Part 1 out of 3
Produced by David Widger
A STORY OF REBEL MILITARY PRISONS
FIFTEEN MONTHS A GUEST OF THE SO-CALLED
A PRIVATE SOLDIERS EXPERIENCE
RICHMOND, ANDERSONVILLE, SAVANNAH, MILLEN
BLACKSHEAR AND FLORENCE
BY JOHN McELROY
Late of Co. L. 16th Ill Cav.
DIFFICULTY OF EXERCISING--EMBARRASSMENTS OF A MORNING WALK--THE RIALTO
OF THE PRISON--CURSING THE SOUTHERN CONFEDERACY--THE STORY OF THE BATTLE
OF SPOTTSYLVANIA COURTHOUSE.
Certainly, in no other great community, that ever existed upon the face
of the globe was there so little daily ebb and flow as in this. Dull as
an ordinary Town or City may be; however monotonous, eventless, even
stupid the lives of its citizens, there is yet, nevertheless, a flow
every day of its life-blood--its population towards its heart, and an ebb
of the same, every evening towards its extremities. These recurring
tides mingle all classes together and promote the general healthfulness,
as the constant motion hither and yon of the ocean's waters purify and
The lack of these helped vastly to make the living mass inside the
Stockade a human Dead Sea--or rather a Dying Sea--a putrefying, stinking
lake, resolving itself into phosphorescent corruption, like those rotting
southern seas, whose seething filth burns in hideous reds, and ghastly
greens and yellows.
Being little call for motion of any kind, and no room to exercise
whatever wish there might be in that direction, very many succumbed
unresistingly to the apathy which was so strongly favored by despondency
and the weakness induced by continual hunger, and lying supinely on the
hot sand, day in and day out, speedily brought themselves into such a
condition as invited the attacks of disease.
It required both determination and effort to take a little walking
exercise. The ground was so densely crowded with holes and other devices
for shelter that it took one at least ten minutes to pick his way through
the narrow and tortuous labyrinth which served as paths for communication
between different parts of the Camp. Still further, there was nothing to
see anywhere or to form sufficient inducement for any one to make so
laborious a journey. One simply encountered at every new step the same
unwelcome sights that he had just left; there was a monotony in the
misery as in everything else, and consequently the temptation to sit or
lie still in one's own quarters became very great.
I used to make it a point to go to some of the remoter parts of the
Stockade once every day, simply for exercise. One can gain some idea of
the crowd, and the difficulty of making one's way through it, when I say
that no point in the prison could be more than fifteen hundred feet from
where I staid, and, had the way been clear, I could have walked thither
and back in at most a half an hour, yet it usually took me from two to
three hours to make one of these journeys.
This daily trip, a few visits to the Creek to wash all over, a few games
of chess, attendance upon roll call, drawing rations, cooking and eating
the same, "lousing" my fragments of clothes, and doing some little duties
for my sick and helpless comrades, constituted the daily routine for
myself, as for most of the active youths in the prison.
The Creek was the great meeting point for all inside the Stockade.
All able to walk were certain to be there at least once during the day,
and we made it a rendezvous, a place to exchange gossip, discuss the
latest news, canvass the prospects of exchange, and, most of all,
to curse the Rebels. Indeed no conversation ever progressed very far
without both speaker and listener taking frequent rests to say bitter
things as to the Rebels generally, and Wirz, Winder and Davis in
A conversation between two boys--strangers to each other who came to the
Creek to wash themselves or their clothes, or for some other purpose,
would progress thus:
First Boy--"I belong to the Second Corps,--Hancock's, [the Army of the
Potomac boys always mentioned what Corps they belonged to, where the
Western boys stated their Regiment.] They got me at Spottsylvania, when
they were butting their heads against our breast-works, trying to get
even with us for gobbling up Johnson in the morning,"--He stops suddenly
and changes tone to say: "I hope to God, that when our folks get
Richmond, they will put old Ben Butler in command of it, with orders to
limb, skin and jayhawk it worse than he did New Orleans."
Second Boy, (fervently :) "I wish to God he would, and that he'd catch
old Jeff., and that grayheaded devil, Winder, and the old Dutch Captain,
strip 'em just as we were, put 'em in this pen, with just the rations
they are givin' us, and set a guard of plantation niggers over 'em, with
orders to blow their whole infernal heads off, if they dared so much as
to look at the dead line."
First Boy--(returning to the story of his capture.) "Old Hancock caught
the Johnnies that morning the neatest you ever saw anything in your life.
After the two armies had murdered each other for four or five days in the
Wilderness, by fighting so close together that much of the time you could
almost shake hands with the Graybacks, both hauled off a little, and lay
and glowered at each other. Each side had lost about twenty thousand men
in learning that if it attacked the other it would get mashed fine.
So each built a line of works and lay behind them, and tried to nag the
other into coming out and attacking. At Spottsylvania our lines and
those of the Johnnies weren't twelve hundred yards apart. The ground was
clear and clean between them, and any force that attempted to cross it to
attack would be cut to pieces, as sure as anything. We laid there three
or four days watching each other--just like boys at school, who shake
fists and dare each other. At one place the Rebel line ran out towards
us like the top of a great letter 'A.' The night of the 11th of May it
rained very hard, and then came a fog so thick that you couldn't see the
length of a company. Hancock thought he'd take advantage of this.
We were all turned out very quietly about four o'clock in the morning.
Not a bit of noise was allowed. We even had to take off our canteens and
tin cups, that they might not rattle against our bayonets. The ground
was so wet that our footsteps couldn't be heard. It was one of those
deathly, still movements, when you think your heart is making as much
noise as a bass drum.
"The Johnnies didn't seem to have the faintest suspicion of what was
coming, though they ought, because we would have expected such an attack
from them if we hadn't made it ourselves. Their pickets were out just a
little ways from their works, and we were almost on to them before they
discovered us. They fired and ran back. At this we raised a yell and
dashed forward at a charge. As we poured over the works, the Rebels came
double-quicking up to defend them. We flanked Johnson's Division
quicker'n you could say 'Jack Robinson,' and had four thousand of 'em in
our grip just as nice as you please. We sent them to the rear under
guard, and started for the next line of Rebel works about a half a mile
away. But we had now waked up the whole of Lee's army, and they all came
straight for us, like packs of mad wolves. Ewell struck us in the
center; Longstreet let drive at our left flank, and Hill tackled our
right. We fell back to the works we had taken, Warren and Wright came up
to help us, and we had it hot and heavy for the rest of the day and part
of the night. The Johnnies seemed so mad over what we'd done that they
were half crazy. They charged us five times, coming up every time just
as if they were going to lift us right out of the works with the bayonet.
About midnight, after they'd lost over ten thousand men, they seemed to
understand that we had pre-empted that piece of real estate, and didn't
propose to allow anybody to jump our claim, so they fell back sullen like
to their main works. When they came on the last charge, our Brigadier
walked behind each of our regiments and said:
"Boys, we'll send 'em back this time for keeps. Give it to 'em by the
acre, and when they begin to waver, we'll all jump over the works and go
for them with the bayonet.'
"We did it just that way. We poured such a fire on them that the bullets
knocked up the ground in front just like you have seen the deep dust in a
road in the middle of Summer fly up when the first great big drops of a
rain storm strike it. But they came on, yelling and swearing, officers
in front waving swords, and shouting--all that business, you know. When
they got to about one hundred yards from us, they did not seem to be
coming so fast, and there was a good deal of confusion among them. The
brigade bugle sounded
"We all ceased instantly. The rebels looked up in astonishment. Our
General sang out:
"Fix bayonets!' but we knew what was coming, and were already executing
the order. You can imagine the crash that ran down the line, as every
fellow snatched his bayonet out and slapped it on the muzzle of his gun.
Then the General's voice rang out like a bugle:
"We cheered till everything seemed to split, and jumped over the works,
almost every man at the same minute. The Johnnies seemed to have been
puzzled at the stoppage of our fire. When we all came sailing over the
works, with guns brought right, down where they meant business, they were
so astonished for a minute that they stood stock still, not knowing
whether to come for us, or run. We did not allow them long to debate,
but went right towards them on the double quick, with the bayonets
looking awful savage and hungry. It was too much for Mr. Johnny Reb's
nerves. They all seemed to about face' at once, and they lit out of
there as if they had been sent for in a hurry. We chased after 'em as
fast as we could, and picked up just lots of 'em. Finally it began to be
real funny. A Johnny's wind would begin to give out he'd fall behind his
comrades; he'd hear us yell and think that we were right behind him,
ready to sink a bayonet through him'; he'd turn around, throw up his
hands, and sing out:
"I surrender, mister! I surrender!' and find that we were a hundred feet
off, and would have to have a bayonet as long as one of McClellan's
general orders to touch him.
"Well, my company was the left of our regiment, and our regiment was the
left of the brigade, and we swung out ahead of all the rest of the boys.
In our excitement of chasing the Johnnies, we didn't see that we had
passed an angle of their works. About thirty of us had become separated
from the company and were chasing a squad of about seventy-five or one
hundred. We had got up so close to them that we hollered:
"'Halt there, now, or we'll blow your heads off.'
"They turned round with, 'halt yourselves; you ---- Yankee ---- ----'
"We looked around at this, and saw that we were not one hundred feet away
from the angle of the works, which were filled with Rebels waiting for
our fellows to get to where they could have a good flank fire upon them.
There was nothing to do but to throw down our guns and surrender, and we
had hardly gone inside of the works, until the Johnnies opened on our
brigade and drove it back. This ended the battle at Spottsylvania Court
Second Boy (irrelevantly.) "Some day the underpinning will fly out from
under the South, and let it sink right into the middle kittle o' hell."
First Boy (savagely.) "I only wish the whole Southern Confederacy was
hanging over hell by a single string, and I had a knife."
REBEL MUSIC--SINGULAR LACK OF THE CREATIVE POWER AMONG THE SOUTHERNERS
--CONTRAST WITH SIMILAR PEOPLE ELSEWHERE--THEIR FAVORITE MUSIC, AND WHERE
IT WAS BORROWED FROM--A FIFER WITH ONE TUNE.
I have before mentioned as among the things that grew upon one with
increasing acquaintance with the Rebels on their native heath, was
astonishment at their lack of mechanical skill and at their inability to
grapple with numbers and the simpler processes of arithmetic. Another
characteristic of the same nature was their wonderful lack of musical
ability, or of any kind of tuneful creativeness.
Elsewhere, all over the world, people living under similar conditions to
the Southerners are exceedingly musical, and we owe the great majority of
the sweetest compositions which delight the ear and subdue the senses to
unlettered song-makers of the Swiss mountains, the Tyrolese valleys, the
Bavarian Highlands, and the minstrels of Scotland, Ireland and Wales.
The music of English-speaking people is very largely made up of these
contributions from the folk-songs of dwellers in the wilder and more
mountainous parts of the British Isles. One rarely goes far out of the
way in attributing to this source any air that he may hear that
captivates him with its seductive opulence of harmony. Exquisite
melodies, limpid and unstrained as the carol of a bird in Spring-time,
and as plaintive as the cooing of a turtle-dove seems as natural products
of the Scottish Highlands as the gorse which blazons on their hillsides
in August. Debarred from expressing their aspirations as people of
broader culture do--in painting, in sculpture, in poetry and prose, these
mountaineers make song the flexible and ready instrument for the
communication of every emotion that sweeps across their souls.
Love, hatred, grief, revenge, anger, and especially war seems to tune
their minds to harmony, and awake the voice of song in them hearts. The
battles which the Scotch and Irish fought to replace the luckless Stuarts
upon the British throne--the bloody rebellions of 1715 and 1745, left a
rich legacy of sweet song, the outpouring of loving, passionate loyalty
to a wretched cause; songs which are today esteemed and sung wherever the
English language is spoken, by people who have long since forgotten what
burning feelings gave birth to their favorite melodies.
