Opium Eating online

. (page 1 of 9)
Online LibraryAnonymousOpium Eating → online text (page 1 of 9)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


E-text prepared by the Online Distributed Proofreading Team
( from page images generously made available by
Internet Archive (



An Autobiographical Sketch.



Claxton, Remsen & Haffelfinger,
624, 626 & 628 Market Street.

Entered, according to Act of Congress, in the year 1875, by
Claxton, Remsen & Haffelfinger,
in the Office of the Librarian of Congress at Washington.

J. Fagan & Son,
Stereotype Founders,

Selheimer & Moore, Printers.
501 Chestnut Street.


The following narration of the personal experiences of the writer is
submitted to the reader at the request of numerous friends, who are of
opinion that it will be interesting as well as beneficial to the public.

The reader is forewarned that in the perusal of the succeeding pages, he
will not find the incomparable music of De Quincey's prose, or the
easy-flowing and harmonious graces of his inimitable style, as presented
in the "Confessions of an English Opium Eater;" but a dull and trudging
narrative of solid facts, disarrayed of all flowers of speech, and
delivered by a mind, the faculties of which are bound up and baked hard by
the searing properties of opium - a mind without elasticity or fertility - a
mind prostrate. The only excuse for writing the book in this mental
condition was, and is, that the prospect of ever being able to write under
more favorable circumstances appeared too doubtful to rely upon; I felt
that I had better now do the best I could, lest my mouth be sealed forever
with my message undelivered. The result is before the reader in the
following chapters; his charitable judgment of which I have entreated in
the body of the work. The introductory part of the book, that relating to
my imprisonment, is inserted for my own justification.





I Enter the Army. - Taken Prisoner. - Sufferings on the Road
to and at Richmond. - Leave Richmond for Danville. - Our
Sojourn at the Latter Place. - The Small-pox. - Removal to
Andersonville 13


Entrance into Andersonville Prison. - Horrible Sights. - The
Belle Islanders. - The Kind of Treatment for first few
Months. - Condition of Things generally during that
Time. - New Prisoners. - Inauguration of Cruel Treatment. -
Going out for Fuel and Shelter Prohibited. - Rations
Diminished. - The Philosophy of Southern Prison
Discipline. - Severities of Climate and Dreadful Suffering 19


The Chickamauga Men. - Personal Experiences and
Sufferings. - Merchandising at Andersonville. - The Plymouth
Men. - A God-send to the Old Residents. - "Popular Prices" 28


Ravages of the Scurvy among the Chickamauga Prisoners. - Too
long without Fruit and Vegetables. - The Horrors of the
Scurvy. - Certain Death. - Frightful Mortality. - Fortunate
Removal from Andersonville. - Arrival at Charleston, S.
C. - Transferred to Florence, S. C. - Description of the
latter Prison. - Shortest Rations ever Issued. - Certain
Starvation on the Rations. - Efforts for more Food. -
Providential Success. - Three Days without Rations. -
Prison-Keepers Cruel and Inhuman. - Terrible Sufferings
during the Winter. - Unparalleled Mortality. - Raw Rations
and Insufficient Fuel. - Life under Ground. - Swamp
Fever. - Taken with the Fever. - Flight from Florence. -
Wilmington. - Goldsboro'. - Hard Times of a Sick Man. -
Prison Exchange Foolery. - Back to Wilmington 34


Return to Goldsboro'. - Drunk with Fever. - Too Sick to
Walk. - Left Behind. - God Bless the Ladies of
Goldsboro'. - Personal Experiences. - Negotiations for a
Friend. - An Improvised Hospital. - Sick unto
Death. - Semi-Consciousness. - More Kindness from the Ladies
of Goldsboro'. - Paroled. - Passed into our Lines near
Wilmington. - At Wilmington in the Hands of the Blue
Coats. - Friend Lost. - Still very Sick with Fever. -
Determined to go North. - Efforts to get North. - On board
Ship. - Ho, for Annapolis. - Incidents of the Voyage. -
Annapolis. - Getting Better. - Stomach Trouble. - Sent to
Baltimore. - Furloughed Home 44


