Part 2 out of 3
for rations. "Crosser than, two sticks" utterly failed as a comparison.
They were crosser than the lines of a check apron. Many could have given
odds to the traditional bear with a sore head, and run out of the game
fifty points ahead of him. It was astonishingly easy to get up a fight
at these times. There was no need of going a step out of the way to
search for it, as one could have a full fledged article of overwhelming
size on his hands at any instant, by a trifling indiscretion of speech or
manner. All the old irritating flings between the cavalry, the artillery
and the infantry, the older "first-call" men, and the later or
"Three-Hundred-Dollar-men," as they were derisively dubbed, between the
different corps of the Army of the Potomac, between men of different
States, and lastly between the adherents and opponents of McClellan, came
to the lips and were answered by a blow with the fist, when a ring would
be formed around the combatants by a crowd, which would encourage them
with yells to do their best. In a few minutes one of the parties to the
fistic debate, who found the point raised by him not well taken, would
retire to the sink to wash the blood from his battered face, and the rest
would resume their seats and glower at space until some fresh excitement
roused them. For the last hour or so of these long waits hardly a word
would be spoken. We were too ill-natured to talk for amusement, and
there was nothing else to talk for.
This spell was broken about eleven o'clock by the appearance at the head
of the stairway of the Irishman with the gun-barrel cane, and his singing
"Sargint uv the flure: fourtane min and a bread-box!"
Instantly every man sprang to his feet, and pressed forward to be one of
the favored fourteen. One did not get any more gyrations or obtain them
any sooner by this, but it was a relief, and a change to walk the half
square outside the prison to the cookhouse, and help carry the rations
For a little while after our arrival in Richmond, the rations were
tolerably good. There had been so much said about the privations of the
prisoners that our Government had, after much quibbling and negotiation,
succeeded in getting the privilege of sending food and clothing through
the lines to us. Of course but a small part of that sent ever reached
its destination. There were too many greedy Rebels along its line of
passage to let much of it be received by those for whom it was intended.
We could see from our windows Rebels strutting about in overcoats, in
which the box wrinkles were still plainly visible, wearing new "U. S."
blankets as cloaks, and walking in Government shoes, worth fabulous
prices in Confederate money.
Fortunately for our Government the rebels decided to out themselves off
from this profitable source of supply. We read one day in the Richmond
papers that "President Davis and his Cabinet had come to the conclusion
that it was incompatible with the dignity of a sovereign power to permit
another power with which it was at war, to feed and clothe prisoners in
I will not stop to argue this point of honor, and show its absurdity by
pointing out that it is not an unusual practice with nations at war. It
is a sufficient commentary upon this assumption of punctiliousness that
the paper went on to say that some five tons of clothing and fifteen tons
of food, which had been sent under a flag of truce to City Point, would
neither be returned nor delivered to us, but "converted to the use of the
"And surely they are all honorable men!"
Heaven save the mark.
BRANS OR PEAS--INSUFFICIENCY OF DARKY TESTIMONY--A GUARD KILLS A
PRISONER--PRISONERS TEAZE THE GUARDS--DESPERATE OUTBREAK.
But, to return to the rations--a topic which, with escape or exchange,
were to be the absorbing ones for us for the next fifteen months. There
was now issued to every two men a loaf of coarse bread--made of a mixture
of flour and meal--and about the size and shape of an ordinary brick.
This half loaf was accompanied, while our Government was allowed to
furnish rations, with a small piece of corned beef. Occasionally we got
a sweet potato, or a half-pint or such a matter of soup made from a
coarse, but nutritious, bean or pea, called variously "nigger-pea,"
"stock-pea," or "cow-pea."
This, by the way, became a fruitful bone of contention during our stay
in the South. One strong party among us maintained that it was a bean,
because it was shaped like one, and brown, which they claimed no pea ever
was. The other party held that it was a pea because its various names
all agreed in describing it as a pea, and because it was so full of
bugs--none being entirely free from insects, and some having as many as
twelve by actual count--within its shell. This, they declared, was a
distinctive characteristic of the pea family. The contention began with
our first instalment of the leguminous ration, and was still raging
between the survivors who passed into our lines in 1865. It waxed hot
occasionally, and each side continually sought evidence to support its
view of the case. Once an old darky, sent into the prison on some
errand, was summoned to decide a hot dispute that was raging in the
crowd to which I belonged. The champion of the pea side said, producing
one of the objects of dispute:
"Now, boys, keep still, till I put the question fairly. Now, uncle, what
do they call that there?"
The colored gentleman scrutinized the vegetable closely, and replied,
"Well, dey mos' generally calls 'em stock-peas, round hyar aways."
"There," said the pea-champion triumphantly.
"But," broke in the leader of the bean party, "Uncle, don't they also
call them beans?"
"Well, yes, chile, I spec dat lots of 'em does."
And this was about the way the matter usually ended.
I will not attempt to bias the reader's judgment by saying which side I
believed to be right. As the historic British showman said, in reply to
the question as to whether an animal in his collection was a rhinoceros
or an elephant, "You pays your money and you takes your choice."
The rations issued to us, as will be seen above, though they appear
scanty, were still sufficient to support life and health, and months
afterward, in Andersonville, we used to look back to them as sumptuous.
We usually had them divided and eaten by noon, and, with the gnawings of
hunger appeased, we spent the afternoon and evening comfortably. We told
stories, paced up and down, the floor for exercise, played cards, sung,
read what few books were available, stood at the windows and studied the
landscape, and watched the Rebels trying their guns and shells, and so on
as long as it was daylight. Occasionally it was dangerous to be about
the windows. This depended wholly on the temper of the guards. One day
a member of a Virginia regiment, on guard on the pavement in front,
deliberately left his beat, walked out into the center of the street,
aimed his gun at a member of the Ninth West Virginia, who was standing at
a window near, and firing, shot him through the heart, the bullet passing
through his body, and through the floor above. The act was purely
malicious, and was done, doubtless, in revenge for some injury which our
men had done the assassin or his family.
We were not altogether blameless, by any means. There were few
opportunities to say bitterly offensive things to the guards, let pass
The prisoners in the third floor of the Smith building, adjoining us,
had their own way of teasing them. Late at night, when everybody would
be lying down, and out of the way of shots, a window in the third story
would open, a broomstick, with a piece nailed across to represent arms,
and clothed with a cap and blouse, would be protruded, and a voice coming
from a man carefully protected by the wall, would inquire:
"S-a-y, g-uarr-d, what time is it?"
If the guard was of the long suffering kind he would answer:
"Take yo' head back in, up dah; you kno hits agin all odahs to do dat?"
Then the voice would say, aggravatingly, "Oh, well, go to ----
you ---- Rebel ----, if you can't answer a civil question."
Before the speech was ended the guard's rifle would be at his shoulder
and he would fire. Back would come the blouse and hat in haste, only to
go out again the next instant, with a derisive laugh, and
"Thought you were going to hurt somebody, didn't you, you ---- ---- ----
---- ----. But, Lord, you can't shoot for sour apples; if I couldn't
shoot no better than you, Mr. Johnny Reb, I would ----"
By this time the guard, having his gun loaded again, would cut short the
remarks with another shot, which, followed up with similar remarks, would
provoke still another, when an alarm sounding, the guards at Libby and
all the other buildings around us would turn out. An officer of the
guard would go up with a squad into the third floor, only to find
everybody up there snoring away as if they were the Seven Sleepers.
After relieving his mind of a quantity of vigorous profanity, and threats
to "buck and gag" and cut off the rations of the whole room, the officer
would return to his quarters in the guard house, but before he was fairly
ensconced there the cap and blouse would go out again, and the maddened
guard be regaled with a spirited and vividly profane lecture on the
depravity of Rebels in general, and his own unworthiness in particular.
One night in January things took a more serious turn. The boys on the
lower floor of our building had long considered a plan of escape. There
were then about fifteen thousand prisoners in Richmond--ten thousand on
Belle Isle and five thousand in the buildings. Of these one thousand
five hundred were officers in Libby. Besides there were the prisoners in
Castles Thunder and Lightning. The essential features of the plan were
that at a preconcerted signal we at the, second and third floors should
appear at the windows with bricks and irons from the tobacco presses,
which a should shower down on the guards and drive them away, while the
men of the first floor would pour out, chase the guards into the board
house in the basement, seize their arms, drive those away from around
Libby and the other prisons, release the officers, organize into
regiments and brigades, seize the armory, set fire to the public
buildings and retreat from the City, by the south side of the James,
where there was but a scanty force of Rebels, and more could be prevented
from coming over by burning the bridges behind us.
It was a magnificent scheme, and might have been carried out, but there
was no one in the building who was generally believed to have the
qualities of a leader.
But while it was being debated a few of the hot heads on the lower floor
undertook to precipitate the crisis. They seized what they thought was a
favorable opportunity, overpowered the guard who stood at the foot of the
stairs, and poured into the street. The other guards fell back and
opened fire on them; other troops hastened up, and soon drove them back
into the building, after killing ten or fifteen. We of the second and
third floors did not anticipate the break at that time, and were taken as
much by surprise as were the Rebels. Nearly all were lying down and
many were asleep. Some hastened to the windows, and dropped missiles
out, but before any concerted action could be taken it was seen that the
case was hopeless, and we remained quiet.
Among those who led in the assault was a drummer-boy of some New York
Regiment, a recklessly brave little rascal. He had somehow smuggled a
small four-shooter in with him, and when they rushed out he fired it off
at the guards.
After the prisoners were driven back, the Rebel officers came in and
vapored around considerably, but confined themselves to big words. They
were particularly anxious to find the revolver, and ordered a general and
rigorous search for it. The prisoners were all ranged on one side of the
room and carefully examined by one party, while another hunted through
the blankets and bundles. It was all in vain; no pistol could be found.
The boy had a loaf of wheat bread, bought from a baker during the day.
It was a round loaf, set together in two pieces like a biscuit. He
pulled these apart, laid the fourshooter between them, pressed the two
halves together, and went on calmly nibbling away at the loaf while the
search was progressing.
Two gunboats were brought up the next morning, and anchored in the canal
near us, with their heavy guns trained upon the building. It was thought
that this would intimidate as from a repetition of the attack, but our
sailors conceived that, as they laid against the shore next to us, they
could be easily captured, and their artillery made to assist us.
A scheme to accomplish this was being wrought out, when we received
notice to move, and it came to naught.
THE EXCHANGE AND THE CAUSE OF ITS INTERRUPTION--BRIEF RESUME OF THE
DIFFERENT CARTELS, AND THE DIFFICULTIES THAT LED TO THEIR SUSPENSION.
Few questions intimately connected with the actual operations of the
Rebellion have been enveloped with such a mass of conflicting statement
as the responsibility for the interruption of the exchange. Southern
writers and politicians, naturally anxious to diminish as much as
possible the great odium resting upon their section for the treatment of
prisoners of war during the last year and a half of the Confederacy's
existence, have vehemently charged that the Government of the United
States deliberately and pitilessly resigned to their fate such of its
soldiers as fell into the hands of the enemy, and repelled all advances
from the Rebel Government looking toward a resumption of exchange. It is
alleged on our side, on the other hand, that our Government did all that
was possible, consistent with National dignity and military prudence,
to secure a release of its unfortunate men in the power of the Rebels.
