Part 6 out of 10
As nearly all in the prison had useful trades, it would have been of
immense benefit to the Confederacy if they could have been induced to
work at them. There is no measuring the benefit it would have been to
the Southern cause if all the hundreds of tanners and shoemakers in the
Stockade could have, been persuaded to go outside and labor in providing
leather and shoes for the almost shoeless people and soldiery. The
machinists alone could have done more good to the Southern Confederacy
than one of our brigades was doing harm, by consenting to go to the
railroad shops at Griswoldville and ply their handicraft. The lack of
material resources in the South was one of the strongest allies our arms
had. This lack of resources was primarily caused by a lack of skilled
labor to develop those resources, and nowhere could there be found a
finer collection of skilled laborers than in the thirty-three thousand
prisoners incarcerated in Andersonville.
All solicitations to accept a parole and go outside to work at one's
trade were treated with the scorn they deserved. If any mechanic yielded
to them, the fact did not come under my notice. The usual reply to
invitations of this kind was:
"No, Sir! By God, I'll stay in here till I rot, and the maggots carry me
out through the cracks in the Stockade, before I'll so much as raise my
little finger to help the infernal Confederacy, or Rebels, in any shape
In August a Macon shoemaker came in to get some of his trade to go back
with him to work in the Confederate shoe factory. He prosecuted his
search for these until he reached the center of the camp on the North
Side, when some of the shoemakers who had gathered around him, apparently
considering his propositions, seized him and threw him into a well.
He was kept there a whole day, and only released when Wirz cut off the
rations of the prison for that day, and announced that no more would be
issued until the man was returned safe and sound to the gate.
The terrible crowding was somewhat ameliorated by the opening in July of
an addition--six hundred feet long--to the North Side of the Stockade.
This increased the room inside to twenty acres, giving about an acre to
every one thousand seven hundred men,--a preposterously contracted area
still. The new ground was not a hotbed of virulent poison like the olds
however, and those who moved on to it had that much in their favor.
The palisades between the new and the old portions of the pen were left
standing when the new portion was opened. We were still suffering a
great deal of inconvenience from lack of wood. That night the standing
timbers were attacked by thousands of prisoners armed with every species
of a tool to cut wood, from a case-knife to an ax. They worked the
live-long night with such energy that by morning not only every inch of
the logs above ground had disappeared, but that below had been dug up,
and there was not enough left of the eight hundred foot wall of
twenty-five-foot logs to make a box of matches.
One afternoon--early in August--one of the violent rain storms common to
that section sprung up, and in a little while the water was falling in
torrents. The little creek running through the camp swelled up
immensely, and swept out large gaps in the Stockade, both in the west and
east sides. The Rebels noticed the breaches as soon as the prisoners.
Two guns were fired from the Star Tort, and all the guards rushed out,
and formed so as to prevent any egress, if one was attempted. Taken by
surprise, we were not in a condition to profit by the opportunity until
it was too late.
The storm did one good thing: it swept away a great deal of filth, and
left the camp much more wholesome. The foul stench rising from the camp
made an excellent electrical conductor, and the lightning struck several
times within one hundred feet of the prison.
Toward the end of August there happened what the religously inclined
termed a Providential Dispensation. The water in the Creek was
indescribably bad. No amount of familiarity with it, no increase of
intimacy with our offensive surroundings, could lessen the disgust at the
polluted water. As I have said previously, before the stream entered the
Stockade, it was rendered too filthy for any use by the contaminations
from the camps of the guards, situated about a half-mile above.
Immediately on entering the Stockade the contamination became terrible.
The oozy seep at the bottom of the hillsides drained directly into it all
the mass of filth from a population of thirty-three thousand. Imagine
the condition of an open sewer, passing through the heart of a city of
that many people, and receiving all the offensive product of so dense a
gathering into a shallow, sluggish stream, a yard wide and five inches
deep, and heated by the burning rays of the sun in the thirty-second
degree of latitude. Imagine, if one can, without becoming sick at the
stomach, all of these people having to wash in and drink of this foul
There is not a scintilla of exaggeration in this statement. That it is
within the exact truth is demonstrable by the testimony of any man--Rebel
or Union--who ever saw the inside of the Stockade at Andersonville. I am
quite content to have its truth--as well as that of any other statement
made in this book--be determined by the evidence of any one, no matter
how bitter his hatred of the Union, who had any personal knowledge of the
condition of affairs at Andersonville. No one can successfully deny that
there were at least thirty-three thousand prisoners in the Stockade, and
that the one shallow, narrow creek, which passed through the prison, was
at once their main sewer and their source of supply of water for bathing,
drinking and washing. With these main facts admitted, the reader's
common sense of natural consequences will furnish the rest of the
It is true that some of the more fortunate of us had wells; thanks to our
own energy in overcoming extraordinary obstacles; no thanks to our
gaolers for making the slightest effort to provide these necessities of
life. We dug the wells with case and pocket knives, and half canteens to
a depth of from twenty to thirty feet, pulling up the dirt in pantaloons
legs, and running continual risk of being smothered to death by the
caving in of the unwalled sides. Not only did the Rebels refuse to give
us boards with which to wall the wells, and buckets for drawing the
water, but they did all in their power to prevent us from digging the
wells, and made continual forays to capture the digging tools, because
the wells were frequently used as the starting places for tunnels.
Professor Jones lays special stress on this tunnel feature in his
testimony, which I have introduced in a previous chapter.
The great majority of the prisoners who went to the Creek for water, went
as near as possible to the Dead Line on the West Side, where the Creek
entered the Stockade, that they might get water with as little filth in
it as possible. In the crowds struggling there for their turn to take a
dip, some one nearly every day got so close to the Dead Line as to arouse
a suspicion in the guard's mind that he was touching it. The suspicion
was the unfortunate one's death warrant, and also its execution. As the
sluggish brain of the guard conceived it he leveled his gun; the distance
to his victim was not over one hundred feet; he never failed his aim; the
first warning the wretched prisoner got that he was suspected of
transgressing a prison-rule was the charge of "ball-and-buck" that tore
through his body. It was lucky if he was, the only one of the group
killed. More wicked and unjustifiable murders never were committed than
these almost daily assassinations at the Creek.
One morning the camp was astonished beyond measure to discover that
during the night a large, bold spring had burst out on the North Side,
about midway between the Swamp and the summit of the hill. It poured out
its grateful flood of pure, sweet water in an apparently exhaustless
quantity. To the many who looked in wonder upon it, it seemed as truly a
heaven-wrought miracle as when Moses's enchanted rod smote the parched
rock in Sinai's desert waste, and the living waters gushed forth.
The police took charge of the spring, and every one was compelled to take
his regular turn in filling his vessel. This was kept up during our
whole stay in Andersonville, and every morning, shortly after daybreak,
a thousand men could be seen standing in line, waiting their turns to
fill their cans and cups with the precious liquid.
I am told by comrades who have revisited the Stockade of recent years,
that the spring is yet running as when we left, and is held in most pious
veneration by the negros of that vicinity, who still preserve the
tradition of its miraculous origin, and ascribe to its water wonderful
grace giving and healing properties, similar to those which pious
Catholics believe exist in the holy water of the fountain at Lourdes.
I must confess that I do not think they are so very far from right.
If I could believe that any water was sacred and thaumaturgic, it would
be of that fountain which appeared so opportunely for the benefit of the
perishing thousands of Andersonville. And when I hear of people bringing
water for baptismal purposes from the Jordan, I say in my heart, "How
much more would I value for myself and friends the administration of the
chrismal sacrament with the diviner flow from that low sand-hill in
"SICK CALL," AND THE SCENES THAT ACCOMPANIED IT--MUSTERING THE LAME, HALT
AND DISEASED AT THE SOUTH GATE--AN UNUSUALLY BAD CASE--GOING OUT TO THE
HOSPITAL--ACCOMMODATION AND TREATMENT OF THE PATIENTS THERE--THE HORRIBLE
SUFFERING IN THE GANGRENE WARD--BUNGLING AMPUTATIONS BY BLUNDERING
PRACTITIONERS--AFFECTION BETWEEN A SAILOR AND HIS WARD
--DEATH OF MY COMRADE.
Every morning after roll-call, thousands of sick gathered at the South
Gate, where the doctors made some pretense of affording medical relief.
The scene there reminded me of the illustrations in my Sunday-School
lessons of that time when "great multitudes came unto Him," by the shores
of the Sea of Galilee, "having with them those that were lame, blind,
dumb, maimed, and many others." Had the crowds worn the flouting robes
of the East, the picture would have lacked nothing but the presence of
the Son of Man to make it complete. Here were the burning sands and
parching sun; hither came scores of groups of three or four comrades,
laboriously staggering under the weight of a blanket in which they had
carried a disabled and dying friend from some distant part of the
Stockade. Beside them hobbled the scorbutics with swollen and distorted
limbs, each more loathsome and nearer death than the lepers whom Christ's
divine touch made whole. Dozens, unable to walk, and having no comrades
to carry them, crawled painfully along, with frequent stops, on their
hands and knees. Every, form of intense physical suffering that it is
possible for disease to induce in the human frame was visible at these
daily parades of the sick of the prison. As over three thousand (three
thousand and seventy-six) died in August, there were probably twelve
thousand dangerously sick at any given time daring the month; and a large
part of these collected at the South Gate every morning.
Measurably-calloused as we had become by the daily sights of horror
around us, we encountered spectacles in these gatherings which no amount
of visible misery could accustom us to. I remember one especially that
burned itself deeply into my memory. It was of a young man not over
twenty-five, who a few weeks ago--his clothes looked comparatively new
--had evidently been the picture of manly beauty and youthful vigor.
He had had a well-knit, lithe form; dark curling hair fell over a
forehead which had once been fair, and his eyes still showed that they
had gleamed with a bold, adventurous spirit. The red clover leaf on his
cap showed that he belonged to the First Division of the Second Corps,
the three chevrons on his arm that he was a Sergeant, and the stripe at
his cuff that he was a veteran. Some kind-hearted boys had found him in
a miserable condition on the North Side, and carried him over in a
blanket to where the doctors could see him. He had but little clothing
on, save his blouse and cap. Ulcers of some kind had formed in his
abdomen, and these were now masses of squirming worms. It was so much
worse than the usual forms of suffering, that quite a little crowd of
compassionate spectators gathered around and expressed their pity.
The sufferer turned to one who lay beside him with:
"Comrade: If we were only under the old Stars and Stripes, we wouldn't
care a G-d d--n for a few worms, would we?"
This was not profane. It was an utterance from the depths of a brave
man's heart, couched in the strongest language at his command. It seemed
terrible that so gallant a soul should depart from earth in this
miserable fashion. Some of us, much moved by the sight, went to the
doctors and put the case as strongly as possible, begging them to do
something to alleviate his suffering. They declined to see the case,
but got rid of us by giving us a bottle of turpentine, with directions to
pour it upon the ulcers to kill the maggots. We did so. It must have
been cruel torture, and as absurd remedially as cruel, but our hero set
his teeth and endured, without a groan. He was then carried out to the
hospital to die.
I said the doctors made a pretense of affording medical relief. It was
hardly that, since about all the prescription for those inside the
Stockade consisted in giving a handful of sumach berries to each of those
complaining of scurvy. The berries might have done some good, had there
been enough of them, and had their action been assisted by proper food.
As it was, they were probably nearly, if not wholly, useless. Nothing
was given to arrest the ravages of dysentery.
A limited number of the worst cases were admitted to the Hospital each
day. As this only had capacity for about one-quarter of the sick in the
Stockade, new patients could only be admitted as others died. It seemed,
anyway, like signing a man's death warrant to send him to the Hospital,
as three out of every four who went out there died. The following from
the official report of the Hospital shows this:
Total number admitted .........................................12,900
Died ................................................. 8,663
Exchanged ............................................ 828
Took the oath of allegiance .......................... 25
Sent elsewhere ....................................... 2,889
Average deaths, 76 per cent.
