The scene was weird and uncanny. I had recently read the “Iliad,” and
the long lines of huge fires reminded me of that scene in the first book,
where the Greeks burn on the sea shore the bodies of those smitten by
For nine long nights, through all the dusky air,
The pyres, thick flaming shot a dismal glare.
Five hundred weary men moved along slowly through double lines of guards.
Five hundred men marched silently towards the gates that were to shut out
life and hope from most of them forever. A quarter of a mile from the
railroad we came to a massive palisade of great squared logs standing
upright in the ground. The fires blazed up and showed us a section of
these, and two massive wooden gates, with heavy iron hinges and bolts.
They swung open as we stood there and we passed through into the space
We were in Andersonville.
GEORGIA–A LEAN AND HUNGRY LAND–DIFFERENCE BETWEEN UPPER AND LOWER
GEORGIA–THE PILLAGE OF ANDERSONVILLE.
As the next nine months of the existence of those of us who survived were
spent in intimate connection with the soil of Georgia, and, as it
exercised a potential influence upon our comfort and well-being, or
rather lack of these–a mention of some of its peculiar characteristics
may help the reader to a fuller comprehension of the conditions
surrounding us–our environment, as Darwin would say.
Georgia, which, next to Texas, is the largest State in the South, and has
nearly twenty-five per cent. more area than the great State of New York,
is divided into two distinct and widely differing sections, by a
geological line extending directly across the State from Augusta, on the
Savannah River, through Macon, on the Ocmulgee, to Columbus, on the
Chattahoochie. That part lying to the north and west of this line is
usually spoken of as “Upper Georgia;” while that lying to the south and
east, extending to the Atlantic Ocean and the Florida line, is called
“Lower Georgia.” In this part of the State–though far removed from each
other–were the prisons of Andersonville, Savannah, Millen and
Blackshear, in which we were incarcerated one after the other.
Upper Georgia–the capital of which is Atlanta–is a fruitful,
productive, metalliferous region, that will in time become quite wealthy.
Lower Georgia, which has an extent about equal to that of Indiana, is not
only poorer now than a worn-out province of Asia Minor, but in all
probability will ever remain so.
It is a starved, sterile land, impressing one as a desert in the first
stages of reclamation into productive soil, or a productive soil in the
last steps of deterioration into a desert. It is a vast expanse of arid,
yellow sand, broken at intervals by foul swamps, with a jungle-life
growth of unwholesome vegetation, and teeming With venomous snakes, and
all manner of hideous crawling thing.
The original forest still stands almost unbroken on this wide stretch of
thirty thousand square miles, but it does not cover it as we say of
forests in more favored lands. The tall, solemn pines, upright and
symmetrical as huge masts, and wholly destitute of limbs, except the
little, umbrella-like crest at the very top, stand far apart from each
other in an unfriendly isolation. There is no fraternal interlacing of
branches to form a kindly, umbrageous shadow. Between them is no genial
undergrowth of vines, shrubs, and demi-trees, generous in fruits, berries
and nuts, such as make one of the charms of Northern forests. On the
ground is no rich, springing sod of emerald green, fragrant with the
elusive sweetness of white clover, and dainty flowers, but a sparse,
wiry, famished grass, scattered thinly over the surface in tufts and
patches, like the hair on a mangy cur.
The giant pines seem to have sucked up into their immense boles all the
nutriment in the earth, and starved out every minor growth. So wide and
clean is the space between them, that one can look through the forest in
any direction for miles, with almost as little interference with the view
as on a prairie. In the swampier parts the trees are lower, and their
limbs are hung with heavy festoons of the gloomy Spanish moss, or “death
moss,” as it is more frequently called, because where it grows rankest
the malaria is the deadliest. Everywhere Nature seems sad, subdued and
I have long entertained a peculiar theory to account for the decadence
and ruin of countries. My reading of the world’s history seems to teach
me that when a strong people take possession of a fertile land, they
reduce it to cultivation, thrive upon its bountifulness, multiply into
millions the mouths to be fed from it, tax it to the last limit of
production of the necessities of life, take from it continually, and give
nothing back, starve and overwork it as cruel, grasping men do a servant
or a beast, and when at last it breaks down under the strain, it revenges
itself by starving many of them with great famines, while the others go
off in search of new countries to put through the same process of
exhaustion. We have seen one country after another undergo this process
as the seat of empire took its westward way, from the cradle of the race
on the banks of the Oxus to the fertile plains in the Valley of the
Euphrates. Impoverishing these, men next sought the Valley of the Nile,
then the Grecian Peninsula; next Syracuse and the Italian Peninsula,
then the Iberian Peninsula, and the African shores of the Mediterranean.