Over this vexed question there has been waged an acrimonious war of
words, which has apparently led to no decision, nor any convictions--the
disputants, one and all, remaining on the sides of the controversy
occupied by them when the debate began.
I may not be in possession of all the facts bearing upon the case, and
may be warped in judgment by prejudices in favor of my own Government's
wisdom and humanity, but, however this may be, the following is my firm
belief as to the controlling facts in this lamentable affair:
1. For some time after the beginning of hostilities our Government
refused to exchange prisoners with the Rebels, on the ground that this
might be held by the European powers who were seeking a pretext for
acknowledging the Confederacy, to be admission by us that the war was no
longer an insurrection but a revolution, which had resulted in the 'de
facto' establishment of a new nation. This difficulty was finally gotten
over by recognizing the Rebels as belligerents, which, while it placed
them on a somewhat different plane from mere insurgents, did not elevate
them to the position of soldiers of a foreign power.
2. Then the following cartel was agreed upon by Generals Dig on our side
and Hill on that of the Rebels:
HAXALL'S LANDING, ON JAMES RIVER, July 22, 1882.
The undersigned, having been commissioned by the authorities they
respectively represent to make arrangements for a general exchange of
prisoners of war, have agreed to the following articles:
ARTICLE I.--It is hereby agreed and stipulated, that all prisoners of
war, held by either party, including those taken on private armed
vessels, known as privateers, shall be exchanged upon the conditions and
Prisoners to be exchanged man for man and officer for officer.
Privateers to be placed upon the footing of officers and men of the navy.
Men and officers of lower grades may be exchanged for officers of a
higher grade, and men and officers of different services may be exchanged
according to the following scale of equivalents:
A General-commanding-in-chief, or an Admiral, shall be exchanged for
officers of equal rank, or for sixty privates or common seamen.
A Commodore, carrying a broad pennant, or a Brigadier General, shall be
exchanged for officers of equal rank, or twenty privates or common
A Captain in the Navy, or a Colonel, shall be exchanged for officers of
equal rank, or for fifteen privates or common seamen.
A Lieutenant Colonel, or Commander in the Navy, shall be exchanged for
officers of equal rank, or for ten privates or common seamen.
A Lieutenant, or a Master in the Navy, or a Captain in the Army or
marines shall be exchanged for officers of equal rank, or six privates or
Master's-mates in the Navy, or Lieutenants or Ensigns in the Army, shall
be exchanged for officers of equal rank, or four privates or common
seamen. Midshipmen, warrant officers in the Navy, masters of merchant
vessels and commanders of privateers, shall be exchanged for officers of
equal rank, or three privates or common seamen; Second Captains,
Lieutenants or mates of merchant vessels or privateers, and all petty
officers in the Navy, and all noncommissioned officers in the Army or
marines, shall be severally exchanged for persons of equal rank, or for
two privates or common seamen; and private soldiers or common seamen
shall be exchanged for each other man for man.
ARTICLE II.--Local, State, civil and militia rank held by persons not in
actual military service will not be recognized; the basis of exchange
being the grade actually held in the naval and military service of the
ARTICLE III.--If citizens held by either party on charges of disloyalty,
or any alleged civil offense, are exchanged, it shall only be for
citizens. Captured sutlers, teamsters, and all civilians in the actual
service of either party, to be exchanged for persons in similar
ARTICLE IV.--All prisoners of war to be discharged on parole in ten days
after their capture; and the prisoners now held, and those hereafter
taken, to be transported to the points mutually agreed upon, at the
expense of the capturing party. The surplus prisoners not exchanged
shall not be permitted to take up arms again, nor to serve as military
police or constabulary force in any fort, garrison or field-work, held by
either of the respective parties, nor as guards of prisoners, deposits or
stores, nor to discharge any duty usually performed by soldiers, until
exchanged under the provisions of this cartel. The exchange is not to be
considered complete until the officer or soldier exchanged for has been
actually restored to the lines to which he belongs.
ARTICLE V.--Each party upon the discharge of prisoners of the other party
is authorized to discharge an equal number of their own officers or men
from parole, furnishing, at the same time, to the other party a list of
their prisoners discharged, and of their own officers and men relieved
from parole; thus enabling each party to relieve from parole such of
their officers and men as the party may choose. The lists thus mutually
furnished, will keep both parties advised of the true condition of the
exchange of prisoners.
ARTICLE VI.--The stipulations and provisions above mentioned to be of
binding obligation during the continuance of the war, it matters not
which party may have the surplus of prisoners; the great principles
involved being, First, An equitable exchange of prisoners, man for man,
or officer for officer, or officers of higher grade exchanged for
officers of lower grade, or for privates, according to scale of
equivalents. Second, That privates and officers and men of different
services may be exchanged according to the same scale of equivalents.
Third, That all prisoners, of whatever arm of service, are to be
exchanged or paroled in ten days from the time of their capture, if it be
practicable to transfer them to their own lines in that time; if not, so
soon thereafter as practicable. Fourth, That no officer, or soldier,
employed in the service of either party, is to be considered as exchanged
and absolved from his parole until his equivalent has actually reached
the lines of his friends. Fifth, That parole forbids the performance of
field, garrison, police, or guard or constabulary duty.
JOHN A. DIX, Major General.
D. H. HILL, Major General, C. S. A.
ARTICLE VII.--All prisoners of war now held on either side, and all
prisoners hereafter taken, shall be sent with all reasonable dispatch to
A. M. Aiken's, below Dutch Gap, on the James River, in Virginia, or to
Vicksburg, on the Mississippi River, in the State of Mississippi, and
there exchanged of paroled until such exchange can be effected, notice
being previously given by each party of the number of prisoners it will
send, and the time when they will be delivered at those points
respectively; and in case the vicissitudes of war shall change the
military relations of the places designated in this article to the
contending parties, so as to render the same inconvenient for the
delivery and exchange of prisoners, other places bearing as nearly as may
be the present local relations of said places to the lines of said
parties, shall be, by mutual agreement, substituted. But nothing in this
article contained shall prevent the commanders of the two opposing armies
from exchanging prisoners or releasing them on parole, at other points
mutually agreed on by said commanders.
ARTICLE VIII.--For the purpose of carrying into effect the foregoing
articles of agreement, each party will appoint two agents for the
exchange of prisoners of war, whose duty it shall be to communicate with
each other by correspondence and otherwise; to prepare the lists of
prisoners; to attend to the delivery of the prisoners at the places
agreed on, and to carry out promptly, effectually, and in good faith,
all the details and provisions of the said articles of agreement.
ARTICLE IX.--And, in case any misunderstanding shall arise in regard to
any clause or stipulation in the foregoing articles, it is mutually
agreed that such misunderstanding shall not affect the release of
prisoners on parole, as herein provided, but shall be made the subject of
friendly explanation, in order that the object of this agreement may
neither be defeated nor postponed.
JOHN A. DIX, Major General.
D. H. HILL, Major General. C. S. A.
This plan did not work well. Men on both sides, who wanted a little rest
from soldiering, could obtain it by so straggling in the vicinity of the
enemy. Their parole--following close upon their capture, frequently upon
the spot--allowed them to visit home, and sojourn awhile where were
pleasanter pastures than at the front. Then the Rebels grew into the
habit of paroling everybody that they could constrain into being a
prisoner of war. Peaceable, unwarlike and decrepit citizens of Kentucky,
East Tennessee, West Virginia, Missouri and Maryland were "captured" and
paroled, and setoff against regular Rebel soldiers taken by us.
3. After some months of trial of this scheme, a modification of the
cartel was agreed upon, the main feature of which was that all prisoners
must be reduced to possession, and delivered to the exchange officers
either at City Point, Va., or Vicksburg, Miss. This worked very well for
some months, until our Government began organizing negro troops. The
Rebels then issued an order that neither these troops nor their officers
should be held as amenable to the laws of war, but that, when captured,
the men should be returned to slavery, and the officers turned over to
the Governors of the States in which they were taken, to be dealt with
according to the stringent law punishing the incitement of servile
insurrection. Our Government could not permit this for a day. It was
bound by every consideration of National honor to protect those who wore
its uniform and bore its flag. The Rebel Government was promptly
informed that rebel officers and men would be held as hostages for the
proper treatment of such members of colored regiments as might be taken.
4. This discussion did not put a stop to the exchange, but while it was
going on Vicksburg was captured, and the battle of Gettysburg was fought.
The first placed one of the exchange points in our hands. At the opening
of the fight at Gettysburg Lee captured some six thousand Pennsylvania
militia. He sent to Meade to have these exchanged on the field of
battle. Meade declined to do so for two reasons: first, because it was
against the cartel, which prescribed that prisoners must be reduced to
possession; and second, because he was anxious to have Lee hampered with
such a body of prisoners, since it was very doubtful if he could get his
beaten army back across the Potomac, let alone his prisoners. Lee then
sent a communication to General Couch, commanding the Pennsylvania
militia, asking him to receive prisoners on parole, and Couch, not
knowing what Meade had done, acceded to the request. Our Government
disavowed Couch's action instantly, and ordered the paroles to be treated
as of no force, whereupon the Rebel Government ordered back into the
field twelve thousand of the prisoners captured by Grant's army at
5. The paroling now stopped abruptly, leaving in the hands of both sides
the prisoners captured at Gettysburg, except the militia above mentioned.
The Rebels added considerably to those in their hands by their captures
at Chickamauga, while we gained a great many at Mission Ridge, Cumberland
Gap and elsewhere, so that at the time we arrived in Richmond the Rebels
had about fifteen thousand prisoners in their hands and our Government
had about twenty-five thousand.
6. The rebels now began demanding that the prisoners on both sides be
exchanged--man for man--as far as they went, and the remainder paroled.
Our Government offered to exchange man for man, but declined--on account
of the previous bad faith of the Rebels--to release the balance on
parole. The Rebels also refused to make any concessions in regard to the
treatment of officers and men of colored regiments.
7. At this juncture General B. F. Butler was appointed to the command of
the Department of the Blackwater, which made him an ex-officio
Commissioner of Exchange. The Rebels instantly refused to treat with
him, on the ground that he was outlawed by the proclamation of Jefferson
Davis. General Butler very pertinently replied that this only placed him
nearer their level, as Jefferson Davis and all associated with him in the
Rebel Government had been outlawed by the proclamation of President
Lincoln. The Rebels scorned to notice this home thrust by the Union
8. On February 12, 1864, General Butler addressed a letter to the Rebel
Commissioner Ould, in which be asked, for the sake of humanity, that the
questions interrupting the exchange be left temporarily in abeyance while
an informal exchange was put in operation. He would send five hundred
prisoners to City Point; let them be met by a similar number of Union
prisoners. This could go on from day to day until all in each other's
hands should be transferred to their respective flags.
The five hundred sent with the General's letter were received, and five
hundred Union prisoners returned for them. Another five hundred, sent
the next day, were refused, and so this reasonable and humane proposition
ended in nothing.
This was the condition of affairs in February, 1864, when the Rebel
authorities concluded to send us to Andersonville. If the reader will
fix these facts in his minds I will explain other phases as they develop.
