Wonder If He Still Had An Accent

 

   OK.  See that guy?  That’s William Godfrey. He was born in Kent England late eighteen-forties and began life in an orphanage.  Somehow left/escaped and in 1855 made his way to the states as a stowaway.  Found work as a butcher’s apprentice.  Few years later mustered into the Union Army.

  Was captured and taken to the infamous “Can this be hell?” Andersonville prisoner-of-war camp shortly after its opening in February 1864.  Roughly one in three fell to its deadly mix of beatings, squalor, and disease.  Before succumbing, one, hometown Geneseo Illinois, showed a tintype of fiancé.  Her name, Myra, was the last word to leave friend’s lips.

  Emaciated and dehydrated, Godfrey said that he survived interment by making his way, under the dark of each night, over and around the dead and dying to a fetid creek.  Months felt like eternity, but miraculously, come summer, he became part of a prisoner exchange and led a group of forty men driving 200 cattle 300 miles to meet Sherman in Atlanta.

  Fourteen survived to join the General’s conflagratory march to the sea.  There, he boarded a ship which caught fire and foundered off Cape  Hatteras.  Didn’t know how to swim and went down three times that he remembered – the last of which fondly…  Came to on deck of another ship making north.

  Marched in a parade in Washington, DC.  Eastern army was done up in crisp uniforms and white gloves.  Passing before President Lincoln’s box, Godfrey and the rest of the Western army were bedraggled, barefoot, barehanded, and bareheaded.  They felt disgraced, but were fed and regained energy and horizon.

  War ended soon thereafter and he mustered out to homelessness.  Thought of that tintype which he’d somehow kept, made his way to Geneseo, and even though the scrap was by then but a vestigial facsimile found where lived she of whom it had been taken.  Found her in a garden.  Found her beautiful beyond any dream. 

  She’s the one in the photo below, at lower right.  Great-Great-Grandma Godfrey.   Babe in starched linen is my mom. Grandma Gretchen is holding her with Great-Grandma Lu standing behind.  Grandpa Godfrey was gone by then, but had apparently led every town and county parade – fully festooned – till he was no longer able.  Wonder if he still had an accent.

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