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Andersonville, Volume 3 by John McElroy

Part 3 out of 3

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Again our hearts sank, and death seemed more welcome than incarceration
in those gloomy wooden walls. We marched despondently up to the gates of
the Prison, and halted while a party of Rebel clerks made a list of our
names, rank, companies, and regiments. As they were Rebels it was slow
work. Reading and writing never came by nature, as Dogberry would say,
to any man fighting for Secession. As a rule, he took to them as
reluctantly as if, he thought them cunning inventions of the Northern
Abolitionist to perplex and demoralize him. What a half-dozen boys taken
out of our own ranks would have done with ease in an hour or so, these
Rebels worried over all of the afternoon, and then their register of us
was so imperfect, badly written and misspelled, that the Yankee clerks
afterwards detailed for the purpose, never could succeed in reducing it
to intelligibility.

We learned that the place at which we had arrived was Camp Lawton, but we
almost always spoke of it as "Millen," the same as Camp Sumter is
universally known as Andersonville.

Shortly after dark we were turned inside the Stockade. Being the first
that had entered, there was quite a quantity of wood--the offal from the
timber used in constructing the Stockade--lying on the ground. The night
was chilly one we soon had a number of fires blazing. Green pitch pine,
when burned, gives off a peculiar, pungent odor, which is never forgotten
by one who has once smelled it. I first became acquainted with it on
entering Andersonville, and to this day it is the most powerful
remembrance I can have of the opening of that dreadful Iliad of woes.
On my journey to Washington of late years the locomotives are invariably
fed with pitch pine as we near the Capital, and as the well-remembered
smell reaches me, I grow sick at heart with the flood of saddening
recollections indissolubly associated with it.

As our fires blazed up the clinging, penetrating fumes diffused
themselves everywhere. The night was as cool as the one when we arrived
at Andersonville, the earth, meagerly sodded with sparse, hard, wiry
grass, was the same; the same piney breezes blew in from the surrounding
trees, the same dismal owls hooted at us; the same mournful
whip-poor-will lamented, God knows what, in the gathering twilight.
What we both felt in the gloomy recesses of downcast hearts Andrews
expressed as he turned to me with:

"My God, Mc, this looks like Andersonville all over again."

A cupful of corn meal was issued to each of us. I hunted up some water.
Andrews made a stiff dough, and spread it about half an inch thick on the
back of our chessboard. He propped this up before the fire, and when the
surface was neatly browned over, slipped it off the board and turned it
over to brown the other side similarly. This done, we divided it
carefully between us, swallowed it in silence, spread our old overcoat on
the ground, tucked chess-board, can, and spoon under far enough to be out
of the reach of thieves, adjusted the thin blanket so as to get the most
possible warmth out of it, crawled in close together, and went to sleep.
This, thank Heaven, we could do; we could still sleep, and Nature had
some opportunity to repair the waste of the day. We slept, and forgot
where we were.

CHAPTER LIX.

OUR NEW QUARTERS AT CAMP LAWTON--BUILDING A HUT--AN EXCEPTIONAL
COMMANDANT--HE IS a GOOD MAN, BUT WILL TAKE BRIBES--RATIONS.

In the morning we took a survey of our new quarters, and found that we
were in a Stockade resembling very much in construction and dimensions
that at Andersonville. The principal difference was that the upright
logs were in their rough state, whereas they were hewed at Andersonville,
and the brook running through the camp was not bordered by a swamp, but
had clean, firm banks.

Our next move was to make the best of the situation. We were divided
into hundreds, each commanded by a Sergeant. Ten hundreds constituted a
division, the head of which was also a Sergeant. I was elected by my
comrades to the Sergeantcy of the Second Hundred of the First Division.
As soon as we were assigned to our ground, we began constructing shelter.
For the first and only time in my prison experience, we found a full
supply of material for this purpose, and the use we made of it showed how
infinitely better we would have fared if in each prison the Rebels had
done even so slight a thing as to bring in a few logs from the
surrounding woods and distribute them to us. A hundred or so of these
would probably have saved thousands of lives at Andersonville and
Florence.

