Saturday, October 03, 2009

Ghostly Phantoms at Petersburg

Captain Ludlum Crossman Drake (1839-1924) wrote a twenty-page account of his Civil War experience titled War Reminiscences, a memoir of his service with the Eighteenth Michigan and the 114th U.S. Colored Infantries. This document is part of the Survey of State and Local Historical Records by the Works Progress Administration. It was filed on June 2, 1937. The handwritten narrative is undated. A reference to Spanish American War veterans indicates Drake wrote it in 1898 or later.

One of the highlights is the following paragraph, in which Drake describes Union POWs at Petersburg, Va., in early 1865.
I never can forget some exchanged prisoners brought into our lines as they went staggering by. Those once strong men with eyes like eagles and nerves like steel. Men who had stood by Grant in the Wilderness and by Thomas at Chicamauga. Men who had rode with Sheridan in that wild hurricane which swept the Shenandoah. Men who had helped Grant take Vicksburg and Sherman capture Atlanta, now slowly and scientifically starved till the marrow had rotted from their bones and the light of reason gone out. Ghostly phantoms belonging to neither this world nor the next. Their wasted forms and idiotic features haunt me to this day.
— Military Order of the Loyal Legion of the United States, Michigan Commandery Records, 1885-1951. Bentley Historical Library, University of Michigan.
These few lines convey the shock Drake still felt four decades after seeing these human skeletons, and remind us today that the horrors of war are as real today as they were a century-and-a-half ago.

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