Part 10 out of 10
animation around the fleet. On the decks the officers were pacing up and
down. One on each vessel carried a long telescope, with which he almost
constantly swept the horizon. Numberless small boats, each rowed by
neatly-uniformed men, and carrying a flag in the stern, darted hither and
thither, carrying officers on errands of duty or pleasure. It was such a
scene as enabled me to realize in a measure, the descriptions I had read
of the pomp and circumstance of naval warfare.
While we were standing, contemplating all the interesting sights within
view, a small steamer, about the size of a canal-boat, and carrying
several bright brass guns, ran swiftly and noiselessly up to the dock
near by, and a young, pale-faced officer, slender in build and nervous in
manner, stepped ashore. Some of the blue jackets who were talking to us
looked at him and the vessel with the greatest expression of interest,
"Hello! there's the 'Monticello' and Lieutenant Cushing."
This, then, was the naval boy hero, with whose exploits the whole country
was ringing. Our sailor friends proceeded to tell us of his
achievements, of which they were justly proud. They told us of his
perilous scouts and his hairbreadth escapes, of his wonderful audacity
and still more wonderful success--of his capture of Towns with a handful
of sailors, and the destruction of valuable stores, etc. I felt very
sorry that the man was not a cavalry commander. There he would have had
full scope for his peculiar genius. He had come prominently into notice
in the preceding Autumn, when he had, by one of the most daring
performances narrated in naval history, destroyed the formidable ram
"Albermarle." This vessel had been constructed by the Rebels on the
Roanoke River, and had done them very good service, first by assisting to
reduce the forts and capture the garrison at Plymouth, N. C., and
afterward in some minor engagements. In October, 1864, she was lying at
Plymouth. Around her was a boom of logs to prevent sudden approaches of
boats or vessels from our fleet. Cushing, who was then barely
twenty-one, resolved to attempt her destruction. He fitted up a steam
launch with a long spar to which he attached a torpedo. On the night of
October 27th, with thirteen companions, he ran quietly up the Sound and
was not discovered until his boat struck the boom, when a terrific fire
was opened upon him. Backing a short distance, he ran at the boom with
such velocity that his boat leaped across it into the water beyond. In
an instant more his torpedo struck the side of the "Albemarle" and
exploded, tearing a great hole in her hull, which sank her in a few
minutes. At the moment the torpedo went off the "Albermarle" fired one
of her great guns directly into the launch, tearing it completely to
pieces. Lieutenant Cushing and one comrade rose to the surface of the
seething water and, swimming ashore, escaped. What became of the rest
is not known, but their fate can hardly be a matter of doubt.
We were ferried across the river into Wilmington, and marched up the
streets to some vacant ground near the railroad depot, where we found
most of our old Florence comrades already assembled. When they left us
in the middle of February they were taken to Wilmington, and thence to
Goldsboro, N. C., where they were kept until the rapid closing in of our
Armies made it impracticable to hold them any longer, when they were sent
back to Wilmington and given up to our forces as we had been.
It was now nearly noon, and we were ordered to fall in and draw rations,
a bewildering order to us, who had been so long in the habit of drawing
food but once a day. We fell in in single rank, and marched up, one at a
time, past where a group of employees of the Commissary Department dealt
out the food. One handed each prisoner as he passed a large slice of
meat; another gave him a handful of ground coffee; a third a handful of
sugar; a fourth gave him a pickle, while a fifth and sixth handed him an
onion and a loaf of fresh bread. This filled the horn of our plenty
full. To have all these in one day--meat, coffee, sugar, onions and soft
bread--was simply to riot in undreamed-of luxury. Many of the boys--poor
fellows--could not yet realize that there was enough for all, or they
could not give up their old "flanking" tricks, and they stole around,
and falling into the rear, came up again for' another share. We laughed
at them, as did the Commissary men, who, nevertheless, duplicated the
rations already received, and sent them away happy and content.
What a glorious dinner Andrews and I had, with our half gallon of strong
coffee, our soft bread, and a pan full of fried pork and onions! Such an
enjoyable feast will never be, eaten again by us.
Here we saw negro troops under arms for the first time--the most of the
organization of colored soldiers having been, done since our capture.
It was startling at first to see a stalwart, coal-black negro stalking
along with a Sergeant's chevrons on his arm, or to gaze on a regimental
line of dusky faces on dress parade, but we soon got used to it. The
first strong peculiarity of the negro soldier that impressed itself, upon
us was his literal obedience of orders. A white soldier usually allows
himself considerable discretion in obeying orders--he aims more at the
spirit, while the negro adheres to the strict letter of the command.
For instance, the second day after our arrival a line of guards were
placed around us, with orders not to allow any of us to go up town
without a pass. The reason of this was that many weak--even dying-men
would persist in wandering about, and would be found exhausted,
frequently dead, in various parts of the City. Andrews and I concluded
to go up town. Approaching a negro sentinel he warned us back with,
"Stand back, dah; don't come any furder; it's agin de awdahs; you can't
He would not allow us to argue the case, but brought his gun to such a
threatening position that we fell back. Going down the line a little
farther, we came to a white sentinel, to whom I said:
"Comrade, what are your orders:"
"My orders are not to let any of you fellows pass, but my beat only
extends to that out-house there."
Acting on this plain hint, we walked around the house and went up-town.
The guard simply construed his orders in a liberal spirit. He reasoned
that they hardly applied to us, since we were evidently able to take care
Later we had another illustration of this dog like fidelity of the
colored sentinel. A number of us were quartered in a large and empty
warehouse. On the same floor, and close to us, were a couple of very
fine horses belonging to some officer. We had not been in the warehouse
very long until we concluded that the straw with which the horses were
bedded would be better used in making couches for ourselves, and this
suggestion was instantly acted upon, and so thoroughly that there was not
a straw left between the animals and the bare boards. Presently the
owner of the horses came in, and he was greatly incensed at what had been
done. He relieved his mind of a few sulphurous oaths, and going out,
came back soon with a man with more straw, and a colored soldier whom he
stationed by the horses, saying:
"Now, look here. You musn't let anybody take anything sway from these
stalls; d'you understand me?--not a thing."
He then went out. Andrews and I had just finished cooking dinner, and
were sitting down to eat it. Wishing to lend our frying-pan to another
mess, I looked around for something to lay our meat upon. Near the
horses I saw a book cover, which would answer the purpose admirably.
Springing up, I skipped across to where it was, snatched it up, and ran
back to my place. As I reached it a yell from the boys made me look
around. The darky was coming at me "full tilt," with his gun at a
"charge bayonets." As I turned he said:
"Put dat right back dah!"
"Why, this don't amount to anything, this is only an old book cover.
It hasn't anything in the world to do with the horses."
He only replied:
"Put dat right back dah!"
I tried another appeal:
"Now, you woolly-headed son of thunder, haven't you got sense enough to
know that the officer who posted you didn't mean such a thing as this!
He only meant that we should not be allowed to take any of the horses'
bedding or equipments; don't you see?"
I might as well have reasoned with a cigar store Indian. He set his
teeth, his eyes showed a dangerous amount of white, and foreshortening
his musket for a lunge, he hissed out again "Put dat right back dah, I
I looked at the bayonet; it was very long, very bright, and very sharp.
It gleamed cold and chilly like, as if it had not run through a man for a
long time, and yearned for another opportunity. Nothing but the whites
of the darky's eyes could now be seen. I did not want to perish there in
the fresh bloom of my youth and loveliness; it seemed to me as if it was
my duty to reserve myself for fields of future usefulness, so I walked
back and laid the book cover precisely on the spot whence I had obtained
it, while the thousand boys in the house set up a yell of sarcastic
We staid in Wilmington a few days, days of almost purely animal
enjoyment--the joy of having just as much to eat as we could possibly
swallow, and no one to molest or make us afraid in any way. How we did
eat and fill up. The wrinkles in our skin smoothed out under the
stretching, and we began to feel as if we were returning to our old
plumpness, though so far the plumpness was wholly abdominal.