PUTTING IN THE TIME--RATIONS--COOKING UTENSILS--"FIAT" SOUP--"SPOONING"
--AFRICAN NEWSPAPER VENDERS--TRADING GREENBACKS FOR CONFEDERATE MONEY
--VISIT FROM JOHN MORGAN.
The Winter days passed on, one by one, after the manner described in a
former chapter,--the mornings in ill-nature hunger; the afternoons and
evenings in tolerable comfort. The rations kept growing lighter and
lighter; the quantity of bread remained the same, but the meat
diminished, and occasional days would pass without any being issued.
Then we receive a pint or less of soup made from the beans or peas before
mentioned, but this, too, suffered continued change, in the gradually
increasing proportion of James River water, and decreasing of that of the
The water of the James River is doubtless excellent: it looks well--at a
distance--and is said to serve the purposes of ablution and navigation
admirably. There seems to be a limit however, to the extent of its
advantageous combination with the bean (or pea) for nutritive purposes.
This, though, was or view of the case, merely, and not shared in to any
appreciably extent by the gentlemen who were managing our boarding house.
We seemed to view the matter through allopathic spectacles, they through
homoeopathic lenses. We thought that the atomic weight of peas (or
beans) and the James River fluid were about equal, which would indicate
that the proper combining proportions would be, say a bucket of beans (or
peas) to a bucket of water. They held that the nutritive potency was
increased by the dilution, and the best results were obtainable when the
symptoms of hunger were combated by the trituration of a bucketful of the
peas-beans with a barrel of 'aqua jamesiana.'
My first experience with this "flat" soup was very instructive, if not
agreeable. I had come into prison, as did most other prisoners,
absolutely destitute of dishes, or cooking utensils. The well-used,
half-canteen frying-pan, the blackened quart cup, and the spoon, which
formed the usual kitchen outfit of the cavalryman in the field, were in
the haversack on my saddle, and were lost to me when I separated from my
horse. Now, when we were told that we were to draw soup, I was in great
danger of losing my ration from having no vessel in which to receive it.
There were but few tin cups in the prison, and these were, of course,
wanted by their owners. By great good fortune I found an empty fruit can,
holding about a quart. I was also lucky enough to find a piece from
which to make a bail. I next manufactured a spoon and knife combined
from a bit of hoop-iron.
These two humble utensils at once placed myself and my immediate chums on
another plane, as far as worldly goods were concerned. We were better
off than the mass, and as well off as the most fortunate. It was a
curious illustration of that law of political economy which teaches that
so-called intrinsic value is largely adventitious. Their possession gave
us infinitely more consideration among our fellows than would the
possession of a brown-stone front in an eligible location, furnished with
hot and cold water throughout, and all the modern improvements. It was a
place where cooking utensils were in demand, and title-deeds to
brown-stone fronts were not. We were in possession of something which
every one needed every day, and, therefore, were persons of consequence
and consideration to those around us who were present or prospective
On our side we obeyed another law of political economy: We clung to our
property with unrelaxing tenacity, made the best use of it in our
intercourse with our fellows, and only gave it up after our release and
entry into a land where the plenitude of cooking utensils of superior
construction made ours valueless. Then we flung them into the sea, with
little gratitude for the great benefit they had been to us. We were more
anxious to get rid of the many hateful recollections clustering around
But, to return to the alleged soup: As I started to drink my first ration
it seemed to me that there was a superfluity of bugs upon its surface.
Much as I wanted animal food, I did not care for fresh meat in that form.
I skimmed them off carefully, so as to lose as little soup as possible.
But the top layer seemed to be underlaid with another equally dense.
This was also skimmed off as deftly as possible. But beneath this
appeared another layer, which, when removed, showed still another; and so
on, until I had scraped to the bottom of the can, and the last of the
bugs went with the last of my soup. I have before spoken of the
remarkable bug fecundity of the beans (or peas). This was a
demonstration of it. Every scouped out pea (or bean) which found its
way into the soup bore inside of its shell from ten to twenty of these
hard-crusted little weevil. Afterward I drank my soup without skimming.
It was not that I hated the weevil less, but that I loved the soup more.
It was only another step toward a closer conformity to that grand rule
which I have made the guiding maxim of my life:
'When I must, I had better.'
I recommend this to other young men starting on their career.
The room in which we were was barely large enough for all of us to lie
down at once. Even then it required pretty close "spooning" together
--so close in fact that all sleeping along one side would have to turn at
once. It was funny to watch this operation. All, for instance, would be
lying on their right sides. They would begin to get tired, and one of
the wearied ones would sing out to the Sergeant who was in command of the
"Sergeant: let's spoon the other way."
That individual would reply:
"All right. Attention! LEFT SPOON!!" and the whole line would at once
flop over on their left sides.
The feet of the row that slept along the east wall on the floor below us
were in a line with the edge of the outer door, and a chalk line drawn
from the crack between the door and the frame to the opposite wall would
touch, say 150 pairs of feet. They were a noisy crowd down there, and
one night their noise so provoked the guard in front of the door that he
called out to them to keep quiet or he would fire in upon them. They
greeted this threat with a chorus profanely uncomplimentary to the purity
of the guard's ancestry; they did not imply his descent a la Darwin, from
the remote monkey, but more immediate generation by a common domestic
animal. The incensed Rebel opened the door wide enough to thrust his gun
in, and he fired directly down the line of toes. His piece was
apparently loaded with buckshot, and the little balls must have struck
the legs, nipped off the toes, pierced the feet, and otherwise slightly
wounded the lower extremities of fifty men. The simultaneous shriek that
went up was deafening. It was soon found out that nobody had been hurt
seriously, and there was not a little fun over the occurrence.
One of the prisoners in Libby was Brigadier General Neal Dow, of Maine,
who had then a National reputation as a Temperance advocate, and the
author of the famous Maine Liquor Law. We, whose places were near the
front window, used to see him frequently on the street, accompanied by a
guard. He was allowed, we understood, to visit our sick in the hospital.
His long, snowy beard and hair gave him a venerable and commanding
Newsboys seemed to be a thing unknown in Richmond. The papers were sold
on the streets by negro men. The one who frequented our section with the
morning journals had a mellow; rich baritone for which we would be glad
to exchange the shrill cries of our street Arabs. We long remembered him
as one of the peculiar features of Richmond. He had one unvarying
formula for proclaiming his wares. It ran in this wise:
"Great Nooze in de papahs!
"Great Nooze from Orange Coaht House, Virginny!
"Great Nooze from Alexandry, Virginny!
"Great Nooze from Washington City!
"Great Nooze from Chattanoogy, Tennessee!
"Great Nooze from Chahlston, Sou' Cahlina!
"Great Nooze in depapahs!"
It did not matter to him that the Rebels had not been at some of these
places for months. He would not change for such mere trifles as the
entire evaporation of all possible interest connected with Chattanooga
and Alexandria. He was a true Bourbon Southerner--he learned nothing and
There was a considerable trade driven between the prisoners and the guard
at the door. This was a very lucrative position for the latter, and men
of a commercial turn of mind generally managed to get stationed there.
The blockade had cut off the Confederacy's supplies from the outer world,
and the many trinkets about a man's person were in good demand at high
prices. The men of the Army of the Potomac, who were paid regularly,
and were always near their supplies, had their pockets filled with combs,
silk handkerchiefs, knives, neckties, gold pens, pencils, silver watches,
playing cards, dice, etc. Such of these as escaped appropriation by
their captors and Dick Turner, were eagerly bought by the guards, who
paid fair prices in Confederate money, or traded wheat bread, tobacco,
daily papers, etc., for them.
There was also considerable brokerage in money, and the manner of doing
this was an admirable exemplification of the folly of the "fiat" money
idea. The Rebels exhausted their ingenuity in framing laws to sustain
the purchasing power of their paper money. It was made legal tender for
all debts public and private; it was decreed that the man who refused to
take it was a public enemy; all the considerations of patriotism were
rallied to its support, and the law provided that any citizens found
trafficking in the money of the enemy--i.e., greenbacks, should suffer
imprisonment in the Penitentiary, and any soldier so offending should
Notwithstanding all this, in Richmond, the head and heart of the
Confederacy, in January, 1864--long before the Rebel cause began to look
at all desperate--it took a dollar to buy such a loaf of bread as now
sells for ten cents; a newspaper was a half dollar, and everything else
in proportion. And still worse: There was not a day during our stay in
Richmond but what one could go to the hole in the door before which the
guard was pacing and call out in a loud whisper:
"Say, Guard: do you want to buy some greenbacks?"
And be sure that the reply would be, after a furtive glance around to see
that no officer was watching:
"Yes; how much do you want for them?"
The reply was then: "Ten for one."
"All right; how much have you got?"
The Yankee would reply; the Rebel would walk to the farther end of his
beat, count out the necessary amount, and, returning, put up one hand
with it, while with the other he caught hold of one end of the Yankee's
greenback. At the word, both would release their holds simultaneously,
the exchange was complete, and the Rebel would pace industriously up and
down his beat with the air of the school boy who "ain't been a-doin'
There was never any risk in approaching any guard with a proposition of
this kind. I never heard of one refusing to trade for greenbacks, and if
the men on guard could not be restrained by these stringent laws, what
hope could there be of restraining anybody else?
One day we were favored with a visit from the redoubtable General John H.
Morgan, next to J. E. B. Stuart the greatest of Rebel cavalry leaders.
He had lately escaped from the Ohio Penitentiary. He was invited to
Richmond to be made a Major General, and was given a grand ovation by the
citizens and civic Government. He came into our building to visit a
number of the First Kentucky Cavalry (loyal)--captured at New
Philadelphia, East Tennessee--whom he was anxious to have exchanged for
men of his own regiment--the First Kentucky Cavalry (Rebel)--who were
captured at the same time he was. I happened to get very close to him
while he was standing there talking to his old acquaintances, and I made
a mental photograph of him, which still retains all its original
distinctness. He was a tall, heavy man, with a full, coarse, and
somewhat dull face, and lazy, sluggish gray eyes. His long black hair
was carefully oiled, and turned under at the ends, as was the custom with
the rural beaux some years ago. His face was clean shaved, except a
large, sandy goatee. He wore a high silk hat, a black broadcloth coat,
Kentucky jeans pantaloons, neatly fitting boots, and no vest. There was
nothing remotely suggestive of unusual ability or force of character, and
I thought as I studied him that the sting of George D. Prentice's bon mot
about him was in its acrid truth. Said Mr. Prentice:
"Why don't somebody put a pistol to Basil Duke's head, and blow John
Morgan's brains out!" [Basil Duke was John Morgan's right hand man.]
REMARKS AS TO NOMENCLATURE--VACCINATION AND ITS EFFECTS--"N'YAARKER'S"
--THEIR CHARACTERISTICS AND THEIR METHODS OF OPERATING.
Before going any further in this narrative it may be well to state that
the nomenclature employed is not used in any odious or disparaging sense.
It is simply the adoption of the usual terms employed by the soldiers of
both sides in speaking to or of each other. We habitually spoke of them
and to them, as "Rebels," and "Johnnies ;" they of and to us, as "Yanks,"
and "Yankees." To have said "Confederates," "Southerners,"
"Secessionists," or "Federalists," "Unionists," "Northerners" or
"Nationalists," would have seemed useless euphemism. The plainer terms
suited better, and it was a day when things were more important than
For some inscrutable reason the Rebels decided to vaccinate us all.
