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Freedom Over Me
by Perry F. Louden, Jr
Not For Sale
Author requests article critique


June 30, 1863

“Oh how my soul longs for words from home” Private Mance Walker Prater mused to himself, then remembering:

...fear the LORD, ye his saints: for there is no want to them that fear him. The young lions do lack, and suffer hunger: but they that seek the LORD shall not want any good thing. Come, ye children, hearken unto me: I will teach you the fear of the LORD.
(Psalm 34:9-11 )

“Prata! Get up ‘ere.”
“Yes, sergeant.”
“Another letter came for you, boy”
“Thanks, Sarge.”
Turning to the relaxing company, Sergeant Keith barks out, “We move out in 1 hour. Be ready!”
Mance scampered back to his tent, tore open the letter from his mother, and began to digest her loving words from home.

TO: Pvt. Mance W. Prater
Company I/1st Tennessee Infantry Regiment/Tennessee Brigade
Army of Northern Virginia

FROM: Ethel M. Prater
Woodbury, TN

My Dearest Mance

All is well here. The Yankees come through every now and then, but they been leavin us alone. Your cousin, Scarlett, came from Carthage to help us with the farm. The garden is growin tall and the Good Lord is takin care of us. John Brandon’s boy, Billy Ray, was killed at Murfreesboro and William Jeffers boy lost his leg at Clarksville. He be back home and helpin round their farm. Old man Puckett’s negro, Jessey Harrod, runned off and Mrs. Puckett aint able to keep up their farm. Church has been filled on Sundays. I’m a fixin to go this Wednesday evenin if I can get the horses out. Did you get that Bible that I sent you? You need to be a readin it. Don’t want you killed or comin home with one leg, and seeins that I can not be there, ya gotta be a prayin and reading about the

Good Lord on your own.

TO: Ethel M. Prater
Woodbury, TN

FROM: Pvt. Mance W. Prater
Company I/1st Tennessee Infantry Regiment/Tennessee Brigade
Army of Northern Virginia

Dear Momma

It is June 30. We whipped those Yanks at Sharpsville! And been marching north ever since. My feet ache and my boots are almost worn through. General Jackson was wounded by one of our own pickets! We did not hear what had become of him for awhile but I was sure the Good Lord would not take him. He died though and I can not understand why God let him. Momma you heard about this Emansipasion Proclimasion? Is it true that Yankee Abe claims to have freed the Negros? What about the Pucketts and Braggs plantations? I got the Bible that you sent and been readin the book of Psalms. Pray for me momma. I think somethin big is gonna happen. I been feelin it. Donald wrote to me. I hope I can come see you soon.

Love ya and miss ya, Momma.

TO: Pvt. Donald J. Prater
Company I/1st Tennessee Infantry Regiment
Army of Tennessee

FROM: Pvt. Mance W. Prater
Company I/1st Tennessee Infantry Regiment/Tennessee Brigade
Army of Northern Virginia

Dear brother

I enjoyed readin your letter and the details bout the battle of Murfreesboro. But you keep saying you are in the 1st TENN. You aint because you are in TENN and you aint in Virginia where the real 1st TENN fights Yanks. Marse Bragg better change your regiment name cause my 1st TENN Regiment under Marse Lee is gonna win the war, and I aint a likin anyone thinkin it was yall and not us!
I do think the good Lord has a sense of humor putting two Prater brothers in “I” Companies in the 1st TENN Infantry Regiments serving the Army of the Confederate States of America on opposite sides of the country. I am very thankful though, brother, to the good Lord that your life has been spared. Do not fret. The Lord God will not let Vicksburg fall into Yank hands and yall will be back in Murfreesboro by autumn.

In your letter you asked about my company. I’m still in I Company under Capt. Joseph Holder. The TRUE 1st TENN Infantry Regiment is commanded by Colonel Peter Turney. We like him cause he exaggerates stuff, but he is still a good CO. The TENN Brigade is commanded by 1 star General Archer. His health is not good. The Division is commanded by 2 star General Heth. We were moved from Marse Jackson’s Command – God bless his soul - to Third Corps under 3 star General A.P. Hill, and ya know the Army of the Potomac is commanded by the great and honorable General Robert E. Lee. The boys call him Bobby Lee. Hes been marching us hard into Maryland and Pennsylvania. Brother between us I don’t like this “invasion” of Yank territory but I believe Bobby Lee knows what he be doin. The Yankees are to our east somewhere. They cant hide forever. Marse Stuart will find em.

