Our “N’Yaarkers,” swift to see any opportunity for dishonest gain, had taken to bounty-jumping, or, as they termed it, “leppin’ the bounty,” for a livelihood. Those who were thrust in upon us had followed this until it had become dangerous, and then deserted to the Rebels. The latter kept them at Castle Lightning for awhile, and then, rightly estimating their character, and considering that it was best to trade them off for a genuine Rebel soldier, sent them in among us, to be exchanged regularly with us. There was not so much good faith as good policy shown by this. It was a matter of indifference to the Rebels how soon our Government shot these deserters after getting them in its hands again. They were only anxious to use them to get their own men back.
The moment they came into contact with us our troubles began. They stole whenever opportunities offered, and they were indefatigable in making these offer; they robbed by actual force, whenever force would avail; and more obsequious lick-spittles to power never existed—they were perpetually on the look-out for a chance to curry favor by betraying some plan or scheme to those who guarded us.
I saw one day a queer illustration of the audacious side of these fellows’ characters, and it shows at the same time how brazen effrontery will sometimes get the better of courage. In a room in an adjacent building were a number of these fellows, and a still greater number of East Tennesseeans. These latter were simple, ignorant folks, but reasonably courageous. About fifty of them were sitting in a group in one corner of the room, and near them a couple or three “N’Yaarkers.” Suddenly one of the latter said with an oath:
“I was robbed last night; I lost two silver watches, a couple of rings, and about fifty dollars in greenbacks. I believe some of you fellers went through me.”
This was all pure invention; he no more had the things mentioned than. he had purity of heart and a Christian spirit, but the unsophisticated Tennesseeans did not dream of disputing his statement, and answered in chorus:
“Oh, no, mister; we didn’t take your things; we ain’t that kind.”
This was like the reply of the lamb to the wolf, in the fable, and the N’Yaarker retorted with a simulated storm of passion, and a torrent of oaths:
“—— —— I know ye did; I know some uv yez has got them; stand up agin the wall there till I search yez!”
And that whole fifty men, any one of whom was physically equal to the N’Yaarker, and his superior in point of real courage, actually stood against the wall, and submitted to being searched and having taken from them the few Confederate bills they had, and such trinkets as the searcher took a fancy to.
I was thoroughly disgusted.
Belle Isle—terrible suffering from cold and hunger—fate of lieutenant BOISSEUX’S dog—our company mystery—termination of all hopes of its solution.