One morning we were told that the transports would begin going back with
us that afternoon, the first that left taking the sick. Andrews and I,
true to our old prison practices, resolved to be among those on the first
boat. We slipped through the guards and going up town, went straight to
Major General Schofield's headquarters and solicited a pass to go on the
first boat--the steamer "Thorn." General Schofield treated us very
kindly; but declined to let anybody but the helplessly sick go on the
"Thorn." Defeated here we went down to where the vessel was lying at the
dock, and tried to smuggle ourselves aboard, but the guard was too strong
and too vigilant, and we were driven away. Going along the dock, angry
and discouraged by our failure, we saw a Surgeon, at a little distance,
who was examining and sending the sick who could walk aboard another
vessel--the "General Lyon." We took our cue, and a little shamming
secured from him tickets which permitted us to take our passage in her.
The larger portion of those on board were in the hold, and a few were on
deck. Andrews and I found a snug place under the forecastle, by the
Both vessels speedily received their complement, and leaving their docks,
started down the river. The "Thorn" steamed ahead of us, and
disappeared. Shortly after we got under way, the Colonel who was put in
command of the boat--himself a released prisoner--came around on a tour
of inspection. He found about one thousand of us aboard, and singling me
out made me the non-commissioned officer in command. I was put in
charge, of issuing the rations and of a barrel of milk punch which the
Sanitary Commission had sent down to be dealt out on the voyage to such
as needed it. I went to work and arranged the boys in the best way I
could, and returned to the deck to view the scenery.
Wilmington is thirty-four miles from the sea, and the river for that
distance is a calm, broad estuary. At this time the resources of Rebel
engineering were exhausted in defense against its passage by a hostile
fleet, and undoubtedly the best work of the kind in the Southern
Confederacy was done upon it. At its mouth were Forts Fisher and
Caswell, the strongest sea coast forts in the Confederacy. Fort Caswell
was an old United States fort, much enlarged and strengthened. Fort
Fisher was a new work, begun immediately after the beginning of the war,
and labored at incessantly until captured. Behind these every one of the
thirty-four miles to Wilmington was covered with the fire of the best
guns the English arsenals could produce, mounted on forts built at every
advantageous spot. Lines of piles running out into the water, forced
incoming vessels to wind back and forth across the stream under the
point-blank range of massive Armstrong rifles. As if this were not
sufficient, the channel was thickly studded with torpedoes that would
explode at the touch of the keel of a passing vessel. These abundant
precautions, and the telegram from General Lee, found in Fort Fisher,
stating that unless that stronghold and Fort Caswell were held he could
not hold Richmond, give some idea of the importance of the place to the
We passed groups of hundreds of sailors fishing for torpedos, and saw
many of these dangerous monsters, which they had hauled up out of the
water. We caught up with the "Thorn," when about half way to the sea,
passed her, to our great delight, and soon left a gap between us of
nearly half-a-mile. We ran through an opening in the piling, holding up
close to the left side, and she apparently followed our course exactly.
Suddenly there was a dull roar; a column of water, bearing with it
fragments of timbers, planking and human bodies, rose up through one side
of the vessel, and, as it fell, she lurched forward and sank. She had
struck a torpedo. I never learned the number lost, but it must have been
Some little time after this happened we approached Fort Anderson, the
most powerful of the works between Wilmington and the forts at the mouth
of the sea. It was built on the ruins of the little Town of Brunswick,
destroyed by Cornwallis during the Revolutionary War. We saw a monitor
lying near it, and sought good positions to view this specimen of the
redoubtable ironclads of which we had heard and read so much. It looked
precisely as it did in pictures, as black, as grim, and as uncompromising
as the impregnable floating fortress which had brought the "Merrimac" to
But as we approached closely we noticed a limpness about the smoke stack
that seemed very inconsistent with the customary rigidity of cylindrical
iron. Then the escape pipe seemed scarcely able to maintain itself
upright. A few minutes later we discovered that our terrible Cyclops of
the sea was a flimsy humbug, a theatrical imitation, made by stretching
blackened canvas over a wooden frame.
One of the officers on board told us its story. After the fall of Fort
Fisher the Rebels retired to Fort Anderson, and offered a desperate
resistance to our army and fleet. Owing to the shallowness of the water
the latter could not come into close enough range to do effective work.
Then the happy idea of this sham monitor suggested itself to some one.
It was prepared, and one morning before daybreak it was sent floating in
on the tide. The other monitors opened up a heavy fire from their
position. The Rebels manned their guns and replied vigorously, by
concentrating a terrible cannonade on the sham monitor, which sailed
grandly on, undisturbed by the heavy rifled bolts tearing through her
canvas turret. Almost frantic with apprehension of the result if she
could not be checked, every gun that would bear was turned upon her, and
torpedos were exploded in her pathway by electricity. All these she
treated with the silent contempt they merited from so invulnerable a
monster. At length, as she reached a good easy range of the fort, her
bow struck something, and she swung around as if to open fire. That was
enough for the Rebels. With Schofield's army reaching out to cut off
their retreat, and this dreadful thing about to tear the insides out of
their fort with four-hundred-pound shot at quarter-mile range, there was
nothing for them to do but consult their own safety, which they did with
such haste that they did not spike a gun, or destroy a pound of stores.
VISIT TO FORT FISHER, AND INSPECTION OF THAT STRONGHOLD--THE WAY IT WAS
CAPTURED--OUT ON THE OCEAN SAILING--TERRIBLY SEASICK--RAPID RECOVERY
--ARRIVAL AT ANNAPOLIS--WASHED, CLOTHED AND FED--UNBOUNDED LUXURY, AND
DAYS OF UNADULTERATED HAPPINESS.
When we reached the mouth of Cape Fear River the wind was blowing so hard
that our Captain did not think it best to venture out, so he cast anchor.
The cabin of the vessel was filled with officers who had been released
from prison about the same time we were. I was also given a berth in the
cabin, in consideration of my being the non-commissioned officer in
charge of the men, and I found the associations quite pleasant. A party
was made up, which included me, to visit Fort Fisher, and we spent the
larger part of a day very agreeably in wandering over that great
stronghold. We found it wonderful in its strength, and were prepared to
accept the statement of those who had seen foreign defensive works, that
it was much more powerful than the famous Malakoff, which so long defied
the besiegers of Sebastopol.
The situation of the fort was on a narrow and low spit of ground between
Cape Fear River and the ocean. On this the Rebels had erected, with
prodigious labor, an embankment over a mile in length, twenty-five feet
thick and twenty feet high. About two-thirds of this bank faced the sea;
the other third ran across the spit of land to protect the fort against
an attack from the land side. Still stronger than the bank forming the
front of the fort were the traverses, which prevented an enfilading fire
These were regular hills, twenty-five to forty feet high, and broad and
long in proportion. There were fifteen or twenty of them along the face
of the fort. Inside of them were capacious bomb proofs, sufficiently
large to shelter the whole garrison. It seemed as if a whole Township
had been dug up, carted down there and set on edge. In front of the
works was a strong palisade. Between each pair of traverses were one or
two enormous guns, none less than one-hundred-and-fifty pounders. Among
these we saw a great Armstrong gun, which had been presented to the
Southern Confederacy by its manufacturer, Sir William Armstrong, who,
like the majority of the English nobility, was a warm admirer of the
Jeff. Davis crowd. It was the finest piece of ordnance ever seen in this
country. The carriage was rosewood, and the mountings gilt brass. The
breech of the gun had five reinforcements.
