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.
SERGEANT LEROY L. KEY--HIS ADVENTURES SUBSEQUENT TO THE EXECUTIONS
--HE GOES OUTSIDE AT ANDERSONVILLE ON PAROLE--LABORS IN THE COOK-HOUSE
--ATTEMPTS TO ESCAPE--IS RECAPTURED AND TAKEN TO MACON--ESCAPES FROM THERE,
BUT IS COMPELLED TO RETURN--IS FINALLY EXCHANGED AT SAVANNAH.
Leroy L. Key, the heroic Sergeant of Company M, Sixteenth Illinois
Cavalry, who organized and led the Regulators at Andersonville in their
successful conflict with and defeat of the Raiders, and who presided at
the execution of the six condemned men on the 11th of July, furnishes,
at the request of the author, the following story of his prison career
subsequent to that event:
On the 12th day of July, 1864, the day after the hanging of the six
Raiders, by the urgent request of my many friends (of whom you were one),
I sought and obtained from Wirz a parole for myself and the six brave men
who assisted as executioners of those desperados. It seemed that you
were all fearful that we might, after what had been done, be assassinated
if we remained in the Stockade; and that we might be overpowered,
perhaps, by the friends of the Raiders we had hanged, at a time possibly,
when you would not be on hand to give us assistance, and thus lose our
lives for rendering the help we did in getting rid of the worst
pestilence we had to contend with.
On obtaining my parole I was very careful to have it so arranged and
mutually understood, between Wirz and myself, that at any time that my
squad (meaning the survivors of my comrades, with whom I was originally
captured) was sent away from Andersonville, either to be exchanged or to
go to another prison, that I should be allowed to go with them. This was
agreed to, and so written in my parole which I carried until it
absolutely wore out. I took a position in the cook-house, and the other
boys either went to work there, or at the hospital or grave-yard as
occasion required. I worked here, and did the best I could for the many
starving wretches inside, in the way of preparing their food, until the
eighth day of September, at which time, if you remember, quite a train
load of men were removed, as many of us thought, for the purpose of
exchange; but, as we afterwards discovered, to be taken to another
prison. Among the crowd so removed was my squad, or, at least, a portion
of them, being my intimate mess-mates while in the Stockade. As soon as
I found this to be the case I waited on Wirz at his office, and asked
permission to go with them, which he refused, stating that he was
compelled to have men at the cookhouse to cook for those in the Stockade
until they were all gone or exchanged. I reminded him of the condition
in my parole, but this only had the effect of making him mad, and he
threatened me with the stocks if I did not go back and resume work.
I then and there made up my mind to attempt my escape, considering that
the parole had first been broken by the man that granted it.
On inquiry after my return to the cook-house, I found four other boys who
were also planning an escape, and who were only too glad to get me to
join them and take charge of the affair. Our plans were well laid and
well executed, as the sequel will prove, and in this particular my own
experience in the endeavor to escape from Andersonville is not entirely
dissimilar from yours, though it had different results. I very much
regret that in the attempt I lost my penciled memorandum, in which it was
my habit to chronicle what went on around me daily, and where I had the
names of my brave comrades who made the effort to escape with me.
Unfortunately, I cannot now recall to memory the name of one of them or
remember to what commands they belonged.
I knew that our greatest risk was run in eluding the guards, and that in
the morning we should be compelled to cheat the blood-hounds. The first
we managed to do very well, not without many hairbreadth escapes,
however; but we did succeed in getting through both lines of guards,
and found ourselves in the densest pine forest I ever saw. We traveled,
as nearly as we could judge, due north all night until daylight. From
our fatigue and bruises, and the long hours that had elapsed since 8
o'clock, the time of our starting, we thought we had come not less than
twelve or fifteen miles. Imagine our surprise and mortification, then,
when we could plainly hear the reveille, and almost the Sergeant's voice
calling the roll, while the answers of "Here!" were perfectly distinct.
We could not possibly have been more than a mile, or a mile-and-a-half at
the farthest, from the Stockade.
Our anxiety and mortification were doubled when at the usual hour--as we
supposed--we heard the well-known and long-familiar sound of the hunter's
horn, calling his hounds to their accustomed task of making the circuit
of the Stockade, for the purpose of ascertaining whether or not any
"Yankee" had had the audacity to attempt an escape. The hounds,
anticipating, no doubt, this usual daily work, gave forth glad barks of
joy at being thus called forth to duty. We heard them start, as was
usual, from about the railroad depot (as we imagined), but the sounds
growing fainter and fainter gave us a little hope that our trail had been
missed. Only a short time, however, were we allowed this pleasant
reflection, for ere long--it could not have been more than an hour--we
could plainly see that they were drawing nearer and nearer. They finally
appeared so close that I advised the boys to climb a tree or sapling in
order to keep the dogs from biting them, and to be ready to surrender
when the hunters came up, hoping thus to experience as little misery as
possible, and not dreaming but that we were caught. On, on came the
hounds, nearer and nearer still, till we imagined that we could see the
undergrowth in the forest shaking by coming in contact with their bodies.
Plainer and plainer came the sound of the hunter's voice urging them
forward. Our hearts were in our throats, and in the terrible excitement
we wondered if it could be possible for Providence to so arrange it that
the dogs would pass us. This last thought, by some strange fancy, had
taken possession of me, and I here frankly acknowledge that I believed it
would happen. Why I believed it, God only knows. My excitement was so
great, indeed, that I almost lost sight of our danger, and felt like
shouting to the dogs myself, while I came near losing my hold on the tree
in which I was hidden. By chance I happened to look around at my nearest
neighbor in distress. His expression was sufficient to quell any
enthusiasm I might have had, and I, too, became despondent. In a very
few minutes our suspense was over. The dogs came within not less than
three hundred yards of us, and we could even see one of them, God in
Heaven can only imagine what great joy was then, brought to our aching
hearts, for almost instantly upon coming into sight, the hounds struck
off on a different trail, and passed us. Their voices became fainter and
fainter, until finally we could hear them no longer. About noon,
however, they were called back and taken to camp, but until that time not
one of us left our position in the trees.
When we were satisfied that we were safe for the present, we descended to
the ground to get what rest we could, in order to be prepared for the
night's march, having previously agreed to travel at night and sleep in
the day time. "Our Father, who art in Heaven," etc., were the first
words that escaped my lips, and the first thoughts that came to my mind
as I landed on terra firma. Never before, or since, had I experienced
such a profound reverence for Almighty God, for I firmly believe that
only through some mighty invisible power were we at that time delivered
from untold tortures. Had we been found, we might have been torn and
mutilated by the dogs, or, taken back to Andersonville, have suffered for
days or perhaps weeks in the stocks or chain gang, as the humor of Wirz
might have dictated at the time--either of which would have been almost
It was very fortunate for us that before our escape from Andersonville we
were detailed at the cook-house, for by this means we were enabled to
bring away enough food to live for several days without the necessity of
theft. Each one of us had our haversacks full of such small delicacies
as it was possible for us to get when we started, these consisting of
corn bread and fat bacon--nothing less, nothing more. Yet we managed to
subsist comfortably until our fourth day out, when we happened to come
upon a sweet potato patch, the potatos in which had not been dug. In a
very short space of time we were all well supplied with this article, and
lived on them raw during that day and the next night.
Just at evening, in going through a field, we suddenly came across three
negro men, who at first sight of us showed signs of running, thinking, as
they told us afterward, that we were the "patrols." After explaining to
them who we were and our condition, they took us to a very quiet retreat
in the woods, and two of them went off, stating that they would soon be
back. In a very short time they returned laden with well cooked
provisions, which not only gave us a good supper, but supplied us for the
next day with all that we wanted. They then guided us on our way for
several miles, and left us, after having refused compensation for what
they had done.
We continued to travel in this way for nine long weary nights, and on the
morning of the tenth day, as we were going into the woods to hide as
usual, a little before daylight, we came to a small pond at which there
was a negro boy watering two mules before hitching them to a cane mill,
it then being cane grinding time in Georgia. He saw us at the same time
we did him, and being frightened put whip to the animals and ran off.
We tried every way to stop him, but it was no use. He had the start of
us. We were very fearful of the consequences of this mishap, but had no
remedy, and being very tired, could do nothing else but go into the
woods, go to sleep and trust to luck.
The next thing I remembered was being punched in the ribs by my comrade
nearest to me, and aroused with the remark, "We are gone up." On opening
my eyes, I saw four men, in citizens' dress, each of whom had a shot gun
ready for use. We were ordered to get up. The first question asked us
"Who are you."
This was spoken in so mild a tone as to lead me to believe that we might
possibly be in the hands of gentlemen, if not indeed in those of friends.
It was some time before any one answered. The boys, by their looks and
the expression of their countenances, seemed to appeal to me for a reply
to get them out of their present dilemma, if possible. Before I had time
to collect my thoughts, we were startled by these words, coming from the
same man that had asked the original question:
"You had better not hesitate, for we have an idea who you are, and should
it prove that we are correct, it will be the worse for you."
"'Who do you think we are?' I inquired."
"'Horse thieves and moss-backs,' was the reply."
I jumped at the conclusion instantly that in order to save our lives, we
had better at once own the truth. In a very few words I told them who we
were, where we were from, how long we had been on the road, etc. At this
they withdrew a short distance from us for consultation, leaving us for
the time in terrible suspense as to what our fate might be. Soon, how
ever, they returned and informed us that they would be compelled to take
us to the County Jail, to await further orders from the Military
Commander of the District. While they were talking together, I took a
hasty inventory of what valuables we had on hand. I found in the crowd
four silver watches, about three hundred dollars in Confederate money,
and possibly, about one hundred dollars in greenbacks. Before their
return, I told the boys to be sure not to refuse any request I should
make. Said I:
"'Gentlemen, we have here four silver watches and several hundred dollars
in Confederate money and greenbacks, all of which we now offer you, if
you will but allow us to proceed on our journey, we taking our own
chances in the future.'"
This proposition, to my great surprise, was refused. I thought then that
possibly I had been a little indiscreet in exposing our valuables, but in
this I was mistaken, for we had, indeed, fallen into the hands of
gentlemen, whose zeal for the Lost Cause was greater than that for
obtaining worldly wealth, and who not only refused the bribe, but took us
to a well-furnished and well-supplied farm house close by, gave us an
excellent breakfast, allowing us to sit at the table in a beautiful
dining-room, with a lady at the head, filled our haversacks with good,
wholesome food, and allowed us to keep our property, with an admonition
to be careful how we showed it again. We were then put into a wagon and
taken to Hamilton, a small town, the county seat of Hamilton County,
Georgia, and placed in jail, where we remained for two days and nights
--fearing, always, that the jail would be burned over our heads, as we
heard frequent threats of that nature, by the mob on the streets.
But the same kind Providence that had heretofore watched over us, seemed
not to have deserted us in this trouble.
One of the days we were confined at this place was Sunday, and some
kind-hearted lady or ladies (I only wish I knew their names, as well as
those of the gentlemen who had us first in charge, so that I could
chronicle them with honor here) taking compassion upon our forlorn
condition, sent us a splendid dinner on a very large china platter.