For a century the bones of both the Pretenders have moldered in alien
soil; the names of James Edward, and Charles Edward, which were once
trumpet blasts to rouse armed men, mean as little to the multitude of
today as those of the Saxon Ethelbert, and Danish Hardicanute, yet the
world goes on singing--and will probably as long as the English language
is spoken--"Wha'll be King but Charlie?" "When Jamie Come Hame," "Over
the Water to Charlie," "Charlie is my Darling," "The Bonny Blue Bonnets
are Over the Border," "Saddle Your Steeds and Awa," and a myriad others
whose infinite tenderness and melody no modern composer can equal.
Yet these same Scotch and Irish, the same Jacobite English, transplanted
on account of their chronic rebelliousness to the mountains of Virginia,
the Carolinas, and Georgia, seem to have lost their tunefulness, as some
fine singing birds do when carried from their native shores.
The descendants of those who drew swords for James and Charles at Preston
Pans and Culloden dwell to-day in the dales and valleys of the
Alleganies, as their fathers did in the dales and valleys of the
Grampians, but their voices are mute.
As a rule the Southerners are fond of music. They are fond of singing
and listening to old-fashioned ballads, most of which have never been
printed, but handed down from one generation to the other, like the
'Volklieder' of Germany. They sing these with the wild, fervid
impressiveness characteristic of the ballad singing of unlettered people.
Very many play tolerably on the violin and banjo, and occasionally one is
found whose instrumentation may be called good. But above this hight
they never soar. The only musician produced by the South of whom the
rest of the country has ever heard, is Blind Tom, the negro idiot. No
composer, no song writer of any kind has appeared within the borders of
It was a disappointment to me that even the stress of the war, the
passion and fierceness with which the Rebels felt and fought, could not
stimulate any adherent of the Stars and Bars into the production of a
single lyric worthy in the remotest degree of the magnitude of the
struggle, and the depth of the popular feeling. Where two million
Scotch, fighting to restore the fallen fortunes of the worse than
worthless Stuarts, filled the world with immortal music, eleven million
of Southerners, fighting for what they claimed to be individual freedom
and national life, did not produce any original verse, or a bar of music
that the world could recognize as such. This is the fact; and an
undeniable one. Its explanation I must leave to abler analysts
than I am.
Searching for peculiar causes we find but two that make the South differ
from the ancestral home of these people. These two were Climate and
Slavery. Climatic effects will not account for the phenomenon, because
we see that the peasantry of the mountains of Spain and the South of
France as ignorant as these people, and dwellers in a still more
enervating atmosphere-are very fertile in musical composition, and their
songs are to the Romanic languages what the Scotch and Irish ballads are
to the English.
Then it must be ascribed to the incubus of Slavery upon the intellect,
which has repressed this as it has all other healthy growths in the
South. Slavery seems to benumb all the faculties except the passions.
The fact that the mountaineers had but few or no slaves, does not seem to
be of importance in the case. They lived under the deadly shadow of the
upas tree, and suffered the consequences of its stunting their
development in all directions, as the ague-smitten inhabitant of the
Roman Campana finds every sense and every muscle clogged by the filtering
in of the insidious miasma. They did not compose songs and music,
because they did not have the intellectual energy for that work.
The negros displayed all the musical creativeness of that section.
Their wonderful prolificness in wild, rude songs, with strangely
melodious airs that burned themselves into the memory, was one of the
salient characteristics of that down-trodden race. Like the Russian
serfs, and the bondmen of all ages and lands, the songs they made and
sang all had an undertone of touching plaintiveness, born of ages of dumb
suffering. The themes were exceedingly simple, and the range of subjects
limited. The joys, and sorrows, hopes and despairs of love's
gratification or disappointment, of struggles for freedom, contests with
malign persons and influences, of rage, hatred, jealousy, revenge, such
as form the motifs for the majority of the poetry of free and strong
races, were wholly absent from their lyrics. Religion, hunger and toil
were their main inspiration. They sang of the pleasures of idling in the
genial sunshine; the delights of abundance of food; the eternal happiness
that awaited them in the heavenly future, where the slave-driver ceased
from troubling and the weary were at rest; where Time rolled around in
endless cycles of days spent in basking, harp in hand, and silken clad,
in golden streets, under the soft effulgence of cloudless skies, glowing
with warmth and kindness emanating from the Creator himself. Had their
masters condescended to borrow the music of the slaves, they would have
found none whose sentiments were suitable for the ode of a people
undergoing the pangs of what was hoped to be the birth of a new nation.
The three songs most popular at the South, and generally regarded as
distinctively Southern, were "The Bonnie Blue Flag," "Maryland, My
Maryland," and "Stonewall Jackson Crossing into Maryland." The first of
these was the greatest favorite by long odds. Women sang, men whistled,
and the so-called musicians played it wherever we went. While in the
field before capture, it was the commonest of experiences to have Rebel
women sing it at us tauntingly from the house that we passed or near
which we stopped. If ever near enough a Rebel camp, we were sure to hear
its wailing crescendo rising upon the air from the lips or instruments of
some one more quartered there. At Richmond it rang upon us constantly
from some source or another, and the same was true wherever else we went
in the so-called Confederacy.
All familiar with Scotch songs will readily recognize the name and air as
an old friend, and one of the fierce Jacobite melodies that for a long
time disturbed the tranquility of the Brunswick family on the English
throne. The new words supplied by the Rebels are the merest doggerel,
and fit the music as poorly as the unchanged name of the song fitted to
its new use. The flag of the Rebellion was not a bonnie blue one; but
had quite as much red and white as azure. It did not have a single star,
Near in popularity was "Maryland, My Maryland." The versification of
this was of a much higher Order, being fairly respectable. The air is
old, and a familiar one to all college students, and belongs to one of
the most common of German household songs:
O, Tannenbaum! O, Tannenbaum, wie tru sind deine Blatter!
Da gruenst nicht nur zur Sommerseit,
Nein, auch in Winter, when es Schneit, etc.
which Longfellow has finely translated,
O, hemlock tree! O, hemlock tree! how faithful are thy branches!
Green not alone in Summer time,
But in the Winter's float and rime.
O, hemlock tree O, hemlock tree! how faithful are thy branches. etc.
The Rebel version ran:
The despot's heel is on thy shore,
His touch is at thy temple door,
Avenge the patriotic gore
That flecked the streets of Baltimore,
And be the battle queen of yore,
Maryland! My Maryland!
Hark to the wand'ring son's appeal,
My mother State, to thee I kneel,
For life and death, for woe and weal,
Thy peerless chivalry reveal,
And gird thy beauteous limbs with steel,
Maryland! My Maryland!
Thou wilt not cower in the duet,
Thy beaming sword shall never rust
Remember Carroll's sacred trust,
Remember Howard's warlike thrust--
And all thy slumberers with the just,
Maryland! My Maryland!
Come! 'tis the red dawn of the day,
Come! with thy panoplied array,
With Ringgold's spirit for the fray,
With Watson's blood at Monterey,
With fearless Lowe and dashing May,
Maryland! My Maryland!
Comet for thy shield is bright and strong,
Come! for thy dalliance does thee wrong,
Come! to thins own heroic throng,
That stalks with Liberty along,
And give a new Key to thy song,
Maryland! My Maryland!
Dear Mother! burst the tyrant's chain,
Virginia should not call in vain,
She meets her sisters on the plain--
'Sic semper' 'tis the proud refrain,
That baffles millions back amain,
Arise, in majesty again,
Maryland! My Maryland!
I see the blush upon thy cheek,
But thou wast ever bravely meek,
But lo! there surges forth a shriek
From hill to hill, from creek to creek--
Potomac calls to Chesapeake,
Maryland! My Maryland!
Thou wilt not yield the vandal toll.
Thou wilt not crook to his control,
Better the fire upon thee roll,
Better the blade, the shot, the bowl,
Than crucifixion of the soul,
Maryland! My Maryland!
I hear the distant Thunder hem,
The Old Line's bugle, fife, and drum.
She is not dead, nor deaf, nor dumb--
Hnzza! she spurns the Northern scum!
She breathes--she burns! she'll come! she'll come!
Maryland! My Maryland!
"Stonewall Jackson Crossing into Maryland," was another travesty, of
about the same literary merit, or rather demerit, as "The Bonnie Blue
Flag." Its air was that of the well-known and popular negro minstrel
song," Billy Patterson." For all that, it sounded very martial and
stirring when played by a brass band.
We heard these songs with tiresome iteration, daily and nightly, during
our stay in the Southern Confederacy. Some one of the guards seemed to
be perpetually beguiling the weariness of his watch by singing in all
keys, in every sort of a voice, and with the wildest latitude as to air
and time. They became so terribly irritating to us, that to this day the
remembrance of those soul-lacerating lyrics abides with me as one of the
chief of the minor torments of our situation. They were, in fact, nearly
as bad as the lice.
We revenged ourselves as best we could by constructing fearfully wicked,
obscene and insulting parodies on these, and by singing them with
irritating effusiveness in the hearing of the guards who were inflicting
these nuisances upon us.
Of the same nature was the garrison music. One fife, played by an
asthmatic old fellow whose breathings were nearly as audible as his
notes, and one rheumatic drummer, constituted the entire band for the
post. The fifer actually knew but one tune "The Bonnie Blue Flag"
--and did not know that well. But it was all that he had, and he played it
with wearisome monotony for every camp call--five or six times a day,
and seven days in the week. He called us up in the morning with it for a
reveille; he sounded the "roll call" and "drill call," breakfast, dinner
and supper with it, and finally sent us to bed, with the same dreary wail
that had rung in our ears all day. I never hated any piece of music as I
came to hate that threnody of treason. It would have been such a relief
if the, old asthmatic who played it could have been induced to learn
another tune to play on Sundays, and give us one day of rest. He did
not, but desecrated the Lord's Day by playing as vilely as on the rest of
the week. The Rebels were fully conscious of their musical deficiencies,
and made repeated but unsuccessful attempts to induce the musicians among
the prisoners to come outside and form a band.
AUGUST--NEEDLES STUCK IN PUMPKIN SEEDS--SOME PHENOMENA OF STARVATION
--RIOTING IN REMEMBERED LUXURIES.
"Illinoy," said tall, gaunt Jack North, of the One Hundred and Fourteenth
Illinois, to me, one day, as we sat contemplating our naked, and sadly
attenuated underpinning; "what do our legs and feet most look most like?"
"Give it up, Jack," said I.
"Why--darning needles stuck in pumpkin seeds, of course." I never heard
a better comparison for our wasted limbs.
The effects of the great bodily emaciation were sometimes very startling.
Boys of a fleshy habit would change so in a few weeks as to lose all
resemblance to their former selves, and comrades who came into prison
later would utterly fail to recognize them. Most fat men, as most large
men, died in a little while after entering, though there were exceptions.
One of these was a boy of my own company, named George Hillicks. George
had shot up within a few years to over six feet in hight, and then, as
such boys occasionally do, had, after enlisting with us, taken on such a
development of flesh that we nicknamed him the "Giant," and he became a
pretty good load for even the strongest horse. George held his flesh
through Belle Isle, and the earlier weeks in Andersonville, but June,
July, and August "fetched him," as the boys said. He seemed to melt away
like an icicle on a Spring day, and he grew so thin that his hight seemed
preternatural. We called him "Flagstaff," and cracked all sorts of jokes
about putting an insulator on his head, and setting him up for a
telegraph pole, braiding his legs and using him for a whip lash, letting
his hair grow a little longer, and trading him off to the Rebels for a
sponge and staff for the artillery, etc. We all expected him to die,
and looked continually for the development of the fatal scurvy symptoms,
which were to seal his doom. But he worried through, and came out at
last in good shape, a happy result due as much as to anything else to his
having in Chester Hayward, of Prairie City, Ill.,--one of the most
devoted chums I ever knew. Chester nursed and looked out for George with
wife-like fidelity, and had his reward in bringing him safe through our
lines. There were thousands of instances of this generous devotion to
each other by chums in Andersonville, and I know of nothing that reflects
any more credit upon our boy soldiers.
