Bidwell, Frederick David; History of the 49th New York Volunteers.
1916. Account of Sgt. Alexander H. McKelvy. pp. 114-117
On the second evening I was
placed in a fine ambulance car on the train for Richmond, with a few other
prisoners, and on arriving at the Confederate capital about eleven P. M. I was
removed and placed in another old “avalanch” then over the cobblestone
pavements thru a fog that might have been cut in chunks and sold for ice, to the
magnificent Hotel de Libby, where I was put up for a week.
I was carried in on a stretcher
and placed on a cot, and made as comfortable as circumstances would permit. Our
nurses were able bodied Union soldiers detailed for that purpose, and they were
kind and faithful and showed much interest in our care. The old place was full
of vermin, the beds were literally black with body lice, and every morning the
floor was mopped and flooded to try and drown the brutes.
The food supplied was not well
suited to the appetite of a wounded man, who was very feverish. It consisted of
good wheat loaf bread, a soup made of meat and rice, with stewed dried peaches
sadly in need of a worm specific, for dessert.
I rather think I might have
starved but for the advent of a dear matronly black mammie, who came in the
hospital every day with a wooden bucket on her turbaned head with new fresh
buttermilk churned, she said, by her young mistress in the city. As I was a
farmer boy and very fond of buttermilk, I gladly bought this delightful food
beverage and paid fifty cents a quart, Confederate money, of which I had a fair
supply, as I had exchanged with Puckett at a ratio of twenty to one. Breaking
the bread in the milk I fared sumptuously, and the milk was very cooling and
soothing to my feverish blood and nerves.
One morning a lot of doctors came
in to look me over and get the bullet out of my leg, and among the young army
surgeons was an old citizen doctor of the city whom I learned was always brought
in when they had a particularly difficult case of Yankee carving on the board.
Well, they went at me with a full case of “carpenter “ tools, and they were
in a shamefully dull condition, and no anesthetics to give me, so I may say I
had a very bad half hour. They made an incision thru the bullet hole some five
or six inches in length, then the old butcher inserted three fingers and
explored to the right and then reversed and fingered to the left, evidently
thinking the ball had gone between the bones of the leg.
I think if I had had a silver
dollar between my teeth during that torture, I could easily have changed it into
quarter dollars, but I didn’t break down before those Johnnies and I was
thankful for that. Two days later the boss carver came back and tackled the
other side of my leg and laid open the calf to the bone as if he had thought the
ball had passed thru or around the bone.
This operation did not hurt quite
so much, and I was getting so I rather enjoyed it by this time, but I did not
forget the sensation caused by those dull knives on the rolling muscles of the
calf, as he forced his way by main strength to the bone. I was told by our boys
that the old doctor was making a collection of Yankee relics, so I imagine he
was disappointed when he did not find the ball.
One night the welcome news came
floating in that a flag of truce boat had arrived at City Point, and an exchange
of prisoners of war would be made; and we all felt gay at the prospect of “
Johnny marching home,” but alas! for our hopes, for I was told that I was too
badly wounded to be sent to our lines, and a captain with a thigh amputation was
to be left with me, both to be eaten up of vermin and the dreaded gangrene, if
we remained in that pest house long, not to speak of possible death resulting
from our serious wounds.
So I lay the victim of dark
despair as I thought I could see my finish far from home and friends, but just
as the last man had been carried out at about two P. M. in rushed our nurses saying “The orders are that every
man must go and the hospital cleaned out.” “Hooray for us,” I cried and I
felt like getting up and dancing on one leg. Well, the boys got the poor, almost
unconscious, captain ready, and fished out and pulled on to me the bloody blue
trousers, put on blouse and hat, picked me up and out again into the James River
fog, into the old market wagon once more, the mules were whipped up and and it
was goodbye Libby to the tune of “The Girl I Left Behind Me.”
I saw Libby just thirty years
later in Chicago at the Columbian Exposition, walked all over it with my family
and picked out as nearly as I could the spot where my cot had stood, and it was
between the picture of Grant and Sherman as they hung on the wall of the old
tobacco warehouse. Over the cobblestones to the station where we were placed in
box cattle cars, I was laid softly on the floor, and away towards liberty down
thru Petersburg to City Point, and as I was carried on a stretcher from car to
boat, I caught a glimpse of “Old Glory” floating from the flag staff of the
steamer where it lay below the bluff, and the sight was so delicious that my
eyes were filled with tears of genuine joy and gladness.
[remainder of memoir not transcribed]
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