We be movin out soon. So I will close with the cry, “Go Rutherford Rifles! Whip em Yankees all the way back into Kentuck!”

Your brother in arms

Just as Mance closes up the letter, Sarge bellows, “Tullahoma Guards, on your feet! Time to move out! We gotta be in Cashtown by ev’nen’.” Mance struggles up on his aching feet, thankful for the rest, but dreading the long, forthcoming march.
As the regiment gets into the relaxed march routine, someone breaks out with the Southern anthem. Mance and most of his comrades soon forget about their aching feet as they sing with all their strength to the on looking Yankee civilians.

I wish I was in the land of cotton,
Old times there are not forgotten;
Look away! Look away! Look away, Dixie's Land!
In Dixie's Land where I was born in,
Early on one frosty morning,
Look away! Look away! Look away, Dixie's Land!

Then I wish I was in Dixie! Hooray! Hooray!
In Dixie's Land I'll take my stand, to live and die in Dixie!
Away! Away! Away down South in Dixie!
(Dixie Land, by Daniel Decatur Emmett )
July 1, 1863

“Up and at ‘em!” Sergeant Keith’s voice breaks the serenity of Mance’s peaceful slumber. “We move at 5 a.m. Say goodbye to the fabulous accommodations here in Cashtown. We’re fixin’ to strike out down the pike to another Yankee hole called Gettysburg.”
Mance rubs his still swollen feet, as he slides a piece of leather he was fortunate to acquire on the march yesterday into the worst of his boots. Grabing a Hardtack biscuit, he drops it in his watery roasted acorn coffee to soften it up and to identify any insect larvae that may have found a home in it. Lastly, rounding out his morning custom, he pulls out his little Bible from Momma and reads from the book of Isaiah.

…but those who hope in the LORD
will renew their strength.
They will soar on wings like eagles;
they will run and not grow weary,
they will walk and not be faint. (Isaiah 40:31)

“Lord, I don’t know what today holds, but I know you hold it. Keep me on Your eagles’ wings and give me strength.” Finishing his silent prayer and Bible reading, he sips his coffee and slides the little book back in his upper shirt pocket over his heart.
“Fall In Boys!” Sarge blurts out the command before Mance finishes his morning fair. “The 1st Tennessee Regiment be a leadin’ the entire Confederate Army through Yankee country!” Sarge continues quite cheerfully.” Y’all’s mammas would be proud of you boys! Maybe today we’ll find those Yankees and whip ‘em all the way back to Washington! What do ya say to that Tullahoma Guards?”
“Yea haw!” was the unified cry of the company.
“Sarge, you thinkin’ they got any boots there?” Mance pipes up, as his left heal pricked him from the same blister he had gotten a week ago.
“Prata, you might get lucky and find some, efin’ Marse Stuart or somebody else ain’t beaten us to ‘em.” The march dragged on, hour after hot, grueling hour. It seemed like just another day in the Confederate army marching towards Gettysburg as the boys chant to the Pennsylvania natives.

God save the South, God save the South,
Her altars and firesides, God save the South!
Now that the war is nigh, now that we arm to die,
Chanting our battle cry, "Freedom or death!"
Chanting our battle cry, "Freedom or death!"

God be our shield, at home or afield,
Stretch Thine arm over us, strengthen and save.
What tho' they're three to one, forward each sire and son,
Strike till the war is won, strike to the grave!
Strike till the war is won, strike to the grave!
(GOD SAVE THE SOUTH, by Earnest Halpin)