There was little chance for any one to accumulate flesh on the rations we
were receiving. I say it in all soberness that I do not believe that a
healthy hen could have grown fat upon them. I am sure that any
good-sized "shanghai" eats more every day than the meager half loaf that we
had to maintain life upon. Scanty as this was, and hungry as all were,
very many could not eat it. Their stomachs revolted against the trash;
it became so nauseous to them that they could not force it down, even
when famishing, and they died of starvation with the chunks of the
so-called bread under their head. I found myself rapidly approaching this
condition. I had been blessed with a good digestion and a talent for
sleeping under the most discouraging circumstances. These, I have no
doubt, were of the greatest assistance to me in my struggle for
existence. But now the rations became fearfully obnoxious to me, and it
was only with the greatest effort--pulling the bread into little pieces
and swallowing each, of these as one would a pill--that I succeeded in
worrying the stuff down. I had not as yet fallen away very much, but as
I had never, up, to that time, weighed so much as one hundred and
twenty-five pounds, there was no great amount of adipose to lose. It was
evident that unless some change occurred my time was near at hand.
There was not only hunger for more food, but longing with an intensity
beyond expression for alteration of some kind in the rations.
The changeless monotony of the miserable saltless bread, or worse mush,
for days, weeks and months, became unbearable. If those wretched mule
teams had only once a month hauled in something different--if they had
come in loaded with sweet potatos, green corn or wheat flour, there would
be thousands of men still living who now slumber beneath those melancholy
pines. It would have given something to look forward to, and remember
when past. But to know each day that the gates would open to admit the
same distasteful apologies for food took away the appetite and raised
one's gorge, even while famishing for something to eat.
We could for a while forget the stench, the lice, the heat, the maggots,
the dead and dying around us, the insulting malignance of our jailors;
but it was, very hard work to banish thoughts and longings for food from
our minds. Hundreds became actually insane from brooding over it. Crazy
men could be found in all parts of the camp. Numbers of them wandered
around entirely naked. Their babblings and maunderings about something
to eat were painful to hear. I have before mentioned the case of the
Plymouth Pilgrim near me, whose insanity took the form of imagining that
he was sitting at the table with his family, and who would go through the
show of helping them to imaginary viands and delicacies. The cravings
for green food of those afflicted with the scurvy were, agonizing. Large
numbers of watermelons were brought to the prison, and sold to those who
had the money to pay for them at from one to five dollars, greenbacks,
apiece. A boy who had means to buy a piece of these would be followed
about while eating it by a crowd of perhaps twenty-five or thirty
livid-gummed scorbutics, each imploring him for the rind when he was
through with it.
We thought of food all day, and were visited with torturing dreams of it
at night. One of the pleasant recollections of my pre-military life was
a banquet at the "Planter's House," St. Louis, at which I was a boyish
guest. It was, doubtless, an ordinary affair, as banquets go, but to me
then, with all the keen appreciation of youth and first experience, it
was a feast worthy of Lucullus. But now this delightful reminiscence
became a torment. Hundreds of times I dreamed I was again at the
"Planter's." I saw the wide corridors, with their mosaic pavement;
I entered the grand dining-room, keeping timidly near the friend to whose
kindness I owed this wonderful favor; I saw again the mirror-lined walls,
the evergreen decked ceilings, the festoons and mottos, the tables
gleaming with cutglass and silver, the buffets with wines and fruits,
the brigade of sleek, black, white-aproned waiters, headed by one who had
presence enough for a major General. Again I reveled in all the dainties
and dishes on the bill-of-fare; calling for everything that I dared to,
just to see what each was like, and to be able to say afterwards that I
had partaken of it; all these bewildering delights of the first
realization of what a boy has read and wondered much over, and longed
for, would dance their rout and reel through my somnolent brain. Then I
would awake to find myself a half-naked, half-starved, vermin-eaten
wretch, crouching in a hole in the ground, waiting for my keepers to
fling me a chunk of corn bread.
Naturally the boys--and especially the country boys and new prisoners
--talked much of victuals--what they had had, and what they would have
again, when they got out. Take this as a sample of the conversation
which might be heard in any group of boys, sitting together on the sand,
killin lice and talking of exchange:
Tom--"Well, Bill, when we get back to God's country, you and Jim and John
must all come to my house and take dinner with me. I want to give you a
square meal. I want to show you just what good livin' is. You know my
mother is just the best cook in all that section. When she lays herself
out to get up a meal all the other women in the neighborhood just stand
back and admire!"
Bill--"O, that's all right; but I'll bet she can't hold a candle to my
mother, when it comes to good cooking."
Jim--"No, nor to mine."
John--(with patronizing contempt.) "O, shucks! None of you fellers were
ever at our house, even when we had one of our common weekday dinners."
Tom--(unheedful of the counter claims.) I hev teen studyin' up the dinner
I'd like, and the bill-of-fare I'd set out for you fellers when you come
over to see me. First, of course, we'll lay the foundation like with a
nice, juicy loin roast, and some mashed potatos.
Bill--(interrupting.) "Now, do you like mashed potatos with beef? The
way may mother does is to pare the potatos, and lay them in the pan along
with the beef. Then, you know, they come out just as nice and crisp, and
brown; they have soaked up all the beef gravy, and they crinkle between
Jim--"Now, I tell you, mashed Neshannocks with butter on 'em is plenty
good enough for me."
John--"If you'd et some of the new kind of peachblows that we raised in
the old pasture lot the year before I enlisted, you'd never say another
word about your Neshannocks."
Tom--(taking breath and starting in fresh.) "Then we'll hev some fried
Spring chickens, of our dominick breed. Them dominicks of ours have the
nicest, tenderest meat, better'n quail, a darned sight, and the way my
mother can fry Spring chickens----"
Bill--(aside to Jim.) "Every durned woman in the country thinks she can
'spry ching frickens;' but my mother---"
John--"You fellers all know that there's nobody knows half as much about
chicken doin's as these 'tinerant Methodis' preachers. They give 'em
chicken wherever they go, and folks do say that out in the new
settlements they can't get no preachin', no gospel, nor nothin', until
the chickens become so plenty that a preacher is reasonably sure of
havin' one for his dinner wherever he may go. Now, there's old Peter
Cartwright, who has traveled over Illinoy and Indianny since the Year
One, and preached more good sermons than any other man who ever set on
saddle-bags, and has et more chickens than there are birds in a big
pigeon roost. Well, he took dinner at our house when he came up to
dedicate the big, white church at Simpkin's Corners, and when he passed
up his plate the third time for more chicken, he sez, sez he:--I've et
at a great many hundred tables in the fifty years I have labored in the
vineyard of the Redeemer, but I must say, Mrs. Kiggins, that your way of
frying chickens is a leetle the nicest that I ever knew. I only wish
that the sisters generally would get your reseet.' Yes, that's what he
said,--'a leetle the nicest.'"
Tom--"An' then, we'll hev biscuits an' butter. I'll just bet five
hundred dollars to a cent, and give back the cent if I win, that we have
the best butter at our house that there is in Central Illinoy. You can't
never hev good butter onless you have a spring house; there's no use of
talkin'--all the patent churns that lazy men ever invented--all the fancy
milk pans an' coolers, can't make up for a spring house. Locations for a
spring house are scarcer than hen's teeth in Illinoy, but we hev one, and
there ain't a better one in Orange County, New York. Then you'll see
dome of the biscuits my mother makes."
Bill--"Well, now, my mother's a boss biscuit-maker, too."
Jim--"You kin just gamble that mine is."
John--"O, that's the way you fellers ought to think an' talk, but my
Tom--(coming in again with fresh vigor) "They're jest as light an' fluffy
as a dandelion puff, and they melt in your month like a ripe Bartlett
pear. You just pull 'em open--Now you know that I think there's nothin'
that shows a person's raisin' so well as to see him eat biscuits an'
butter. If he's been raised mostly on corn bread, an' common doins,'
an' don't know much about good things to eat, he'll most likely cut his
biscuit open with a case knife, an' make it fall as flat as one o'
yesterday's pancakes. But if he is used to biscuits, has had 'em often
at his house, he'll--just pull 'em open, slow an' easy like, then he'll
lay a little slice of butter inside, and drop a few drops of clear honey
on this, an' stick the two halves back, together again, an--"
"Oh, for God Almighty's sake, stop talking that infernal nonsense," roar
out a half dozen of the surrounding crowd, whose mouths have been
watering over this unctuous recital of the good things of the table.
"You blamed fools, do you want to drive yourselves and everybody else
crazy with such stuff as that. Dry up and try to think of something
SURLY BRITON--THE STOLID COURAGE THAT MAKES THE ENGLISH FLAG A BANNER OF
TRIUMPH--OUR COMPANY BUGLER, HIS CHARACTERISTICS AND HIS DEATH--URGENT
DEMAND FOR MECHANICS--NONE WANT TO GO--TREATMENT OF A REBEL SHOEMAKER
--ENLARGEMENT OF THE STOCKADE--IT IS BROKEN BY A STORM
--THE WONDERFUL SPRING.
Early in August, F. Marriott, our Company Bugler, died. Previous to
coming to America he had been for many years an English soldier, and I
accepted him as a type of that stolid, doggedly brave class, which forms
the bulk of the English armies, and has for centuries carried the British
flag with dauntless courage into every land under the sun. Rough, surly
and unsocial, he did his duty with the unemotional steadiness of a
machine. He knew nothing but to obey orders, and obeyed them under all
circumstances promptly, but with stony impassiveness. With the command
to move forward into action, he moved forward without a word, and with
face as blank as a side of sole leather. He went as far as ordered,
halted at the word, and retired at command as phlegmatically as he
advanced. If he cared a straw whether he advanced or retreated, if it
mattered to the extent of a pinch of salt whether we whipped the Rebels
or they defeated us, he kept that feeling so deeply hidden in the
recesses of his sturdy bosom that no one ever suspected it. In the
excitement of action the rest of the boys shouted, and swore, and
expressed their tense feelings in various ways, but Marriott might as
well have been a graven image, for all the expression that he suffered to
escape. Doubtless, if the Captain had ordered him to shoot one of the
company through the heart, he would have executed the command according
to the manual of arms, brought his carbine to a "recover," and at the
word marched back to his quarters without an inquiry as to the cause of
the proceedings. He made no friends, and though his surliness repelled
us, he made few enemies. Indeed, he was rather a favorite, since he was
a genuine character; his gruffness had no taint of selfish greed in it;
he minded his own business strictly, and wanted others to do the same.
When he first came into the company, it is true, he gained the enmity of
nearly everybody in it, but an incident occurred which turned the tide in
his favor. Some annoying little depredations had been practiced on the
boys, and it needed but a word of suspicion to inflame all their minds
against the surly Englishman as the unknown perpetrator. The feeling
intensified, until about half of the company were in a mood to kill the
Bugler outright. As we were returning from stable duty one evening,
some little occurrence fanned the smoldering anger into a fierce blaze;
a couple of the smaller boys began an attack upon him; others hastened to
their assistance, and soon half the company were engaged in the assault.