A large tree lay on the ground assigned to our hundred. Andrews and I
took possession of one side of the ten feet nearest the butt. Other boys
occupied the rest in a similar manner. One of our boys had succeeded in
smuggling an ax in with him, and we kept it in constant use day and
night, each group borrowing it for an hour or so at a time. It was as
dull as a hoe, and we were very weak, so that it was slow work "niggering
off"--(as the boys termed it) a cut of the log. It seemed as if beavers
could have gnawed it off easier and more quickly. We only cut an inch or
so at a time, and then passed the ax to the next users. Making little
wedges with a dull knife, we drove them into the log with clubs, and
split off long, thin strips, like the weatherboards of a house, and by
the time we had split off our share of the log in this slow and laborious
way, we had a fine lot of these strips. We were lucky enough to find
four forked sticks, of which we made the corners of our dwelling, and
roofed it carefully with our strips, held in place by sods torn up from
the edge of the creek bank. The sides and ends were enclosed; we
gathered enough pine tops to cover the ground to a depth of several
inches; we banked up the outside, and ditched around it, and then had the
most comfortable abode we had during our prison career. It was truly a
house builded with our own hands, for we had no tools whatever save the
occasional use of the aforementioned dull axe and equally dull knife.

The rude little hut represented as much actual hard, manual labor as
would be required to build a comfortable little cottage in the North,
but we gladly performed it, as we would have done any other work to
better our condition.

For a while wood was quite plentiful, and we had the luxury daily of warm
fires, which the increasing coolness of the weather made important
accessories to our comfort.

Other prisoners kept coming in. Those we left behind at Savannah
followed us, and the prison there was broken up. Quite a number also
came in from--Andersonville, so that in a little while we had between six
and seven thousand in the Stockade. The last comers found all the
material for tents and all the fuel used up, and consequently did not
fare so well as the earlier arrivals.

The commandant of the prison--one Captain Bowes--was the best of his
class it was my fortune to meet. Compared with the senseless brutality
of Wirz, the reckless deviltry of Davis, or the stupid malignance of
Barrett, at Florence, his administration was mildness and wisdom itself.

He enforced discipline better than any of those named, but has what they
all lacked--executive ability--and he secured results that they could not
possibly attain, and without anything, like the friction that attended
their efforts. I do not remember that any one was shot during our six
weeks' stay at Millen--a circumstance simply remarkable, since I do not
recall a single week passed anywhere else without at least one murder by
the guards.

One instance will illustrate the difference of his administration from
that of other prison commandants. He came upon the grounds of our
division one morning, accompanied by a pleasant-faced,
intelligent-appearing lad of about fifteen or sixteen. He said to us:

"Gentlemen: (The only instance during our imprisonment when we received
so polite a designation.) This is my son, who will hereafter call your
roll. He will treat you as gentlemen, and I know you will do the same to
him."

This understanding was observed to the letter on both sides. Young Bowes
invariably spoke civilly to us, and we obeyed his orders with a prompt
cheerfulness that left him nothing to complain of.

The only charge I have to make against Bowes is made more in detail in
another chapter, and that is, that he took money from well prisoners for
giving them the first chance to go through on the Sick Exchange.
How culpable this was I must leave each reader to decide for himself.
I thought it very wrong at the time, but possibly my views might have
been colored highly by my not having any money wherewith to procure my
own inclusion in the happy lot of the exchanged.

Of one thing I am certain: that his acceptance of money to bias his
official action was not singular on his part. I am convinced that every
commandant we had over us--except Wirz--was habitually in the receipt of
bribes from prisoners. I never heard that any one succeeded in bribing
Wirz, and this is the sole good thing I can say of that fellow. Against
this it may be said, however, that he plundered the boys so effectually
on entering the prison as to leave them little of the wherewithal to
bribe anybody.

Davis was probably the most unscrupulous bribe-taker of the lot.
He actually received money for permitting prisoners to escape to our
lines, and got down to as low a figure as one hundred dollars for this
sort of service. I never heard that any of the other commandants went
this far.