Early in August I made a successful effort to get out to the Hospital. I
had several reasons for this: First, one of my chums, W. W. Watts, of
my own company, had been sent out a little whale before very sick with
scurvy and pneumonia, and I wanted to see if I could do anything for him,
if he still lived: I have mentioned before that for awhile after our
entrance into Andersonville five of us slept on one overcoat and covered
ourselves with one blanket. Two of these had already died, leaving as
possessors of-the blanket and overcoat, W. W. Watts, B. B. Andrews, and
Next, I wanted to go out to see if there was any prospect of escape.
I had long since given up hopes of escaping from the Stockade. All our
attempts at tunneling had resulted in dead failures, and now, to make us
wholly despair of success in that direction, another Stockade was built
clear around the prison, at a distance of one hundred and twenty feet
from the first palisades. It was manifest that though we might succeed
in tunneling past one Stockade, we could not go beyond the second one.
I had the scurvy rather badly, and being naturally slight in frame,
I presented a very sick appearance to the physicians, and was passed out
to the Hospital.
While this was a wretched affair, it was still a vast improvement on the
Stockade. About five acres of ground, a little southeast of the
Stockade, and bordering on a creek, were enclosed by a board fence,
around which the guard walked, trees shaded the ground tolerably well.
There were tents and flies to shelter part of the sick, and in these were
beds made of pine leaves. There were regular streets and alleys running
through the grounds, and as the management was in the hands of our own
men, the place was kept reasonably clean and orderly for Andersonville.
There was also some improvement in the food. Rice in some degree
replaced the nauseous and innutritious corn bread, and if served in
sufficient quantities, would doubtless have promoted the recovery of many
men dying from dysenteric diseases. We also received small quantities of
"okra," a plant peculiar to the South, whose pods contained a
mucilaginous matter that made a soup very grateful to those suffering
But all these ameliorations of condition were too slight to even arrest
the progress of the disease of the thousands of dying men brought out
from the Stockade. These still wore the same lice-infested garments as
in prison; no baths or even ordinary applications of soap and water
cleaned their dirt-grimed skins, to give their pores an opportunity to
assist in restoring them to health; even their long, lank and matted
hair, swarming with vermin, was not trimmed. The most ordinary and
obvious measures for their comfort and care were neglected. If a man
recovered he did it almost in spite of fate. The medicines given were
scanty and crude. The principal remedial agent--as far as my observation
extended--was a rank, fetid species of unrectified spirits, which, I was
told, was made from sorgum seed. It had a light-green tinge, and was
about as inviting to the taste as spirits of turpentine. It was given to
the sick in small quantities mixed with water. I had had some experience
with Kentucky "apple-jack," which, it was popularly believed among the
boys, would dissolve a piece of the fattest pork thrown into it, but that
seemed balmy and oily alongside of this. After tasting some, I ceased to
wonder at the atrocities of Wirz and his associates. Nothing would seem
too bad to a man who made that his habitual tipple.
[For a more particular description of the Hospital I must refer my reader
to the testimony of Professor Jones, in a previous chapter.]
Certainly this continent has never seen--and I fervently trust it will
never again see--such a gigantic concentration of misery as that Hospital
displayed daily. The official statistics tell the story of this with
terrible brevity: There were three thousand seven hundred and nine in the
Hospital in August; one thousand four hundred and eighty-nine--nearly
every other man died. The rate afterwards became much higher than this.
The most conspicuous suffering was in the gangrene wards. Horrible sores
spreading almost visibly from hour to hour, devoured men's limbs and
bodies. I remember one ward in which the alterations appeared to be
altogether in the back, where they ate out the tissue between the skin
and the ribs. The attendants seemed trying to arrest the progress of the
sloughing by drenching the sores with a solution of blue vitriol. This
was exquisitely painful, and in the morning, when the drenching was going
on, the whole hospital rang with the most agonizing screams.
But the gangrene mostly attacked the legs and arms, and the led more than
the arms. Sometimes it killed men inside of a week; sometimes they
lingered on indefinitely. I remember one man in the Stockade who cut his
hand with the sharp corner of a card of corn bread he was lifting from
the ration wagon; gangrene set in immediately, and he died four days
One form that was quit prevalent was a cancer of the lower one corner of
the mouth, and it finally ate the whole side of the face out. Of course
the sufferer had the greatest trouble in eating and drinking. For the
latter it was customary to whittle out a little wooden tube, and fasten
it in a tin cup, through which he could suck up the water. As this mouth
cancer seemed contagious, none of us would allow any one afflicted with
it to use any of our cooking utensils. The Rebel doctors at the hospital
resorted to wholesale amputations to check the progress of the gangrene.
They had a two hours session of limb-lopping every morning, each of which
resulted in quite a pile of severed members. I presume more bungling
operations are rarely seen outside of Russian or Turkish hospitals.
Their unskilfulness was apparent even to non-scientific observers like
myself. The standard of medical education in the South--as indeed of
every other form of education--was quite low. The Chief Surgeon of the
prison, Dr. Isaiah White, and perhaps two or three others, seemed to be
gentlemen of fair abilities and attainments. The remainder were of that
class of illiterate and unlearning quacks who physic and blister the poor
whites and negros in the country districts of the South; who believe they
can stop bleeding of the nose by repeating a verse from the Bible; who
think that if in gathering their favorite remedy of boneset they cut the
stem upwards it will purge their patients, and if downward it will vomit
them, and who hold that there is nothing so good for "fits" as a black
cat, killed in the dark of the moon, cut open, and bound while yet warm,
upon the naked chest of the victim of the convulsions.
They had a case of instruments captured from some of our field hospitals,
which were dull and fearfully out of order. With poor instruments and
unskilled hands the operations became mangling.
In the Hospital I saw an admirable illustration of the affection which a
sailor will lavish on a ship's boy, whom he takes a fancy to, and makes
his "chicken," as the phrase is. The United States sloop "Water Witch"
had recently been captured in Ossabaw Sound, and her crew brought into
prison. One of her boys--a bright, handsome little fellow of about
fifteen--had lost one of his arms in the fight. He was brought into the
Hospital, and the old fellow whose "chicken" he was, was allowed to
accompany and nurse him. This "old barnacle-back" was as surly a growler
as ever went aloft, but to his "chicken" he was as tender and thoughtful
as a woman. They found a shady nook in one corner, and any moment one
looked in that direction he could see the old tar hard at work at
something for the comfort and pleasure of his pet. Now he was dressing
the wound as deftly and gently as a mother caring for a new-born babe;
now he was trying to concoct some relish out of the slender materials he
could beg or steal from the Quartermaster; now trying to arrange the
shade of the bed of pine leaves in a more comfortable manner; now
repairing or washing his clothes, and so on.
All the sailors were particularly favored by being allowed to bring their
bags in untouched by the guards. This "chicken" had a wonderful supply
of clothes, the handiwork of his protector who, like most good sailors,
was very skillful with the needle. He had suits of fine white duck,
embroidered with blue in a way that would ravish the heart of a fine
lady, and blue suits similarly embroidered with white. No belle ever
kept her clothes in better order than these were. When the duck came up
from the old sailor's patient washing it was as spotless as new-fallen
I found my chum in a very bad condition. His appetite was entirely gone,
but he had an inordinate craving for tobacco--for strong, black plug
--which he smoked in a pipe. He had already traded off all his brass
buttons to the guards for this. I had accumulated a few buttons to bribe
the guard to take me out for wood, and I gave these also for tobacco for
him. When I awoke one morning the man who laid next to me on the right
was dead, having died sometime during the night. I searched his pockets
and took what was in them. These were a silk pocket handkerchief, a
gutta percha finger-ring, a comb, a pencil, and a leather pocket-book,
making in all quite a nice little "find." I hied over to the guard, and
succeeded in trading the personal estate which I had inherited from the
intestate deceased, for a handful of peaches, a handful of hardly ripe
figs, and a long plug of tobacco. I hastened back to Watts, expecting
that the figs and peaches would do him a world of good. At first I did
not show him the tobacco, as I was strongly opposed to his using it,
thinking that it was making him much worse. But he looked at the
tempting peaches and figs with lack-luster eyes; he was too far gone to
care for them. He pushed them back to me, saying faintly:
"No, you take 'em, Mc; I don't want 'em; I can't eat 'em!"
I then produced the tobacco, and his face lighted up. Concluding that
this was all the comfort that he could have, and that I might as well
gratify him, I cut up some of the weed, filled his pipe and lighted it.
He smoked calmly and almost happily all the afternoon, hardly speaking a
word to me. As it grew dark he asked me to bring him a drink. I did so,
and as I raised him up he said:
"Mc, this thing's ended. Tell my father that I stood it as long as I
The death rattle sounded in his throat, and when I laid him back it was
all over. Straightening out his limbs, folding his hands across his
breast, and composing his features as best I could, I lay, down beside
the body and slept till morning, when I did what little else I could
toward preparing for the grave all that was left of my long-suffering
DETERMINATION TO ESCAPE--DIFFERENT PLANS AND THEIR MERITS--I PREFER THE
APPALACHICOLA ROUTE--PREPARATIONS FOR DEPARTURE--A HOT DAY--THE FENCE
PASSED SUCCESSFULLY PURSUED BY THE HOUNDS--CAUGHT
--RETURNED TO THE STOCKADE.
After Watt's death, I set earnestly about seeing what could be done in
the way of escape. Frank Harvey, of the First West Virginia Cavalry,
a boy of about my own age and disposition, joined with me in the scheme.
I was still possessed with my original plan of making my way down the
creeks to the Flint River, down the Flint River to where it emptied into
the Appalachicola River, and down that stream to its debauchure into the
bay that connected with the Gulf of Mexico. I was sure of finding my way
by this route, because, if nothing else offered, I could get astride of a
log and float down the current. The way to Sherman, in the other
direction, was long, torturous and difficult, with a fearful gauntlet of
blood-hounds, patrols and the scouts of Hood's Army to be run. I had but
little difficulty in persuading Harvey into an acceptance of my views,
and we began arranging for a solution of the first great problem--how to
get outside of the Hospital guards. As I have explained before, the
Hospital was surrounded by a board fence, with guards walking their beats
on the ground outside. A small creek flowed through the southern end of
the grounds, and at its lower end was used as a sink. The boards of the
fence came down to the surface of the water, where the Creek passed out,
but we found, by careful prodding with a stick, that the hole between the
boards and the bottom of the Creek was sufficiently large to allow the
passage of our bodies, and there had been no stakes driven or other
precautions used to prevent egress by this channel. A guard was posted
there, and probably ordered to stand at the edge of the stream, but it
smelled so vilely in those scorching days that he had consulted his
feelings and probably his health, by retiring to the top of the bank,
a rod or more distant. We watched night after night, and at last were
gratified to find that none went nearer the Creak than the top of this
Then we waited for the moon to come right, so that the first part of the
night should be dark. This took several days, but at last we knew that
the next night she would not rise until between 9 and 10 o'clock, which
would give us nearly two hours of the dense darkness of a moonless Summer
night in the South. We had first thought of saving up some rations for
the trip, but then reflected that these would be ruined by the filthy
water into which we must sink to go under the fence. It was not
difficult to abandon the food idea, since it was very hard to force
ourselves to lay by even the smallest portion of our scanty rations.
As the next day wore on, our minds were wrought up into exalted tension
by the rapid approach of the supreme moment, with all its chances and
consequences. The experience of the past few months was not such as to
mentally fit us for such a hazard. It prepared us for sullen,
uncomplaining endurance, for calmly contemplating the worst that could
come; but it did not strengthen that fiber of mind that leads to
venturesome activity and daring exploits. Doubtless the weakness of our
bodies reacted upon our spirits. We contemplated all the perils that
confronted us; perils that, now looming up with impending nearness, took
a clearer and more threatening shape than they had ever done before.