He succeeded in disengaging himself from his assailants, and, squaring
himself off, said, defiantly:
"Dom yer cowardly heyes; jest come hat me one hat a time, hand hI'll
wollop the 'ole gang uv ye's."
One of our Sergeants styled himself proudly "a Chicago rough," and was as
vain of his pugilistic abilities as a small boy is of a father who plays
in the band. We all hated him cordially--even more than we did Marriott.
He thought this was a good time to show off, and forcing his way through
the crowd, he said, vauntingly:
"Just fall back and form a ring, boys, and see me polish off the---fool."
The ring was formed, with the Bugler and the Sergeant in the center.
Though the latter was the younger and stronger the first round showed him
that it would have profited him much more to have let Marriott's
challenge pass unheeded. As a rule, it is as well to ignore all
invitations of this kind from Englishmen, and especially from those who,
like Marriott, have served a term in the army, for they are likely to be
so handy with their fists as to make the consequences of an acceptance
more lively than desirable.
So the Sergeant found. "Marriott," as one of the spectators expressed
it, "went around him like a cooper around a barrel." He planted his
blows just where he wished, to the intense delight of the boys, who
yelled enthusiastically whenever he got in "a hot one," and their delight
at seeing the Sergeant drubbed so thoroughly and artistically, worked an
entire revolution in his favor.
Thenceforward we viewed his eccentricities with lenient eyes, and became
rather proud of his bull-dog stolidity and surliness. The whole
battalion soon came to share this feeling, and everybody enjoyed hearing
his deep-toned growl, which mischievous boys would incite by some petty
annoyances deliberately designed for that purpose. I will mention
incidentally, that after his encounter with the Sergeant no one ever
again volunteered to "polish" him off.
Andersonville did not improve either his temper or his communicativeness.
He seemed to want to get as far away from the rest of us as possible,
and took up his quarters in a remote corner of the Stockade, among utter
strangers. Those of us who wandered up in his neighborhood occasionally,
to see how he was getting along, were received with such scant courtesy,
that we did not hasten to repeat the visit. At length, after none of us
had seen him for weeks, we thought that comradeship demanded another
visit. We found him in the last stages of scurvy and diarrhea. Chunks
of uneaten corn bread lay by his head. They were at least a week old.
The rations since then had evidently been stolen from the helpless man by
those around him. The place where he lay was indescribably filthy, and
his body was swarming with vermin. Some good Samaritan had filled his
little black oyster can with water, and placed it within his reach.
For a week, at least, he had not been able to rise from the ground;
he could barely reach for the water near him. He gave us such a glare of
recognition as I remembered to have seen light up the fast-darkening eyes
of a savage old mastiff, that I and my boyish companions once found dying
in the woods of disease and hurts. Had he been able he would have driven
us away, or at least assailed us with biting English epithets. Thus he
had doubtless driven away all those who had attempted to help him.
We did what little we could, and staid with him until the next afternoon,
when he died. We prepared his body, in the customary way: folded the
hands across his breast, tied the toes together, and carried it outside,
not forgetting each of us, to bring back a load of wood.
The scarcity of mechanics of all kinds in the Confederacy, and the urgent
needs of the people for many things which the war and the blockade
prevented their obtaining, led to continual inducements being offered to
the artizans among us to go outside and work at their trade. Shoemakers
seemed most in demand; next to these blacksmiths, machinists, molders and
metal workers generally. Not a week passed during my imprisonment that I
did not see a Rebel emissary of some kind about the prison seeking to
engage skilled workmen for some purpose or another. While in Richmond
the managers of the Tredegar Iron Works were brazen and persistent in
their efforts to seduce what are termed "malleable iron workers," to
enter their employ. A boy who was master of any one of the commoner
trades had but to make his wishes known, and he would be allowed to go
out on parole to work. I was a printer, and I think that at least a
dozen times I was approached by Rebel publishers with offers of a parole,
and work at good prices. One from Columbia, S. C., offered me two
dollars and a half a "thousand" for composition. As the highest price
for such work that I had received before enlisting was thirty cents a
thousand, this seemed a chance to accumulate untold wealth. Since a man
working in day time can set from thirty-five to fifty "thousand" a week,
this would make weekly wages run from eighty-seven dollars and fifty
cents to one hundred and twenty-five dollars--but it was in Confederate
money, then worth from ten to twenty cents on the dollar.
Still better offers were made to iron workers of all kinds,
to shoemakers, tanners, weavers, tailors, hatters, engineers, machinists,
millers, railroad men, and similar tradesmen. Any of these could have
made a handsome thing by accepting the offers made them almost weekly.
As nearly all in the prison had useful trades, it would have been of
immense benefit to the Confederacy if they could have been induced to
work at them. There is no measuring the benefit it would have been to
the Southern cause if all the hundreds of tanners and shoemakers in the
Stockade could have, been persuaded to go outside and labor in providing
leather and shoes for the almost shoeless people and soldiery. The
machinists alone could have done more good to the Southern Confederacy
than one of our brigades was doing harm, by consenting to go to the
railroad shops at Griswoldville and ply their handicraft. The lack of
material resources in the South was one of the strongest allies our arms
had. This lack of resources was primarily caused by a lack of skilled
labor to develop those resources, and nowhere could there be found a
finer collection of skilled laborers than in the thirty-three thousand
prisoners incarcerated in Andersonville.
All solicitations to accept a parole and go outside to work at one's
trade were treated with the scorn they deserved. If any mechanic yielded
to them, the fact did not come under my notice. The usual reply to
invitations of this kind was:
"No, Sir! By God, I'll stay in here till I rot, and the maggots carry me
out through the cracks in the Stockade, before I'll so much as raise my
little finger to help the infernal Confederacy, or Rebels, in any shape
In August a Macon shoemaker came in to get some of his trade to go back
with him to work in the Confederate shoe factory. He prosecuted his
search for these until he reached the center of the camp on the North
Side, when some of the shoemakers who had gathered around him, apparently
considering his propositions, seized him and threw him into a well.
He was kept there a whole day, and only released when Wirz cut off the
rations of the prison for that day, and announced that no more would be
issued until the man was returned safe and sound to the gate.
The terrible crowding was somewhat ameliorated by the opening in July of
an addition--six hundred feet long--to the North Side of the Stockade.
This increased the room inside to twenty acres, giving about an acre to
every one thousand seven hundred men,--a preposterously contracted area
still. The new ground was not a hotbed of virulent poison like the olds
however, and those who moved on to it had that much in their favor.
The palisades between the new and the old portions of the pen were left
standing when the new portion was opened. We were still suffering a
great deal of inconvenience from lack of wood. That night the standing
timbers were attacked by thousands of prisoners armed with every species
of a tool to cut wood, from a case-knife to an ax. They worked the
live-long night with such energy that by morning not only every inch of
the logs above ground had disappeared, but that below had been dug up,
and there was not enough left of the eight hundred foot wall of
twenty-five-foot logs to make a box of matches.
One afternoon--early in August--one of the violent rain storms common to
that section sprung up, and in a little while the water was falling in
torrents. The little creek running through the camp swelled up
immensely, and swept out large gaps in the Stockade, both in the west and
east sides. The Rebels noticed the breaches as soon as the prisoners.
Two guns were fired from the Star Tort, and all the guards rushed out,
and formed so as to prevent any egress, if one was attempted. Taken by
surprise, we were not in a condition to profit by the opportunity until
it was too late.
The storm did one good thing: it swept away a great deal of filth, and
left the camp much more wholesome. The foul stench rising from the camp
made an excellent electrical conductor, and the lightning struck several
times within one hundred feet of the prison.
Toward the end of August there happened what the religously inclined
termed a Providential Dispensation. The water in the Creek was
indescribably bad. No amount of familiarity with it, no increase of
intimacy with our offensive surroundings, could lessen the disgust at the
polluted water. As I have said previously, before the stream entered the
Stockade, it was rendered too filthy for any use by the contaminations
from the camps of the guards, situated about a half-mile above.
Immediately on entering the Stockade the contamination became terrible.
The oozy seep at the bottom of the hillsides drained directly into it all
the mass of filth from a population of thirty-three thousand. Imagine
the condition of an open sewer, passing through the heart of a city of
that many people, and receiving all the offensive product of so dense a
gathering into a shallow, sluggish stream, a yard wide and five inches
deep, and heated by the burning rays of the sun in the thirty-second
degree of latitude. Imagine, if one can, without becoming sick at the
stomach, all of these people having to wash in and drink of this foul
There is not a scintilla of exaggeration in this statement. That it is
within the exact truth is demonstrable by the testimony of any man--Rebel
or Union--who ever saw the inside of the Stockade at Andersonville. I am
quite content to have its truth--as well as that of any other statement
made in this book--be determined by the evidence of any one, no matter
how bitter his hatred of the Union, who had any personal knowledge of the
condition of affairs at Andersonville. No one can successfully deny that
there were at least thirty-three thousand prisoners in the Stockade, and
that the one shallow, narrow creek, which passed through the prison, was
at once their main sewer and their source of supply of water for bathing,
drinking and washing. With these main facts admitted, the reader's
common sense of natural consequences will furnish the rest of the
It is true that some of the more fortunate of us had wells; thanks to our
own energy in overcoming extraordinary obstacles; no thanks to our
gaolers for making the slightest effort to provide these necessities of
life. We dug the wells with case and pocket knives, and half canteens to
a depth of from twenty to thirty feet, pulling up the dirt in pantaloons
legs, and running continual risk of being smothered to death by the
caving in of the unwalled sides. Not only did the Rebels refuse to give
us boards with which to wall the wells, and buckets for drawing the
water, but they did all in their power to prevent us from digging the
wells, and made continual forays to capture the digging tools, because
the wells were frequently used as the starting places for tunnels.
Professor Jones lays special stress on this tunnel feature in his
testimony, which I have introduced in a previous chapter.
The great majority of the prisoners who went to the Creek for water, went
as near as possible to the Dead Line on the West Side, where the Creek
entered the Stockade, that they might get water with as little filth in
it as possible. In the crowds struggling there for their turn to take a
dip, some one nearly every day got so close to the Dead Line as to arouse
a suspicion in the guard's mind that he was touching it. The suspicion
was the unfortunate one's death warrant, and also its execution. As the
sluggish brain of the guard conceived it he leveled his gun; the distance
to his victim was not over one hundred feet; he never failed his aim; the
first warning the wretched prisoner got that he was suspected of
transgressing a prison-rule was the charge of "ball-and-buck" that tore
through his body. It was lucky if he was, the only one of the group
killed. More wicked and unjustifiable murders never were committed than
these almost daily assassinations at the Creek.
One morning the camp was astonished beyond measure to discover that
during the night a large, bold spring had burst out on the North Side,
about midway between the Swamp and the summit of the hill. It poured out
its grateful flood of pure, sweet water in an apparently exhaustless
quantity. To the many who looked in wonder upon it, it seemed as truly a
heaven-wrought miracle as when Moses's enchanted rod smote the parched
rock in Sinai's desert waste, and the living waters gushed forth.
The police took charge of the spring, and every one was compelled to take
his regular turn in filling his vessel. This was kept up during our
whole stay in Andersonville, and every morning, shortly after daybreak,
a thousand men could be seen standing in line, waiting their turns to
fill their cans and cups with the precious liquid.
I am told by comrades who have revisited the Stockade of recent years,
that the spring is yet running as when we left, and is held in most pious
veneration by the negros of that vicinity, who still preserve the
tradition of its miraculous origin, and ascribe to its water wonderful
grace giving and healing properties, similar to those which pious
Catholics believe exist in the holy water of the fountain at Lourdes.
I must confess that I do not think they are so very far from right.