Whether it was done intentionally or not, we never learned, but it was a
fact, however, that there was not a knife, fork or spoon upon the dish,
and no table to set it upon. It was placed on the floor, around which
we soon gathered, and, with grateful hearts, we "got away" with it all,
in an incredibly short space of time, while many men and boys looked on,
enjoying our ludicrous attitudes and manners.
From here we were taken to Columbus, Ga., and again placed in jail, and
in the charge of Confederate soldiers. We could easily see that we were
gradually getting into hot water again, and that, ere many days, we would
have to resume our old habits in prison. Our only hope now was that we
would not be returned to Andersonville, knowing well that if we got back
into the clutches of Wirz our chances for life would be slim indeed.
From Columbus we were sent by rail to Macon, where we were placed in a
prison somewhat similar to Andersonville, but of nothing like its
pretensions to security. I soon learned that it was only used as a kind
of reception place for the prisoners who were captured in small squads,
and when they numbered two or three hundred, they would be shipped to
Andersonville, or some other place of greater dimensions and strength.
What became of the other boys who were with me, after we got to Macon,
I do not know, for I lost sight of them there. The very next day after
our arrival, there were shipped to Andersonville from this prison between
two and three hundred men. I was called on to go with the crowd, but
having had a sufficient experience of the hospitality of that hotel,
I concluded to play "old soldier," so I became too sick to travel.
In this way I escaped being sent off four different times.
Meanwhile, quite a large number of commissioned officers had been sent up
from Charleston to be exchanged at Rough and Ready. With them were about
forty more than the cartel called for, and they were left at Macon for
ten days or two weeks. Among these officers were several of my
acquaintance, one being Lieut. Huntly of our regiment (I am not quite
sure that I am right in the name of this officer, but I think I am),
through whose influence I was allowed to go outside with them on parole.
It was while enjoying this parole that I got more familiarly acquainted
with Captain Hurtell, or Hurtrell, who was in command of the prison at
Macon, and to his honor, I here assert, that he was the only gentleman
and the only officer that had the least humane feeling in his breast,
who ever had charge of me while a prisoner of war after we were taken out
of the hands of our original captors at Jonesville, Va.
It now became very evident that the Rebels were moving the prisoners from
Andersonville and elsewhere, so as to place them beyond the reach of
Sherman and Stoneman. At my present place of confinement the fear of our
recapture had also taken possession of the Rebel authorities, so the
prisoners were sent off in much smaller squads than formerly, frequently
not more than ten or fifteen in a gang, whereas, before, they never
thought of dispatching less than two or three hundred together.
I acknowledge that I began to get very uneasy, fearful that the "old
soldier" dodge would not be much longer successful, and I would be forced
back to my old haunts. It so happened, however, that I managed to make
it serve me, by getting detailed in the prison hospital as nurse, so that
I was enabled to play another "dodge" upon the Rebel officers. At first,
when the Sergeant would come around to find out who were able to walk,
with assistance, to the depot, I was shaking with a chill, which,
according to my representation, had not abated in the least for several
hours. My teeth were actually chattering at the time, for I had learned
how to make them do so. I was passed. The next day the orders for
removal were more stringent than had yet been issued, stating that all
who could stand it to be removed on stretchers must go. I concluded at
once that I was gone, so as soon as I learned how matters were, I got out
from under my dirty blanket, stood up and found I was able to walk, to my
great astonishment, of course. An officer came early in the morning to
muster us into ranks preparatory for removal. I fell in with the rest.
We were marched out and around to the gate of the prison.
Now, it so happened that just as we neared the gate of the prison, the
prisoners were being marched from the Stockade. The officer in charge of
us--we numbering possibly about ten--undertook to place us at the head of
the column coming out, but the guard in charge of that squad refused to
let him do so. We were then ordered to stand at one side with no guard
over us but the officer who had brought us from the Hospital.
Taking this in at a glance, I concluded that now was my chance to make my
second attempt to escape. I stepped behind the gate office (a small
frame building with only one room), which was not more than six feet from
me, and as luck (or Providence) would have it, the negro man whose duty
it was, as I knew, to wait on and take care of this office, and who had
taken quite a liking for me, was standing at the back door. I winked at
him and threw him my blanket and the cup, at the same time telling him in
a whisper to hide them away for me until he heard from me again. With a
grin and a nod, he accepted the trust, and I started down along the walls
of the Stockade alone. In order to make this more plain, and to show
what a risk I was running at the time, I will state that between the
Stockade and a brick wall, fully as high as the Stockade fence that was
parallel with it, throughout its entire length on that side, there was a
space of not more than thirty feet. On the outside of this Stockade was
a platform, built for the guards to walk on, sufficiently clear the top
to allow them to look inside with ease, and on this side, on the
platform, were three guards. I had traveled about fifty feet only, from
the gate office, when I heard the command to "Halt!" I did so, of course.
"Where are you going, you d---d Yank?" said the guard.
"Going after my clothes, that are over there in the wash," pointing to a
small cabin just beyond the Stockade, where I happened to know that the
officers had their washing done.
"Oh, yes," said he; "you are one of the Yank's that's been on, parole,
"Well, hurry up, or you will get left."
The other guards heard this conversation and thinking it all right I was
allowed to pass without further trouble. I went to the cabin in
question--for I saw the last guard on the line watching me, and boldly
entered. I made a clear statement to the woman in charge of it about how
I had made my escape, and asked her to secrete me in the house until
night. I was soon convinced, however, from what she told me, as well as
from my own knowledge of how things were managed in the Confederacy, that
it would not be right for me to stay there, for if the house was searched
and I found in it, it would be the worse for her. Therefore, not wishing
to entail misery upon another, I begged her to give me something to eat,
and going to the swamp near by, succeeded in getting well without
I lay there all day, and during the time had a very severe chill and
afterwards a burning fever, so that when night came, knowing I could not
travel, I resolved to return to the cabin and spend the night, and give
myself up the next morning. There was no trouble in returning. I
learned that my fears of the morning had not been groundless, for the
guards had actually searched the house for me. The woman told them that
I had got my clothes and left the house shortly after my entrance (which
was the truth except the part about the clothes), I thanked her very
and begged to be allowed to stay in the cabin till morning, when I would
present myself at Captain H.'s office and suffer the consequences. This
she allowed me to do. I shall ever feel grateful to this woman for her
protection. She was white and her given name was "Sallie," but the other
I have forgotten.
About daylight I strolled over near the office and looked around there
until I saw the Captain take his seat at his desk. I stepped into the
door as soon as I saw that he was not occupied and saluted him "a la
"Who are you?" he asked; "you look like a Yank."
"Yes, sir," said I, "I am called by that name since I was captured in the
"Well, what are you doing here, and what is your name?"
I told him.
"Why didn't you answer to your name when it was called at the gate
"I never heard anyone call my name." Where were you?"
"I ran away down into the swamp."
"Were you re-captured and brought back?"
"No, sir, I came back of my own accord."
"What do you mean by this evasion?"
"I am not trying to evade, sir, or I might not have been here now. The
truth is, Captain, I have been in many prisons since my capture, and have
been treated very badly in all of them, until I came here."
"I then explained to him freely my escape from Andersonville, and my
subsequent re-capture, how it was that I had played "old soldier" etc."
"Now," said I, "Captain, as long as I am a prisoner of war, I wish to
stay with you, or under your command. This is my reason for running away
yesterday, when I felt confident that if I did not do so I would be
returned under Wirz's command, and, if I had been so returned, I would
have killed myself rather than submit to the untold tortures which he
would have put me to, for having the audacity to attempt an escape from
The Captain's attention was here called to some other matters in hand,
and I was sent back into the Stockade with a command very pleasantly
given, that I should stay there until ordered out, which I very
gratefully promised to do, and did. This was the last chance I ever had
to talk to Captain Hurtrell, to my great sorrow, for I had really formed
a liking for the man, notwithstanding the fact that he was a Rebel, and a
commander of prisoners.
The next day we all had to leave Macon. Whether we were able or not, the
order was imperative. Great was my joy when I learned that we were on
the way to Savannah and not to Andersonville. We traveled over the same
road, so well described in one of your articles on Andersonville, and
arrived in Savannah sometime in the afternoon of the 21st day of
November, 1864. Our squad was placed in some barracks and confined there
until the next day. I was sick at the time, so sick in fact, that I
could hardly hold my head up. Soon after, we were taken to the Florida
depot, as they told us, to be shipped to some prison in those dismal
swamps. I came near fainting when this was told to us, for I was
confident that I could not survive another siege of prison life, if it
was anything to compare to-what I had already suffered. When we arrived
at the depot, it was raining. The officer in charge of us wanted to know
what train to put us on, for there were two, if not three, trains waiting
orders to start. He was told to march us on to a certain flat car, near
by, but before giving the order he demanded a receipt for us, which the
train officer refused. We were accordingly taken back to our quarters,
which proved to be a most fortunate circumstance.
On the 23d day of November, to our great relief, we were called upon to
sign a parole preparatory to being sent down the river on the flat-boat
to our exchange ships, then lying in the harbor. When I say we, I mean
those of us that had recently come from Macon, and a few others, who had
also been fortunate in reaching Savannah in small squads. The other poor
fellows, who had already been loaded on the trains, were taken away to
Florida, and many of them never lived to return. On the 24th those of us
who had been paroled were taken on board our ships, and were once more
safely housed under that great, glorious and beautiful Star Spangled
Banner. Long may she wave.
DREARY WEATHER--THE COLD RAINS DISTRESS ALL AND KILL HUNDREDS--EXCHANGE
OF TEN THOUSAND SICK--CAPTAIN BOWES TURNS A PRETTY, BUT NOT VERY HONEST,
As November wore away long-continued, chill, searching rains desolated
our days and nights. The great, cold drops pelted down slowly,
dismally, and incessantly. Each seemed to beat through our emaciated
frames against the very marrow of our bones, and to be battering its way
remorselessly into the citadel of life, like the cruel drops that fell
from the basin of the inquisitors upon the firmly-fastened head of their
victim, until his reason fled, and the death-agony cramped his heart to
The lagging, leaden hours were inexpressibly dreary. Compared with many
others, we were quite comfortable, as our hut protected us from the
actual beating of the rain upon our bodies; but we were much more
miserable than under the sweltering heat of Andersonville, as we lay
almost naked upon our bed of pine leaves, shivering in the raw, rasping
air, and looked out over acres of wretches lying dumbly on the sodden
sand, receiving the benumbing drench of the sullen skies without a groan
or a motion.
It was enough to kill healthy, vigorous men, active and resolute, with
bodies well-nourished and well clothed, and with minds vivacious and
hopeful, to stand these day-and-night-long solid drenchings. No one can
imagine how fatal it was to boys whose vitality was sapped by long months
in Andersonville, by coarse, meager, changeless food, by groveling on the
bare earth, and by hopelessness as to any improvement of condition.
Fever, rheumatism, throat and lung diseases and despair now came to
complete the work begun by scurvy, dysentery and gangrene, in
Hundreds, weary of the long struggle, and of hoping against hope, laid
themselves down and yielded to their fate. In the six weeks that we were
at Millen, one man in every ten died. The ghostly pines there sigh over
the unnoted graves of seven hundred boys, for whom life's morning closed
in the gloomiest shadows. As many as would form a splendid regiment--as
many as constitute the first born of a populous City--more than three
times as many as were slain outright on our side in the bloody battle of
Franklin, succumbed to this new hardship. The country for which they
died does not even have a record of their names. They were simply
blotted out of existence; they became as though they had never been.