We considered the desperate chances of passing the guard unseen; or, if
noticed, of escaping his fire without death or severe wounds. But
supposing him fortunately evaded, then came the gauntlet of the hounds
and the patrols hunting deserters. After this, a long, weary journey,
with bare feet and almost naked bodies, through an unknown country
abounding with enemies; the dangers of assassination by the embittered
populace; the risks of dying with hunger and fatigue in the gloomy depths
of a swamp; the scanty hopes that, if we reached the seashore, we could
get to our vessels.
Not one of all these contingencies failed to expand itself to all its
alarming proportions, and unite with its fellows to form a dreadful
vista, like the valleys filled with demons and genii, dragons and malign
enchantments, which confront the heros of the "Arabian Nights," when they
set out to perform their exploits.
But behind us lay more miseries and horrors than a riotous imagination
could conceive; before us could certainly be nothing worse. We would put
life and freedom to the hazard of a touch, and win or lose it all.
The day had been intolerably hot. The sun's rays seemed to sear the
earth, like heated irons, and the air that lay on the burning sand was
broken by wavy lines, such as one sees indicate the radiation from a hot
Except the wretched chain-gang plodding torturously back and forward on
the hillside, not a soul nor an animal could be seen in motion outside
the Stockade. The hounds were panting in their kennel; the Rebel
officers, half or wholly drunken with villainous sorgum whisky, were
stretched at full length in the shade at headquarters; the half-caked
gunners crouched under the shadow of the embankments of the forts, the
guards hung limply over the Stockade in front of their little perches;
the thirty thousand boys inside the Stockade, prone or supine upon the
glowing sand, gasped for breath--for one draft of sweet, cool, wholesome
air that did not bear on its wings the subtle seeds of rank corruption
and death. Everywhere was the prostration of discomfort--the inertia of
Only the sick moved; only the pain-racked cried out; only the dying
struggled; only the agonies of dissolution could make life assert itself
against the exhaustion of the heat.
Harvey and I, lying in the scanty shade of the trunk of a tall pine, and
with hearts filled with solicitude as to the outcome of what the evening
would bring us, looked out over the scene as we had done daily for long
months, and remained silent for hours, until the sun, as if weary with
torturing and slaying, began going down in the blazing West. The groans
of the thousands of sick around us, the shrieks of the rotting ones in
the gangrene wards rang incessantly in our ears.
As the sun disappeared, and the heat abated, the suspended activity was
restored. The Master of the Hounds came out with his yelping pack, and
started on his rounds; the Rebel officers aroused themselves from their
siesta and went lazily about their duties; the fifer produced his cracked
fife and piped forth his unvarying "Bonnie Blue Flag," as a signal for
dress parade, and drums beaten by unskilled hands in the camps of the
different regiments, repeated the signal. In time Stockade the mass of
humanity became full of motion as an ant hill, and resembled it very much
from our point of view, with the boys threading their way among the
burrows, tents and holes.
It was becoming dark quite rapidly. The moments seemed galloping onward
toward the time when we must make the decisive step. We drew from the
dirty rag in which it was wrapped the little piece of corn bread that we
had saved for our supper, carefully divided it into two equal parts,
and each took one and ate it in silence. This done, we held a final
consultation as to our plans, and went over each detail carefully, that
we might fully understand each other under all possible circumstances,
and act in concert. One point we laboriously impressed upon each other,
and that was; that under no circumstances were we to allow ourselves to
be tempted to leave the Creek until we reached its junction with the
Flint River. I then picked up two pine leaves, broke them off to unequal
lengths, rolled them in my hands behind my back for a second, and
presenting them to Harney with their ends sticking out of my closed hand,
"The one that gets the longest one goes first."
Harvey reached forth and drew the longer one.
We made a tour of reconnaissance. Everything seemed as usual, and
wonderfully calm compared with the tumult in our minds. The Hospital
guards were pacing their beats lazily; those on the Stockade were
drawling listlessly the first "call around" of the evening:
"Post numbah foah! Half-past seven o'clock! and a-l-l's we-l-ll!"
Inside the Stockade was a Babel of sounds, above all of which rose the
melody of religious and patriotic songs, sung in various parts of the
camp. From the headquarters came the shouts and laughter of the Rebel
officers having a little "frolic" in the cool of the evening. The groans
of the sick around us were gradually hushing, as the abatement of the
terrible heat let all but the worst cases sink into a brief slumber,
from which they awoke before midnight to renew their outcries. But those
in the Gangrene wards seemed to be denied even this scanty blessing.
Apparently they never slept, for their shrieks never ceased. A multitude
of whip-poor-wills in the woods around us began their usual dismal cry,
which had never seemed so unearthly and full of dreadful presages as now.
It was, now quite dark, and we stole noiselessly down to the Creek and
reconnoitered. We listened. The guard was not pacing his beat, as we
could not hear his footsteps. A large, ill-shapen lump against the trunk
of one of the trees on the bank showed that he was leaning there resting
himself. We watched him for several minutes, but he did not move, and
the thought shot into our minds that he might be asleep; but it seemed
impossible: it was too early in the evening.
Now, if ever, was the opportunity. Harney squeezed my hand, stepped
noiselessly into the Creek, laid himself gently down into the filthy
water, and while my heart was beating so that I was certain it could be
heard some distance from me, began making toward the fence. He passed
under easily, and I raised my eyes toward the guard, while on my strained
ear fell the soft plashing made by Harvey as he pulled himself cautiously
forward. It seemed as if the sentinel must hear this; he could not help
it, and every second I expected to see the black lump address itself to
motion, and the musket flash out fiendishly. But he did not; the lump
remained motionless; the musket silent.
When I thought that Harvey had gained a sufficient distance I followed.
It seemed as if the disgusting water would smother me as I laid myself
down into it, and such was my agitation that it appeared almost
impossible that I should escape making such a noise as would attract the
guard's notice. Catching hold of the roots and limbs at the side of the
stream, I pulled myself slowly along, and as noiselessly as possible.
I passed under the fence without difficulty, and was outside, and within
fifteen feet of the guard. I had lain down into the creek upon my right
side, that my face might be toward the guard, and I could watch him
closely all the time.
As I came under the fence he was still leaning motionless against the
tree, but to my heated imagination he appeared to have turned and be
watching me. I hardly breathed; the filthy water rippling past me seemed
to roar to attract the guard's attention; I reached my hand out
cautiously to grasp a root to pull myself along by, and caught instead a
dry branch, which broke with a loud crack. My heart absolutely stood
still. The guard evidently heard the noise. The black lump separated
itself from the tree, and a straight line which I knew to be his musket
separated itself from the lump. In a brief instant I lived a year of
mortal apprehension. So certain was I that he had discovered me, and was
leveling his piece to fire, that I could scarcely restrain myself from
springing up and dashing away to avoid the shot. Then I heard him take a
step, and to my unutterable surprise and relief, he walked off farther
from the Creek, evidently to speak to the man whose beat joined his.
I pulled away more swiftly, but still with the greatest caution, until
after half-an-hour's painful effort I had gotten fully one hundred and
fifty yards away from the Hospital fence, and found Harney crouched on a
cypress knee, close to the water's edge, watching for me.
We waited there a few minutes, until I could rest, and calm my perturbed
nerves down to something nearer their normal equilibrium, and then
started on. We hoped that if we were as lucky in our next step as in the
first one we would reach the Flint River by daylight, and have a good
long start before the morning roll-call revealed our absence. We could
hear the hounds still baying in the distance, but this sound was too
customary to give us any uneasiness.
But our progress was terribly slow. Every step hurt fearfully. The
Creek bed was full of roots and snags, and briers, and vines trailed
across it. These caught and tore our bare feet and legs, rendered
abnormally tender by the scurvy. It seemed as if every step was marked
with blood. The vines tripped us, and we frequently fell headlong. We
struggled on determinedly for nearly an hour, and were perhaps a mile
from the Hospital.
The moon came up, and its light showed that the creek continued its
course through a dense jungle like that we had been traversing, while on
the high ground to our left were the open pine woods I have previously
We stopped and debated for a few minutes. We recalled our promise to
keep in the Creek, the experience of other boys who had tried to escape
and been caught by the hounds. If we staid in the Creek we were sure the
hounds would not find our trail, but it was equally certain that at this
rate we would be exhausted and starved before we got out of sight of the
prison. It seemed that we had gone far enough to be out of reach of the
packs patrolling immediately around the Stockade, and there could be but
little risk in trying a short walk on the dry ground. We concluded to
take the chances, and, ascending the bank, we walked and ran as fast as
we could for about two miles further.
All at once it struck me that with all our progress the hounds sounded as
near as when we started. I shivered at the thought, and though nearly
ready to drop with fatigue, urged myself and Harney on.
An instant later their baying rang out on the still night air right
behind us, and with fearful distinctness. There was no mistake now; they
had found our trail, and were running us down. The change from fearful
apprehension to the crushing reality stopped us stock-still in our
At the next breath the hounds came bursting through the woods in plain
sight, and in full cry. We obeyed our first impulse; rushed back into
the swamp, forced our way for a few yards through the flesh-tearing
impediments, until we gained a large cypress, upon whose great knees we
climbed--thoroughly exhausted--just as the yelping pack reached the edge
of the water, and stopped there and bayed at us. It was a physical
impossibility for us to go another step.
In a moment the low-browed villain who had charge of the hounds came
galloping up on his mule, tooting signals to his dogs as he came, on the
cow-horn slung from his shoulders.
He immediately discovered us, covered us with his revolver, and yelled
"Come ashore, there, quick: you---- ---- ---- ----s!"
There was no help for it. We climbed down off the knees and started
towards the land. As we neared it, the hounds became almost frantic,
and it seemed as if we would be torn to pieces the moment they could
reach us. But the master dismounted and drove them back. He was surly
--even savage--to us, but seemed in too much hurry to get back to waste any
time annoying us with the dogs. He ordered us to get around in front of
the mule, and start back to camp. We moved as rapidly as our fatigue and
our lacerated feet would allow us, and before midnight were again in the
hospital, fatigued, filthy, torn, bruised and wretched beyond description
The next morning we were turned back into the Stockade as punishment.
AUGUST--GOOD LUCK IN NOT MEETING CAPTAIN WIRZ--THAT WORTHY'S TREATMENT OF
RECAPTURED PRISONERS--SECRET SOCIETIES IN PRISON--SINGULAR MEETING AND
ITS RESULT--DISCOVERY AND REMOVAL OF THE OFFICERS AMONG THE ENLISTED MEN.
Harney and I were specially fortunate in being turned back into the
Stockade without being brought before Captain Wirz.
We subsequently learned that we owed this good luck to Wirz's absence on
sick leave--his place being supplied by Lieutenant Davis, a moderate
brained Baltimorean, and one of that horde of Marylanders in the Rebel
Army, whose principal service to the Confederacy consisted in working
themselves into "bomb-proof" places, and forcing those whom they
displaced into the field. Winder was the illustrious head of this crowd
of bomb-proof Rebels from "Maryland, My Maryland!" whose enthusiasm for
the Southern cause and consistency in serving it only in such places as
were out of range of the Yankee artillery, was the subject of many bitter
jibes by the Rebels--especially by those whose secure berths they
possessed themselves of.
Lieutenant Davis went into the war with great brashness. He was one of
the mob which attacked the Sixth Massachusetts in its passage through
Baltimore, but, like all of that class of roughs, he got his stomach full
of war as soon as the real business of fighting began, and he retired to
where the chances of attaining a ripe old age were better than in front
of the Army of the Potomac's muskets. We shall hear of Davis again.