If I could believe that any water was sacred and thaumaturgic, it would
be of that fountain which appeared so opportunely for the benefit of the
perishing thousands of Andersonville. And when I hear of people bringing
water for baptismal purposes from the Jordan, I say in my heart, "How
much more would I value for myself and friends the administration of the
chrismal sacrament with the diviner flow from that low sand-hill in
"SICK CALL," AND THE SCENES THAT ACCOMPANIED IT--MUSTERING THE LAME, HALT
AND DISEASED AT THE SOUTH GATE--AN UNUSUALLY BAD CASE--GOING OUT TO THE
HOSPITAL--ACCOMMODATION AND TREATMENT OF THE PATIENTS THERE--THE HORRIBLE
SUFFERING IN THE GANGRENE WARD--BUNGLING AMPUTATIONS BY BLUNDERING
PRACTITIONERS--AFFECTION BETWEEN A SAILOR AND HIS WARD
--DEATH OF MY COMRADE.
Every morning after roll-call, thousands of sick gathered at the South
Gate, where the doctors made some pretense of affording medical relief.
The scene there reminded me of the illustrations in my Sunday-School
lessons of that time when "great multitudes came unto Him," by the shores
of the Sea of Galilee, "having with them those that were lame, blind,
dumb, maimed, and many others." Had the crowds worn the flouting robes
of the East, the picture would have lacked nothing but the presence of
the Son of Man to make it complete. Here were the burning sands and
parching sun; hither came scores of groups of three or four comrades,
laboriously staggering under the weight of a blanket in which they had
carried a disabled and dying friend from some distant part of the
Stockade. Beside them hobbled the scorbutics with swollen and distorted
limbs, each more loathsome and nearer death than the lepers whom Christ's
divine touch made whole. Dozens, unable to walk, and having no comrades
to carry them, crawled painfully along, with frequent stops, on their
hands and knees. Every, form of intense physical suffering that it is
possible for disease to induce in the human frame was visible at these
daily parades of the sick of the prison. As over three thousand (three
thousand and seventy-six) died in August, there were probably twelve
thousand dangerously sick at any given time daring the month; and a large
part of these collected at the South Gate every morning.
Measurably-calloused as we had become by the daily sights of horror
around us, we encountered spectacles in these gatherings which no amount
of visible misery could accustom us to. I remember one especially that
burned itself deeply into my memory. It was of a young man not over
twenty-five, who a few weeks ago--his clothes looked comparatively new
--had evidently been the picture of manly beauty and youthful vigor.
He had had a well-knit, lithe form; dark curling hair fell over a
forehead which had once been fair, and his eyes still showed that they
had gleamed with a bold, adventurous spirit. The red clover leaf on his
cap showed that he belonged to the First Division of the Second Corps,
the three chevrons on his arm that he was a Sergeant, and the stripe at
his cuff that he was a veteran. Some kind-hearted boys had found him in
a miserable condition on the North Side, and carried him over in a
blanket to where the doctors could see him. He had but little clothing
on, save his blouse and cap. Ulcers of some kind had formed in his
abdomen, and these were now masses of squirming worms. It was so much
worse than the usual forms of suffering, that quite a little crowd of
compassionate spectators gathered around and expressed their pity.
The sufferer turned to one who lay beside him with:
"Comrade: If we were only under the old Stars and Stripes, we wouldn't
care a G-d d--n for a few worms, would we?"
This was not profane. It was an utterance from the depths of a brave
man's heart, couched in the strongest language at his command. It seemed
terrible that so gallant a soul should depart from earth in this
miserable fashion. Some of us, much moved by the sight, went to the
doctors and put the case as strongly as possible, begging them to do
something to alleviate his suffering. They declined to see the case,
but got rid of us by giving us a bottle of turpentine, with directions to
pour it upon the ulcers to kill the maggots. We did so. It must have
been cruel torture, and as absurd remedially as cruel, but our hero set
his teeth and endured, without a groan. He was then carried out to the
hospital to die.
I said the doctors made a pretense of affording medical relief. It was
hardly that, since about all the prescription for those inside the
Stockade consisted in giving a handful of sumach berries to each of those
complaining of scurvy. The berries might have done some good, had there
been enough of them, and had their action been assisted by proper food.
As it was, they were probably nearly, if not wholly, useless. Nothing
was given to arrest the ravages of dysentery.
A limited number of the worst cases were admitted to the Hospital each
day. As this only had capacity for about one-quarter of the sick in the
Stockade, new patients could only be admitted as others died. It seemed,
anyway, like signing a man's death warrant to send him to the Hospital,
as three out of every four who went out there died. The following from
the official report of the Hospital shows this:
Total number admitted .........................................12,900
Died ................................................. 8,663
Exchanged ............................................ 828
Took the oath of allegiance .......................... 25
Sent elsewhere ....................................... 2,889
Average deaths, 76 per cent.
Early in August I made a successful effort to get out to the Hospital. I
had several reasons for this: First, one of my chums, W. W. Watts, of
my own company, had been sent out a little whale before very sick with
scurvy and pneumonia, and I wanted to see if I could do anything for him,
if he still lived: I have mentioned before that for awhile after our
entrance into Andersonville five of us slept on one overcoat and covered
ourselves with one blanket. Two of these had already died, leaving as
possessors of-the blanket and overcoat, W. W. Watts, B. B. Andrews, and
Next, I wanted to go out to see if there was any prospect of escape.
I had long since given up hopes of escaping from the Stockade. All our
attempts at tunneling had resulted in dead failures, and now, to make us
wholly despair of success in that direction, another Stockade was built
clear around the prison, at a distance of one hundred and twenty feet
from the first palisades. It was manifest that though we might succeed
in tunneling past one Stockade, we could not go beyond the second one.
I had the scurvy rather badly, and being naturally slight in frame,
I presented a very sick appearance to the physicians, and was passed out
to the Hospital.
While this was a wretched affair, it was still a vast improvement on the
Stockade. About five acres of ground, a little southeast of the
Stockade, and bordering on a creek, were enclosed by a board fence,
around which the guard walked, trees shaded the ground tolerably well.
There were tents and flies to shelter part of the sick, and in these were
beds made of pine leaves. There were regular streets and alleys running
through the grounds, and as the management was in the hands of our own
men, the place was kept reasonably clean and orderly for Andersonville.
There was also some improvement in the food. Rice in some degree
replaced the nauseous and innutritious corn bread, and if served in
sufficient quantities, would doubtless have promoted the recovery of many
men dying from dysenteric diseases. We also received small quantities of
"okra," a plant peculiar to the South, whose pods contained a
mucilaginous matter that made a soup very grateful to those suffering
But all these ameliorations of condition were too slight to even arrest
the progress of the disease of the thousands of dying men brought out
from the Stockade. These still wore the same lice-infested garments as
in prison; no baths or even ordinary applications of soap and water
cleaned their dirt-grimed skins, to give their pores an opportunity to
assist in restoring them to health; even their long, lank and matted
hair, swarming with vermin, was not trimmed. The most ordinary and
obvious measures for their comfort and care were neglected. If a man
recovered he did it almost in spite of fate. The medicines given were
scanty and crude. The principal remedial agent--as far as my observation
extended--was a rank, fetid species of unrectified spirits, which, I was
told, was made from sorgum seed. It had a light-green tinge, and was
about as inviting to the taste as spirits of turpentine. It was given to
the sick in small quantities mixed with water. I had had some experience
with Kentucky "apple-jack," which, it was popularly believed among the
boys, would dissolve a piece of the fattest pork thrown into it, but that
seemed balmy and oily alongside of this. After tasting some, I ceased to
wonder at the atrocities of Wirz and his associates. Nothing would seem
too bad to a man who made that his habitual tipple.
[For a more particular description of the Hospital I must refer my reader
to the testimony of Professor Jones, in a previous chapter.]
Certainly this continent has never seen--and I fervently trust it will
never again see--such a gigantic concentration of misery as that Hospital
displayed daily. The official statistics tell the story of this with
terrible brevity: There were three thousand seven hundred and nine in the
Hospital in August; one thousand four hundred and eighty-nine--nearly
every other man died. The rate afterwards became much higher than this.
The most conspicuous suffering was in the gangrene wards. Horrible sores
spreading almost visibly from hour to hour, devoured men's limbs and
bodies. I remember one ward in which the alterations appeared to be
altogether in the back, where they ate out the tissue between the skin
and the ribs. The attendants seemed trying to arrest the progress of the
sloughing by drenching the sores with a solution of blue vitriol. This
was exquisitely painful, and in the morning, when the drenching was going
on, the whole hospital rang with the most agonizing screams.
But the gangrene mostly attacked the legs and arms, and the led more than
the arms. Sometimes it killed men inside of a week; sometimes they
lingered on indefinitely. I remember one man in the Stockade who cut his
hand with the sharp corner of a card of corn bread he was lifting from
the ration wagon; gangrene set in immediately, and he died four days
One form that was quit prevalent was a cancer of the lower one corner of
the mouth, and it finally ate the whole side of the face out. Of course
the sufferer had the greatest trouble in eating and drinking. For the
latter it was customary to whittle out a little wooden tube, and fasten
it in a tin cup, through which he could suck up the water. As this mouth
cancer seemed contagious, none of us would allow any one afflicted with
it to use any of our cooking utensils. The Rebel doctors at the hospital
resorted to wholesale amputations to check the progress of the gangrene.
They had a two hours session of limb-lopping every morning, each of which
resulted in quite a pile of severed members. I presume more bungling
operations are rarely seen outside of Russian or Turkish hospitals.
Their unskilfulness was apparent even to non-scientific observers like
myself. The standard of medical education in the South--as indeed of
every other form of education--was quite low. The Chief Surgeon of the
prison, Dr. Isaiah White, and perhaps two or three others, seemed to be
gentlemen of fair abilities and attainments. The remainder were of that
class of illiterate and unlearning quacks who physic and blister the poor
whites and negros in the country districts of the South; who believe they
can stop bleeding of the nose by repeating a verse from the Bible; who
think that if in gathering their favorite remedy of boneset they cut the
stem upwards it will purge their patients, and if downward it will vomit
them, and who hold that there is nothing so good for "fits" as a black
cat, killed in the dark of the moon, cut open, and bound while yet warm,
upon the naked chest of the victim of the convulsions.
They had a case of instruments captured from some of our field hospitals,
which were dull and fearfully out of order. With poor instruments and
unskilled hands the operations became mangling.
In the Hospital I saw an admirable illustration of the affection which a
sailor will lavish on a ship's boy, whom he takes a fancy to, and makes
his "chicken," as the phrase is. The United States sloop "Water Witch"
had recently been captured in Ossabaw Sound, and her crew brought into
prison. One of her boys--a bright, handsome little fellow of about
fifteen--had lost one of his arms in the fight. He was brought into the
Hospital, and the old fellow whose "chicken" he was, was allowed to
accompany and nurse him. This "old barnacle-back" was as surly a growler
as ever went aloft, but to his "chicken" he was as tender and thoughtful
as a woman. They found a shady nook in one corner, and any moment one
looked in that direction he could see the old tar hard at work at
something for the comfort and pleasure of his pet. Now he was dressing
the wound as deftly and gently as a mother caring for a new-born babe;
now he was trying to concoct some relish out of the slender materials he
could beg or steal from the Quartermaster; now trying to arrange the
shade of the bed of pine leaves in a more comfortable manner; now
repairing or washing his clothes, and so on.