To attack this place our Government assembled the most powerful fleet
ever sent on such an expedition. Over seventy-five men-of-war, including
six monitors, and carrying six hundred guns, assailed it with a storm of
shot and shell that averaged four projectiles per second for several
hours; the parapet was battered, and the large guns crushed as one
smashes a bottle with a stone. The garrison fled into the bomb-proofs
for protection. The troops, who had landed above the fort, moved up to
assail the land face, while a brigade of sailors and marines attacked the
As the fleet had to cease firing to allow the charge, the Rebels ran out
of their casemates and, manning the parapet, opened such a fire of
musketry that the brigade from the fleet was driven back, but the
soldiers made a lodgment on the land face. Then began some beautiful
cooperative tactics between the Army and Navy, communication being kept
up with signal flags. Our men were on one side of the parapets and the
Rebels on the other, with the fighting almost hand-to-hand. The vessels
ranged out to where their guns would rake the Rebel line, and as their
shot tore down its length, the Rebels gave way, and falling back to the
next traverse, renewed the conflict there. Guided by the signals our
vessels changed their positions, so as to rake this line also, and so the
fight went on until twelve traverses had been carried, one after the
other, when the rebels surrendered.
The next day the Rebels abandoned Fort Caswell and other fortifications
in the immediate neighborhood, surrendered two gunboats, and fell back to
the lines at Fort Anderson. After Fort Fisher fell, several
blockade-runners were lured inside and captured.
Never before had there been such a demonstration of the power of heavy
artillery. Huge cannon were pounded into fragments, hills of sand ripped
open, deep crevasses blown in the ground by exploding shells, wooden
buildings reduced to kindling-wood, etc. The ground was literally paved
with fragments of shot and shell, which, now red with rust from the
corroding salt air, made the interior of the fort resemble what one of
our party likened it to "an old brickyard."
Whichever way we looked along the shores we saw abundant evidence of the
greatness of the business which gave the place its importance. In all
directions, as far as the eye could reach, the beach was dotted with the
bleaching skeletons of blockade-runners--some run ashore by their
mistaking the channel, more beached to escape the hot pursuit of our
Directly in front of the sea face of the fort, and not four hundred yards
from the savage mouths of the huge guns, the blackened timbers of a
burned blockade-runner showed above the water at low tide. Coming in
from Nassau with a cargo of priceless value to the gasping Confederacy,
she was observed and chased by one of our vessels, a swifter sailer,
even, than herself. The war ship closed rapidly upon her. She sought
the protection of the guns of Fort Fisher, which opened venomously on the
chaser. They did not stop her, though they were less than half a mile
away. In another minute she would have sent the Rebel vessel to the
bottom of the sea, by a broadside from her heavy guns, but the Captain of
the latter turned her suddenly, and ran her high up on the beach,
wrecking his vessel, but saving the much more valuable cargo. Our vessel
then hauled off, and as night fell, quiet was restored. At midnight two
boat-loads of determined men, rowing with muffled oars moved silently out
from the blockader towards the beached vessel. In their boats they had
some cans of turpentine, and several large shells. When they reached the
blockade-runner they found all her crew gone ashore, save one watchman,
whom they overpowered before he could give the alarm. They cautiously
felt their way around, with the aid of a dark lantern, secured the ship's
chronometer, her papers and some other desired objects. They then
saturated with the turpentine piles of combustible material, placed about
the vessel to the best advantage, and finished by depositing the shells
where their explosion would ruin the machinery. All this was done so
near to the fort that the sentinels on the parapets could be heard with
the greatest distinctness as they repeated their half-hourly cry of
"All's well." Their preparations completed, the daring fellows touched
matches to the doomed vessel in a dozen places at once, and sprang into
their boats. The flames instantly enveloped the ship, and showed the
gunners the incendiaries rowing rapidly away. A hail of shot beat the
water into a foam around the boats, but their good fortune still attended
them, and they got back without losing a man.
The wind at length calmed sufficiently to encourage our Captain to
venture out, and we were soon battling with the rolling waves, far out of
sight of land. For awhile the novelty of the scene fascinated me. I was
at last on the ocean, of which I had heard, read and imagined so much.
The creaking cordage, the straining engine, the plunging ship, the wild
waste of tumbling billows, everyone apparently racing to where our
tossing bark was struggling to maintain herself, all had an entrancing
interest for me, and I tried to recall Byron's sublime apostrophe to the
Thou glorious mirror, where the Almighty's form
Classes itself in tempest: in all time,
Calm or convulsed-in breeze, or gale, or storm,
Icing the pole, or in the torrid clime
Dark-heaving--boundless, endless, and sublime--
The image of eternity--the throne
Of the invisible; even from out thy slime
The monsters of the deep are made; each zone
Obey thee: thou goest forth, dread, fathomless, alone,
Just then, my reverie was broken by the strong hand of the gruff Captain
of, the vessel descending upon my shoulder, and he said:
"See, here, youngster! Ain't you the fellow that was put in command of
I acknowledged such to be the case.
"Well," said the Captain; "I want you to 'tend to your business and
straighten them around, so that we can clean off the decks."
I turned from the bulwark over which I had been contemplating the vasty
deep, and saw the sorriest, most woe-begone lot that the imagination can
conceive. Every mother's son was wretchedly sea-sick. They were paying
the penalty of their overfeeding in Wilmington; and every face looked as
if its owner was discovering for the first time what the real lower
depths of human misery was. They all seemed afraid they would not die;
as if they were praying for death, but feeling certain that he was going
back on them in a most shameful way.
We straightened them around a little, washed them and the decks off with
a hose, and then I started down in the hold to see how matters were with
the six hundred down there. The boys there were much sicker than those
on deck. As I lifted the hatch there rose an odor which appeared strong
enough to raise the plank itself. Every onion that had been issued to us
in Wilmington seemed to lie down there in the last stages of
decomposition. All of the seventy distinct smells which Coleridge
counted at Cologne might have been counted in any given cubic foot of
atmosphere, while the next foot would have an entirely different and
equally demonstrative "bouquet."
I recoiled, and leaned against the bulwark, but soon summoned up courage
enough to go half-way down the ladder, and shout out in as stern a tone
as I could command:
"Here, now! I want you fellows to straighten around there, right off,
and help clean up!"
They were as angry and cross as they were sick. They wanted nothing in
the world so much as the opportunity I had given them to swear at and
abuse somebody. Every one of them raised on his elbow, and shaking his
fist at me yelled out:
"O, you go to ----, you ---- ---- ----. Just come down another step,
and I'll knock the whole head off 'en you."
I did not go down any farther.
Coming back on the deck my stomach began to feel qualmish. Some wretched
idiot, whose grandfather's grave I hope the jackasses have defiled, as
the Turks would say, told me that the best preventive of sea-sickness was
to drink as much of the milk punch as I could swallow.
Like another idiot, I did so.
I went again to the side of the vessel, but now the fascination of the
scene had all faded out. The restless billows were dreary, savage,
hungry and dizzying; they seemed to claw at, and tear, and wrench the
struggling ship as a group of huge lions would tease and worry a captive
dog. They distressed her and all on board by dealing a blow which would
send her reeling in one direction, but before she had swung the full
length that impulse would have sent her, catching her on the opposite
side with a stunning shock that sent her another way, only to meet
another rude buffet from still another side.
