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This is the archive for July 2007

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Note from Donald: After a long hiatus Iím back from what Iíll call my own personal Burnsideís Mud March.

His life had become embraced by shadows. His shadow that disappeared from the view of his comrades as they marched toward the Wilderness on May 5, 1864. A shadow that walked, ran, fled, in a direction opposite from where the 18th Massachusetts would rendezvous with fate, whether driven by fear or a survival instinct. Itís unknown if he traveled a half-mile, a mile, or two, or perhaps more; vigilant eyes turned to the back of his head, his senses wired, lest his shadow, accompanied by a mind that wandered north, to home, to family, to Massachusetts, where the rattle of musketry and the roar of cannon would fade into nothingness, where men would die for the most part of natural causes, be discovered. His shadow would be headed off by other shadows, gray, menacing, their muskets pointed at his heart. His would disappear into the shadow of the woods with them, where in a clearing he was cast among other blue uniformed shadows. And from there he would disappear into the shadows of a cattle car that would take its cargo of men lost in darkness to Andersonville, where they would become shadows of humanity shadowed from Godís grace. He would walk out of Andersonville and board another train that would take him deeper into the shadows of the Confederacy, to Florence, South Carolina.

All military records, including those of the 18th Massachusetts Infantry, listed John Henry, Company A, as a deserter. There was no record that this 29 year-old Coal Heaver, who emigrated from England, was taken prisoner. A shadow to his Company, a shadow to his Regiment; a shadow of uncertainty hanging over a family in Roxbury that waited for him to appear in the doorway after peace was declared.

There is no grave marker at Florence. Henry is with the unknowns, his death unknown even to the existing records from the Florence Stockade. There is only a reference in a December 20, 1864 New York Times article in which fellow prisoners, in a letter of protest written to Confederate Lt. Gen. William J. Hardee, listed their grievances and the names of the dead at Florence.

As Union prisoners of war, we have had, heretofore, uniformly good reasons to complain of rations short in quantity and very inferior in quality, of an extremely inadequate supply of cooking utensils, and of very long detention of letters, moneys, and boxes from home, but never before we were brought to this prison have had reason to complain that the Confederate authorities had aggravated these standing grievances ten-fold by exposing us, as they have done here, to the inclemency of the weather, in a camp in which not a structure of the humblest kind has been erected for our accommodation.

Henryís name is the 327th on a list of over 400 men who died prior to November 12, 1864 submitted in the letter, confirming a fate no longer confined to the shadows and to wondering.