The rations issued to us were somewhat better than those of
Andersonville, as the meal was finer and better, though it was absurdedly
insufficient in quantity, and we received no salt. On several occasions
fresh beef was dealt out to us, and each time the excitement created
among those who had not tasted fresh meat for weeks and months was
wonderful. On the first occasion the meat was simply the heads of the
cattle killed for the use of the guards. Several wagon loads of these
were brought in and distributed. We broke them up so that every man got
a piece of the bone, which was boiled and reboiled, as long as a single
bubble of grease would rise to the surface of the water; every vestige of
meat was gnawed and scraped from the surface and then the bone was
charred until it crumbled, when it was eaten. No one who has not
experienced it can imagine the inordinate hunger for animal food of those
who had eaten little else than corn bread for so long. Our exhausted
bodies were perishing for lack of proper sustenance. Nature indicated
fresh beef as the best medium to repair the great damage already done,
and our longing for it became beyond description.

CHAPTER LX.

THE RAIDERS REAPPEAR ON THE SCENE--THE ATTEMPT TO ASSASSINATE THOSE WHO
WERE CONCERNED IN THE EXECUTION--A COUPLE OF LIVELY FIGHTS, IN WHICH THE
RAIDERS ARE DEFEATED--HOLDING AN ELECTION.

Our old antagonists--the Raiders--were present in strong force in Millen.
Like ourselves, they had imagined the departure from Andersonville was
for exchange, and their relations to the Rebels were such that they were
all given a chance to go with the first squads. A number had been
allowed to go with the sailors on the Special Naval Exchange from
Savannah, in the place of sailors and marines who had died. On the way
to Charleston a fight had taken place between them and the real sailors,
during which one of their number--a curly-headed Irishman named Dailey,
who was in such high favor with the Rebels that he was given the place of
driving the ration wagon that came in the North Side at Andersonville
--was killed, and thrown under the wheels of the moving train, which passed
over him.

After things began to settle into shape at Millen, they seemed to believe
that they were in such ascendancy as to numbers and organization that
they could put into execution their schemes of vengeance against those of
us who had been active participants in the execution of their
confederates at Andersonville.

After some little preliminaries they settled upon Corporal "Wat" Payne,
of my company, as their first victim. The reader will remember Payne as
one of the two Corporals who pulled the trigger to the scaffold at the
time of the execution.

Payne was a very good man physically, and was yet in fair condition.
The Raiders came up one day with their best man--Pete Donnelly--and
provoked a fight, intending, in the course of it, to kill Payne. We,
who knew Payee, felt reasonably confident of his ability to handle even
so redoubtable a pugilist as Donnelly, and we gathered together a little
squad of our friends to see fair play.

The fight began after the usual amount of bad talk on both sides, and we
were pleased to see our man slowly get the better of the New York
plug-ugly. After several sharp rounds they closed, and still Payne was
ahead, but in an evil moment he spied a pine knot at his feet, which he
thought he could reach, and end the fight by cracking Donnelly's head
with it. Donnelly took instant advantage of the movement to get it,
threw Payne heavily, and fell upon him. His crowd rushed in to finish
our man by clubbing him over the head. We sailed in to prevent this,
and after a rattling exchange of blows all around, succeeded in getting
Payne away.

The issue of the fight seemed rather against us, however, and the Raiders
were much emboldened. Payne kept close to his crowd after that, and as
we had shown such an entire willingness to stand by him, the Raiders
--with their accustomed prudence when real fighting was involved--did not
attempt to molest him farther, though they talked very savagely.

A few days after this Sergeant Goody and Corporal Ned Carrigan, both of
our battalion, came in. I must ask the reader to again recall the fact
that Sergeant Goody was one of the six hangmen who put the meal-sacks
over the heads, and the ropes around the necks of the condemned.
Corporal Carrigan was the gigantic prize fighter, who was universally
acknowledged to be the best man physically among the whole thirty-four
thousand in Andersonville. The Raiders knew that Goody had come in
before we of his own battalion did. They resolved to kill him then and
there, and in broad daylight. He had secured in some way a shelter tent,
and was inside of it fixing it up. The Raider crowd, headed by Pete
Donnelly, and Dick Allen, went up to his tent and one of them called to
him:

"Sergeant, come out; I want to see you."

