The immeasurable cost of war

Andersonville was a Confederate prison. Located in Georgia, it was nothing more than a stockade for corralling and killing the human spirit.

Although masterfully written, I would not recommend MacKinlay Kantor’s 1955 novel “Andersonville” for every reader.

In all, 12,913 of the approximately 45,000 Union prisoners held in the prison died there from starvation, malnutrition, diarrhea and disease.

Kantor brings the suffering to the human level with his beautifully crafted characterizations. Before he makes you experience the horror, he allows you to experience the human, and it is pretty hard to take.

The musings of prisoner Nathan Dreyfuss on the cost of the Civil War stopped me cold. I replayed the passage again and again. Why had I not thought before of this immeasurable cost of war? Liken it to undiscovered “miracle cures” lost in the destruction of a rain forest.

What then of a loss of humanity? Nathan’s words:

“The great lamentation of the future will be concerned only with the fact that, by and large, the most energetic and high-minded youths of all these states involved were the ones who perished. And, most of them were too young to leave their seed behind them. It will be a long weakness for the united nation of the future.

“The soul which might have written the compelling opera went winging at Manassas Junction. The hand which might have sculptured a shape fairer than Moses was shot off on the Chickahominy. The brain which could have managed the richest agronomy of all time was drilled by a conoidal at Stones River.

“The hearts which might have beat with the rhythm of philanthropist and priest and educator; oh, wicked Gettysburg; oh, doleful Vicksburg; oh, thrice-lewd Fredericksburg.”


“Will ever I know the future? Oh, sad, maimed future! Where is your prime inventor? The ocean covered him with barnacles when the Monitor went down. Where is the saint whose scalpel or microscope was intended to still the scream of cancer? We Federals spattered his skull at Missionary Ridge.

"Oh, long, discordant future drowned in tears as now my soul is drowning. Where is the president whose power and nobility might have led a healed nation to world-enfolding glory? The fever took him at Rock Island, in Arkansas, in Libby Prison, at Fort Delaware.

“He wore blue; he wore butternut; he drew a lanyard; he tore paper of a cartridge with his teeth. He galloped behind John Morgan; he rode to meet the lead on that last charge of Farnsworth’s in a Pennsylvania glen.

“Minister and explorer, balloonist and poet, botanist and judge, geologist and astronomer, and man with songs to sing.

“They are clavicles under leaves at Perryville, ribs and phalanges in the soil of Iuka, They are a bone at Seven Pines, a bone at Antietam. Bones in battles yet to be sweated. They are in a soil instead of walking. The moss has them.”


Frodo, flowers every one, said...

Or perhaps it all was for the production of words, written on the wind, and passed to gentle hearts in the thoughts of friends and the haunting fear of having seen it all before.

Bill Sumrall said...

Wow! MacKinlay Kantor really brings home the human cost of conflict. Thanks, BJ!

tnlib said...

And look how far we've come! I don't think I could make it through that book - especially after reading this. A good post, BJ.

Sue said...

It's all consuming, the horrors of war and even the horrors we face in our every day lives. Do you ever really think about those who suffer immeasurably and wonder why it is you were spared? It makes me think of reincarnation and will I come back and have to suffer because I have not in this life of mine.
Am I off topic BJ?? I'm just in a thinking melancholy kinda mood with all the horrible things happening around us. God Bless us all...

B.J. said...

Frodo, what you smokiin’? Just kiddling, my friend. I know you have read “Andersonville,” and, unless I miss my guess, have been to the National Historic Site and walked the hallowed ground. As for your comment on the Queen Elizabeth post: Merry. Of the Fellowship of the Ring. That would be me, and guilty as charged. :-)

Mr. Sumrall: You really liked Kantor’s words, didn’t you? He wrote 50 novels, including “Midnight Lace,” tons of other stuff and some award-winning screenplays, including “The Best Years of Our Lives.” And, his mother was a newspaper editor. :-)

Leslie, as a lover of words you would like the book, becaue Kantor’s way with words is awe-inspiring. He makes both the prisoners and the prison personnel come alive with a hundred little inricate and interwoven stories.

Sue: No, you are not off-topic. Any post of mine which puts you in a thinking mood, I deem successful! I think we all ponder our blessings and ask ourselves why we were lucky enough to be born in the USA. Ponder this: as bad as it seems sometimes, compare this nation with so many desperate places, and you’ll feel better.

I-753: Hope I haven’t ticked you off. Communication is a struggle, baby.

And now an additional comment about the book. You feel compassion for the prison personnel, too, because the CSA never supplied them with what they or the prisoners needed to subsist. The Georgia Reserve recruited young teenage boys and old men and placed them at the prison to man the sentry posts. Most were impoverished and/or handicapped and joined the Reserve for the $12 a month pay. What struck me as ironic and pathetic was when they finally got their pay, it was in Confederate money – worthless.


Frodo, Hippity-Dippity, said...

Remember the TV series "St. Elsewhere", and the final show? It all took place in the mind of an autistic child.

Got any Mallo-Mars?

Tiny said...

Tiny isn't sure she could read the book, her tears would block out the words. In college during a contemporary novels class, the professor showed pictures of WW II where bull dozers were pushing masses of naked bodies into a mass grave.

Her tears soaked the front of her blouse. Everyone in class thought Tiny was crazy. She does not understand man's inhumanity to man. She gets sick at the blatant disrespect for the dead. It rips at her very soul yet today when that reel of film flashes through her mind.

Tiny is a peace loving soul. She had past life vivid-vision memory of war scene when she was three years of age. At that time her mother kept telling her, "These are good soldiers, these are good soldiers." Bear in mind that Tiny grew up with no electricity so had never seen soldiers in this life time.

Reincarnation or the Eternal Now?

Excellent post, BJ.