By a survivor of Andersonville
August 31 1904 Morris Chronicle
While at Lake City we obtained our water at the edge of a swampy morass which was half choked up with luxuriant growth of wild grass or reeds. Here one day one of our guards shot an alligator some seven or eight feet long. We drew the trophy into camp and examined him at our leasure, and I must say he had not one redeeming feature, but was ugly looking viewed from every quarter.
I think our stay here was but for a week or ten days, when we for the last time were put aboard train and rolled south. Although no news had been given us we began to feel that something had occurred or was about to do so. The domineering attitude was changed. Our captors could hardly look at us in the face. They manifested the bearing of people who almost expected to receive orders rather than give them. The Johnnies were plainly down in the mouth. The run was a brief one, and about noon the train was brought to a stand and we clambered down on the track. There was no threatening or swearing. It was as quiet as a Sunday morning in summer. Most of the guards clambered back on the train. Some of them mingled with us, and the order was go ahead home. No other so welcome to hear could have been framed from the letters of the English alphabet, and none so gladly or promptly executed.
The iron track opened before us for twenty miles to Jacksonville, Florida. Helter, skelter the struggling column pushed forward, the strong far outstripping the weaker ones in the race, until miles must have intervened between its head and rear. With my smoky hair sticking up through the crownless cap, in a dirty and ragged military dress coat worn under the suspenders, supporting a faded, darned and patched pair of pants which for a year had done service night and day without relief, filled with samples of Southern soil from Virginia to Florida, until they more resembled mottled felt than any other variety of cloth; in bare brown feet I skipped over the ties or sand beside the track. The sand hurt them cruelly and they were blistered almost with the wear and tear of the rough ties, but still I pressed forward, every step was toward home.
We soon discvered why the train had bourn us no further on the way. Long sections of the track had been destroyed by one force or another. The way lay through almost unbroken forest and swamp, so dense that the eye could not penetrate. It seemed in many places one would be compelled to open the way for entrance with a knife or hatchet, tree and vine and reed were so woven together. Miles of our way lay over a trestle on which the track had been lifted from the swamp. I could hardly imagine why a road had ever been built here through such uninhabited and uninhabitable country. Most of the few clearings we saw were neglected or deserted. As we approached Jacksonville the country became more broken and the clearings indicated earlier habitation and cultivation, but war had interrupted everything and banished the inhabitants.
Some three or four miles out from the city we came upon a picket outpost Three colored soldiers in blue uniform were doing duty in guarding the approach by the roadway. They were fine looking fellows, in bright clean uniforms, a most cheering and welcome sight to us. Speaking for myself, I was so much pleased at the meeting I could have fallen on their necks and kissed them, had it not been for a kind of awful glad to see you but please don't come any nearer expression they seemed to wear which, prevented me. That sort o' kind o' dampened the effusive feeling which possessed me, and caused me to turn away sorrowful like and ponder on the low condition in life to which I had fallen.
For two or three miles outside the town the timber, consisting of yellow pine principally, had been felled and lay in broken tangle of dead limbs and trunk, disfiguring the landscape. This was undoubtedly to prevent its affording cover to aid the approach of a surprising force of the enemy.
As we drew near the city we were met by an officer who led us to a little glade on the north side through which a stream of considerable size ran, which too was a body of the felled timber, and told us to make ourselves comfortable as possible. It was almost evening and I was footsore and tired, and for a time threw myself on the grass to rest, thinking I could do no more that night, but soon hunger reminded me that sweeter rest might be found were the demands at least partially satisfied and I remembered that I had a part of my days' ration still, so I got up and collected a few dry sticks, got some fire from a neighbor and soon had a blaze, when it had burned down somewhat I poured my meal in the half canteen basin and scorched it, and made a cup of strong coffee. It was 9 o'clock perhaps by this time, and hearing a mule wagon come in the vicinity I sat the coffee to cool, and went to investigate. It proved to be a load of bread. It was quite a dark night and the men had surrounded it in a regular mob without order, and three or four men stood in the box and scattered the loaves out over the crowd. I kept near the outside of the crowd and soon saw a flying loaf coming my way; two of us sprang for it and both caught hold of it and divided it. I put mine out of sight and fell in the current which was pressing toward the wagon, and soon to prevent being crushed against it I was compelled to step upon the hub of one of the wheels. One of those who was distributing gave me another, and as soon as I could discover in which direction the current was flowing out, I fell in and was carried out as forcibly as I had been brought in. I returned to my fire, which I had scarcely reached when I heard Amos Atwell calling my name. He had just got into camp, early enough to obtain a loaf. We rekindled the blaze, ate a satisfying portion of bread, drank our meal coffee and laid ourselves down on the greensward beneath the Southern skies in sanguine, happy thoughts, to pleasant dreams.
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