About the middle of the month the Rebels yielded to the importunities of
our Government so far as to agree to exchange ten thousand sick. The
Rebel Surgeons took praiseworthy care that our Government should profit
as little as possible by this, by sending every hopeless case, every man
whose lease of life was not likely to extend much beyond his reaching the
parole boat. If he once reached our receiving officers it was all that
was necessary; he counted to them as much as if he had been a Goliath.
A very large portion of those sent through died on the way to our lines,
or within a few hours after their transports at being once more under the
old Stars and Stripes had moderated.
The sending of the sick through gave our commandant--Captain Bowes--a
fine opportunity to fill his pockets, by conniving at the passage of well
men. There was still considerable money in the hands of a few prisoners.
All this, and more, too, were they willing to give for their lives.
In the first batch that went away were two of the leading sutlers at
Andersonville, who had accumulated perhaps one thousand dollars each by
their shrewd and successful bartering. It was generally believed that
they gave every cent to Bowes for the privilege of leaving. I know
nothing of the truth of this, but I am reasonably certain that they paid
him very handsomely.
Soon we heard that one hundred and fifty dollars each had been sufficient
to buy some men out; then one hundred, seventy-five, fifty, thirty,
twenty, ten, and at last five dollars. Whether the upright Bowes drew
the line at the latter figure, and refused to sell his honor for less
than the ruling rates of a street-walker's virtue, I know not. It was
the lowest quotation that came to my knowledge, but he may have gone
cheaper. I have always observed that when men or women begin to traffic
in themselves, their price falls as rapidly as that of a piece of tainted
meat in hot weather. If one could buy them at the rate they wind up
with, and sell them at their first price, there would be room for an
The cheapest I ever knew a Rebel officer to be bought was some weeks
after this at Florence. The sick exchange was still going on. I have
before spoken of the Rebel passion for bright gilt buttons. It used to
be a proverbial comment upon the small treasons that were of daily
occurrence on both sides, that you could buy the soul of a mean man in
our crowd for a pint of corn meal, and the soul of a Rebel guard for a
half dozen brass buttons. A boy of the Fifth-fourth Ohio, whose home was
at or near Lima, O., wore a blue vest, with the gilt, bright-trimmed
buttons of a staff officer. The Rebel Surgeon who was examining the sick
for exchange saw the buttons and admired them very much. The boy stepped
back, borrowed a knife from a comrade, cut the buttons off, and handed
them to the Doctor.
"All right, sir," said he as his itching palm closed over the coveted
ornaments; "you can pass," and pass he did to home and friends.
Captain Bowes's merchandizing in the matter of exchange was as open as
the issuing of rations. His agent in conducting the bargaining was a
Raider--a New York gambler and stool-pigeon--whom we called "Mattie."
He dealt quite fairly, for several times when the exchange was
interrupted, Bowes sent the money back to those who had paid him,
and received it again when the exchange was renewed.
Had it been possible to buy our way out for five cents each Andrews and I
would have had to stay back, since we had not had that much money for
months, and all our friends were in an equally bad plight. Like almost
everybody else we had spent the few dollars we happened to have on
entering prison, in a week or so, and since then we had been entirely
There was no hope left for us but to try to pass the Surgeons as
desperately sick, and we expended our energies in simulating this
condition. Rheumatism was our forte, and I flatter myself we got up two
cases that were apparently bad enough to serve as illustrations for a
patent medicine advertisement. But it would not do. Bad as we made our
condition appear, there were so many more who were infinitely worse,
that we stood no show in the competitive examination. I doubt if we
would have been given an average of "50" in a report. We had to stand
back, and see about one quarter of our number march out and away home.
We could not complain at this--much as we wanted to go ourselves,
since there could be no question that these poor fellows deserved the
precedence. We did grumble savagely, however, at Captain Bowes's
venality, in selling out chances to moneyed men, since these were
invariably those who were best prepared to withstand the hardships of
imprisonment, as they were mostly new men, and all had good clothes and
blankets. We did not blame the men, however, since it was not in human
nature to resist an opportunity to get away--at any cost-from that
accursed place. "All that a man hath he will give for his life," and I
think that if I had owned the City of New York in fee simple, I would
have given it away willingly, rather than stand in prison another month.
The sutlers, to whom I have alluded above, had accumulated sufficient to
supply themselves with all the necessaries and some of the comforts of
life, during any probable term of imprisonment, and still have a snug
amount left, but they, would rather give it all up and return to service
with their regiments in the field, than take the chances of any longer
continuance in prison.
I can only surmise how much Bowes realized out of the prisoners by his
venality, but I feel sure that it could not have been less than three
thousand dollars, and I would not be astonished to learn that it was ten
thousand dollars in green.
ANOTHER REMOVAL--SHERMAN'S ADVANCE SCARES THE REBELS INTO RUNNING US AWAY
FROM MILLEN--WE ARE TAKEN TO SAVANNAH, AND THENCE DOWN THE ATLANTIC &
GULF ROAD TO BLACKSHEAR
One night, toward the last of November, there was a general alarm around
the prison. A gun was fired from the Fort, the long-roll was beaten in
the various camps of the guards, and the regiments answered by getting
under arms in haste, and forming near the prison gates.
The reason for this, which we did not learn until weeks later, was that
Sherman, who had cut loose from Atlanta and started on his famous March
to the Sea, had taken such a course as rendered it probable that Millen
was one of his objective points. It was, therefore, necessary that we
should be hurried away with all possible speed. As we had had no news
from Sherman since the end of the Atlanta campaign, and were ignorant of
his having begun his great raid, we were at an utter loss to account for
the commotion among our keepers.
About 3 o'clock in the morning the Rebel Sergeants, who called the roll,
came in and ordered us to turn out immediately and get ready to move.
The morning was one of the most cheerless I ever knew. A cold rain
poured relentlessly down upon us half-naked, shivering wretches, as we
groped around in the darkness for our pitiful little belongings of rags
and cooking utensils, and huddled together in groups, urged on
continually by the curses and abuse of the Rebel officers sent in to get
us ready to move.
Though roused at 3 o'clock, the cars were not ready to receive us till
nearly noon. In the meantime we stood in ranks--numb, trembling, and
heart-sick. The guards around us crouched over fires, and shielded
themselves as best they could with blankets and bits of tent cloth.
We had nothing to build fires with, and were not allowed to approach
those of the guards.
Around us everywhere was the dull, cold, gray, hopeless desolation of the
approach of minter. The hard, wiry grass that thinly covered the once
and sand, the occasional stunted weeds, and the sparse foliage of the
gnarled and dwarfish undergrowth, all were parched brown and sere by the
fiery heat of the long Summer, and now rattled drearily under the
pitiless, cold rain, streaming from lowering clouds that seemed to have
floated down to us from the cheerless summit of some great iceberg; the
tall, naked pines moaned and shivered; dead, sapless leaves fell wearily
to the sodden earth, like withered hopes drifting down to deepen some
Slough of Despond.
Scores of our crowd found this the culmination of their misery. They
laid down upon the ground and yielded to death as s welcome relief,
and we left them lying there unburied when we moved to the cars.
As we passed through the Rebel camp at dawn, on our way to the cars,
Andrews and I noticed a nest of four large, bright, new tin pans--a rare
thing in the Confederacy at that time. We managed to snatch them without
the guard's attention being attracted, and in an instant had them wrapped
up in our blanket. But the blanket was full of holes, and in spite of
all our efforts, it would slip at the most inconvenient times, so as to
show a broad glare of the bright metal, just when it seemed it could not
help attracting the attention of the guards or their officers. A dozen
times at least we were on the imminent brink of detection, but we finally
got our treasures safely to the cars, and sat down upon them.
The cars were open flats. The rain still beat down unrelentingly.
Andrews and I huddled ourselves together so as to make our bodies afford
as much heat as possible, pulled our faithful old overcoat around us as
far as it would go, and endured the inclemency as best we could.
Our train headed back to Savannah, and again our hearts warmed up with
hopes of exchange. It seemed as if there could be no other purpose of
taking us out of a prison so recently established and at such cost as
As we approached the coast the rain ceased, but a piercing cold wind set
in, that threatened to convert our soaked rags into icicles.
Very many died on the way. When we arrived at Savannah almost, if not
quite, every car had upon it one whom hunger no longer gnawed or disease
wasted; whom cold had pinched for the last time, and for whom the golden
portals of the Beyond had opened for an exchange that neither Davis nor
his despicable tool, Winder, could control.
We did not sentimentalize over these. We could not mourn; the thousands
that we had seen pass away made that emotion hackneyed and wearisome;
with the death of some friend and comrade as regularly an event of each
day as roll call and drawing rations, the sentiment of grief had become
nearly obsolete. We were not hardened; we had simply come to look upon
death as commonplace and ordinary. To have had no one dead or dying
around us would have been regarded as singular.
Besides, why should we feel any regret at the passing away of those whose
condition would probably be bettered thereby! It was difficult to see
where we who still lived were any better off than they who were gone
before and now "forever at peace, each in his windowless palace of rest."
If imprisonment was to continue only another month, we would rather be
Arriving at Savannah, we were ordered off the cars. A squad from each
car carried the dead to a designated spot, and land them in a row,
composing their limbs as well as possible, but giving no other funeral
rites, not even making a record of their names and regiments. Negro
laborers came along afterwards, with carts, took the bodies to some
vacant ground, and sunk them out of sight in the sand.
We were given a few crackers each--the same rude imitation of "hard tack"
that had been served out to us when we arrived at Savannah the first
time, and then were marched over and put upon a train on the Atlantic &
Gulf Railroad, running from Savannah along the sea coast towards Florida.
What this meant we had little conception, but hope, which sprang eternal
in the prisoner's breast, whispered that perhaps it was exchange; that
there was some difficulty about our vessels coming to Savannah, and we
were being taken to some other more convenient sea port; probably to
Florida, to deliver us to our folks there. We satisfied ourselves that
we were running along the sea coast by tasting the water in the streams
we crossed, whenever we could get an opportunity to dip up some. As long
as the water tasted salty we knew we were near the sea, and hope burned
The truth was--as we afterwards learned--the Rebels were terribly puzzled
what to do with us. We were brought to Savannah, but that did not solve
the problem; and we were sent down the Atlantic & Gulf road as a
The railroad was the worst of the many bad ones which it was my fortune
to ride upon in my excursions while a guest of the Southern Confederacy.
It had run down until it had nearly reached the worn-out condition of
that Western road, of which an employee of a rival route once said, "that
all there was left of it now was two streaks of rust and the right of
way." As it was one of the non-essential roads to the Southern
Confederacy, it was stripped of the best of its rolling-stock and
machinery to supply the other more important lines.
I have before mentioned the scarcity of grease in the South, and the
difficulty of supplying the railroads with lubricants. Apparently there
had been no oil on the Atlantic & Gulf since the beginning of the war,
and the screeches of the dry axles revolving in the worn-out boxes were
agonizing. Some thing would break on the cars or blow out on the engine
every few miles, necessitating a long stop for repairs. Then there was
no supply of fuel along the line. When the engine ran out of wood it
would halt, and a couple of negros riding on the tender would assail a
panel of fence or a fallen tree with their axes, and after an hour or
such matter of hard chopping, would pile sufficient wood upon the tender
to enable us to renew our journey.
