Part 9 out of 10
Making a total disposed of from there, as shown by records on file, of
three thousand three hundred and ninety.
This, no doubt, is a small proportion of the number actually confined
The hospital register on file contains that part only of the alphabet
subsequent to, and including part of the letter S, but from this
register, it is shown that the prisoners were arranged in hundreds and
thousands, and the hundred and thousand to which he belonged is recorded
opposite each man's name on said register. Thus:
"John Jones, 11th thousand, 10th hundred."
Eleven thousand being the highest number thus recorded, it is fair to
presume that not less than that number were confined there on a certain
date, and that more than that number were confined there during the time
it was continued as a prison.
Statement showing the whole number of Federals and Confederates captured,
(less the number paroled on the field), the number who died while
prisoners, and the percentage of deaths, 1861-1865
Captured .................................................. 187,818
Died, (as shown by prison and hospital records on file).... 30,674
Percentage of deaths ...................................... 16.375
Captured .................................................. 227,570
Died ...................................................... 26,774
Percentage of deaths ...................................... 11.768
In the detailed statement prepared for Congress dated March 1, 1869, the
whole number of deaths given as shown by Prisoner of War records was
twenty-six thousand three hundred and twenty-eight, but since that date
evidence of three thousand six hundred and twenty-eight additional deaths
has been obtained from the captured Confederate records, making a total
of twenty-nine thousand nine hundred and fifty-six as above shown. This
is believed to be many thousands less than the actual number of Federal
prisoners who died in Confederate prisons, as we have no records from
those at Montgomery Ala., Mobile, Ala., Millen, Ga., Marietta, Ga.,
Atlanta, Ga., Charleston, S. C., and others. The records of Florence,
S. C., and Salisbury, N. C., are very incomplete. It also appears from
Confederate inspection reports of Confederate prisons, that large
percentage of the deaths occurred in prison quarter without the care or
knowledge of the Surgeon. For the month of December, 1864 alone, the
Confederate "burial report"; Salisbury, N. C., show that out, of eleven
hundred and fifty deaths, two hundred and twenty-three, or twenty per
cent., died in prison quarters and are not accounted for in the report of
the Surgeon, and therefore not taken into consideration in the above
report, as the only records of said prisons on file (with one exception)
are the Hospital records. Calculating the percentage of deaths on this
basis would give the number of deaths at thirty-seven thousand four
hundred and forty-five and percentage of deaths at 20.023.
[End of the Letters from the War Department.]
If we assume that the Government's records of Florence as correct, it
will be apparent that one man in every three die there, since, while
there might have been as high as fifty thousand at one time in the
prison, during the last three months of its existence I am quite sure
that the number did not exceed seven thousand. This would make the
mortality much greater than at Andersonville, which it undoubtedly was,
since the physical condition of the prisoners confined there had been
greatly depressed by their long confinement, while the bulk c the
prisoners at Andersonville were those who had been brought thither
directly from the field. I think also that all who experienced
confinement in the two places are united in pronouncing Florence to be,
on the whole, much the worse place and more fatal to life.
The medicines furnished the sick were quite simple in nature and mainly
composed of indigenous substances. For diarrhea red pepper and
decoctions of blackberry root and of pine leave were given. For coughs
and lung diseases, a decoction of wild cherry bark was administered.
Chills and fever were treated with decoctions of dogwood bark, and fever
patients who craved something sour, were given a weak acid drink, made by
fermenting a small quantity of meal in a barrel of water. All these
remedies were quite good in their way, and would have benefitted the
patients had they been accompanied by proper shelter, food and clothing.
But it was idle to attempt to arrest with blackberry root the diarrhea,
or with wild cherry bark the consumption of a man lying in a cold, damp,
mud hovel, devoured by vermin, and struggling to maintain life upon less
than a pint of unsalted corn meal per diem.
Finding that the doctors issued red pepper for diarrhea, and an imitation
of sweet oil made from peanuts, for the gangrenous sores above described,
I reported to them an imaginary comrade in my tent, whose symptoms
indicated those remedies, and succeeded in drawing a small quantity of
each, two or three times a week. The red pepper I used to warm up our
bread and mush, and give some different taste to the corn meal, which had
now become so loathsome to us. The peanut oil served to give a hint of
the animal food we hungered for. It was greasy, and as we did not have
any meat for three months, even this flimsy substitute was inexpressibly
grateful to palate and stomach. But one morning the Hospital Steward
made a mistake, and gave me castor oil instead, and the consequences were
A more agreeable remembrance is that of two small apples, about the size
of walnuts, given me by a boy named Henry Clay Montague Porter, of the
Sixteenth Connecticut. He had relatives living in North Carolina, who
sent him a small packs of eatables, out of which, in the fulness of his
generous heart he gave me this share--enough to make me always remember
him with kindness.
Speaking of eatables reminds me of an incident. Joe Darling, of the
First Maine, our Chief of Police, had a sister living at Augusta, Ga.,
who occasionally came to Florence with basket of food and other
necessaries for her brother. On one of these journeys, while sitting in
Colonel Iverson's tent, waiting for her brother to be brought out of
prison, she picked out of her basket a nicely browned doughnut and handed
it to the guard pacing in front of the tent, with:
"Here, guard, wouldn't you like a genuine Yankee doughnut?"
The guard-a lank, loose-jointed Georgia cracker--who in all his life seen
very little more inviting food than the his hominy and molasses, upon
which he had been raised, took the cake, turned it over and inspected it
curiously for some time without apparently getting the least idea of what
it was for, and then handed it back to the donor, saying:
"Really, mum, I don't believe I've got any use for it"
DULL WINTER DAYS--TOO WEAK AND TOO STUPID To AMUSE OURSELVES--ATTEMPTS OF
THE REBELS TO RECRUIT US INTO THEIR ARMY--THE CLASS OF MEN THEY OBTAINED
--VENGEANCE ON "THE GALVANIZED"--A SINGULAR EXPERIENCE--RARE GLIMPSES
OF FUN--INABILITY OF THE REBELS TO COUNT.
The Rebels continued their efforts to induce prisoners to enlist in their
army, and with much better success than at any previous time. Many men
had become so desperate that they were reckless as to what they did.
Home, relatives, friends, happiness--all they had remembered or looked
forward to, all that had nerved them up to endure the present and brave
the future--now seemed separated from them forever by a yawning and
impassable chasm. For many weeks no new prisoners had come in to rouse
their drooping courage with news of the progress of our arms towards
final victory, or refresh their remembrances of home, and the
gladsomeness of "God's Country." Before them they saw nothing but weeks
of slow and painful progress towards bitter death. The other alternative
was enlistment in the Rebel army.
Another class went out and joined, with no other intention than to escape
at the first opportunity. They justified their bad faith to the Rebels
by recalling the numberless instances of the Rebels' bad faith to us,
and usually closed their arguments in defense of their course with:
"No oath administered by a Rebel can have any binding obligation. These
men are outlaws who have not only broken their oaths to the Government,
but who have deserted from its service, and turned its arms against it.
They are perjurers and traitors, and in addition, the oath they
administer to us is under compulsion and for that reason is of no
Still another class, mostly made up from the old Raider crowd, enlisted
from natural depravity. They went out more than for anything else
because their hearts were prone to evil and they did that which was wrong
in preference to what was right. By far the largest portion of those the
Rebels obtained were of this class, and a more worthless crowd of
soldiers has not been seen since Falstaff mustered his famous recruits.
After all, however, the number who deserted their flag was astonishingly
small, considering all the circumstances. The official report says three
hundred and twenty-six, but I imaging this is under the truth, since
quite a number were turned back in after their utter uselessness had been
demonstrated. I suppose that five hundred "galvanized," as we termed it,
but this was very few when the hopelessness of exchange, the despair of
life, and the wretchedness of the condition of the eleven or twelve
thousand inside the Stockade is remembered.
The motives actuating men to desert were not closely analyzed by us,
but we held all who did so as despicable scoundrels, too vile to be
adequately described in words. It was not safe for a man to announce his
intention of "galvanizing," for he incurred much danger of being beaten
until he was physically unable to reach the gate. Those who went over to
the enemy had to use great discretion in letting the Rebel officer, know
so much of their wishes as would secure their being taker outside. Men
were frequently knocked down and dragged away while telling the officers
they wanted to go out.
On one occasion one hundred or more of the raider crowd who had
galvanized, were stopped for a few hours in some little Town, on their
way to the front. They lost no time in stealing everything they could
lay their hands upon, and the disgusted Rebel commander ordered them to
be returned to the Stockade. They came in in the evening, all well
rigged out in Rebel uniforms, and carrying blankets. We chose to
consider their good clothes and equipments an aggravation of their
offense and an insult to ourselves. We had at that time quite a squad of
negro soldiers inside with us. Among them was a gigantic fellow with a
fist like a wooden beetle. Some of the white boys resolved to use these
to wreak the camp's displeasure on the Galvanized. The plan was carried
out capitally. The big darky, followed by a crowd of smaller and nimbler
"shades," would approach one of the leaders among them with:
"Is you a Galvanized?"
The surly reply would be,
"Yes, you ---- black ----. What the business is that of yours?"
At that instant the bony fist of the darky, descending like a
pile-driver, would catch the recreant under the ear, and lift him about
a rod. As he fell, the smaller darkies would pounce upon him, and in an
instant despoil him of his blanket and perhaps the larger portion of his
warm clothing. The operation was repeated with a dozen or more. The
whole camp enjoyed it as rare fun, and it was the only time that I saw
nearly every body at Florence laugh.
A few prisoners were brought in in December, who had been taken in
Foster's attempt to cut the Charleston & Savannah Railroad at Pocataligo.
Among them we were astonished to find Charley Hirsch, a member of Company
I's of our battalion. He had had a strange experience. He was
originally a member of a Texas regiment and was captured at Arkansas
Post. He then took the oath of allegiance and enlisted with us. While
we were at Savannah he approached a guard one day to trade for tobacco.
The moment he spoke to the man he recognized him as a former comrade in
the Texas regiment. The latter knew him also, and sang out,
"I know you; you're Charley Hirsch, that used to be in my company."
Charley backed into the crowd as quickly as possible; to elude the
fellow's eyes, but the latter called for the Corporal of the Guard, had
himself relieved, and in a few minutes came in with an officer in search
of the deserter. He found him with little difficulty, and took him out.
The luckless Charley was tried by court martial, found, guilty, sentenced
to be shot, and while waiting execution was confined in the jail. Before
the sentence could be carried into effect Sherman came so close to the
City that it was thought best to remove the prisoners. In the confusion
Charley managed to make his escape, and at the moment the battle of
Pocataligo opened, was lying concealed between the two lines of battle,
without knowing, of course, that he was in such a dangerous locality.
After the firing opened, he thought it better to lie still than run the
risk from the fire of both sides, especially as he momentarily expected
our folks to advance and drive the Rebels away. But the reverse
happened; the Johnnies drove our fellows, and, finding Charley in his
place of concealment, took him for one of Foster's men, and sent him to
Florence, where he staid until we went through to our lines.
Our days went by as stupidly and eventless as can be conceived.
We had grown too spiritless and lethargic to dig tunnels or plan escapes.