Why they did this has been one of the unsolved problems of my life.
It is true that there was small pox in the City, and among the prisoners
at Danville; but that any consideration for our safety should have led
them to order general inoculation is not among the reasonable inferences.
But, be that as it may, vaccination was ordered, and performed. By great
good luck I was absent from the building with the squad drawing rations,
when our room was inoculated, so I escaped what was an infliction to all,
and fatal to many. The direst consequences followed the operation.
Foul ulcers appeared on various parts of the bodies of the vaccinated.
In many instances the arms literally rotted off; and death followed from
a corruption of the blood. Frequently the faces, and other parts of
those who recovered, were disfigured by the ghastly cicatrices of healed
ulcers. A special friend of mine, Sergeant Frank Beverstock--then a
member of the Third Virginia Cavalry, (loyal), and after the war a banker
in Bowling Green, O.,--bore upon his temple to his dying day, (which
occurred a year ago), a fearful scar, where the flesh had sloughed off
from the effects of the virus that had tainted his blood.
This I do not pretend to account for. We thought at the time that the
Rebels had deliberately poisoned the vaccine matter with syphilitic
virus, and it was so charged upon them. I do not now believe that this
was so; I can hardly think that members of the humane profession of
medicine would be guilty of such subtle diabolism--worse even than
poisoning the wells from which an enemy must drink. The explanation with
which I have satisfied myself is that some careless or stupid
practitioner took the vaccinating lymph from diseased human bodies,
and thus infected all with the blood venom, without any conception of
what he was doing. The low standard of medical education in the South
makes this theory quite plausible.
We now formed the acquaintance of a species of human vermin that united
with the Rebels, cold, hunger, lice and the oppression of distraint, to
leave nothing undone that could add to the miseries of our prison life.
These were the fledglings of the slums and dives of New York--graduates
of that metropolitan sink of iniquity where the rogues and criminals of
the whole world meet for mutual instruction in vice.
They were men who, as a rule, had never known, a day of honesty and
cleanliness in their misspent lives; whose fathers, brothers and constant
companions were roughs, malefactors and, felons; whose mothers, wives and
sisters were prostitutes, procuresses and thieves; men who had from
infancy lived in an atmosphere of sin, until it saturated every fiber of
their being as a dweller in a jungle imbibes malaria by every one of his,
millions of pores, until his very marrow is surcharged with it.
They included representatives from all nationalities, and their
descendants, but the English and Irish elements predominated. They had
an argot peculiar to themselves. It was partly made up of the "flash"
language of the London thieves, amplified and enriched by the cant
vocabulary and the jargon of crime of every European tongue. They spoke
it with a peculiar accent and intonation that made them instantly
recognizable from the roughs of all other Cities. They called themselves
"N'Yaarkers;" we came to know them as "Raiders."
If everything in the animal world has its counterpart among men, then
these were the wolves, jackals and hyenas of the race at once cowardly
and fierce--audaciously bold when the power of numbers was on their side,
and cowardly when confronted with resolution by anything like an equality
Like all other roughs and rascals of whatever degree, they were utterly
worthless as soldiers. There may have been in the Army some habitual
corner loafer, some fistic champion of the bar-room and brothel, some
Terror of Plug Uglyville, who was worth the salt in the hard tack he
consumed, but if there were, I did not form his acquaintance, and I never
heard of any one else who did. It was the rule that the man who was the
readiest in the use of fist and slungshot at home had the greatest
diffidence about forming a close acquaintance with cold lead in the
neighborhood of the front. Thousands of the so-called "dangerous
classes" were recruited, from whom the Government did not receive so much
service as would pay for the buttons on their uniforms. People expected
that they would make themselves as troublesome to the Rebels as they were
to good citizens and the Police, but they were only pugnacious to the
provost guard, and terrible to the people in the rear of the Army who had
anything that could be stolen.
The highest type of soldier which the world has yet produced is the
intelligent, self-respecting American boy, with home, and father and
mother and friends behind him, and duty in front beckoning him on.
In the sixty centuries that war has been a profession no man has entered
its ranks so calmly resolute in confronting danger, so shrewd and
energetic in his aggressiveness, so tenacious of the defense and the
assault, so certain to rise swiftly to the level of every emergency, as
the boy who, in the good old phrase, had been "well-raised" in a
Godfearing home, and went to the field in obedience to a conviction of
duty. His unfailing courage and good sense won fights that the
incompetency or cankering jealousy of commanders had lost. High officers
were occasionally disloyal, or willing to sacrifice their country to
personal pique; still more frequently they were ignorant and inefficient;
but the enlisted man had more than enough innate soldiership to make
amends for these deficiencies, and his superb conduct often brought
honors and promotions to those only who deserved shame and disaster.
Our "N'Yaarkers," swift to see any opportunity for dishonest gain, had
taken to bounty-jumping, or, as they termed it, "leppin' the bounty,"
for a livelihood. Those who were thrust in upon us had followed this
until it had become dangerous, and then deserted to the Rebels. The
latter kept them at Castle Lightning for awhile, and then, rightly
estimating their character, and considering that it was best to trade
them off for a genuine Rebel soldier, sent them in among us, to be
exchanged regularly with us. There was not so much good faith as good
policy shown by this. It was a matter of indifference to the Rebels how
soon our Government shot these deserters after getting them in its hands
again. They were only anxious to use them to get their own men back.
The moment they came into contact with us our troubles began. They stole
whenever opportunities offered, and they were indefatigable in making
these offer; they robbed by actual force, whenever force would avail;
and more obsequious lick-spittles to power never existed--they were
perpetually on the look-out for a chance to curry favor by betraying
some plan or scheme to those who guarded us.
I saw one day a queer illustration of the audacious side of these
fellows' characters, and it shows at the same time how brazen effrontery
will sometimes get the better of courage. In a room in an adjacent
building were a number of these fellows, and a still greater number of
East Tennesseeans. These latter were simple, ignorant folks, but
reasonably courageous. About fifty of them were sitting in a group in
one corner of the room, and near them a couple or three "N'Yaarkers."
Suddenly one of the latter said with an oath:
"I was robbed last night; I lost two silver watches, a couple of rings,
and about fifty dollars in greenbacks. I believe some of you fellers
went through me."
This was all pure invention; he no more had the things mentioned than.
he had purity of heart and a Christian spirit, but the unsophisticated
Tennesseeans did not dream of disputing his statement, and answered in
"Oh, no, mister; we didn't take your things; we ain't that kind."
This was like the reply of the lamb to the wolf, in the fable, and the
N'Yaarker retorted with a simulated storm of passion, and a torrent of
"---- ---- I know ye did; I know some uv yez has got them; stand up agin
the wall there till I search yez!"
And that whole fifty men, any one of whom was physically equal to the
N'Yaarker, and his superior in point of real courage, actually stood
against the wall, and submitted to being searched and having taken from
them the few Confederate bills they had, and such trinkets as the
searcher took a fancy to.
I was thoroughly disgusted.
BELLE ISLE--TERRIBLE SUFFERING FROM COLD AND HUNGER--FATE OF LIEUTENANT
BOISSEUX'S DOG--OUR COMPANY MYSTERY--TERMINATION OF ALL HOPES OF ITS
In February my chum--B. B. Andrews, now a physician in Astoria, Illinois
--was brought into our building, greatly to my delight and astonishment,
and from him I obtained the much desired news as to the fate of my
comrades. He told me they had been sent to Belle Isle, whither he had
gone, but succumbing to the rigors of that dreadful place, he had been
taken to the hospital, and, upon his convalesence, placed in our prison.
Our men were suffering terribly on the island. It was low, damp, and
swept by the bleak, piercing winds that howled up and down the surface of
the James. The first prisoners placed on the island had been given tents
that afforded them some shelter, but these were all occupied when our
battalion came in, so that they were compelled to lie on the snow and
frozen ground, without shelter, covering of any kind, or fire. During
this time the cold had been so intense that the James had frozen over
The rations had been much worse than ours. The so-called soup had been
diluted to a ridiculous thinness, and meat had wholly disappeared.
So intense became the craving for animal food, that one day when
Lieutenant Boisseux--the Commandant--strolled into the camp with his
beloved white bull-terrier, which was as fat as a Cheshire pig, the
latter was decoyed into a tent, a blanket thrown over him, his throat cut
within a rod of where his master was standing, and he was then skinned,
cut up, cooked, and furnished a savory meal to many hungry men.
When Boisseux learned of the fate of his four-footed friend he was,
of course, intensely enraged, but that was all the good it did him.
The only revenge possible was to sentence more prisoners to ride the
cruel wooden horse which he used as a means of punishment.
Four of our company were already dead. Jacob Lowry and John Beach were
standing near the gate one day when some one snatched the guard's blanket
from the post where he had hung it, and ran. The enraged sentry leveled
his gun and fired into the crowd. The balls passed through Lowry's and
Beach's breasts. Then Charley Osgood, son of our Lieutenant, a quiet,
fair-haired, pleasant-spoken boy, but as brave and earnest as his gallant
father, sank under the combination of hunger and cold. One stinging
morning he was found stiff and stark, on the hard ground, his bright,
frank blue eyes glazed over in death.
One of the mysteries of our company was a tall, slender, elderly
Scotchman, who appeared on the rolls as William Bradford. What his past
life had been, where he had lived, what his profession, whether married
or single, no one ever knew. He came to us while in Camp of Instruction
near Springfield, Illinois, and seemed to have left all his past behind
him as he crossed the line of sentries around the camp. He never
received any letters, and never wrote any; never asked for a furlough or
pass, and never expressed a wish to be elsewhere than in camp. He was
courteous and pleasant, but very reserved. He interfered with no one,
obeyed orders promptly and without remark, and was always present for
duty. Scrupulously neat in dress, always as clean-shaved as an
old-fashioned gentleman of the world, with manners and conversation that
showed him to have belonged to a refined and polished circle, he was
evidently out of place as a private soldier in a company of reckless and
none-too-refined young Illinois troopers, but he never availed himself of
any of the numerous opportunities offered to change his associations.
His elegant penmanship would have secured him an easy berth and better
society at headquarters, but he declined to accept a detail. He became
an exciting mystery to a knot of us imaginative young cubs, who sorted up
out of the reminiscential rag-bag of high colors and strong contrasts
with which the sensational literature that we most affected had
plentifully stored our minds, a half-dozen intensely emotional careers
for him. We spent much time in mentally trying these on, and discussing
which fitted him best. We were always expecting a denouement that would
come like a lightning flash and reveal his whole mysterious past, showing
him to have been the disinherited scion of some noble house, a man of
high station, who was expiating some fearful crime; an accomplished
villain eluding his pursuers--in short, a Somebody who would be a fitting
hero for Miss Braddon's or Wilkie Collins's literary purposes. We never
got but two clues of his past, and they were faint ones. One day, he
left lying near me a small copy of "Paradise Lost," that he always
carried with him. Turning over its leaves I found all of Milton's bitter
invectives against women heavily underscored. Another time, while on
guard with him, he spent much of his time in writing some Latin verses in
very elegant chirography upon the white painted boards of a fence along
which his beat ran. We pressed in all the available knowledge of Latin
about camp, and found that the tenor of the verses was very
uncomplimentary to that charming sex which does us the honor of being our
mothers and sweethearts. These evidences we accepted as sufficient
demonstration that there was a woman at the bottom of the mystery, and
made us more impatient for further developments. These were never to
come. Bradford pined away an Belle Isle, and grew weaker, but no less
reserved, each day. At length, one bitter cold night ended it all.