Frequently the engine stopped as if from sheer fatigue or inanition.
The Rebel officers tried to get us to assist it up the grade by
dismounting and pushing behind. We respectfully, but firmly, declined.
We were gentlemen of leisure, we said, and decidedly averse to manual
labor; we had been invited on this excursion by Mr. Jeff. Davis and his
friends, who set themselves up as our entertainers, and it would be a
gross breach of hospitality to reflect upon our hosts by working our
passage. If this was insisted upon, we should certainly not visit them
again. Besides, it made no difference to us whether the train got along
or not. We were not losing anything by the delay; we were not anxious to
go anywhere. One part of the Southern Confederacy was just as good as
another to us. So not a finger could they persuade any of us to raise to
help along the journey.
The country we were traversing was sterile and poor--worse even than that
in the neighborhood of Andersonville. Farms and farmhouses were scarce,
and of towns there were none. Not even a collection of houses big enough
to justify a blacksmith shop or a store appeared along the whole route.
But few fields of any kind were seen, and nowhere was there a farm which
gave evidence of a determined effort on the part of its occupants to till
the soil and to improve their condition.
When the train stopped for wood, or for repairs, or from exhaustion,
we were allowed to descend from the cars and stretch our numbed limbs.
It did us good in other ways, too. It seemed almost happiness to be
outside of those cursed Stockades, to rest our eyes by looking away
through the woods, and seeing birds and animals that were free. They
must be happy, because to us to be free once more was the summit of
There was a chance, too, to pick up something green to eat, and we were
famishing for this. The scurvy still lingered in our systems, and we
were hungry for an antidote. A plant grew rather plentifully along the
track that looked very much as I imagine a palm leaf fan does in its
green state. The leaf was not so large as an ordinary palm leaf fan,
and came directly out of the ground. The natives called it "bull-grass,"
but anything more unlike grass I never saw, so we rejected that
nomenclature, and dubbed them "green fans." They were very hard to pull
up, it being usually as much as the strongest of us could do to draw them
out of the ground. When pulled up there was found the smallest bit of a
stock--not as much as a joint of one's little finger--that was eatable.
It had no particular taste, and probably little nutriment, still it was
fresh and green, and we strained our weak muscles and enfeebled sinews at
every opportunity, endeavoring to pull up a "green fan."
At one place where we stopped there was a makeshift of a garden, one of
those sorry "truck patches," which do poor duty about Southern cabins for
the kitchen gardens of the Northern, farmers, and produce a few coarse
cow peas, a scanty lot of collards (a coarse kind of cabbage, with a
stalk about a yard long) and some onions to vary the usual side-meat and
corn pone, diet of the Georgia "cracker." Scanning the patch's ruins of
vine and stalk, Andrews espied a handful of onions, which had; remained
ungathered. They tempted him as the apple did Eve. Without stopping to
communicate his intention to me, he sprang from the car, snatched the
onions from their bed, pulled up, half a dozen collard stalks and was on
his way back before the guard could make up his mind to fire upon him.
The swiftness of his motions saved his life, for had he been more
deliberate the guard would have concluded he was trying to, escape, and
shot him down. As it was he was returning back before the guard could
get his gun up. The onions he had, secured were to us more delicious
than wine upon the lees. They seemed to find their way into every fiber
of our bodies, and invigorate every organ. The collard stalks he had
snatched up, in the expectation of finding in them something resembling
the nutritious "heart" that we remembered as children, seeking and,
finding in the stalks of cabbage. But we were disappointed. The stalks
were as dry and rotten as the bones of Southern, society. Even hunger
could find no meat in them.
After some days of this leisurely journeying toward the South, we halted
permanently about eighty-six miles from Savannah. There was no reason
why we should stop there more than any place else where we had been or
were likely to go. It seemed as if the Rebels had simply tired of
hauling us, and dumped us, off. We had another lot of dead, accumulated
since we left Savannah, and the scenes at that place were repeated.
The train returned for another load of prisoners.
BLACKSHEAR AND PIERCE COUNTRY--WE TAKE UP NEW QUARTERS, BUT ARE CALLED
OUT FOR EXCHANGE--EXCITEMENT OVER SIGNING THE PAROLE--A HAPPY JOURNEY TO
We were informed that the place we were at was Blackshear, and that it
was the Court House, i. e., the County seat of Pierce County. Where they
kept the Court House, or County seat, is beyond conjecture to me, since I
could not see a half dozen houses in the whole clearing, and not one of
them was a respectable dwelling, taking even so low a standard for
respectable dwellings as that afforded by the majority of Georgia houses.
Pierce County, as I have since learned by the census report, is one of
the poorest Counties of a poor section of a very poor State.
A population of less than two thousand is thinly scattered over its five
hundred square miles of territory, and gain a meager subsistence by a
weak simulation of cultivating patches of its sandy dunes and plains in
"nubbin" corn and dropsical sweet potatos. A few "razor-back" hogs
--a species so gaunt and thin that I heard a man once declare that he had
stopped a lot belonging to a neighbor from crawling through the cracks of
a tight board fence by simply tying a knot in their tails--roam the
woods, and supply all the meat used.
Andrews used to insist that some of the hogs which we saw were so thin
that the connection between their fore and hindquarters was only a single
thickness of skin, with hair on both sides--but then Andrews sometimes
seemed to me to have a tendency to exaggerate.
The swine certainly did have proportions that strongly resembled those of
the animals which children cut out of cardboard. They were like the
geometrical definition of a superfice--all length and breadth, and no
thickness. A ham from them would look like a palm-leaf fan.
I never ceased to marvel at the delicate adjustment of the development of
animal life to the soil in these lean sections of Georgia. The poor land
would not maintain anything but lank, lazy men, with few wants, and none
but lank, lazy men, with few wants, sought a maintenance from it. I may
have tangled up cause and effect, in this proposition, but if so, the
reader can disentangle them at his leisure.
I was not astonished to learn that it took five hundred square miles of
Pierce County land to maintain two thousand "crackers," even as poorly as
they lived. I should want fully that much of it to support one
fair-sized Northern family as it should be.
After leaving the cars we were marched off into the pine woods, by the
side of a considerable stream, and told that this was to be our camp.
A heavy guard was placed around us, and a number of pieces of artillery
mounted where they would command the camp.
We started in to make ourselves comfortable, as at Millen, by building
shanties. The prisoners we left behind followed us, and we soon had our
old crowd of five or six thousand, who had been our companions at
Savannah and Millers, again with us. The place looked very favorable for
escape. We knew we were still near the sea coast--really not more than
forty miles away--and we felt that if we could once get there we should
be safe. Andrews and I meditated plans of escape, and toiled away at our
About a week after our arrival we were startled by an order for the one
thousand of us who had first arrived to get ready to move out. In a few
minutes we were taken outside the guard line, massed close together, and
informed in a few words by a Rebel officer that we were about to be taken
back to Savannah for exchange.
The announcement took away our breath. For an instant the rush of
emotion made us speechless, and when utterance returned, the first use we
made of it was to join in one simultaneous outburst of acclamation.
Those inside the guard line, understanding what our cheer meant, answered
us with a loud shout of congratulation--the first real, genuine, hearty
cheering that had been done since receiving the announcement of the
exchange at Andersonville, three months before.
As soon as the excitement had subsided somewhat, the Rebel proceeded to
explain that we would all be required to sign a parole. This set us to
thinking. After our scornful rejection of the proposition to enlist in
the Rebel army, the Rebels had felt around among us considerably as to
how we were disposed toward taking what was called the "Non-Combatant's
Oath;" that is, the swearing not to take up arms against the Southern
Confederacy again during the war. To the most of us this seemed only a
little less dishonorable than joining the Rebel army. We held that our
oaths to our own Government placed us at its disposal until it chose to
discharge us, and we could not make any engagements with its enemies that
might come in contravention of that duty. In short, it looked very much
like desertion, and this we did not feel at liberty to consider.
There were still many among us, who, feeling certain that they could not
survive imprisonment much longer, were disposed to look favorably upon
the Non-Combatant's Oath, thinking that the circumstances of the case
would justify their apparent dereliction from duty. Whether it would or
not I must leave to more skilled casuists than myself to decide. It was
a matter I believed every man must settle with his own conscience. The
opinion that I then held and expressed was, that if a boy, felt that he
was hopelessly sick, and that he could not live if he remained in prison,
he was justified in taking the Oath. In the absence of our own Surgeons
he would have to decide for himself whether he was sick enough to be
warranted in resorting to this means of saving his life. If he was in as
good health as the majority of us were, with a reasonable prospect of
surviving some weeks longer, there was no excuse for taking the Oath,
for in that few weeks we might be exchanged, be recaptured, or make our
escape. I think this was the general opinion of the prisoners.
While the Rebel was talking about our signing the parole, there flashed
upon all of us at the same moment, a suspicion that this was a trap to
delude us into signing the Non-Combatant's Oath. Instantly there went up
a general shout:
"Read the parole to us."
The Rebel was handed a blank parole by a companion, and he read over the
printed condition at the top, which was that those signing agreed not to
bear arms against the Confederates in the field, or in garrison, not to
man any works, assist in any expedition, do any sort of guard duty, serve
in any military constabulary, or perform any kind of military service
until properly exchanged.
For a minute this was satisfactory; then their ingrained distrust of any
thing a Rebel said or did returned, and they shouted:
"No, no; let some of us read it; let Ilinoy' read it--"
The Rebel looked around in a puzzled manner.
"Who the h--l is 'Illinoy!' Where is he?" said he.
I saluted and said:
"That's a nickname they give me."
"Very well," said he, "get up on this stump and read this parole to these
d---d fools that won't believe me."
I mounted the stump, took the blank from his hand and read it over
slowly, giving as much emphasis as possible to the all-important clause
at the end--"until properly exchanged." I then said:
"Boys, this seems all right to me," and they answered, with almost one
"Yes, that's all right. We'll sign that."
I was never so proud of the American soldier-boy as at that moment. They
all felt that signing that paper was to give them freedom and life. They
knew too well from sad experience what the alternative was. Many felt
that unless released another week would see them in their graves. All
knew that every day's stay in Rebel hands greatly lessened their chances
of life. Yet in all that thousand there was not one voice in favor of
yielding a tittle of honor to save life. They would secure their freedom
honorably, or die faithfully. Remember that this was a miscellaneous
crowd of boys, gathered from all sections of the country, and from many
of whom no exalted conceptions of duty and honor were expected. I wish
some one would point out to me, on the brightest pages of knightly
record, some deed of fealty and truth that equals the simple fidelity of
these unknown heros. I do not think that one of them felt that he was
doing anything especially meritorious. He only obeyed the natural
promptings of his loyal heart.
The business of signing the paroles was then begun in earnest. We were
separated into squads according to the first letters of our names, all
those whose name began with A being placed in one squad, those beginning
with B, in another, and so on. Blank paroles for each letter were spread
out on boxes and planks at different places, and the signing went on
under the superintendence of a Rebel Sergeant and one of the prisoners.