Suddenly the command rang out, “Halt!”
“What cha got up ‘ere Sergeant?” inquired the Captain.
“Cap’n, looks like Yanks in the town.”
“Runner! Private Prater, take this message to the Colonel: ‘Yanks, northwest side of town’.” Mance runs back down the road with all his strength on his task and quickly locates Colonel Turney.
Again the task of courier is bestowed on Mance. “Private Prater, take this message to General Archer. Tell him we have found the Yankees and we’re fixin to deploy sharpshooters on the north side of town. Our present position is northwest side of town moving southeast along Chambersburg Pike.” Mance was racing off again, carried by the adrenaline of the situation.
When he returned, the unit was forming up for battle. “Make way for the sharpshooters!”…. “I Company, form a battle line on the right side of the road.” “Forward” and a few hundred yards later, “Take cover. Fire!”
Shortly following the start of the skirmish, the order came from General Archer to fall back to defensive positions a mile outside town. Then within the hour General Heth ordered the entire regiment to advance to determine “the strength and line of battle of the enemy.” The entire line advanced with a piercing Rebel Yell that momentarily silenced the exploding cannon.
General Archer was out in front leading the regiment through McPherson’s Woods. He and the men near him became detached from the line. The heavy smoke, shriek of exploding artillery, and the howls of wounded filled the air. Unexpectedly, the Union’s infamous Iron Brigade flanked and over ran the rebels forward elements, capturing several hundred including the exhausted Archer in a thicket. Mance and I Company managed to fall back to defensive positions in the woods, but shortly after were ordered to renew their advance.
The battle continued to be fierce and intense around the regiment. Then the order came down tasking the regiment, now under Colonel Fry, with forward observations of the lines for the balance of the day. Shots from various places and exploding artillery continued, but the Yanks did not attack the regiment’s position in force. This was a great relief to Mance and his comrades after the horrendous morning with so many killed, scores wounded, and hundreds taken prisoner including their General. The regiment had seen many days of brutal combat, but even the hardest veterans were uneasy and edgy knowing that the next battle for them could be worse.
At dusk Mance drops on the hard ground, so exhausted he doesn’t even unroll his bedding, that’s been forgotten all day, rolled across his shoulders with the ends tied together at his side. He does manage to pull out his little Bible and flips quickly to the 23rd Psalm.

The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me
beside the still waters.
He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness
for his name's sake.
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.
(Psalm 23:1-4)

July 2, 1863

Much to Mance’s approval, the day was spent as reserve forces in rear near General Lee’s HQ.

TO: Ethel M. Prater
Woodbury, TN

FROM: Pvt. Mance W. Prater
Company I/1st Tennessee Infantry Regiment/Tennessee Brigade
Army of Northern Virginia

Dearest Momma

The good Lord has kept me from battle today. I was truly exhausted from the battle yesterday, and I want to writ you a long letter and let you know whats on my heart. We have been on the move so much that I regret that I have only been able to writ a few short sentences each time.

The battle was very fierce yesterday momma but we whipped them Yanks! We circled round a company and captured them all! One Yankee said “We aint never been whipped before. I hope we never see youins again in battle!” I told him “I hope we never meet yall again either.”

Colonel Turney claims that the 1st TENN fired the first shots yesterday, but I don’t think we will ever really know. I think the whole rebel army was fightin in Gettysburg yesterday, so everyone will say they fired first.

It was not all good tho. We did take a lot of losses and bout a hundred of our boys from another company got captured including General Archer! I heard tell that he be the 1st general under Bobby Lees command to be captured. General Heth was wounded in the head to, but they say he will recover. Colonel Fry is now our Regiment Commander and we have a new Division Commander to.

“Private Prata! Get up ‘ere, boy!” Mance’s thoughts are suddenly jerked back into the present with Sergeant Keith’s command. Scrambling to his feet, he headed to the COs tent.
“Yes, Sergeant?”
“Captain Holder wants this report delivered to Marse Fry at Regimental HQ.”
“Yes, Sarge!” As much as Mance wanted to continue writing to his mother, he felt that he needed the respite and the fresh, warm July air refreshed him. The day was sunny with a breeze from the west. It felt great as he trotted to HQ. “No road marchin,’ and no battle today. The Lord is good,” Mance rejoiced to himself.
“Private Prater reporting with Captain Holder’s of I Company’s report, sir.”
“Good, son,” said the adjutant, Lieutenant Colonel Shackleford, without looking up. “Wait outside and I’ll have an order for you to return to Captain Holder directly.”
While waiting, Mance kept one ear open for the call to report back and with the other listening for the latest news from the battle waging in the distance. Presently the adjutant ordered him back in, handed him the message, accepted Mance’s salute without saying a word, and Mance was off back to his unit.

Momma the command has been using me a lot as a courier. I just ran yesterdays report to Regimental HQ. I don’t mind cause I get to hear all bout the battles goin on else wheres.

Today Bobby Lee has General Ewell and General Longstreet attacking the Yank high ground. Ewell is attacking Culp’s Hill on our left flank on the northeast side of the town. Longstreet is attacking Cemetery Ridge on our right flank and southeast of town heading north. Bobby Lee also has General Hill attacking on Emmetsburg Rd in the center. I hear tell that if we take those hills we will break the Yankee defensives. I know we will do it. The good Lord will see to that. Bobby Lee aint been whipped yet and we got those Yankees nearly surrounded like 3 hounds on a coon.

