What always puzzled me much was why the hounds took only Yankee trails,
in the vicinity of the prison. There was about the Stockade from six
thousand to ten thousand Rebels and negros, including guards, officers,
servants, workmen, etc. These were, of course, continually in motion and
must have daily made trails leading in every direction. It was the
custom of the Rebels to send a pack of hounds around the prison every
morning, to examine if any Yankees had escaped during the night. It was
believed that they rarely failed to find a prisoner’s tracks, and still
more rarely ran off upon a Rebel’s. If those outside the Stockade had
been confined to certain path and roads we could have understood this,
but, as I understand, they were not. It was part of the interest of the
day, for us, to watch the packs go yelping around the pen searching for
tracks. We got information in this way whether any tunnel had been
successfully opened during the night.
The use of hounds furnished us a crushing reply to the ever recurring
“Why are you-uns puttin’ niggers in the field to fight we-uns for?”
The questioner was always silenced by the return interrogatory:
“Is that as bad as running white men down with blood hounds?”
MAY–INFLUX OF NEW PRISONERS–DISPARITY IN NUMBERS BETWEEN THE EASTERN
AND WESTERN ARMIES–TERRIBLE CROWDING–SLAUGHTER OF MEN AT THE CREEK.
In May the long gathering storm of war burst with angry violence all
along the line held by the contending armies. The campaign began which
was to terminate eleven months later in the obliteration of the Southern
Confederacy. May 1, Sigel moved up the Shenandoah Valley with thirty
thousand men; May 3, Butler began his blundering movement against
Petersburg; May 3, the Army of the Potomac left Culpeper, and on the 5th
began its deadly grapple with Lee, in the Wilderness; May 6, Sherman
moved from Chattanooga, and engaged Joe Johnston at Rocky Face Ridge and
Each of these columns lost heavily in prisoners. It could not be
otherwise; it was a consequence of the aggressive movements. An army
acting offensively usually suffers more from capture than one on the
defensive. Our armies were penetrating the enemy’s country in close
proximity to a determined and vigilant foe. Every scout, every skirmish
line, every picket, every foraging party ran the risk of falling into a
Rebel trap. This was in addition to the risk of capture in action.
The bulk of the prisoners were taken from the Army of the Potomac. For
this there were two reasons: First, that there were many more men in that
Army than in any other; and second, that the entanglement in the dense
thickets and shrubbery of the Wilderness enabled both sides to capture
great numbers of the other’s men. Grant lost in prisoners from May 5 to
May 31, seven thousand four hundred and fifty; he probably captured two-
thirds of that number from the Johnnies.
Wirz’s headquarters were established in a large log house which had been
built in the fort a little distant from the southeast corner of the
prison. Every day–and sometimes twice or thrice a day–we would see
great squads of prisoners marched up to these headquarters, where they
would be searched, their names entered upon the prison records, by clerks
(detailed prisoners; few Rebels had the requisite clerical skill) and
then be marched into the prison. As they entered, the Rebel guards would
stand to arms. The infantry would be in line of battle, the cavalry
mounted, and the artillerymen standing by their guns, ready to open at
the instant with grape and canister.
The disparity between the number coming in from the Army of the Potomac
and Western armies was so great, that we Westerners began to take some
advantage of it. If we saw a squad of one hundred and fifty or
thereabouts at the headquarters, we felt pretty certain they were from
Sherman, and gathered to meet them, and learn the news from our friends.
If there were from five hundred to two thousand we knew they were from
the Army of the Potomac, and there were none of our comrades among them.
There were three exceptions to this rule while we were in Andersonville.
The first was in June, when the drunken and incompetent Sturgis (now
Colonel of the Seventh United States Cavalry) shamefully sacrificed a
superb division at Guntown, Miss. The next was after Hood made his
desperate attack on Sherman, on the 22d of July, and the third was when
Stoneman was captured at Macon. At each of these times about two
thousand prisoners were brought in.
By the end of May there were eighteen thousand four hundred and fifty-
four prisoners in the Stockade. Before the reader dismisses this
statement from his mind let him reflect how great a number this is.
