About 13 or 14 years ago I learned of the Elmira web site and my Great-Great Grandfather Hiram’s grave. I had known my Great-Great Grandfather was a Confederate soldier and he had died in a prison up North. That was all I knew until my cousin filled in the details by pointing me to the Elmira web site that listed all the prisoners that were held there and their fate. I was moved by my Great-Great Grandfather’s story to write this Flash Fiction story that follows. If you want to know more about the Elmira prison, there are links at the end.
The sweat stung the cut above his eye, mixed with his blood and dripped off his brow, staining his soiled cotton shirt. He sat, legs extended straight out, on the cold brick floor, his back stiffening against the stone wall. How long had he been unconscious? It didn’t matter. He hadn’t broken. He told them nothing. They weren’t going to break him. He was a proud Confederate soldier from the great state of Mississippi. The secrets of the Confederacy, at least those a Private of Company E, Powers’ Regiment of the Mississippi Calvary were privy to, were still secrets. Col. Powers would be proud of him. Damn Yankees.
He recollected it had been ’bout six months since his capture at Ft. Adams on the banks of the Mississippi River. What a stupid bet to make, riding his horse, the fastest in Adams County, into the midst of Yankee looters in an attempt to take back tobacco that rightfully belonged to the good folks of that town. Where were his buddies when that troop of Yankees surrounded him? Snickering in the woods he imagined. Damn Yankees.
Since then, he’d been removed from Mississippi via boat to a federal prison in New York. A prison the Yankees called Elmira. He thought Elmira sounded like a nice enough name for a girl but not a prison. This wasn’t a nice prison. The guards showed contempt for all things Confederate. Periodic beatings continued until the prisoner either died or sickness took him. There were no doctors for Confederate prisoners. This was war. Damn Yankees.
The New York winter had been severe. Being from Mississippi, he’d never experienced cold like that. Barefoot and clothed only in the ragged pants and shirt he’d been wearing since the start of the war, he had lost a few toes off his feet and damn near lost a hand. He had made it through the winter by the grace of God and he welcomed the warmth of Spring. He was hot now, with fever, and a constant cough of mucus. His chest felt like the Devil was squeezing his lungs every time he drew breath. Damn Yankees.
He closed his eyes and dreamed of a warm Mississippi breeze coming off the river. He smelled the magnolia blossoms on Pleasant Hill Plantation. He felt the gentle sway of a boat while fishing on Lake Mary. He was back in Buffalo Mississippi, north of Woodville, on his land with Martha and their two sons. They weren’t her boys, but she loved them just the same. She was sewing in her rocker, and he could hear the boys playing in the holler.
Sweat stung the cut above his eye again, returning him to Elmira. He drew a deep breath and his chest ignited like a powder keg. He grunted in pain and coughed violently. He gasped; his lungs would not draw air. He had no strength left to rise from the floor and seek help. No energy to yell for a guard. He leaned his head back against the wall and looked up through the barred window at a sliver of morning sunlight shining its way through the darkness. He had one last thought… Damn Yankees.
“What ye got there Private?” asked the captain of the guard.
“Prisoner number 2558 succumbed to pneumonia this morning sir. Takin’ him down to the graveyard.”
“Another Johnny Reb gone to his maker, eh? Mark the date April 5, 1865. Damn shame too.”
“How’s a dead Rebel a damn shame sir?”
“They say General Grant’s got Lee in a bind down in Virginny. ‘Spect him to surrender in the next day or two. War’ll be over then. He’d be let go then. Damn shame.”