The squad of M's selected me to superintend the signing for us, and I
stood by to direct the boys, and sign for the very few who could not
write. After this was done we fell into ranks again, called the roll of
the signers, and carefully compared the number of men with the number of
signatures so that nobody should pass unparoled. The oath was then
administered to us, and two day's rations of corn meal and fresh beef
This formality removed the last lingering doubt that we had of the
exchange being a reality, and we gave way to the happiest emotions.
We cheered ourselves hoarse, and the fellows still inside followed our
example, as they expected that they would share our good fortune in a day
Our next performance was to set to work, cook our two days' rations at
once and eat them. This was not very difficult, as the whole supply for
two days would hardly make one square meal. That done, many of the boys
went to the guard line and threw their blankets, clothing, cooking
utensils, etc., to their comrades who were still inside. No one thought
they would have any further use for such things.
"To-morrow, at this time, thank Heaven," said a boy near me, as he tossed
his blanket and overcoat back to some one inside, "we'll be in God's
country, and then I wouldn't touch them d---d lousy old rags with a
One of the boys in the M squad was a Maine infantryman, who had been with
me in the Pemberton building, in Richmond, and had fashioned himself a
little square pan out of a tin plate of a tobacco press, such as I have
described in an earlier chapter. He had carried it with him ever since,
and it was his sole vessel for all purposes--for cooking, carrying water,
drawing rations, etc. He had cherished it as if it were a farm or a good
situation. But now, as he turned away from signing his name to the
parole, he looked at his faithful servant for a minute in undisguised
contempt; on the eve of restoration to happier, better things, it was a
reminder of all the petty, inglorious contemptible trials and sorrows he
had endured; he actually loathed it for its remembrances, and flinging it
upon the ground he crushed it out of all shape and usefulness with his
feet, trampling upon it as he would everything connected with his prison
life. Months afterward I had to lend this man my little can to cook his
Andrews and I flung the bright new tin pans we had stolen at Millen
inside the line, to be scrambled for. It was hard to tell who were the
most surprised at their appearance--the Rebels or our own boys--for few
had any idea that there were such things in the whole Confederacy, and
certainly none looked for them in the possession of two such
poverty-stricken specimens as we were. We thought it best to retain
possession of our little can, spoon, chess-board, blanket, and overcoat.
As we marched down and boarded the train, the Rebels confirmed their
previous action by taking all the guards from around us. Only some eight
or ten were sent to the train, and these quartered themselves in the
caboose, and paid us no further attention.
The train rolled away amid cheering by ourselves and those we left
behind. One thousand happier boys than we never started on a journey.
We were going home. That was enough to wreathe the skies with glory, and
fill the world with sweetness and light. The wintry sun had something of
geniality and warmth, the landscape lost some of its repulsiveness, the
dreary palmettos had less of that hideousness which made us regard them
as very fitting emblems of treason. We even began to feel a little
good-humored contempt for our hateful little Brats of guards, and to
reflect how much vicious education and surroundings were to be held
responsible for their misdeeds.
We laughed and sang as we rolled along toward Savannah--going back much
faster than the came. We re-told old stories, and repeated old jokes,
that had become wearisome months and months ago, but were now freshened
up and given their olden pith by the joyousness of the occasion. We
revived and talked over old schemes gotten up in the earlier days of
prison life, of what "we would do when we got out," but almost forgotten
since, in the general uncertainty of ever getting out. We exchanged
addresses, and promised faithfully to write to each other and tell how we
found everything at home.
So the afternoon and night passed. We were too excited to sleep, and
passed the hours watching the scenery, recalling the objects we had
passed on the way to Blackshear, and guessing how near we were to
Though we were running along within fifteen or twenty miles of the coast,
with all our guards asleep in the caboose, no one thought of escape.
We could step off the cars and walk over to the seashore as easily as a
man steps out of his door and walks to a neighboring town, but why should
we? Were we not going directly to our vessels in the harbor of Savannah,
and was it not better to do this, than to take the chances of escaping,
and encounter the difficulties of reaching our blockaders! We thought
so, and we staid on the cars.
A cold, gray Winter morning was just breaking as we reached Savannah.
Our train ran down in the City, and then whistled sharply and ran back a
mile or so; it repeated this maneuver two or three times, the evident
design being to keep us on the cars until the people were ready to
receive us. Finally our engine ran with all the speed she was capable
of, and as the train dashed into the street we found ourselves between
two heavy lines of guards with bayonets fixed.
The whole sickening reality was made apparent by one glance at the guard
line. Our parole was a mockery, its only object being to get us to
Savannah as easily as possible, and to prevent benefit from our recapture
to any of Sherman's Raiders, who might make a dash for the railroad while
we were in transit. There had been no intention of exchanging us. There
was no exchange going on at Savannah.
After all, I do not think we felt the disappointment as keenly as the
first time we were brought to Savannah. Imprisonment had stupefied us;
we were duller and more hopeless.
Ordered down out of the cars, we were formed in line in the street.
Said a Rebel officer:
"Now, any of you fellahs that ah too sick to go to Chahlston, step
fohwahd one pace."
We looked at each other an instant, and then the whole line stepped
forward. We all felt too sick to go to Charleston, or to do anything
else in the world.
SPECIMEN CONVERSATION WITH AN AVERAGE NATIVE GEORGIAN--WE LEARN THAT
SHERMAN IS HEADING FOR SAVANNAH--THE RESERVES GET A LITTLE SETTLING DOWN.
As the train left the northern suburbs of Savannah we came upon a scene
of busy activity, strongly contrasting with the somnolent lethargy that
seemed to be the normal condition of the City and its inhabitants. Long
lines of earthworks were being constructed, gangs of negros were felling
trees, building forts and batteries, making abatis, and toiling with
numbers of huge guns which were being moved out and placed in position.
As we had had no new prisoners nor any papers for some weeks--the papers
being doubtless designedly kept away from us--we were at a loss to know
what this meant. We could not understand this erection of fortifications
on that side, because, knowing as we did how well the flanks of the City
were protected by the Savannah and Ogeeche Rivers, we could not see how a
force from the coast--whence we supposed an attack must come, could hope
to reach the City's rear, especially as we had just come up on the right
flank of the City, and saw no sign of our folks in that direction.
Our train stopped for a few minutes at the edge of this line of works,
and an old citizen who had been surveying the scene with senile interest,
tottered over to our car to take a look at us. He was a type of the old
man of the South of the scanty middle class, the small farmer. Long
white hair and beard, spectacles with great round, staring glasses,
a broad-brimmed hat of ante-Revolutionary pattern, clothes that had
apparently descended to him from some ancestor who had come over with
Oglethorpe, and a two-handed staff with a head of buckhorn, upon which he
leaned as old peasants do in plays, formed such an image as recalled to
me the picture of the old man in the illustrations in "The Dairyman's
Daughter." He was as garrulous as a magpie, and as opinionated as a
Southern white always is. Halting in front of our car, he steadied
himself by planting his staff, clasping it with both lean and skinny
hands, and leaning forward upon it, his jaws then addressed themselves to
"Boys, who mout these be that ye got?"
One of the Guards:--"O, these is some Yanks that we've bin hivin' down
at Camp Sumter."
"Yes?" (with an upward inflection of the voice, followed by a close
scrutiny of us through the goggle-eyed glasses,) "Wall, they're a
powerful ornary lookin' lot, I'll declah."
It will be seen that the old, gentleman's perceptive powers were much
more highly developed than his politeness.
"Well, they ain't what ye mout call purty, that's a fack," said the
"So yer Yanks, air ye?" said the venerable Goober-Grabber, (the nick-name
in the South for Georgians), directing his conversation to me. "Wall,
I'm powerful glad to see ye, an' 'specially whar ye can't do no harm;
I've wanted to see some Yankees ever sence the beginnin' of the wah, but
hev never had no chance. Whah did ye cum from?"
I seemed called upon to answer, and said: "I came from Illinois; most of
the boys in this car are from Illinois, Ohio, Indiana, Michigan and
"'Deed! All Westerners, air ye? Wall, do ye know I alluz liked the
Westerners a heap sight better than them blue-bellied New England
No discussion with a Rebel ever proceeded very far without his making an
assertion like this. It was a favorite declaration of theirs, but its
absurdity was comical, when one remembered that the majority of them
could not for their lives tell the names of the New England States, and
could no more distinguish a Downeaster from an Illinoisan than they could
tell a Saxon from a Bavarian. One day, while I was holding a
conversation similar to the above with an old man on guard, another
guard, who had been stationed near a squad made up of Germans, that
talked altogether in the language of the Fatherland, broke in with:
"Out there by post numbah foahteen, where I wuz yesterday, there's a lot
of Yanks who jest jabbered away all the hull time, and I hope I may never
see the back of my neck ef I could understand ary word they said, Are
them the regular blue-belly kind?"
The old gentleman entered upon the next stage of the invariable routine
of discussion with a Rebel:
"Wall, what air you'uns down heah, a-fightin' we'uns foh?"
As I had answered this question several hundred times, I had found the
most extinguishing reply to be to ask in return:
"What are you'uns coming up into our country to fight we'uns for?"
Disdaining to notice this return in kind, the old man passed on to the
"What are you'uns takin' ouah niggahs away from us foh?"
Now, if negros had been as cheap as oreoide watches, it is doubtful
whether the speaker had ever had money enough in his possession at one
time to buy one, and yet he talked of taking away "ouah niggahs," as if
they were as plenty about his place as hills of corn. As a rule, the
more abjectly poor a Southerner was, the more readily he worked himself
into a rage over the idea of "takin' away ouah niggahs."
I replied in burlesque of his assumption of ownership:
"What are you coming up North to burn my rolling mills and rob my comrade
here's bank, and plunder my brother's store, and burn down my uncle's
No reply, to this counter thrust. The old man passed to the third
"What air you'uns puttin' ouah niggahs in the field to fight we'uns foh?"
Then the whole car-load shouted back at him at once:
"What are you'uns putting blood-hounds on our trails to hunt us down,
Old Man--(savagely), "Waal, ye don't think ye kin ever lick us; leastways
sich fellers as ye air?"
Myself--"Well, we warmed it to you pretty lively until you caught us.
There were none of us but what were doing about as good work as any stock
you fellows could turn out. No Rebels in our neighborhood had much to
brag on. We are not a drop in the bucket, either. There's millions more
better men than we are where we came from, and they are all determined to
stamp out your miserable Confederacy. You've got to come to it, sooner
or later; you must knock under, sure as white blossoms make little
apples. You'd better make up your mind to it."
Old Man--"No, sah, nevah. Ye nevah kin conquer us! We're the bravest
people and the best fighters on airth. Ye nevah kin whip any people
that's a fightin' fur their liberty an' their right; an' ye nevah can
whip the South, sah, any way. We'll fight ye until all the men air
killed, and then the wimmen'll fight ye, sah."
Myself--"Well, you may think so, or you may not. From the way our boys
are snatching the Confederacy's real estate away, it begins to look as if
you'd not have enough to fight anybody on pretty soon. What's the
meaning of all this fortifying?"
Old Man--"Why, don't you know? Our folks are fixin' up a place foh Bill
Sherman to butt his brains out gain'."
"Bill Sherman!" we all shouted in surprise: "Why he ain't within two
hundred miles of this place, is he?"
