A Letter from James, 1862: Punishing the Deserter
|by Christophorus Volkov|
Copyright on this story text belongs at all times to the original author only, whether stated explicitly in the text or not. The original date of posting to the MMSA was: 06 Mar 2018
I write you from camp. It's been a trying time for us all, and I hope this letter reaches you and that you are well.
I miss the warm fire and the comfort of your bosom. I hope that someday soon I will be back in your arms, and we can put this war behind us, but I know our cause is just. We are fighting to preserve this union, and I am so proud to stand up for my country.
I've seen things I shouldn't have seen, and I have done things that I am not proud of, but the cause of freeing the Southern men and women in bondage keeps me going. I know we are doing right despite what I've seen from our buffoonish leaders.
Yesterday, we pushed on an overnight march through the cold. The men were wanting to camp up and rest for a night, but the Colonel made us continue to march. We finally camped on the other side of the river. Our feet hurt, and two of our men died of exhaustion and exposure. They just fell dead on the spot. It wasn't a nice scene.
We also had a young soldier attempt to desert. The scouts caught him and brought him back into camp. Normally, they would have killed him for leaving, but the General was in camp with us, and he doesn't believe in killing our own men. I believe the boy is Absalom. I don't know him that well, but I've seen him fight bravely even though I think he is barely 19.
He is an impressive looking kid. I'd say he's about six feet tall with sandy blond hair that is about shoulder length. He has these piercing gray blue eyes, Mary. He also has these long and lean muscles. He is very well built. It would have been a shame to lose him.
What followed when he was brought back to camp was not fun to watch, and I hesitate to describe it, but it's weighing on me. I feel I need to tell someone, and, you, my dearest, have always been there for me. Every time I need you, you are there to listen. Now, through these many miles, I will tell the tale.
They waited until sunset to begin. Instead of shooting him, they stripped him naked in the cool autumn air. I don't think the Colonel was happy, He would have shot him on site, but the General outranked him, and he turned his back on Absalom. Every soldier, including me, did. I resented him for leaving, but, by the end of the night, dearest Mary, I had nothing but sympathy.
The men, I suppose they needed to punish him for his transgressions, but I think they went too far. His white naked skin was nearly translucent. You could see his ribs. He looked hungry. He shivered in the cold as they yanked him by his arm and tied his hands around the trunk of a mighty oak tree. They did the same to his legs. He was hugging the oak.
Unfortunately for Absalom, his great ballsack hung down between his spread legs. The two balls inside were so big, Mary, that I don't think he could have hid them if he tried. One of the men grabbed a rope and tied it tightly around his man parts. He laughed as he yanked the rope so hard that I thought Absalom was going to break the thick rope restraints on his hands.
His balls were almost purple, Mary. He yelped and cried, and I can only imagine that the pain in his stomach was intense. One or two of the men used the opportunity to put their boots on his exposed testicles and crush them against the tree. It was uncalled for.
They pulled the rope tight and tied it to a stake in the ground, so his balls were yanked backwards awkwardly between his legs. I was afraid I was going to see a castration.
After they tied his balls, some of the men gathered some sticks they had pulled out of the fire and started to threaten his manhood. One or two of the men had to have singed any hair he had on his balls and in his ass crack.
A group of us watched in horror. I was afraid to intervene thinking I might be next.
When they were through with his balls, they started in on his round buttocks. Now, Mary, Absalom's buttocks had to be the product of working manual labor somewhere prior to the war. His butt is very round and muscular. He has these narrow hips and a narrow waist with two mountain-like glutes and a deep cleft in between.
The men continued the humiliation by placing a rifle barrel into his anus and threatening to discharge it. Absalom had no defense. He just had to take it. The men were jamming the rifle into him, and he was yelping in pain as his tight hole was opened by the gun barrel. I could barely bear to watch.
One man tried to intervene, and this man named Cyrus knocked him cold. We yelled for them to stop, but they said the fun was just beginning. Finally, Absalom's assault ended with one soldier propping the butt of the rifle up against he ground and leaving the barrel inside the boy's anus. Absalom eventually worked it free and it fell harmlessly to the ground.
The final insult was the switching. About 10 or 15 men gathered switches from the tree he was tied to and took turns hitting him on the buttocks. One after one, these men whipped him in some strange punishment circle. I didn't even try to count how many times they landed blows upon his defenseless bottom.
After the first few strikes, his rear was very red, and the wheals and bruises began to appear. Soon the red butt had become purple and, in some spots, his skin no longer could take any more. He didn't bleed too much because the gashes weren't too deep, thankfully. Still, they crisscrossed his impressive buttocks like the weavings you do, my dear.
I looked at Absalom, and his eyes caught mine. He was grunting and yelling and moaning. I know the brass had to hear him. They just ignored him. I've seen fear many times in the eyes of someone, and I saw that fear in Absalom's eyes, but it was also mixed with anger and defiance. He seemed determined to take what they were dishing out blow by blow.
Finally, the men got tired, got bored and left Absalom alone as their whiskey kicked in. For a few hours, they left him tied to the tree. Finally, when I thought most everyone in the camp was asleep, I went over and untied the boy and took him to a place we could defend him.
We untied his balls, and he yelled as the rope came off. We noticed he had rope burn on his scrotum, Mary. It was a painful thing to see. He kept saying his ass hurt, so we rolled him over and got a good look at his buttocks. It was a mess. I poured water from my canteen on his sore cheeks and used a towel to wipe it clean. The blood and dirt accumulated on him had made the damage look much worse. It seemed he would be fine.
He also asked me to look inside his cheeks at his hole where the gun had been placed. In the light of the fire, I spread the thick, bruised cheeks, and I told him that his anus was a little pink and raw but not bleeding, but he appeared to be ok.
That seemed to give him a little relief.
He asked for water, and I grabbed a canteen, and he nearly drank the whole thing. We wrapped him in a blanket, and he fell asleep in my arms. I tried to keep him warm, but he still shivered the entire night away.
In the morning, the boy woke, and he thanked me for helping him, and I apologized for not stepping in earlier. He said he forgave me. I watched him get dressed and slip off into the night. This time, I think he got away, at least I pray he did.
Someone asked me if I saw him leave the camp, and, candidly, I told them that I had just spotted him going in the opposite direction. Later, the search party came back emptyhanded.
I think of Absalom right now, and I wonder if he's not right. Of course, I don't know why he deserted, but I'm sure he has his reasons.
In my case, the only way I would desert my country and my unit is for you, my lovely. Please, keep the kettle in the fire for me. Hopefully, this war will be over soon, and I'll be home. Until then, your memory will keep me safe.
Pray God keeps us and say a prayer for Absalom, too.
P.S.-Please keep this letter to yourself. I wouldn't want anyone to read it in the future.