Goody, supposing it was one of us, came crawling out on his hands and
knees. As he did so their heavy clubs crashed down upon his head.
He was neither killed nor stunned, as they had reason to expect.
He succeeded in rising to his feet, and breaking through the crowd of
assassins. He dashed down the side of the hill, hotly pursued by them.
Coming to the Creek, he leaped it in his excitement, but his pursuers
could not, and were checked. One of our battalion boys, who saw and
comprehended the whole affair, ran over to us, shouting:

"Turn out! turn out, for God's sake! the Raiders are killing Goody!"

We snatched up our clubs and started after the Raiders, but before we
could reach them, Ned Carrigan, who also comprehended what the trouble
was, had run to the side of Goody, armed with a terrible looking club.
The sight of Ned, and the demonstration that he was thoroughly aroused,
was enough for the Raider crew, and they abandoned the field hastily.
We did not feel ourselves strong enough to follow them on to their own
dung hill, and try conclusions with them, but we determined to report the
matter to the Rebel Commandant, from whom we had reason to believe we
could expect assistance. We were right. He sent in a squad of guards,
arrested Dick Allen, Pete Donnelly, and several other ringleaders, took
them out and put them in the stocks in such a manner that they were
compelled to lie upon their stomachs. A shallow tin vessel containing
water was placed under their faces to furnish them drink.

They staid there a day and night, and when released, joined the Rebel
Army, entering the artillery company that manned the guns in the fort
covering the prison. I used to imagine with what zeal they would send us
over; a round of shell or grape if they could get anything like an
excuse.

This gave us good riddance--of our dangerous enemies, and we had little
further trouble with any of them.

The depression in the temperature made me very sensible of the
deficiencies in my wardrobe. Unshod feet, a shirt like a fishing net,
and pantaloons as well ventilated as a paling fence might do very well
for the broiling sun at Andersonville and Savannah, but now, with the
thermometer nightly dipping a little nearer the frost line, it became
unpleasantly evident that as garments their office was purely
perfunctory; one might say ornamental simply, if he wanted to be very
sarcastic. They were worn solely to afford convenient quarters for
multitudes of lice, and in deference to the prejudice which has existed
since the Fall of Man against our mingling with our fellow creatures in
the attire provided us by Nature. Had I read Darwin then I should have
expected that my long exposure to the weather would start a fine suit of
fur, in the effort of Nature to adapt, me to my, environment. But no
more indications of this appeared than if I had been a hairless dog of
Mexico, suddenly transplanted to more northern latitudes. Providence did
not seem to be in the tempering-the-wind-to-the-shorn-lamb business, as
far as I was concerned. I still retained an almost unconquerable
prejudice against stripping the dead to secure clothes, and so unless
exchange or death came speedily, I was in a bad fix.

One morning about day break, Andrews, who had started to go to another
part of the camp, came slipping back in a state of gleeful excitement.
At first I thought he either had found a tunnel or had heard some good
news about exchange. It was neither. He opened his jacket and handed me
an infantry man's blouse, which he had found in the main street, where it
had dropped out of some fellow's bundle. We did not make any extra
exertion to find the owner. Andrews was in sore need of clothes himself,
but my necessities were so much greater that the generous fellow thought
of my wants first. We examined the garment with as much interest as ever
a belle bestowed on a new dress from Worth's. It was in fair
preservation, but the owner had cut the buttons off to trade to the
guard, doubtless for a few sticks of wood, or a spoonful of salt.
We supplied the place of these with little wooden pins, and I donned the
garment as a shirt and coat and vest, too, for that matter. The best
suit I ever put on never gave me a hundredth part the satisfaction that
this did. Shortly after, I managed to subdue my aversion so far as to
take a good shoe which a one-legged dead man had no farther use for, and
a little later a comrade gave me for the other foot a boot bottom from
which he had cut the top to make a bucket.

...........................

The day of the Presidential election of 1864 approached. The Rebels were
naturally very much interested in the result, as they believed that the
election of McClellan meant compromise and cessation of hostilities,
while the re-election of Lincoln meant prosecution of the War to the
bitter end. The toadying Raiders, who were perpetually hanging around
the gate to get a chance to insinuate themselves into the favor of the
Rebel officers, persuaded them that we were all so bitterly hostile to
our Government for not exchanging us that if we were allowed to vote we
would cast an overwhelming majority in favor of McClellan.