I thought we could all have stood it if the motion had been like that of
a swing-backward and forward--or even if the to and fro motion had been
complicated with a side-wise swing, but to be put through every possible
bewildering motion in the briefest space of time was more than heads of
iron and stomachs of brass could stand.
Mine were not made of such perdurable stuff.
They commenced mutinous demonstrations in regard to the milk punch.
I began wondering whether the milk was not the horrible beer swill,
stump-tail kind of which I had heard so much.
And the whisky in it; to use a vigorous Westernism, descriptive of mean
whisky, it seemed to me that I could smell the boy's feet who plowed the
corn from which it was distilled.
Then the onions I had eaten in Wilmington began to rebel, and incite the
bread, meat and coffee to gastric insurrection, and I became so utterly
wretched that life had no farther attractions.
While I was leaning over the bulwark, musing on the complete hollowness
of all earthly things, the Captain of the vessel caught hold of me
roughly, and said:
"Look here, you're just playin' the very devil a-commandin' these here
men. Why in ---- don't you stiffen up, and hump yourself around, and
make these men mind, or else belt them over the head with a capstan bar!
Now I want you to 'tend to your business. D'you understand me?"
I turned a pair of weary and hopeless eyes upon him, and started to say
that a man who would talk to one in my forlorn condition of "stiffening
up," and "belting other fellows over the head with a capstan bar," would
insult a woman dying with consumption, but I suddenly became too full for
The milk punch, the onions, the bread, and meat and coffee tired of
fighting it out in the narrow quarters where I had stowed them, had
started upwards tumultuously.
I turned my head again to the sea, and looking down into its smaragdine
depths, let go of the victualistic store which I had been industriously
accumulating ever since I had come through the lines.
I vomited until I felt as empty and hollow as a stove pipe. There was a
vacuum that extended clear to my toe-nails. I feared that every retching
struggle would dent me in, all over, as one sees tin preserving cans
crushed in by outside pressure, and I apprehended that if I kept on much
longer my shoe-soles would come up after the rest.
I will mention, parenthetically, that, to this day I abhor milk punch,
and also onions.
Unutterably miserable as I was I could not refrain from a ghost of a
smile, when a poor country boy near me sang out in an interval between
"O, Captain, for God's sake, stop the boat and lem'me go ashore, and I
swear I'll walk every step of the way home."
He was like old Gonzalo in the 'Tempest:'
Now world I give a thousand furlongs of sea for an acre of barren
ground; long heath; brown furze; anything. The wills above be done!
but I would fain die a dry death.
After this misery had lasted about two days we got past Cape Hatteras,
and out of reach of its malign influence, and recovered as rapidly as we
had been prostrated.
We regained spirits and appetites with amazing swiftness; the sun came
out warm and cheerful, we cleaned up our quarters and ourselves as best
we could, and during the remainder of the voyage were as blithe and
cheerful as so many crickets.
The fun in the cabin was rollicking. The officers had been as sick as
the men, but were wonderfully vivacious when the 'mal du mer' passed off.
In the party was a fine glee club, which had been organized at "Camp
Sorgum," the officers' prison at Columbia. Its leader was a Major of the
Fifth Iowa Cavalry, who possessed a marvelously sweet tenor voice, and
well developed musical powers. While we were at Wilmington he sang "When
Sherman Marched Down to the Sea," to an audience of soldiers that packed
the Opera House densely.
The enthusiasm he aroused was simply indescribable; men shouted, and the
tears ran down their faces. He was recalled time and again, each time
with an increase in the furore. The audience would have staid there all
night to listen to him sing that one song. Poor fellow, he only went
home to die. An attack of pneumonia carried him off within a fortnight
after we separated at Annapolis.
The Glee Club had several songs which they rendered in regular negro
minstrel style, and in a way that was irresistibly ludicrous. One of
their favorites was "Billy Patterson." All standing up in a ring, the
tenors would lead off:
"I saw an old man go riding by,"
and the baritones, flinging themselves around with the looseness of
Christy's Minstrels, in a "break down," would reply:
"Don't tell me! Don't tell me!"
Then the tenors would resume:
"Says I, Ole man, your horse'll die."
Then the baritones, with an air of exaggerated interest;
"A-ha-a-a, Billy Patterson!"
"For. It he dies, I'll tan his skin;
An' if he lives I'll ride him agin,"
All-together, with a furious "break down" at the close:
"Then I'll lay five dollars down,
And count them one by one;
Then I'll lay five dollars down,
If anybody will show me the man
That struck Billy Patterson."
And so on. It used to upset my gravity entirely to see a crowd of grave
and dignified Captains, Majors and Colonels going through this
nonsensical drollery with all the abandon of professional burnt-cork
As we were nearing the entrance to Chesapeake Bay we passed a great
monitor, who was exercising her crew at the guns. She fired directly
across our course, the huge four hundred pound balls shipping along the
water, about a mile ahead of us, as we boys used to make the flat stones
skip in the play of "Ducks and Drakes." One or two of the shots came so.
close that I feared she might be mistaking us for a Rebel ship intent on
some raid up the Bay, and I looked up anxiously to see that the flag
should float out so conspicuously that she could not help seeing it.
The next day our vessel ran alongside of the dock at the Naval Academy at
Annapolis, that institution now being used as a hospital for paroled
prisoners. The musicians of the Post band came down with stretchers to
carry the sick to the Hospital, while those of us who were able to walk
were ordered to fall in and march up. The distance was but a few hundred
yards. On reaching the building we marched up on a little balcony, and
as we did so each one of us was seized by a hospital attendant, who, with
the quick dexterity attained by long practice, snatched every one of our
filthy, lousy rags off in the twinkling of an eye, and flung them over
the railing to the ground, where a man loaded them into a wagon with a
With them went our faithful little black can, our hoop-iron spoon, and
our chessboard and men.
Thus entirely denuded, each boy was given a shove which sent him into a
little room, where a barber pressed him down upon a stool, and almost
before he understood what was being done, had his hair and beard cut off
as close as shears would do it. Another tap on the back sent the shorn
lamb into a room furnished with great tubs of water and with about six
inches of soap suds on the zinc-covered floor.
In another minute two men with sponges had removed every trace of prison
grime from his body, and passed him on to two more men, who wiped him
dry, and moved him on to where a man handed him a new shirt, a pair of
drawers, pair of socks, pair of pantaloons, pair of slippers, and a
hospital gown, and motioned him to go on into the large room, and array
himself in his new garments. Like everything else about the Hospital
this performance was reduced to a perfect system. Not a word was spoken
by anybody, not a moment's time lost, and it seemed to me that it was not
ten minutes after I marched up on the balcony, covered with dirt, rags,
vermin, and a matted shock of hair, until I marched out of the room,
clean and well clothed. Now I began to feel as if I was really a man
The next thing done was to register our names, rank, regiment, when and
where captured, when and where released. After this we were shown to our
rooms. And such rooms as they were. All the old maids in the country
could not have improved their spick-span neatness. The floors were as
white as pine plank could be scoured; the sheets and bedding as clean as
cotton and linen and woolen could be washed. Nothing in any home in the
land was any more daintily, wholesomely, unqualifiedly clean than were
these little chambers, each containing two beds, one for each man
assigned to their occupancy.
Andrews doubted if we could stand all this radical change in our habits.
He feared that it was rushing things too fast. We might have had our
hair cut one week, and taken a bath all over a week later, and so
progress down to sleeping between white sheets in the course of six
months, but to do it all in one day seemed like tempting fate.
