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.
Everything I wrote concerning the disgrace known as “Hellmira” has come to pass. “Hellmira” is now the name given to our town and specifically the camp that houses the Confederate POWs. It is a most vile and contemptable place. The men silently endure inhuman conditions.
Hardly a day passes that a small group of men, the funeral detail, are not seen escorting some poor soul to his final rest. The group is small, consisting of four Union soldiers who act as guards and pallbearers and a black man named John W. Jones.
Mister Jones is a runaway slave who worked on the Underground Railroad for several years prior to the war. He lives with the guilt of abandoning his family to come north and takes particular care of the deceased Confederate soldiers. He records the death in a ledger, along with the date and next of kin, as well as any personal belongings the man had. He washes the body, along with the clothes the man wore, if they are worth cleaning. If not, he wraps the body in a clean blanket. The caskets are simple wood and with the body, he places the personal belongings. I have not heard of one soldier being denied or refused what was his. Mister Jones plots the location of the grave and as the cemetery grows, he cares for it as well.
Samuel, Mister Jones has shamed me. He grew up a slave, being treated who knows how by the families of the very men he cares for with such devotion at the time of their deaths. Some weeks back, I resolved to be of some use in this struggle, and I have volunteered to help at the prison. I fear I do not do all I might like, but I help with the laundry, some cooking and I’ve assisted in the camp medical tent. I admit, my most used talent is that of reader. Many of the men do not know how to read and so I read them the books and stories our father read to us, when we were children.
At times, I wish I could do more, but I am assured the men are grateful for my efforts. One told me, when I read to him, he is able to leave this place for an hour or so and looking forward to the time strengthens him to survive the rest of the day.
This man, James, is from Tennessee and I think you and he would get along. He particularly enjoys Shakespeare, as do you. At times, however, I read a few lines and then must stop and explain the passage to him. He is ignorant of words, but a fast learner. I am forced to stop and explain less often now, and more often than not, he explains to me the passage and I confirm his understanding.
I feel great joy whenever I look into his face and see the recognition dawn.
Samuel, it has now been over a year since I have received correspondence from you. If you have written, your letters have not arrived. Please do not forsake me brother. We are all we have.
I pray you are safe, dear brother.