An Excerpt from Solomon Ramsdell: A Novel of the Civil War Era

Members of my Readers List will get excerpts as I work on my next novel, about Rosette's brother Solomon, surely one of the most appealing characters in Rosette: A Novel of Pioneer Michigan. Join the Readers List yourself to get previews as the pages unfold . . .

In this portion, Solomon has recently been captured in the battle of Trevilian Station and is on a train bound for the notorious Andersonville prison in Georgia. If you're an expert in this slice of history, I invite your comments and corrections. I've done a good bit of research but need to dive deeper for some logistics and geography.

     The rumbling train carried the weary, stinking prisoners from summer-sweltering Virginia into  the depths of the South. It carried them away from the rich farmlands and dark woods they’d known in their Northern homes, from hills and cool streams, first over mountains, then further into flatlands. Deep shade of hardwoods gave way to hard red clay and scraggly stands of pine.  The intense late-June heat was relieved only by the slight breezes of the train’s movement across the landscape. The sun leaned closer down upon them, and though the land seemed dry and brittle with all its pine straw and pale earth where clay became sand, nevertheless an oppressive washday steam clogged the men’s airways. They gulped and threw open their collars for air they nearly had to drink to get down.
     Solomon closed his eyes against the yellow fireball hung just outside the train window, and the flickering shadows of pines crossed his eyelids. The open window let in ashes and soot with the fine orange dust that crept up his nose and settled gritty on the backs of his hands. Sodden air hung close to them, sealing the sweat that gathered on their skin but could not dissipate.
     When the train finally stopped, the men, soaked and sluggish, could barely move. Packed in close together, they had only distant thoughts of hunger that were shouted down by their longing for the tinny warm water passed around in a bucket. The train roar stilled now, and screaming cicadas shrilled their pulsing beat. The platform was new-sawn planks, the landing place for prisoners, with no bustle of ordinary commerce—there was no hurry. Prisoners could wait while Confederate officers and soldiers took their slow time with arrangements. Ears ringing with the sounds of the insects, the men waved away the mosquitoes and gnats that poured into the windows, and squabbles broke out about whether to close the windows or keep them open—all was misery. Just to get out, to walk a bit, would be heaven, Solomon thought. But his mind would not rouse itself to consider the prospects.
     After an hour or two the doors were opened and the men filed out with their poor packs of this and that—whatever memento or tool a man thought might come in handy in faraway enemy confinement, clutched compulsively as he was taken into custody. Solomon pulled on his cap, felt for his cup and slit-handled spoon on his belt loop, and adjusted his rolled blanket tied with short ropes. His precious leather saddlebag with its long strap across his shoulder held treasures he hoped would be of use in the days and weeks—surely not months—to come.
      The man before him in the aisle had to grip the seat-backs to pull himself forward, and Solomon realized he had not cared to know his fellows on this journey beyond a hooded-lid nod to his own men captured with him. Each had his own nightmare to endure. They would form up again in the camp, as they’d been trained.
      The stumbling man hesitated at the steps, and Solomon squatted to help support him on the way down, grasping him under the arms. The man’s legs bent beneath him as he reached the platform, and the soldier supervising their movements eyed him until another prisoner reached out to take the man’s arm blindly reaching out for help.
     Most were stirred to a little liveliness by the change, and they stood in ranks as bidden, then more-or-less marched down the steps and along a curving dirt road that became a dust cloud along their way with their shuffling feet. Modest hills gave way to the town nestled among them in one direction—Andersonville, Georgia, they said. The final small summit revealed Camp Sumter, a vast clearing surrounded by two levels of wooden fencing—a palisade—with guard towers on the corners and along the walls, and a platform for the guards to walk as they inspected their charges. A glimpse of the prison ground itself showed throngs of men milling about, some in a line, with a few cooking fires sending tendrils of smoke into the air. The summer sun was approaching its reddened bed in the west, retreating from the enclosure where gloom was already gathering around the captives.

      . . .

 

Sketch of bugle and cap from the Union Army, Civil War
A bugle and cap such as Solomon might have used in his war service - illustration by Betsy Marsch, for the paperback version of Rosette

Write a comment

Comments: 1
  • #1

    Mom (Thursday, 13 April 2017 20:08)

    Love this also. You do such a good job of describing things and I could see the train and feel the heat ---looking forward to the rest of the book. Keep working. I love you, Mom