The Rebels thought that this might perhaps be used to advantage as
political capital for their friends in the North. They gave orders that
we might, if we chose, hold an election on the same day of the
Presidential election. They sent in some ballot boxes, and we elected
Judges of the Election.

About noon of that day Captain Bowes, and a crowd of tightbooted,
broad-hatted Rebel officers, strutted in with the peculiar "Ef-yer-don't-
b'lieve--I'm-a-butcher-jest-smell-o'-mebutes" swagger characteristic of
the class. They had come in to see us all voting for McClellan.
Instead, they found the polls surrounded with ticket pedlers shouting:

"Walk right up here now, and get your Unconditional-Union-Abraham-Lincoln
-tickets!"

"Here's your straight-haired prosecution-of-the-war ticket."

"Vote the Lincoln ticket; vote to whip the Rebels, and make peace with
them when they've laid down their arms."

"Don't vote a McClellan ticket and gratify Rebels, everywhere," etc.

The Rebel officers did not find the scene what their fancy painted it,
and turning around they strutted out.

When the votes came to be counted out there were over seven thousand for
Lincoln, and not half that many hundred for McClellan. The latter got
very few votes outside the Raider crowd. The same day a similar election
was held in Florence, with like result. Of course this did not indicate
that there was any such a preponderance of Republicans among us.
It meant simply that the Democratic boys, little as they might have liked
Lincoln, would have voted for him a hundred times rather than do anything
to please the Rebels.

I never heard that the Rebels sent the result North.

CHAPTER LXI.

THE REBELS FORMALLY PROPOSE TO US TO DESERT TO THEM--CONTUMELIOUS
TREATMENT OF THE PROPOSITION--THEIR RAGE--AN EXCITING TIME--AN OUTBREAK
THREATENED--DIFFICULTIES ATTENDING DESERTION TO THE REBELS.

One day in November, some little time after the occurrences narrated in
the last chapter, orders came in to make out rolls of all those who were
born outside of the United States, and whose terms of service had
expired.

We held a little council among ourselves as to the meaning of this, and
concluded that some partial exchange had been agreed on, and the Rebels
were going to send back the class of boys whom they thought would be of
least value to the Government. Acting on this conclusion the great
majority of us enrolled ourselves as foreigners, and as having served out
our terms. I made out the roll of my hundred, and managed to give every
man a foreign nativity. Those whose names would bear it were assigned to
England, Ireland, Scotland France and Germany, and the balance were
distributed through Canada and the West Indies. After finishing the roll
and sending it out, I did not wonder that the Rebels believed the battles
for the Union were fought by foreign mercenaries. The other rolls were
made out in the same way, and I do not suppose that they showed five
hundred native Americans in the Stockade.

The next day after sending out the rolls, there came an order that all
those whose names appeared thereon should fall in. We did so, promptly,
and as nearly every man in camp was included, we fell in as for other
purposes, by hundreds and thousands. We were then marched outside, and
massed around a stump on which stood a Rebel officer, evidently waiting
to make us a speech. We awaited his remarks with the greatest
impatience, but He did not begin until the last division had marched out
and came to a parade rest close to the stump.

It was the same old story:

"Prisoners, you can no longer have any doubt that your Government has
cruelly abandoned you; it makes no efforts to release you, and refuses
all our offers of exchange. We are anxious to get our men back, and have
made every effort to do so, but it refuses to meet us on any reasonable
grounds. Your Secretary of War has said that the Government can get
along very well without you, and General Halleck has said that you were
nothing but a set of blackberry pickers and coffee boilers anyhow.

"You've already endured much more than it could expect of you; you served
it faithfully during the term you enlisted for, and now, when it is
through with you, it throws you aside to starve and die. You also can
have no doubt that the Southern Confederacy is certain to succeed in
securing its independence. It will do this in a few months. It now
offers you an opportunity to join its service, and if you serve it
faithfully to the end, you will receive the same rewards as the rest of
its soldiers. You will be taken out of here, be well clothed and fed,
given a good bounty, and, at the conclusion of the War receive a land
warrant for a nice farm. If you"--

But we had heard enough. The Sergeant of our division--a man with a
stentorian voice sprang out and shouted:

"Attention, first Division!"

