Coffee’s on if you want a cup.
You know I was born in Elmira, don’t you? Yeah, Elmira New York. Course, I’ve never been back since I left for the Army. I think about that place some. Well, that’s a bit of a lie, I think about that place quite often.
My Pa and my Ma are buried there. Both of them lived their entire lives in that little town. My Pa was the minister there for my whole childhood. He was also the schoolmaster. It was his idea I become a teacher. Neither of us knew it was going to take as long as it did, but I finally made it. Let me think; yeah, by my reckoning, it took me two years at the teachers’ college and a few more than twenty years of wandering to get in front of a classroom full of children finally. I’d guess that would be some kind of record if things like that were noted, but at the end of the day, it’s really nothing more than the route of my life.
You might think this is unrelated, but it’s not. A town, even one as small as Elmira also has a route of life. Pay attention for a moment, and let me make my point.
During the war, the Union Army had a Camp Rathbun built just outside of the town. As the war continued, the Army stopped using most of it, so they decided to convert part of the camp into a prisoner of war camp. In fact, they converted Barracks #3 into the holding facility. The camp received prisoners starting in June of 1964. In total, 12,123 Confederate soldiers were held there. 12,123 men, who for the most part had never left their homes in the south. The camp was only open until August of 1865, but during that time, 2,963 of those men died.
Malnutrition, exposure to the weather, disease from the condition of the place and an overall lack of medical care, killed those men. Men, who were all healthy enough to make the journey north. The Confederates called the place “Hellvira.”
Yeah, I know, we were at war with the people of the south, and it’s easy to look down on an enemy. I’m not a saint when it comes to this. I killed a fair number of the southern soldiers, and there were times, I convinced myself to hate them all. I like to think I’m a better man than that today. I remember back to how young most of us were.
Do you realize the Confederate Army had boys as young as 14 years fighting in its ranks? Let me tell you, I mean precisely what I’m saying, they fought. They weren’t old enough, nor did they have brains enough to be scared.
Henri Fulford was a man such as that. Not that he was 14, but that he had no fear. At least in the few minutes, I knew him, he didn’t seem to. He was a Confederate Cavalry Lieutenant, and I killed him early one morning in the fall of ’63 if I remember right. He and his troop attacked, just as we were waking up and getting our breakfast on. Came out of the fog like they were banshees from hell itself. Yelling, screaming, waving their sabers, I can honestly tell you this New York boy almost wet his pants.
I grabbed a rifle, fixed the bayonet, and met the Lieutenant just before he got to our row of tents. He charged at me, with his saber, and I ran him through with that rifle and bayonet. Lifted him off his horse. I can still feel the weight of him in my shoulders sometimes. The horse knocked me down, and we both fell in a heap. As he died, he told me his name, Henri Fulford. Asked me to see that his papers got to a woman in Georgia. Promised him I would, gave him my word, but I never got it done. Burned the papers, stole his guns and his horse. Still got the guns I took from him. Also swiped his hat. Tore the cord off it, but I wore that hat many a year.
My point is I was a boy from Elmira, and like the town, I did things I’m not too proud of. Hell, I’m not proud of them at all. Want to know who another boy from Elmira is?
Samuel Clemens, yup, old Mark Twain himself. Course he wasn’t born there, but he lived there for a few years, and more importantly, he met the woman who would become his wife there. Olivia Clemens and she was born in Elvira.
I guess I’m kind of rambling today, but I’ve earned that, I think. Most of my life has been meandering from here to there and back. At the end of it, I wonder if the good I’ve done, and I have done some, but does it outweigh the bad. Let me tell you; I have done some bad. I’ve killed several men, and I don’t say that to brag. Nothing in killing to brag about. I sometimes think of that boy from Elmira, full of hope, in love with his childhood sweetheart, wanting to live there his whole life. I dragged him out of the protection of the little town and covered him in blood. Sure would like to tell him I’m sorry.
Hell of thing we do to others, and to ourselves.
Most likely bored you, but you know, you’re welcome back any day.