He was found in the morning stone dead, with his iron-gray hair frozen
fast to the ground, upon which he lay. Our mystery had to remain
unsolved. There was nothing about his person to give any hint as to his
HOPING FOR EXCHANGE--AN EXPOSITION OF THE DOCTRINE OF CHANCES
--OFF FOR ANDERSONVILLE--UNCERTAINTY AS TO OUR DESTINATION--ARRIVAL AT
As each lagging day closed, we confidently expected that the next would
bring some news of the eagerly-desired exchange. We hopefully assured
each other that the thing could not be delayed much longer; that the
Spring was near, the campaign would soon open, and each government would
make an effort to get all its men into the field, and this would bring
about a transfer of prisoners. A Sergeant of the Seventh Indiana
Infantry stated his theory to me this way:
"You know I'm just old lightnin' on chuck-a-luck. Now the way I bet is
this: I lay down, say on the ace, an' it don't come up; I just double my
bet on the ace, an' keep on doublin' every time it loses, until at last
it comes up an' then I win a bushel o' money, and mebbe bust the bank.
You see the thing's got to come up some time; an' every time it don't
come up makes it more likely to come up the next time. It's just the
same way with this 'ere exchange. The thing's got to happen some day,
an' every day that it don't happen increases the chances that it will
happen the next day."
Some months later I folded the sanguine Sergeant's stiffening hands
together across his fleshless ribs, and helped carry his body out to the
dead-house at Andersonville, in order to get a piece of wood to cook my
ration of meal with.
On the evening of the 17th of February, 1864, we were ordered to get
ready to move at daybreak the next morning. We were certain this could
mean nothing else than exchange, and our exaltation was such that we did
little sleeping that night. The morning was very cold, but we sang and
joked as we marched over the creaking bridge, on our way to the cars.
We were packed so tightly in these that it was impossible to even sit
down, and we rolled slow ly away after a wheezing engine to Petersburg,
whence we expected to march to the exchange post. We reached Petersburg
before noon, and the cars halted there along time, we momentarily
expecting an order to get out. Then the train started up and moved out
of the City toward the southeast. This was inexplicable, but after we
had proceeded this way for several hours some one conceived the idea that
the Rebels, to avoid treating with Butler, were taking us into the
Department of some other commander to exchange us. This explanation
satisfied us, and our spirits rose again.
Night found us at Gaston, N. C., where we received a few crackers for
rations, and changed cars. It was dark, and we resorted to a little
strategy to secure more room. About thirty of us got into a tight box
car, and immediately announced that it was too full to admit any more.
When an officer came along with another squad to stow away, we would yell
out to him to take some of the men out, as we were crowded unbearably.
In the mean time everybody in the car would pack closely around the door,
so as to give the impression that the car was densely crowded. The Rebel
would look convinced, and demand:
"Why, how many men have you got in de cah?"
Then one of us would order the imaginary host in the invisible recesses
"Stand still there, and be counted," while he would gravely count up to
one hundred or one hundred and twenty, which was the utmost limit of the
car, and the Rebel would hurry off to put his prisoners somewhere else.
We managed to play this successfully during the whole journey, and not
only obtained room to lie down in the car, but also drew three or four
times as many rations as were intended for us, so that while we at no
time had enough, we were farther from starvation than our less strategic
The second afternoon we arrived at Raleigh, the capitol of North
Carolina, and were camped in a piece of timber, and shortly after dark
orders were issued to us all to lie flat on the ground and not rise up
till daylight. About the middle of the night a man belonging to a New
Jersey regiment, who had apparently forgotten the order, stood up, and
was immediately shot dead by the guard.
For four or five days more the decrepit little locomotive strained along,
dragging after it the rattling' old cars. The scenery was intensely
monotonous. It was a flat, almost unending, stretch of pine barrens and
the land so poor that a disgusted Illinoisan, used to the fertility of
the great American Bottom, said rather strongly, that,
"By George, they'd have to manure this ground before they could even make
brick out of it."
It was a surprise to all of us who had heard so much of the wealth of
Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia, to find the soil a
sterile sand bank, interspersed with swamps.
We had still no idea of where we were going. We only knew that our
general course was southward, and that we had passed through the
Carolinas, and were in Georgia. We furbished up our school knowledge of
geography and endeavored to recall something of the location of Raleigh,
Charlotte, Columbia and Augusta, through which we passed, but the attempt
was not a success.
Late on the afternoon of the 25th of February the Seventh Indiana
Sergeant approached me with the inquiry:
"Do you know where Macon is?"
The place had not then become as well known as it was afterward.
It seemed to me that I had read something of Macon in Revolutionary
history, and that it was a fort on the sea coast. He said that the guard
had told him that we were to be taken to a point near that place, and we
agreed that it was probably a new place of exchange. A little later we
passed through the town of Macon, Ga, and turned upon a road that led
almost due south.
About midnight the train stopped, and we were ordered off. We were in
the midst of a forest of tall trees that loaded the air with the heavy
balsamic odor peculiar to pine trees. A few small rude houses were
scattered around near.
Stretching out into the darkness was a double row of great heaps of
burning pitch pine, that smoked and flamed fiercely, and lit up a little
space around in the somber forest with a ruddy glare. Between these two
rows lay a road, which we were ordered to take.
The scene was weird and uncanny. I had recently read the "Iliad," and
the long lines of huge fires reminded me of that scene in the first book,
where the Greeks burn on the sea shore the bodies of those smitten by
For nine long nights, through all the dusky air,
The pyres, thick flaming shot a dismal glare.
Five hundred weary men moved along slowly through double lines of guards.
Five hundred men marched silently towards the gates that were to shut out
life and hope from most of them forever. A quarter of a mile from the
railroad we came to a massive palisade of great squared logs standing
upright in the ground. The fires blazed up and showed us a section of
these, and two massive wooden gates, with heavy iron hinges and bolts.
They swung open as we stood there and we passed through into the space
We were in Andersonville.
GEORGIA--A LEAN AND HUNGRY LAND--DIFFERENCE BETWEEN UPPER AND LOWER
GEORGIA--THE PILLAGE OF ANDERSONVILLE.
As the next nine months of the existence of those of us who survived were
spent in intimate connection with the soil of Georgia, and, as it
exercised a potential influence upon our comfort and well-being, or
rather lack of these--a mention of some of its peculiar characteristics
may help the reader to a fuller comprehension of the conditions
surrounding us--our environment, as Darwin would say.
Georgia, which, next to Texas, is the largest State in the South, and has
nearly twenty-five per cent. more area than the great State of New York,
is divided into two distinct and widely differing sections, by a
geological line extending directly across the State from Augusta, on the
Savannah River, through Macon, on the Ocmulgee, to Columbus, on the
Chattahoochie. That part lying to the north and west of this line is
usually spoken of as "Upper Georgia;" while that lying to the south and
east, extending to the Atlantic Ocean and the Florida line, is called
"Lower Georgia." In this part of the State--though far removed from each
other--were the prisons of Andersonville, Savannah, Millen and
Blackshear, in which we were incarcerated one after the other.
Upper Georgia--the capital of which is Atlanta--is a fruitful,
productive, metalliferous region, that will in time become quite wealthy.
Lower Georgia, which has an extent about equal to that of Indiana, is not
only poorer now than a worn-out province of Asia Minor, but in all
probability will ever remain so.
It is a starved, sterile land, impressing one as a desert in the first
stages of reclamation into productive soil, or a productive soil in the
last steps of deterioration into a desert. It is a vast expanse of arid,
yellow sand, broken at intervals by foul swamps, with a jungle-life
growth of unwholesome vegetation, and teeming With venomous snakes, and
all manner of hideous crawling thing.
The original forest still stands almost unbroken on this wide stretch of
thirty thousand square miles, but it does not cover it as we say of
forests in more favored lands. The tall, solemn pines, upright and
symmetrical as huge masts, and wholly destitute of limbs, except the
little, umbrella-like crest at the very top, stand far apart from each
other in an unfriendly isolation. There is no fraternal interlacing of
branches to form a kindly, umbrageous shadow. Between them is no genial
undergrowth of vines, shrubs, and demi-trees, generous in fruits, berries
and nuts, such as make one of the charms of Northern forests. On the
ground is no rich, springing sod of emerald green, fragrant with the
elusive sweetness of white clover, and dainty flowers, but a sparse,
wiry, famished grass, scattered thinly over the surface in tufts and
patches, like the hair on a mangy cur.
The giant pines seem to have sucked up into their immense boles all the
nutriment in the earth, and starved out every minor growth. So wide and
clean is the space between them, that one can look through the forest in
any direction for miles, with almost as little interference with the view
as on a prairie. In the swampier parts the trees are lower, and their
limbs are hung with heavy festoons of the gloomy Spanish moss, or "death
moss," as it is more frequently called, because where it grows rankest
the malaria is the deadliest. Everywhere Nature seems sad, subdued and
I have long entertained a peculiar theory to account for the decadence
and ruin of countries. My reading of the world's history seems to teach
me that when a strong people take possession of a fertile land, they
reduce it to cultivation, thrive upon its bountifulness, multiply into
millions the mouths to be fed from it, tax it to the last limit of
production of the necessities of life, take from it continually, and give
nothing back, starve and overwork it as cruel, grasping men do a servant
or a beast, and when at last it breaks down under the strain, it revenges
itself by starving many of them with great famines, while the others go
off in search of new countries to put through the same process of
exhaustion. We have seen one country after another undergo this process
as the seat of empire took its westward way, from the cradle of the race
on the banks of the Oxus to the fertile plains in the Valley of the
Euphrates. Impoverishing these, men next sought the Valley of the Nile,
then the Grecian Peninsula; next Syracuse and the Italian Peninsula,
then the Iberian Peninsula, and the African shores of the Mediterranean.
Exhausting all these, they were deserted for the French, German and
English portions of Europe. The turn of the latter is now come; famines
are becoming terribly frequent, and mankind is pouring into the virgin
fields of America.
Lower Georgia, the Carolinas and Eastern Virginia have all the
characteristics of these starved and worn-out lands. It would seem as
if, away back in the distance of ages, some numerous and civilized race
had drained from the soil the last atom of food-producing constituents,
and that it is now slowly gathering back, as the centuries pass, the
elements that have been wrung from the land.
Lower Georgia is very thinly settled. Much of the land is still in the
hands of the Government. The three or four railroads which pass through
it have little reference to local traffic. There are no towns along them
as a rule; stations are made every ten miles, and not named, but
numbered, as "Station No. 4"--"No. 10", etc. The roads were built as
through lines, to bring to the seaboard the rich products of the
Andersonville is one of the few stations dignified with a same, probably
because it contained some half dozen of shabby houses, whereas at the
others there was usually nothing more than a mere open shed, to shelter
goods and travelers. It is on a rudely constructed, rickety railroad,
that runs from Macon to Albany, the head of navigation on the Flint
River, which is, one hundred and six miles from Macon, and two hundred
and fifty from the Gulf of Mexico. Andersonville is about sixty miles
from Macon, and, consequently, about three hundred miles from the Gulf.