We had nothing to read, nothing to make or destroy, nothing to work with,
nothing to play with, and even no desire to contrive anything for
amusement. All the cards in the prison were worn out long ago. Some of
the boys had made dominos from bones, and Andrews and I still had our
chessmen, but we were too listless to play. The mind, enfeebled by the
long disuse of it except in a few limited channels, was unfitted for even
so much effort as was involved in a game for pastime.
Nor were there any physical exercises, such as that crowd of young men
would have delighted in under other circumstances. There was no running,
boxing, jumping, wrestling, leaping, etc. All were too weak and hungry
to make any exertion beyond that absolutely necessary. On cold days
everybody seemed totally benumbed. The camp would be silent and still.
Little groups everywhere hovered for hours, moody and sullen, over
diminutive, flickering fires, made with one poor handful of splinters.
When the sun shone, more activity was visible. Boys wandered around,
hunted up their friends, and saw what gaps death--always busiest during
the cold spells--had made in the ranks of their acquaintances. During
the warmest part of the day everybody disrobed, and spent an hour or more
killing the lice that had waxed and multiplied to grievous proportions
during the few days of comparative immunity.
Besides the whipping of the Galvanized by the darkies, I remember but two
other bits of amusement we had while at Florence. One of these was in
hearing the colored soldiers sing patriotic songs, which they did with
great gusto when the weather became mild. The other was the antics of a
circus clown--a member, I believe, of a Connecticut or a New York
regiment, who, on the rare occasions when we were feeling not exactly
well so much as simply better than we had been, would give us an hour or
two of recitations of the drolleries with which he was wont to set the
crowded canvas in a roar. One of his happiest efforts, I remember, was a
stilted paraphrase of "Old Uncle Ned" a song very popular a quarter of a
century ago, and which ran something like this:
There was an old darky, an' his name was Uncle Ned,
But he died long ago, long ago
He had no wool on de top of his head,
De place whar de wool ought to grouw.
Den lay down de shubel an' de hoe,
Den hang up de fiddle an' de bow;
For dere's no more hard work for poor Uncle Ned
He's gone whar de good niggahs go.
His fingers war long, like de cane in de brake,
And his eyes war too dim for to see;
He had no teeth to eat de corn cake,
So he had to let de corn cake be.
His legs were so bowed dat he couldn't lie still.
An' he had no nails on his toes;
His neck was so crooked dot he couldn't take a pill,
So he had to take a pill through his nose.
One cold frosty morning old Uncle Ned died,
An' de tears ran down massa's cheek like rain,
For he knew when Uncle Ned was laid in de groun',
He would never see poor Uncle Ned again,
In the hands of this artist the song became--
There was an aged and indigent African whose cognomen was Uncle Edward,
But he is deceased since a remote period, a very remote period;
He possessed no capillary substance on the summit of his cranium,
The place designated by kind Nature for the capillary substance to
Then let the agricultural implements rest recumbent upon the ground;
And suspend the musical instruments in peace neon the wall,
For there's no more physical energy to be displayed by our Indigent Uncle
He has departed to that place set apart by a beneficent Providence for
the reception of the better class of Africans.
And so on. These rare flashes of fun only served to throw the underlying
misery out in greater relief. It was like lightning playing across the
surface of a dreary morass.
I have before alluded several times to the general inability of Rebels to
count accurately, even in low numbers. One continually met phases of
this that seemed simply incomprehensible to us, who had taken in the
multiplication table almost with our mother's milk, and knew the Rule of
Three as well as a Presbyterian boy does the Shorter Catechism.
A cadet--an undergraduate of the South Carolina Military Institute
--called our roll at Florence, and though an inborn young aristocrat, who
believed himself made of finer clay than most mortals, he was not a bad
fellow at all. He thought South Carolina aristocracy the finest gentry,
and the South Carolina Military Institute the greatest institution of
learning in the world; but that is common with all South Carolinians.
One day he came in so full of some matter of rare importance that we
became somewhat excited as to its nature. Dismissing our hundred after
roll-call, he unburdened his mind:
"Now you fellers are all so d---d peart on mathematics, and such things,
that you want to snap me up on every opportunity, but I guess I've got
something this time that'll settle you. Its something that a fellow gave
out yesterday, and Colonel Iverson, and all the officers out there have
been figuring on it ever since, and none have got the right answer, and
I'm powerful sure that none of you, smart as you think you are, can do
"Heavens, and earth, let's hear this wonderful problem," said we all.
"Well," said he, "what is the length of a pole standing in a river,
one-fifth of which is in the mud, two-thirds in the water, and one-eighth
above the water, while one foot and three inches of the top is broken
In a minute a dozen answered, "One hundred and fifty feet."
The cadet could only look his amazement at the possession of such an
amount of learning by a crowd of mudsills, and one of our fellows said
"Why, if you South Carolina Institute fellows couldn't answer such
questions as that they wouldn't allow you in the infant class up North."
Lieutenant Barrett, our red-headed tormentor, could not, for the life of
him, count those inside in hundreds and thousands in such a manner as to
be reasonably certain of correctness. As it would have cankered his soul
to feel that he was being beaten out of a half-dozen rations by the
superior cunning of the Yankees, he adopted a plan which he must have
learned at some period of his life when he was a hog or sheep drover.
Every Sunday morning all in the camp were driven across the Creek to the
East Side, and then made to file slowly back--one at a time--between two
guards stationed on the little bridge that spanned the Creek. By this
means, if he was able to count up to one hundred, he could get our number
The first time this was done after our arrival he gave us a display of
his wanton malevolence. We were nearly all assembled on the East Side,
and were standing in ranks, at the edge of the swamp, facing the west.
Barrett was walking along the opposite edge of the swamp, and, coming to
a little gully jumped, it. He was very awkward, and came near falling
into the mud. We all yelled derisively. He turned toward us in a fury,
shook his fist, and shouted curses and imprecations. We yelled still
louder. He snatched out his revolver, and began firing at our line. The
distance was considerable--say four or five hundred feet--and the bullets
struck in the mud in advance of the line. We still yelled. Then he
jerked a gun from a guard and fired, but his aim was still bad, and the
bullet sang over our heads, striking in the bank above us. He posted of
to get another gun, but his fit subsided before he obtained it.
CHRISTMAS--AND THE WAY THE WAS PASSED--THE DAILY ROUTINE OF RATION
DRAWING--SOME PECULIARITIES OF LIVING AND DYING.
Christmas, with its swelling flood of happy memories,--memories now
bitter because they marked the high tide whence our fortunes had receded
to this despicable state--came, but brought no change to mark its coming.
It is true that we had expected no change; we had not looked forward to
the day, and hardly knew when it arrived, so indifferent were we to the
lapse of time.
When reminded that the day was one that in all Christendom was sacred to
good cheer and joyful meetings; that wherever the upraised cross
proclaimed followers of Him who preached "Peace on Earth and good will to
men," parents and children, brothers and sisters, long-time friends, and
all congenial spirits were gathering around hospitable boards to delight
in each other's society, and strengthen the bonds of unity between them,
we listened as to a tale told of some foreign land from which we had
parted forever more.
It seemed years since we had known anything of the kind. The experience
we had had of it belonged to the dim and irrevocable past. It could not
come to us again, nor we go to it. Squalor, hunger, cold and wasting
disease had become the ordinary conditions of existence, from which there
was little hope that we would ever be exempt.
Perhaps it was well, to a certain degree, that we felt so. It softened
the poignancy of our reflections over the difference in the condition of
ourselves and our happier comrades who were elsewhere.
The weather was in harmony with our feelings. The dull, gray, leaden sky
was as sharp a contrast with the crisp, bracing sharpness of a Northern
Christmas morning, as our beggarly little ration of saltless corn meal
was to the sumptuous cheer that loaded the dinner-tables of our Northern
We turned out languidly in the morning to roll-call, endured silently the
raving abuse of the cowardly brute Barrett, hung stupidly over the
flickering little fires, until the gates opened to admit the rations.
For an hour there was bustle and animation. All stood around and counted
each sack of meal, to get an idea of the rations we were likely to
This was a daily custom. The number intended for the day's issue were
all brought in and piled up in the street. Then there was a division of
the sacks to the thousands, the Sergeant of each being called up in turn,
and allowed to pick out and carry away one, until all were taken. When
we entered the prison each thousand received, on an average, ten or
eleven sacks a day. Every week saw a reduction in the number, until by
midwinter the daily issue to a thousand averaged four sacks. Let us say
that one of these sacks held two bushels, or the four, eight bushels.
As there are thirty-two quarts in a bushel, one thousand men received two
hundred and fifty-six quarts, or less than a half pint each.
We thought we had sounded the depths of misery at Andersonville, but
Florence showed us a much lower depth. Bad as was parching under the
burning sun whose fiery rays bred miasma and putrefaction, it was still
not so bad as having one's life chilled out by exposure in nakedness upon
the frozen ground to biting winds and freezing sleet. Wretched as the
rusty bacon and coarse, maggot-filled bread of Andersonville was, it
would still go much farther towards supporting life than the handful of
saltless meal at Florence.
While I believe it possible for any young man, with the forces of life
strong within him, and healthy in every way, to survive, by taking due
precautions, such treatment as we received in Andersonville, I cannot
understand how anybody could live through a month of Florence. That many
did live is only an astonishing illustration of the tenacity of life in
Let the reader imagine--anywhere he likes--a fifteen-acre field, with a
stream running through the center. Let him imagine this inclosed by a
Stockade eighteen feet high, made by standing logs on end. Let him
conceive of ten thousand feeble men, debilitated by months of
imprisonment, turned inside this inclosure, without a yard of covering
given them, and told to make their homes there. One quarter of them--two
thousand five hundred--pick up brush, pieces of rail, splits from logs,
etc., sufficient to make huts that will turn the rain tolerably. The
huts are in no case as good shelter as an ordinarily careful farmer
provides for his swine. Half of the prisoners--five thousand--who cannot
do so well, work the mud up into rude bricks, with which they build
shelters that wash down at every hard rain. The remaining two thousand
five hundred do not do even this, but lie around on the ground, on old
blankets and overcoats, and in day-time prop these up on sticks, as
shelter from the rain and wind. Let them be given not to exceed a pint
of corn meal a day, and a piece of wood about the size of an ordinary
stick for a cooking stove to cook it with. Then let such weather prevail
as we ordinarily have in the North in November--freezing cold rains, with
frequent days and nights when the ice forms as thick as a pane of glass.
How long does he think men could live through that? He will probably say
that a week, or at most a fortnight, would see the last and strongest of
these ten thousand lying dead in the frozen mire where he wallowed. He
will be astonished to learn that probably not more than four or five
thousand of those who underwent this in Florence died there. How many
died after release--in Washington, on the vessels coming to Annapolis, in
hospital and camp at Annapolis, or after they reached home, none but the
Recording Angel can tell. All that I know is we left a trail of dead
behind us, wherever we moved, so long as I was with the doleful caravan.
Looking back, after these lapse of years, the most salient characteristic
seems to be the ease with which men died. There, was little of the
violence of dissolution so common at Andersonville. The machinery of
life in all of us, was running slowly and feebly; it would simply grow
still slower and feebler in some, and then stop without a jar, without a
sensation to manifest it. Nightly one of two or three comrades sleeping
together would die. The survivors would not know it until they tried to
get him to "spoon" over, when they would find him rigid and motionless.
