Our arrival at Danville was not so much noticed by the townspeople as at Lynchburg. They had seen many a like deputation before, for we found several thousand of the “boys in blue” confined in the six different tobacco warehouses that the town contained. The prison selected for us was upon the bank of and overlooking the Dan River—a plain, brick, three-story building. Two hundred and fifty were packed upon each floor, giving each man a space of six by six feet, which made it very crowded. An approach to the windows was not allowed, and was considered to afford a legitimate target for the guard below.
Who ever saw a soldier that was not looking for something to eat? We had fasted thirty-six hours, and before examining our new quarters the first concern was for something to eat Just before night corn-bread and bacon were issued to us in fair quantities.
This, then, was the exchange promised us at Lynchburg. To be sure, we were exchanged from the open air to close confinement between brick walls, our rations from hard-bread to corn-bread. The quantity of our rations was now sufficient, though the quality was doubtful; but quantity was the principal item with the majority of us, although the stomachs of many rebelled against the coarse corn-bread and fat bacon. The bacon had a habit of acting a little queer and lively at times, although we were repeatedly assured that it had been killed once more than two years before; the bread was never more than half baked; but the lack of fresh air during the heat of the day was the most unbearable. A barrel of water stood on each floor, and a detail was made from our number to keep the barrels full. I succeeded in being detailed for one day, and more fully appreciated the taste of fresh air obtained in going to and from the river than ever before or since, and would have esteemed it a privilege to carry water the greater part of each day.
I met prisoners from the other prisons, conveying water, who had been confined in these tobacco houses for nearly two months, and they looked more like ghosts than human beings—hardly able to drag one limb after another, their skin bleached to a dead white, and their bodies thin with the appearance of transparency. I began to fear prison life more than ever. It was repeatedly asserted by the commanders of our guard that exchange or parole was not far distant; that news from our Government was expected every day of its readiness to receive us as fast as we could be shipped. We began seriously to doubt their sincerity.
The dispositions of old comrades were rapidly undergoing a change. They were not so ready to help each other, and do that for another which would in the least lessen one's own chances or advantages. If there was a selfish vein in one's disposition or temperament, that trait now began to predominate.
It is hardly right to call it a selfish trait; it was rather the instinct of self-preservation, an instinct that human nature will rarely resist to the death. I, for one, had great faith in the strength of human friendship, knowing from absolute experience what one friend will do and sacrifice for another; but here it would not do to reckon too much upon the amenities of our supposed friends.
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