Page:Southern Historical Society Papers volume 08.djvu/175

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Prison Life at Fort McHenry.

Prison Life at Fort McHenry.

By Rev. Dr. T. D. Witherspoon, late Chaplain of the Forty-Second Mississippi Regiment.

Paper No. 3—Conclusion.

To one other of our prison diversions I must briefly introduce you. I refer to the regimental courts-martial held as occasion required. One of these will give an idea of the whole. Among the petty annoyances to which we were subjected—for which, however, we could not blame our captors—was the custom on the part of some of the younger and less scrupulous portion of our number to circulate unfounded rumors of our prospective release, or "grape-vine telegrams," as they were called. The graver and more credulous part of the body would accept them all as true, would each roll up carefully his blanket, fasten his tin cup and wooden fork to his haversack and swing them about his neck, and take his seat near the door, meekly and patiently but in vain waiting for the order to "fall in for exchange." This practice became so great a nuisance that our Colonel issued an order at length, at one of our evening dress-parades, that the next member of his command who was guilty of circulating a false rumor of exchange should be subjected to court-martial.

Now in the number of our chaplains was an old minister of the Baptist Church, a most estimable gentleman, and one who contributed in many ways to our enjoyment. He was withal of a mechanical turn of mind, and as our soup-coffee and coffee-soup were usually lukewarm before they reached us, he resolved to construct an apparatus for warming them. The earth had been cut away at one end of the barracks, leaving a steep embankment just outside. In this he constructed a flue of such a kind that a range of cups could be placed on it, and the shavings made by the prisoners in whittling rendered available for heating purposes. The work was somewhat difficult with the tools he had. When completed and the fuel applied, it proved to be like the Irishman's chimney, which, he said, "drew finely if it was only bottom end up." He was greatly perplexed at its perversity, and when some one inquired of him as he was half stifled with the smoke, when his cooking range would be ready, he replied that he expected we "would all be exchanged and get home before that thing would begin to draw." In a few minutes the "thing" was draw-