All the sailors were particularly favored by being allowed to bring their
bags in untouched by the guards. This "chicken" had a wonderful supply
of clothes, the handiwork of his protector who, like most good sailors,
was very skillful with the needle. He had suits of fine white duck,
embroidered with blue in a way that would ravish the heart of a fine
lady, and blue suits similarly embroidered with white. No belle ever
kept her clothes in better order than these were. When the duck came up
from the old sailor's patient washing it was as spotless as new-fallen
I found my chum in a very bad condition. His appetite was entirely gone,
but he had an inordinate craving for tobacco--for strong, black plug
--which he smoked in a pipe. He had already traded off all his brass
buttons to the guards for this. I had accumulated a few buttons to bribe
the guard to take me out for wood, and I gave these also for tobacco for
him. When I awoke one morning the man who laid next to me on the right
was dead, having died sometime during the night. I searched his pockets
and took what was in them. These were a silk pocket handkerchief, a
gutta percha finger-ring, a comb, a pencil, and a leather pocket-book,
making in all quite a nice little "find." I hied over to the guard, and
succeeded in trading the personal estate which I had inherited from the
intestate deceased, for a handful of peaches, a handful of hardly ripe
figs, and a long plug of tobacco. I hastened back to Watts, expecting
that the figs and peaches would do him a world of good. At first I did
not show him the tobacco, as I was strongly opposed to his using it,
thinking that it was making him much worse. But he looked at the
tempting peaches and figs with lack-luster eyes; he was too far gone to
care for them. He pushed them back to me, saying faintly:
"No, you take 'em, Mc; I don't want 'em; I can't eat 'em!"
I then produced the tobacco, and his face lighted up. Concluding that
this was all the comfort that he could have, and that I might as well
gratify him, I cut up some of the weed, filled his pipe and lighted it.
He smoked calmly and almost happily all the afternoon, hardly speaking a
word to me. As it grew dark he asked me to bring him a drink. I did so,
and as I raised him up he said:
"Mc, this thing's ended. Tell my father that I stood it as long as I
The death rattle sounded in his throat, and when I laid him back it was
all over. Straightening out his limbs, folding his hands across his
breast, and composing his features as best I could, I lay, down beside
the body and slept till morning, when I did what little else I could
toward preparing for the grave all that was left of my long-suffering
DETERMINATION TO ESCAPE--DIFFERENT PLANS AND THEIR MERITS--I PREFER THE
APPALACHICOLA ROUTE--PREPARATIONS FOR DEPARTURE--A HOT DAY--THE FENCE
PASSED SUCCESSFULLY PURSUED BY THE HOUNDS--CAUGHT
--RETURNED TO THE STOCKADE.
After Watt's death, I set earnestly about seeing what could be done in
the way of escape. Frank Harvey, of the First West Virginia Cavalry,
a boy of about my own age and disposition, joined with me in the scheme.
I was still possessed with my original plan of making my way down the
creeks to the Flint River, down the Flint River to where it emptied into
the Appalachicola River, and down that stream to its debauchure into the
bay that connected with the Gulf of Mexico. I was sure of finding my way
by this route, because, if nothing else offered, I could get astride of a
log and float down the current. The way to Sherman, in the other
direction, was long, torturous and difficult, with a fearful gauntlet of
blood-hounds, patrols and the scouts of Hood's Army to be run. I had but
little difficulty in persuading Harvey into an acceptance of my views,
and we began arranging for a solution of the first great problem--how to
get outside of the Hospital guards. As I have explained before, the
Hospital was surrounded by a board fence, with guards walking their beats
on the ground outside. A small creek flowed through the southern end of
the grounds, and at its lower end was used as a sink. The boards of the
fence came down to the surface of the water, where the Creek passed out,
but we found, by careful prodding with a stick, that the hole between the
boards and the bottom of the Creek was sufficiently large to allow the
passage of our bodies, and there had been no stakes driven or other
precautions used to prevent egress by this channel. A guard was posted
there, and probably ordered to stand at the edge of the stream, but it
smelled so vilely in those scorching days that he had consulted his
feelings and probably his health, by retiring to the top of the bank,
a rod or more distant. We watched night after night, and at last were
gratified to find that none went nearer the Creak than the top of this
Then we waited for the moon to come right, so that the first part of the
night should be dark. This took several days, but at last we knew that
the next night she would not rise until between 9 and 10 o'clock, which
would give us nearly two hours of the dense darkness of a moonless Summer
night in the South. We had first thought of saving up some rations for
the trip, but then reflected that these would be ruined by the filthy
water into which we must sink to go under the fence. It was not
difficult to abandon the food idea, since it was very hard to force
ourselves to lay by even the smallest portion of our scanty rations.
As the next day wore on, our minds were wrought up into exalted tension
by the rapid approach of the supreme moment, with all its chances and
consequences. The experience of the past few months was not such as to
mentally fit us for such a hazard. It prepared us for sullen,
uncomplaining endurance, for calmly contemplating the worst that could
come; but it did not strengthen that fiber of mind that leads to
venturesome activity and daring exploits. Doubtless the weakness of our
bodies reacted upon our spirits. We contemplated all the perils that
confronted us; perils that, now looming up with impending nearness, took
a clearer and more threatening shape than they had ever done before.
We considered the desperate chances of passing the guard unseen; or, if
noticed, of escaping his fire without death or severe wounds. But
supposing him fortunately evaded, then came the gauntlet of the hounds
and the patrols hunting deserters. After this, a long, weary journey,
with bare feet and almost naked bodies, through an unknown country
abounding with enemies; the dangers of assassination by the embittered
populace; the risks of dying with hunger and fatigue in the gloomy depths
of a swamp; the scanty hopes that, if we reached the seashore, we could
get to our vessels.
Not one of all these contingencies failed to expand itself to all its
alarming proportions, and unite with its fellows to form a dreadful
vista, like the valleys filled with demons and genii, dragons and malign
enchantments, which confront the heros of the "Arabian Nights," when they
set out to perform their exploits.
But behind us lay more miseries and horrors than a riotous imagination
could conceive; before us could certainly be nothing worse. We would put
life and freedom to the hazard of a touch, and win or lose it all.
The day had been intolerably hot. The sun's rays seemed to sear the
earth, like heated irons, and the air that lay on the burning sand was
broken by wavy lines, such as one sees indicate the radiation from a hot
Except the wretched chain-gang plodding torturously back and forward on
the hillside, not a soul nor an animal could be seen in motion outside
the Stockade. The hounds were panting in their kennel; the Rebel
officers, half or wholly drunken with villainous sorgum whisky, were
stretched at full length in the shade at headquarters; the half-caked
gunners crouched under the shadow of the embankments of the forts, the
guards hung limply over the Stockade in front of their little perches;
the thirty thousand boys inside the Stockade, prone or supine upon the
glowing sand, gasped for breath--for one draft of sweet, cool, wholesome
air that did not bear on its wings the subtle seeds of rank corruption
and death. Everywhere was the prostration of discomfort--the inertia of
Only the sick moved; only the pain-racked cried out; only the dying
struggled; only the agonies of dissolution could make life assert itself
against the exhaustion of the heat.
Harvey and I, lying in the scanty shade of the trunk of a tall pine, and
with hearts filled with solicitude as to the outcome of what the evening
would bring us, looked out over the scene as we had done daily for long
months, and remained silent for hours, until the sun, as if weary with
torturing and slaying, began going down in the blazing West. The groans
of the thousands of sick around us, the shrieks of the rotting ones in
the gangrene wards rang incessantly in our ears.
As the sun disappeared, and the heat abated, the suspended activity was
restored. The Master of the Hounds came out with his yelping pack, and
started on his rounds; the Rebel officers aroused themselves from their
siesta and went lazily about their duties; the fifer produced his cracked
fife and piped forth his unvarying "Bonnie Blue Flag," as a signal for
dress parade, and drums beaten by unskilled hands in the camps of the
different regiments, repeated the signal. In time Stockade the mass of
humanity became full of motion as an ant hill, and resembled it very much
from our point of view, with the boys threading their way among the
burrows, tents and holes.
It was becoming dark quite rapidly. The moments seemed galloping onward
toward the time when we must make the decisive step. We drew from the
dirty rag in which it was wrapped the little piece of corn bread that we
had saved for our supper, carefully divided it into two equal parts,
and each took one and ate it in silence. This done, we held a final
consultation as to our plans, and went over each detail carefully, that
we might fully understand each other under all possible circumstances,
and act in concert. One point we laboriously impressed upon each other,
and that was; that under no circumstances were we to allow ourselves to
be tempted to leave the Creek until we reached its junction with the
Flint River. I then picked up two pine leaves, broke them off to unequal
lengths, rolled them in my hands behind my back for a second, and
presenting them to Harney with their ends sticking out of my closed hand,
"The one that gets the longest one goes first."
Harvey reached forth and drew the longer one.
We made a tour of reconnaissance. Everything seemed as usual, and
wonderfully calm compared with the tumult in our minds. The Hospital
guards were pacing their beats lazily; those on the Stockade were
drawling listlessly the first "call around" of the evening:
"Post numbah foah! Half-past seven o'clock! and a-l-l's we-l-ll!"
Inside the Stockade was a Babel of sounds, above all of which rose the
melody of religious and patriotic songs, sung in various parts of the
camp. From the headquarters came the shouts and laughter of the Rebel
officers having a little "frolic" in the cool of the evening. The groans
of the sick around us were gradually hushing, as the abatement of the
terrible heat let all but the worst cases sink into a brief slumber,
from which they awoke before midnight to renew their outcries. But those
in the Gangrene wards seemed to be denied even this scanty blessing.
Apparently they never slept, for their shrieks never ceased. A multitude
of whip-poor-wills in the woods around us began their usual dismal cry,
which had never seemed so unearthly and full of dreadful presages as now.
It was, now quite dark, and we stole noiselessly down to the Creek and
reconnoitered. We listened. The guard was not pacing his beat, as we
could not hear his footsteps. A large, ill-shapen lump against the trunk
of one of the trees on the bank showed that he was leaning there resting
himself. We watched him for several minutes, but he did not move, and
the thought shot into our minds that he might be asleep; but it seemed
impossible: it was too early in the evening.
Now, if ever, was the opportunity. Harney squeezed my hand, stepped
noiselessly into the Creek, laid himself gently down into the filthy
water, and while my heart was beating so that I was certain it could be
heard some distance from me, began making toward the fence. He passed
under easily, and I raised my eyes toward the guard, while on my strained
ear fell the soft plashing made by Harvey as he pulled himself cautiously
forward. It seemed as if the sentinel must hear this; he could not help
it, and every second I expected to see the black lump address itself to
motion, and the musket flash out fiendishly. But he did not; the lump
remained motionless; the musket silent.
When I thought that Harvey had gained a sufficient distance I followed.
It seemed as if the disgusting water would smother me as I laid myself
down into it, and such was my agitation that it appeared almost
impossible that I should escape making such a noise as would attract the
guard's notice. Catching hold of the roots and limbs at the side of the
stream, I pulled myself slowly along, and as noiselessly as possible.
I passed under the fence without difficulty, and was outside, and within
fifteen feet of the guard. I had lain down into the creek upon my right
side, that my face might be toward the guard, and I could watch him
closely all the time.
As I came under the fence he was still leaning motionless against the
tree, but to my heated imagination he appeared to have turned and be
watching me. I hardly breathed; the filthy water rippling past me seemed
to roar to attract the guard's attention; I reached my hand out
cautiously to grasp a root to pull myself along by, and caught instead a
dry branch, which broke with a loud crack. My heart absolutely stood
still. The guard evidently heard the noise. The black lump separated
itself from the tree, and a straight line which I knew to be his musket
separated itself from the lump. In a brief instant I lived a year of
mortal apprehension. So certain was I that he had discovered me, and was
leveling his piece to fire, that I could scarcely restrain myself from
springing up and dashing away to avoid the shot. Then I heard him take a
step, and to my unutterable surprise and relief, he walked off farther
from the Creek, evidently to speak to the man whose beat joined his.