Encountering Captain Wirz was one of the terrors of an abortive attempt
to escape. When recaptured prisoners were brought before him he would
frequently give way to paroxysms of screaming rage, so violent as to
closely verge on insanity. Brandishing the fearful and wonderful
revolver--of which I have spoken in such a manner as to threaten the
luckless captives with instant death, he would shriek out imprecations,
curses; and foul epithets in French, German and English, until he fairly
frothed at the mouth. There were plenty of stories current in camp of his
having several times given away to his rage so far as to actually shoot
men down in these interviews, and still more of his knocking boys down
and jumping upon them, until he inflicted injuries that soon resulted in
death. How true these rumors were I am unable to say of my own personal
knowledge, since I never saw him kill any one, nor have I talked with any
one who did. There were a number of cases of this kind testified to upon
his trial, but they all happened among "paroles" outside the Stockade,
or among the prisoners inside after we left, so I knew nothing of them.
One of the Old Switzer's favorite ways of ending these seances was to
inform the boys that he would have them shot in an hour or so, and bid
them prepare for death. After keeping them in fearful suspense for hours
he would order them to be punished with the stocks, the ball-and-chain,
the chain-gang, or--if his fierce mood had burned itself entirely out
--as was quite likely with a man of his shallop' brain and vacillating
temper--to be simply returned to the stockade.
Nothing, I am sure, since the days of the Inquisition--or still later,
since the terrible punishments visited upon the insurgents of 1848 by the
Austrian aristocrats--has been so diabolical as the stocks and
chain-gangs, as used by Wirz. At one time seven men, sitting in the
stocks near the Star Fort--in plain view of the camp--became objects of
interest to everybody inside. They were never relieved from their
painful position, but were kept there until all of them died. I think
it was nearly two weeks before the last one succumbed. What they
endured in that time even imagination cannot conceive--I do not think
that an Indian tribe ever devised keener torture for its captives.
The chain-gang consisted of a number of men--varying from twelve to
twenty-five, all chained to one sixty-four pound ball. They were also
stationed near the Star Fort, standing out in the hot sun, without a
particle of shade over them. When one moved they all had to move.
They were scourged with the dysentery, and the necessities of some one
of their number kept them constantly in motion. I can see them
distinctly yet, tramping laboriously and painfully back and forward over
that burning hillside, every moment of the long, weary Summer days.
A comrade writes to remind me of the beneficent work of the Masonic
Order. I mention it most gladly, as it was the sole recognition on the
part of any of our foes of our claims to human kinship. The churches of
all denominations--except the solitary Catholic priest, Father Hamilton,
--ignored us as wholly as if we were dumb beasts. Lay humanitarians were
equally indifferent, and the only interest manifested by any Rebel in the
welfare of any prisoner was by the Masonic brotherhood. The Rebel Masons
interested themselves in securing details outside the Stockade in the
cookhouse, the commissary, and elsewhere, for the brethren among the
prisoners who would accept such favors. Such as did not feel inclined to
go outside on parole received frequent presents in the way of food, and
especially of vegetables, which were literally beyond price. Materials
were sent inside to build tents for the Masons, and I think such as made
themselves known before death, received burial according to the rites of
the Order. Doctor White, and perhaps other Surgeons, belonged to the
fraternity, and the wearing of a Masonic emblem by a new prisoner was
pretty sure to catch their eyes, and be the means of securing for the
wearer the tender of their good offices, such as a detail into the
Hospital as nurse, ward-master, etc.
I was not fortunate enough to be one of the mystic brethren, and so
missed all share in any of these benefits, as well as in any others,
and I take special pride in one thing: that during my whole imprisonment
I was not beholden to a Rebel for a single favor of any kind. The Rebel
does not live who can say that he ever gave me so much as a handful of
meal, a spoonful of salt, an inch of thread, or a stick of wood.
From first to last I received nothing but my rations, except occasional
trifles that I succeeded in stealing from the stupid officers charged
with issuing rations. I owe no man in the Southern Confederacy gratitude
for anything--not even for a kind word.
Speaking of secret society pins recalls a noteworthy story which has been
told me since the war, of boys whom I knew. At the breaking out of
hostilities there existed in Toledo a festive little secret society,
such as lurking boys frequently organize, with no other object than fun
and the usual adolescent love of mystery. There were a dozen or so
members in it who called themselves "The Royal Reubens," and were headed
by a bookbinder named Ned Hopkins. Some one started a branch of the
Order in Napoleon, O., and among the members was Charles E. Reynolds,
of that town. The badge of the society was a peculiarly shaped gold pin.
Reynolds and Hopkins never met, and had no acquaintance with each other.
When the war broke out, Hopkins enlisted in Battery H, First Ohio
Artillery, and was sent to the Army of the Potomac, where he was
captured, in the Fall of 1863, while scouting, in the neighborhood of
Richmond. Reynolds entered the Sixty-Eighth Ohio Volunteer Infantry,
and was taken in the neighborhood of Jackson, Miss.,--two thousand miles
from the place of Hopkins's capture. At Andersonville Hopkins became one
of the officers in charge of the Hospital. One day a Rebel Sergeant, who
called the roll in the Stockade, after studying Hopkins's pin a minute,
"I seed a Yank in the Stockade to-day a-wearing a pin egzackly like that
This aroused Hopkins's interest, and he went inside in search of the
other "feller." Having his squad and detachment there was little
difficulty in finding him. He recognized the pin, spoke to its wearer,
gave him the "grand hailing sign" of the "Royal Reubens," and it was duly
responded to. The upshot of the matter was that he took Reynolds out
with him as clerk, and saved his life, as the latter was going down hill
very rapidly. Reynolds, in turn, secured the detail of a comrade of the
Sixty-Eighth who was failing fast, and succeeded in saving his life--all
of which happy results were directly attributable to that insignificant
boyish society, and its equally unimportant badge of membership.
Along in the last of August the Rebels learned that there were between
two and three hundred Captains and Lieutenants in the Stockade, passing
themselves off as enlisted men. The motive of these officers was
two-fold: first, a chivalrous wish to share the fortunes and fate of their
boys, and second, disinclination to gratify the Rebels by the knowledge
of the rank of their captives. The secret was so well kept that none of
us suspected it until the fact was announced by the Rebels themselves.
They were taken out immediately, and sent to Macon, where the
commissioned officers' prison was. It would not do to trust such
possible leaders with us another day.
FOOD--THE MEAGERNESS, INFERIOR QUALITY, AND TERRIBLE SAMENESS
--REBEL TESTIMONY ON THE SUBJECT--FUTILITY OF SUCCESSFUL EXPLANATION.
I have in other places dwelt upon the insufficiency and the nauseousness
of the food. No words that I can use, no insistence upon this theme, can
give the reader any idea of its mortal importance to us.
Let the reader consider for a moment the quantity, quality, and variety
of food that he now holds to be necessary for the maintenance of life and
health. I trust that every one who peruses this book--that every one in
fact over whom the Stars and Stripes wave--has his cup of coffee, his
biscuits and his beefsteak for breakfast--a substantial dinner of roast
or boiled--and a lighter, but still sufficient meal in the evening.
In all, certainly not less than fifty different articles are set before
him during the day, for his choice as elements of nourishment. Let him
scan this extended bill-of-fare, which long custom has made so
common-place as to be uninteresting--perhaps even wearisome to think about
--and see what he could omit from it, if necessity compelled him. After a
reluctant farewell to fish, butter, eggs, milk, sugar, green and
preserved fruits, etc., he thinks that perhaps under extraordinary
circumstances he might be able to merely sustain life for a limited
period on a diet of bread and meat three times a day, washed down with
creamless, unsweetened coffee, and varied occasionally with additions of
potatos, onions, beans, etc. It would astonish the Innocent to have one
of our veterans inform him that this was not even the first stage of
destitution; that a soldier who had these was expected to be on the
summit level of contentment. Any of the boys who followed Grant to
Appomattox Court House, Sherman to the Sea, or "Pap" Thomas till his
glorious career culminated with the annihilation of Hood, will tell him
of many weeks when a slice of fat pork on a piece of "hard tack" had to
do duty for the breakfast of beefsteak and biscuits; when another slice
of fat pork and another cracker served for the dinner of roast beef and
vegetables, and a third cracker and slice of pork was a substitute for
the supper of toast and chops.
I say to these veterans in turn that they did not arrive at the first
stages of destitution compared with the depths to which we were dragged.
The restriction for a few weeks to a diet of crackers and fat pork was
certainly a hardship, but the crackers alone, chemists tell us, contain
all the elements necessary to support life, and in our Army they were
always well made and very palatable. I believe I risk nothing in saying
that one of the ordinary square crackers of our Commissary Department
contained much more real nutriment than the whole of our average ration.
I have before compared the size, shape and appearance of the daily half
loaf of corn bread issued to us to a half-brick, and I do not yet know of
a more fitting comparison. At first we got a small piece of rusty bacon
along with this; but the size of this diminished steadily until at last
it faded away entirely, and during the last six months of our
imprisonment I do not believe that we received rations of meat above a
To this smallness was added ineffable badness. The meal was ground very
coarsely, by dull, weakly propelled stones, that imperfectly crushed the
grains, and left the tough, hard coating of the kernels in large, sharp,
mica-like scales, which cut and inflamed the stomach and intestines,
like handfuls of pounded glass. The alimentary canals of all compelled
to eat it were kept in a continual state of irritation that usually
terminated in incurable dysentery.
That I have not over-stated this evil can be seen by reference to the
testimony of so competent a scientific observer as Professor Jones, and I
add to that unimpeachable testimony the following extract from the
statement made in an attempted defense of Andersonville by Doctor R.
Randolph Stevenson, who styles himself, formerly Surgeon in the Army of
the Confederate States of America, Chief Surgeon of the Confederate
States Military Prison Hospitals, Andersonville, Ga.:
V. From the sameness of the food, and from the action of the poisonous
gases in the densely crowded and filthy Stockade and Hospital, the blood
was altered in its constitution, even, before the manifestation of actual
In both the well and the sick, the red corpuscles were diminished; and in
all diseases uncomplicated with inflammation, the fibrinous element was
deficient. In cases of ulceration of the mucous membrane of the
intestinal canal, the fibrinous element of the blood appeared to be
increased; while in simple diarrhea, uncomplicated with ulceration, and
dependent upon the character of the food and the existence of scurvy,
it was either diminished or remained stationary. Heart-clots were very
common, if not universally present, in the cases of ulceration of the
intestinal mucous membrane; while in the uncomplicated cases of diarrhea
and scurvy, the blood was fluid and did not coagulate readily, and the
heart-clots and fibrinous concretions were almost universally absent.
From the watery condition of the blood there resulted various serous
effusions into the pericardium, into the ventricles of the brain, and
into the abdominal cavity.
In almost all cases which I examined after death, even in the most
emaciated, there was more or less serous effusion into the abdominal
cavity. In cases of hospital gangrene of the extremities, and in cases
of gangrene of the intestines, heart-clots and firm coagula were
universally present. The presence of these clots in the cases of
hospital gangrene, whilst they were absent in the cases in which there
were no inflammatory symptoms, appears to sustain the conclusion that
hospital gangrene is a species of inflammation (imperfect and irregular
though it may be in its progress), in which the fibrinous element and
coagulability of the blood are increased, even in those who are suffering
from such a condition of the blood and from such diseases as are
naturally accompanied with a decrease in the fibrinous constituent.
VI. The impoverished condition of the blood, which led to serous
effusions within the ventricles of the brain, and around the brain and
spinal cord, and into the pericardial and abdominal cavities, was
gradually induced by the action of several causes, but chiefly by the
character of the food.