I been wantin to tell ya why I went to Tullahoma to enlist. Ronnie Braggs boy, Jake, went and joined up a week before I did. Ya know he and I fought over Miss Roselie Jennings. She went with him and I did not want to be any wheres near him. I did read in the Good Book that we should forgive, and I have, but at the time I was very mad and hurt. How is Roselie? I still think she is beautiful, but ya no Jakes family lives on a plantation. I aint got notin for her.

Momma last time I wrote I asked you about Yankee Abes Emansipasion Proclimasion. I heard the Yanks are given runaway slaves guns and putting them in their army. I do not like that momma but I do no they want to be free. Remember when I went to Nashville the year before the war? I never told you, but I was at a slave auction there. I just felt liken it was wrong. The negros were sold to different masters and separated from their families. I can still hear the wailing of the women and children. I am a hopin that it ends someday cause I think it is against the Good Book, but I dare not say so or I will be swingin from a tree by my neck!

I do thank ya so much for the Bible. I try to read it everyday. Some of the boys look at me funny, but they trust me and no that I would do anything for them. I went to a revival earlier in the year at Sharpsburg with Reverend Hugh Roy Scott from King George Co Virginia. Me and Gabe Keeton was baptized there. I have truly loved the open air meetings and the Christian talk around the fires afterward. Many of the boys ask me to find Scriptures for them. They have dubbed me the Padre of the company. Each Sunday I go hear a preacher. My favorite is General Pendleton the artillery commander. I find it odd that a man of God shoots cannon balls at the enemy but he sure gives a explosive sermon that hits ya right in the heart. Bobby Lee lets him preach to all the units, and I try to find out where so I can go. If I can not go hear him I go to our regimental service with Padre W.T. Helm. Mamma if I die in battle you no I am going to live with the Lord when He returns. I pray that Donald will do the same to.

Momma I gotta be going. Sarge says we fightin again tomorrow and we need to get rested so we can whip the Yankees once and for all and come home. Dont you be frettin tho the good Lord will keep me safe. I love you,

Your son

The night breeze was warm and the moon bright and high in the sky. Mance tries to drift into constant slumber, but finds his thoughts wouldn’t let him. Momma, slavery, Marse Jackson’s death, the battle, the Southern cause, Donald, and Roselie all weighed heavily on his mind preventing the rest ordered by Sergeant Keith. He pulls out his pocket Bible and in the moonlight turns to the 3rd Psalm.
LORD, how they have increased who trouble me!
Many are they who rise up against me.
Many are they who say of me,
“There is no help for him in God.” Selah

But You, O LORD, are a shield for me,
My glory and the One who lifts up my head.
I cried to the LORD with my voice,
And He heard me from His holy hill. Selah

I lay down and slept;
I awoke, for the LORD sustained me.
I will not be afraid of ten thousands of people
Who have set themselves against me all around.

And Mance finally drifts off into slumber, resting in the One who sustains him.

July 3, 1863

Early in the morning, the Tullahoma Guards positioned themselves to the furthest right of the units in General Heth’s division. General Pickett’s division was aligned to their right and General Pender was on their far left of Heth. A massive front line stretched a mile across just inside of the wood line with the cannon in position to move forward behind the troops.
As Mance peered over the horizon, he could observe a small clump of trees in the far distance with nothing but an open field in front. They waited, each man in silence. Mance was shaking nervously inside, but dared not let his comrades see his nervousness. His mind wandered from the battle, to his home, to the possibility that his life may end here, to the Southern cause, to that ugly day in Nashville watching the slave trading, to wondering why Marse Stonewall was killed, to what if Yankee Abe wins …. Finally, he shook off his pessimistic thoughts by pulling out his little Bible.

He that dwelleth in the secret place of the most High shall abide under the shadow of the
I will say of the LORD, He is my refuge and my fortress: my God; in him will I trust.
Surely he shall deliver thee from the snare of the fowler, and from the noisome
He shall cover thee with his feathers, and under his wings shalt thou trust: his truth shall
be thy shield and buckler.
Thou shalt not be afraid for the terror by night; nor for the arrow that flieth by day;
Nor for the pestilence that walketh in darkness; nor for the destruction that wasteth at
A thousand shall fall at thy side, and ten thousand at thy right hand; but it shall not come
nigh thee.
Only with thine eyes shalt thou behold and see the reward of the wicked.
Because thou hast made the LORD, which is my refuge, even the most High, thy habitation;
There shall no evil befall thee, neither shall any plague come nigh thy dwelling.
For he shall give his angels charge over thee, to keep thee in all thy ways.
They shall bear thee up in their hands, lest thou dash thy foot against a stone.
Thou shalt tread upon the lion and adder: the young lion and the dragon shalt thou
trample under feet.
Because he hath set his love upon me, therefore will I deliver him: I will set him on high,
because he hath known my name.
He shall call upon me, and I will answer him: I will be with him in trouble; I will deliver him,
and honour him.
With long life will I satisfy him, and shew him my salvation. (Psalm 91)