At Home. - Nothing but a Skeleton. - A good Imitation of
Lazarus. - A digression upon the Subject of
Sleeplessness. - A well-intended Fraud on a Hospital
Nurse. - Return of Sleep. - Improvement in Health. - Stomach
the only Difficulty. - A Year passes. - Stomach
Worse. - Constant Headache. - Much Debilitated. - Awful
Suffering. - Bodily Agony Debilitates the Mind. - Sufferings
Intolerable. - Physicians and Remedies Tried without
Avail. - Forlorn Hope and Last Resort. - Better. - Doubts as
to Treatment. - Suspicions Confirmed. - Uncomplimentary
Remarks concerning an M. D. - Uncomfortable Discoveries and
Reflections 50


The War Begins. - Struggles to Renounce Opium. - Physical
Phenomena Observed in attempting to Leave Off the
Drug. - Difficulty in Abjuring the Fiend. - I Fail
Absolutely. - Some Difference with De Quincey regarding the
Effects of Opium. - A Preliminary Foresight into the Horrors
of Opium 61


De Quincey's Life rather than his Writings the Best
Evidence of the Effect of Opium upon Him. - Disapproval of
his Manner of Treatment of the Subject in His
"Confessions." - From First to Last the Effect of Opium is
to Produce Unhappiness. - The Difference between the Effect
of the Drug taken Hypodermically and Otherwise,
Explained. - The various Effects of Opium, Stimulative and
Narcotic, Described. - The Effect of my First Dose at the
beginning of Habit. - Remarks of De Quincey on his First
Dose. - My own Remarks as to First Dose. - Difference between
Opium and Liquor. - Stimulation is followed by Collapse. -
Melancholy from the Beginning. - Nervousness and Distraction
of the Intellectual Powers. - Sleeplessness. - Different and
Peculiar Influences of the Drug Detailed. - Pressure upon
the Brain from Excessive Use of Opium. - Distress in the
Epigastrium. - The Working of the Brain Impeded 70


De Quincey _versus_ Coleridge. - Stimulation and Collapse
Considered. - The Use of Opium always to be Condemned. -
Coleridge Defended. - Wretched State of the Opium Eater. - An
Explanatory Remark 77


The Delusions and Miseries of the First Stages of Opium
Eating 82


Later Stages. - The Opium Appetite. - Circean Power of
Opium. - As a Medicine. - Difference between Condition of
Victim in Primary and Secondary Stages 91


The Address of the Opium Eater. - How he Occupies his
Time. - The Refuge of Solitude and Silence. - Indifference to
Society or Company. - Disposition, Predilections, and
General Conduct 96


On Energy and Ambition as Affected by the Opium Habit 98


Opium _versus_ Sleep. - Manner of Taking Opium. - Different
Considerations Relating to the Habit. - A Prophetic Warning 105


Difficulties of Writing this Book. - An Attempt to Renounce
Opium in the Later Stages of the Habit Described. -
Coleridge and De Quincey. - Animadversions upon De Quincey's
"Confessions" 115


