CHAPTER XXXVII

THE ANGEL OF MERCY

The sad intelligence of Jerome's death was brought to Clotelle while she was giving her personal attention to the sick and wounded that filled the hospitals of New Orleans. For a time she withdrew from the gaze of mankind, and gave herself up to grief. Few unions had been productive of more harmonious feelings than hers. And this blow, so unexpected and at a time when she was experiencing such a degree of excitement caused by the rebellion, made her, indeed, feel the affliction severely.

But the newspaper accounts of the intense suffering of the Union prisoners in the rebel States aroused her, and caused her to leave her retirement. In the month of October, 1863, Clotelle resolved to visit Andersonville, Ga., for the purpose of alleviating the hardships of our sick and imprisoned soldiers, and at once put her resolution into effect by going immediately to that place. After crossing the lines, she passed as a rebel lady, to enable her the more successfully to carry out her object. On her arrival at Andersonville, Clotelle took up her abode with a private family, of Union proclivities, and commenced her work of mercy. She first visited the hospitals, the buildings of which were merest excuses for hospitals.

It was the beginning of November; and, even in that southern latitude, the cold made these miserable abodes uncomfortable nights and mornings. The dirty, unventilated rooms, with nothing but straw upon the cold, damp floor, for beds, upon which lay the ragged, emaciated Union prisoners, worn down to skin and bone with disease and starvation, with their sunken eyes and wild looks, made them appear hideous in the extreme. The repulsive scenes, that showed the suffering, neglect, and cruelty which these poor creatures had experienced, made her heart sink within her.

Having paid considerable attention to hospital life in Europe, and so recently from amongst the sick at New Orleans, Clotelle's experience, suggestions, and liberal expenditure of money, would have added greatly to the comfort of these helpless men, if the rebel authorities had been so disposed. But their hatred to Union prisoners was so apparent, that the interest which this angel of humanity took in the condition of the rebel sick could not shield her from the indignation of the secession officials for her good feeling for the Union men. However, with a determination to do all in her power for the needy, she labored in season and out.

The brutal treatment and daily murders committed upon our soldiers in the Andersonville prisons caused Clotelle to secretly aid prisoners in their escape. In the latter work, she brought to her assistance the services of a negro man named Pete. This individual was employed about the prison, and, having the entire confidence of the commandant, was in a position to do much good without being suspected. Pete was an original character, of a jovial nature, and, when intending some serious adventure, would appear very solemn, and usually singing a doleful ditty, often the following, which was a favorite with him:--

"Come listen, all you darkies, come listen to my song:
It am about old Massa, who use me bery wrong.
In de cole, frosty mornin', it an't so bery nice,
Wid de water to de middle, to hoe among de rice;

When I neber hab forgotten
How I used to hoe de cotton,
How I used to hoe de cotton,
On de old Virginny shore;
But I'll neber hoe de cotton,
Oh! neber hoe de cotton
Any more.

"If I feel de drefful hunger, he tink it am a vice,
And he gib me for my dinner a little broken rice,--
A little broken rice and a bery little fat,
And he grumble like de debbil if I eat too much of dat;

When I neber hab forgotten, etc.

"He tore me from my Dinah; I tought my heart would burst:
He made me lub anoder when my lub was wid de first;
He sole my picanninnies becase he got dar price,
And shut me in de marsh-field to hoe among de rice;

When I neber hab forgotten, etc.

"And all de day I hoe dar, in all de heat and rain;
And, as I hoe away dar, my heart go back again,--
Back to de little cabin dat stood among de corn,
And to de ole plantation where she and I war born!

Oh! I wish I had forgotten, etc.

"Den Dinah am beside me, de chil'ren on my knee,
And dough I am a slave dar, it 'pears to me I'm free,
Till I wake up from my dreaming, and wife and chil'ren gone,
I hoe away and weep dar, and weep dar all alone!

Oh! I wish I had forgotten, etc.

"But soon a day am comin', a day I long to see,
When dis darky in de cole ground, foreber will be free,
When wife and chil'ren wid me, I'll sing in Paradise,

How de Lord hab not forgotten
How well I hoed de cotton,
How well I hoed de cotton
On de old Virginny shore;
Dar I'll neber hoe de cotton,
Oh! I'll neber hoe de cotton
Any more."

When away from the whites, and among his own class, Pete could often be heard in the following strains:--

"A storm am brewin' in de Souf,
A storm am brewin' now.
Oh! hearken den, and shut your mouf,
And I will tell you how:
And I will tell you how, ole boy,
De storm of fire will pour,
And make de darkies dance for joy,
As dey neber danced afore;
So shut your mouf as close as deafh,
And all you niggas hole your breafh,
And I will tell you how.

"De darkies at de Norf am ris,
And dey am comin' down--
Am comin' down, I know dey is,
To do de white folks brown!
Dey'll turn ole Massa out to grass,
And set de niggas free,
And when dat day am come to pass
We'll all be dar to see!
So shut your mouf as close as deafh,
And all you niggas hole your breafh,
And do de white folks brown!

"Den all de week will be as gay
As am de Chris'mas time;
We'll dance all night and all de day,
And make de banjo chime--
And make de banjo chime, I tink,
And pass de time away,
Wid 'nuf to eat and nuf to drink,
And not a bit to pay!
So shut your mouf as close as deafh,
And all you niggas hole your breafh,
And make de banjo chime."

How to escape from prison was ever the thoughts by day and dreams by night of the incarcerated. Plans were concocted, partly put into execution, and then proved failures. Some of these caused increased suffering to the prisoners after their discovery; for, where the real parties could not be found, the whole were ill-treated as a punishment to the guilty. Tunnelling was generally the mode for escape; and tunnelling became the order of the day, or, rather, the work for the night. In the latter part of November, 1863, the unusual gaiety of the prisoners showed that some plan of exit from the prison was soon to be exhibited.


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