Every turn showed us some new feature of the marvelous order of this
wonderful institution. Shortly after we were sent to our rooms,
a Surgeon entered with a Clerk. After answering the usual questions as
to name, rank, company and regiment, the Surgeon examined our tongues,
eyes, limbs and general appearance, and communicated his conclusions to
the Clerk, who filled out a blank card. This card was stuck into a
little tin holder at the head of my bed. Andrews's card was the same,
except the name. The Surgeon was followed by a Sergeant, who was Chief
of the Dining-Room, and the Clerk, who made a minute of the diet ordered
for us, and moved off. Andrews and I immediately became very solicitous
to know what species of diet No. 1 was. After the seasickness left us
our appetites became as ravenous as a buzz-saw, and unless Diet No. 1 was
more than No. 1 in name, it would not fill the bill. We had not long to
remain in suspense, for soon another non-commissioned officer passed
through at the head of a train of attendants, bearing trays. Consulting
the list in his hand, he said to one of his followers, "Two No. 1's,"
and that satellite set down two large plates, upon each of which were a
cup of coffee, a shred of meat, two boiled eggs and a couple of rolls.
"Well," said Andrews, as the procession moved away, "I want to know where
this thing's going to stop. I am trying hard to get used to wearing a
shirt without any lice in it, and to sitting down on a chair, and to
sleeping in a clean bed, but when it comes to having my meals sent to my
room, I'm afraid I'll degenerate into a pampered child of luxury. They
are really piling it on too strong. Let us see, Mc.; how long's it been
since we were sitting on the sand there in Florence, boiling our pint of
meal in that old can?"
"It seems many years, Lale," I said; "but for heaven's sake let us try to
forget it as soon as possible. We will always remember too much of it."
And we did try hard to make the miserable recollections fade out of our
minds. When we were stripped on the balcony we threw away every visible
token that could remind us of the hateful experience we had passed
through. We did not retain a scrap of paper or a relic to recall the
unhappy past. We loathed everything connected with it.
The days that followed were very happy ones. The Paymaster came around
and paid us each two months' pay and twenty-five cents a day "ration
money" for every day we had been in prison. This gave Andrews and I
about one hundred and sixty-five dollars apiece--an abundance of spending
money. Uncle Sam was very kind and considerate to his soldier nephews,
and the Hospital authorities neglected nothing that would add to our
comfort. The superbly-kept grounds of the Naval Academy were renewing
the freshness of their loveliness under the tender wooing of the
advancing Spring, and every step one sauntered through them was a new
delight. A magnificent band gave us sweet music morning and evening.
Every dispatch from the South told of the victorious progress of our
arms, and the rapid approach of the close of the struggle. All we had to
do was to enjoy the goods the gods were showering upon us, and we did so
with appreciative, thankful hearts. After awhile all able to travel were
given furloughs of thirty days to visit their homes, with instructions to
report at the expiration of their leaves of absence to the camps of
rendezvous nearest their homes, and we separated, nearly every man going
in a different direction.
CAPTAIN WIRZ THE ONLY ONE OF THE PRISON-KEEPERS PUNISHED--HIS ARREST,
TRIAL AND EXECUTION.
Of all those more or less concerned in the barbarities practiced upon our
prisoners, but one--Captain Henry Wirz--was punished. The Turners, at
Richmond; Lieutenant Boisseux, of Belle Isle; Major Gee, of Salisbury;
Colonel Iverson and Lieutenant Barrett, of Florence; and the many brutal
miscreants about Andersonville, escaped scot free. What became of them
no one knows; they were never heard of after the close of the war. They
had sense enough to retire into obscurity, and stay there, and this saved
their lives, for each one of them had made deadly enemies among those
whom they had maltreated, who, had they known where they were, would have
walked every step of the way thither to kill them.
When the Confederacy went to pieces in April, 1865, Wirz was still at
Andersonville. General Wilson, commanding our cavalry forces, and who
had established his headquarters at Macon, Ga., learned of this, and sent
one of his staff--Captain H. E. Noyes, of the Fourth Regular Cavalry
--with a squad. of men, to arrest him. This was done on the 7th of May.
Wirz protested against his arrest, claiming that he was protected by the
terms of Johnson's surrender, and, addressed the following letter to
ANDERSONVILLE, GA., May 7, 1865.
GENERAL:--It is with great reluctance that I address you these lines,
being fully aware how little time is left you to attend to such matters
as I now have the honor to lay before you, and if I could see any other
way to accomplish my object I would not intrude upon you. I am a native
of Switzerland, and was before the war a citizen of Louisiana, and by
profession a physician. Like hundreds and thousands of others, I was
carried away by the maelstrom of excitement and joined the Southern army.
I was very severely wounded at the battle of "Seven Pines," near
Richmond, Va., and have nearly lost the use of my right arm. Unfit for
field duty, I was ordered to report to Brevet Major General John H.
Winder, in charge of the Federal prisoners of war, who ordered me to take
charge of a prison in Tuscaloosa, Ala. My health failing me, I applied
for a furlough and went to Europe, from whence I returned in February,
1864. I was then ordered to report to the commandant of the military
prison at Andersonville, Ga., who assigned me to the command of the
interior of the prison. The duties I had to perform were arduous and
unpleasant, and I am satisfied that no man can or will justly blame me
for things that happened here, and which were beyond my power to control.
I do not think that I ought to be held responsible for the shortness of
rations, for the overcrowded state of the prison, (which was of itself a
prolific source of fearful mortality), for the inadequate supply of
clothing, want of shelter, etc., etc. Still I now bear the odium, and
men who were prisoners have seemed disposed to wreak their vengeance upon
me for what they have suffered--I, who was only the medium, or, I may
better say, the tool in the hands of my superiors. This is my condition.
I am a man with a family. I lost all my property when the Federal army
besieged Vicksburg. I have no money at present to go to any place, and,
even if I had, I know of no place where I can go. My life is in danger,
and I most respectfully ask of you help and relief. If you will be so
generous as to give me some sort of a safe conduct, or, what I should
greatly prefer, a guard to protect myself and family against violence,
I should be thankful to you, and you may rest assured that your
protection will not be given to one who is unworthy of it. My intention
is to return with my family to Europe, as soon as I can make the
arrangements. In the meantime I have the honor General, to remain, very
respectfully, your obedient servant,
Hy. WIRZ, Captain C. S. A.
Major General T. H. WILSON,
Commanding, Macon. Ga.
He was kept at Macon, under guard, until May 20, when Captain Noyes was
ordered to take him, and the hospital records of Andersonville, to
Washington. Between Macon and Cincinnati the journey was a perfect
Our men were stationed all along the road, and among them everywhere were
ex-prisoners, who recognized Wirz, and made such determined efforts to
kill him that it was all that Captain Noyes, backed by a strong guard,
could do to frustrate them. At Chattanooga and Nashville the struggle
between his guards and his would-be slayers, was quite sharp.
At Louisville, Noyes had Wirz clean-shaved, and dressed in a complete
suit of black, with a beaver hat, which so altered his appearance that no
one recognized him after that, and the rest of the journey was made
The authorities at Washington ordered that he be tried immediately, by a
court martial composed of Generals Lewis Wallace, Mott, Geary, L. Thomas,
Fessenden, Bragg and Baller, Colonel Allcock, and Lieutenant-Colonel
Stibbs. Colonel Chipman was Judge Advocate, and the trial began
The prisoner was arraigned on a formidable list of charges and
specifications, which accused him of "combining, confederating, and
conspiring together with John H. Winder, Richard B. Winder, Isaiah II.
