Thursday, November 11, 2010

bisected by the backbone of a broken down mule...

The very young Boston Unitarian minister Charles Humphreys, became a military Chaplain during the Civil War and was captured.  This a part of that experience as related in his memoir,  "Field, camp, hospital and prison in the civil war, 1863-1865."  When we take up the story, Chaplain Humphreys has stayed behind to care for the wounded and bury the dead following an engagement when he is "captured." 

"You're my prisoner." I at once explained to him my mission, and the laws of war that shielded chaplains and surgeons in the discharge of their duties on the field; but he simply presented the shotted and unanswerable argument of his well-aimed pistol, and I yielded as gracefully as I could to the inevitable...

I was locked up in a room in Mosby's headquarters, with only the bare floor to sleep upon. But I was tired enough to sleep standing, and I knew nothing till I was awakened in the early morning by Mosby's adjutant, and lectured upon the sin of invading the South and committing sacrilege upon the sacred soil of Virginia. I did not care to argue with him, but asked if I might not see Colonel Mosby, for whom I had some respect, and who, I believed, would send me back to the care of the wounded on the field of our defeat. But the Adjutant, swollen with his little brief authority, haughtily answered: "No! You're a damned abolitionist preacher, and you've got to suffer for it." This honorable impeachment was not exactly deserved; for though I respected the abolitionists individually I did not approve of their radical methods, and of course had never preached their doctrines. Still I hated slavery and was not unwilling to bear my part in expiating, even vicariously, the offence of my native State in leading towards its overthrow. The Adjutant then sent me out with one of his men into a field to catch a mule, as I must be mounted to overtake the other prisoners who were now several miles ahead on their way to Lynchburg. These mules in the field were the exhausted animals from the service and put out to pasture to recruit. They were mere skeletons, and to mount one was like riding a rail. Still I was compelled to ride bareback; and a fresh guard, mounted on a fresh horse, took my mule's bridle rein and led him forward as fast as he could be induced to go. This ride of fifteen miles was harder—if possible —than the thirty miles' walk of the previous day. Every added mile made the mule more excruciatingly thin. I was almost cut in twain, and as I came into camp where the other prisoners were resting at noon, the spectacle I presented should have drawn tears, but instead they all set up a great shout of laughter and cheers—of laughter at the irresistibly ludicrous sight of their chaplain balancing himself on his hands lest he should be bisected by the backbone of a broken-down mule, and of cheers because they were so glad to have unexpected companionship in their misery. The prisoners numbered fifty-five—Major Forbes, Lieutenant Amory, Lieutenant Burns, and myself, with fifty-one privates. I at once took all their names, so that if we were separated and I should first be released, I might inform their friends of their fate. As it was, our families did not know whether we were killed, wounded, or prisoners."

Blessings

2 comments:

Elizabeth said...

"swollen with his little brief authority". I've had dealings with two such people this week. What a wonderful phrase. Perfectly apt.

boston unitarian said...

Hi Elizabeth,
Many thanks for writing. May the coming week be better! blessings, BU