The first man was killed the morning after the Dead-Line was put up.
The victim vas a German, wearing the white crescent of the Second
Division of the Eleventh Corps, whom we had nicknamed “Sigel.” Hardship
and exposure had crazed him, and brought on a severe attack of St.
Vitus’s dance. As he went hobbling around with a vacuous grin upon his
face, he spied an old piece of cloth lying on the ground inside the Dead
Line. He stooped down and reached under for it. At that instant the
guard fired. The charge of ball-and-buck entered the poor old fellow’s
shoulder and tore through his body. He fell dead, still clutching the
dirty rag that had cost him his Life.
CAPT. HENRI WIRZ–SOME DESCRIPTION OF A SMALL-MINDED PERSONAGE, WHO
GAINED GREAT NOTORIETY–FIRST EXPERIENCE WITH HIS DISCIPLINARY METHOD.
The emptying of the prisons at Danville and Richmond into Andersonville
went on slowly during the month of March. They came in by train loads of
from five hundred to eight hundred, at intervals of two or three days.
By the end of the month there were about five thousand in the stockade.
There was a fair amount of space for this number, and as yet we suffered
no inconvenience from our crowding, though most persons would fancy that
thirteen acres of ground was a rather limited area for five thousand men
to live, move and have their being a upon. Yet a few weeks later we were
to see seven times that many packed into that space.
One morning a new Rebel officer came in to superintend calling the roll.
He was an undersized, fidgety man, with an insignificant face, and a
mouth that protruded like a rabbit’s. His bright little eyes, like those
of a squirrel or a rat, assisted in giving his countenance a look of
kinship to the family of rodent animals–a genus which lives by stealth
and cunning, subsisting on that which it can steal away from stronger and
braver creatures. He was dressed in a pair of gray trousers, with the
other part of his body covered with a calico garment, like that which
small boys used to wear, called “waists.” This was fastened to the
pantaloons by buttons, precisely as was the custom with the garments of
boys struggling with the orthography of words in two syllables. Upon his
head was perched a little gray cap. Sticking in his belt, and fastened
to his wrist by a strap two or three feet long, was one of those
formidable looking, but harmless English revolvers, that have ten barrels
around the edge of the cylinder, and fire a musket-bullet from the
center. The wearer of this composite costume, and bearer of this amateur
arsenal, stepped nervously about and sputtered volubly in very broken
English. He said to Wry-Necked Smith:
“Py Gott, you don’t vatch dem dam Yankees glose enough! Dey are
schlippin’ rount, and peatin’ you efery dimes.”
This was Captain Henri Wirz, the new commandant of the interior of the
prison. There has been a great deal of misapprehension of the character
of Wirz. He is usually regarded as a villain of large mental caliber,
and with a genius for cruelty. He was nothing of the kind. He was
simply contemptible, from whatever point of view he was studied. Gnat-
brained, cowardly, and feeble natured, he had not a quality that
commanded respect from any one who knew him. His cruelty did not seem
designed so much as the ebullitions of a peevish, snarling little temper,
united to a mind incapable of conceiving the results of his acts, or
understanding the pain he was Inflicting.
I never heard anything of his profession or vocation before entering the
army. I always believed, however, that he had been a cheap clerk in a
small dry-goods store, a third or fourth rate book-keeper, or something
similar. Imagine, if you please, one such, who never had brains or self-
command sufficient to control himself, placed in command of thirty-five
thousand men. Being a fool he could not help being an infliction to
them, even with the best of intentions, and Wirz was not troubled with
I mention the probability of his having been a dry-goods clerk or book-
keeper, not with any disrespect to two honorable vocations, but because
Wirz had had some training as an accountant, and this was what gave him
the place over us. Rebels, as a rule, are astonishingly ignorant of
arithmetic and accounting, generally. They are good shots, fine
horsemen, ready speakers and ardent politicians, but, like all
noncommercial people, they flounder hopelessly in what people of this
section would consider simple mathematical processes. One of our
constant amusements was in befogging and “beating” those charged with
calling rolls and issuing rations. It was not at all difficult at times
to make a hundred men count as a hundred and ten, and so on.