White, W. S. Winder, R. R. Stevenson and others unknown, to injure the
health and destroy the lives of soldiers in the military service of the
United States, there held, and being prisoners of war within the lines of
the so-called Confederate States, and in the military prisons thereof, to
the end that the armies of the United States might be weakened and
impaired, in violation of the laws and customs of war." The main facts
of the dense over-crowding, the lack of sufficient shelter, the hideous
mortality were cited, and to these added a long list of specific acts of
brutality, such as hunting men down with hounds, tearing them with dogs,
robbing them, confining them in the stocks, cruelly beating and murdering
them, of which Wirz was personally guilty.
When the defendant was called upon to plead he claimed that his case was
covered by the terms of Johnston's surrender, and furthermore, that the
country now being at peace, he could not be lawfully tried by a
court-martial. These objections being overruled, he entered a plea of
not guilty to all the charges and specifications. He had two lawyers
The prosecution called Captain Noyes first, who detailed the
circumstances of Wirz's arrest, and denied that he had given any promises
The next witness was Colonel George C. Gibbs, who commanded the troops of
the post at Andersonville. He testified that Wirz was the commandant of
the prison, and had sole authority under Winder over all the prisoners;
that there was a Dead Line there, and orders to shoot any one who crossed
it; that dogs were kept to hunt down escaping prisoners; the dogs were
the ordinary plantation dogs, mixture of hound and cur.
Dr. J. C. Bates, who was a Surgeon of the Prison Hospital, (a Rebel),
testified that the condition of things in his division was horrible.
Nearly naked men, covered with lice, were dying on all sides. Many were
lying in the filthy sand and mud.
He went on and described the terrible condition of men--dying from
scurvy, diarrhea, gangrenous sores, and lice. He wanted to carry in
fresh vegetables for the sick, but did not dare, the orders being very
strict against such thing. He thought the prison authorities might
easily have sent in enough green corn to have stopped the scurvy; the
miasmatic effluvia from the prison was exceedingly offensive and
poisonous, so much so that when the surgeons received a slight scratch on
their persons, they carefully covered it up with court plaster, before
venturing near the prison.
A number of other Rebel Surgeons testified to substantially the same
facts. Several residents of that section of the State testified to the
plentifulness of the crops there in 1864.
In addition to these, about one hundred and fifty Union prisoners were
examined, who testified to all manner of barbarities which had come under
their personal observation. They had all seen Wirz shoot men, had seen
him knock sick and crippled men down and stamp upon them, had been run
down by him with hounds, etc. Their testimony occupies about two
thousand pages of manuscript, and is, without doubt, the most, terrible
record of crime ever laid to the account of any man.
The taking of this testimony occupied until October 18, when the
Government decided to close the case, as any further evidence would be
The prisoner presented a statement in which he denied that there had been
an accomplice in a conspiracy of John H. Winder and others, to destroy
the lives of United States soldiers; he also denied that there had been
such a conspiracy, but made the pertinent inquiry why he alone, of all
those who were charged with the conspiracy, was brought to trial. He
said that Winder has gone to the great judgment seat, to answer for all
his thoughts, words and deeds, "and surely I am not to be held culpable
for them. General Howell Cobb has received the pardon of the President
of the United States." He further claimed that there was no principle of
law which would sanction the holding of him--a mere subordinate
--guilty, for simply obeying, as literally as possible, the orders
of his superiors.
He denied all the specific acts of cruelty alleged against him, such as
maltreating and killing prisoners with his own hands. The prisoners
killed for crossing the Dead Line, he claimed, should not be charged
against him, since they were simply punished for the violation of a known
order which formed part of the discipline, he believed, of all military
prisons. The statement that soldiers were given a furlough for killing a
Yankee prisoner, was declared to be "a mere idle, absurd camp rumor."
As to the lack of shelter, room and rations for so many prisoners,
he claimed that the sole responsibility rested upon the Confederate
Government. There never were but two prisoners whipped by his order,
and these were for sufficient cause. He asked the Court to consider
favorably two important items in his defense: first, that he had of his
own accord taken the drummer boys from the Stockade, and placed them
where they could get purer air and better food. Second, that no property
taken from prisoners was retained by him, but was turned over to the
The Court, after due deliberation, declared the prisoner guilty on all
the charges and specifications save two unimportant ones, and sentenced
him to be hanged by the neck until dead, at such time and place as the
President of the United States should direct.
November 3 President Johnson approved of the sentence, and ordered Major
General C. C. Augur to carry the same into effect on Friday, November 10,
which was done. The prisoner made frantic appeals against the sentence;
he wrote imploring letters to President Johnson, and lying ones to the
New York News, a Rebel paper. It is said that his wife attempted to
convey poison to him, that he might commit suicide and avoid the ignomy
of being hanged. When all hope was gone he nerved himself up to meet his
fate, and died, as thousands of other scoundrels have, with calmness.
His body was buried in the grounds of the Old Capitol Prison, alongside
of that of Azterodt, one of the accomplices in the assassination of
THE RESPONSIBILITY--WHO WAS TO BLAME FOR ALL THE MISERY--AN EXAMINATION
OF THE FLIMSY EXCUSES MADE FOR THE REBELS--ONE DOCUMENT THAT CONVICTS
THEM--WHAT IS DESIRED.
I have endeavored to tell the foregoing story as calmly, as
dispassionately, as free from vituperation and prejudice as possible.
How well I have succeeded the reader must judge. How difficult this
moderation has been at times only those know who, like myself, have seen,
from day to day, the treason-sharpened fangs of Starvation and Disease
gnaw nearer and nearer to the hearts of well-beloved friends and
comrades. Of the sixty-three of my company comrades who entered prison
with me, but eleven, or at most thirteen, emerged alive, and several of
these have since died from the effects of what they suffered. The
mortality in the other companies of our battalion was equally great,
as it was also with the prisoners generally. Not less than twenty-five
thousand gallant, noble-hearted boys died around me between the dates of
my capture and release. Nobler men than they never died for any cause.
For the most part they were simple-minded, honest-hearted boys; the
sterling products of our Northern home-life, and Northern Common Schools,
and that grand stalwart Northern blood, the yeoman blood of sturdy middle
class freemen--the blood of the race which has conquered on every field
since the Roman Empire went down under its sinewy blows. They prated
little of honor, and knew nothing of "chivalry" except in its repulsive
travesty in the South. As citizens at home, no honest labor had been
regarded by them as too humble to be followed with manly pride in its
success; as soldiers in the field, they did their duty with a calm
defiance of danger and death, that the world has not seen equaled in the
six thousand years that men have followed the trade of war. In the
prison their conduct was marked by the same unostentatious but
unflinching heroism. Death stared them in the face constantly. They
could read their own fate in that of the loathsome, unburied dead all
around them. Insolent enemies mocked their sufferings, and sneered at
their devotion to a Government which they asserted had abandoned them,
but the simple faith, the ingrained honesty of these plain-mannered,
plain-spoken boys rose superior to every trial. Brutus, the noblest
Roman of them all, says in his grandest flight:
Set honor in one eye and death in the other,
And I will look on both indifferently.
They did not say this: they did it. They never questioned their duty; no
repinings, no murmurings against their Government escaped their lips,
they took the dread fortunes brought to them as calmly, as unshrinkingly
as they had those in the field; they quailed not, nor wavered in their
faith before the worst the Rebels could do. The finest epitaph ever
inscribed above a soldier's grave was that graven on the stone which
marked the resting-place of the deathless three hundred who fell at
Go, stranger, to Lacedaemon,--
And tell Sparta that we lie here in obedience to her laws.
They who lie in the shallow graves of Andersonville, Belle Isle, Florence
and Salisbury, lie there in obedience to the precepts and maxims
inculcated into their minds in the churches and Common Schools of the
North; precepts which impressed upon them the duty of manliness and honor
in all the relations and exigencies of life; not the "chivalric" prate of
their enemies, but the calm steadfastness which endureth to the end. The
highest tribute that can be paid them is to say they did full credit to
their teachings, and they died as every American should when duty bids
him. No richer heritage was ever bequeathed to posterity.