Without warning, the sky erupted in the loudest exchange of artillery Mance has ever witnessed. Every soldier lay on their bellies with hands over their ears. Some men moaned from the shock, others moaned from the splintering trees, dirt and rock being thrown up, and cannon ball fragments. Screams and cries for help came from every direction. Mance continued to be a stone outwardly, but inside he was just as terrified and fretful as the next soldier. The firestorm continued for two hours without relent. The trees were stripped bare, left as poles, or severed in halves and pieces. Where grass once grew, there was now dirt and craters. The screams of terror and pain were relentless. Many, including Mance, prayed out loud. Then suddenly, silence, death defying silence, with only the moans of the wounded breaking its grip.
From the rear comes the dreaded order from Colonel Fry, “Forward!” and was soon echoed by all the Captains and Sergeants. With a slight hesitation Sergeant Keith, echoed his superiors, and the line of Confederate forces move as one body out of the woods and into open ground. Mance moves out with the rest of the nervous men knowing that Union lead might be awaiting them from the front, nonetheless, Confederate lead surely awaited them if they stayed or run from the field. Nothing happened as they moved forward, looking like a line of a parade. The 1st Tennessee was soon shoulder to shoulder with the left flank of General Pickett’s Brigade. One hundred yards, two hundred yards, three…. As the soldiers approached Emmitsburg Rd, a fence hindered the advance. Mance grabbed the fence post and with one leg on the middle rail threw his other leg over, glad that he could hold on to the post, or he would have hit the ground with his momentum and the soldiers pushing on behind. Many soldiers fell over and some twisted their ankles. The line soon reformed, but precious time was lost, ranks were broken, and some were casualties without even firing a shot.
The flanks of the mile long line of rebels was slowly turning inward and pressing the units together. At 400 yards, the Union cannon opened up with a thunder. Canister shot wiped out whole sections of the line.
Mance moves from a trot to a run, but is soon stopped by another fence. This time, he crosses with bullets pinging into the wood. “Why ain’t nobody brought an ax to chop down these fences,” he thought out loud. On the other side the lines reform automatically, albeit thinner. Now the rebels are at a full run and the rebel yell is heard even above the cannon and rifle fire. With Generals, Captains, and Sergeants out in front now, Mance and the other soldiers are pushed on. “Forward!”
The rebels topped a small knoll in the open field and immediately the Union riflemen opened up with a wall of lead from behind the previously unseen stone wall. Still the command sounds, “Forward!” The line was now a tangled mass of men all charging the clump of trees behind that stone wall. The cannon fire continued to rein horror on the advancing Confederates. It seemed that each shot was positioned to take out larger and larger chunks of soldiers in the jumbled units.
Mance wonders for a moment where their cannons were. They were supposed to advance with the infantry. Then he witnessed the most horrifying scene. His friend from Woodbury, Private Gabriel William Keeton is hit. A musket ball rips through his flesh, red fluid immediately seeps through his cotton shirt, another ball instantly rips through his grey cap, and he falls to the ground. Mance is aghast, “Gabe!” but Sergeant Keith is there with the order “Forward, Prater! Forward.” Mechanically Mance turns from his fallen comrade and obeys.
The stone wall gets closer and the rebel yells get louder as the force moves forward. The Yankees behind the wall suddenly flee and the rebels leap over the wall. General Armistead, out in front, waving his hat from the tip of his saber, yelling, “Come on boys! Over the wall.” As the soldiers followed the command, the General was hit with multiple Union shots. Fighting was hand to hand, fierce, and brutal. Mance was having difficulty focusing, unable to interpret the events unfolding around him. The command to fall back is given, but Mance is oblivious to it and he crouches on the inside of the wall. Soon through, blurry eyes, he sees uniforms of blue all around, one of them pries the fingers off a dead Confederate soldier still grasping the 1st Tennessee’s Regiment battle flag. Through his ringing ears, Mance hears the command, “Drop your rifle, Reb!” Again, mechanically, he lets it fall from his gripped hands, and stands with his hands up. “The war’s over for you, Reb.” Barked the 14th Connecticut soldier. “Now move down that hill to the rest of your Reb friends!”