It is more active, able-bodied young men than there are in any of our
leading Cities, save New York and Philadelphia. It is more than the
average population of an Ohio County. It is four times as many troops as
Taylor won the victory of Buena Vista with, and about twice as many as
Scott went into battle with at any time in his march to the City of
These eighteen thousand four hundred and fifty-four men were cooped up on
less than thirteen acres of ground, making about fifteen hundred to the
acre. No room could be given up for streets, or for the usual
arrangements of a camp, and most kinds of exercise were wholly precluded.
The men crowded together like pigs nesting in the woods on cold nights.
The ground, despite all our efforts, became indescribably filthy, and
this condition grew rapidly worse as the season advanced and the sun’s
rays gained fervency. As it is impossible to describe this adequately,
I must again ask the reader to assist with a few comparisons. He has an
idea of how much filth is produced, on an ordinary City lot, in a week,
by its occupation by a family say of six persons. Now let him imagine
what would be the result if that lot, instead of having upon it six
persons, with every appliance for keeping themselves clean, and for
removing and concealing filth, was the home of one hundred and eight men,
with none of these appliances.
That he may figure out these proportions for himself, I will repeat some
of the elements of the problem: We will say that an average City lot is
thirty feet front by one hundred deep. This is more front than most of
them have, but we will be liberal. This gives us a surface of three
thousand square feet. An acre contains forty-three thousand five hundred
and sixty square feet. Upon thirteen of these acres, we had eighteen
thousand four hundred and fifty-four men. After he has found the number
of square feet that each man had for sleeping apartment, dining room,
kitchen, exercise grounds and outhouses, and decided that nobody could
live for any length of time in such contracted space, I will tell him
that a few weeks later double that many men were crowded upon that space
that over thirty-five thousand were packed upon those twelve and a-half
or thirteen acres.
But I will not anticipate. With the warm weather the condition of the
swamp in the center of the prison became simply horrible. We hear so
much now-a-days of blood poisoning from the effluvia of sinks and sewers,
that reading it, I wonder how a man inside the Stockade, and into whose
nostrils came a breath of that noisomeness, escaped being carried off by
a malignant typhus. In the slimy ooze were billions of white maggots.
They would crawl out by thousands on the warm sand, and, lying there a
few minutes, sprout a wing or a pair of them. With these they would
essay a clumsy flight, ending by dropping down upon some exposed portion
of a man’s body, and stinging him like a gad-fly. Still worse, they
would drop into what he was cooking, and the utmost care could not
prevent a mess of food from being contaminated with them.
All the water that we had to use was that in the creek which flowed
through this seething mass of corruption, and received its sewerage.
How pure the water was when it came into the Stockade was a question.
We always believed that it received the drainage from the camps of the
guards, a half-a-mile away.
A road was made across the swamp, along the Dead Line at the west side,
where the creek entered the pen. Those getting water would go to this
spot, and reach as far up the stream as possible, to get the water that
was least filthy. As they could reach nearly to the Dead Line this
furnished an excuse to such of the guards as were murderously inclined to
fire upon them. I think I hazard nothing in saying that for weeks at
least one man a day was killed at this place. The murders became
monotonous; there was a dreadful sameness to them. A gun would crack;
looking up we would see, still smoking, the muzzle of the musket of one
of the guards on either side of the creek. At the same instant would
rise a piercing shriek from the man struck, now floundering in the creek
in his death agony. Then thousands of throats would yell out curses and
“O, give the Rebel —- —- —- —- a furlough!”
It was our belief that every guard who killed a Yankee was rewarded with
a thirty-day furlough. Mr. Frederick Holliger, now of Toledo, formerly a
member of the Seventy-Second Ohio, and captured at Guntown, tells me, as
his introduction to Andersonville life, that a few hours after his entry
he went to the brook to get a drink, reached out too far, and was fired
upon by the guard, who missed him, but killed another man and wounded a
second. The other prisoners standing near then attacked him, and beat
him nearly to death, for having drawn the fire of the guard.
Nothing could be more inexcusable than these murders. Whatever defense
there might be for firing on men who touched the Dead Line in other parts
of the prison, there could be none here. The men had no intention of
escaping; they had no designs upon the Stockade; they were not leading
any party to assail it. They were in every instance killed in the act of
reaching out with their cups to dip up a little water.
