anywhere he was assigned. It was said he had been at several hot fights before getting shot through the leg and being sent home as unfit for the long marches of infantry life. Fry must have loved being in the army, because he had since taken it upon himself to punish every Union solider he came in contact with for robbing him of his chance to fight for his country. He was malicious, sadistic, and the worst possible companion for work details. So naturally, O’Malley groaned inwardly and cursed his luck when he discovered that that was exactly whom their detail had been assigned to for the afternoon. ‘Rooster’ frowned and forgot all thoughts of trying to trade the little wooden toys he had fashioned over the previous weeks.
“You just keep your mouth shut good, and stay out of his way” said O’Malley wagging his finger at ‘Rooster’.
“You know me! When did I ever go out of my way to find trouble?”
O’Malley just shook his head, and when roll had finished they made their way towards the gate. There, an impatient scowl on his face, Corporal Fry stood waiting for the men of his detail to arrive. A bad feeling crept over O’Malley then, and he hesitated a moment.
“What is it?” asked ‘Rooster’.
“I’ve got a bad feeling.”
‘Rooster’ chuckled. “What else is new?”
…..To be continued in “In the Presence of Mine Enemies”