As they could not spare even so little heat as was still contained in his
body, they would not remove this, but lie up the closer to it until
morning. Such a thing as a boy making an outcry when he discovered his
comrade dead, or manifesting any, desire to get away from the corpse, was
I remember one who, as Charles II. said of himself, was
--"an unconscionable long time in dying." His name was Bickford; he
belonged to the Twenty-First Ohio Volunteer Infantry, lived, I think,
near Findlay, O., and was in my hundred. His partner and he were both in
a very bad condition, and I was not surprised, on making my rounds, one
morning, to find them apparently quite dead. I called help, and took his
partner away to the gate. When we picked up Bickford we found he still
lived, and had strength enough to gasp out:
"You fellers had better let me alone." We laid him back to die, as we
supposed, in an hour or so.
When the Rebel Surgeon came in on his rounds, I showed him Bickford,
lying there with his eyes closed, and limbs motionless. The Surgeon
"O, that man's dead; why don't you have him taken out?"
I replied: "No, he isn't. Just see." Stooping, I shook the boy
sharply, and said:
"Bickford! Bickford!! How do you feel?"
The eyes did not unclose, but the lips opened slowly, and said with a
This scene was repeated every morning for over a week. Every day the
Rebel Surgeon would insist that the man should betaken out, and every
morning Bickford would gasp out with troublesome exertion that he felt:
It ended one morning by his inability, to make his usual answer, and then
he was carried out to join the two score others being loaded into the
NEW YEAR'S DAY--DEATH OF JOHN H. WINDER--HE DIES ON HIS WAY TO A DINNER
--SOMETHING AS TO CHARACTER AND CAREER--ONE OF THE WORST MEN THAT EVER
On New Year's Day we were startled by the information that our old-time
enemy--General John H. Winder--was dead. It seemed that the Rebel Sutler
of the Post had prepared in his tent a grand New Year's dinner to which
all the officers were invited. Just as Winder bent his head to enter the
tent he fell, and expired shortly after. The boys said it was a clear
case of Death by Visitation of the Devil, and it was always insisted that
his last words were:
"My faith is in Christ; I expect to be saved. Be sure and cut down the
Thus passed away the chief evil genius of the Prisoners-of-War. American
history has no other character approaching his in vileness. I doubt if
the history of the world can show another man, so insignificant in
abilities and position, at whose door can be laid such a terrible load of
human misery. There have been many great conquerors and warriors who
Waded through slaughter to a throne,
And shut the gates of mercy on mankind,
but they were great men, with great objects, with grand plans to carry
out, whose benefits they thought would be more than an equivalent for the
suffering they caused. The misery they inflicted was not the motive of
their schemes, but an unpleasant incident, and usually the sufferers were
men of other races and religions, for whom sympathy had been dulled by
But Winder was an obscure, dull old man--the commonplace descendant of a
pseudo-aristocrat whose cowardly incompetence had once cost us the loss
of our National Capital. More prudent than his runaway father, he held
himself aloof from the field; his father had lost reputation and almost
his commission, by coming into contact with the enemy; he would take no
such foolish risks, and he did not. When false expectations of the
ultimate triumph of Secession led him to cast his lot with the Southern
Confederacy, he did not solicit a command in the field, but took up his
quarters in Richmond, to become a sort of Informer-General,
High-Inquisitor and Chief Eavesdropper for his intimate friend, Jefferson
Davis. He pried and spied around into every man's bedroom and family
circle, to discover traces of Union sentiment. The wildest tales malice
and vindictiveness could concoct found welcome reception in his ears.
He was only too willing to believe, that he might find excuse for
harrying and persecuting. He arrested, insulted, imprisoned, banished,
and shot people, until the patience even of the citizens of Richmond gave
way, and pressure was brought upon Jefferson Davis to secure the
suppression of his satellite. For a long while Davis resisted, but at
last yielded, and transferred Winder to the office of Commissary General
of Prisoners. The delight of the Richmond people was great. One of the
papers expressed it in an article, the key note of which was:
"Thank God that Richmond is at last rid of old Winder. God have mercy
upon those to whom he has been sent."
Remorseless and cruel as his conduct of the office of Provost Marshal
General was, it gave little hint of the extent to which he would go in
that of Commissary General of Prisoners. Before, he was restrained
somewhat by public opinion and the laws of the land. These no longer
deterred him. From the time he assumed command of all the Prisons east
of the Mississippi--some time in the Fall of 1863--until death removed
him, January 1, 1865--certainly not less than twenty-five thousand
incarcerated men died in the most horrible manner that the mind can
conceive. He cannot be accused of exaggeration, when, surveying the
thousands of new graves at Andersonville, he could say with a quiet
chuckle that he was "doing more to kill off the Yankees than twenty
regiments at the front." No twenty regiments in the Rebel Army ever
succeeded in slaying anything like thirteen thousand Yankees in six
months, or any other time. His cold blooded cruelty was such as to
disgust even the Rebel officers. Colonel D. T. Chandler, of the Rebel
War Department, sent on a tour of inspection to Andersonville, reported
back, under date of August 5, 1864:
"My duty requires me respectfully to recommend a change in the officer in
command of the post, Brigadier General John H. Winder, and the
substitution in his place of some one who unites both energy and good
judgment with some feelings of humanity and consideration for the welfare
and comfort, as far as is consistent with their safe keeping, of the vast
number of unfortunates placed under his control; some one who, at least,
will not advocate deliberately, and in cold blood, the propriety of
leaving them in their present condition until their number is
sufficiently reduced by death to make the present arrangements suffice
for their accommodation, and who will not consider it a matter of
self-laudation and boasting that he has never been inside of the
Stockade--a place the horrors of which it is difficult to describe, and
which is a disgrace to civilization--the condition of which he might, by
the exercise of a little energy and judgment, even with the limited
means at his command, have considerably improved."
In his examination touching this report, Colonel Chandler says:
"I noticed that General Winder seemed very indifferent to the welfare of
the prisoners, indisposed to do anything, or to do as much as I thought
he ought to do, to alleviate their sufferings. I remonstrated with him
as well as I could, and he used that language which I reported to the
Department with reference to it--the language stated in the report. When
I spoke of the great mortality existing among the prisoners, and pointed
out to him that the sickly season was coming on, and that it must
necessarily increase unless something was done for their relief--the
swamp, for instance, drained, proper food furnished, and in better
quantity, and other sanitary suggestions which I made to him--he replied
to me that he thought it was better to see half of them die than to take
care of the men."
It was he who could issue such an order as this, when it was supposed
that General Stoneman was approaching Andersonville:
HEADQUARTERS MILITARY PRISON,
ANDERSONVILLE, Ga., July 27, 1864.
The officers on duty and in charge of the Battery of Florida Artillery at
the time will, upon receiving notice that the enemy has approached within
seven miles of this post, open upon the Stockade with grapeshot, without
reference to the situation beyond these lines of defense.
JOHN H. WINDER,
Brigadier General Commanding.
This man was not only unpunished, but the Government is to-day supporting
his children in luxury by the rent it pays for the use of his property
--the well-known Winder building, which is occupied by one of the
Departments at Washington.
I confess that all my attempts to satisfactorily analyze Winder's
character and discover a sufficient motive for his monstrous conduct have
been futile. Even if we imagine him inspired by a hatred of the people
of the North that rose to fiendishness, we can not understand him.
It seems impossible for the mind of any man to cherish so deep and
insatiable an enmity against his fellow-creatures that it could not be
quenched and turned to pity by the sight of even one day's misery at
Andersonville or Florence. No one man could possess such a grievous
sense of private or national wrongs as to be proof against the daily
spectacle of thousands of his own fellow citizens, inhabitants of the
same country, associates in the same institutions, educated in the same
principles, speaking the same language--thousands of his brethren in
race, creed, and all that unite men into great communities, starving,
rotting and freezing to death.
There is many a man who has a hatred so intense that nothing but the
death of the detested one will satisfy it. A still fewer number thirst
for a more comprehensive retribution; they would slay perhaps a
half-dozen persons; and there may be such gluttons of revenge as would
not be satisfied with the sacrifice of less than a score or two, but
such would be monsters of whom there have been very few, even in
fiction. How must they all bow their diminished heads before a man
who fed his animosity fat with tens of thousands of lives.
But, what also militates greatly against the presumption that either
revenge or an abnormal predisposition to cruelty could have animated
Winder, is that the possession of any two such mental traits so strongly
marked would presuppose a corresponding activity of other intellectual
faculties, which was not true of him, as from all I can learn of him his
mind was in no respect extraordinary.
It does not seem possible that he had either the brain to conceive, or
the firmness of purpose to carry out so gigantic and long-enduring a
career of cruelty, because that would imply superhuman qualities in a man
who had previously held his own very poorly in the competition with other
The probability is that neither Winder nor his direct superiors--Howell
Cobb and Jefferson Davis--conceived in all its proportions the gigantic
engine of torture and death they were organizing; nor did they comprehend
the enormity of the crime they were committing. But they were willing to
do much wrong to gain their end; and the smaller crimes of to-day
prepared them for greater ones to-morrow, and still greater ones the day
following. Killing ten men a day on Belle Isle in January, by starvation
and hardship, led very easily to killing one hundred men a day in
Andersonville, in July, August and September. Probably at the beginning
of the war they would have felt uneasy at slaying one man per day by such
means, but as retribution came not, and as their appetite for slaughter
grew with feeding, and as their sympathy with human misery atrophied from
long suppression, they ventured upon ever widening ranges of
destructiveness. Had the war lasted another year, and they lived, five
hundred deaths a day would doubtless have been insufficient to disturb
Winder doubtless went about his part of the task of slaughter coolly,
leisurely, almost perfunctorily. His training in the Regular Army was
against the likelihood of his displaying zeal in anything. He instituted
certain measures, and let things take their course. That course was a
rapid transition from bad to worse, but it was still in the direction of
his wishes, and, what little of his own energy was infused into it was in
the direction of impetus,-not of controlling or improving the course.
To have done things better would have involved soma personal discomfort.
He was not likely to incur personal discomfort to mitigate evils that
were only afflicting someone else. By an effort of one hour a day for
two weeks he could have had every man in Andersonville and Florence given
good shelter through his own exertions. He was not only too indifferent
and too lazy to do this, but he was too malignant; and this neglect to
allow--simply allow, remember--the prisoners to protect their lives by
providing their own shelter, gives the key to his whole disposition,
and would stamp his memory with infamy, even if there were no other
charges against him.
ONE INSTANCE OF A SUCCESSFUL ESCAPE--THE ADVENTURES OF SERGEANT WALTER
HARTSOUGH, OF COMPANY K, SIXTEENTH ILLINOIS CAVALRY--HE GETS AWAY FROM
THE REBELS AT THOMASVILLE, AND AFTER A TOILSOME AND DANGEROUS JOURNEY
OF SEVERAL HUNDRED MILES, REACHES OUR LINES IN FLORIDA.