Old Man--"Yes, but he is, tho'. He thinks he's played a sharp Yankee
trick on Hood. He found out he couldn't lick him in a squar' fight,
nohow; he'd tried that on too often; so he just sneaked 'round behind
him, and made a break for the center of the State, where he thought there
was lots of good stealin' to be done. But we'll show him. We'll soon
hev him just whar we want him, an' we'll learn him how to go traipesin'
'round the country, stealin' nigahs, burnin' cotton, an' runnin' off
folkses' beef critters. He sees now the scrape he's got into, an' he's
tryin' to get to the coast, whar the gun-boats'll help 'im out. But
he'll nevah git thar, sah; no sah, nevah. He's mouty nigh the end of his
rope, sah, and we'll purty' soon hev him jist whar you fellows air, sah."
Myself--"Well, if you fellows intended stopping him, why didn't you do it
up about Atlanta? What did you let him come clear through the State,
burning and stealing, as you say? It was money in your pockets to head
him off as soon as possible."
Old Man--"Oh, we didn't set nothing afore him up thar except Joe Brown's
Pets, these sorry little Reserves; they're powerful little account; no
stand-up to'em at all; they'd break their necks runnin' away ef ye so
much as bust a cap near to 'em."
Our guards, who belonged to these Reserves, instantly felt that the
conversation had progressed farther than was profitable and one of them
spoke up roughly:
"See heah, old man, you must go off; I can't hev ye talkin' to these
prisoners; hits agin my awdahs. Go 'way now!"
The old fellow moved off, but as he did he flung this Parthian arrow:
"When Sherman gits down deep, he'll find somethin' different from the
little snots of Reserves he ran over up about Milledgeville; he'll find
he's got to fight real soldiers."
We could not help enjoying the rage of the guards, over the low estimate
placed upon the fighting ability of themselves and comrades, and as they
raved, around about what they would do if they were only given an
opportunity to go into a line of battle against Sherman, we added fuel to
the flames of their anger by confiding to each other that we always "knew
that little Brats whose highest ambition was to murder a defenseless
prisoner, could be nothing else than cowards end skulkers in the field."
"Yaas--sonnies," said Charlie Burroughs, of the Third Michigan, in that
nasal Yankee drawl, that he always assumed, when he wanted to say
anything very cutting; "you--trundle--bed--soldiers--who've never--seen
--the kind--that--are--starved--down--to tameness. They're--jest--as
--the woods--who--has--a--nigger--every day--for-dinner. You--fellows
--to--look--a woodchuck--in--the--eye--if--you--met--him--alone. It's
--in--the--Stockade, but--when--you--see--a--Yank with--a--gun--in--his
A little later, a paper, which some one had gotten hold of, in some
mysterious manner, was secretly passed to me. I read it as I could find
opportunity, and communicated its contents to the rest of the boys.
The most important of these was a flaming proclamation by Governor Joe
Brown, setting forth that General Sherman was now traversing the State,
committing all sorts of depredations; that he had prepared the way for
his own destruction, and the Governor called upon all good citizens to
rise en masse, and assist in crushing the audacious invader. Bridges
must be burned before and behind him, roads obstructed, and every inch of
soil resolutely disputed.
We enjoyed this. It showed that the Rebels were terribly alarmed, and we
began to feel some of that confidence that "Sherman will come out all
right," which so marvelously animated all under his command.
OFF TO CHARLESTON--PASSING THROUGH THE RICE SWAMPS--TWO EXTREMES OF
SOCIETY--ENTRY INTO CHARLESTON--LEISURELY WARFARE--SHELLING THE CITY AT
REGULAR INTERVALS--WE CAMP IN A MASS OF RUINS--DEPARTURE FOR FLORENCE.
The train started in a few minutes after the close of the conversation
with the old Georgian, and we soon came to and crossed the Savannah River
into South Carolina. The river was wide and apparently deep; the tide
was setting back in a swift, muddy current; the crazy old bridge creaked
and shook, and the grinding axles shrieked in the dry journals, as we
pulled across. It looked very much at times as if we were to all crash
down into the turbid flood--and we did not care very much if we did, if
we were not going to be exchanged.
The road lay through the tide swamp region of South Carolina, a peculiar
and interesting country. Though swamps and fens stretched in all
directions as far as the eye could reach, the landscape was more grateful
to the eye than the famine-stricken, pine-barrens of Georgia, which had
become wearisome to the sight. The soil where it appeared, was rich,
vegetation was luxuriant; great clumps of laurel showed glossy richness
in the greenness of its verdure, that reminded us of the fresh color of
the vegetation of our Northern homes, so different from the parched and
impoverished look of Georgian foliage. Immense flocks of wild fowl
fluttered around us; the Georgian woods were almost destitute of living
creatures; the evergreen live-oak, with its queer festoons of Spanish
moss, and the ugly and useless palmettos gave novelty and interest to the
The rice swamps through which we were passing were the princely
possessions of the few nabobs who before the war stood at the head of
South Carolina aristocracy--they were South Carolina, in fact, as
absolutely as Louis XIV. was France. In their hands--but a few score in
number--was concentrated about all there was of South Carolina education,
wealth, culture, and breeding. They represented a pinchbeck imitation of
that regime in France which was happily swept out of existence by the
Revolution, and the destruction of which more than compensated for every
drop of blood shed in those terrible days. Like the provincial 'grandes
seigneurs' of Louis XVI's reign, they were gay, dissipated and turbulent;
"accomplished" in the superficial acquirements that made the "gentleman"
one hundred years ago, but are grotesquely out of place in this sensible,
solid age, which demands that a man shall be of use, and not merely for
show. They ran horses and fought cocks, dawdled through society when
young, and intrigued in politics the rest of their lives, with frequent
spice-work of duels. Esteeming personal courage as a supreme human
virtue, and never wearying of prating their devotion to the highest
standard of intrepidity, they never produced a General who was even
mediocre; nor did any one ever hear of a South Carolina regiment gaining
distinction. Regarding politics and the art of government as, equally
with arms, their natural vocations, they have never given the Nation a
statesman, and their greatest politicians achieved eminence by advocating
ideas which only attracted attention by their balefulness.
Still further resembling the French 'grandes seigneurs' of the eighteenth
century, they rolled in wealth wrung from the laborer by reducing the
rewards of his toil to the last fraction that would support his life and
strength. The rice culture was immensely profitable, because they had
found the secret for raising it more cheaply than even the pauper laborer
of the of world could. Their lands had cost them nothing originally, the
improvements of dikes and ditches were comparatively, inexpensive, the
taxes were nominal, and their slaves were not so expensive to keep as
good horses in the North.
Thousands of the acres along the road belonged to the Rhetts, thousands
to the Heywards, thousands to the Manigault the Lowndes, the Middletons,
the Hugers, the Barnwells, and the Elliots--all names too well known in
the history of our country's sorrows. Occasionally one of their stately
mansions could be seen on some distant elevation, surrounded by noble old
trees, and superb grounds. Here they lived during the healthy part of
the year, but fled thence to summer resort in the highlands as the
miasmatic season approached.
The people we saw at the stations along our route were melancholy
illustrations of the evils of the rule of such an oligarchy. There was
no middle class visible anywhere--nothing but the two extremes. A man
was either a "gentleman," and wore white shirt and city-made clothes,
or he was a loutish hind, clad in mere apologies for garments. We
thought we had found in the Georgia "cracker" the lowest substratum of
human society, but he was bright intelligence compared to the South
Carolina "clay-eater" and "sand-hiller." The "cracker" always gave hopes
to one that if he had the advantage of common schools, and could be made
to understand that laziness was dishonorable, he might develop into
something. There was little foundation for such hope in the average low
South Carolinian. His mind was a shaking quagmire, which did not admit
of the erection of any superstructure of education upon it. The South
Carolina guards about us did not know the name of the next town, though
they had been raised in that section. They did not know how far it was
there, or to any place else, and they did not care to learn. They had no
conception of what the war was being waged for, and did not want to find
out; they did not know where their regiment was going, and did not
remember where it had been; they could not tell how long they had been in
service, nor the time they had enlisted for. They only remembered that
sometimes they had had "sorter good times," and sometimes "they had been
powerful bad," and they hoped there would be plenty to eat wherever they
went, and not too much hard marching. Then they wondered "whar a
feller'd be likely to make a raise of a canteen of good whisky?"
Bad as the whites were, the rice plantation negros were even worse,
if that were possible. Brought to the country centuries ago, as brutal
savages from Africa, they had learned nothing of Christian civilization,
except that it meant endless toil, in malarious swamps, under the lash of
the taskmaster. They wore, possibly, a little more clothing than their
Senegambian ancestors did; they ate corn meal, yams and rice, instead of
bananas, yams and rice, as their forefathers did, and they had learned a
bastard, almost unintelligible, English. These were the sole blessings
acquired by a transfer from a life of freedom in the jungles of the Gold
Coast, to one of slavery in the swamps of the Combahee.
I could not then, nor can I now, regret the downfall of a system of
society which bore such fruits.
Towards night a distressingly cold breeze, laden with a penetrating mist,
set in from the sea, and put an end to future observations by making us
too uncomfortable to care for scenery or social conditions. We wanted
most to devise a way to keep warm. Andrews and I pulled our overcoat and
blanket closely about us, snuggled together so as to make each one's
meager body afford the other as much heat as possible--and endured.
We became fearfully hungry. It will be recollected that we ate the whole
of the two days' rations issued to us at Blackshear at once, and we had
received nothing since. We reached the sullen, fainting stage of great
hunger, and for hours nothing was said by any one, except an occasional
bitter execration on Rebels and Rebel practices.
It was late at night when we reached Charleston. The lights of the City,
and the apparent warmth and comfort there cheered us up somewhat with the
hopes that we might have some share in them. Leaving the train, we were
marched some distance through well-lighted streets, in which were plenty
of people walking to and fro. There were many stores, apparently stocked
with goods, and the citizens seemed to be going about their business very
much as was the custom up North.
At length our head of column made a "right turn," and we marched away
from the lighted portion of the City, to a part which I could see through
the shadows was filled with ruins. An almost insupportable odor of gas,
escaping I suppose from the ruptured pipes, mingled with the cold,
rasping air from the sea, to make every breath intensely disagreeable.
As I saw the ruins, it flashed upon me that this was the burnt district
of the city, and they were putting us under the fire of our own guns.
At first I felt much alarmed. Little relish as I had on general
principles, for being shot I had much less for being killed by our own
men. Then I reflected that if they put me there--and kept me--a guard
would have to be placed around us, who would necessarily be in as much
clanger as we were, and I knew I could stand any fire that a Rebel could.
We were halted in a vacant lot, and sat down, only to jump up the next
instant, as some one shouted:
"There comes one of 'em!"
It was a great shell from the Swamp Angel Battery. Starting from a point
miles away, where, seemingly, the sky came down to the sea, was a, narrow
ribbon of fire, which slowly unrolled itself against the star-lit vault
over our heads. On, on it came, and was apparently following the sky
down to the horizon behind us. As it reached the zenith, there came to
our ears a prolonged, but not sharp,
We watched it breathlessly, and it seemed to be long minutes in running
its course; then a thump upon the ground, and a vibration, told that it
had struck. For a moment there was a dead silence. Then came a loud
roar, and the crash of breaking timber and crushing walls. The shell had
Ten minutes later another shell followed, with like results. For awhile
we forgot all about hunger in the excitement of watching the messengers
from "God's country." What happiness to be where those shells came from.