The Federal prisoners, as a general rule, had been reared upon wheat
bread and Irish potatos; and the Indian corn so extensively used at the
South, was almost unknown to them as an article of diet previous to their
capture. Owing to the impossibility of obtaining the necessary sieves in
the Confederacy for the separation of the husk from the corn-meal, the
rations of the Confederate soldiers, as well as of the Federal prisoners,
consisted of unbolted corn-flour, and meal and grist; this circumstance
rendered the corn-bread still more disagreeable and distasteful to the
Federal prisoners. While Indian meal, even when prepared with the husk,
is one of the most wholesome and nutritious forms of food, as has been
already shown by the health and rapid increase of the Southern
population, and especially of the negros, previous to the present war,
and by the strength, endurance and activity of the Confederate soldiers,
who were throughout the war confined to a great extent to unbolted
corn-meal; it is nevertheless true that those who have not been reared
upon corn-meal, or who have not accustomed themselves to its use
gradually, become excessively tired of this kind of diet when suddenly
confined to it without a due proportion of wheat bread. Large numbers
of the Federal prisoners appeared to be utterly disgusted with Indian
corn, and immense piles of corn-bread could be seen in the Stockade and
Hospital inclosures. Those who were so disgusted with this form of food
that they had no appetite to partake of it, except in quantities
insufficient to supply the waste of the tissues, were, of course, in the
condition of men slowly starving, notwithstanding that the only
farinaceous form of food which the Confederate States produced in
sufficient abundance for the maintenance of armies was not withheld from
them. In such cases, an urgent feeling of hunger was not a prominent
symptom; and even when it existed at first, it soon disappeared, and was
succeeded by an actual loathing of food. In this state the muscular
strength was rapidly diminished, the tissues wasted, and the thin,
skeleton-like forms moved about with the appearance of utter exhaustion
and dejection. The mental condition connected with long confinement,
with the most miserable surroundings, and with no hope for the future,
also depressed all the nervous and vital actions, and was especially
active in destroying the appetite. The effects of mental depression,
and of defective nutrition, were manifested not only in the slow, feeble
motions of the wasted, skeleton-like forms, but also in such lethargy,
listlessness, and torpor of the mental faculties as rendered these
unfortunate men oblivious and indifferent to their afflicted condition.
In many cases, even of the greatest apparent suffering and distress,
instead of showing any anxiety to communicate the causes of their
distress, or to relate their privations, and their longings for their
homes and their friends and relatives, they lay in a listless,
lethargic, uncomplaining state, taking no notice either of their own
distressed condition, or of the gigantic mass of human misery by which
they were surrounded. Nothing appalled and depressed me so much as this
silent, uncomplaining misery. It is a fact of great interest, that
notwithstanding this defective nutrition in men subjected to crowding
and filth, contagious fevers were rare; and typhus fever, which is
supposed to be generated in just such a state of things as existed at
Andersonville, was unknown. These facts, established by my
investigations, stand in striking contrast with such a statement as the
following by a recent English writer:
"A deficiency of food, especially of the nitrogenous part, quickly leads
to the breaking up of the animal frame. Plague, pestilence and famine
are associated with each other in the public mind, and the records of
every country show how closely they are related. The medical history of
Ireland is remarkable for the illustrations of how much mischief may be
occasioned by a general deficiency of food. Always the habitat of fever,
it every now and then becomes the very hot-bed of its propagation and
development. Let there be but a small failure in the usual imperfect
supply of food, and the lurking seeds of pestilence are ready to burst
into frightful activity. The famine of the present century is but too
forcible and illustrative of this. It fostered epidemics which have not
been witnessed in this generation, and gave rise to scenes of devastation
and misery which are not surpassed by the most appalling epidemics of the
Middle Ages. The principal form of the scourge was known as the
contagious famine fever (typhus), and it spread, not merely from end to
end of the country in which it had originated, but, breaking through all
boundaries, it crossed the broad ocean, and made itself painfully
manifest in localities where it was previously unknown. Thousands fell
under the virulence of its action, for wherever it came it struck down a
seventh of the people, and of those whom it attacked, one out of nine
perished. Even those who escaped the fatal influence of it, were left
the miserable victims of scurvy and low fever."
While we readily admit that famine induces that state of the system which
is the most susceptible to the action of fever poisons, and thus induces
the state of the entire population which is most favorable for the rapid
and destructive spread of all contagious fevers, at the same time we are
forced by the facts established by the present war, as well as by a host
of others, both old and new, to admit that we are still ignorant of the
causes necessary for the origin of typhus fever. Added to the imperfect
nature of the rations issued to the Federal prisoners, the difficulties
of their situation were at times greatly increased by the sudden and
desolating Federal raids in Virginia, Georgia, and other States, which
necessitated the sudden transportation from Richmond and other points
threatened of large bodies of prisoners, without the possibility of much
previous preparation; and not only did these men suffer in transition
upon the dilapidated and overburdened line of railroad communication,
but after arriving at Andersonville, the rations were frequently
insufficient to supply the sudden addition of several thousand men.
And as the Confederacy became more and more pressed, and when powerful
hostile armies were plunging through her bosom, the Federal prisoners of
Andersonville suffered incredibly during the hasty removal to Millen,
Savannah, Charleston, and other points, supposed at the time to be secure
from the enemy. Each one of these causes must be weighed when an attempt
is made to estimate the unusual mortality among these prisoners of war.
VII. Scurvy, arising from sameness of food and imperfect nutrition,
caused, either directly or indirectly, nine-tenths of the deaths among
the Federal prisoners at Andersonville.
Not only were the deaths referred to unknown causes, to apoplexy, to
anasarca, and to debility, traceable to scurvy and its effects; and not
only was the mortality in small-pox, pneumonia, and typhoid fever, and in
all acute diseases, more than doubled by the scorbutic taint, but even
those all but universal and deadly bowel affections arose from the same
causes, and derived their fatal character from the same conditions which
produced the scurvy. In truth, these men at Andersonville were in the
condition of a crew at sea, confined in a foul ship upon salt meat and
unvarying food, and without fresh vegetables. Not only so, but these
unfortunate prisoners were men forcibly confined and crowded upon a ship
tossed about on a stormy ocean, without a rudder, without a compass,
without a guiding-star, and without any apparent boundary or to their
voyage; and they reflected in their steadily increasing miseries the
distressed condition and waning fortunes of devastated and bleeding
country, which was compelled, in justice to her own unfortunate sons, to
hold these men in the most distressing captivity.
I saw nothing in the scurvy which prevailed so universally at
Andersonville, at all different from this disease as described by various
standard writers. The mortality was no greater than that which has
afflicted a hundred ships upon long voyages, and it did not exceed the
mortality which has, upon me than one occasion, and in a much shorter
period of time, annihilated large armies and desolated beleaguered
cities. The general results of my investigations upon the chronic
diarrhea and dysentery of the Federal prisoners of Andersonville were
similar to those of the English surgeons during the war against Russia.
IX. Drugs exercised but little influence over the progress and fatal
termination of chronic diarrhea and dysentery in the Military Prison and
Hospital at Andersonville, chiefly because the proper form of nourishment
(milk, rice, vegetables, anti-scorbutics, and nourishing animal and
vegetable soups) was not issued, and could not be procured in sufficient
quantities for the sick prisoners.
Opium allayed pain and checked the bowels temporarily, but the frail dam
was soon swept away, and the patient appears to be but little better,
if not the worse, for this merely palliative treatment. The root of the
difficulty could not be reached by drugs; nothing short of the wanting
elements of nutrition would have tended in any manner to restore the tone
of the digestive system, and of all the wasted and degenerated organs and
tissues. My opinion to this effect was expressed most decidedly to the
medical officers in charge of these unfortunate men. The correctness of
this view was sustained by the healthy and robust condition of the
paroled prisoners, who received an extra ration, and who were able to
make considerable sums by trading, and who supplied themselves with a
liberal and varied diet.
X. The fact that hospital gangrene appeared in the Stockade first, and
originated spontaneously, without any previous contagion, and occurred
sporadically all over the Stockade and Prison Hospital, was proof
positive that this disease will arise whenever the conditions of
crowding, filth, foul air, and bad diet are present.
The exhalations from the Hospital and Stockade appeared to exert their
effects to a considerable distance outside of these localities.
The origin of gangrene among these prisoners appeared clearly to depend
in great measure upon the state of the general system, induced by diet,
exposure, neglect of personal cleanliness; and by various external
noxious influences. The rapidity of the appearance and action of the
gangrene depended upon the powers and state of the constitution, as well
as upon the intensity of the poison in the atmosphere, or upon the direct
application of poisonous matter to the wounded surface. This was further
illustrated by the important fact, that hospital gangrene, or a disease
resembling this form of gangrene, attacked the intestinal canal of
patients laboring under ulceration of the bowels, although there were no
local manifestations of gangrene upon the surface of the body. This mode
of termination in cases of dysentery was quite common in the foul
atmosphere of the Confederate States Military Prison Hospital; and in the
depressed, depraved condition of the system of these Federal prisoners,
death ensued very rapidly after the gangrenous state of the intestines
XI. A scorbutic condition of the system appeared to favor the origin of
foul ulcers, which frequently took on true hospital gangrene.
Scurvy and gangrene frequently existed in the same individual. In such
cases, vegetable diet with vegetable acids would remove the scorbutic
condition without curing the hospital gangrene. . . Scurvy consists
not only in an alteration in the constitution of the blood, which leads
to passive hemorrhages from the bowels, and the effusion into the various
tissues of a deeply-colored fibrinous exudation; but, as we have
conclusively shown by postmortem examination, this state is attended with
consistence of the muscles of the heart, and the mucous membrane of the
alimentary canal, and of solid parts generally. We have, according to
the extent of the deficiency of certain articles of food, every degree of
scorbutic derangement, from the most fearful depravation of the blood
and the perversion of every function subserved by the blood to those
slight derangements which are scarcely distinguishable from a state of
health. We are as yet ignorant of the true nature of the changes of the
blood and tissues in scurvy, and wide field for investigation is open for
the determination the characteristic changes--physical, chemical, and
physiological--of the blood and tissues, and of the secretions and
excretions of scurvy. Such inquiries would be of great value in their
bearing upon the origin of hospital gangrene. Up to the present war,
the results of chemical investigations upon the pathology of the blood in
scurvy were not only contradictory, but meager, and wanting in that
careful detail of the cases from which the blood was abstracted which
would enable us to explain the cause of the apparent discrepancies in
different analyses. Thus it is not yet settled whether the fibrin is
increased or diminished in this disease; and the differences which exist
in the statements of different writers appear to be referable to the
neglect of a critical examination and record of all the symptoms of the
cases from which the blood was abstracted. The true nature of the
changes of the blood in scurvy can be established only by numerous
analyses during different stages of the disease, and followed up by
carefully performed and recorded postmortem examinations. With such data
we could settle such important questions as whether the increase of
fibrin in scurvy was invariably dependent upon some local inflammation.
XII. Gangrenous spots, followed by rapid destruction of tissue, appeared
in some cases in which there had been no previous or existing wound or
abrasion; and without such well established facts, it might be assumed
that the disease was propagated from one patient to another in every
case, either by exhalations from the gangrenous surface or by direct
In such a filthy and crowded hospital as that of the Confederate, States
Military Prison of Camp Sumter, Andersonville, it was impossible to
isolate the wounded from the sources of actual contact of the gangrenous
matter. The flies swarming over the wounds and over filth of every
description; the filthy, imperfectly washed, and scanty rags; the limited
number of sponges and wash-bowls (the same wash-bowl and sponge serving
for a score or more of patients), were one and all sources of such
constant circulation of the gangrenous matter, that the disease might
rapidly be propagated from a single gangrenous wound. While the fact
already considered, that a form of moist gangrene, resembling hospital
gangrene, was quite common in this foul atmosphere in cases of dysentery,
both with and without the existence of hospital gangrene upon the
surface, demonstrates the dependence of the disease upon the state of the
constitution, and proves in a clear manner that neither the contact of
the poisonous matter of gangrene, nor the direct action of the poisoned
atmosphere upon the ulcerated surface, is necessary to the development of
the disease; on the other hand, it is equally well-established that the
disease may be communicated by the various ways just mentioned. It is
impossible to determine the length of time which rags and clothing
saturated with gangrenous matter will retain the power of reproducing the
disease when applied to healthy wounds. Professor Brugmans, as quoted by
Guthrie in his commentaries on the surgery of the war in Portugal, Spain,
France, and the Netherlands, says that in 1797, in Holland, 'charpie,'
composed of linen threads cut of different lengths, which, on inquiry, it
was found had been already used in the great hospitals in France, and had
been subsequently washed and bleached, caused every ulcer to which it was
applied to be affected by hospital gangrene. Guthrie affirms in the same
work, that the fact that this disease was readily communicated by the
application of instruments, lint, or bandages which had been in contact
with infected parts, was too firmly established by the experience of
every one in Portugal and Spain to be a matter of doubt. There are facts
to show that flies may be the means of communicating malignant pustules.