While I was at Savannah I got hold of a primary geography in possession
of one of the prisoners, and securing a fragment of a lead pencil from
one comrade, and a sheet of note paper from another, I made a copy of the
South Carolina and Georgia sea coast, for the use of Andrews and myself
in attempting to escape. The reader remembers the ill success of all our
efforts in that direction. When we were at Blackshear we still had the
map, and intended to make another effort, "as soon as the sign got
right." One day while we were waiting for this, Walter Hartsough, a
Sergeant of Company g, of our battalion, came to me and said:
"Mc., I wish you'd lend me your map a little while. I want to make a
I handed it over to him, and never saw him more, as almost immediately
after we were taken out "on parole" and sent to Florence. I heard from
other comrades of the battalion that he had succeeded in getting past the
guard line and into the Woods, which was the last they ever heard of him.
Whether starved to death in some swamp, whether torn to pieces by dogs,
or killed by the rifles of his pursuers, they knew not. The reader can
judge of my astonishment as well as pleasure, at receiving among the
dozens of letters which came to me every day while this account was
appearing in the BLADE, one signed "Walter Hartsough, late of Co. K,
Sixteenth Illinois Cavalry." It was like one returned from the grave,
and the next mail took a letter to him, inquiring eagerly of his
adventures after we separated. I take pleasure in presenting the reader
with his reply, which was only intended as a private communication to
myself. The first part of the letter I omit, as it contains only gossip
about our old comrades, which, however interesting to myself, would
hardly be so to the general reader.
GENOA, WAYNE COUNTY, IA.,
May 27, 1879.
Dear Comrade Mc.:
I have been living in this town for ten years, running a general store,
under the firm name of Hartsough & Martin, and have been more successful
than I anticipated.
I made my escape from Thomasville, Ga., Dec. 7, 1864, by running the
guards, in company with Frank Hommat, of Company M, and a man by the name
of Clipson, of the Twenty-First Illinois Infantry. I had heard the
officers in charge of us say that they intended to march us across to the
other road, and take us back to Andersonville. We concluded we would
take a heavy risk on our lives rather than return there. By stinting
ourselves we had got a little meal ahead, which we thought we would bake
up for the journey, but our appetites got the better of us, and we ate it
all up before starting. We were camped in the woods then, with no
Stockade--only a line of guards around us. We thought that by a little
strategy and boldness we could pass these. We determined to try.
Clipson was to go to the right, Hommat in the center, and myself to the
left. We all slipped through, without a shot. Our rendezvous was to be
the center of a small swamp, through which flowed a small stream that
supplied the prisoners with water. Hommat and I got together soon after
passing the guard lines, and we began signaling for Clipson. We laid
down by a large log that lay across the stream, and submerged our limbs
and part of our bodies in the water, the better to screen ourselves from
observation. Pretty soon a Johnny came along with a bunch of turnip
tops, that he was taking up to the camp to trade to the prisoners. As he
passed over the log I could have caught him by the leg, which I intended
to do if he saw us, but he passed along, heedless of those concealed
under his very feet, which saved him a ducking at least, for we were
resolved to drown him if he discovered us. Waiting here a little longer
we left our lurking place and made a circuit of the edge of the swamp,
still signaling for Clipson. But we could find nothing of him, and at
last had to give him up.
We were now between Thomasville and the camp, and as Thomasville was the
end of the railroad, the woods were full of Rebels waiting
transportation, and we approached the road carefully, supposing that it
was guarded to keep their own men from going to town. We crawled up to
the road, but seeing no one, started across it. At that moment a guard
about thirty yards to our left, who evidently supposed that we were
Rebels, sang out:
"Whar ye gwine to thar boys?"
"Jest a-gwine out here a little ways."
Frank whispered me to run, but I said, "No; wait till he halts us, and
then run." He walked up to where we had crossed his beat--looked after
us a few minutes, and then, to our great relief, walked back to his post.
After much trouble we succeeded in getting through all the troops, and
started fairly on our way. We tried to shape our course toward Florida.
The country was very swampy, the night rainy and dark, no stars were out
to guide us, and we made such poor progress that when daylight came we
were only eight miles from our starting place, and close to a road
leading from Thomasville to Monticello. Finding a large turnip patch,
we filled our pockets, and then hunted a place to lie concealed in during
the day. We selected a thicket in the center of a large pasture. We
crawled into this and laid down. Some negros passed close to us, going
to their work in an adjoining field. They had a bucket of victuals with
them for dinner, which they hung on the fence in such a way that we could
have easily stolen it without detection. The temptation to hungry men
was very great, but we concluded that it was best and safest to let it
As the negros returned from work in the evening they separated, one old
man passing on the opposite side of the thicket from the rest. We halted
him and told him that we were Rebs, who had taken a French leave of
Thomasville; that we were tired of guarding Yanks, and were going home;
and further, that we were hungry, and wanted something to eat. He told
us that he was the boss on the plantation. His master lived in
Thomasville. He, himself, did not have much to eat, but he would show us
where to stay, and when the folks went to bed he would bring us some
food. Passing up close to the negro quarters we got over the fence and
lay down behind it, to wait for our supper.
We had been there but a short time when a young negro came out, and
passing close by us, went into a fence corner a few panels distant and,
kneeling down, began praying aloud, and very, earnestly, and stranger
still, the burden of his supplication was for the success of our armies.
I thought it the best prayer I ever listened to. Finishing his devotions
he returned to the house, and shortly after the old man came with a good
supper of corn bread, molasses and milk. He said that he had no meat,
and that he had done the best he could for us. After we had eaten, he
said that as the young people had gone to bed, we had better come into
his cabin and rest awhile, which we did.
Hommat had a full suit of Rebel clothes, and I had stolen sacks enough at
Andersonville, when they were issuing rations, to make me a shirt and
pantaloons, which a sailor fabricated for me. I wore these over what was
left of my blue clothes. The old negro lady treated us very coolly. In
a few minutes a young negro came in, whom the old gentleman introduced as
his son, and whom I immediately recognized as our friend of the prayerful
proclivities. He said that he had been a body servant to his young
master, who was an officer in the Rebel army.
"Golly!" says he, "if you 'uns had stood a little longer at Stone River,
our men would have run."
I turned to him sharply with the question of what he meant by calling us
"You 'uns," and asked him if he believed we were Yankees. He surveyed us
carefully for a few seconds, and then said:
"Yes; I bleav you is Yankees."
He paused a second, and added:
"Yes, I know you is."
I asked him how he knew it, and he said that we neither looked nor talked
like their men. I then acknowledged that we were Yankee prisoners,
trying to make our escape to our lines. This announcement put new life
into the old lady, and, after satisfying herself that we were really
Yankees, she got up from her seat, shook hands with us, and declared we
must have a better supper than we had had. She set immediately about
preparing it for us. Taking up a plank in the floor, she pulled out a
nice flitch of bacon, from which she cut as much as we could eat, and
gave us some to carry with us. She got up a real substantial supper,
to which we did full justice, in spite of the meal we had already eaten.
They gave us a quantity of victuals to take with us, and instructed us as
well as possible as to our road. They warned us to keep away from the
young negros, but trust the old ones implicitly. Thanking them over and
over for their exceeding kindness, we bade them good-by, and started
again on our journey. Our supplies lasted two days, during which time we
made good progress, keeping away from the roads, and flanking the towns,
which were few and insignificant. We occasionally came across negros,
of whom we cautiously inquired as to the route and towns, and by the
assistance of our map and the stars, got along very well indeed, until we
came to the Suwanee River. We had intended to cross this at Columbus or
Alligator. When within six miles of the river we stopped at some negro
huts to get some food. The lady who owned the negros was a widow, who
was born and raised in Massachusetts. Her husband had died before the
war began. An old negro woman told her mistress that we were at the
quarters, and she sent for us to come to the house. She was a very
nice-looking lady, about thirty-five years of age, and treated us with
great kindness. Hommat being barefooted, she pulled off her own shoes
and stockings and gave them to him, saying that she would go to Town the
next day and get herself another pair. She told us not to try to cross
the river near Columbus, as their troops had been deserting in great
numbers, and the river was closely picketed to catch the runaways. She
gave us directions how to go so as to cross the river about fifty miles
below Columbus. We struck the river again the next night, and I wanted
to swim it, but Hommat was afraid of alligators, and I could not induce
him to venture into the water.
We traveled down the river until we came to Moseley's Ferry, where we
stole an old boat about a third full of water, and paddled across. There
was quite a little town at that place, but we walked right down the main
street without meeting any one. Six miles from the river we saw an old
negro woman roasting sweet potatos in the back yard of a house. We were
very hungry, and thought we would risk something to get food. Hommat
went around near her, and asked her for something to eat. She told him
to go and ask the white folks. This was the answer she made to every
question. He wound up by asking her how far it was to Mossley's Ferry,
saying that he wanted to go there, and get something to eat. She at last
ran into the house, and we ran away as fast as we could. We had gone but
a short distance when we heard a horn, and soon-the-cursed hounds began
bellowing. We did our best running, but the hounds circled around the
house a few times and then took our trail. For a little while it seemed
all up with us, as the sound of the baying came closer and closer. But
our inquiry about the distance to Moseley's Ferry seems to have saved us.
They soon called the hounds in, and started them on the track we had
come, instead of that upon which we were going. The baying shortly died
away in the distance. We did not waste any time congratulating ourselves
over our marvelous escape, but paced on as fast as we could for about
eight miles farther. On the way we passed over the battle ground of
Oolustee, or Ocean Pond.
Coming near to Lake City we fell in with some negros who had been brought
from Maryland. We stopped over one day with them, to rest, and two of
them concluded to go with us. We were furnished with a lot of cooked
provisions, and starting one night made forty-two miles before morning.
We kept the negros in advance. I told Hommat that it was a poor command
that could not afford an advance guard. After traveling two nights with
the, negros, we came near Baldwin. Here I was very much afraid of
recapture, and I did not want the negros with us, if we were, lest we
should be shot for slave-stealing. About daylight of the second morning
we gave them the slip.
We had to skirt Baldwin closely, to head the St. Mary's River, or cross
it where that was easiest. After crossing the river we came to a very
large swamp, in the edge of which we lay all day. Before nightfall we
started to go through it, as there was no fear of detection in these
swamps. We got through before it was very dark, and as we emerged from
it we discovered a dense cloud of smoke to our right and quite close.
We decided this was a camp, and while we were talking the band began to
play. This made us think that probably our forces had come out from
Fernandina, and taken the place. I proposed to Hommat that we go forward
and reconnoiter. He refused, and leaving him alone, I started forward.
I had gone but a short distance when a soldier came out from the camp
with a bucket. He began singing, and the song he sang convinced me that
he was a Rebel. Rejoining Hommat, we held a consultation and decided to
stay where we were until it became darker, before trying to get out.
It was the night of the 22d of December, and very cold for that country.
The camp guard had small fires built, which we could see quite plainly.
After starting we saw that the pickets also had fires, and that we were
between the two lines. This discovery saved us from capture, and keeping
about an equal distance between the two, we undertook to work our way
We first crossed a line of breastworks, then in succession the Fernandina
Railroad, the Jacksonville Railroad, and pike, moving all the time nearly
parallel with the picket line. Here we had to halt. Hommat was
suffering greatly with his feet. The shoes that had been given him by
the widow lady were worn out, and his feet were much torn and cut by the
terribly rough road we had traveled through swamps, etc. We sat down on
a log, and I, pulling off the remains of my army shirt, tore it into
pieces, and Hommat wrapped his feet up in them. A part I reserved and
tore into strips, to tie up the rents in our pantaloons. Going through
the swamps and briers had torn them into tatters, from waistband to hem,
leaving our skins bare to be served in the same way.