Conclusion 129


NOTE NO. 1. - Coleridge and the Critics 131

" " 2. - Coleridge and Plagiarism 132

" " 3. - A Mare's Nest 134

" " 4. - Second note on Coleridge and Plagiarism 136

" " 5. - On De Quincey's Style of Writing 138

" " 6. - Third Note on Coleridge and Plagiarism 140




In the year 1861, a well and hearty boy of sixteen, I enlisted in the army
as a drummer. This was my only possibility of entering the service, as I
was too young to be accepted as a private soldier. Though but a drummer, I
fought with a gun in all the battles in which our regiment was engaged. It
generally so happened that I had no drum about the time of a battle, and
being too small to carry off the wounded, and feeling that I was not
fulfilling my duty to my country unless I did "the State some service," I
participated in the battle of Stone River, and doing tolerably well there,
when the battle of Chickamauga drew nigh, the colonel of our regiment told
me, casually, that he would like to see me along; and I did not fail him.
He did not command me; he had no authority to do that; it was not
necessary; I would have been on hand without his referring to the matter
at all, as such was my intention. As it was, I took a sick man's gun and
accoutrements and marched with my company. On the first day of the
battle - the 19th of September, 1863 - I was captured. Not being wounded, I
was taken with about five thousand other prisoners to Richmond, Va., and
confined there in the tobacco-factory prisons. On the way to Richmond we
had but little to eat, and suffered considerably. At Richmond, our
allowance of food was so small, that during the two and one-half months we
were there we became miserably weak, and suffered terribly. It is no doubt
a fact, that although hard enough to bear at any time, gradual starvation
sets harder upon a man at first than when he has become somewhat
accustomed to it. Perhaps this is reasonable enough; the stomach and body
being stronger at first, the pangs are more fierce and exhausting.

After being at Richmond three weeks, we could not rise to our feet without
crawling up gradually by holding to the wall. Any sudden attempt to rise
usually resulted in what is called "blind staggers," - a fearful, floating,
blinding sensation in the head.

Hunger is the most exasperating and maddening of all human suffering, as I
do know from most wretched experience. It lengthens out time beyond all
calculation, and reduces a man to nothing above a mere savage animal. It
makes him a glaring, raging, ferocious brute, and were it not for the
accompanying weakness and debility, it would rob him of every instinct of
humanity, for the time being. One at length arrives at the conclusion,
that all a reasonable being requires in this life, to make him completely
happy, is enough to eat. No one that has not experienced it can understand
the cruel tedium of hunger, and the eternal war that rages among one's
ferocious inwards, as they struggle to devour and consume themselves; the
everlasting gnaw, gnaw, as though one's stomach were populated with
famished rats. It seems that hunger, long continued, sucks all the
substance out of the very material of a man's stomach, and leaves it dry,
hard, and serviceless; and also so contracted in size as not to answer the
ends of a stomach at all. In short, constant hunger, continued for an
unreasonable length of time, will utterly ruin the stomach.

Although the month was November, I sold my shoes for bread, despite the
weather being so cold that I was forced to rise long before daylight in
the morning, and find, if possible, some warmer place in the house. We had
no stoves; no heat of any kind to keep us warm was supplied by the
Confederates, and up to this time no clothing or blankets had been
furnished by any one. Soon after this, however, - Providence and the good
women of the North be thanked, - the Sanitary Commission of the United
States sent us each a suit of clothes and a blanket. Directly after the
receipt of the clothing, we were removed to Danville, Va. Here we remained
until the following spring.

During the time we were at Danville, we suffered considerably from cold
and close confinement. The small-pox also broke out among us, and attacked
a great many, but in most cases in a mild form. Those afflicted had it as
violently as could be expected under the circumstances, their systems
being in such a depleted condition that the disease had nothing to feed
on. In fear of it, and to prevent it, many were vaccinated. I was
not, - and I thank Providence that I was not, as I knew some to suffer
worse from vaccination than they could have done from the small-pox, even
though it terminated fatally; for it did terminate fatally in the cases of
vaccination, and after more suffering than could possibly have ensued from
the dreaded disease itself. The vaccine virus proved to be poisonous in
some cases. I knew a man whose left arm was eaten to the bone by it, the
bone being visible, and the cavity, which was circular in shape, was as
large in circumference as an ordinary orange. After months of excruciating
pain, the man died. But sometimes vaccination did not even prevent the
small-pox. A man with whom the writer bunked was vaccinated, and it
"took," what would be considered immensely well, a very large scab
developing upon each arm. Yet this man took the small-pox, and badly,
while the writer, - to take another view of the case, - although he had not
been vaccinated for about thirteen years, and yet had been exposed to the
disease in almost every way, and had slept with this man while he was
taking it, and after he returned from the small-pox hospital with his
sores but partially healed up, remained perfectly free of it.