Dr. Wagner, who has related several cases of malignant pustule produced
in man and beasts, both by contact and by eating the flesh of diseased
animals, which happened in the village of Striessa in Saxony, in 1834,
gives two very remarkable cases which occurred eight days after any beast
had been affected with the disease. Both were women, one of twenty-six
and the other of fifty years, and in them the pustules were well marked,
and the general symptoms similar to the other cases. The latter patient
said she had been bitten by a fly upon the back d the neck, at which part
the carbuncle appeared; and the former, that she had also been bitten
upon the right upper arm by a gnat. Upon inquiry, Wagner found that the
skin of one of the infected beasts had been hung on a neighboring wall,
and thought it very possible that the insects might have been attracted
to them by the smell, and had thence conveyed the poison.
[End of Dr. Stevenson's Statement]
The old adage says that "Hunger is the best sauce for poor food," but
hunger failed to render this detestable stuff palatable, and it became so
loathsome that very many actually starved to death because unable to
force their organs of deglutition to receive the nauseous dose and pass
it to the stomach. I was always much healthier than the average of the
boys, and my appetite consequently much better, yet for the last month
that I was in Andersonville, it required all my determination to crowd
the bread down my throat, and, as I have stated before, I could only do
this by breaking off small bits at a time, and forcing each down as I
would a pill.
A large part of this repulsiveness was due to the coarseness and foulness
of the meal, the wretched cooking, and the lack of salt, but there was a
still more potent reason than all these. Nature does not intend that man
shall live by bread alone, nor by any one kind of food. She indicates
this by the varying tastes and longings that she gives him. If his body
needs one kind of constituents, his tastes lead him to desire the food
that is richest in those constituents. When he has taken as much as his
system requires, the sense of satiety supervenes, and he "becomes tired"
of that particular food. If tastes are not perverted, but allowed a free
but temperate exercise, they are the surest indicators of the way to
preserve health and strength by a judicious selection of alimentation.
In this case Nature was protesting by a rebellion of the tastes against
any further use of that species of food. She was saying, as plainly as
she ever spoke, that death could only be averted by a change of diet,
which would supply our bodies with the constituents they so sadly needed,
and which could not be supplied by corn meal.
How needless was this confinement of our rations to corn meal, and
especially to such wretchedly prepared meal, is conclusively shown by the
Rebel testimony heretofore given. It would have been very little extra
trouble to the Rebels to have had our meal sifted; we would gladly have
done it ourselves if allowed the utensils and opportunity. It would have
been as little trouble to have varied our rations with green corn and
sweet potatos, of which the country was then full.
A few wagon loads of roasting ears and sweet potatos would have banished
every trace of scurvy from the camp, healed up the wasting dysentery,
and saved thousands of lives. Any day that the Rebels had chosen they
could have gotten a thousand volunteers who would have given their solemn
parole not to escape, and gone any distance into the country, to gather
the potatos and corn, and such other vegetables as were readily
obtainable, and bring, them into the camp.
Whatever else may be said in defense of the Southern management of
military prisons, the permitting seven thousand men to die of the scurvy
in the Summer time, in the midst of an agricultural region, filled with
all manner of green vegetation, must forever remain impossible of
SOLICITUDE AS TO THE FATE OF ATLANTA AND SHERMAN'S ARMY--PAUCITY OF NEWS
--HOW WE HEARD THAT ATLANTA HAD FALLEN--ANNOUNCEMENT OF A GENERAL
EXCHANGE--WE LEAVE ANDERSONVILLE.
We again began to be exceedingly solicitous over the fate of Atlanta and
Sherman's Army: we had heard but little directly from that front for
several weeks. Few prisoners had come in since those captured in the
bloody engagements of the 20th, 22d, and 28th of July. In spite of their
confident tones, and our own sanguine hopes, the outlook admitted of very
grave doubts. The battles of the last week of July had been looked at it
in the best light possible--indecisive. Our men had held their own,
it is true, but an invading army can not afford to simply hold its own.
Anything short of an absolute success is to it disguised defeat. Then we
knew that the cavalry column sent out under Stoneman had been so badly
handled by that inefficient commander that it had failed ridiculously in
its object, being beaten in detail, and suffering the loss of its
commander and a considerable portion of its numbers. This had been
followed by a defeat of our infantry at Etowah Creek, and then came a
long interval in which we received no news save what the Rebel papers
contained, and they pretended no doubt that Sherman's failure was already
demonstrated. Next came well-authenticated news that Sherman had raised
the siege and fallen back to the Chattahoochee, and we felt something of
the bitterness of despair. For days thereafter we heard nothing, though
the hot, close Summer air seemed surcharged with the premonitions of a
war storm about to burst, even as nature heralds in the same way a
concentration of the mighty force of the elements for the grand crash of
the thunderstorm. We waited in tense expectancy for the decision of the
fates whether final victory or defeat should end the long and arduous
At night the guards in the perches around the Stockade called out every
half hour, so as to show the officers that they were awake and attending
to their duty. The formula for this ran thus:
"Post numbah 1; half-past eight o'clock, and a-l-l 's w-e-l-l!"
Post No. 2 repeated this cry, and so it went around.
One evening when our anxiety as to Atlanta was wrought to the highest
pitch, one of the guards sang out:
"Post numbah foah--half past eight o'clock--and Atlanta's--gone--t-o
The heart of every man within hearing leaped to his mouth. We looked
toward each other, almost speechless with glad surprise, and then gasped
"Did 'you hear THAT?"
The next instant such a ringing cheer burst out as wells spontaneously
from the throats and hearts of men, in the first ecstatic moments of
victory--a cheer to which our saddened hearts and enfeebled lungs had
long been strangers. It was the genuine, honest, manly Northern cheer,
as different from the shrill Rebel yell as the honest mastiff's
deep-voiced welcome is from the howl of the prowling wolf.
The shout was taken up all over the prison. Even those who had not heard
the guard understood that it meant that "Atlanta was ours and fairly
won," and they took up the acclamation with as much enthusiasm as we had
begun it. All thoughts of sleep were put to flight: we would have a
season of rejoicing. Little knots gathered together, debated the news,
and indulged in the most sanguine hopes as to the effect upon the Rebels.
In some parts of the Stockade stump speeches were made. I believe that
Boston Corbett and his party organized a prayer and praise meeting.
In our corner we stirred up our tuneful friend "Nosey," who sang again
the grand old patriotic hymns that set our thin blood to bounding,
and made us remember that we were still Union soldiers, with higher hopes
than that of starving and dying in Andersonville. He sang the
ever-glorious Star Spangled Banner, as he used to sing it around the
camp fire in happier days, when we were in the field. He sang the
rousing "Rally Round the Flag," with its wealth of patriotic fire and
martial vigor, and we, with throats hoarse from shouting; joined in the
chorus until the welkin rang again.
The Rebels became excited, lest our exaltation of spirits would lead to
an assault upon the Stockade. They got under arms, and remained so until
the enthusiasm became less demonstrative.
A few days later--on the evening of the 6th of September--the Rebel
Sergeants who called the roll entered the Stockade, and each assembling
his squads, addressed them as follows:
"PRISONERS: I am instructed by General Winder to inform you that a
general exchange has been agreed upon. Twenty thousand men will be
exchanged immediately at Savannah, where your vessels are now waiting for
you. Detachments from One to Ten will prepare to leave early to-morrow
The excitement that this news produced was simply indescribable. I have
seen men in every possible exigency that can confront men, and a large
proportion viewed that which impended over them with at least outward
composure. The boys around me had endured all that we suffered with
stoical firmness. Groans from pain-racked bodies could not be repressed,
and bitter curses and maledictions against the Rebels leaped unbidden to
the lips at the slightest occasion, but there was no murmuring or
whining. There was not a day--hardly an hour--in which one did not see
such exhibitions of manly fortitude as made him proud of belonging to a
race of which every individual was a hero.
But the emotion which pain and suffering and danger could not develop,
joy could, and boys sang, and shouted and cried, and danced as if in a
delirium. "God's country," fairer than the sweet promised land of Canaan
appeared to the rapt vision of the Hebrew poet prophet, spread out in
glad vista before the mind's eye of every one. It had come--at last it
had come that which we had so longed for, wished for, prayed for, dreamed
of; schemed, planned, toiled for, and for which went up the last earnest,
dying wish of the thousands of our comrades who would now know no
exchange save into that eternal "God's country" where
Sickness and sorrow, pain and death
Are felt and feared no more.
Our "preparations," for leaving were few and simple. When the morning
came, and shortly after the order to move, Andrews and I picked our
well-worn blanket, our tattered overcoat, our rude chessmen, and no less
rude board, our little black can, and the spoon made of hoop-iron, and
bade farewell to the hole-in-the-ground that had been our home for
nearly seven long months.
My feet were still in miserable condition from the lacerations received
in the attempt to escape, but I took one of our tent poles as a staff and
hobbled away. We re-passed the gates which we had entered on that
February night, ages since, it seemed, and crawled slowly over to the
I had come to regard the Rebels around us as such measureless liars that
my first impulse was to believe the reverse of anything they said to us;
and even now, while I hoped for the best, my old habit of mind was so
strongly upon me that I had some doubts of our going to be exchanged,
simply because it was a Rebel who had said so. But in the crowd of
Rebels who stood close to the road upon which we were walking was a young
Second Lieutenant, who said to a Colonel as I passed:
"Weil, those fellows can sing 'Homeward Bound,' can't they?"
This set my last misgiving at rest. Now I was certain that we were going
to be exchanged, and my spirits soared to the skies.
Entering the cars we thumped and pounded toilsomely along, after the
manner of Southern railroads, at the rate of six or eight miles an hour.
Savannah was two hundred and forty miles away, and to our impatient minds
it seemed as if we would never get there. The route lay the whole
distance through the cheerless pine barrens which cover the greater part
of Georgia. The only considerable town on the way was Macon, which had
then a population of five thousand or thereabouts. For scores of miles
there would not be a sign of a human habitation, and in the one hundred
and eighty miles between Macon and Savannah there were only three
insignificant villages. There was a station every ten miles, at which
the only building was an open shed, to shelter from sun and rain a casual
passenger, or a bit of goods.
The occasional specimens of the poor white "cracker" population that we
saw, seemed indigenous products of the starved soil. They suited their
poverty-stricken surroundings as well as the gnarled and scrubby
vegetation suited the sterile sand. Thin-chested, round-shouldered,
scraggy-bearded, dull-eyed and open-mouthed, they all looked alike--all
looked as ignorant, as stupid, and as lazy as they were poor and weak.
They were "low-downers" in every respect, and made our rough and simple.
minded East Tennesseans look like models of elegant and cultured
gentlemen in contrast.
We looked on the poverty-stricken land with good-natured contempt, for we
thought we were leaving it forever, and would soon be in one which,
compared to it, was as the fatness at Egypt to the leanness of the desert
The second day after leaving Andersonville our train struggled across the
swamps into Savannah, and rolled slowly down the live oak shaded streets
into the center of the City. It seemed like another Deserted Village,
so vacant and noiseless the streets, and the buildings everywhere so
overgrown with luxuriant vegetation: The limbs of the shade trees crashed
along and broke, upon the tops of our cars, as if no train had passed
that way for years. Through the interstices between the trees and clumps
of foliage could be seen the gleaming white marble of the monuments
erected to Greene and Pulaski, looking like giant tombstones in a City of
the Dead. The unbroken stillness--so different from what we expected on
entering the metropolis of Georgia, and a City that was an important port
in Revolutionary days--became absolutely oppressive. We could not
understand it, but our thoughts were more intent upon the coming transfer
to our flag than upon any speculation as to the cause of the remarkable
somnolence of Savannah.