We started again, moving slowly and bearing towards the picket fires,
which we could see for a distance on our left. After traveling some
little time the lights on our left ended, which puzzled us for a while,
until we came to a fearful big swamp, that explained it all, as this,
considered impassable, protected the right of the camp. We had an awful
time in getting through. In many places we had to lie down and crawl
long distances through the paths made in the brakes by hogs and other
animals. As we at length came out, Hommat turned to me and whispered
that in the morning we would have some Lincoln coffee. He seemed to
think this must certainly end our troubles.
We were now between the Jacksonville Railroad and the St. John's River.
We kept about four miles from the railroad, for fear of running into the
Rebel outposts. We had traveled but a few miles when Hommat said he
could go no farther, as his feet and legs were so swelled and numb that
he could not tell when he set them upon the ground. I had some matches
that a negro had given me, and gathering together a few pine knots we
made a fire--the first that we had lighted on the trip--and laid down
with it between us. We had slept but a few minutes when I awoke and
found Hommat's clothes on fire. Rousing him we put out the flames before
he was badly burned, but the thing had excited him so as to give him new
life, and be proposed to start on again.
By sunrise we were within eight miles of our lines, and concluding that
it would be safe to travel in the daytime, we went ahead, walking along
the railroad. The excitement being over, Hommat began to move very
slowly again. His feet and legs were so swollen that he could scarcely
walk, and it took us a long while to pass over those eight miles.
At last we came in sight of our pickets. They were negros. They halted
us, and Hommat went forward to speak to them. They called for the
Officer of the Guard, who came, passed us inside, and shook hands
cordially with us. His first inquiry was if we knew Charley Marseilles,
whom you remember ran that little bakery at Andersonville.
We were treated very kindly at Jacksonville. General Scammon was in
command of the post, and had only been released but a short time from
prison, so he knew how it was himself. I never expect to enjoy as happy
a moment on earth as I did when I again got under the protection of the
old flag. Hommat went to the hospital a few days, and was then sent
around to New York by sea.
Oh, it was a fearful trip through those Florida swamps. We would very
often have to try a swamp in three or four different places before we
could get through. Some nights we could not travel on account of its
being cloudy and raining. There is not money enough in the United States
to induce me to undertake the trip again under the same circumstances.
Our friend Clipson, that made his escape when we did, got very nearly
through to our lines, but was taken sick, and had to give himself up.
He was taken back to Andersonville and kept until the next Spring, when
he came through all right. There were sixty-one of Company K captured at
Jonesville, and I think there was only seventeen lived through those
You have given the best description of prison life that I have ever seen
written. The only trouble is that it cannot be portrayed so that persons
can realize the suffering and abuse that our soldiers endured in those
prison hells. Your statements are all correct in regard to the treatment
that we received, and all those scenes you have depicted are as vivid in
my mind today as if they had only occurred yesterday. Please let me hear
from you again. Wishing you success in all your undertakings, I remain
Late of K Company, Sixteenth Illinois Volunteer of Infantry.
THE PECULIAR TYPE OF INSANITY PREVALENT AT FLORENCE--BARRETT'S WANTONNESS
OF CRUELTY--WE LEARN OF SHERMAN'S ADVANCE INTO SOUTH CAROLINA--THE REBELS
BEGIN MOVING THE PRISONERS AWAY--ANDREWS AND I CHANGE OUR TACTICS, AND
STAY BEHIND--ARRIVAL OF FIVE PRISONERS FROM SHERMAN'S COMMAND--THEIR
UNBOUNDED CONFIDENCE IN SHERMAN'S SUCCESS, AND ITS BENEFICIAL EFFECT UPON
One terrible phase of existence at Florence was the vast increase of
insanity. We had many insane men at Andersonville, but the type of the
derangement was different, partaking more of what the doctors term
melancholia. Prisoners coming in from the front were struck aghast by
the horrors they saw everywhere. Men dying of painful and repulsive
diseases lined every step of whatever path they trod; the rations given
them were repugnant to taste and stomach; shelter from the fiery sun
there was none, and scarcely room enough for them to lie down upon.
Under these discouraging circumstances, home-loving, kindly-hearted men,
especially those who had passed out of the first flush of youth, and had
left wife and children behind when they entered the service, were
speedily overcome with despair of surviving until released; their
hopelessness fed on the same germs which gave it birth, until it became
senseless, vacant-eyed, unreasoning, incurable melancholy, when the
victim would lie for hours, without speaking a word, except to babble of
home, or would wander aimlessly about the camp--frequently stark
naked--until he died or was shot for coming too near the Dead Line.
Soldiers must not suppose that this was the same class of weaklings who
usually pine themselves into the Hospital within three months after
their regiment enters the field. They were as a rule, made up of
seasoned soldiery, who had become inured to the dangers and hardships of
active service, and were not likely to sink down under any ordinary
The insane of Florence were of a different class; they were the boys who
had laughed at such a yielding to adversity in Andersonville, and felt a
lofty pity for the misfortunes of those who succumbed so. But now the
long strain of hardship, privation and exposure had done for them what
discouragement had done for those of less fortitude in Andersonville.
The faculties shrank under disuse and misfortune, until they forgot their
regiments, companies, places and date of capture, and finally, even their
names. I should think that by the middle of January, at least one in
every ten had sunk to this imbecile condition. It was not insanity so
much as mental atrophy--not so much aberration of the mind, as a
paralysis of mental action. The sufferers became apathetic idiots, with
no desire or wish to do or be anything. If they walked around at all
they had to be watched closely, to prevent their straying over the Dead
Line, and giving the young brats of guards the coveted opportunity of
killing them. Very many of such were killed, and one of my Midwinter
memories of Florence was that of seeing one of these unfortunate
imbeciles wandering witlessly up to the Dead Line from the Swamp, while
the guard--a boy of seventeen--stood with gun in hand, in the attitude of
a man expecting a covey to be flushed, waiting for the poor devil to come
so near the Dead Line as to afford an excuse for killing him. Two sane
prisoners, comprehending the situation, rushed up to the lunatic, at the
risk of their own lives, caught him by the arms, and drew him back to
The brutal Barrett seemed to delight in maltreating these demented
unfortunates. He either could not be made to understand their condition,
or willfully disregarded it, for it was one of the commonest sights to
see him knock down, beat, kick or otherwise abuse them for not instantly
obeying orders which their dazed senses could not comprehend, or their
feeble limbs execute, even if comprehended.
In my life I have seen many wantonly cruel men. I have known numbers of
mates of Mississippi river steamers--a class which seems carefully
selected from ruffians most proficient in profanity, obscenity and
swift-handed violence; I have seen negro-drivers in the slave marts of
St. Louis, Memphis and New Orleans, and overseers on the plantations of
Mississippi and Louisiana; as a police reporter in one of the largest
cities in America, I have come in contact with thousands of the
brutalized scoundrels--the thugs of the brothel, bar-room and alley--who
form the dangerous classes of a metropolis. I knew Captain Wirz. But in
all this exceptionally extensive and varied experience, I never met a man
who seemed to love cruelty for its own sake as well as Lieutenant
Barrett. He took such pleasure in inflicting pain as those Indians who
slice off their prisoners' eyelids, ears, noses and hands, before burning
them at the stake.
That a thing hurt some one else was always ample reason for his doing it.
The starving, freezing prisoners used to collect in considerable numbers
before the gate, and stand there for hours gazing vacantly at it. There
was no special object in doing this, only that it was a central point,
the rations came in there, and occasionally an officer would enter, and
it was the only place where anything was likely to occur to vary the
dreary monotony of the day, and the boys went there because there was
nothing else to offer any occupation to their minds. It became a
favorite practical joke of Barrett's to slip up to the gate with an
armful of clubs, and suddenly opening the wicket, fling them one after
another, into the crowd, with all the force he possessed. Many were
knocked down, and many received hurts which resulted in fatal gangrene.
If he had left the clubs lying where thrown, there would have been some
compensation for his meanness, but he always came in and carefully
gathered up such as he could get, as ammunition for another time.
I have heard men speak of receiving justice--even favors from Wirz.
I never heard any one saying that much of Barrett. Like Winder, if he
had a redeeming quality it was carefully obscured from the view of all
that I ever met who knew him.
Where the fellow came from, what State was entitled to the discredit of
producing and raising him, what he was before the War, what became of him
after he left us, are matters of which I never heard even a rumor, except
a very vague one that he had been killed by our cavalry, some returned
prisoner having recognized and shot him.
Colonel Iverson, of the Fifth Georgia, was the Post Commander. He was a
man of some education, but had a violent, ungovernable temper, during
fits of which he did very brutal things. At other times he would show a
disposition towards fairness and justice. The worst point in my
indictment against him is that he suffered Barrett to do as he did.
Let the reader understand that I have no personal reasons for my opinion
of these men. They never did anything to me, save what they did to all
of my companions. I held myself aloof from them, and shunned intercourse
so effectually that during my whole imprisonment I did not speak as many
words to Rebel officers as are in this and the above paragraphs, and most
of those were spoken to the Surgeon who visited my hundred. I do not
usually seek conversation with people I do not like, and certainly did
not with persons for whom I had so little love as I had for Turner, Ross,
Winder, Wirz, Davis, Iverson, Barrett, et al. Possibly they felt badly
over my distance and reserve, but I must confess that they never showed
it very palpably.
As January dragged slowly away into February, rumors of the astonishing
success of Sherman began to be so definite and well authenticated as to
induce belief. We knew that the Western Chieftain had marched almost
unresisted through Georgia, and captured Savannah with comparatively
little difficulty. We did not understand it, nor did the Rebels around
us, for neither of us comprehended the Confederacy's near approach to
dissolution, and we could not explain why a desperate attempt was not
made somewhere to arrest the onward sweep of the conquering armies of the
West. It seemed that if there was any vitality left in Rebeldom it would
deal a blow that would at least cause the presumptuous invader to pause.
As we knew nothing of the battles of Franklin and Nashville, we were
ignorant of the destruction of Hood's army, and were at a loss to account
for its failure to contest Sherman's progress. The last we had heard of
Hood, he had been flanked out of Atlanta, but we did not understand that
the strength or morale of his force had been seriously reduced in
Soon it drifted in to us that Sherman had cut loose from Savannah, as
from Atlanta, and entered South Carolina, to repeat there the march
through her sister State. Our sources of information now were confined
to the gossip which our men--working outside on parole,--could overhear
from the Rebels, and communicate to us as occasion served. These
occasions were not frequent, as the men outside were not allowed to come
in except rarely, or stay long then. Still we managed to know
reasonably, soon that Sherman was sweeping resistlessly across the State,
with Hardee, Dick Taylor, Beauregard, and others, vainly trying to make
head against him. It seemed impossible to us that they should not stop
him soon, for if each of all these leaders had any command worthy the
name the aggregate must make an army that, standing on the defensive,
would give Sherman a great deal of trouble. That he would be able to
penetrate into the State as far as we were never entered into our minds.
