It was another hot, humid May day in 1865. Commandant Barnes, had just
addressed the prisoners at Point Lookout, Maryland. The camp was notorious for the harsh, sub-human treatment of the 45,000 Confederate prisoners that it housed. The one star general, seldom seen, read the proclamation from General Grant in his monotonous voice. The thin, half-starved, sickly boys dreamed of home. Some came from Tennessee, some from Mississippi, some from far away Texas, and some from right across the river in Virginia.
When the Commandant finished, the Rebs just stood there for few moments, all in deep thought. Finally, one came forward, then another, followed by three more. As others started coming forward, the insults began to ring out, “sellouts”,
“traders”, and “Yankee lovers.” As the prisoners were dismissed, they were
informed that any others who wanted to take the Oath of Allegiance needed to
report to the Provost Marshals office.
Seventeen-year-old Private Michael John Bush stood there contemplating what he should do. He had only been in the camp a few months, but had seen the toll it had taken on fellow prisoners. He was growing thin and weak himself. His father had been killed at Vicksburg. His two brothers had fought at Chattanooga. One was killed, and the other lost a leg and an arm. His mother and baby sister were at home in Georgia with nobody to work the farm. All he had to do was sign a paper pledging allegiance to the Union, and he could go home. He was tormented inside. How could he be loyal to Yankee Abe? Nonetheless, he would do anything to get home to his grieving mother.
Twenty-three year old Private Mance Prater had been in the camp since it
opened shortly after the Battle of Gettysburg. Michael sought out Mance for
advice. Mance was known around the camp as a man of the Word. He had a
little Bible that his mother had given him, and he loved to share verses of
Scripture with anyone that would listen.
“Mance, I’ma thinkin’ ‘bout takin’ the oath. What do ya think?” Michael
“Well, Michael, ya better pray ‘bout it. I ain’t ready to give the Yankees
“I know, but ma momma needs me at home.” Michael went on. “She got no one to work da farm, and we done lost this God awful war. So I’ma thinkin’ that I
might as well get out now and help momma.”
There was a long pause, then Mance spoke up. “Michael, ifn your sure you ain’t
gonna be fightin’ again. Then ya might awe to go. I’ll be a missin’ you though, my friend. You know that I will pray for y'all.”
Michael gathered his few possessions in a gunny sack and headed towards the
Provost’s office. As he neared the office, he began hearing the sneers of
his comrades: “sellout”, “trader”, “Yankee lover....” As he passed, suddenly
a picture of his mother flashed into his mind, and he was instantly
oblivious to their scorn.
Michael was met inside the door by the Assistant Provost Marshal who flatly
said, “State you name and home state.”
“Michael John Bush of Georgia,” he replied mechanically.
“Raise your right hand. Private Michael John Bush, do you solemnly swear to
support the United States of America and pledge never to take up arms
against her again.”
Still seeing the portrait of his mother, he stated, “I do.”
“Private Bush, you are free to go back to your home in Georgia. Here are
your conditional release papers. Keep them on you at all times”
As Michael left the office, the sneers and jeers began again, but then he
heard his name. “Michael! Wait.” It was Mance. “Take dis letter an’ read it on ya way. Okay?”
“Ya…ya, I will, Mance.” With that, the two parted ways.
Michael stopped to rest after walking several hours. He took the letter out
of his pocket and began to read.
“Michael, Ya aint no sell out. The Prophet Isaiah says: ‘I the LORD have called thee in righteousness, and will hold thine hand, and will keep thee, and give thee for a covenant of the people, for a light of the Gentiles; To open the blind eyes, to bring out the prisoners from the prison, and them that sit in darkness out of the prison house.’ (Isaiah 42:6, 7) Michael, the Lord has set ya free. Live free for Him, and never sell
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