All this time it was evident that the Confederacy was fast falling to pieces, and our deliverance not far distant. The tone of the prison authorities began to change, particularly to those of us who were enjoying the outside parole. The guard began to fraternize with us, showing a disposition to be neighborly. One of them made the burial squad a present of a very fine ham, such a ham as they at the South only know how to cure, and a bushel of sweet potatoes. They began to lounge into our little log-hut and chat with us during the evening, and play cribbage, chess, and checkers. We were invited into their camp. The last two or three weeks of our stay at Florence we could go and come pretty much as we pleased after our day's duties were done. At last we were told that they could hold us no longer, and that we would be placed on board the cars as fast as they could be obtained and run into the Union lines at Wilmington. Adjutant Cheatham requested all the paroled men to remain to help off the last train-load, which would consist of the sick and totally disabled.
I watched for my comrades as the prisoners filed out of the stockade. I took Snow, McCullom, and Short by the hand as they emerged from this gate to Hades, and assured them that they were really bound for God's country this time. The last load left the fourth day after. We worked till near midnight in loading the box-cars with their half-living, half-dead human freight, the remnants and dregs of the Florence prison. Seven died on the way to the train, and more than twenty while en route between Florence and Wilmington. We placed aboard the train nearly a hundred cases of smallpox, and two hundred cases in the last stages of scurvy—whose condition I dare not describe. The excitement and efforts to revive the almost dying kept my nerves and muscles strung till the last man was on board; then I felt faint and deathly, and could not ride inside the cars with the loathsome sick and dying. I climbed to the top of the train, and rode for the first fifty miles in a cold northeast rain storm, until so thoroughly wet and chilled that I shook from head to foot like a man with ague. Then I crawled along to the engine and over the tender into the cab, where I found four of my comrades, who had preceded me to get warm, and we rode here the remaining distance to Wilmington. We supplied the tender and fire with wood, and, in short, pretty much ran the train as we pleased. Soon after daylight of March 1, 1865, I saw the first free Union soldier in ten long months, in the form of a foraging cavalryman. Our whole train-load cheered him with all the noise we could make, and waved some kind of a rag. I never saw a more astonished soldier. Evidently he did not comprehend the situation. About noon we reached the Union lines, upon the opposite side of the river from Wilmington, where we were met by ambulances, surgeons, and everything possible to make us comfortable, and there we saw the glorious God-given flag, the Stars and Stripes of a free people!
I could not eat during the three days we spent at Wilmington, but did drink a little coffee, that we had longed for so much.
We were taken from Wilmington on a small steamer over the bar, and transferred to the ocean steamer Livingston that was waiting in the offing. I fell asleep from sheer exhaustion, and when I woke again it was to find myself in the Jarvis General Hospital, at Baltimore, with three weeks of lost time to be accounted for. The surgeon told me that I had been delirious during that time; that I was now on the fair road to recovery, and must remain quiet several days longer.
In response to my importunate appeals, I was promised a furlough as soon as I should be able to walk to the office. This I attempted every day till the fourth day I succeeded, but it took me to the end of my rope. The surgeon tried to persuade me to remain a few days longer; but I was bent on going home; I claimed his promise, and the furlough was written. A hackman took me in his arms to his vehicle, and from that aboard the train in the Baltimore depot. The journey to Boston I do not remember. Somehow I got there, and another hackman carried me to my uncle's house and placed me upon the lounge in his sitting-room. The next morning I was carried to the cars and rode out home, twenty miles, and was borne into my father's house.
T. H. Mann, M. D.
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