The LORD is nigh unto them that are of a broken heart; and saveth such as be of a contrite spirit. (Psalm 34:18)

“Save me Lord.” Mance prays in silence.

July 4, 1863

Independence Day for the Union was ushered in with drizzling rain. Mance robotically follows the procession of other prisoners along the road to Westminster, Pennsylvania. Tired and dejected, he yearns for his morning coffee and the opportunity to pull out his little Bible to read, but only manages a short prayer and repeating of the passage in Psalm 32:7, “Thou art my hiding place; thou shalt preserve me from trouble; thou shalt compass me about with songs of deliverance.”
The Yankees march their spoils southeast to the Star Spangled Banner in honor of the 4th of July. Nevertheless, there is little celebration amongst the Union soldiers. They too have lost innumerable comrades to death, wounds, capture, and disease. Many looked with a pity and sympathy on their captured foe.
The Anthem is sung out of reflex and not the usual passion and gusto. However, it’s another Yankee favorite that Mance has never heard before that keeps ringing in his head: The Battle Hymn of the Republic.

Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord:
He is trampling out the vintage where the grapes of wrath are stored;
He hath loosed the fateful lightning of His terrible swift sword:
His truth is marching on.
Glory, glory, hallelujah!
Glory, glory, hallelujah!
Glory, glory, hallelujah!
His truth is marching on.

I have seen Him in the watch-fires of a hundred circling camps,
They have builded Him an altar in the evening dews and damps;
I can read His righteous sentence by the dim and flaring lamps:
His day is marching on.

I have read a fiery gospel writ in burnished rows of steel:
"As ye deal with my contemners, so with you my grace shall deal;
Let the Hero, born of woman, crush the serpent with his heel,
Since God is marching on."

He has sounded forth the trumpet that shall never call retreat;
He is sifting out the hearts of men before His judgment-seat:
Oh, be swift, my soul, to answer Him! be jubilant, my feet!
Our God is marching on.

In the beauty of the lilies Christ was born across the sea,
With a glory in His bosom that transfigures you and me:
As He died to make men holy, let us die to make men free,
While God is marching on.
(refrain) (Julia Ward Howe, 1861)

They marched on until the afternoon when a halt was called. At that time rations were given out to the half starved Rebels. Mance then remembers that his last morsels were the morning of the charge. Mance remembers that the good Word commands us to count our blessings: like food, like plenty of water since passing into Union hands, like no more possibility of death from flying bullets, like his little Bible, like the knowledge that God has promised to deliver him.
As his mind is meditating on these thoughts, a Union soldiers yells, “Hay, boy, don’t you want a pair of these here boots? Are you deaf, boy?!”
“No, sir!” Mance manages to get out before his guard got mad. Then he hesitantly asks, “Where did they come from?”
“The General felt sorry for you Rebs. So be nice, and don’t try anything funny.”
After a respite, the march continues. Mance’s mind begins to wonder again. How do those Yankees have boots to give away? Why are they docile and not lording over their foe? What is gonna happen to him? When will this march end? What’s happening to Donald? How is mamma? What does that line in the new song mean, “Let us die to make men free?”

July 11, 1863

TO: Ethel M. Prater
Woodbury, TN

FROM: Pvt. Mance W. Prater
Ft McHenry, MD

Dearest Momma

We got whipped at Gettysburg and I was taken prisoner. Yesterday I arrived at Ft. McHenry, Maryland. The Yankees have been treatin us better than I would have expected. Water right after we were captured, more rations than we got in the Regiment, they even gave me a new pair of boots. My feet feel better, but they are still sore from all the marching to get here.

The battle on July 3rd was hard. We lost almost a whole division. After I was captured, I looked back over the battle field and it was littered with dead and wounded soldiers. Momma, it was the worst thing I have ever seen. All night we could hear the moans of our boys left to die on the field. Remember little Gabe Keeton? He was killed at Gettysburg. Tell his family he died doing his duty, is a hero for the Southern cause, and we will see him again in glory.

After I was captured a Yankee soldier from General Doubleday's Division was holding our battle flag and starin at me. I told him, “We aint never been whipped before. I hope we never meet yall again in battle.” He said, “Yuins aint meetin no one on the battlefield again.”

Momma, they have Negros working in the cook tents here. I asked one if he was a slave. The Negro smiled at me and said “Abe Lincoln gave me my freedom.” Now he wants his family from North Carolina freed. I told him I aint ever owned a slave. He said, “Good” and gave me a double portion of soup.