I pulled away more swiftly, but still with the greatest caution, until
after half-an-hour's painful effort I had gotten fully one hundred and
fifty yards away from the Hospital fence, and found Harney crouched on a
cypress knee, close to the water's edge, watching for me.
We waited there a few minutes, until I could rest, and calm my perturbed
nerves down to something nearer their normal equilibrium, and then
started on. We hoped that if we were as lucky in our next step as in the
first one we would reach the Flint River by daylight, and have a good
long start before the morning roll-call revealed our absence. We could
hear the hounds still baying in the distance, but this sound was too
customary to give us any uneasiness.
But our progress was terribly slow. Every step hurt fearfully. The
Creek bed was full of roots and snags, and briers, and vines trailed
across it. These caught and tore our bare feet and legs, rendered
abnormally tender by the scurvy. It seemed as if every step was marked
with blood. The vines tripped us, and we frequently fell headlong. We
struggled on determinedly for nearly an hour, and were perhaps a mile
from the Hospital.
The moon came up, and its light showed that the creek continued its
course through a dense jungle like that we had been traversing, while on
the high ground to our left were the open pine woods I have previously
We stopped and debated for a few minutes. We recalled our promise to
keep in the Creek, the experience of other boys who had tried to escape
and been caught by the hounds. If we staid in the Creek we were sure the
hounds would not find our trail, but it was equally certain that at this
rate we would be exhausted and starved before we got out of sight of the
prison. It seemed that we had gone far enough to be out of reach of the
packs patrolling immediately around the Stockade, and there could be but
little risk in trying a short walk on the dry ground. We concluded to
take the chances, and, ascending the bank, we walked and ran as fast as
we could for about two miles further.
All at once it struck me that with all our progress the hounds sounded as
near as when we started. I shivered at the thought, and though nearly
ready to drop with fatigue, urged myself and Harney on.
An instant later their baying rang out on the still night air right
behind us, and with fearful distinctness. There was no mistake now; they
had found our trail, and were running us down. The change from fearful
apprehension to the crushing reality stopped us stock-still in our
At the next breath the hounds came bursting through the woods in plain
sight, and in full cry. We obeyed our first impulse; rushed back into
the swamp, forced our way for a few yards through the flesh-tearing
impediments, until we gained a large cypress, upon whose great knees we
climbed--thoroughly exhausted--just as the yelping pack reached the edge
of the water, and stopped there and bayed at us. It was a physical
impossibility for us to go another step.
In a moment the low-browed villain who had charge of the hounds came
galloping up on his mule, tooting signals to his dogs as he came, on the
cow-horn slung from his shoulders.
He immediately discovered us, covered us with his revolver, and yelled
"Come ashore, there, quick: you---- ---- ---- ----s!"
There was no help for it. We climbed down off the knees and started
towards the land. As we neared it, the hounds became almost frantic,
and it seemed as if we would be torn to pieces the moment they could
reach us. But the master dismounted and drove them back. He was surly
--even savage--to us, but seemed in too much hurry to get back to waste any
time annoying us with the dogs. He ordered us to get around in front of
the mule, and start back to camp. We moved as rapidly as our fatigue and
our lacerated feet would allow us, and before midnight were again in the
hospital, fatigued, filthy, torn, bruised and wretched beyond description
The next morning we were turned back into the Stockade as punishment.
AUGUST--GOOD LUCK IN NOT MEETING CAPTAIN WIRZ--THAT WORTHY'S TREATMENT OF
RECAPTURED PRISONERS--SECRET SOCIETIES IN PRISON--SINGULAR MEETING AND
ITS RESULT--DISCOVERY AND REMOVAL OF THE OFFICERS AMONG THE ENLISTED MEN.
Harney and I were specially fortunate in being turned back into the
Stockade without being brought before Captain Wirz.
We subsequently learned that we owed this good luck to Wirz's absence on
sick leave--his place being supplied by Lieutenant Davis, a moderate
brained Baltimorean, and one of that horde of Marylanders in the Rebel
Army, whose principal service to the Confederacy consisted in working
themselves into "bomb-proof" places, and forcing those whom they
displaced into the field. Winder was the illustrious head of this crowd
of bomb-proof Rebels from "Maryland, My Maryland!" whose enthusiasm for
the Southern cause and consistency in serving it only in such places as
were out of range of the Yankee artillery, was the subject of many bitter
jibes by the Rebels--especially by those whose secure berths they
possessed themselves of.
Lieutenant Davis went into the war with great brashness. He was one of
the mob which attacked the Sixth Massachusetts in its passage through
Baltimore, but, like all of that class of roughs, he got his stomach full
of war as soon as the real business of fighting began, and he retired to
where the chances of attaining a ripe old age were better than in front
of the Army of the Potomac's muskets. We shall hear of Davis again.
Encountering Captain Wirz was one of the terrors of an abortive attempt
to escape. When recaptured prisoners were brought before him he would
frequently give way to paroxysms of screaming rage, so violent as to
closely verge on insanity. Brandishing the fearful and wonderful
revolver--of which I have spoken in such a manner as to threaten the
luckless captives with instant death, he would shriek out imprecations,
curses; and foul epithets in French, German and English, until he fairly
frothed at the mouth. There were plenty of stories current in camp of his
having several times given away to his rage so far as to actually shoot
men down in these interviews, and still more of his knocking boys down
and jumping upon them, until he inflicted injuries that soon resulted in
death. How true these rumors were I am unable to say of my own personal
knowledge, since I never saw him kill any one, nor have I talked with any
one who did. There were a number of cases of this kind testified to upon
his trial, but they all happened among "paroles" outside the Stockade,
or among the prisoners inside after we left, so I knew nothing of them.
One of the Old Switzer's favorite ways of ending these seances was to
inform the boys that he would have them shot in an hour or so, and bid
them prepare for death. After keeping them in fearful suspense for hours
he would order them to be punished with the stocks, the ball-and-chain,
the chain-gang, or--if his fierce mood had burned itself entirely out
--as was quite likely with a man of his shallop' brain and vacillating
temper--to be simply returned to the stockade.
Nothing, I am sure, since the days of the Inquisition--or still later,
since the terrible punishments visited upon the insurgents of 1848 by the
Austrian aristocrats--has been so diabolical as the stocks and
chain-gangs, as used by Wirz. At one time seven men, sitting in the
stocks near the Star Fort--in plain view of the camp--became objects of
interest to everybody inside. They were never relieved from their
painful position, but were kept there until all of them died. I think
it was nearly two weeks before the last one succumbed. What they
endured in that time even imagination cannot conceive--I do not think
that an Indian tribe ever devised keener torture for its captives.
The chain-gang consisted of a number of men--varying from twelve to
twenty-five, all chained to one sixty-four pound ball. They were also
stationed near the Star Fort, standing out in the hot sun, without a
particle of shade over them. When one moved they all had to move.
They were scourged with the dysentery, and the necessities of some one
of their number kept them constantly in motion. I can see them
distinctly yet, tramping laboriously and painfully back and forward over
that burning hillside, every moment of the long, weary Summer days.
A comrade writes to remind me of the beneficent work of the Masonic
Order. I mention it most gladly, as it was the sole recognition on the
part of any of our foes of our claims to human kinship. The churches of
all denominations--except the solitary Catholic priest, Father Hamilton,
--ignored us as wholly as if we were dumb beasts. Lay humanitarians were
equally indifferent, and the only interest manifested by any Rebel in the
welfare of any prisoner was by the Masonic brotherhood. The Rebel Masons
interested themselves in securing details outside the Stockade in the
cookhouse, the commissary, and elsewhere, for the brethren among the
prisoners who would accept such favors. Such as did not feel inclined to
go outside on parole received frequent presents in the way of food, and
especially of vegetables, which were literally beyond price. Materials
were sent inside to build tents for the Masons, and I think such as made
themselves known before death, received burial according to the rites of
the Order. Doctor White, and perhaps other Surgeons, belonged to the
fraternity, and the wearing of a Masonic emblem by a new prisoner was
pretty sure to catch their eyes, and be the means of securing for the
wearer the tender of their good offices, such as a detail into the
Hospital as nurse, ward-master, etc.
I was not fortunate enough to be one of the mystic brethren, and so
missed all share in any of these benefits, as well as in any others,
and I take special pride in one thing: that during my whole imprisonment
I was not beholden to a Rebel for a single favor of any kind. The Rebel
does not live who can say that he ever gave me so much as a handful of
meal, a spoonful of salt, an inch of thread, or a stick of wood.
From first to last I received nothing but my rations, except occasional
trifles that I succeeded in stealing from the stupid officers charged
with issuing rations. I owe no man in the Southern Confederacy gratitude
for anything--not even for a kind word.
Speaking of secret society pins recalls a noteworthy story which has been
told me since the war, of boys whom I knew. At the breaking out of
hostilities there existed in Toledo a festive little secret society,
such as lurking boys frequently organize, with no other object than fun
and the usual adolescent love of mystery. There were a dozen or so
members in it who called themselves "The Royal Reubens," and were headed
by a bookbinder named Ned Hopkins. Some one started a branch of the
Order in Napoleon, O., and among the members was Charles E. Reynolds,
of that town. The badge of the society was a peculiarly shaped gold pin.
Reynolds and Hopkins never met, and had no acquaintance with each other.
When the war broke out, Hopkins enlisted in Battery H, First Ohio
Artillery, and was sent to the Army of the Potomac, where he was
captured, in the Fall of 1863, while scouting, in the neighborhood of
Richmond. Reynolds entered the Sixty-Eighth Ohio Volunteer Infantry,
and was taken in the neighborhood of Jackson, Miss.,--two thousand miles
from the place of Hopkins's capture. At Andersonville Hopkins became one
of the officers in charge of the Hospital. One day a Rebel Sergeant, who
called the roll in the Stockade, after studying Hopkins's pin a minute,
"I seed a Yank in the Stockade to-day a-wearing a pin egzackly like that
This aroused Hopkins's interest, and he went inside in search of the
other "feller." Having his squad and detachment there was little
difficulty in finding him. He recognized the pin, spoke to its wearer,
gave him the "grand hailing sign" of the "Royal Reubens," and it was duly
responded to. The upshot of the matter was that he took Reynolds out
with him as clerk, and saved his life, as the latter was going down hill
very rapidly. Reynolds, in turn, secured the detail of a comrade of the
Sixty-Eighth who was failing fast, and succeeded in saving his life--all
of which happy results were directly attributable to that insignificant
boyish society, and its equally unimportant badge of membership.
Along in the last of August the Rebels learned that there were between
two and three hundred Captains and Lieutenants in the Stockade, passing
themselves off as enlisted men. The motive of these officers was
two-fold: first, a chivalrous wish to share the fortunes and fate of their
boys, and second, disinclination to gratify the Rebels by the knowledge
of the rank of their captives. The secret was so well kept that none of
us suspected it until the fact was announced by the Rebels themselves.
They were taken out immediately, and sent to Macon, where the
commissioned officers' prison was. It would not do to trust such
possible leaders with us another day.
FOOD--THE MEAGERNESS, INFERIOR QUALITY, AND TERRIBLE SAMENESS
--REBEL TESTIMONY ON THE SUBJECT--FUTILITY OF SUCCESSFUL EXPLANATION.
I have in other places dwelt upon the insufficiency and the nauseousness
of the food. No words that I can use, no insistence upon this theme, can
give the reader any idea of its mortal importance to us.
Let the reader consider for a moment the quantity, quality, and variety
of food that he now holds to be necessary for the maintenance of life and
health. I trust that every one who peruses this book--that every one in
fact over whom the Stars and Stripes wave--has his cup of coffee, his
biscuits and his beefsteak for breakfast--a substantial dinner of roast
or boiled--and a lighter, but still sufficient meal in the evening.
