I have several times spoken of Frank K. Bonney. We were schoolmates for a time before the war, and comrades of the same company when taken prisoners, and his home was about two miles from my own in Massachusetts. He had an uncle, an elder brother of his father, who had settled at Camden, S. C., when a young man, and there married a Lee, a near relative of General R. E. Lee. Some two years before the war Frank's elder sister visited her uncle at Camden, and remained there.
Frank's health was precarious during the whole of our prison life. Much of the time his hands were so crippled with sores as to make him helpless, so that while at Andersonville I wrote one letter for him to his sister, and still another while at Charleston, but he received no reply. We doubted whether the authorities allowed the letters to reach their destination. At Florence Frank became almost helpless from scurvy, and at his request I again wrote to his sister, informing her of his condition, in hopes that she might succeed in reaching and helping him before it should be too late. To make sure, if possible, that the message should reach her, I resolved to place the letter in the hands of Cheatham, the adjutant of the post at Florence, who did all that lay in his power to ameliorate our condition, even going so far as to receive a reprimand from Winder; so that he was something of a favorite with the prisoners. When I asked him to forward the letter the astonished look he gave me made me hesitate. "Do you know Miss Bonney?" he inquired in his sharp, quick way. "Yes," I answered; "her family and mine are near neighbors in Massachusetts." "Go get your traps, and come right out of here!" he said. "But," said I, " her brother is my chum, and I wrote the letter for him because he is so crippled that he cannot write." "Miss Bonney's brother in here? Go bring him out; I want to see him'" was the imperative order.
I went back to Frank, who cleared up the mystery by saying that Adjutant Cheatham was from Camden, and probably knew his sister.
Prospects began to brighten just before total darkness was about to shut in. Frank was unable to travel to the gate, seventy-five yards away, without assistance, and I had reached my lowest condition, weighing only ninety-six pounds as tested by the commissary scales a day or two later, but we were not long in finding the adjutant at the gate, waiting for us.
He immediately took us to his own quarters, and questioned us closely in order to prove our identity.
It soon transpired that Adjutant Cheatham was intimately acquainted with Frank's sister; that she had received the two letters previously sent, the one from Andersonville and the other from Charleston; that she had charged him to look for us as soon as she had heard of the arrival of prisoners at Florence; that she had made repeated efforts for our release from Andersonville, and was about to succeed when we were moved away; that she had visited Charleston in search of us, only to arrive a few days after the camp had been broken up, and was now anxiously waiting to discover our whereabouts.
We were immediately given good quarters, being attached to the "burial squad,"—as it was against all orders to have any of the prisoners paroled outside except for the purpose of performing definite work,—with plenty to eat and some few articles of clothing, which we learned was a part of the supply sent from the North for the prisoners' use; and the adjutant informed us that Miss Bonney would visit us as soon as we were presentable.
No doubt we were hideous-looking objects. Frank's weight was about the same as my own, and he was covered with sores from head to foot. Both were black from the grime and smoke of the camp, with hair uncut for a whole year; but baked sweet potatoes and bacon very soon began to make a change for the better, and a small piece of soap that I obtained one day by chance made a change in our complexion. My own health and strength came back very rapidly, but Frank's never fully returned.
Miss Bonney visited us a few days after our exit from the stockade, bringing Frank a complete suit of homespun with cap and shoes, and for myself some underclothing and a pair of shoes. For the shoes she paid $80, and in like proportion for the other clothing. She made every effort to take Frank to Camden with her, but Adjutant Cheatham could not obtain official consent; so he was made comfortable at Florence, while I, in a few days, was able to do my share of duty with the men who buried the Union dead.
Nine men, all paroled prisoners, composed this "burial squad." It was our duty to receive the dead as they were delivered from the stockade each day, bury them, mark the graves, and keep a register of each name, company, and regiment, with a number, corresponding to the number against the name in the register, placed at the head of each. The only articles furnished by the prison authorities to assist in giving this last sad rite to the long-suffering dead were a two-mule team with a negro driver, shovels, and an ax.
We made every effort to give decent burial, but there were between twenty and thirty to be placed away each day, and only nine men, not one of whom was able to do more than half an able-bodied man's work, to perform this duty.
The headboards, upon which were cut the numbers that corresponded with the register, we split from pine logs. This work was performed conscientiously, so that at any future day a body could be reclaimed with the certainty that it was what the headboard with its number represented it to be.
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