On the way to camp the Yankees were singing a song I aint never heard. It is the most beautiful song. They call it Battle Hymn of the Republic and talks about how God is leading men to be free. He will deal with our contenders and give us His grace. I yearn so much to be free and back home momma. I can not imagine how a slave feels. I still have the little Bible you gave me.

Your loving son

August 11, 1863

TO: Ethel M. Prater
Woodbury, TN

FROM: Pvt. Mance W. Prater
Camp Hoffman
Lookout Point, MD

Dearest Momma

I hope you are getting my letters. I have long to hear from you and news from home.

We arrived at Camp Hoffman at Lookout Point Maryland. Fort McHenry was to crowded but I think Camp Hoffman is going to be much worse. We will be living in tents. The Commandant, one star general Marston, has already threatened to shoot any one of us who step out of line. The guards are mean and harsh. Please pray that the Good Lord will deliver me out of this place.
I have been reading the Gospel of John in the Bible that you gave me. I have also memorized portions of the Psalm. One favorite is Chapter 7 and verses 1 and 2.
O LORD my God, in thee do I put my trust: save me from all them that persecute me, and deliver me:
Lest he tear my soul like a lion, rending it in pieces, while there is none to deliver.

Your loving son

September 6, 1863

TO: Pvt. Mance W. Prater
Camp Hoffman
Lookout Point, MD

FROM: Ethel M. Prater
Woodbury, TN

My dearest Mance

We got word of your capture, but are joyful that you are still in the land of the living. We are getting along ok. The garden is full. We got a good harvest of corn and we should get a good quality potato crop. The wheat is growing good to.

You asked in your last letter about the Negros. Most of them have stayed where they are cause they got no place else to go. Yanks came through recruiting for their army. A few of the Negros signed up and left with the Yanks. We pray each day for the Good Lord to give you safe return to us.


February 5, 1864

TO: Ethel M. Prater
Woodbury, TN

FROM: Pvt. Mance W. Prater
Camp Hoffman
Lookout Point, MD

Dear momma

You aint gonna believe this. The Yanks brought in colored soldiers to be our guards! And that aint the half of it! Jessey Harrod is a Yank prison guard! I saw him guarding the mess hall this morning with a rifle. I got to talkin to him. He said old man Puckett would beat him unmercifully. He got big scars on his back. The last time Old man Puckett whipped Jessey was cause his wife was having a kid and he was late milkin the cows. So Jessey runned off an joined the Union army and was put in the 36th Colored Infantry Regiment. I dont blame him Momma. I would run off to.

How are things at home? Is the winter cold with much snow? I think it has snowed everyday here. The nights are bitter cold. They only gave us 1 blanket. Our tent is made for 5, but there is now 8 of us in it. 3 soldiers froze to death just last nite.

I go to church service every Sunday and Wednesday now. It is warmer in the chapel so I can concentrate on what the Padre says. He is from Huntsville, Alabama and preaches on how we need to keep Gods Commandments in Exodus chapter 20. Jesus said in John 14 and 15, “If you love me, keep my commandments.” I am determined to do that.

Love ya momma

July 4, 1864

TO: Ethel M. Prater
Woodbury, TN

FROM: Pvt. Mance W. Prater
Camp Hoffman
Lookout Point, MD

Dear momma

I have been a captive for one year. The conditions have become very harsh and over crowded. The water is bad, rations are small, and many get diseases. Some of the men find rats to eat. I can not do that. Oh how I wish I was back at Fort McHenry! Jessie Herrod did fix it so I can go down to the bay sometimes and hunt for clams and lobsters. I also bath and wash my clothes there. The days drag on and although the Good Lord is taking care of me, I still wonder why I am here and when it will end.

The Yankees are celebrating the Independence Day with cannon fire and fireworks.

Love ya momma

August 17, 1864

The morning and early afternoon droned on like every other. The hot sun was wrenching and the humidity baked Mance in his tent. He just laid there, bathed in his own sweat like the 18,733 other prisoners. Yesterday 27 prisoners where taken to the infirmary for heat exhaustion and five had died. Why? He contemplated. What a waste of men. Why couldn’t I be paroled? I just want to go home and help momma.
Suddenly Mance felt an incredible pain in his abdomen and an urge to use the latrine. Despite his efforts to prevent the dreaded dysentery, he knew he had succumbed to the rampant sickness like so many others in the camp. He made his way to the latrines built over the bay to relieve himself. Upon coming out, a guard found him and at bayonet point proceeded to make sport of him. Mance was ordered to double time for about 50 yards, bow down and pray to “Abe Lincoln” for mercy. Suddenly, the guard was knocked over by another guard. As Mance began to scurry off, hunkering over holding his painful quezzy stomach, he peered back to see Private Jessy Horrod standing over the young colored guard.
By trading his daily portion of pork, Mance managed to get fresh water and extra vegetables for the next few days. He bathed each day, found a place away from the tents to lay in the sunshine and fresh air from the wind coming off the bay. He continued to read in his little Bible and Jessey Harrod continued to look out for him. Soon his health returned, physically and spiritually.

