&emdash The pathology of hunger has some peculiar attendant phenomena which I have not seen mentioned. It is for this reason that I venture to think the following episode of my own war-time reminiscences may be found of interest by the Club.
It was on our return home, after an experience which the Scripture-reading and serious youth of our command likened to the alternatives presented to the children of Israel : seven years of famine, a three months’ driving before the enemy, or a three days’ pestilence. It seemed to our fevered memories as though we had experienced all three, varying only in degree ; for we had had three months of famine, we had been driven two months before the enemy, and we had suffered many weeks of pestilence as a natural result of our hardships. Many had died of starvation, and the frenzied look of a famished dog was in the eyes of almost all.
At last we reached the Ohio River, and were borne down on the broad, raftlike transports of that stream to the vicinity of Parkersburg, where we landed at Blennerhassett Island. Thence a forced march brought us to Williamsport, where we crossed the river and were in Maryland. We were followed by our unsparing foe to the banks of the river, and even cannonaded after we were across. Then came another, and the last, forced march of the raid ; but this time we were not forced on by a vis a tergo enemy, but beckoned forward by vis a fronte shelter and food and rest. These were all awaiting us at Harper’s Ferry, whence we had started three months before ; and as our wearied men fell into line and drifted staggeringly over the highways, they must have presented a sorry aspect, — ragged, famished, and distressed ; for the rain had been pouring for a week. The bad weather, however, elicited one statement never to be forgotten : “ All’s damp now, all save the indomitable heart of General Crook.” This was indeed true. Seated upon his horse, our general looked defiance at the elements, as he had, during our bitter trial, shown it to the enemy.
As our weary band waded through mud and water and soggy grass, the steam from their moist bodies havered in a cloud along the line of march. The day wore on ; the roads became better, and our spirits rose, because, halting though we were, our faces were turned homeward ; so, when evening came, there was little or no grumbling at the information that we would continue marching through the night. But hundreds walked, sound asleep, sustained by comrades on either side. I learned that many took turns in the use of this peripatetic couch, just as they had often before taken turns on guard or picket, relieving one another at intervals. As the night deepened, although there was no moon, the stars vouchsafed a quality of light which made all objects appear unusually distinct, especially those at a considerable distance.
Soothed by the rocking motion of my horse, I fell asleep, notwithstanding the most strenuous efforts to keep awake. Soon my hunger-haunted brain found rest and refreshment in such dreams as came. I dreamed of food. Through the weary raid wo had all of us dreamed of little else ; and we woke to find the unsatisfied longing still, persistent, and that the hopes popular tradition had held out to us — that our hunger might be blurred with sickness — were not to be realized.
I had supposed that a famished man, in the prime of youth, abandoned wholly to his imaginings, “ his helm of reason lost,” as Young says, would revel in a dreamland flowing with milk and honey ; he might even he pardoned for repeating in thought such robust feasting as that wherewith the Saxons ushered in the morn at Hastings. But no ; it would seem as though a peculiar sense of loneliness pervaded our hungerstricken bodies as well as our minds ; for our dreams were usually of home and kindred, of cheerful firesides and most frugal suppers. I do not recall eating, in these Barmecide feasts, anything more substantial than the smoked beef and flapjacks of a New England tea. Something small, neat, and tasty was what the boys wished, when hunger had tamed the tiger and reduced the flesh. Many told me, with grim humor, that they dreamed of pickles and codfish balls, and I know that bread and molasses was a favorite viand among the starving sleepers of George Crook’s army.
On this particular occasion, I had no sooner lost consciousness of present surroundings than I found myself seated at a farmhouse tea-table, before a Lucullian banquet of hot biscuit, peach preserves, I think, and apple butter, this last being a favorite “condiment” (the local word) at a Virginia fireside. The rosy faces around the table had given me such joyous welcome as dreams and strangers give always — and friends sometimes. I passed slowly from this scene, and entered another which was but a reminiscence: the whole incident of my being wounded at Antictam and nursed at a farmhouse hard by was reenacted in my mind with a vividness and a celerity that were like the magic illusions conferred upon the hasheesh-eater. I saw the torn roof which a cannon-ball had ploughed just over my head, as I lay, tranced with pain and stiff with blood, in a log outbuilding near the house ; and one sight, too startling to relate, awoke mo, all quivering and weak. Looking around, I beheld what caused me to clutch my horse’s mane for a moment with something like terror. There was the very scene of my dream in vivid reality before me ! There were the house, the shattered roof still umnended; the fence, still lacking the rails which had made our camp-fire two years before ; the familiar bridge ; the turn in the road which brought us to the creek that two years before had run red with the blood of thousands of men. Hurriedly I leaned forward and asked a negro sitting on a fence (it was yet early evening) where we were. We were indeed passing over the field of Antietam, which had been hailed as our first victory over the enemy, and the greatest battle ever fought on this continent. It was all peaceful now ; two crops had grown over the one that we trampled, and, looking at the tall shocks of corn, I unconsciously repeated the line,—
A few weeks later, — and the interval is but dimly recalled, — I was in my father’s house at Staten Island, all the officers of my regiment having been Sent home, after the terrible raid, to recuperate. Some workmen were blasting out a well near by ; and almost my first consciousness of the things of this life was connected with the sounds of the blasting. With the boom of the first assault upon the rock, I leaped from the sofa, on which I had been ordered to spend the day, and called out loudly for my horse and sabre. This manner of waking occurred several times, and I was with difficulty persuaded that peaceful Staten Island had no need of my services. In the evening, some neighbors called, partly front friendly curiosity, let us hope, to see a survivor of the dreadful Hunter’s raid. 1 heard them talking animatedly at the window, and as I approached, with a dim purpose of joining in their conversation, there was an ominous silence following an admonitory “ hush.” “Oh, don’t mind him,” remarked my father ; “ he knows nothing of what is going on now.”
Such was the dream, such the dreamer, that hunger had produced.