The camp was merely a hole cut in the wilderness. It was as remote a
point from, our armies, as they then lay, as the Southern Confederacy
could give. The nearest was Sherman, at Chattanooga, four hundred miles
away, and on the other side of a range of mountains hundreds of miles
To us it seemed beyond the last forlorn limits of civilization. We felt
that we were more completely at the mercy of our foes than ever. While
in Richmond we were in the heart of the Confederacy; we were in the midst
of the Rebel military and, civil force, and were surrounded on every hand
by visible evidences of the great magnitude of that power, but this,
while it enforced our ready submission, did not overawe us depressingly,
We knew that though the Rebels were all about us in great force, our own
men were also near, and in still greater force--that while they were very
strong our army was still stronger, and there was no telling what day
this superiority of strength, might be demonstrated in such a way as to
decisively benefit us.
But here we felt as did the Ancient Mariner:
Alone on a wide, wide sea,
So lonely 'twas that God himself
Scarce seemed there to be.
WAKING UP IN ANDERSONVILLE--SOME DESCRIPTION OF THE PLACE--OUR FIRST
MAIL--BUILDING SHELTER--GEN. WINDER--HIMSELF AND LINEAGE.
We roused up promptly with the dawn to take a survey of our new abiding
place. We found ourselves in an immense pen, about one thousand feet
long by eight hundred wide, as a young surveyor--a member of the
Thirty-fourth Ohio--informed us after he had paced it off. He estimated
that it contained about sixteen acres. The walls were formed by pine
logs twenty-five feet long, from two to three feet in diameter, hewn
square, set into the ground to a depth of five feet, and placed so close
together as to leave no crack through which the country outside could be
seen. There being five feet of the logs in the ground, the wall was, of
course, twenty feet high. This manner of enclosure was in some respects
superior to a wall of masonry. It was equally unscalable, and much more
difficult to undermine or batter down.
The pen was longest due north and south. It was divided in the center
by a creek about a yard wide and ten inches deep, running from west to
east. On each side of this was a quaking bog of slimy ooze one hundred
and fifty feet wide, and so yielding that one attempting to walk upon it
would sink to the waist. From this swamp the sand-hills sloped north and
south to the stockade. All the trees inside the stockade, save two, had
been cut down and used in its construction. All the rank vegetation of
the swamp had also been cut off.
There were two entrances to the stockade, one on each side of the creek,
midway between it and the ends, and called respectively the "North Gate"
and the "South Gate." These were constructed double, by building
smaller stockades around them on the outside, with another set of gates.
When prisoners or wagons with rations were brought in, they were first
brought inside the outer gates, which were carefully secured, before the
inner gates were opened. This was done to prevent the gates being
carried by a rush by those confined inside.
At regular intervals along the palisades were little perches, upon which
stood guards, who overlooked the whole inside of the prison.
The only view we had of the outside was that obtained by looking from the
highest points of the North or South Sides across the depression where
the stockade crossed the swamp. In this way we could see about forty
acres at a time of the adjoining woodland, or say one hundred and sixty
acres altogether, and this meager landscape had to content us for the
next half year.
Before our inspection was finished, a wagon drove in with rations, and a
quart of meal, a sweet potato and a few ounces of salt beef were issued
to each one of us.
In a few minutes we were all hard at work preparing our first meal in
Andersonville. The debris of the forest left a temporary abundance of
fuel, and we had already a cheerful fire blazing for every little squad.
There were a number of tobacco presses in the rooms we occupied in
Richmond, and to each of these was a quantity of sheets of tin, evidently
used to put between the layers of tobacco. The deft hands of the
mechanics among us bent these up into square pans, which were real handy
cooking utensils, holding about--a quart. Water was carried in them from
the creek; the meal mixed in them to a dough, or else boiled as mush in
the same vessels; the potatoes were boiled; and their final service was
to hold a little meal to be carefully browned, and then water boiled upon
it, so as to form a feeble imitation of coffee. I found my education at
Jonesville in the art of baking a hoe-cake now came in good play, both
for myself and companions. Taking one of the pieces of tin which had not
yet been made into a pan, we spread upon it a layer of dough about a
half-inch thick. Propping this up nearly upright before the fire, it was
soon nicely browned over. This process made it sweat itself loose from
the tin, when it was turned over and the bottom browned also. Save that
it was destitute of salt, it was quite a toothsome bit of nutriment for a
hungry man, and I recommend my readers to try making a "pone" of this
kind once, just to see what it was like.
The supreme indifference with which the Rebels always treated the matter
of cooking utensils for us, excited my wonder. It never seemed to occur
to them that we could have any more need of vessels for our food than
cattle or swine. Never, during my whole prison life, did I see so much
as a tin cup or a bucket issued to a prisoner. Starving men were driven
to all sorts of shifts for want of these. Pantaloons or coats were
pulled off and their sleeves or legs used to draw a mess's meal in.
Boots were common vessels for carrying water, and when the feet of these
gave way the legs were ingeniously closed up with pine pegs, so as to
form rude leathern buckets. Men whose pocket knives had escaped the
search at the gates made very ingenious little tubs and buckets, and
these devices enabled us to get along after a fashion.
After our meal was disposed of, we held a council on the situation.
Though we had been sadly disappointed in not being exchanged, it seemed
that on the whole our condition had been bettered. This first ration was
a decided improvement on those of the Pemberton building; we had left the
snow and ice behind at Richmond--or rather at some place between Raleigh,
N. C., and Columbia, S. C.--and the air here, though chill, was not
nipping, but bracing. It looked as if we would have a plenty of wood for
shelter and fuel, it was certainly better to have sixteen acres to roam
over than the stiffing confines of a building; and, still better, it
seemed as if there would be plenty of opportunities to get beyond the
stockade, and attempt a journey through the woods to that blissful land
We settled down to make the best of things. A Rebel Sergeant came in
presently and arranged us in hundreds. We subdivided these into messes
of twenty-five, and began devising means for shelter. Nothing showed the
inborn capacity of the Northern soldier to take care of himself better
than the way in which we accomplished this with the rude materials at our
command. No ax, spade nor mattock was allowed us by the Rebels, who
treated us in regard to these the same as in respect to culinary vessels.
The only tools were a few pocket-knives, and perhaps half-a-dozen
hatchets which some infantrymen-principally members of the Third
Michigan--were allowed to retain. Yet, despite all these drawbacks, we
had quite a village of huts erected in a few days,--nearly enough, in
fact, to afford tolerable shelter for the whole five hundred of us
The wither and poles that grew in the swamp were bent into the shape of
the semi-circular bows that support the canvas covers of army wagons, and
both ends thrust in the ground. These formed the timbers of our
dwellings. They were held in place by weaving in, basket-wise, a network
of briers and vines. Tufts of the long leaves which are the
distinguishing characteristic of the Georgia pine (popularly known as the
"long-leaved pine") were wrought into this network until a thatch was
formed, that was a fair protection against the rain--it was like the
Irishman's unglazed window-sash, which "kep' out the coarsest uv the
The results accomplished were as astonishing to us as to the Rebels,
who would have lain unsheltered upon the sand until bleached out like
field-rotted flax, before thinking to protect themselves in this way.
As our village was approaching completion, the Rebel Sergeant who called
the roll entered. He was very odd-looking. The cervical muscles were
distorted in such a way as to suggest to us the name of "Wry-necked
Smith," by which we always designated him. Pete Bates, of the Third
Michigan, who was the wag of our squad, accounted for Smith's condition
by saying that while on dress parade once the Colonel of Smith's regiment
had commanded "eyes right," and then forgot to give the order "front."
Smith, being a good soldier, had kept his eyes in the position of gazing
at the buttons of the third man to the right, waiting for the order to
restore them to their natural direction, until they had become
permanently fixed in their obliquity and he was compelled to go through
life taking a biased view of all things.
Smith walked in, made a diagonal survey of the encampment, which, if he
had ever seen "Mitchell's Geography," probably reminded him of the
picture of a Kaffir village, in that instructive but awfully dull book,
and then expressed the opinion that usually welled up to every Rebel's
"Well, I'll be durned, if you Yanks don't just beat the devil."
Of course, we replied with the well-worn prison joke, that we supposed we
did, as we beat the Rebels, who were worse than the devil.
There rode in among us, a few days after our arrival, an old man whose
collar bore the wreathed stars of a Major General. Heavy white locks
fell from beneath his slouched hat, nearly to his shoulders. Sunken gray
eyes, too dull and cold to light up, marked a hard, stony face, the
salient feature of which was a thin-upped, compressed mouth, with corners
drawn down deeply--the mouth which seems the world over to be the index
of selfish, cruel, sulky malignance. It is such a mouth as has the
school-boy--the coward of the play ground, who delights in pulling off
the wings of flies. It is such a mouth as we can imagine some
remorseless inquisitor to have had--that is, not an inquisitor filled
with holy zeal for what he mistakenly thought the cause of Christ
demanded, but a spleeny, envious, rancorous shaveling, who tortured men
from hatred of their superiority to him, and sheer love of inflicting
The rider was John H. Winder, Commissary General of Prisoners,
Baltimorean renegade and the malign genius to whose account should be
charged the deaths of more gallant men than all the inquisitors of the
world ever slew by the less dreadful rack and wheel. It was he who in
August could point to the three thousand and eighty-one new made graves
for that month, and exultingly tell his hearer that he was "doing more
for the Confederacy than twenty regiments."
His lineage was in accordance with his character. His father was that
General William H. Winder, whose poltroonery at Bladensburg, in 1814,
nullified the resistance of the gallant Commodore Barney, and gave
Washington to the British.
The father was a coward and an incompetent; the son, always cautiously
distant from the scene of hostilities, was the tormentor of those whom
the fortunes of war, and the arms of brave men threw into his hands.
Winder gazed at us stonily for a few minutes without speaking, and,
turning, rode out again.
Our troubles, from that hour, rapidly increased.
THE PLANTATION NEGROS--NOT STUPID TO BE LOYAL--THEIR DITHYRAMBIC MUSIC
--COPPERHEAD OPINION OF LONGFELLOW.
The stockade was not quite finished at the time of our arrival--a gap of
several hundred feet appearing at the southwest corner. A gang of about
two hundred negros were at work felling trees, hewing legs, and placing
them upright in the trenches. We had an opportunity--soon to disappear
forever--of studying the workings of the "peculiar institution" in its
very home. The negros were of the lowest field-hand class, strong, dull,
ox-like, but each having in our eyes an admixture of cunning and
secretiveness that their masters pretended was not in them. Their
demeanor toward us illustrated this. We were the objects of the most
supreme interest to them, but when near us and in the presence of a white
Rebel, this interest took the shape of stupid, open-eyed, open-mouthed
wonder, something akin to the look on the face of the rustic lout, gazing
for the first time upon a locomotive or a steam threshing machine.