It was in the year 1864, and the first three months of 1865 that these
twenty-five thousand youths mere cruelly and needlessly done to death.
In these fatal fifteen months more young men than to-day form the pride,
the hope, and the vigor of any one of our leading Cities, more than at
the beginning of the war were found in either of several States in the
Nation, were sent to their graves, "unknelled, uncoffined, and unknown,"
victims of the most barbarous and unnecessary cruelty recorded since the
Dark Ages. Barbarous, because the wit of man has not yet devised a more
savage method of destroying fellow-beings than by exposure and
starvation; unnecessary, because the destruction of these had not, and
could not have the slightest effect upon the result of the struggle.
The Rebel leaders have acknowledged that they knew the fate of the
Confederacy was sealed when the campaign of 1864 opened with the North
displaying an unflinching determination to prosecute the war to a
successful conclusion. All that they could hope for after that was some
fortuitous accident, or unexpected foreign recognition that would give
them peace with victory. The prisoners were non-important factors in the
military problem. Had they all been turned loose as soon as captured,
their efforts would not have hastened the Confederacy's fate a single
As to the responsibility for this monstrous cataclysm of human misery and
death: That the great mass of the Southern people approved of these
outrages, or even knew of them, I do not, for an instant, believe. They
are as little capable of countenancing such a thing as any people in the
world. But the crowning blemish of Southern society has ever been the
dumb acquiescence of the many respectable, well-disposed, right-thinking
people in the acts of the turbulent and unscrupulous few. From this
direful spring has flowed an Iliad of unnumbered woes, not only to that
section but to our common country. It was this that kept the South
vibrating between patriotism and treason during the revolution, so that
it cost more lives and treasure to maintain the struggle there than in
all the rest of the country. It was this that threatened the
dismemberment of the Union in 1832. It was this that aggravated and
envenomed every wrong growing out of Slavery; that outraged liberty,
debauched citizenship, plundered the mails, gagged the press, stiffled
speech, made opinion a crime, polluted the free soil of God with the
unwilling step of the bondman, and at last crowned three-quarters of a
century of this unparalleled iniquity by dragging eleven millions of
people into a war from which their souls revolted, and against which they
had declared by overwhelming majorities in every State except South
Carolina, where the people had no voice. It may puzzle some to
understand how a relatively small band of political desperados in each
State could accomplish such a momentous wrong; that they did do it, no
one conversant with our history will deny, and that they--insignificant
as they were in numbers, in abilities, in character, in everything save
capacity and indomitable energy in mischief--could achieve such gigantic
wrongs in direct opposition to the better sense of their communities is a
fearful demonstration of the defects of the constitution of Southern
Men capable of doing all that the Secession leaders were guilty of--both
before and during the war--were quite capable of revengefully destroying
twenty-five thousand of their enemies by the most hideous means at their
command. That they did so set about destroying their enemies, wilfully,
maliciously, and with malice prepense and aforethought, is susceptible of
proof as conclusive as that which in a criminal court sends murderers to
Let us examine some of these proofs:
1. The terrible mortality at Andersonville and elsewhere was a matter of
as much notoriety throughout the Southern Confederacy as the military
operations of Lee and Johnson. No intelligent man--much less the Rebel
leaders--was ignorant of it nor of its calamitous proportions.
2. Had the Rebel leaders within a reasonable time after this matter
became notorious made some show of inquiring into and alleviating the
deadly misery, there might be some excuse for them on the ground of lack
of information, and the plea that they did as well as they could would
have some validity. But this state of affairs was allowed to continue
over a year--in fact until the downfall of the Confederacy--without a
hand being raised to mitigate the horrors of those places--without even
an inquiry being made as to whether they were mitigable or not. Still
worse: every month saw the horrors thicken, and the condition of the
prisoners become more wretched.
The suffering in May, 1864, was more terrible than in April; June showed
a frightful increase over May, while words fail to paint the horrors of
July and August, and so the wretchedness waxed until the end, in April,
3. The main causes of suffering and death were so obviously preventible
that the Rebel leaders could not have been ignorant of the ease with
which a remedy could be applied. These main causes were three in number:
a. Improper and insufficient food.
b. Unheard-of crowding together.
c. Utter lack of shelter.
It is difficult to say which of these three was the most deadly. Let us
admit, for the sake of argument, that it was impossible for the Rebels to
supply sufficient and proper food. This admission, I know, will not
stand for an instant in the face of the revelations made by Sherman's
March to the Sea; and through the Carolinas, but let that pass, that we
may consider more easily demonstrable facts connected with the next two
propositions, the first of which is as to the crowding together. Was
land so scarce in the Southern Confederacy that no more than sixteen
acres could be spared for the use of thirty-five thousand prisoners?
The State of Georgia has a population of less than one-sixth that of New
York, scattered over a territory one-quarter greater than that State's,
and yet a pitiful little tract--less than the corn-patch "clearing" of
the laziest "cracker" in the State--was all that could be allotted to the
use of three-and-a-half times ten thousand young men! The average
population of the State does not exceed sixteen to the square mile, yet
Andersonville was peopled at the rate of one million four hundred
thousand to the square mile. With millions of acres of unsettled,
useless, worthless pine barrens all around them, the prisoners were
wedged together so closely that there was scarcely room to lie down at
night, and a few had space enough to have served as a grave. This, too,
in a country where the land was of so little worth that much of it had
never been entered from the Government.
Then, as to shelter and fire: Each of the prisons was situated in the
heart of a primeval forest, from which the first trees that had ever been
cut were those used in building the pens. Within a gun-shot of the
perishing men was an abundance of lumber and wood to have built every man
in prison a warm, comfortable hut, and enough fuel to supply all his
wants. Supposing even, that the Rebels did not have the labor at hand to
convert these forests into building material and fuel, the prisoners
themselves would have gladly undertaken the work, as a means of promoting
their own comfort, and for occupation and exercise. No tools would have
been too poor and clumsy for them to work with. When logs were
occasionally found or brought into prison, men tore them to pieces almost
with their naked fingers. Every prisoner will bear me out in the
assertion that there was probably not a root as large as a bit of
clothes-line in all the ground covered by the prisons, that eluded the
faithfully eager search of freezing men for fuel. What else than
deliberate design can account for this systematic withholding from the
prisoners of that which was so essential to their existence, and which it
was so easy to give them?
This much for the circumstantial evidence connecting the Rebel
authorities with the premeditated plan for destroying the prisoners.
Let us examine the direct evidence:
The first feature is the assignment to the command of the prisons of
"General" John H. Winder, the confidential friend of Mr. Jefferson Davis,
and a man so unscrupulous, cruel and bloody-thirsty that at the time of
his appointment he was the most hated and feared man in the Southern
Confederacy. His odious administration of the odious office of Provost
Marshal General showed him to be fittest of tools for their purpose.
Their selection--considering the end in view, was eminently wise. Baron
Haynau was made eternally infamous by a fraction of the wanton cruelties
which load the memory of Winder. But it can be said in extenuation of
Haynau's offenses that he was a brave, skilful and energetic soldier, who
overthrew on the field the enemies he maltreated. If Winder, at any time
during the war, was nearer the front than Richmond, history does not
mention it. Haynau was the bastard son of a German Elector and of the
daughter of a village, druggist. Winder was the son of a sham
aristocrat, whose cowardice and incompetence in the war of 1812 gave
Washington into the hands of the British ravagers.
