There was one dirty old Englishman in the party, who, Turner was convinced, had money concealed about his person. He compelled him to strip off everything, and stand shivering in the sharp cold, while he took up one filthy rag after another, felt over each carefully, and scrutinized each seam and fold. I was delighted to see that after all his nauseating work he did not find so much as a five cent piece.
It came my turn. I had no desire, in that frigid atmosphere, to strip down to what Artemus Ward called “the skanderlous costoom of the Greek Slave;” so I pulled out of my pocket my little store of wealth—ten dollars in greenbacks, sixty dollars in Confederate graybacks—and displayed it as Turner came up with, “There’s all I have, sir.” Turner pocketed it without a word, and did not search me. In after months, when I was nearly famished, my estimation of “Majah Tunnah” was hardly enhanced by the reflection that what would have purchased me many good meals was probably lost by him in betting on a pair of queens, when his opponent held a “king full.”
I ventured to step into the office to inquire after my comrades. One of the whey-faced clerks said with the supercilious asperity characteristic of gnat-brained headquarters attaches:
“Get out of here!” as if I had been a stray cur wandering in in search of a bone lunch.
I wanted to feed the fellow to a pile-driver. The utmost I could hope for in the way of revenge was that the delicate creature might some day make a mistake in parting his hair, and catch his death of cold.
The guard conducted us across the street, and into the third story of a building standing on the next corner below. Here I found about four hundred men, mostly belonging to the Army of the Potomac, who crowded around me with the usual questions to new prisoners: What was my Regiment, where and when captured, and:
What were the prospects of exchange?
It makes me shudder now to recall how often, during the dreadful months that followed, this momentous question was eagerly propounded to every new comer: put with bated breath by men to whom exchange meant all that they asked of this world, and possibly of the next; meant life, home, wife or sweet-heart, friends, restoration to manhood, and self-respect —everything, everything that makes existence in this world worth having.
I answered as simply and discouragingly as did the tens of thousands that came after me:
“I did not hear anything about exchange.”
A soldier in the field had many other things of more immediate interest to think about than the exchange of prisoners. The question only became a living issue when he or some of his intimate friends fell into the enemy’s hands.
Thus began my first day in prison.
Introduction to prison life—the Pemberton building and its occupants —neat sailors—roll call—rations and clothing—chivalric “Confiscation.”