We Sergeants of hundreds repeated the command down the line. Shouted he:

"First Division, about--"

Said we:

"First Hundred, about--"

"Second Hundred, about--"

"Third Hundred, about--"

"Fourth Hundred, about--" etc., etc.

Said he:--

"FACE!!"

Ten Sergeants repeated "Face!" one after the other, and each man in the
hundreds turned on his heel. Then our leader commanded--

"First Division, forward! MARCH!" and we strode back into the Stockade,
followed immediately by all the other divisions, leaving the orator still
standing on the stump.

The Rebels were furious at this curt way of replying. We had scarcely
reached our quarters when they came in with several companies, with
loaded guns and fixed bayonets. They drove us out of our tents and huts,
into one corner, under the pretense of hunting axes and spades, but in
reality to steal our blankets, and whatever else they could find that
they wanted, and to break down and injure our huts, many of which,
costing us days of patient labor, they destroyed in pure wantonness.

We were burning with the bitterest indignation. A tall, slender man
named Lloyd, a member of the Sixty-First Ohio--a rough, uneducated
fellow, but brim full of patriotism and manly common sense, jumped up on
a stump and poured out his soul in rude but fiery eloquence: "Comrades,"
he said, "do not let the blowing of these Rebel whelps discourage you;
pay no attention to the lies they have told you to-day; you know well
that our Government is too honorable and just to desert any one who
serves it; it has not deserted us; their hell-born Confederacy is not
going to succeed. I tell you that as sure as there is a God who reigns
and judges in Israel, before the Spring breezes stir the tops of these
blasted old pines their Confederacy and all the lousy graybacks who
support it will be so deep in hell that nothing but a search warrant from
the throne of God Almighty can ever find it again. And the glorious old
Stars and Stripes--"

Here we began cheering tremendously. A Rebel Captain came running up,
said to the guard, who was leaning on his gun, gazing curiously at Lloyd:

"What in ---- are you standing gaping there for? Why don't you shoot the
---- ---- Yankee son---- -- - -----?" and snatching the gun away from
him, cocked and leveled it at Lloyd, but the boys near jerked the speaker
down from the stump and saved his life.

We became fearfully, wrought up. Some of the more excitable shouted out
to charge on the line of guards, snatch they guns away from them, and
force our way through the gate The shouts were taken up by others, and,
as if in obedience to the suggestion, we instinctively formed in
line-of-battle facing the guards. A glance down the line showed me an
array of desperate, tensely drawn faces, such as one sees who looks a
men when they are summoning up all their resolution for some deed of
great peril. The Rebel officers hastily retreated behind the line of
guards, whose faces blanched, but they leveled the muskets and prepared
to receive us.

Captain Bowes, who was overlooking the prison from an elevation outside,
had, however, divined the trouble at the outset, an was preparing to meet
it. The gunners, who had shotted the pieces and trained them upon us
when we came out to listen t the speech, had again covered us with them,
and were ready to sweep the prison with grape and canister at the instant
of command. The long roll was summoning the infantry regiments back into
line, and some of the cooler-headed among us pointed these facts out and
succeeded in getting the line to dissolve again into groups of muttering,
sullen-faced men. When this was done, the guards marched out, by a
cautious indirect maneuver, so as not to turn their backs to us.

It was believed that we had some among us who would like to avail
themselves of the offer of the Rebels, and that they would try to inform
the Rebels of their desires by going to the gate during the night and
speaking to the Officer-of-the-Guard. A squad armed themselves with
clubs and laid in wait for these. They succeeded in catching several
--snatching some of then back even after they had told the guard their
wishes in a tone so loud that all near could hear distinctly. The
Officer-of-the-Guard rushed in two or three times in a vain attempt to
save the would be deserter from the cruel hands that clutched him and
bore him away to where he had a lesson in loyalty impressed upon the
fleshiest part of his person by a long, flexible strip of pine wielded by
very willing hands.

After this was kept up for several nights different ideas began I to
prevail. It was felt that if a man wanted to join the Rebels, the best
way was to let him go and get rid of him. He was of no benefit to the
Government, and would be of none to the Rebels. After this no
restriction was put upon any one who desired to go outside and take the
oath. But very few did so, however, and these were wholly confined to
the Raider crowd.

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