But if chance threw one of them near us when he thought himself
unobserved by the Rebels, the blank, vacant face lighted up with an
entirely different expression. He was no longer the credulous yokel who
believed the Yankees were only slightly modified devils, ready at any
instant to return to their original horn-and-tail condition and snatch
him away to the bluest kind of perdition; he knew, apparently quite as
well as his master, that they were in some way his friends and allies,
and he lost no opportunity in communicating his appreciation of that
fact, and of offering his services in any possible way. And these offers
were sincere. It is the testimony of every Union prisoner in the South
that he was never betrayed by or disappointed in a field-negro, but could
always approach any one of them with perfect confidence in his extending
all the aid in his power, whether as a guide to escape, as sentinel to
signal danger, or a purveyor of food. These services were frequently
attended with the greatest personal risk, but they were none the less
readily undertaken. This applies only to the field-hands; the house
servants were treacherous and wholly unreliable. Very many of our men
who managed to get away from the prisons were recaptured through their
betrayal by house servants, but none were retaken where a field hand
could prevent it.
We were much interested in watching the negro work. They wove in a great
deal of their peculiar, wild, mournful music, whenever the character of
the labor permitted. They seemed to sing the music for the music's sake
alone, and were as heedless of the fitness of the accompanying words,
as the composer of a modern opera is of his libretto. One middle aged
man, with a powerful, mellow baritone, like the round, full notes of a
French horn, played by a virtuoso, was the musical leader of the party.
He never seemed to bother himself about air, notes or words, but
improvised all as he went along, and he sang as the spirit moved him.
He would suddenly break out with--
"Oh, he's gone up dah, nevah to come back agin,"
At this every darkey within hearing would roll out, in admirable
consonance with the pitch, air and time started by the leader--
Then would ring out from the leader as from the throbbing lips of a
"Lord bress him soul; I done hope he is happy now!"
And the antiphonal two hundred would chant back
And so on for hours. They never seemed to weary of singing, and we
certainly did not of listening to them. The absolute independence of the
conventionalities of tune and sentiment, gave them freedom to wander
through a kaleideoscopic variety of harmonic effects, as spontaneous and
changeful as the song of a bird.
I sat one evening, long after the shadows of night had fallen upon the
hillside, with one of my chums--a Frank Berkstresser, of the Ninth
Maryland Infantry, who before enlisting was a mathematical tutor in
college at Hancock, Maryland. As we listened to the unwearying flow of
melody from the camp of the laborers, I thought of and repeated to him
Longfellow's fine lines:
THE SLAVE SINGING AT MIDNIGHT.
And the voice of his devotion
Filled my soul with strong emotion;
For its tones by turns were glad
Sweetly solemn, wildly sad.
Paul and Silas, in their prison,
Sang of Christ, the Lord arisen,
And an earthquake's arm of might
Broke their dungeon gates at night.
But, alas, what holy angel
Brings the slave this glad evangel
And what earthquake's arm of might.
Breaks his prison gags at night.
Said I: "Now, isn't that fine, Berkstresser?"
He was a Democrat, of fearfully pro-slavery ideas, and he replied,
"O, the poetry's tolerable, but the sentiment's damnable."
SCHEMES AND PLANS TO ESCAPE--SCALING THE STOCKADE--ESTABLISHING THE DEAD
LINE--THE FIRST MAN KILLED.
The official designation of our prison was "Camp Sumpter," but this was
scarcely known outside of the Rebel documents, reports and orders.
It was the same way with the prison five miles from Millen, to which we
were afterward transferred. The Rebels styled it officially "Camp
Lawton," but we called it always "Millen."
Having our huts finished, the next solicitude was about escape, and this
was the burden of our thoughts, day and night. We held conferences, at
which every man was required to contribute all the geographical knowledge
of that section of Georgia that he might have left over from his
schoolboy days, and also that gained by persistent questioning of such
guards and other Rebels as he had come in contact with. When first
landed in the prison we were as ignorant of our whereabouts as if we had
been dropped into the center of Africa. But one of the prisoners was
found to have a fragment of a school atlas, in which was an outline map
of Georgia, that had Macon, Atlanta, Milledgeville, and Savannah laid
down upon it. As we knew we had come southward from Macon, we felt
pretty certain we were in the southwestern corner of the State.
Conversations with guards and others gave us the information that the
Chattahooche flowed some two score of miles to the westward, and that the
Flint lay a little nearer on the east. Our map showed that these two
united and flowed together into Appalachicola Bay, where, some of us
remembered, a newspaper item had said that we had gunboats stationed.
The creek that ran through the stockade flowed to the east, and we
reasoned that if we followed its course we would be led to the Flint,
down which we could float on a log or raft to the Appalachicola. This
was the favorite scheme of the party with which I sided. Another party
believed the most feasible plan was to go northward, and endeavor to gain
the mountains, and thence get into East Tennessee.
But the main thing was to get away from the stockade; this, as the French
say of all first steps, was what would cost.
Our first attempt was made about a week after our arrival. We found two
logs on the east side that were a couple of feet shorter than the rest,
and it seemed as if they could be successfully scaled. About fifty of us
resolved to make the attempt. We made a rope twenty-five or thirty feet
long, and strong enough to bear a man, out of strings and strips of
cloth. A stout stick was fastened to the end, so that it would catch on
the logs on either side of the gap. On a night dark enough to favor our
scheme, we gathered together, drew cuts to determine each boy's place in
the line, fell in single rank, according to this arrangement, and marched
to the place. The line was thrown skillfully, the stick caught fairly in
the notch, and the boy who had drawn number one climbed up amid a
suspense so keen that I could hear my heart beating. It seemed ages
before he reached the top, and that the noise he made must certainly
attract the attention of the guard. It did not. We saw our comrade's.
figure outlined against the sky as he slid, over the top, and then heard
the dull thump as he sprang to the ground on the other side. "Number
two," was whispered by our leader, and he performed the feat as
successfully as his predecessor. "Number, three," and he followed
noiselessly and quickly. Thus it went on, until, just as we heard number
fifteen drop, we also heard a Rebel voice say in a vicious undertone:
"Halt! halt, there, d--n you!"
This was enough. The game was up; we were discovered, and the remaining
thirty-five of us left that locality with all the speed in our heels,
getting away just in time to escape a volley which a squad of guards,
posted in the lookouts, poured upon the spot where we had been standing.
The next morning the fifteen who had got over the Stockade were brought
in, each chained to a sixty-four pound ball. Their story was that one of
the N'Yaarkers, who had become cognizant of our scheme, had sought to
obtain favor in the Rebel eyes by betraying us. The Rebels stationed a
squad at the crossing place, and as each man dropped down from the
Stockade he was caught by the shoulder, the muzzle of a revolver thrust
into his face, and an order to surrender whispered into his ear. It was
expected that the guards in the sentry-boxes would do such execution
among those of us still inside as would prove a warning to other would-be
escapes. They were defeated in this benevolent intention by the
readiness with which we divined the meaning of that incautiously loud
halt, and our alacrity in leaving the unhealthy locality.
The traitorous N'Yaarker was rewarded with a detail into the commissary
department, where he fed and fattened like a rat that had secured
undisturbed homestead rights in the center of a cheese. When the
miserable remnant of us were leaving Andersonville months afterward, I
saw him, sleek, rotund, and well-clothed, lounging leisurely in the door
of a tent. He regarded us a moment contemptuously, and then went on
conversing with a fellow N'Yaarker, in the foul slang that none but such
as he were low enough to use.
I have always imagined that the fellow returned home, at the close of the
war, and became a prominent member of Tweed's gang.
We protested against the barbarity of compelling men to wear irons for
exercising their natural right of attempting to escape, but no attention
was paid to our protest.
Another result of this abortive effort was the establishment of the
notorious "Dead Line." A few days later a gang of negros came in and
drove a line of stakes down at a distance of twenty feet from the
stockade. They nailed upon this a strip of stuff four inches wide, and
then an order was issued that if this was crossed, or even touched, the
guards would fire upon the offender without warning.
Our surveyor figured up this new contraction of our space, and came to
the conclusion that the Dead Line and the Swamp took up about three
acres, and we were left now only thirteen acres. This was not of much
consequence then, however, as we still had plenty of room.
The first man was killed the morning after the Dead-Line was put up.
The victim vas a German, wearing the white crescent of the Second
Division of the Eleventh Corps, whom we had nicknamed "Sigel." Hardship
and exposure had crazed him, and brought on a severe attack of St.
Vitus's dance. As he went hobbling around with a vacuous grin upon his
face, he spied an old piece of cloth lying on the ground inside the Dead
Line. He stooped down and reached under for it. At that instant the
guard fired. The charge of ball-and-buck entered the poor old fellow's
shoulder and tore through his body. He fell dead, still clutching the
dirty rag that had cost him his Life.
CAPT. HENRI WIRZ--SOME DESCRIPTION OF A SMALL-MINDED PERSONAGE, WHO
GAINED GREAT NOTORIETY--FIRST EXPERIENCE WITH HIS DISCIPLINARY METHOD.
The emptying of the prisons at Danville and Richmond into Andersonville
went on slowly during the month of March. They came in by train loads of
from five hundred to eight hundred, at intervals of two or three days.
By the end of the month there were about five thousand in the stockade.
There was a fair amount of space for this number, and as yet we suffered
no inconvenience from our crowding, though most persons would fancy that
thirteen acres of ground was a rather limited area for five thousand men
to live, move and have their being a upon. Yet a few weeks later we were
to see seven times that many packed into that space.
One morning a new Rebel officer came in to superintend calling the roll.
He was an undersized, fidgety man, with an insignificant face, and a
mouth that protruded like a rabbit's. His bright little eyes, like those
of a squirrel or a rat, assisted in giving his countenance a look of
kinship to the family of rodent animals--a genus which lives by stealth
and cunning, subsisting on that which it can steal away from stronger and
braver creatures. He was dressed in a pair of gray trousers, with the
other part of his body covered with a calico garment, like that which
small boys used to wear, called "waists." This was fastened to the
pantaloons by buttons, precisely as was the custom with the garments of
boys struggling with the orthography of words in two syllables. Upon his
head was perched a little gray cap. Sticking in his belt, and fastened
to his wrist by a strap two or three feet long, was one of those
formidable looking, but harmless English revolvers, that have ten barrels
around the edge of the cylinder, and fire a musket-bullet from the
center. The wearer of this composite costume, and bearer of this amateur
arsenal, stepped nervously about and sputtered volubly in very broken
English. He said to Wry-Necked Smith:
"Py Gott, you don't vatch dem dam Yankees glose enough! Dey are
schlippin' rount, and peatin' you efery dimes."
This was Captain Henri Wirz, the new commandant of the interior of the
prison. There has been a great deal of misapprehension of the character
of Wirz. He is usually regarded as a villain of large mental caliber,
and with a genius for cruelty. He was nothing of the kind. He was
simply contemptible, from whatever point of view he was studied.
Gnat-brained, cowardly, and feeble natured, he had not a quality that
commanded respect from any one who knew him. His cruelty did not seem
designed so much as the ebullitions of a peevish, snarling little temper,
united to a mind incapable of conceiving the results of his acts, or
understanding the pain he was Inflicting.
