Andersonville

A poem about Major John Crews Pelot, M.D.  (#259)

by John Allen Pelot Jr. (#953)
 
Note: Dr. John Crews Pelot, born on 29 March 1831 in Nassau County, Florida,  was appointed Assistant Surgeon, C.S.A., 2 February 1864 and was assigned to Andersonville Prison, Georgia.

I

The shaman tells how the mountain became red
When two forces met, To his boys

Who sit in a clearing under young Georgia pine.
There is  much to learn. The youths are perfect today.

They listen with their eyes and hear the steady bee
That tells them the difference between the sting

And the spiritsí absence. He is proud of this,
Smiles in their direction, continues his story:

Once the mountain was brown like our mothers.
She fed the food we eat: the nut, berry, juniper sprig,

Ginseng for sickness, blackberry for the deer we hunt,
Ashes from her children. Remember the red mountain.

All that dies on her  lives again as you have seen,
Except the men who saw her and turned their heads

And hands to hunt one another in that world
Where cold souls go and our motherís blood and bones are

Used as fodder for the cattle they bring. This is not our world.
This is a place for battle, villains and heroes.
 
 
II

An army camps  before a distant mountain
only long enough to leave an armiesí remains.

Dead horses, dead men, the women in their wake;
a broken drum, a stockade with prison hospital.

 Then a larger clearing surrounding a stand of  newly
dead pine,  stripped and sharpened with iron ,  to be

the blind guard who keeps men out and in.
Here is the fire-smell and ant herds digging at both ends.

Their leader, Colonel Wirtz,  might have been an accountant
because the size of the mountain didnít impress him.

He was from the north where buildings had already begun to climb
with steel, away from earth  and hearth , into the sky.

Hell is rationed by ounces not degrees in the late 1860ís
In a long summer at Andersonville, the touch of Malaria reached

Kelvin heights. Thousands died without amnesty
And for the lack of more than 4 ounces of meat a day,

And cornbread that didnít worm its way through the bowels.
No milk, no Geneva convention. Whiskey  for amputees only,

Whose fallen limbs would never grow back but lay in stacks
For burning, not to cook or warm the meat, but destroy it.

The doctor knew he had become a miner
Saving the head, most of the body, in physical form.

The ore that would never become whole men again
Sparkled in his nightsí shivering dreams,

Where red mountains hold  the stumps of trees and their shadows
Bent on destroying him should he ever stop and think:

Take me back to the time when men were reasonable and just.
And there was no time, only blue and gray emptiness.
 

III

On his side of the hill it was whispered
That nothing would grow or prosper.

All were starving: guards and prisoners
Fed the hate that generals take with their whisky.

From mouth to ear, action to eye, who knew the truth?
Outside the world was swallowing  pine.

Men becoming more dead through the morning paper,
Each headline trying to out-do the other with the same news.
 
Atrocities from both sides of rainbows, both the same.
Both agents feeling the other to blame. Stern words

Recited at tables over scrapple, maple syrup, and cheese
Or grits, gravy and biscuits. In both windows it rained

Until the proudest man cried. His children and wife,
Miners long before, still trying to reclaim salt from their eyes.

They might have said "enough" but what man would listen?
Instead, all mothers  followed their faith,  lost their boys and cried.

This was a time straight out of the bible, near another red sea,
When the sickle and wheat chance to meet on the longest day.

Many prison camps pocked this division of hills and plains
In these united states , but only Andersonville

Lived in the dell by red mountain where freedom
Is a bloody shirt torn from the back of a boy

Who hasnít been born yet or has been born too many times.
They are the same at death: stars flee the eyes,

His fatherís chin grows dark; motherís breath leaves.
They are the same on the table, waiting for the knife

The assistant surgeon thought. As the war ended
And a new one had already begun, he lost another friend.

Colonel Wirtz was hanged behind the capitol dome
In atonement for both sins. There wasnít much left

to hang, his slight build twisting in the steady wind.

                                    by John Allen Pelot Jr.
 

John is an English teacher and has published historical poetry in "The Sandhills Review."  John and his wife Martha live in Punta Gorda, Florida. He can be reached at ThreeTop@aol.com.
 

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William Currie Colket  (colket@colket.org)