The following is Chapter Four of the memoir of Byron Smith, who served in the 1st Georgia Cavalry. It was published in the Gloster Record (Amite County, Mississippi), January 27, 1939:
CONFEDERATE SOLDIER IN A YANKEE ARMY PRISON
(By Byron Smith, Peoria, Miss.)
It had been very cold for several days. We had nothing to make fires but the sun took pity on us and came out with its warm
genial rays. Soon hundreds of Johnnies were on the sunny side of their tents trying to get warm and picking themselves like a flock of geese. [Editor’s note: by “picking” Smith means he was removing lice from his uniform]
A galvanized Reb (that is what we called one who took the oath) came by going outside. An idea occurred to me. I decided I would take his place on the ration pole. I hurriedly entered my tent and had a request written out for transfer to Co. B, 8th Div., the company the man had just left. I gave it to the sergeant. He put my name on his roll and said “Come with me and I will show you your tent.” I told him I had a place to sleep, he replied, “All right but be sure you answer to roll call and be with us to get your rations.” I assured him I would attend to that.
I went back to my tent and said, “Boys, I have bought a cow,” and explained it to them. They replied “Yes, and the Yankees will catch you, kill your cow and make you ride old Bald.” Old Bald was a scantling 4x4x12 feet long with four legs ten feet long, making a trestle seat ten feet high to punish offenders. A ladder was placed against it, and the fellow ti be punished was made to walk up it, straddle old Bald and ride him without stirrups two, three or four hours. If he did not fall off when his time was out they placed a ladder for him to come down.
Next morning I told the boys I was going to milk my cow. They all watched to see how I would succeed. I secured my extra ration and milked by cow for several months by answering to two rolls in two different companies. After the transfer business had been going on for several months, the number of men reported was about the same as it was before any took the oath, although by this time they had nearly two regiments of galvanized rebels from the inside. The Yankees were puzzled they did not understand it.
The corporals became very particular about roll call, but the boys would help each other and they could not catch up with us until one day a galvanized rebel was going out and the boys begged him to sell them his blanket but he refused. Then three or four of them took it away from him, knowing he would get another on the outside. One of these boys was “milking a cow” and this fellow knew it, and reported him for spite. The corporal carried him outside and kept him in the guard tent three or four days. Then they caught three others. They took three old flower barrels and knocked the heads out, nailed a strip of plank on two sides of them, then lifted the three barrels and put them over the heads of the three men. They put a barrel over the fourth one, and tied him with a rope to the other three, making a spike team. Then [they] fastened a card with “Flanker No.1,” Flanker No. 2 and so on to each one, and had them march before the guard between the cook house for two days. The corporal tried very hard to catch more but failed, as the boys were on the watch all the time.
After General Grant took command of the Virginia army, the prisoners were ordered to fall into line with one blanket and march out on [the] beach. A detail of Yankees then searched every tent and threw all the blankets and clothing out, and they were carried outside. When this was done the roll was called, and as each man answered he stepped inside and formed a new line. Our cows were captured. They found that about five thousand men had been answering to two roll calls. Perhaps they had by this means saved their lives. Well, we enjoyed it while [it] lasted, and had a great deal of fun, joking each other about the Yankee’s raid on our cows.
But it was not much fun over the loss of our blankets. When we came to Point Lookout, and all who had U.S. blankets had to
give them up, it was nearly a month before I succeeded in buying one. I had a hard time of it. The weather was cold, I had to sleep on the bare ground, and sometimes I thought I would freeze. Two of the boys allowed me to use as much of their blankets as they could spare. After I had bought one, our corporal asked if I was the man that had no blankets, I told him yes, he said, “come with me.” We walked outside to the house where they kept the supplies. He said, “take one.” I took two, I walked by his side to my tent happy. I was the owner of three good blankets, and could sleep comfortable.
(Another chapter next week)