I never heard anything of his profession or vocation before entering the
army. I always believed, however, that he had been a cheap clerk in a
small dry-goods store, a third or fourth rate book-keeper, or something
similar. Imagine, if you please, one such, who never had brains or
self-command sufficient to control himself, placed in command of
thirty-five thousand men. Being a fool he could not help being an
infliction to them, even with the best of intentions, and Wirz was not
troubled with good intentions.
I mention the probability of his having been a dry-goods clerk or
book-keeper, not with any disrespect to two honorable vocations, but
because Wirz had had some training as an accountant, and this was what
gave him the place over us. Rebels, as a rule, are astonishingly
ignorant of arithmetic and accounting, generally. They are good shots,
fine horsemen, ready speakers and ardent politicians, but, like all
noncommercial people, they flounder hopelessly in what people of this
section would consider simple mathematical processes. One of our
constant amusements was in befogging and "beating" those charged with
calling rolls and issuing rations. It was not at all difficult at times
to make a hundred men count as a hundred and ten, and so on.
Wirz could count beyond one hundred, and this determined his selection
for the place. His first move was a stupid change. We had been grouped
in the natural way into hundreds and thousands. He re-arranged the men
in "squads" of ninety, and three of these--two hundred and seventy men
--into a "detachment." The detachments were numbered in order from the
North Gate, and the squads were numbered "one, two, three." On the rolls
this was stated after the man's name. For instance, a chum of mine, and
in the same squad with me, was Charles L. Soule, of the Third Michigan
Infantry. His name appeared on the rolls:
"Chas. L. Soule, priv. Co. E, 8d Mich. Inf., 1-2."
That is, he belonged to the Second Squad of the First Detachment.
Where Wirz got his, preposterous idea of organization from has always
been a mystery to me. It was awkward in every way--in drawing rations,
counting, dividing into messes, etc.
Wirz was not long in giving us a taste of his quality. The next morning
after his first appearance he came in when roll-call was sounded, and
ordered all the squads and detachments to form, and remain standing in
ranks until all were counted. Any soldier will say that there is no duty
more annoying and difficult than standing still in ranks for any
considerable length of time, especially when there is nothing to do or to
engage the attention. It took Wirz between two and three hours to count
the whole camp, and by that time we of the first detachments were almost
all out of ranks. Thereupon Wirz announced that no rations would be
issued to the camp that day. The orders to stand in ranks were repeated
the next morning, with a warning that a failure to obey would be punished
as that of the previous day had been. Though we were so hungry, that,
to use the words of a Thirty-Fifth Pennsylvanian standing next to me--his
"big intestines were eating his little ones up," it was impossible to
keep the rank formation during the long hours. One man after another
straggled away, and again we lost our rations. That afternoon we became
desperate. Plots were considered for a daring assault to force the gates
or scale the stockade. The men were crazy enough to attempt anything
rather than sit down and patiently starve. Many offered themselves as
leaders in any attempt that it might be thought best to make. The
hopelessness of any such venture was apparent, even to famished men,
and the propositions went no farther than inflammatory talk.
The third morning the orders were again repeated. This time we succeeded
in remaining in ranks in such a manner as to satisfy Wirz, and we were
given our rations for that day, but those of the other days were
That afternoon Wirz ventured into camp alone. He vas assailed with a
storm of curses and execrations, and a shower of clubs. He pulled out
his revolver, as if to fire upon his assailants. A yell was raised to
take his pistol away from him and a crowd rushed forward to do this.
Without waiting to fire a shot, he turned and ran to the gate for dear
life. He did not come in again for a long while, and never afterward
without a retinue of guards.
PRIZE-FIGHT AMONG THE N'YAARKERS--A GREAT MANY FORMALITIES, AND LITTLE
BLOOD SPILT--A FUTILE ATTEMPT TO RECOVER A WATCH--DEFEAT OF THE LAW AND
One of the train-loads from Richmond was almost wholly made up of our old
acquaintances--the N'Yaarkers. The number of these had swelled to four
hundred or five hundred--all leagued together in the fellowship of crime.
We did not manifest any keen desire for intimate social relations with
them, and they did not seem to hunger for our society, so they moved
across the creek to the unoccupied South Side, and established their camp
there, at a considerable distance from us.
One afternoon a number of us went across to their camp, to witness a
fight according to the rules of the Prize Ring, which was to come off
between two professional pugilists. These were a couple of
bounty-jumpers who had some little reputation in New York sporting
circles, under the names of the "Staleybridge Chicken" and the "Haarlem
On the way from Richmond a cast-iron skillet, or spider, had been stolen
by the crowd from the Rebels. It was a small affair, holding a half
gallon, and worth to-day about fifty cents. In Andersonville its worth
was literally above rubies. Two men belonging to different messes each
claimed the ownership of the utensil, on the ground of being most active
in securing it. Their claims were strenuously supported by their
respective messes, at the heads of which were the aforesaid Infant and
Chicken. A great deal of strong talk, and several indecisive knock-downs
resulted in an agreement to settle the matter by wager of battle between
the Infant and Chicken.
When we arrived a twenty-four foot ring had been prepared by drawing a
deep mark in the sand. In diagonally opposite corners of these the
seconds were kneeling on one knee and supporting their principals on the
other by their sides they had little vessels of water, and bundles of
rags to answer for sponges. Another corner was occupied by the umpire,
a foul-mouthed, loud-tongued Tombs shyster, named Pete Bradley.
A long-bodied, short-legged hoodlum, nick-named "Heenan," armed with a
club, acted as ring keeper, and "belted" back, remorselessly, any of the
spectators who crowded over the line. Did he see a foot obtruding
itself so much as an inch over the mark in the sand--and the pressure
from the crowd behind was so great that it was difficult for the front
fellows to keep off the line--his heavy club and a blasting curse would
fall upon the offender simultaneously.
Every effort was made to have all things conform as nearly as possible to
the recognized practices of the "London Prize Ring."
At Bradley's call of "Time!" the principals would rise from their
seconds' knees, advance briskly to the scratch across the center of the
ring, and spar away sharply for a little time, until one got in a blow
that sent the other to the ground, where he would lie until his second
picked him up, carried him back, washed his face off, and gave him a
drink. He then rested until the next call of time.
This sort of performance went on for an hour or more, with the knockdowns
and other casualities pretty evenly divided between the two. Then it
became apparent that the Infant was getting more than he had storage room
for. His interest in the skillet was evidently abating, the leering grin
he wore upon his face during the early part of the engagement had
disappeared long ago, as the successive "hot ones" which the Chicken had
succeeded in planting upon his mouth, put it out of his power to "smile
and smile," "e'en though he might still be a villain." He began coming
up to the scratch as sluggishly as a hired man starting out for his day's
work, and finally he did not come up at all. A bunch of blood soaked
rags was tossed into the air from his corner, and Bradley declared the
Chicken to be the victor, amid enthusiastic cheers from the crowd.
We voted the thing rather tame. In the whole hour and a-half there was
not so much savage fighting, not so much damage done, as a couple of
earnest, but unscientific men, who have no time to waste, will frequently
crowd into an impromptu affair not exceeding five minutes in duration.
Our next visit to the N'Yaarkers was on a different errand. The moment
they arrived in camp we began to be annoyed by their depredations.
Blankets--the sole protection of men--would be snatched off as they slept
at night. Articles of clothing and cooking utensils would go the same
way, and occasionally a man would be robbed in open daylight. All these,
it was believed, with good reason, were the work of the N'Yaarkers, and
the stolen things were conveyed to their camp. Occasionally depredators
would be caught and beaten, but they would give a signal which would
bring to their assistance the whole body of N'Yaarkers, and turn the
tables on their assailants.
We had in our squad a little watchmaker named Dan Martin, of the Eighth
New York Infantry. Other boys let him take their watches to tinker up,
so as to make a show of running, and be available for trading to the
One day Martin was at the creek, when a N'Yaarker asked him to let him
look at a watch. Martin incautiously did so, when the N'Yaarker snatched
it and sped away to the camp of his crowd. Martin ran back to us and
told his story. This was the last feather which was to break the camel's
back of our patience. Peter Bates, of the Third Michigan, the Sergeant
of our squad, had considerable confidence in his muscular ability.
He flamed up into mighty wrath, and swore a sulphurous oath that we would
get that watch back, whereupon about two hundred of us avowed our
willingness to help reclaim it.
Each of us providing ourselves with a club, we started on our errand.
The rest of the camp--about four thousand--gathered on the hillside to
watch us. We thought they might have sent us some assistance, as it was
about as much their fight as ours, but they did not, and we were too
proud to ask it. The crossing of the swamp was quite difficult. Only
one could go over at a time, and he very slowly. The N'Yaarkers
understood that trouble was pending, and they began mustering to receive
us. From the way they turned out it was evident that we should have come
over with three hundred instead of two hundred, but it was too late then
to alter the program. As we came up a stalwart Irishman stepped out and
asked us what we wanted.
Bates replied: "We have come over to get a watch that one of your fellows
took from one of ours, and by --- we're going to have it."
The Irishman's reply was equally explicit though not strictly logical in
construction. Said he: "We havn't got your watch, and be ye can't have
This joined the issue just as fairly as if it had been done by all the
documentary formula that passed between Turkey and Russia prior to the
late war. Bates and the Irishman then exchanged very derogatory opinions
of each other, and began striking with their clubs. The rest of us took
this as our cue, and each, selecting as small a N'Yaarker as we could
readily find, sailed in.
There is a very expressive bit of slang coming into general use in the
West, which speaks of a man "biting off more than he can chew."
That is what we had done. We had taken a contract that we should have
divided, and sub-let the bigger half. Two minutes after the engagement
became general there was no doubt that we would have been much better off
if we had staid on our own side of the creek. The watch was a very poor
one, anyhow. We thought we would just say good day to our N'Yaark
friends, and return home hastily. But they declined to be left so
precipitately. They wanted to stay with us awhile. It was lots of fun
for them, and for the, four thousand yelling spectators on the opposite
hill, who were greatly enjoying our discomfiture. There was hardly
enough of the amusement to go clear around, however, and it all fell
short just before it reached us. We earnestly wished that some of the
boys would come over and help us let go of the N'Yaarkers, but they were
enjoying the thing too much to interfere.
We were driven down the hill, pell-mell, with the N'Yaarkers pursuing
hotly with yell and blow. At the swamp we tried to make a stand to
secure our passage across, but it was only partially successful. Very
few got back without some severe hurts, and many received blows that
greatly hastened their deaths.
After this the N'Yaarkers became bolder in their robberies, and more
arrogant in their demeanor than ever, and we had the poor revenge upon
those who would not assist us, of seeing a reign of terror inaugurated
over the whole camp.
DIMINISHING RATIONS--A DEADLY COLD RAIN--HOVERING OVER PITCH PINE FIRES
--INCREASE ON MORTALITY--A THEORY OF HEALTH.
The rations diminished perceptibly day by day. When we first entered we
each received something over a quart of tolerably good meal, a sweet
potato, a piece of meat about the size of one's two fingers, and
occasionally a spoonful of salt. First the salt disappeared. Then the
sweet potato took unto itself wings and flew away, never to return.
An attempt was ostensibly made to issue us cow-peas instead, and the
first issue was only a quart to a detachment of two hundred and seventy
men. This has two-thirds of a pint to each squad of ninety, and made but
a few spoonfuls for each of the four messes in the squad. When it came