Summer 1864 No. 19
Posted On July 29, 2016
In the year of 1864, Johanna Cardiff was becoming a young woman; the war that had split her country continued. This is her journal; these are her journeys.
Today Elmira, our little town, safe in the woods of upstate New York was invaded.
It was not invaded by a conquering Army, no the Army that arrived today was the first of the Confederate soldiers deemed to be held as prisoners in the newly constructed prisoner of war camp. It is called Barracks 3.
I cannot honestly explain or detail to you what I expected a defeated Army to look like. From the accounts of the battles that constantly adorn every newspaper, I guess I envisioned a group of snarling angry men who would as soon eat babies as willingly become subservient to Federal forces. By those previously mentioned accounts, I thought the rebel Army as almost undefeatable.
That does not describe the group of men who, while in formation, did not march through our town today. No, they did not march, but shuffled their way passed us. I, as many of the townsfolk stood on the shoulders of the road and watched them pass. All of us were most excited to see the defeated enemy and many of us brought spoiled fruit to throw at our vanquished foe. I cannot speak for everyone, but so struck were we with the condition of those men, not a single piece of fruit was thrown. I watched one man attempt to give the fruit he brought to a passing soldier, but the Union guard marching beside the captive knocked the offering into the dirt. The Confederate tried to thank the man for his kindness, but the same guard struck him with the butt of his rifle and ordered the prisoner to look “eyes front.”
Whatever superiority we felt was trampled along with the apple as the captives walked over it.
Samuel, most of the men were dressed in clothes that only resembled uniforms. Their shirts were torn and ragged and their trousers filthy. Many of the prisoners did not have shoes on their feet. Some wore wrappings but many walked bare foot. None of the men had bathed recently if the smell that arose from them is any indication. Several were injured or possibly wounded and they were able to travel the distance only with the assistance of another. All of them looked underfed and indeed, I later learned the men had consisted of dried corn and some had even eaten grass they harvested as they walked. They would eat the grass hoping it would ease the pangs in their stomachs. I must be honest and tell you, my heart went out to them and their sufferings as I watched them pass by me.
Later, I stood in a small crowd and listened to a Union officer describe how the prisoners were captured. According to the officer, the rebel forces stood in defense and held the Union Army from advancing for several hours. Finally, the Confederates used all their ammunition and still refused to surrender. As the Federals approached them, the Confederates threw rocks at the advancing soldiers and as the armies closed together tried to stop the advance with the used of clubs. It was in the resulting hand-to-hand melee that so many were hurt and injured.
I wonder what must we, the northerners do in order to defeat a foe that is willing to endure such miseries and yet still fight with such resolve. Must we literally put hands on each individual soldier?
I pray you are safe, dear brother.