Bless the LORD, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits:
Who forgiveth all thine iniquities; who healeth all thy diseases;
Who redeemeth thy life from destruction; who crowneth thee with lovingkindness
and tender mercies;
Who satisfieth thy mouth with good things; so that thy youth is renewed like the eagle's. (Psalm 103:2-5)

December 25, 1864

TO: Ethel M. Prater
Woodbury, TN
FROM: Pvt. Mance W. Prater
Camp Hoffman
Lookout Point, MD

Dear momma

Christmas day is here and my soul is very low. I have been in this prison nearly a year and a half now and the Good Lord has not seen fit to deliver me. The overcrowding continues and many boys have fallin victim to disease. The guards look for any reason to provoke our boys to fightin, tryin to escape, or breakin any rule. Then they unhesitatingly shoot them. Please continue to pray for me. I fear I will lose my religion if I do not get out soon. I often read in the little Bible the story of Joseph in prison or Job and his affliction. Job says, “I know my Redeemer liveth and I will see Him face to face.” Oh how I look for the day that I will be in Glory with my Lord Jesus.

Momma, my vow to keep all God’s commandments has been more difficult than I imagined. I was reading what Jesus said on the Sermon on the Mount and that breakin the commandment is not just actions, but thinking to. When my friend Johnny was shot by a guard for hiding extra fresh water in his tent, I hated that Negro and wished I could kill him. Then I read what Jesus said about turning the other cheek and that hatred is the same as murder. Then I see the sergeants getting extra fire wood and getting more food then we do, and I covet what they have even though God has kept me from starving and kept me alive. Oh, pray for me that I will not loose my faith.

Your loving son

February 27, 1865

TO: Pvt. Mance W. Prater
Camp Hoffman
Lookout Point, MD

FROM: Ethel M. Prater
Woodbury, TN

Dear Mance

We have been worried because of your silence since July, but were overjoyed with your letter on Christmas day. I pray that the Good Lord will preserve your life each day. The war will not last forever and you will be restored to us in due season.

This has been a hard winter. We can not get supplies from Murfreesboro or McMinnville. The Gibreaths and Tomlins families are staying with us now on account of the cold and lack of sustenance. They have both suffered so much during this dreadful war. Ms. Tomlin has lost 3 sons and Ms. Gibreath has lost her husband. They are bitter. I try to console them with thoughts of Heaven and our eternal existence with loved ones there. However this life has afflicted their souls with its cold harsh tribulations seemly beyond repair but I no All things are possible with our Lord. I pray earnestly for them and you and Donnie.

The war is going very badly. We have been under total occupation for almost 2 years. General Bragg was forced out of Tennessee and lost command. General Johnston commands the Army of Tennessee now, but has been fightin General Sherman in Georgia. Atlanta was burned to the ground and in December the Yankees captured Savannah. I fear the worst for our new nation but it is in the hands of the Good Lord. We have not heard from Donnie since the fightinn in Chattanooga.

I pray that Jesus will be your best Friend. You can not make it out of there without Him. Read your little Bible and never lose faith in our Saviour. He will rescue you soon and you will be home by summer.

Your loving mother

April 16, 1865

“Private Mance Walker Prater of Tennessee! You are being discharged from Camp Hoffman Military Prison on this day, April 16th, 1865. Do you solemnly swear never to take up arms against the government of the United States of America?”
“Yes, sir!”
“You are herby free to depart Camp Hoffman and return to your home.”

He sent from above, he took me, he drew me out of many waters. He delivered me from my strong enemy, and from them which hated me: for they were too strong for me. They prevented me in the day of my calamity: but the LORD was my stay. (Psalm 18:16-18)

As Mance was departing from his camp of captivity to the land of liberation, he overheard Sergeant Jessey Harrod singing.

Oh freedom, Oh freedom,
Oh freedom over me.
And before I’ll be a slave,
I’ll be buried in my grave
And go home to my Lord and be free.

The old Negro spiritual, now belonged to Mance.

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