Soon a Rebel battery of heavy guns somewhere near and in front of us,
waked up, and began answering with dull, slow thumps that made the ground
shudder. This continued about an hour, when it quieted down again, but
our shells kept coming over at regular intervals with the same slow
deliberation, the same prolonged warning, and the same dreadful crash
when they struck. They had already gone on this way for over a year,
and were to keep it up months longer until the City was captured.
The routine was the same from day to day, month in, and month out, from
early in August, 1863, to the middle of April, 1865. Every few minutes
during the day our folks would hurl a great shell into the beleaguered
City, and twice a day, for perhaps an hour each time, the Rebel batteries
would talk back. It must have been a lesson to the Charlestonians of the
persistent, methodical spirit of the North. They prided themselves on
the length of the time they were holding out against the enemy, and the
papers each day had a column headed:
"390th DAY OF THE SIEGE,"
or 391st, 393d, etc., as the number might be since our people opened fire
upon the City. The part where we lay was a mass of ruins. Many large
buildings had been knocked down; very many more were riddled with shot
holes and tottering to their fall. One night a shell passed through a
large building about a quarter of a mile from us. It had already been
struck several times, and was shaky. The shell went through with a
deafening crash. All was still for an instant; then it exploded with a
dull roar, followed by more crashing of timber and walls. The sound died
away and was succeeded by a moment of silence. Finally the great
building fell, a shapeless heap of ruins, with a noise like that of a
dozen field pieces. We wanted to cheer but restrained ourselves. This
was the nearest to us that any shell came.
There was only one section of the City in reach of our guns and this was
nearly destroyed. Fires had come to complete the work begun by the
shells. Outside of the boundaries of this region, the people felt
themselves as safe as in one of our northern Cities to-day. They had an
abiding faith that they were clear out of reach of any artillery that we
could mount. I learned afterwards from some of the prisoners, who went
into Charleston ahead of us, and were camped on the race course outside
of the City, that one day our fellows threw a shell clear over the City
to this race course. There was an immediate and terrible panic among the
citizens. They thought we had mounted some new guns of increased range,
and now the whole city must go. But the next shell fell inside the
established limits, and those following were equally well behaved, so
that the panic abated. I have never heard any explanation of the matter.
It may have been some freak of the gun-squad, trying the effect of an
extra charge of powder. Had our people known of its signal effect, they
could have depopulated the place in a few hours.
The whole matter impressed me queerly. The only artillery I had ever
seen in action were field pieces. They made an earsplitting crash when
they were discharged, and there was likely to be oceans of trouble for
everybody in that neighborhood about that time. I reasoned from this
that bigger guns made a proportionally greater amount of noise, and bred
an infinitely larger quantity of trouble. Now I was hearing the giants
of the world's ordnance, and they were not so impressive as a lively
battery of three-inch rifles. Their reports did not threaten to shatter
everything, but had a dull resonance, something like that produced by
striking an empty barrel with a wooden maul. Their shells did not come
at one in that wildly, ferocious way, with which a missile from a
six-pounder convinces every fellow in a long line of battle that he is
the identical one it is meant for, but they meandered over in a lazy,
leisurely manner, as if time was no object and no person would feel put
out at having to wait for them. Then, the idea of firing every quarter
of an hour for a year--fixing up a job for a lifetime, as Andrews
expressed it,--and of being fired back at for an hour at 9 o'clock every
morning and evening; of fifty thousand people going on buying and
selling, eating, drinking and sleeping, having dances, drives and balls,
marrying and giving in marriage, all within a few hundred yards of where
the shells were falling-struck me as a most singular method of
We received no rations until the day after our arrival, and then they
were scanty, though fair in quality. We were by this time so hungry and
faint that we could hardly move. We did nothing for hours but lie around
on the ground and try to forget how famished we were. At the
announcement of rations, many acted as if crazy, and it was all that the
Sergeants could do to restrain the impatient mob from tearing the food
away and devouring it, when they were trying to divide it out. Very
many--perhaps thirty--died during the night and morning. No blame for
this is attached to the Charlestonians. They distinguished themselves
from the citizens of every other place in the Southern Confederacy where
we had been, by making efforts to relieve our condition. They sent quite
a quantity of food to us, and the Sisters of Charity came among us,
seeking and ministering to the sick. I believe our experience was the
usual one. The prisoners who passed through Charleston before us all
spoke very highly of the kindness shown them by the citizens there.
We remained in Charleston but a few days. One night we were marched down
to a rickety depot, and put aboard a still more rickety train. When
morning came we found ourselves running northward through a pine barren
country that resembled somewhat that in Georgia, except that the pine was
short-leaved, there was more oak and other hard woods, and the vegetation
generally assumed a more Northern look. We had been put into close box
cars, with guards at the doors and on top. During the night quite a
number of the boys, who had fabricated little saws out of case knives and
fragments of hoop iron, cut holes through the bottoms of the cars,
through which they dropped to the ground and escaped, but were mostly
recaptured after several days. There was no hole cut in our car, and so
Andrews and I staid in.
Just at dusk we came to the insignificant village of Florence, the
junction of the road leading from Charleston to Cheraw with that running
from Wilmington to Kingsville. It was about one hundred and twenty miles
from Charleston, and the same distance from Wilmington. As our train ran
through a cut near the junction a darky stood by the track gazing at us
curiously. When the train had nearly passed him he started to run up the
bank. In the imperfect light the guards mistook him for one of us who
had jumped from the train. They all fired, and the unlucky negro fell,
pierced by a score of bullets.
That night we camped in the open field. When morning came we saw, a few
hundred yards from us, a Stockade of rough logs, with guards stationed
around it. It was another prison pen. They were just bringing the dead
out, and two men were tossing the bodies up into the four-horse wagon
which hauled them away for burial. The men were going about their
business as coolly as if loading slaughtered hogs. 'One of them would
catch the body by the feet, and the other by the arms. They would give
it a swing--"One, two, three," and up it would go into the wagon. This
filled heaping full with corpses, a negro mounted the wheel horse,
grasped the lines, and shouted to his animals:
"Now, walk off on your tails, boys."
The horses strained, the wagon moved, and its load of what were once
gallant, devoted soldiers, was carted off to nameless graves. This was a
part of the daily morning routine.
As we stood looking at the sickeningly familiar architecture of the
prison pen, a Seventh Indianian near me said, in tones of wearisome
"Well, this Southern Confederacy is the d---dest country to stand logs on
end on God Almighty's footstool."
FIRST DAYS AT FLORENCE--INTRODUCTION TO LIEUTENANT BARRETT, THE
RED-HEADED KEEPER--A BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF OUR NEW QUARTERS--WINDERS MALIGN
It did not require a very acute comprehension to understand that the
Stockade at which we were gazing was likely to be our abiding place for
some indefinite period in the future.
As usual, this discovery was the death-warrant of many whose lives had
only been prolonged by the hoping against hope that the movement would
terminate inside our lines. When the portentous palisades showed to a
fatal certainty that the word of promise had been broken to their hearts,
they gave up the struggle wearily, lay back on the frozen ground, and
Andrews and I were not in the humor for dying just then. The long
imprisonment, the privations of hunger, the scourging by the elements,
the death of four out of every five of our number had indeed dulled and
stupefied us--bred an indifference to our own suffering and a seeming
callosity to that of others, but there still burned in our hearts, and in
the hearts of every one about us, a dull, sullen, smoldering fire of hate
and defiance toward everything Rebel, and a lust for revenge upon those
who had showered woes upon our heads. There was little fear of death;
even the King of Terrors loses most of his awful character upon tolerably
close acquaintance, and we had been on very intimate terms with him for a
year now. He was a constant visitor, who dropped in upon us at all hours
of the day and night, and would not be denied to any one.
Since my entry into prison fully fifteen thousand boys had died around
me, and in no one of them had I seen the least, dread or reluctance to
go. I believe this is generally true of death by disease, everywhere.
Our ever kindly mother, Nature, only makes us dread death when she
desires us to preserve life. When she summons us hence she tenderly
provides that we shall willingly obey the call.
More than for anything else, we wanted to live now to triumph over the
Rebels. To simply die would be of little importance, but to die
unrevenged would be fearful. If we, the despised, the contemned, the
insulted, the starved and maltreated; could live to come back to our
oppressors as the armed ministers of retribution, terrible in the
remembrance of the wrongs of ourselves and comrade's, irresistible as the
agents of heavenly justice, and mete out to them that Biblical return of
seven-fold of what they had measured out to us, then we would be content
to go to death afterwards. Had the thrice-accursed Confederacy and our
malignant gaolers millions of lives, our great revenge would have stomach
for them all.
The December morning was gray and leaden; dull, somber, snow-laden clouds
swept across the sky before the soughing wind.
The ground, frozen hard and stiff, cut and hurt our bare feet at every
step; an icy breeze drove in through the holes in our rags, and smote our
bodies like blows from sticks. The trees and shrubbery around were as
naked and forlorn as in the North in the days of early Winter before the
Over and around us hung like a cold miasma the sickening odor peculiar to
Southern forests in Winter time.
Out of the naked, repelling, unlovely earth rose the Stockade, in hideous
ugliness. At the gate the two men continued at their monotonous labor of
tossing the dead of the previous day into the wagon-heaving into that
rude hearse the inanimate remains that had once tempted gallant, manly
hearts, glowing with patriotism and devotion to country--piling up
listlessly and wearily, in a mass of nameless, emaciated corpses,
fluttering with rags, and swarming with vermin, the pride, the joy of a
hundred fair Northern homes, whose light had now gone out forever.
Around the prison walls shambled the guards, blanketed like Indians,
and with faces and hearts of wolves. Other Rebels--also clad in dingy
butternut--slouched around lazily, crouched over diminutive fires,
and talked idle gossip in the broadest of "nigger" dialect. Officers
swelled and strutted hither and thither, and negro servants loitered
around, striving to spread the least amount of work over the greatest
amount of time.
While I stood gazing in gloomy silence at the depressing surroundings
Andrews, less speculative and more practical, saw a good-sized pine stump
near by, which had so much of the earth washed away from it that it
looked as if it could be readily pulled up. We had had bitter experience
in other prisons as to the value of wood, and Andrews reasoned that as we
would be likely to have a repetition of this in the Stockade we were
about to enter, we should make an effort to secure the stump. We both
attacked it, and after a great deal of hard work, succeeded in uprooting
it. It was very lucky that we did, since it was the greatest help in
preserving our lives through the three long months that we remained at
While we were arranging our stump so as to carry it to the best
advantage, a vulgar-faced man, with fiery red hair, and wearing on his
collar the yellow bars of a Lieutenant, approached. This was Lieutenant
Barrett, commandant of the interior of the prison, and a more inhuman
wretch even than Captain Wirz, because he had a little more brains than
the commandant at Andersonville, and this extra intellect was wholly
devoted to cruelty. As he came near he commanded, in loud, brutal tones:
We all stood up and fell in in two ranks. Said he:
"By companies, right wheel, march!"