Finally some little boys straggled out to where our car was standing, and
we opened up a conversation with them:
"Say, boys, are our vessels down in the harbor yet?"
The reply came in that piercing treble shriek in which a boy of ten or
twelve makes even his most confidential communications:
"I don't know."
"Well," (with our confidence in exchange somewhat dashed,) "they intend
to exchange us here, don't they?"
Another falsetto scream, "I don't know."
"Well," (with something of a quaver in the questioner's voice,) "what are
they going to do, with us, any way?"
"O," (the treble shriek became almost demoniac) "they are fixing up a
place over by the old jail for you."
What a sinking of hearts was there then! Andrews and I would not give up
hope so speedily as some others did, and resolved to believe, for awhile
at least, that we were going to be exchanged.
Ordered out of the cars, we were marched along the street. A crowd of
small boys, full of the curiosity of the animal, gathered around us as we
marched. Suddenly a door in a rather nice house opened; an angry-faced
woman appeared on the steps and shouted out:
"Boys! BOYS! What are you doin' there! Come up on the steps immejitely!
Come away from them n-a-s-t-y things!"
I will admit that we were not prepossessing in appearance; nor were we as
cleanly as young gentlemen should habitually be; in fact, I may as well
confess that I would not now, if I could help it, allow a tramp, as
dilapidated in raiment, as unwashed, unshorn, uncombed, and populous with
insects as we were, to come within several rods of me. Nevertheless,
it was not pleasant to hear so accurate a description of our personal
appearance sent forth on the wings of the wind by a shrill-voiced Rebel
A short march brought us to the place "they were fixing for us by the old
jail." It was another pen, with high walls of thick pine plank, which
told us only too plainly how vain were our expectations of exchange.
When we were turned inside, and I realized that the gates of another
prison had closed upon me, hope forsook me. I flung our odious little
possessions-our can, chess-board, overcoat, and blanket-upon the ground,
and, sitting down beside them, gave way to the bitterest despair.
I wanted to die, O, so badly. Never in all my life had I desired
anything in the world so much as I did now to get out of it. Had I had
pistol, knife, rope, or poison, I would have ended my prison life then
and there, and departed with the unceremoniousness of a French leave.
I remembered that I could get a quietus from a guard with very little
trouble, but I would not give one of the bitterly hated Rebels the
triumph of shooting me. I longed to be another Samson, with the whole
Southern Confederacy gathered in another Temple of Dagon, that I might
pull down the supporting pillars, and die happy in slaying thousands of
While I was thus sinking deeper and deeper in the Slough of Despond, the
firing of a musket, and the shriek of the man who was struck, attracted
my attention. Looking towards the opposite end of the, pen I saw a guard
bringing his still smoking musket to a "recover arms," and, not fifteen
feet from him, a prisoner lying on the ground in the agonies of death.
The latter had a pipe in his mouth when he was shot, and his teeth still
clenched its stem. His legs and arms were drawn up convulsively, and he
was rocking backward and forward on his back. The charge had struck him
just above the hip-bone.
The Rebel officer in command of the guard was sitting on his horse inside
the pen at the time, and rode forward to see what the matter was.
Lieutenant Davis, who had come with us from Andersonville, was also
sitting on a horse inside the prison, and he called out in his usual
harsh, disagreeable voice:
"That's all right, Cunnel; the man's done just as I awdahed him to."
I found that lying around inside were a number of bits of plank--each
about five feet long, which had been sawed off by the carpenters engaged
in building the prison. The ground being a bare common, was destitute of
all shelter, and the pieces looked as if they would be quite useful in
building a tent. There may have been an order issued forbidding the
prisoners to touch them, but if so, I had not heard it, and I imagine the
first intimation to the prisoner just killed that the boards were not to
be taken was the bullet which penetrated his vitals. Twenty-five cents
would be a liberal appraisement of the value of the lumber for which the
boy lost his life.
Half an hour afterward we thought we saw all the guards march out of the
front gate. There was still another pile of these same kind of pieces of
board lying at the further side of the prison. The crowd around me
noticed it, and we all made a rush for it. In spite of my lame feet I
outstripped the rest, and was just in the act of stooping down to pick
the boards up when a loud yell from those behind startled me. Glancing
to my left I saw a guard cocking his gun and bringing it up to shoot me.
With one frightened spring, as quick as a flash, and before he could
cover me, I landed fully a rod back in the crowd, and mixed with it.
The fellow tried hard to draw a bead on me, but I was too quick for him,
and he finally lowered his gun with an oath expressive of disappointment
in not being able to kill a Yankee.
Walking back to my place the full ludicrousness of the thing dawned upon
me so forcibly that I forgot all about my excitement and scare, and
laughed aloud. Here, not an hour age I was murmuring because I could
find no way to die; I sighed for death as a bridegroom for the coming of
his bride, an yet, when a Rebel had pointed his gun at me, it had nearly
scared me out of a year's growth, and made me jump farther than I could
possibly do when my feet were well, and I was in good condition
SAVANNAH--DEVICES TO OBTAIN MATERIALS FOR A TENT--THEIR ULTIMATE SUCCESS
--RESUMPTION OF TUNNELING--ESCAPING BY WHOLESALE AND BEING RECAPTURED EN
MASSE--THE OBSTACLES THAT LAY BETWEEN US AND OUR LINES.
Andrews and I did not let the fate of the boy who was killed, nor my own
narrow escape from losing the top of my head, deter us from farther
efforts to secure possession of those coveted boards. My readers
remember the story of the boy who, digging vigorously at a hole, replied
to the remark of a passing traveler that there was probably no ground-hog
there, and, even if there was, "ground-hog was mighty poor eatin', any
"Mister, there's got to be a ground-hog there; our family's out o' meat!"
That was what actuated us: we were out of material for a tent. Our
solitary blanket had rotted and worn full of holes by its long double
duty, as bed-clothes and tent at Andersonville, and there was an
imperative call for a substitute.
Andrews and I flattered ourselves that when we matched our collective or
individual wits against those of a Johnny his defeat was pretty certain,
and with this cheerful estimate of our own powers to animate us, we set
to work to steal the boards from under the guard's nose. The Johnny had
malice in his heart and buck-and-ball in his musket, but his eyes were
not sufficiently numerous to adequately discharge all the duties laid
upon him. He had too many different things to watch at the same time.
I would approach a gap in the fence not yet closed as if I intended
making a dash through it for liberty, and when the Johnny had
concentrated all his attention on letting me have the contents of his gun
just as soon as he could have a reasonable excuse for doing so, Andrews
would pick u a couple of boards and slip away with them. Then I would
fall back in pretended (and some real) alarm, and--Andrew would come up
and draw his attention by a similar feint, while I made off with a couple
more pieces. After a few hours c this strategy, we found ourselves the
possessors of some dozen planks, with which we made a lean-to, that
formed a tolerable shelter for our heads and the upper portion of our
bodies. As the boards were not over five feet long, and the slope reduce
the sheltered space to about four-and-one-half feet, it left the lower
part of our naked feet and legs to project out-of-doors. Andrews used to
lament very touchingly the sunburning his toe-nails were receiving.
He knew that his complexion was being ruined for life, and all the Balm
of a Thousand Flowers in the world would not restore his comely ankles to
that condition of pristine loveliness which would admit of their
introduction into good society again. Another defect was that, like the
fun in a practical joke, it was all on one side; there was not enough of
it to go clear round. It was very unpleasant, when a storm came up in a
direction different from that we had calculated upon, to be compelled to
get out in the midst of it, and build our house over to face the other
Still we had a tent, and were that much better off than three-fourths of
our comrades who had no shelter at all. We were owners of a brown stone
front on Fifth Avenue compared to the other fellows.
Our tent erected, we began a general survey of our new abiding place.
The ground was a sandy common in the outskirts of Savannah. The sand was
covered with a light sod. The Rebels, who knew nothing of our burrowing
propensities, had neglected to make the plank forming the walls of the
Prison project any distance below the surface of the ground, and had put
up no Dead Line around the inside; so that it looked as if everything was
arranged expressly to invite us to tunnel out. We were not the boys to
neglect such an invitation. By night about three thousand had been
received from Andersonville, and placed inside. When morning came it
looked as if a colony of gigantic rats had been at work. There was a
tunnel every ten or fifteen feet, and at least twelve hundred of us had
gone out through them during the night. I never understood why all in
the pen did not follow our example, and leave the guards watching a
forsaken Prison. There was nothing to prevent it. An hour's industrious
work with a half-canteen would take any one outside, or if a boy was too
lazy to dig his own tunnel, he could have the use of one of the hundred
others that had been dug.
But escaping was only begun when the Stockade was passed. The site of
Savannah is virtually an island. On the north is the Savannah River; to
the east, southeast and south, are the two Ogeechee rivers, and a chain
of sounds and lagoons connecting with the Atlantic Ocean. To the west is
a canal connecting the Savannah and Big Ogeechee Rivers. We found
ourselves headed off by water whichever way we went. All the bridges
were guarded, and all the boats destroyed. Early in the morning the
Rebels discovered our absence, and the whole garrison of Savannah was
sent out on patrol after us. They picked up the boys in squads of from
ten to thirty, lurking around the shores of the streams waiting for night
to come, to get across, or engaged in building rafts for transportation.
By evening the whole mob of us were back in the pen again. As nobody was
punished for running away, we treated the whole affair as a lark, and
those brought back first stood around the gate and yelled derisively as
the others came in.
That night big fires were built all around the Stockade, and a line of
guards placed on the ground inside of these. In spite of this
precaution, quite a number escaped. The next day a Dead Line was put up
inside of the Prison, twenty feet from the Stockade. This only increased
the labor of burrowing, by making us go farther. Instead of being able
to tunnel out in an hour, it now took three or four hours. That night
several hundred of us, rested from our previous performance, and hopeful
of better luck, brought our faithful half canteens--now scoured very
bright by constant use-into requisition again, and before the morning.
dawned we had gained the high reeds of the swamps, where we lay concealed
In this way we managed to evade the recapture that came to most of those
who went out, but it was a fearful experience. Having been raised in a
country where venomous snakes abounded, I had that fear and horror of
them that inhabitants of those districts feel, and of which people living
in sections free from such a scourge know little. I fancied that the
Southern swamps were filled with all forms of loathsome and poisonous
reptiles, and it required all my courage to venture into them barefooted.
Besides, the snags and roots hurt our feet fearfully. Our hope was to
find a boat somewhere, in which we could float out to sea, and trust to
being picked up by some of the blockading fleet. But no boat could we
find, with all our painful and diligent search. We learned afterward
that the Rebels made a practice of breaking up all the boats along the
shore to prevent negros and their own deserters from escaping to the
blockading fleet. We thought of making a raft of logs, but had we had
the strength to do this, we would doubtless have thought it too risky,
since we dreaded missing the vessels, and being carried out to sea to
perish of hunger. During the night we came to the railroad bridge
across the Ogeechee. We had some slender hope that, if we could reach
this we might perhaps get across the river, and find better opportunities
for escape. But these last expectations were blasted by the discovery
that it was guarded. There was a post and a fire on the shore next us,
and a single guard with a lantern was stationed on one of the middle
spans. Almost famished with hunger, and so weary and footsore that we
could scarcely move another step, we went back to a cleared place on the
high ground, and laid down to sleep, entirely reckless as to what became
of us. Late in the morning we were awakened by the Rebel patrol and
taken back to the prison. Lieutenant Davis, disgusted with the perpetual
attempts to escape, moved the Dead Line out forty feet from the Stockade;
but this restricted our room greatly, since the number of prisoners in
the pen had now risen to about six thousand, and, besides, it offered
little additional protection against tunneling.