By and by we were astonished at the number of the trains that we could
hear passing north on the Charleston & Cheraw Railroad. Day and night
for two weeks there did not seem to be more than half an hour's interval
at any time between the rumble and whistles of the trains as they passed
Florence Junction, and sped away towards Cheraw, thirty-five miles north
of us. We at length discovered that Sherman had reached Branchville, and
was singing around toward Columbia, and other important points to the
north; that Charleston was being evacuated, and its garrison, munitions
and stores were being removed to Cheraw, which the Rebel Generals
intended to make their new base. As this news was so well confirmed as
to leave no doubt of it, it began to wake up and encourage all the more
hopeful of us. We thought we could see some premonitions of the glorious
end, and that we were getting vicarious satisfaction at the hands of our
friends under the command of Uncle Billy.
One morning orders came for one thousand men to get ready to move.
Andrews and I held a council of war on the situation, the question before
the house being whether we would go with that crowd, or stay behind. The
conclusion we came to was thus stated by Andrews:
"Now, Mc., we've flanked ahead every time, and see how we've come out.
We flanked into the first squad that left Richmond, and we were
consequently in the first that got into Andersonville. May be if we'd
staid back we'd got into that squad that was exchanged. We were in the
first squad that left Andersonville. We were the first to leave Savannah
and enter Millen. May be if we'd staid back, we'd got exchanged with the
ten thousand sick. We were the first to leave Millen and the first to
reach Blackshear. We were again the first to leave Blackshear. Perhaps
those fellows we left behind then are exchanged. Now, as we've played
ahead every time, with such infernal luck, let's play backward this time,
and try what that brings us."
"But, Lale," (Andrews's nickname--his proper name being Bezaleel), said
I, "we made something by going ahead every time--that is, if we were not
going to be exchanged. By getting into those places first we picked out
the best spots to stay, and got tent-building stuff that those who came
after us could not. And certainly we can never again get into as bad a
place as this is. The chances are that if this does not mean exchange,
it means transfer to a better prison."
But we concluded, as I said above, to reverse our usual order of
procedure and flank back, in hopes that something would favor our escape
to Sherman. Accordingly, we let the first squad go off without us, and
the next, and the next, and so on, till there were only eleven hundred
--mostly those sick in the Hospital--remaining behind. Those who went
away--we afterwards learned, were run down on the cars to Wilmington, and
afterwards up to Goldsboro, N. C.
For a week or more we eleven hundred tenanted the Stockade, and by
burning up the tents of those who had gone had the only decent,
comfortable fires we had while in Florence. In hunting around through
the tents for fuel we found many bodies of those who had died as their
comrades were leaving. As the larger portion of us could barely walk,
the Rebels paroled us to remain inside of the Stockade or within a few
hundred yards of the front of it, and took the guards off. While these
were marching down, a dozen or more of us, exulting in even so much
freedom as we had obtained, climbed on the Hospital shed to see what the
outlook was, and perched ourselves on the ridgepole. Lieutenant Barrett
came along, at a distance of two hundred yards, with a squad of guards.
Observing us, he halted his men, faced them toward us, and they leveled
their guns as if to fire. He expected to see us tumble down in ludicrous
alarm, to avoid the bullets. But we hated him and them so bad, that we
could not give them the poor satisfaction of scaring us. Only one of our
party attempted to slide down, but the moment we swore at him he came
back and took his seat with folded arms alongside of us. Barrett gave
the order to fire, and the bullets shrieked aver our heads, fortunately
not hitting anybody. We responded with yells of derision, and the worst
abuse we could think of.
Coming down after awhile, I walked to the now open gate, and looped
through it over the barren fields to the dense woods a mile away, and a
wild desire to run off took possession of me. It seemed as if I could
not resist it. The woods appeared full of enticing shapes, beckoning me
to come to them, and the winds whispered in my ears:
"Run! Run! Run!"
But the words of my parole were still fresh in my mind, and I stilled my
frenzy to escape by turning back into the Stockade and looking away from
the tempting view.
Once five new prisoners, the first we had seen in a long time, were
brought in from Sherman's army. They were plump, well-conditioned,
well-dressed, healthy, devil-may-care young fellows, whose confidence in
themselves and in Sherman was simply limitless, and their contempt for
all Rebels and especially those who terrorized over us, enormous.
"Come up here to headquarters," said one of the Rebel officers to them as
they stood talking to us; "and we'll parole you."
"O go to h--- with your parole," said the spokesman of the crowd, with
nonchalant contempt; "we don't want none of your paroles. Old Billy'll
parole us before Saturday."
To us they said:
"Now, you boys want to cheer right up; keep a stiff upper lip. This
thing's workin' all right. Their old Confederacy's goin' to pieces like
a house afire. Sherman's promenadin' through it just as it suits him,
and he's liable to pay a visit at any hour. We're expectin' him all the
time, because it was generally understood all through the Army that we
were to take the prison pen here in on our way."
I mentioned my distrust of the concentration of Rebels at Cheraw, and
their faces took on a look of supreme disdain.
"Now, don't let that worry you a minute," said the confident spokesman.
"All the Rebels between here and Lee's Army can't prevent Sherman from
going just where he pleases. Why, we've quit fightin' 'em except with
the Bummers advance. We haven't had to go into regular line of battle
against them for I don't know how long. Sherman would like anything
better than to have 'em make a stand somewhere so that he could get a
good fair whack at 'em."
No one can imagine the effect of all this upon us. It was better than a
carload of medicines and a train load of provisions would have been.
From the depths of despondency we sprang at once to tip-toe on the
mountain-tops of expectation. We did little day and night but listen for
the sound of Sherman's guns and discuss what we would do when he came.
We planned schemes of terrible vengeance on Barrett and Iverson, but
these worthies had mysteriously disappeared--whither no one knew. There
was hardly an hour of any night passed without some one of us fancying
that he heard the welcome sound of distant firing. As everybody knows,
by listening intently at night, one can hear just exactly what he is
intent upon hearing, and so was with us. In the middle of the night boys
listening awake with strained ears, would say:
"Now, if ever I heard musketry firing in my life, that's a heavy skirmish
line at work, and sharply too, and not more than three miles away,
Then another would say:
"I don't want to ever get out of here if that don't sound just as the
skirmishing at Chancellorsville did the first day to us. We were lying
down about four miles off, when it began pattering just as that is doing
And so on.
One night about nine or ten, there came two short, sharp peals of
thunder, that sounded precisely like the reports of rifled field pieces.
We sprang up in a frenzy of excitement, and shouted as if our throats
would split. But the next peal went off in the usual rumble, and our
excitement had to subside.
FRUITLESS WAITING FOR SHERMAN--WE LEAVE FLORENCE--INTELLIGENCE OF THE
FALL OF WILMINGTON COMMUNICATED TO US BY A SLAVE--THE TURPENTINE REGION
OF NORTH CAROLINA--WE COME UPON A REBEL LINE OF BATTLE--YANKEES AT BOTH
ENDS OF THE ROAD.
Things had gone on in the way described in the previous chapter until
past the middle of February. For more than a week every waking hour was
spent in anxious expectancy of Sherman--listening for the far-off rattle
of his guns--straining our ears to catch the sullen boom of his
artillery--scanning the distant woods to see the Rebels falling back in
hopeless confusion before the pursuit of his dashing advance. Though we
became as impatient as those ancient sentinels who for ten long years
stood upon the Grecian hills to catch the first glimpse of the flames of
burning Troy, Sherman came not. We afterwards learned that two
expeditions were sent down towards us from Cheraw, but they met with
unexpected resistance, and were turned back.
It was now plain to us that the Confederacy was tottering to its fall,
and we were only troubled by occasional misgivings that we might in some
way be caught and crushed under the toppling ruins. It did not seem
possible that with the cruel tenacity with which the Rebels had clung to
us they would be willing to let us go free at last, but would be tempted
in the rage of their final defeat to commit some unparalleled atrocity
One day all of us who were able to walk were made to fall in and march
over to the railroad, where we were loaded into boxcars. The sick
--except those who were manifestly dying--were loaded into wagons and
hauled over. The dying were left to their fate, without any companions
The train started off in a northeasterly direction, and as we went
through Florence the skies were crimson with great fires, burning in all
directions. We were told these were cotton and military stores being
destroyed in anticipation of a visit from, a part of Sherman's forces.
When morning came we were still running in the same direction that we
started. In the confusion of loading us upon the cars the previous
evening, I had been allowed to approach too near a Rebel officer's stock
of rations, and the result was his being the loser and myself the gainer
of a canteen filled with fairly good molasses. Andrews and I had some
corn bread, and we, breakfasted sumptuously upon it and the molasses,
which was certainly none-the-less sweet from having been stolen.
Our meal over, we began reconnoitering, as much for employment as
anything else. We were in the front end of a box car. With a saw made
on the back of a case-knife we cut a hole through the boards big enough
to permit us to pass out, and perhaps escape. We found that we were on
the foremost box car of the train--the next vehicle to us being a
passenger coach, in which were the Rebel officers. On the rear platform
of this car was seated one of their servants--a trusty old slave, well
dressed, for a negro, and as respectful as his class usually was. Said I
"Well, uncle, where are they taking us?"
"Well, sah, I couldn't rightly say."
"But you could guess, if you tried, couldn't you?"
He gave a quick look around to see if the door behind him was so securely
shut that he could not be overheard by the Rebels inside the car, his
dull, stolid face lighted up as a negro's always does in the excitement
of doing something cunning, and he said in a loud whisper:
"Dey's a-gwine to take you to Wilmington--ef dey kin get you dar!"
"Can get us there!" said I in astonishment. "Is there anything to
prevent them taking us there?"
The dark face filled with inexpressible meaning. I asked:
"It isn't possible that there are any Yankees down there to interfere,
The great eyes flamed up with intelligence to tell me that I guessed
aright; again he glanced nervously around to assure himself that no one
was eavesdropping, and then he said in a whisper, just loud enough to be
heard above the noise of the moving train:
"De Yankees took Wilmington yesterday mawning."
The news startled me, but it was true, our troops having driven out the
Rebel troops, and entered Wilmington, on the preceding day--the 22d of
February, 1865, as I learned afterwards. How this negro came to know
more of what was going on than his masters puzzled me much. That he did
know more was beyond question, since if the Rebels in whose charge we
were had known of Wilmington's fall, they would not have gone to the
trouble of loading us upon the cars and hauling us one, hundred miles in
the direction of a City which had come into the hands of our men.
It has been asserted by many writers that the negros had some occult
means of diffusing important news among the mass of their people,
probably by relays of swift runners who traveled at night, going
twenty-five or thirty miles and back before morning. Very astonishing
stories are told of things communicated in this way across the length or
breadth of the Confederacy. It is said that our officers in the
blockading fleet in the Gulf heard from the negros in advance of the
publication in the Rebel papers of the issuance of the Proclamation of
Emancipation, and of several of our most important Victories. The
incident given above prepares me to believe all that has been told of
the perfection to which the negros had brought their "grapevine
telegraph," as it was jocularly termed.