Exhausting all these, they were deserted for the French, German and
English portions of Europe. The turn of the latter is now come; famines
are becoming terribly frequent, and mankind is pouring into the virgin
fields of America.
Lower Georgia, the Carolinas and Eastern Virginia have all the
characteristics of these starved and worn-out lands. It would seem as
if, away back in the distance of ages, some numerous and civilized race
had drained from the soil the last atom of food-producing constituents,
and that it is now slowly gathering back, as the centuries pass, the
elements that have been wrung from the land.
Lower Georgia is very thinly settled. Much of the land is still in the
hands of the Government. The three or four railroads which pass through
it have little reference to local traffic. There are no towns along them
as a rule; stations are made every ten miles, and not named, but
numbered, as “Station No. 4”–“No. 10”, etc. The roads were built as
through lines, to bring to the seaboard the rich products of the
Andersonville is one of the few stations dignified with a same, probably
because it contained some half dozen of shabby houses, whereas at the
others there was usually nothing more than a mere open shed, to shelter
goods and travelers. It is on a rudely constructed, rickety railroad,
that runs from Macon to Albany, the head of navigation on the Flint
River, which is, one hundred and six miles from Macon, and two hundred
and fifty from the Gulf of Mexico. Andersonville is about sixty miles
from Macon, and, consequently, about three hundred miles from the Gulf.
The camp was merely a hole cut in the wilderness. It was as remote a
point from, our armies, as they then lay, as the Southern Confederacy
could give. The nearest was Sherman, at Chattanooga, four hundred miles
away, and on the other side of a range of mountains hundreds of miles
To us it seemed beyond the last forlorn limits of civilization. We felt
that we were more completely at the mercy of our foes than ever. While
in Richmond we were in the heart of the Confederacy; we were in the midst
of the Rebel military and, civil force, and were surrounded on every hand
by visible evidences of the great magnitude of that power, but this,
while it enforced our ready submission, did not overawe us depressingly,
We knew that though the Rebels were all about us in great force, our own
men were also near, and in still greater force–that while they were very
strong our army was still stronger, and there was no telling what day
this superiority of strength, might be demonstrated in such a way as to
decisively benefit us.
But here we felt as did the Ancient Mariner:
Alone on a wide, wide sea,
So lonely ’twas that God himself
Scarce seemed there to be.
WAKING UP IN ANDERSONVILLE–SOME DESCRIPTION OF THE PLACE–OUR FIRST
MAIL–BUILDING SHELTER–GEN. WINDER–HIMSELF AND LINEAGE.
We roused up promptly with the dawn to take a survey of our new abiding
place. We found ourselves in an immense pen, about one thousand feet
long by eight hundred wide, as a young surveyor–a member of the Thirty-
fourth Ohio–informed us after he had paced it off. He estimated that it
contained about sixteen acres. The walls were formed by pine logs
twenty-five feet long, from two to three feet in diameter, hewn square,
set into the ground to a depth of five feet, and placed so close together
as to leave no crack through which the country outside could be seen.
There being five feet of the logs in the ground, the wall was, of course,
twenty feet high. This manner of enclosure was in some respects superior
to a wall of masonry. It was equally unscalable, and much more difficult
to undermine or batter down.
The pen was Longest due north and south. It was! divided in the center
by a creek about a yard wide and ten inches deep, running from west to
east. On each side of this was a quaking bog of slimy ooze one hundred
and fifty feet wide, and so yielding that one attempting to walk upon it
would sink to the waist. From this swamp the sand-hills sloped north and
south to the stockade. All the trees inside the stockade, save two, had
been cut down and used in its construction. All the rank vegetation of
the swamp had also been cut off.
