The old general and the buck private were an unlikely pair. Life in the prison camp was hard and nasty, especially for a prisoner still in his teens, among older grizzled veterans who had survived many savage battles in the War between the States.
Few of the prisoners suffering from their battle wounds lasted very long. Sepsis, infection, and a general lack of trained medical attention sealed their fate within weeks, mostly from gangrene.
Those who recovered still faced the scourge of malnutrition, as the Union army fed its soldiers first, and left only the molding vegetables and rotting meat for their prisoners of war.
The general had chosen the young Langton as his aide de camp years ago, when it still seemed the South had a fighting chance to win its independence from the North. The kid, barely in his teens, witnessed the bloody battles first-hand, yet was spared from having to risk his own life in the savage combat.
And here they were, in the most notorious Union Army prison camp of all, depending on each other to stay alive, when food, such as it was, came only once a day if it came at all.
More and more captured rebel soldiers, clad in bloodied tatters that once were uniforms, were pushed into the stockade every day. They milled inside the barricades like cattle in pens, until it seemed the walls would topple from the sheer press of humanity.
Beatings by the drunken guards were commonplace and vicious. All inmates came to dread one guard in particular, the one they called Beale the Beast. Often, flanked by two or three armed guards, he cornered prisoners against the wire and beat them mercilessly. Some of his victims would never be the same again.
Yet now, a guarded optimism was spreading through the camp. News of Lee's surrender at Appommatox was filtering through, and the survivors began to believe they would soon return to their families and farms, to a life free from strife and hatred.
Just the day before, Langton saw signs that something was planned for the prisoners. It didn't look like anything good.
Beale escorted a Union Army officer through the grounds as the prisoners enjoyed the sun on a fine spring morning. Several times, Langton saw Beale point out various prisoners to the officer, particularly those who were high-ranking officers before their capture.
Langton's suspicions were confirmed when Beale's fingers pointed at the general. The officer nodded, reached into his tunic, and laid a wad of bills into Beale's hand. Langton realized that Beale had just sold the general to the officer.
Langton began to push his way through the milling throng of prisoners, in an atttempt to reach the general and warn him his life was in danger. But then the whistles blew, and the guards moved in to herd the prisoners back to their cells.
The crowd yielded under the blows of rifle butts and the crack of whips. Langton never made it over to warn the general after all. Tomorrow, thought Langton, I've got to find him right away and warn him!