It is sufficient indication of this man's character that he could look
unmoved upon the terrible suffering that prevailed in Andersonville in
June, July, and August; that he could see three thousand men die each
month in the most horrible manner, without lifting a finger in any way to
assist them; that he could call attention in a self-boastful way to the
fact that "I am killing off more Yankees than twenty regiments in Lee's
Army," and that he could respond to the suggestions of the horror-struck
visiting Inspector that the prisoners be given at least more room, with
the assertion that he intended to leave matters just as they were--the
operations of death would soon thin out the crowd so that the survivors
would have sufficient room.
It was Winder who issued this order to the Commander of the Artillery:
ORDER No. 13.
HEADQUARTERS MILITARY PRISON,
ANDERSONVILLE, Ga., July 27, 1864.
The officers on duty and in charge of the Battery of Florida Artillery at
the time will, upon receiving notice that the enemy has approached within
seven miles of this post, open upon the Stockade with grapeshot, without
reference to the situation beyond these lines of defense.
JOHN H. WINDER,
Brigadier General Commanding.
Diabolical is the only word that will come at all near fitly
characterizing such an infamous order. What must have been the nature of
a man who would calmly order twenty-five guns to be opened with grape and
canister at two hundred yards range, upon a mass of thirty thousand
prisoners, mostly sick and dying! All this, rather than suffer them to
be rescued by their friends. Can there be any terms of reprobation
sufficiently strong to properly denounce so malignant a monster? History
has no parallel to him, save among the blood-reveling kings of Dahomey,
or those sanguinary Asiatic chieftains who built pyramids of human
skulls, and paved roads with men's bones. How a man bred an American
came to display such a Timour-like thirst for human life, such an
Oriental contempt for the sufferings of others, is one of the mysteries
that perplexes me the more I study it.
If the Rebel leaders who appointed this man, to whom he reported direct,
without intervention of superior officers, and who were fully informed of
all his acts through other sources than himself, were not responsible for
him, who in Heaven's name was? How can there be a possibility that they
were not cognizant and approving of his acts?
The Rebels have attempted but one defense to the terrible charges against
them, and that is, that our Government persistently refused to exchange,
preferring to let its men rot in prison, to yielding up the Rebels it
held. This is so utterly false as to be absurd. Our Government made
overture after overture for exchange to the Rebels, and offered to yield
many of the points of difference. But it could not, with the least
consideration for its own honor, yield up the negro soldiers and their
officers to the unrestrained brutality of the Rebel authorities, nor
could it, consistent with military prudence, parole the one hundred
thousand well-fed, well-clothed, able-bodied Rebels held by it as
prisoners, and let them appear inside of a week in front of Grant or
Sherman. Until it would agree to do this the Rebels would not agree to
exchange, and the only motive--save revenge--which could have inspired
the Rebel maltreatment of the prisoners, was the expectation of raising
such a clamor in the North as would force the Government to consent to a
disadvantageous exchange, and to give back to the Confederacy, at its
most critical period one hundred thousand fresh, able-bodied soldiers.
It was for this purpose, probably, that our Government and the Sanitary
Commission were refused all permission to send us food and clothing.
For my part, and I know I echo the feelings of ninety-nine out of every
hundred of my comrades, I would rather have staid in prison till I
rotted, than that our Government should have yielded to the degrading
demands of insolent Rebels.
There is one document in the possession of the Government which seems to
me to be unanswerable proof, both of the settled policy of the Richmond
Government towards the Union prisoners, and of the relative merits of
Northern and Southern treatment of captives. The document is a letter
reading as follows:
CITY POINT, Va., March 17, 1863.
SIR:--A flag-of-truce boat has arrived with three hundred and fifty
political prisoners, General Barrow and several other prominent men among
I wish you to send me on four o'clock Wednesday morning, all the military
prisoners (except officers), and all the political prisoners you have.
If any of the political prisoners have on hand proof enough to convict
them of being spies, or of having committed other offenses which should
subject them to punishment, so state opposite their names. Also, state
whether you think, under all the circumstances, they should be released.
The arrangement I have made works largely in our favor. WE GET RID OF A
SET OF MISERABLE WRETCHES, AND RECEIVE SOME OF THE BEST MATERIAL I EVER
Tell Captain Turner to put down on the list of political prisoners the
names of Edward P. Eggling, and Eugenia Hammermister. The President is
anxious that they should get off. They are here now. This, of course,
is between ourselves. If you have any political prisoners whom you can
send off safely to keep her company, I would like you to send her.
Two hundred and odd more political prisoners are on their way.
I would be more full in my communication if I had time. Yours truly,
ROBERT OULD, Commissioner of Exchange.
To Brigadier general John H. Winder.
But, supposing that our Government, for good military reasons, or for no
reason at all, declined to exchange prisoners, what possible excuse is
that for slaughtering them by exquisite tortures? Every Government has
ap unquestioned right to decline exchanging when its military policy
suggests such a course; and such declination conveys no right whatever to
the enemy to slay those prisoners, either outright with the edge of the
sword, or more slowly by inhuman treatment. The Rebels' attempts to
justify their conduct, by the claim that our Government refused to accede
to their wishes in a certain respect, is too preposterous to be made or
listened to by intelligent men.
The whole affair is simply inexcusable, and stands out a foul blot on the
memory of every Rebel in high place in the Confederate Government.
"Vengeance is mine," saith the Lord, and by Him must this great crime be
avenged, if it ever is avenged. It certainly transcends all human power.
I have seen little indication of any Divine interposition to mete out, at
least on this earth, adequate punishment to those who were the principal
agents in that iniquity. Howell Cobb died as peacefully in his bed as
any Christian in the land, and with as few apparent twinges of remorse as
if he had spent his life in good deeds and prayer. The arch-fiend Winder
died in equal tranquility, murmuring some cheerful hope as to his soul's
future. Not one of the ghosts of his hunger-slain hovered around to
embitter his dying moments, as he had theirs. Jefferson Davis "still
lives, a prosperous gentleman," the idol of a large circle of adherents,
the recipient of real estate favors from elderly females of morbid
sympathies, and a man whose mouth is full of plaints of his wrongs,
and misappreciation. The rest of the leading conspirators have either
departed this life in the odor of sanctity, surrounded by sorrowing
friends, or are gliding serenely down the mellow autumnal vale of a
benign old age.
Only Wirz--small, insignificant, miserable Wirz, the underling, the tool,
the servile, brainless, little fetcher-and-carrier of these men, was
punished--was hanged, and upon the narrow shoulders of this pitiful
scapegoat was packed the entire sin of Jefferson Davis and his crew.
What a farce!
A petty little Captain made to expiate the crimes of Generals, Cabinet
Officers, and a President. How absurd!
But I do not ask for vengeance. I do not ask for retribution for one of
those thousands of dead comrades, the glitter of whose sightless eyes
will follow me through life. I do not desire even justice on the still
living authors and accomplices in the deep damnation of their taking off.
I simply ask that the great sacrifices of my dead comrades shall not be
suffered to pass unregarded to irrevocable oblivion; that the example of
their heroic self-abnegation shall not be lost, but the lesson it teaches
be preserved and inculcated into the minds of their fellow-countrymen,
that future generations may profit by it, and others be as ready to die
for right and honor and good government as they were. And it seems to me
that if we are to appreciate their virtues, we must loathe and hold up to
opprobrium those evil men whose malignity made all their sacrifices
necessary. I cannot understand what good self-sacrifice and heroic
example are to serve in this world, if they are to be followed by such a
maudlin confusion of ideas as now threatens to obliterate all distinction
between the men who fought and died for the Right and those who resisted
them for the Wrong.