The Rebels believed something of it, too. In spite of their rigorous
patrol, an institution dating long before the war, and the severe
punishments visited upon negros found off their master's premises without
a pass, none of them entertained a doubt that the young negro men were in
the habit of making long, mysterious journeys at night, which had other
motives than love-making or chicken-stealing. Occasionally a young man
would get caught fifty or seventy-five miles from his "quarters," while
on some errand of his own, the nature of which no punishment could make
him divulge. His master would be satisfied that he did not intend
running away, because he was likely going in the wrong direction, but
beyond this nothing could be ascertained. It was a common belief among
overseers, when they saw an active, healthy young "buck" sleepy and
languid about his work, that he had spent the night on one of these
The country we were running through--if such straining, toilsome progress
as our engine was making could be called running--was a rich turpentine
district. We passed by forests where all the trees were marked with long
scores through the bark, and extended up to a hight of twenty feet or
more. Into these, the turpentine and rosin, running down, were caught,
and conveyed by negros to stills near by, where it was prepared for
market. The stills were as rude as the mills we had seen in Eastern
Tennessee and Kentucky, and were as liable to fiery destruction as a
powder-house. Every few miles a wide space of ground, burned clean of
trees and underbrush, and yet marked by a portion of the stones which had
formed the furnace, showed where a turpentine still, managed by careless
and ignorant blacks, had been licked up by the breath of flame. They
never seemed to re-build on these spots--whether from superstition or
other reasons, I know not.
Occasionally we came to great piles of barrels of turpentine, rosin and
tar, some of which had laid there since the blockade had cut off
communication with the outer world. Many of the barrels of rosin had
burst, and their contents melted in the heat of the sun, had run over the
ground like streams of lava, covering it to a depth of many inches.
At the enormous price rosin, tar and turpentine were commanding in the
markets of the world, each of these piles represented a superb fortune.
Any one of them, if lying upon the docks of New York, would have yielded
enough to make every one of us upon the train comfortable for life.
But a few months after the blockade was raised, and they sank to
one-thirtieth of their present value.
These terebinthine stores were the property of the plantation lords of
the lowlands of North Carolina, who correspond to the pinchbeck barons of
the rice districts of South Carolina. As there, the whites and negros we
saw were of the lowest, most squalid type of humanity. The people of the
middle and upland districts of North Carolina are a much superior race to
the same class in South Carolina. They are mostly of Scotch-Irish
descent, with a strong infusion of English-Quaker blood, and resemble
much the best of the Virginians. They make an effort to diffuse
education, and have many of the virtues of a simple, non-progressive,
tolerably industrious middle class. It was here that the strong Union
sentiment of North Carolina numbered most of its adherents. The people
of the lowlands were as different as if belonging to another race. The
enormous mass of ignorance--the three hundred and fifty thousand men and
women who could not read or write--were mostly black and white serfs of
the great landholders, whose plantations lie within one hundred miles of
the Atlantic coast.
As we approached the coast the country became swampier, and our old
acquaintances, the cypress, with their malformed "knees," became more and
About the middle of the afternoon our train suddenly stopped. Looking
out to ascertain the cause, we were electrified to see a Rebel line of
battle stretched across the track, about a half mile ahead of the engine,
and with its rear toward us. It was as real a line as was ever seen on
any field. The double ranks of "Butternuts," with arms gleaming in the
afternoon sun, stretched away out through the open pine woods, farther
than we could see. Close behind the motionless line stood the company
officers, leaning on their drawn swords. Behind these still, were the
regimental officers on their horses. On a slight rise of the ground, a
group of horsemen, to whom other horsemen momentarily dashed up to or
sped away from, showed the station of the General in command. On another
knoll, at a little distance, were several-field pieces, standing "in
battery," the cannoneers at the guns, the postillions dismounted and
holding their horses by the bits, the caisson men standing in readiness
to serve out ammunition. Our men were evidently close at hand in strong
force, and the engagement was likely to open at any instant.
For a minute we were speechless with astonishment. Then came a surge of
excitement. What should we do? What could we do? Obviously nothing.
Eleven hundred, sick, enfeebled prisoners could not even overpower their
guards, let alone make such a diversion in the rear of a line-of-battle
as would assist our folks to gain a victory. But while we debated the
engine whistled sharply--a frightened shriek it sounded to us--and began
pushing our train rapidly backward over the rough and wretched track.
Back, back we went, as fast as rosin and pine knots could force the
engine to move us. The cars swayed continually back and forth,
momentarily threatening to fly the crazy roadway, and roll over the
embankment or into one of the adjacent swamps. We would have hailed such
a catastrophe, as it would have probably killed more of the guards than
of us, and the confusion would have given many of the survivors
opportunity to escape. But no such accident happened, and towards
midnight we reached the bridge across the Great Pedee River, where our
train was stopped by a squad of Rebel cavalrymen, who brought the
intelligence that as Kilpatrick was expected into Florence every hour, it
would not do to take us there.
We were ordered off the cars, and laid down on the banks of the Great
Pedee, our guards and the cavalry forming a line around us, and taking
precautions to defend the bridge against Kilpatrick, should he find out
our whereabouts and come after us.
"Well, Mc," said Andrews, as we adjusted our old overcoat and blanket on
the ground for a bed; "I guess we needn't care whether school keeps or
not. Our fellows have evidently got both ends of the road, and are
coming towards us from each way. There's no road--not even a wagon road
--for the Johnnies to run us off on, and I guess all we've got to do is
to stand still and see the salvation of the Lord. Bad as these hounds
are, I don't believe they will shoot us down rather than let our folks
retake us. At least they won't since old Winder's dead. If he was
alive, he'd order our throats cut--one by one--with the guards' pocket
knives, rather than give us up. I'm only afraid we'll be allowed to
starve before our folks reach us."
I concurred in this view.
RETURN TO FLORENCE AND A SHORT SOJOURN THERE--OFF TOWARDS WILMINGTON
AGAIN--CRUISING A REBEL OFFICER'S LUNCH--SIGNS OF APPROACHING OUR LINES
--TERROR OF OUR RASCALLY GUARDS--ENTRANCE INTO GOD'S COUNTRY AT LAST.
But Kilpatrick, like Sherman, came not. Perhaps he knew that all the
prisoners had been removed from the Stockade; perhaps he had other
business of more importance on hand; probably his movement was only a
feint. At all events it was definitely known the next day that he had
withdrawn so far as to render it wholly unlikely that he intended
attacking Florence, so we were brought back and returned to our old
quarters. For a week or more we loitered about the now nearly-abandoned
prison; skulked and crawled around the dismal mud-tents like the ghostly
denizens of some Potter's Field, who, for some reason had been allowed to
return to earth, and for awhile creep painfully around the little
hillocks beneath which they had been entombed.
A few score, whose vital powers were strained to the last degree of
tension, gave up the ghost, and sank to dreamless rest. It mattered now
little to these when Sherman came, or when Kilpatrick's guidons should
flutter through the forest of sighing pines, heralds of life, happiness,
After life's fitful fever they slept well
Treason had done its worst. Nor steel nor poison:
Malice domestic, foreign levy, nothing
Could touch them farther.
One day another order came for us to be loaded on the cars, and over to
the railroad we went again in the same fashion as before. The
comparatively few of us who were still able to walk at all well, loaded
ourselves down with the bundles and blankets of our less fortunate
companions, who hobbled and limped--many even crawling on their hands and
knees--over the hard, frozen ground, by our sides.
Those not able to crawl even, were taken in wagons, for the orders were
imperative not to leave a living prisoner behind.
At the railroad we found two trains awaiting us. On the front of each
engine were two rude white flags, made by fastening the halves of meal
sacks to short sticks. The sight of these gave us some hope, but our
belief that Rebels were constitutional liars and deceivers was so firm
and fixed, that we persuaded ourselves that the flags meant nothing more
than some wilful delusion for us.
Again we started off in the direction of Wilmington, and traversed the
same country described in the previous chapter. Again Andrews and I
found ourselves in the next box car to the passenger coach containing the
Rebel officers. Again we cut a hole through the end, with our saw, and
again found a darky servant sitting on the rear platform. Andrews went
out and sat down alongside of him, and found that he was seated upon a
large gunny-bag sack containing the cooked rations of the Rebel officers.
The intelligence that there was something there worth taking Andrews
communicated to me by an expressive signal, of which soldiers campaigning
together as long as he and I had, always have an extensive and well
I took a seat in the hole we had made in the end of the car, in reach of
Andrews. Andrews called the attention of the negro to some feature of
the country near by, and asked him a question in regard to it. As he
looked in the direction indicated, Andrews slipped his hand into the
mouth of the bag, and pulled out a small sack of wheat biscuits, which he
passed to me and I concealed. The darky turned and told Andrews all
about the matter in regard to which the interrogation had been made.
Andrews became so much interested in what was being told him, that he sat
up closer and closer to the darky, who in turn moved farther away from
Next we ran through a turpentine plantation, and as the darky was
pointing out where the still, the master's place, the "quarters," etc.,
were, Andrews managed to fish out of that bag and pass to me three
roasted chickens. Then a great swamp called for description, and before
we were through with it, I had about a peck of boiled sweet potatos.
Andrews emptied the bag as the darky was showing him a great peanut
plantation, taking from it a small frying-pan, a canteen of molasses,
and a half-gallon tin bucket, which had been used to make coffee in.
We divided up our wealth of eatables with the rest of the boys in the
car, not forgetting to keep enough to give ourselves a magnificent meal.
As we ran along we searched carefully for the place where we had seen the
line-of-battle, expecting that it would now be marked with signs of a
terrible conflict, but we could see nothing. We could not even fix the
locality where the line stood.
As it became apparent that we were going directly toward Wilmington,
as fast as our engines could pull us, the excitement rose. We had many
misgivings as to whether our folks still retained possession of
Wilmington, and whether, if they did, the Rebels could not stop at a
point outside of our lines, and transfer us to some other road.
For hours we had seen nobody in the country through which we were
passing. What few houses were visible were apparently deserted, and
there were no Towns or stations anywhere. We were very anxious to see
some one, in hopes of getting a hint of what the state of affairs was in
the direction we were going. At length we saw a young man--apparently a
scout--on horseback, but his clothes were equally divided between the
blue and the butternut, as to give no clue to which side he belonged.
An hour later we saw two infantrymen, who were evidently out foraging.
They had sacks of something on their backs, and wore blue clothes. This
was a very hopeful sign of a near approach to our lines, but bitter
experience in the past warned us against being too sanguine.
About 4 o'clock P. M., the trains stopped and whistled long and loud.
Looking out I could see--perhaps half-a-mile away--a line of rifle pits
running at right angles with the track. Guards, whose guns flashed as
they turned, were pacing up and down, but they were too far away for me
to distinguish their uniforms.
The suspense became fearful.
But I received much encouragement from the singular conduct of our
guards. First I noticed a Captain, who had been especially mean to us
while at Florence.
He was walking on the ground by the train. His face was pale, his teeth
set, and his eyes shone with excitement. He called out in a strange,
forced voice to his men and boys on the roof of the cars:
"Here, you fellers git down off'en thar and form a line."
The fellows did so, in a slow, constrained, frightened ways and huddled
together, in the most unsoldierly manner.
The whole thing reminded me of a scene I once saw in our line, where a
weak-kneed Captain was ordered to take a party of rather chicken-hearted
recruits out on the skirmish-line.
We immediately divined what was the matter. The lines in front of us
were really those of our people, and the idiots of guards, not knowing of
their entire safety when protected by a flag of truce, were scared half
out of their small wits at approaching so near to armed Yankees.