I thought if I must have it, I must, and there was an end of the matter;
there being no way of avoiding it that I could see; and I do not know but
the late vaccination, while the disease was already thickly scattered
about the house, increased the danger of contagion by throwing the blood
into a fever of the same kind; while by leaving the blood undisturbed, if
the disease was not intercepted, the chances of taking it were at least
not augmented.

We left Danville in April, 1864, having been confined there about five
months. Although confined very closely, and our liberties few, upon the
whole, Danville was the best-provided prison I was in; the rations of food
being larger and more wholesome than at any other prison. It is true that
the buckets of pea-soup swam with bugs, but that was a peculiarity of that
savory dish at all the prisons of the South. We became accustomed to
drinking the soup, bugs and all, without any compunctions of delicacy
about it, and our only and sincere wish was for more of the same kind.
Many a time did I pick these bugs from between my teeth without any
commotion in my stomach whatever, - save of hunger. A man becomes
accustomed to this way of living, and loses all sense of delicacy
regarding his food. Quantity is the only question to be considered,
quality being an object so unimportant as to be entirely lost sight of.

We arrived at Andersonville, Ga., five days after leaving Danville. We had
a very uncomfortable journey, being penned up in freight cars,
seventy-five in a car, and not allowed to get out but once during the
whole journey. We changed cars once on the route, and this was the only
opportunity we had of stretching our limbs during the entire trip.

I now ask the reader to allow me to pause a few moments to take breath and
gather strength and courage for the task before me.



Andersonville! Dread word! Dread name for cruelty, and patriots' graves, I
stand paralyzed before thy horrid gates! Thou grim Leviathan of Death! I
feel heart-sick as I approach thee! I feel how powerless I am to tell thy
horrible story, thou monster monument of Inhumanity in the nation's
history! I feel thy fangs while yet I descry thy hideous form through the
mazy scope of years! I carry thy stings, and the grave alone shall hide
the scars upon the marred and shattered body thou hast sacrificed, as a
tree stripped of its fruit and foliage!

After being counted into detachments and nineties by the commandant, the
notorious Captain Wirz, we were marched into the prison. Heavens! what a
sight met our gaze as we marched into that enclosure of destruction! Lying
between the stockade and the dead-line, was a long line of corpses, which
was necessarily one of the first objects our eyes rested upon as we
entered the prison gates.

There they lay, nearly naked in their rags, but the frames - but the bones
and skin of men - with their upturned, wildly-ghastly, staring faces, and
wide-open eyes.

This was a terrible greeting indeed; and it sent a feeling of dismay to
our very souls, and after that a deep sense of despair seemed to settle
upon us. We had at last met death face to face. On looking around, we saw
the men whose comrades these dead men had been. They all looked alike, and
we could not fail to observe the resemblance between the dead and the
living. These men were from Belle Island, a rebel prison, which stands
unrivalled in the history of the world for cruelty to human beings. I
fervently thank God that it pleased Him that I should not be confined
there. These poor, wretched men, who had been there, and who preceded us
at Andersonville, were the most ghastly-looking living human beings that
the eye of man ever beheld. They were nothing but skin and bone. Living
skeletons. In color perfectly black. They had no shelter, and smoked
themselves black over their pitch-pine fires. The limited time they
survived our arrival they spent in cooking, and sitting haunched up over
their little fires. They died so rapidly that, before we were aware of it,
not one could be seen in the camp. They became ripe for the stroke of the
sickle, all of them about the same time, and their Father gathered them
to His abundant harvest.

From the misfortunes of these men we took some consolation, strange as it
may appear. When witnessing the terrible mortality among them, we said,
"Oh, it is only the Belle Islanders that are dying."