In all, certainly not less than fifty different articles are set before
him during the day, for his choice as elements of nourishment. Let him
scan this extended bill-of-fare, which long custom has made so
common-place as to be uninteresting--perhaps even wearisome to think about
--and see what he could omit from it, if necessity compelled him. After a
reluctant farewell to fish, butter, eggs, milk, sugar, green and
preserved fruits, etc., he thinks that perhaps under extraordinary
circumstances he might be able to merely sustain life for a limited
period on a diet of bread and meat three times a day, washed down with
creamless, unsweetened coffee, and varied occasionally with additions of
potatos, onions, beans, etc. It would astonish the Innocent to have one
of our veterans inform him that this was not even the first stage of
destitution; that a soldier who had these was expected to be on the
summit level of contentment. Any of the boys who followed Grant to
Appomattox Court House, Sherman to the Sea, or "Pap" Thomas till his
glorious career culminated with the annihilation of Hood, will tell him
of many weeks when a slice of fat pork on a piece of "hard tack" had to
do duty for the breakfast of beefsteak and biscuits; when another slice
of fat pork and another cracker served for the dinner of roast beef and
vegetables, and a third cracker and slice of pork was a substitute for
the supper of toast and chops.
I say to these veterans in turn that they did not arrive at the first
stages of destitution compared with the depths to which we were dragged.
The restriction for a few weeks to a diet of crackers and fat pork was
certainly a hardship, but the crackers alone, chemists tell us, contain
all the elements necessary to support life, and in our Army they were
always well made and very palatable. I believe I risk nothing in saying
that one of the ordinary square crackers of our Commissary Department
contained much more real nutriment than the whole of our average ration.
I have before compared the size, shape and appearance of the daily half
loaf of corn bread issued to us to a half-brick, and I do not yet know of
a more fitting comparison. At first we got a small piece of rusty bacon
along with this; but the size of this diminished steadily until at last
it faded away entirely, and during the last six months of our
imprisonment I do not believe that we received rations of meat above a
To this smallness was added ineffable badness. The meal was ground very
coarsely, by dull, weakly propelled stones, that imperfectly crushed the
grains, and left the tough, hard coating of the kernels in large, sharp,
mica-like scales, which cut and inflamed the stomach and intestines,
like handfuls of pounded glass. The alimentary canals of all compelled
to eat it were kept in a continual state of irritation that usually
terminated in incurable dysentery.
That I have not over-stated this evil can be seen by reference to the
testimony of so competent a scientific observer as Professor Jones, and I
add to that unimpeachable testimony the following extract from the
statement made in an attempted defense of Andersonville by Doctor R.
Randolph Stevenson, who styles himself, formerly Surgeon in the Army of
the Confederate States of America, Chief Surgeon of the Confederate
States Military Prison Hospitals, Andersonville, Ga.:
V. From the sameness of the food, and from the action of the poisonous
gases in the densely crowded and filthy Stockade and Hospital, the blood
was altered in its constitution, even, before the manifestation of actual
In both the well and the sick, the red corpuscles were diminished; and in
all diseases uncomplicated with inflammation, the fibrinous element was
deficient. In cases of ulceration of the mucous membrane of the
intestinal canal, the fibrinous element of the blood appeared to be
increased; while in simple diarrhea, uncomplicated with ulceration, and
dependent upon the character of the food and the existence of scurvy,
it was either diminished or remained stationary. Heart-clots were very
common, if not universally present, in the cases of ulceration of the
intestinal mucous membrane; while in the uncomplicated cases of diarrhea
and scurvy, the blood was fluid and did not coagulate readily, and the
heart-clots and fibrinous concretions were almost universally absent.
From the watery condition of the blood there resulted various serous
effusions into the pericardium, into the ventricles of the brain, and
into the abdominal cavity.
In almost all cases which I examined after death, even in the most
emaciated, there was more or less serous effusion into the abdominal
cavity. In cases of hospital gangrene of the extremities, and in cases
of gangrene of the intestines, heart-clots and firm coagula were
universally present. The presence of these clots in the cases of
hospital gangrene, whilst they were absent in the cases in which there
were no inflammatory symptoms, appears to sustain the conclusion that
hospital gangrene is a species of inflammation (imperfect and irregular
though it may be in its progress), in which the fibrinous element and
coagulability of the blood are increased, even in those who are suffering
from such a condition of the blood and from such diseases as are
naturally accompanied with a decrease in the fibrinous constituent.
VI. The impoverished condition of the blood, which led to serous
effusions within the ventricles of the brain, and around the brain and
spinal cord, and into the pericardial and abdominal cavities, was
gradually induced by the action of several causes, but chiefly by the
character of the food.
The Federal prisoners, as a general rule, had been reared upon wheat
bread and Irish potatos; and the Indian corn so extensively used at the
South, was almost unknown to them as an article of diet previous to their
capture. Owing to the impossibility of obtaining the necessary sieves in
the Confederacy for the separation of the husk from the corn-meal, the
rations of the Confederate soldiers, as well as of the Federal prisoners,
consisted of unbolted corn-flour, and meal and grist; this circumstance
rendered the corn-bread still more disagreeable and distasteful to the
Federal prisoners. While Indian meal, even when prepared with the husk,
is one of the most wholesome and nutritious forms of food, as has been
already shown by the health and rapid increase of the Southern
population, and especially of the negros, previous to the present war,
and by the strength, endurance and activity of the Confederate soldiers,
who were throughout the war confined to a great extent to unbolted
corn-meal; it is nevertheless true that those who have not been reared
upon corn-meal, or who have not accustomed themselves to its use
gradually, become excessively tired of this kind of diet when suddenly
confined to it without a due proportion of wheat bread. Large numbers
of the Federal prisoners appeared to be utterly disgusted with Indian
corn, and immense piles of corn-bread could be seen in the Stockade and
Hospital inclosures. Those who were so disgusted with this form of food
that they had no appetite to partake of it, except in quantities
insufficient to supply the waste of the tissues, were, of course, in the
condition of men slowly starving, notwithstanding that the only
farinaceous form of food which the Confederate States produced in
sufficient abundance for the maintenance of armies was not withheld from
them. In such cases, an urgent feeling of hunger was not a prominent
symptom; and even when it existed at first, it soon disappeared, and was
succeeded by an actual loathing of food. In this state the muscular
strength was rapidly diminished, the tissues wasted, and the thin,
skeleton-like forms moved about with the appearance of utter exhaustion
and dejection. The mental condition connected with long confinement,
with the most miserable surroundings, and with no hope for the future,
also depressed all the nervous and vital actions, and was especially
active in destroying the appetite. The effects of mental depression,
and of defective nutrition, were manifested not only in the slow, feeble
motions of the wasted, skeleton-like forms, but also in such lethargy,
listlessness, and torpor of the mental faculties as rendered these
unfortunate men oblivious and indifferent to their afflicted condition.
In many cases, even of the greatest apparent suffering and distress,
instead of showing any anxiety to communicate the causes of their
distress, or to relate their privations, and their longings for their
homes and their friends and relatives, they lay in a listless,
lethargic, uncomplaining state, taking no notice either of their own
distressed condition, or of the gigantic mass of human misery by which
they were surrounded. Nothing appalled and depressed me so much as this
silent, uncomplaining misery. It is a fact of great interest, that
notwithstanding this defective nutrition in men subjected to crowding
and filth, contagious fevers were rare; and typhus fever, which is
supposed to be generated in just such a state of things as existed at
Andersonville, was unknown. These facts, established by my
investigations, stand in striking contrast with such a statement as the
following by a recent English writer:
"A deficiency of food, especially of the nitrogenous part, quickly leads
to the breaking up of the animal frame. Plague, pestilence and famine
are associated with each other in the public mind, and the records of
every country show how closely they are related. The medical history of
Ireland is remarkable for the illustrations of how much mischief may be
occasioned by a general deficiency of food. Always the habitat of fever,
it every now and then becomes the very hot-bed of its propagation and
development. Let there be but a small failure in the usual imperfect
supply of food, and the lurking seeds of pestilence are ready to burst
into frightful activity. The famine of the present century is but too
forcible and illustrative of this. It fostered epidemics which have not
been witnessed in this generation, and gave rise to scenes of devastation
and misery which are not surpassed by the most appalling epidemics of the
Middle Ages. The principal form of the scourge was known as the
contagious famine fever (typhus), and it spread, not merely from end to
end of the country in which it had originated, but, breaking through all
boundaries, it crossed the broad ocean, and made itself painfully
manifest in localities where it was previously unknown. Thousands fell
under the virulence of its action, for wherever it came it struck down a
seventh of the people, and of those whom it attacked, one out of nine
perished. Even those who escaped the fatal influence of it, were left
the miserable victims of scurvy and low fever."
While we readily admit that famine induces that state of the system which
is the most susceptible to the action of fever poisons, and thus induces
the state of the entire population which is most favorable for the rapid
and destructive spread of all contagious fevers, at the same time we are
forced by the facts established by the present war, as well as by a host
of others, both old and new, to admit that we are still ignorant of the
causes necessary for the origin of typhus fever. Added to the imperfect
nature of the rations issued to the Federal prisoners, the difficulties
of their situation were at times greatly increased by the sudden and
desolating Federal raids in Virginia, Georgia, and other States, which
necessitated the sudden transportation from Richmond and other points
threatened of large bodies of prisoners, without the possibility of much
previous preparation; and not only did these men suffer in transition
upon the dilapidated and overburdened line of railroad communication,
but after arriving at Andersonville, the rations were frequently
insufficient to supply the sudden addition of several thousand men.
And as the Confederacy became more and more pressed, and when powerful
hostile armies were plunging through her bosom, the Federal prisoners of
Andersonville suffered incredibly during the hasty removal to Millen,
Savannah, Charleston, and other points, supposed at the time to be secure
from the enemy. Each one of these causes must be weighed when an attempt
is made to estimate the unusual mortality among these prisoners of war.
VII. Scurvy, arising from sameness of food and imperfect nutrition,
caused, either directly or indirectly, nine-tenths of the deaths among
the Federal prisoners at Andersonville.
Not only were the deaths referred to unknown causes, to apoplexy, to
anasarca, and to debility, traceable to scurvy and its effects; and not
only was the mortality in small-pox, pneumonia, and typhoid fever, and in
all acute diseases, more than doubled by the scorbutic taint, but even
those all but universal and deadly bowel affections arose from the same
causes, and derived their fatal character from the same conditions which
produced the scurvy. In truth, these men at Andersonville were in the
condition of a crew at sea, confined in a foul ship upon salt meat and
unvarying food, and without fresh vegetables. Not only so, but these
unfortunate prisoners were men forcibly confined and crowded upon a ship
tossed about on a stormy ocean, without a rudder, without a compass,
without a guiding-star, and without any apparent boundary or to their
voyage; and they reflected in their steadily increasing miseries the
distressed condition and waning fortunes of devastated and bleeding
country, which was compelled, in justice to her own unfortunate sons, to
hold these men in the most distressing captivity.
I saw nothing in the scurvy which prevailed so universally at
Andersonville, at all different from this disease as described by various
standard writers. The mortality was no greater than that which has
afflicted a hundred ships upon long voyages, and it did not exceed the
mortality which has, upon me than one occasion, and in a much shorter
period of time, annihilated large armies and desolated beleaguered
cities. The general results of my investigations upon the chronic
diarrhea and dysentery of the Federal prisoners of Andersonville were
similar to those of the English surgeons during the war against Russia.
IX. Drugs exercised but little influence over the progress and fatal
termination of chronic diarrhea and dysentery in the Military Prison and
Hospital at Andersonville, chiefly because the proper form of nourishment