There were two entrances to the stockade, one on each side of the creek,
midway between it and the ends, and called respectively the “North Gate”
and the “South Gate.” These were constructed double, by building
smaller stockades around them on the outside, with another set of gates.
When prisoners or wagons with rations were brought in, they were first
brought inside the outer gates, which were carefully secured, before the
inner gates were opened. This was done to prevent the gates being
carried by a rush by those confined inside.
At regular intervals along the palisades were little perches, upon which
stood guards, who overlooked the whole inside of the prison.
The only view we had of the outside was that obtained by looking from the
highest points of the North or South Sides across the depression where
the stockade crossed the swamp. In this way we could see about forty
acres at a time of the adjoining woodland, or say one hundred and sixty
acres altogether, and this meager landscape had to content us for the
next half year.
Before our inspection was finished, a wagon drove in with rations, and a
quart of meal, a sweet potato and a few ounces of salt beef were issued
to each one of us.
In a few minutes we were all hard at work preparing our first meal in
Andersonville. The debris of the forest left a temporary abundance of
fuel, and we had already a cheerful fire blazing for every little squad.
There were a number of tobacco presses in the rooms we occupied in
Richmond, and to each of these was a quantity of sheets of tin, evidently
used to put between the layers of tobacco. The deft hands of the
mechanics among us bent these up into square pans, which were real handy
cooking utensils, holding about–a quart. Water was carried in them from
the creek; the meal mixed in them to a dough, or else boiled as mush in
the same vessels; the potatoes were boiled; and their final service was
to hold a little meal to be carefully browned, and then water boiled upon
it, so as to form a feeble imitation of coffee. I found my education at
Jonesville in the art of baking a hoe-cake now came in good play, both
for myself and companions. Taking one of the pieces of tin which had not
yet been made into a pan, we spread upon it a layer of dough about a
half-inch thick. Propping this up nearly upright before the fire, it was
soon nicely browned over. This process made it sweat itself loose from
the tin, when it was turned over and the bottom browned also. Save that
it was destitute of salt, it was quite a toothsome bit of nutriment for a
hungry man, and I recommend my readers to try making a “pone” of this
kind once, just to see what it was like.
The supreme indifference with which the Rebels always treated the matter
of cooking utensils for us, excited my wonder. It never seemed to occur
to them that we could have any more need of vessels for our food than
cattle or swine. Never, during my whole prison life, did I see so much
as a tin cup or a bucket issued to a prisoner. Starving men were driven
to all sorts of shifts for want of these. Pantaloons or coats were
pulled off and their sleeves or legs used to draw a mess’s meal in.
Boots were common vessels for carrying water, and when the feet of these
gave way the legs were ingeniously closed up with pine pegs, so as to
form rude leathern buckets. Men whose pocket knives had escaped the
search at the gates made very ingenious little tubs and buckets, and
these devices enabled us to get along after a fashion.
After our meal was disposed of, we held a council on the situation.
Though we had been sadly disappointed in not being exchanged, it seemed
that on the whole our condition had been bettered. This first ration was
a decided improvement on those of the Pemberton building; we had left the
snow and ice behind at Richmond–or rather at some place between Raleigh,
N. C., and Columbia, S. C.–and the air here, though chill, was not
nipping, but bracing. It looked as if we would have a plenty of wood for
shelter and fuel, it was certainly better to have sixteen acres to roam
over than the stiffing confines of a building; and, still better, it
seemed as if there would be plenty of opportunities to get beyond the
stockade, and attempt a journey through the woods to that blissful land–
We settled down to make the best of things. A Rebel Sergeant came in
presently and arranged us in hundreds. We subdivided these into messes
of twenty-five, and began devising means for shelter. Nothing showed the
inborn capacity of the Northern soldier to take care of himself better
than the way in which we accomplished this with the rude materials at our
command. No ax, spade nor mattock was allowed us by the Rebels, who
treated us in regard to these the same as in respect to culinary vessels.
The only tools were a few pocket-knives, and perhaps half-a-dozen
hatchets which some infantrymen-principally members of the Third
Michigan–were allowed to retain. Yet, despite all these drawbacks, we
had quite a village of huts erected in a few days,–nearly enough, in
fact, to afford tolerable shelter for the whole five hundred of us first-
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