Wirz could count beyond one hundred, and this determined his selection
for the place. His first move was a stupid change. We had been grouped
in the natural way into hundreds and thousands. He re-arranged the men
in “squads” of ninety, and three of these–two hundred and seventy men–
into a “detachment.” The detachments were numbered in order from the
North Gate, and the squads were numbered “one, two, three.” On the rolls
this was stated after the man’s name. For instance, a chum of mine, and
in the same squad with me, was Charles L. Soule, of the Third Michigan
Infantry. His name appeared on the rolls:
“Chas. L. Soule, priv. Co. E, 8d Mich. Inf., 1-2.”
That is, he belonged to the Second Squad of the First Detachment.
Where Wirz got his, preposterous idea of organization from has always
been a mystery to me. It was awkward in every way–in drawing rations,
counting, dividing into messes, etc.
Wirz was not long in giving us a taste of his quality. The next morning
after his first appearance he came in when roll-call was sounded, and
ordered all the squads and detachments to form, and remain standing in
ranks until all were counted. Any soldier will say that there is no duty
more annoying and difficult than standing still in ranks for any
considerable length of time, especially when there is nothing to do or to
engage the attention. It took Wirz between two and three hours to count
the whole camp, and by that time we of the first detachments were almost
all out of ranks. Thereupon Wirz announced that no rations would be
issued to the camp that day. The orders to stand in ranks were repeated
the next morning, with a warning that a failure to obey would be punished
as that of the previous day had been. Though we were so hungry, that,
to use the words of a Thirty-Fifth Pennsylvanian standing next to me–his
“big intestines were eating his little ones up,” it was impossible to
keep the rank formation during the long hours. One man after another
straggled away, and again we lost our rations. That afternoon we became
desperate. Plots were considered for a daring assault to force the gates
or scale the stockade. The men were crazy enough to attempt anything
rather than sit down and patiently starve. Many offered themselves as
leaders in any attempt that it might be thought best to make. The
hopelessness of any such venture was apparent, even to famished men,
and the propositions went no farther than inflammatory talk.
The third morning the orders were again repeated. This time we succeeded
in remaining in ranks in such a manner as to satisfy Wirz, and we were
given our rations for that day, but those of the other days were
That afternoon Wirz ventured into camp alone. He vas assailed with a
storm of curses and execrations, and a shower of clubs. He pulled out
his revolver, as if to fire upon his assailants. A yell was raised to
take his pistol away from him and a crowd rushed forward to do this.
Without waiting to fire a shot, he turned and ran to the gate for dear
life. He did not come in again for a long while, and never afterward
without a retinue of guards.
PRIZE-FIGHT AMONG THE N’YAARKERS–A GREAT MANY FORMALITIES, AND LITTLE
BLOOD SPILT–A FUTILE ATTEMPT TO RECOVER A WATCH–DEFEAT OF THE LAW AND
One of the train-loads from Richmond was almost wholly made up of our old
acquaintances–the N’Yaarkers. The number of these had swelled to four
hundred or five hundred–all leagued together in the fellowship of crime.
We did not manifest any keen desire for intimate social relations with
them, and they did not seem to hunger for our society, so they moved
across the creek to the unoccupied South Side, and established their camp
there, at a considerable distance from us.
One afternoon a number of us went across to their camp, to witness a
fight according to the rules of the Prize Ring, which was to come off
between two professional pugilists. These were a couple of bounty-
jumpers who had some little reputation in New York sporting circles,
under the names of the “Staleybridge Chicken” and the “Haarlem Infant.”
On the way from Richmond a cast-iron skillet, or spider, had been stolen
by the crowd from the Rebels. It was a small affair, holding a half
gallon, and worth to-day about fifty cents. In Andersonville its worth
was literally above rubies. Two men belonging to different messes each
claimed the ownership of the utensil, on the ground of being most active
in securing it. Their claims were strenuously supported by their
respective messes, at the heads of which were the aforesaid Infant and
Chicken. A great deal of strong talk, and several indecisive knock-downs
resulted in an agreement to settle the matter by wager of battle between
the Infant and Chicken.