It was not much more difficult to dig fifty feet than it had been to dig
thirty feet. Davis soon realized this, and put the Dead Line back to
twenty feet. His next device was a much more sensible one. A crowd of
one hundred and fifty negros dug a trench twenty feet wide and five feet
deep around the whole prison on the outside, and this ditch was filled
with water from the City Water Works. No one could cross this without
attracting the attention of the guards.
Still we were not discouraged, and Andrews and I joined a crowd that was
constructing a large tunnel from near our quarters on the east side of
the pen. We finished the burrow to within a few inches of the edge of
the ditch, and then ceased operations, to await some stormy night, when
we could hope to get across the ditch unnoticed.
Orders were issued to guards to fire without warning on men who were
observed to be digging or carrying out dirt after nightfall. They
occasionally did so, but the risk did not keep anyone from tunneling.
Our tunnel ran directly under a sentry box. When carrying dirt away the
bearer of the bucket had to turn his back on the guard and walk directly
down the street in front of him, two hundred or three hundred feet, to
the center of the camp, where he scattered the sand around--so as to give
no indication of where it came from. Though we always waited till the
moon went down, it seemed as if, unless the guard were a fool, both by
nature and training, he could not help taking notice of what was going on
under his eyes. I do not recall any more nervous promenades in my life,
than those when, taking my turn, I received my bucket of sand at the
mouth of the tunnel, and walked slowly away with it. The most
disagreeable part was in turning my back to the guard. Could I have
faced him, I had sufficient confidence in my quickness of perception,
and talents as a dodger, to imagine that I could make it difficult for
him to hit me. But in walling with my back to him I was wholly at his
mercy. Fortune, however, favored us, and we were allowed to go on with
our work--night after night--without a shot.
In the meanwhile another happy thought slowly gestated in Davis's alleged
intellect. How he came to give birth to two ideas with no more than a
week between them, puzzled all who knew him, and still more that he
survived this extraordinary strain upon the gray matter of the cerebrum.
His new idea was to have driven a heavily-laden mule cart around the
inside of the Dead Line at least once a day. The wheels or the mule's
feet broke through the thin sod covering the tunnels and exposed them.
Our tunnel went with the rest, and those of our crowd who wore shoes had
humiliation added to sorrow by being compelled to go in and spade the
hole full of dirt. This put an end to subterranean engineering.
One day one of the boys watched his opportunity, got under the ration
wagon, and clinging close to the coupling pole with hands and feet, was
carried outside. He was detected, however, as he came from under the
wagon, and brought back.
FRANK REVERSTOCK'S ATTEMPT AT ESCAPE--PASSING OFF AS REBEL BOY HE REACHES
GRISWOLDVILLE BY RAIL, AND THEN STRIKES ACROSS THE COUNTRY FOR SHERMAN,
BUT IS CAUGHT WITHIN TWENTY MILES OF OUR LINES.
One of the shrewdest and nearest successful attempts to escape that came
under my notice was that of my friend Sergeant Frank Reverstock, of the
Third West Virginia Cavalry, of whom I have before spoken. Frank, who
was quite small, with a smooth boyish face, had converted to his own use
a citizen's coat, belonging to a young boy, a Sutler's assistant, who had
died in Andersonville. He had made himself a pair of bag pantaloons and
a shirt from pieces of meal sacks which he had appropriated from day to
day. He had also the Sutler's assistant's shoes, and, to crown all, he
wore on his head one of those hideous looking hats of quilted calico
which the Rebels had taken to wearing in the lack of felt hats, which
they could neither make nor buy. Altogether Frank looked enough like a
Rebel to be dangerous to trust near a country store or a stable full of
horses. When we first arrived in the prison quite a crowd of the
Savannahians rushed in to inspect us. The guards had some difficulty in
keeping them and us separate. While perplexed with this annoyance, one
of them saw Frank standing in our crowd, and, touching him with his
bayonet, said, with some sharpness:
"See heah; you must stand back; you musn't crowd on them prisoners so."
Frank stood back. He did it promptly but calmly, and then, as if his
curiosity as to Yankees was fully satisfied, he walked slowly away up the
street, deliberating as he went on a plan for getting out of the City.
He hit upon an excellent one. Going to the engineer of a freight train
making ready to start back to Macon, he told him that his father was
working in the Confederate machine shops at Griswoldville, near Macon;
that he himself was also one of the machinists employed there, and
desired to go thither but lacked the necessary means to pay his passage.
If the engineer would let him ride up on the engine he would do work
enough to pay the fare. Frank told the story ingeniously, the engineer
and firemen were won over, and gave their consent.
No more zealous assistant ever climbed upon a tender than Frank proved to
be. He loaded wood with a nervous industry, that stood him in place of
great strength. He kept the tender in perfect order, and anticipated,
as far as possible, every want of the engineer and his assistant. They
were delighted with him, and treated him with the greatest kindness,
dividing their food with him, and insisting that he should share their
bed when they "laid by" for the night. Frank would have gladly declined
this latter kindness with thanks, as he was conscious that the quantity
of "graybacks" his clothing contained did not make him a very desirable
sleeping companion for any one, but his friends were so pressing that he
was compelled to accede.
His greatest trouble was a fear of recognition by some one of the
prisoners that were continually passing by the train load, on their way
from Andersonville to other prisons. He was one of the best known of the
prisoners in Andersonville; bright, active, always cheerful, and forever
in motion during waking hours,--every one in the Prison speedily became
familiar with him, and all addressed him as "Sergeant Frankie." If any
one on the passing trains had caught a glimpse of him, that glimpse would
have been followed almost inevitably with a shout of:
"Hello, Sergeant Frankie! What are you doing there?"
Then the whole game would have been up. Frank escaped this by persistent
watchfulness, and by busying himself on the opposite side of the engine,
with his back turned to the other trains.
At last when nearing Griswoldville, Frank, pointing to a large white
house at some distance across the fields, said:
"Now, right over there is where my uncle lives, and I believe I'll just
run over and see him, and then walk into Griswoldville."
He thanked his friends fervently for their kindness, promised to call and
see them frequently, bade them good by, and jumped off the train.
He walked towards the white house as long as he thought he could be seen,
and then entered a large corn field and concealed himself in a thicket in
the center of it until dark, when he made his way to the neighboring
woods, and began journeying northward as fast as his legs could carry
him. When morning broke he had made good progress, but was terribly
tired. It was not prudent to travel by daylight, so he gathered himself
some ears of corn and some berries, of which he made his breakfast, and
finding a suitable thicket he crawled into it, fell asleep, and did not
wake up until late in the afternoon.
After another meal of raw corn and berries he resumed his journey, and
that night made still better progress.
He repeated this for several days and nights--lying in the woods in the
day time, traveling by night through woods, fields, and by-paths avoiding
all the fords, bridges and main roads, and living on what he could glean
from the fields, that he might not take even so much risk as was involved
in going to the negro cabins for food.
But there are always flaws in every man's armor of caution--even in so
perfect a one as Frank's. His complete success so far had the natural
effect of inducing a growing carelessness, which wrought his ruin.
One evening he started off briskly, after a refreshing rest and sleep.
He knew that he must be very near Sherman's lines, and hope cheered him
up with the belief that his freedom would soon be won.
Descending from the hill, in whose dense brushwood he had made his bed
all day, he entered a large field full of standing corn, and made his way
between the rows until he reached, on the other side, the fence that
separated it from the main road, across which was another corn-field,
that Frank intended entering.
But he neglected his usual precautions on approaching a road, and instead
of coming up cautiously and carefully reconnoitering in all directions
before he left cover, he sprang boldly over the fence and strode out for
the other side. As he reached the middle of the road, his ears were
assailed with the sharp click of a musket being cocked, and the harsh
"Halt! halt, dah, I say!"
Turning with a start to his left he saw not ten feet from him, a mounted
patrol, the sound of whose approach had been masked by the deep dust of
the road, into which his horse's hoofs sank noiselessly.
Frank, of course, yielded without a word, and when sent to the officer in
command he told the old story about his being an employee of the
Griswoldville shops, off on a leave of absence to make a visit to sick
relatives. But, unfortunately, his captors belonged to that section
themselves, and speedily caught him in a maze of cross-questioning from
which he could not extricate himself. It also became apparent from his
language that he was a Yankee, and it was not far from this to the
conclusion that he was a spy--a conclusion to which the proximity of
Sherman's lines, then less than twenty miles distant-greatly assisted.
By the next morning this belief had become so firmly fixed in the minds
of the Rebels that Frank saw a halter dangling alarmingly near, and he
concluded the wisest plan was to confess who he really was.
It was not the smallest of his griefs to realize by how slight a chance
he had failed. Had he looked down the road before he climbed the fence,
or had he been ten minutes earlier or later, the patrol would not have
been there, he could have gained the next field unperceived, and two more
nights of successful progress would have taken him into Sherman's lines
at Sand Mountain. The patrol which caught him was on the look-out for
deserters and shirking conscripts, who had become unusually numerous
since the fall of Atlanta.
He was sent back to us at Savannah. As he came into the prison gate
Lieutenant Davis was standing near. He looked sternly at Frank and his
Rebel garments, and muttering,
"By God, I'll stop this!" caught the coat by the tails, tore it to the
collar, and took it and his hat away from Frank.
There was a strange sequel to this episode. A few weeks afterward a
special exchange for ten thousand was made, and Frank succeeded in being
included in this. He was given the usual furlough from the paroled camp
at Annapolis, and went to his home in a little town near Mansfield, O.
One day while on the cars going--I think to Newark, O., he saw Lieutenant
Davis on the train, in citizens' clothes. He had been sent by the Rebel
Government to Canada with dispatches relating to some of the raids then
harassing our Northern borders. Davis was the last man in the world to
successfully disguise himself. He had a large, coarse mouth, that made
him remembered by all who had ever seen him. Frank recognized him
instantly and said:
"You are Lieutenant Davis?"
"You are totally mistaken, sah, I am -----"
Frank insisted that he was right. Davis fumed and blustered, but though
Frank was small, he was as game as a bantam rooster, and he gave Davis to
understand that there had been a vast change in their relative positions;
that the one, while still the same insolent swaggerer, had not regiments
of infantry or batteries of artillery to emphasize his insolence, and the
other was no longer embarrassed in the discussion by the immense odds in
favor of his jailor opponent.
After a stormy scene Frank called in the assistance of some other
soldiers in the car, arrested Davis, and took him to Camp Chase--near
Columbus, O.,--where he was fully identified by a number of paroled
prisoners. He was searched, and documents showing the nature of his
mission beyond a doubt, were found upon his person.
A court martial was immediately convened for his trial.
This found him guilty, and sentenced him to be hanged as a spy.
At the conclusion of the trial Frank stepped up to the prisoner and said:
"Mr. Davis, I believe we're even on that coat, now."
Davis was sent to Johnson's Island for execution, but influences were
immediately set at work to secure Executive clemency. What they were
I know not, but I am informed by the Rev. Robert McCune, who was then
Chaplain of the One Hundred and Twenty-Eighth Ohio Infantry and the Post
of Johnson's Island and who was the spiritual adviser appointed to
prepare Davis for execution, that the sentence was hardly pronounced
before Davis was visited by an emissary, who told him to dismiss his
fears, that he should not suffer the punishment.
It is likely that leading Baltimore Unionists were enlisted in his behalf
through family connections, and as the Border State Unionists were then
potent at Washington, they readily secured a commutation of his sentence
to imprisonment during the war.
It seems that the justice of this world is very unevenly dispensed when
so much solicitude is shown for the life of such a man, and none at all
for the much better men whom he assisted to destroy.
The official notice of the commutation of the sentence was not published