As soon as we had to some extent shaken off the depressing influence
exerted upon us by the knowledge of the horrible condition of the Belle
Islanders, we began to encourage ourselves with the idea that our fate
would not be like theirs; that we had not been on Belle Island, nor
experienced the terrible sufferings from exposure and starvation which
they had been subjected to, and that, therefore, the mortality could not
be so great among us as it had been among them. But we reckoned without
having the least conception of what possibilities there were in the
future. True, we had fared much better than the Belle Island men. We had
not been so exposed to the weather, and had not suffered as much from
insufficient quantity of food; we had been able to keep ourselves in
better sanitary condition. We were much cleaner and better off in every
way, to all appearances. But, as I remarked before, we had not the least
comprehension of the possibilities of the future. We had no intimation
whatever of the monster of destruction that lay sleeping in our systems,
and floating torpidly about in our veins. But the awful knowledge was to
dawn upon us soon, and unmistakably. Scurvy - a disease so awful and so
dread, that its name to a man in such a place was but another name for
death - was destined to break out among us. This disease made its
appearance three months after our arrival at Andersonville. Up to that
time, knowing nothing of this, suspecting nothing of the kind, we enjoyed
our lives better than we had any time since our capture.

During the first few months of our sojourn at Andersonville, the
Confederates allowed us a sufficient quantity of food to support life. We
were also comparatively free and unconfined, were out of doors, had room
to walk about, and could see the shady forest. This was a great relaxation
from, and improvement upon, hard walls. The rebels also - as they issued us
raw rations - allowed us to get wood to cook with, and for the purpose of
making shelter. For a short time, then, - and it was a short time, indeed,
compared to the long term of our imprisonment, - we were happier than we
had been during all of our previous captivity. But no man was ever happy
long in rebel prisons, and the period of our bliss was of but short
duration. Not only did men die of the scurvy as fast as the snow melts in
spring, but other misfortunes befell us. Or rather, these last came in the
shape of Southern barbarities; but although they were barbarities in those
who inflicted them, they were serious misfortunes to the Yankee prisoners.
It seemed, no sooner had the spring campaigns opened, and men came
pouring into the prison as though the Northern army had been captured in
full, than the rebel authorities prohibited going out for wood, so that
those who came in after that date could not get out for material to make
shelter with. Hence, it seemed thereafter a race between the old prisoners
and the new to see who would die the soonest; the new prisoners, having no
shelter, dying from exposure and other severities, and the old prisoners,
having shelter, dying from the scurvy.

Another misfortune to us, and barbarity in the rebels, was a decrease in
the quantity of food as our numbers increased. The result of this act of
cruelty was, of course, to make all weaker, old and new prisoners
irrespectively. But to the new prisoners I have no doubt it came the
hardest. Their stomachs were not shrunken, dried, and hardened to
starvation as were those of the old prisoners. Their stomachs and systems
generally being in better condition, they felt the demand for food more
keenly than did the half-sick-at-the-stomach and scurvy-infected veterans
of the prison-pen. Being without shelter also made in them a greater
demand for food. The ravages of exposure had to be repaired. Scurvy in the
systems of the old prisoners had begun to make their stomachs qualmish and
less desirous of food. Besides this, - and it adds yet another barbarity to
the endless list, - although we were prohibited going out for wood to cook
with, raw rations were in part still issued. The prison authorities
undertook to issue cooked rations, and did for the most part, but part raw
rations were always issued with those that were cooked. For instance, the
rebels baked our bread and cooked our meat, but always issued peas raw. As
a man needed every particle of food allowed him by the rebels, this went
hard enough. But it went hardest with the new prisoners. We old ones, who
had arrived there prior to the stoppage of going out for wood, had in some
cases laid in a supply, or in others built our shelter near a stump,
which, when the wood famine came on, had to pay tribute with its roots. As
the wood was generally rich with pitch, being pine, and frequently
pitch-pine, a little went a great way.

Furthermore, necessity ruling the times, we cooked in our little quart
cups, laying under a little sliver at a time. We also built a wall of clay
around our little fire, to save and concentrate the heat as much as
possible. But, as the new prisoners had no wood and could get none, they
were forced either to trade, if possible, their raw for cooked rations or
eat them as they got them - raw, - as they did frequently enough. The reason
given for prohibiting going out for wood was, that some prisoners had
attempted making their escape while outside. This was a correct specimen
of Southern philosophy regarding the government of Yankee prisoners. To

1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9

Online LibraryAnonymousOpium Eating → online text (page 1 of 9)