Bottom Rail on Top, Part 8

In January of 1865, when the war was going so badly that not even Marse Robert could tell himself that the South would win, and believe it, the Confederate Army released its free black Union soldiers, including ten men from the 43rd Pennsylvania. In return, they got Captain Henry Kaltenbach of the 18th Georgia Volunteer Infantry.

When Henry returned to his regiment, it was clear that he could no longer be an infantryman. He was disabled for marching. The 18th Georgia gave him a medical discharge. They couldn’t transport him home, and they couldn’t pay him the money for a train ticket on what was left of the Southern railroads. As he told Fox, he’d have to limp home to Georgia.

He set out, and at the start of his journey, a regiment of black soldiers marched by him. As he rested at the side of the road, one of these free black Union men called out: “Hey, Johnny Reb! Bottom rail on top now!” Henry dispensed with military dignity. He waved, like any roadside civilian, and yelled out: “Top rail! God bless! Go win the war for the Union!”