If you haven't read FOR THE CAUSE OF FREEDOM, here's an excerpt to pique your curiosity.
Point Lookout Confederate Prison Camp
A damp, biting wind blew in from the Chesapeake Bay and seeped its way under the thin woolen blanket Charlie shared with another prisoner. Pressing closer against Wilson's back for warmth, he closed his eyes and tried to block out the sounds of merriment coming from the garrison where the guards welcomed the newly arrived colored troops. Beneath him, the ground was as hard and cold as a block of ice. A shiver rattled his teeth, and Charlie curled his knees into his chest.
I must survive, Charlie Turner reminded himself as another violent shiver overtook his thin frame. I will survive, he vowed, grinding his teeth together to cease their chattering. If for no other reason than to return home and see his father and Jeremiah again, he must endure this frozen hell.
In a gray haze of semi-consciousness, a memory drifted into his thoughts like fog rolling in from the bay. It had been a beautiful spring day, and Charlie had clutched the newspaper tightly in his hand as he urged the mount under him into a full gallop, racing up Turners Lane between the corn fields toward Laurel Hill.
He’d been so eager to share the fateful news with his brother that Fort Sumter had fallen into Confederate hands and President Lincoln was calling for volunteers to suppress the rebellion. Charlie had felt a twinge of guilt at the excitement pulsing in his veins at the prospect of war. Perhaps within every man there was a warrior crouching in repose, waiting until the moment when he should be called upon to fight.
Against his father’s wishes and his brother’s counsel, Charlie had been with the first wave of men to enlist with the Rebels. He’d taken the buckskin gelding, Archie, under cover of darkness and rode through the night to catch a ferry across the Chesapeake Bay and enlist with the First Maryland Infantry of the Confederate States in Richmond, Virginia.
He’d been so sure it was the right course to follow in the footsteps of his grandfather, who’d fought in the war of 1812 to suppress tyranny and defend freedom. But nothing seemed clear anymore.
“I’m sorry, Jeremiah,” Charlie moaned as he drifted into tortured sleep.
He awoke with a start as the bugle sounded the morning Reveille and demanded the prisoners assemble for roll call. The sky was still dark as he forced himself upright, running a dirty hand over his tired face. Beside him, Wilson groaned in greeting to another day. The circular Sibley tent quickly converted into a cramped mass of elbows and knees as the men rose from the ground where they huddled against one another for warmth and stumbled toward the flap.
The air outside the tent was even colder than within, where at least there was a barrier against the wind, and the body heat they generated had filled the small space. Charlie shivered as the air struck his face, and he folded his arms across his chest in a reflexive posture against the assault, although his thin arms inside the tattered uniform provided no protection against the bitter cold.
On the eastern horizon, the sun pushed back the darkness and a pale rim of orange light glowed as the fiery orb climbed into the sky. But the weak rays it produced were useless at dispelling the chill that gnawed deep into the prisoners’ bones. The long months of summer when they had sweltered in the burning sand like bacon on a griddle seemed no more than mere hallucination.
Their sunburned skin had faded to pale white, tinged with blue from cold or the gray pall of approaching death. Scurvy and malnutrition had weakened them all until there was no fight left in them. They ate whatever they could find, as the rations served were barely enough to keep them alive. Before the bay’s waves were capped with ice, they had been permitted to search for clams, lobster, or fish in the enclosed area behind the stockade where they bathed and washed their clothing. Now, the only protein to be added to their paltry diet was rats, hunted out of sheer desperation. As firewood was scarce, it was reserved for roasting the filthy rodents.
As the Confederate prisoners fell into line for the roll call, it was to the jibes and jeers of the black troops sent to guard them. They inspected the emaciated forms of the men in their torn and faded garments, laughing at just how low the mighty had fallen. Many of these Negroes had once been enslaved to the white men of the South. This was indeed an unexpected twist of fate, to be both celebrated and exploited.
“Looks like the bottom rung’s on top now!” Charlie heard one of the darkies taunt his former master, the barrel of his rifle jabbing the prisoner in the ribs.
If the guards of their own skin color had treated their execution as a sport, how much worse would it be now that the colored troops had arrived? Numb with cold and his awareness that the specter of Death followed in every shadowed footstep he took, Charlie acknowledged this new threat calmly. Every Confederate soldier present had survived the bloody battle of Gettysburg, and many battles before it, only to fight hunger and inclement weather here at Point Lookout. There were a thousand ways that death could claim a man: gunfire, grenade, smallpox, dysentery, blazing heat or freezing cold… Each of the prisoners was, at any given moment, only a breath away from passing into the next life.
Sometimes it was difficult to remember why he must keep his spirit firmly rooted in this wretched mortal body. It would be easier to goad the guards into shooting him and ending this perpetual misery.
But Charlie was determined to survive, if his determination alone were enough to ensure it. He kept his eyes lowered and his mouth shut. He did what he was ordered, and did nothing to bring attention to himself. He was simply another gaunt face, another name on the long list of prisoners held in the “bull pen.” And that was the way Charlie wanted it to remain. He combated the hunger and the cold with the same unwavering resolve. He would survive.
Standing at attention, eyes straight ahead, though unfocused on anything in particular, Charlie listened for his name as the register was shouted out into the frosty morning air. He was aware of the colored guards slowly circling the prisoners, gloating over their elevated status, but he paid them no heed until one of them jerked his head at the call for “Private Charles Turner.”
The dark-skinned soldier’s eyes narrowed on Charlie as he barked out his response. In the gray light of dawn, Charlie scrutinized the black face staring back at him. There was something familiar about it… Then recognition suddenly slammed into place. Henry?
The Federal blue uniform and erect posture had tricked Charlie’s eyes for a moment, but he was certain that it was the slave, Henry, from Laurel Hill. At the precise moment that acknowledgement registered on his face, Henry shook his head ever so slightly, his hand lifting for a brief second to cover his lips with his forefinger. It was a subtle message to keep their association silent.
And for the first time in months, Charlie felt a small spark of hope fan to life within his chest.