We showered taunts and jeers upon them. An Irishman in my car yelled
"Och, ye dirty spalpeens; it's not shootin' prisoners ye are now; it's
cumin' where the Yankee b'ys hev the gun; and the minnit ye say thim yer
white livers show themselves in yer pale faces. Bad luck to the
blatherin' bastards that yez are, and to the mothers that bore ye."
At length our train moved up so near to the line that I could see it was
the grand, old loyal blue that clothed the forms of the men who were
pacing up and down.
And certainly the world does not hold as superb looking men as these
appeared to me. Finely formed, stalwart, full-fed and well clothed, they
formed the most delightful contrast with the scrawny, shambling,
villain-visaged little clay-eaters and white trash who had looked down
upon us from the sentry boxes for many long months.
I sprang out of the cars and began washing my face and hands in the ditch
at the side of the road. The Rebel Captain, noticing me, said, in the
old, hateful, brutal, imperious tone:
"Git back in dat cah, dah."
An hour before I would have scrambled back as quickly as possible,
knowing that an instant's hesitation would be followed by a bullet.
Now, I looked him in the face, and said as irritatingly as possible:
"O, you go to ----, you Rebel. I'm going into Uncle Sam's lines with as
little Rebel filth on me as possible."
He passed me without replying.
His day of shooting was past.
Descending from the cars, we passed through the guards into our lines,
a Rebel and a Union clerk checking us off as we passed. By the time it
was dark we were all under our flag again.
The place where we came through was several miles west of Wilmington,
where the railroad crossed a branch of the Cape Fear River. The point
was held by a brigade of Schofield's army--the Twenty-Third Army Corps.
The boys lavished unstinted kindness upon us. All of the brigade off
duty crowded around, offering us blankets, shirts shoes, pantaloons and
other articles of clothing and similar things that we were obviously in
the greatest need of. The sick were carried, by hundreds of willing
hands, to a sheltered spot, and laid upon good, comfortable beds
improvised with leaves and blankets. A great line of huge, generous
fires was built, that every one of us could have plenty of place around
By and by a line of wagons came over from Wilmington laden with rations,
and they were dispensed to us with what seemed reckless prodigality.
The lid of a box of hard tack would be knocked off, and the contents
handed to us as we filed past, with absolute disregard as to quantity.
If a prisoner looked wistful after receiving one handful of crackers,
another was handed to him; if his long-famished eyes still lingered as
if enchained by the rare display of food, the men who were issuing said:
"Here, old fellow, there's plenty of it: take just as much as you can
carry in your arms."
So it was also with the pickled pork, the coffee, the sugar, etc. We had
been stinted and starved so long that we could not comprehend that there
was anywhere actually enough of anything.
The kind-hearted boys who were acting as our hosts began preparing food
for the sick, but the Surgeons, who had arrived in the meanwhile, were
compelled to repress them, as it was plain that while it was a dangerous
experiment to give any of us all we could or would eat, it would never do
to give the sick such a temptation to kill themselves, and only a limited
amount of food was allowed to be given those who were unable to walk.
Andrews and I hungered for coffee, the delightful fumes of which filled
the air and intoxicated our senses. We procured enough to make our
half-gallon bucket full and very strong.
We drank so much of this that Andrews became positively drunk, and fell
helplessly into some brush. I pulled him out and dragged him away to a
place where we had made our rude bed.
I was dazed. I could not comprehend that the long-looked for,
often-despaired-of event had actually happened. I feared that it was
one of those tantalizing dreams that had so often haunted my sleep, only
to be followed by a wretched awakening. Then I became seized with a
sudden fear lest the Rebel attempt to retake me. The line of guards
around us seemed very slight. It might be forced in the night, and all
of us recaptured. Shivering at this thought, absurd though it was, I
arose from our bed, and taking Andrews with me, crawled two or three
hundred yards into a dense undergrowth, where in the event of our lines
being forced, we would be overlooked.
GETTING USED TO FREEDOM--DELIGHTS OF A LAND WHERE THERE IS ENOUGH OF
EVERYTHING--FIRST GLIMPSE OF THE OLD FLAG--WILMINGTON AND ITS HISTORY
--LIEUTENANT CUSHING--FIRST ACQUAINTANCE WITH THE COLORED TROOPS--LEAVING
FOR HOME--DESTRUCTION OF THE "THORN" BY A TORPEDO--THE MOCK MONITOR'S
After a sound sleep, Andrews and I awoke to the enjoyment of our first
day of freedom and existence in God's country. The sun had already
risen, bright and warm, consonant with the happiness of the new life now
opening up for us.
But to nearly a score of our party his beams brought no awakening
gladness. They fell upon stony, staring eyes, from out of which the
light of life had now faded, as the light of hope had done long ago.
The dead lay there upon the rude beds of fallen leaves, scraped together
by thoughtful comrades the night before, their clenched teeth showing
through parted lips, faces fleshless and pinched, long, unkempt and
ragged hair and whiskers just stirred by the lazy breeze, the rotting
feet and limbs drawn up, and skinny hands clenched in the last agonies.
Their fate seemed harder than that of any who had died before them.
It was doubtful if many of them knew that they were at last inside of our
Again the kind-hearted boys of the brigade crowded around us with
proffers of service. Of an Ohio boy who directed his kind tenders to
Andrews and me, we procured a chunk of coarse rosin soap about as big as
a pack of cards, and a towel. Never was there as great a quantity of
solid comfort got out of that much soap as we obtained. It was the first
that we had since that which I stole in Wirz's headquarters, in June
--nine months before. We felt that the dirt which had accumulated upon
us since then would subject us to assessment as real estate if we were
in the North.
Hurrying off to a little creek we began our ablutions, and it was not
long until Andrews declared that there was a perceptible sand-bar forming
in the stream, from what we washed off. Dirt deposits of the Pliocene
era rolled off feet and legs. Eocene incrustations let loose reluctantly
from neck and ears; the hair was a mass of tangled locks matted with nine
months' accumulation of pitch pine tar, rosin soot, and South Carolina
sand, that we did not think we had better start in upon it until we
either had the shock cut off, or had a whole ocean and a vat of soap to
wash it out with.
After scrubbing until we were exhausted we got off the first few outer
layers--the post tertiary formation, a geologist would term it--and the
smell of many breakfasts cooking, coming down over the hill, set our
stomachs in a mutiny against any longer fasting.
We went back, rosy, panting, glowing, but happy, to get our selves some
Should Providence, for some inscrutable reason, vouchsafe me the years of
Methuselah, one of the pleasantest recollections that will abide with me
to the close of the nine hundredth and sixty-ninth year, will be of that
delightful odor of cooking food which regaled our senses as we came back.
From the boiling coffee and the meat frying in the pan rose an incense
sweeter to the senses a thousand times than all the perfumes of far
Arabia. It differed from the loathsome odor of cooking corn meal as much
as it did from the effluvia of a sewer.
Our noses were the first of our senses to bear testimony that we had
passed from the land of starvation to that of plenty. Andrews and I
hastened off to get our own breakfast, and soon had a half-gallon of
strong coffee, and a frying-pan full, of meat cooking over the fire--not
one of the beggarly skimped little fires we had crouched over during our
months of imprisonment, but a royal, generous fire, fed with logs instead
of shavings and splinters, and giving out heat enough to warm a regiment.
Having eaten positively all that we could swallow, those of us who could
walk were ordered to fall in and march over to Wilmington. We crossed
the branch of the river on a pontoon bridge, and took the road that led
across the narrow sandy island between the two branches, Wilmington being
situated on the opposite bank of the farther one.
When about half way a shout from some one in advance caused us to look
up, and then we saw, flying from a tall steeple in Wilmington, the
glorious old Stars and Stripes, resplendent in the morning sun, and more
beautiful than the most gorgeous web from Tyrian looms. We stopped with
one accord, and shouted and cheered and cried until every throat was sore
and every eye red and blood-shot. It seemed as if our cup of happiness
would certainly run over if any more additions were made to it.
When we arrived at the bank of the river opposite Wilmington, a whole
world of new and interesting sights opened up before us. Wilmington,
during the last year-and-a-half of the war, was, next to Richmond, the
most important place in the Southern Confederacy. It was the only port
to which blockade running was at all safe enough to be lucrative. The
Rebels held the strong forts of Caswell and Fisher, at the mouth of Cape
Fear River, and outside, the Frying Pan Shoals, which extended along the
coast forty or fifty miles, kept our blockading fleet so far off, and
made the line so weak and scattered, that there was comparatively little
risk to the small, swift-sailing vessels employed by the blockade runners
in running through it. The only way that blockade running could be
stopped was by the reduction of Forts Caswell and Fisher, and it was not
stopped until this was done.
Before the war Wilmington was a dull, sleepy North Carolina Town, with as
little animation of any kind as a Breton Pillage. The only business was
the handling of the tar, turpentine, rosin, and peanuts produced in the
surrounding country, a business never lively enough to excite more than a
lazy ripple in the sluggish lagoons of trade. But very new wine was put
into this old bottle when blockade running began to develop in
importance. Then this Sleepy hollow of a place took on the appearance of
San Francisco in the hight of the gold fever. The English houses engaged
in blockade running established branches there conducted by young men who
lived like princes. All the best houses in the City were leased by them
and fitted up in the most gorgeous style. They literally clothed
themselves in purple and fine linen and fared sumptuously every day, with
their fine wines and imported delicacies and retinue of servants to wait
upon them. Fast young Rebel officers, eager for a season of dissipation,
could imagine nothing better than a leave of absence to go to Wilmington.
Money flowed like water. The common sailors--the scum of all foreign
ports--who manned the blockade runners, received as high as one hundred
dollars in gold per month, and a bounty of fifty dollars for every
successful trip, which from Nassau could be easily made in seven days.
Other people were paid in proportion, and as the old proverb says, "What
comes over the Devil's back is spent under his breast," the money so
obtained was squandered recklessly, and all sorts of debauchery ran riot.
On the ground where we were standing had been erected several large steam
cotton presses, built to compress cotton for the blockade runners.
Around them were stored immense quantities of cotton, and near by were
nearly as great stores of turpentine, rosin and tar. A little farther
down the river was navy yard with docks, etc., for the accommodation,
building and repair of blockade runners. At the time our folks took Fort
Fisher and advanced on Wilmington the docks were filled with vessels.
The retreating Rebels set fire to everything--cotton, cotton presses,
turpentine, rosin, tar, navy yard, naval stores, timber, docks, and
vessels, and the fire made clean work. Our people arrived too late to
save anything, and when we came in the smoke from the burned cotton,
turpentine, etc., still filled the woods. It was a signal illustration
of the ravages of war. Here had been destroyed, in a few hours, more
property than a half-million industrious men would accumulate in their
Almost as gratifying as the sight of the old flag flying in triumph, was
the exhibition of our naval power in the river before us. The larger
part of the great North Atlantic squadron, which had done such excellent
service in the reduction of the defenses of Wilmington, was lying at
anchor, with their hundreds of huge guns yawning as if ardent for more
great forts to beat down, more vessels to sink, more heavy artillery to
crush, more Rebels to conquer. It seemed as if there were cannon enough
there to blow the whole Confederacy into kingdom-come. All was life and