SOME DISTINCTION BETWEEN SOLDIERLY DUTY AND MURDER–A PLOT TO ESCAPE–
IT IS REVEALED AND FRUSTRATED.
Let the reader understand that in any strictures I make I do not complain
of the necessary hardships of war. I understood fully and accepted the
conditions of a soldier’s career. My going into the field uniformed and
armed implied an intention, at least, of killing, wounding, or capturing,
some of the enemy. There was consequently no ground of complaint if I
was, myself killed, wounded, or captured. If I did not want to take
these chances I ought to stay at home. In the same way, I recognized the
right of our captors or guards to take proper precautions to prevent our
escape. I never questioned for an instant the right of a guard to fire
upon those attempting to escape, and to kill them. Had I been posted
over prisoners I should have had no compunction about shooting at those
trying to get away, and consequently I could not blame the Rebels for
doing the same thing. It was a matter of soldierly duty.
But not one of the men assassinated by the guards at Andersonville were
trying to escape, nor could they have got away if not arrested by a
bullet. In a majority of instances there was not even a transgression of
a prison rule, and when there was such a transgression it was a mere
harmless inadvertence. The slaying of every man there was a foul crime.
The most of this was done by very young boys; some of it by old men.
The Twenty-Sixth Alabama and Fifty-Fifth Georgia, had guarded us since
the opening of the prison, but now they were ordered to the field, and
their places filled by the Georgia “Reserves,” an organization of boys
under, and men over the military age. As General Grant aptly-phrased it,
“They had robbed the cradle and the grave,” in forming these regiments.
The boys, who had grown up from children since the war began, could not
comprehend that a Yankee was a human being, or that it was any more
wrongful to shoot one than to kill a mad dog. Their young imaginations
had been inflamed with stories of the total depravity of the Unionists
until they believed it was a meritorious thing to seize every opportunity
to exterminate them.
Early one morning I overheard a conversation between two of these
“Say, Bill, I heerd that you shot a Yank last night?”
“Now, you just bet I did. God! you jest ought to’ve heerd him holler.”
Evidently the juvenile murderer had no more conception that he had
committed crime than if he had killed a rattlesnake.
Among those who came in about the last of the month were two thousand men
from Butler’s command, lost in the disastrous action of May 15, by which
Butler was “bottled up” at Bermuda Hundreds. At that time the Rebel
hatred for Butler verged on insanity, and they vented this upon these men
who were so luckless–in every sense–as to be in his command. Every
pains was taken to mistreat them. Stripped of every article of clothing,
equipment, and cooking utensils–everything, except a shirt and a pair of
pantaloons, they were turned bareheaded and barefooted into the prison,
and the worst possible place in the pen hunted out to locate them upon.
This was under the bank, at the edge of the Swamp and at the eastern side
of the prison, where the sinks were, and all filth from the upper part of
the camp flowed down to them. The sand upon which they lay was dry and
burning as that of a tropical desert; they were without the slightest
shelter of any kind, the maggot flies swarmed over them, and the stench
was frightful. If one of them survived the germ theory of disease is a
The increasing number of prisoners made it necessary for the Rebels to
improve their means of guarding and holding us in check. They threw up a
line of rifle pits around the Stockade for the infantry guards.
At intervals along this were piles of hand grenades, which could be used
with fearful effect in case of an outbreak. A strong star fort was
thrown up at a little distance from the southwest corner. Eleven field
pieces were mounted in this in such a way as to rake the Stockade
diagonally. A smaller fort, mounting five guns, was built at the
northwest corner, and at the northeast and southeast corners were small
lunettes, with a couple of howitzers each. Packed as we were we had
reason to dread a single round from any of these works, which could not
fail to produce fearful havoc.
Still a plot was concocted for a break, and it seemed to the sanguine
portions of us that it must prove successful. First a secret society was
organized, bound by the most stringent oaths that could be devised.
The members of this were divided into companies of fifty men each; under
officers regularly elected. The secrecy was assumed in order to shut out
Rebel spies and the traitors from a knowledge of the contemplated
outbreak. A man named Baker–belonging, I think, to some New York
regiment–was the grand organizer of the scheme. We were careful in each
of our companies to admit none to membership except such as long
acquaintance gave us entire confidence in.
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