This was simply preposterous. As every soldier knows, wheeling by
companies is one of the most difficult of manuvers, and requires some
preparation of a battalion before attempting to execute it. Our thousand
was made up of infantry, cavalry and artillery, representing, perhaps,
one hundred different regiments. We had not been divided off into
companies, and were encumbered with blankets, tents, cooking utensils,
wood, etc., which prevented our moving with such freedom as to make a
company wheel, even had we been divided up into companies and drilled for
the maneuver. The attempt to obey the command was, of course, a
ludicrous failure. The Rebel officers standing near Barrett laughed
openly at his stupidity in giving such an order, but he was furious. He
hurled at us a torrent of the vilest abuse the corrupt imagination of man
can conceive, and swore until he was fairly black in the face. He fired
his revolver off over our heads, and shrieked and shouted until he had to
stop from sheer exhaustion. Another officer took command then, and
marched us into prison.
We found this a small copy of Andersonville. There was a stream running
north and south, on either side of which was a swamp. A Stockade of
rough logs, with the bark still on, inclosed several acres. The front of
the prison was toward the West. A piece of artillery stood before the
gate, and a platform at each corner bore a gun, elevated high enough to
rake the whole inside of the prison. A man stood behind each of these
guns continually, so as to open with them at any moment. The earth was
thrown up against the outside of the palisades in a high embankment,
along the top of which the guards on duty walked, it being high enough to
elevate their head, shoulders and breasts above the tops of the logs.
Inside the inevitable dead-line was traced by running a furrow around the
prison-twenty feet from the Stockade--with a plow. In one respect it was
an improvement on Andersonville: regular streets were laid off, so that
motion about the camp was possible, and cleanliness was promoted. Also,
the crowd inside was not so dense as at Camp Sumter.
The prisoners were divided into hundreds and thousands, with Sergeants at
the heads of the divisions. A very good police force-organized and
officered by the prisoners--maintained order and prevented crime. Thefts
and other offenses were punished, as at Andersonville, by the Chief of
Police sentencing the offenders to be spanked or tied up.
We found very many of our Andersonville acquaintances inside, and for
several days comparisons of experience were in order. They had left
Andersonville a few days after us, but were taken to Charleston instead
of Savannah. The same story of exchange was dinned into their ears until
they arrived at Charleston, when the truth was told them, that no
exchange was contemplated, and that they had been deceived for the
purpose of getting them safely out of reach of Sherman.
Still they were treated well in Charleston--better than they bad been
anywhere else. Intelligent physicians had visited the sick, prescribed
for them, furnished them with proper medicines, and admitted the worst
cases to the hospital, where they were given something of the care that
one would expect in such an institution. Wheat bread, molasses and rice
were issued to them, and also a few spoonfuls of vinegar, daily, which
were very grateful to them in their scorbutic condition. The citizens
sent in clothing, food and vegetables. The Sisters of Charity were
indefatigable in ministering to the sick and dying. Altogether, their
recollections of the place were quite pleasant.
Despite the disagreeable prominence which the City had in the Secession
movement, there was a very strong Union element there, and many men found
opportunity to do favors to the prisoners and reveal to them how much
they abhorred Secession.
After they had been in Charleston a fortnight or more, the yellow fever
broke out in the City, and soon extended its ravages to the prisoners,
quite a number dying from it.
Early in October they had been sent away from the City to their present
location, which was then a piece of forest land. There was no stockade
or other enclosure about them, and one night they forced the guard-line,
about fifteen hundred escaping, under a pretty sharp fire from the
guards. After getting out they scattered, each group taking a different
route, some seeking Beaufort, and other places along the seaboard, and
the rest trying to gain the mountains. The whole State was thrown into
the greatest perturbation by the occurrence. The papers magnified the
proportion of the outbreak, and lauded fulsomely the gallantry of the
guards in endeavoring to withstand the desperate assaults of the frenzied
Yankees. The people were wrought up into the highest alarm as to
outrages and excesses that these flying desperados might be expected to
commit. One would think that another Grecian horse, introduced into the
heart of the Confederate Troy, had let out its fatal band of armed men.
All good citizens were enjoined to turn out and assist in arresting the
runaways. The vigilance of all patrolling was redoubled, and such was
the effectiveness of the measures taken that before a month nearly every
one of the fugitives had been retaken and sent back to Florence. Few of
these complained of any special ill-treatment by their captors, while
many reported frequent acts of kindness, especially when their captors
belonged to the middle and upper classes. The low-down class--the
clay-eaters--on the other hand, almost always abused their prisoners,
and sometimes, it is pretty certain, murdered them in cold blood.
About this time Winder came on from Andersonville, and then everything
changed immediately to the complexion of that place. He began the
erection of the Stockade, and made it very strong. The Dead Line was
established, but instead of being a strip of plank upon the top of low
posts, as at Andersonville, it was simply a shallow trench, which was
sometimes plainly visible, and sometimes not. The guards always resolved
matters of doubt against the prisoners, and fired on them when they
supposed them too near where the Dead Line ought to be. Fifteen acres of
ground were enclosed by the palisades, of which five were taken up by the
creek and swamp, and three or four more by the Dead Line; main streets,
etc., leaving about seven or eight for the actual use of the prisoners,
whose number swelled to fifteen thousand by the arrivals from
Andersonville. This made the crowding together nearly as bad as at the
latter place, and for awhile the same fatal results followed. The
mortality, and the sending away of several thousand on the sick exchange,
reduced the aggregate number at the time of our arrival to about eleven
thousand, which gave more room to all, but was still not one-twentieth of
the space which that number of men should have had.
No shelter, nor material for constructing any, was furnished. The ground
was rather thickly wooded, and covered with undergrowth, when the
Stockade was built, and certainly no bit of soil was ever so thoroughly
cleared as this was. The trees and brush were cut down and worked up
into hut building materials by the same slow and laborious process that I
have described as employed in building our huts at Millen.
Then the stumps were attacked for fuel, and with such persistent
thoroughness that after some weeks there was certainly not enough woody
material left in that whole fifteen acres of ground to kindle a small
kitchen fire. The men would begin work on the stump of a good sized
tree, and chip and split it off painfully and slowly until they had
followed it to the extremity of the tap root ten or fifteen feet below
the surface. The lateral roots would be followed with equal
determination, and trenches thirty feet long, and two or three feet deep
were dug with case-knives and half-canteens, to get a root as thick as
one's wrist. The roots of shrubs and vines were followed up and gathered
with similar industry. The cold weather and the scanty issues of wood
forced men to do this.
The huts constructed were as various as the materials and the tastes of
the builders. Those who were fortunate enough to get plenty of timber
built such cabins as I have described at Millen. Those who had less eked
out their materials in various ways. Most frequently all that a squad of
three or four could get would be a few slender poles and some brush.
They would dig a hole in the ground two feet deep and large enough for
them all to lie in. Then putting up a stick at each end and laying a
ridge pole across, they, would adjust the rest of their material so as
to form sloping sides capable of supporting earth enough to make a
water-tight roof. The great majority were not so well off as these, and
had absolutely, nothing of which to build. They had recourse to the
clay of the swamp, from which they fashioned rude sun-dried bricks, and
made adobe houses, shaped like a bee hive, which lasted very well until
a hard rain came, when they dissolved into red mire about the bodies of
their miserable inmates.
Remember that all these makeshifts were practiced within a half-a-mile of
an almost boundless forest, from which in a day's time the camp could
have been supplied with material enough to give every man a comfortable
BARRETT'S INSANE CRUELTY--HOW HE PUNISHED THOSE ALLEGED TO BE ENGAGED IN
TUNNELING--THE MISERY IN THE STOCKADE--MEN'S LIMBS ROTTING OFF WITH DRY
Winder had found in Barrett even a better tool for his cruel purposes
than Wirz. The two resembled each other in many respects. Both were
absolutely destitute of any talent for commanding men, and could no more
handle even one thousand men properly than a cabin boy could navigate a
great ocean steamer. Both were given to the same senseless fits of
insane rage, coming and going without apparent cause, during which they
fired revolvers and guns or threw clubs into crowds of prisoners, or
knocked down such as were within reach of their fists. These exhibitions
were such as an overgrown child might be expected to make. They did not
secure any result except to increase the prisoners' wonder that such
ill-tempered fools could be given any position of responsibility.
A short time previous to our entry Barrett thought he had reason to
suspect a tunnel. He immediately announced that no more rations should
be issued until its whereabouts was revealed and the, ringleaders in the
attempt to escape delivered up to him. The rations at that time were
very scanty, so that the first day they were cut off the sufferings were
fearful. The boys thought he would surely relent the next day, but they
did not know their man. He was not suffering any, why should he relax
his severity? He strolled leisurely out from his dinner table, picking
his teeth with his penknife in the comfortable, self-satisfied way of a
coarse man who has just filled his stomach to his entire content--an
attitude and an air that was simply maddening to the famishing wretches,
of whom he inquired tantalizingly:
"Air ye're hungry enough to give up them G-d d d s--s of b----s yet?"
That night thirteen thousand men, crazy, fainting with hunger, walked
hither and thither, until exhaustion forced them to become quiet, sat on
the ground and pressed their bowels in by leaning against sticks of wood
laid across their thighs; trooped to the Creek and drank water until
their gorges rose and they could swallow no more--did everything in fact
that imagination could suggest--to assuage the pangs of the deadly
gnawing that was consuming their vitals. All the cruelties of the
terrible Spanish Inquisition, if heaped together, would not sum up a
greater aggregate of anguish than was endured by them. The third day
came, and still no signs of yielding by Barrett. The Sergeants counseled
together. Something must be done. The fellow would starve the whole
camp to death with as little compunction as one drowns blind puppies.
It was necessary to get up a tunnel to show Barrett, and to get boys who
would confess to being leaders in the work. A number of gallant fellows
volunteered to brave his wrath, and save the rest of their comrades.
It required high courage to do this, as there was no question but that
the punishment meted out would be as fearful as the cruel mind of the
fellow could conceive. The Sergeants decided that four would be
sufficient to answer the purpose; they selected these by lot, marched
them to the gate and delivered them over to Barrett, who thereupon
ordered the rations to be sent in. He was considerate enough, too, to
feed the men he was going to torture.
The starving men in the Stockade could not wait after the rations were
issued to cook them, but in many instances mixed the meal up with water,
and swallowed it raw. Frequently their stomachs, irritated by the long
fast, rejected the mess; any very many had reached the stage where they
loathed food; a burning fever was consuming them, and seething their
brains with delirium. Hundreds died within a few days, and hundreds more
were so debilitated by the terrible strain that they did not linger long
The boys who had offered themselves as a sacrifice for the rest were put
into a guard house, and kept over night that Barrett might make a day of
the amusement of torturing them. After he had laid in a hearty
breakfast, and doubtless fortified himself with some of the villainous
sorgum whisky, which the Rebels were now reduced to drinking, he set
about his entertainment.
The devoted four were brought out--one by one--and their hands tied
together behind their backs. Then a noose of a slender, strong hemp rope
was slipped over the first one's thumbs and drawn tight, after which the
rope was thrown over a log projecting from the roof of the guard house,
and two or three Rebels hauled upon it until the miserable Yankee was
lifted from the ground, and hung suspended by the thumbs, while his
weight seemed tearing his limbs from his shoulder blades. The other
three were treated in the same manner.
The agony was simply excruciating. The boys were brave, and had resolved
to stand their punishment without a groan, but this was too much for