When we arrived a twenty-four foot ring had been prepared by drawing a
deep mark in the sand. In diagonally opposite corners of these the
seconds were kneeling on one knee and supporting their principals on the
other by their sides they had little vessels of water, and bundles of
rags to answer for sponges. Another corner was occupied by the umpire,
a foul-mouthed, loud-tongued Tombs shyster, named Pete Bradley. A long-
bodied, short-legged hoodlum, nick-named “Heenan,” armed with a club,
acted as ring keeper, and “belted” back, remorselessly, any of the
spectators who crowded over the line. Did he see a foot obtruding itself
so much as an inch over the mark in the sand–and the pressure from the
crowd behind was so great that it was difficult for the front fellows to
keep off the line–his heavy club and a blasting curse would fall upon
the offender simultaneously.
Every effort was made to have all things conform as nearly as possible to
the recognized practices of the “London Prize Ring.”
At Bradley’s call of “Time!” the principals would rise from their
seconds’ knees, advance briskly to the scratch across the center of the
ring, and spar away sharply for a little time, until one got in a blow
that sent the other to the ground, where he would lie until his second
picked him up, carried him back, washed his face off, and gave him a
drink. He then rested until the next call of time.
This sort of performance went on for an hour or more, with the knockdowns
and other casualities pretty evenly divided between the two. Then it
became apparent that the Infant was getting more than he had storage room
for. His interest in the skillet was evidently abating, the leering grin
he wore upon his face during the early part of the engagement had
disappeared long ago, as the successive “hot ones” which the Chicken had
succeeded in planting upon his mouth, put it out of his power to “smile
and smile,” “e’en though he might still be a villain.” He began coming
up to the scratch as sluggishly as a hired man starting out for his day’s
work, and finally he did not come up at all. A bunch of blood soaked
rags was tossed into the air from his corner, and Bradley declared the
Chicken to be the victor, amid enthusiastic cheers from the crowd.
We voted the thing rather tame. In the whole hour and a-half there was
not so much savage fighting, not so much damage done, as a couple of
earnest, but unscientific men, who have no time to waste, will frequently
crowd into an impromptu affair not exceeding five minutes in duration.
Our next visit to the N’Yaarkers was on a different errand. The moment
they arrived in camp we began to be annoyed by their depredations.
Blankets–the sole protection of men–would be snatched off as they slept
at night. Articles of clothing and cooking utensils would go the same
way, and occasionally a man would be robbed in open daylight. All these,
it was believed, with good reason, were the work of the N’Yaarkers, and
the stolen things were conveyed to their camp. Occasionally depredators
would be caught and beaten, but they would give a signal which would
bring to their assistance the whole body of N’Yaarkers, and turn the
tables on their assailants.
We had in our squad a little watchmaker named Dan Martin, of the Eighth
New York Infantry. Other boys let him take their watches to tinker up,
so as to make a show of running, and be available for trading to the
One day Martin was at the creek, when a N’Yaarker asked him to let him
look at a watch. Martin incautiously did so, when the N’Yaarker snatched
it and sped away to the camp of his crowd. Martin ran back to us and
told his story. This was the last feather which was to break the camel’s
back of our patience. Peter Bates, of the Third Michigan, the Sergeant
of our squad, had considerable confidence in his muscular ability.
He flamed up into mighty wrath, and swore a sulphurous oath that we would
get that watch back, whereupon about two hundred of us avowed our
willingness to help reclaim it.
Each of us providing ourselves with a club, we started on our errand.
The rest of the camp–about four thousand–gathered on the hillside to
watch us. We thought they might have sent us some assistance, as it was
about as much their fight as ours, but they did not, and we were too
proud to ask it. The crossing of the swamp was quite difficult. Only
one could go over at a time, and he very slowly. The N’Yaarkers
understood that trouble was pending, and they began mustering to receive
us. From the way they turned out it was evident that we should have come
over with three hundred instead of two hundred, but it was too late then
to alter the program. As we came up a stalwart Irishman stepped out and
asked us what we wanted.
Bates replied: “We have come over to get a watch that one of your fellows
took from one of ours, and by — we’re going to have it.”
The Irishman’s reply was equally explicit though not strictly logical in
construction. Said he: “We havn’t got your watch, and be ye can’t have
This joined the issue just as fairly as if it had been done by all the
documentary formula that passed between Turkey and Russia prior to the
late war. Bates and the Irishman then exchanged very derogatory opinions
of each other, and began striking with their clubs. The rest of us took
this as our cue, and each, selecting as small a N’Yaarker as we could
readily find, sailed in.
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