Andersonville


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These accidents became so much a matter-of-course that when anything
unusual occurred in the company our first impulse was to go and help
Seitz out.

When the bugle sounded "boots and saddles," the rest of us would pack up,
mount, "count off by fours from the right," and be ready to move out
before the last notes of the call had fairly died away. Just then we
would notice an unsaddled horse still tied to the hitching place. It was
Seitz's, and that worthy would be seen approaching, pipe in mouth, and
bridle in hand, with calm, equable steps, as if any time before the
expiration of his enlistment would be soon enough to accomplish the
saddling of his steed. A chorus of impatient and derisive remarks would
go up from his impatient comrades:

"For heaven's sake, Seitz, hurry up!"

"Seitz! you are like a cow's tail--always behind!"

"Seitz, you are slower than the second coming of the Savior!"

"Christmas is a railroad train alongside of you, Seitz!"

"If you ain't on that horse in half a second, Seitz, we'll go off and
leave you, and the Johnnies will skin you alive!" etc., etc.

Not a ripple of emotion would roll over Seitz's placid features under the
sharpest of these objurgations. At last, losing all patience, two or
three boys would dismount, run to Seitz's horse, pack, saddle and bridle
him, as if he were struck with a whirlwind. Then Seitz would mount, and
we would move 'off.

For all this, we liked him. His good nature was boundless, and his
disposition to oblige equal to the severest test. He did not lack a
grain of his full share of the calm, steadfast courage of his race, and
would stay where he was put, though Erebus yawned and bade him fly.
He was very useful, despite his unfitness for many of the duties of a
cavalryman. He was a good guard, and always ready to take charge of
prisoners, or be sentry around wagons or a forage pile-duties that most
of the boys cordially hated.

But he came into the last trouble at Andersonville. He stood up pretty
well under the hardships of Belle Isle, but lost his cheerfulness--his
unrepining calmness--after a few weeks in the Stockade. One day we
remembered that none of us had seen him for several days, and we started
in search of him. We found him in a distant part of the camp, lying near
the Dead Line. His long fair hair was matted together, his blue eyes had
the flush of fever. Every part of his clothing was gray with the lice
that were hastening his death with their torments. He uttered the first
complaint I ever heard him make, as I came up to him:

"My Gott, M ----, dis is worse dun a dog's det!"

In a few days we gave him all the funeral in our power; tied his big toes
together, folded his hands across his breast, pinned to his shirt a slip
of paper, upon which was written:

VICTOR E. SEITZ,
Co. L, Sixteenth Illinois Cavalry.

And laid his body at the South Gate, beside some scores of others that
were awaiting the arrival of the six-mule wagon that hauled them to the
Potter's Field, which was to be their last resting-place.

John Emerson and John Stiggall, of my company, were two Norwegian boys,
and fine specimens of their race--intelligent, faithful, and always ready
for duty. They had an affection for each other that reminded one of the
stories told of the sworn attachment and the unfailing devotion that were
common between two Gothic warrior youths. Coming into Andersonville some
little time after the rest of us, they found all the desirable ground
taken up, and they established their quarters at the base of the hill,
near the Swamp. There they dug a little hole to lie in, and put in a
layer of pine leaves. Between them they had an overcoat and a blanket.
At night they lay upon the coat and covered themselves with the blanket.
By day the blanket served as a tent. The hardships and annoyances that
we endured made everybody else cross and irritable. At times it seemed
impossible to say or listen to pleasant words, and nobody was ever
allowed to go any length of time spoiling for a fight. He could usually
be accommodated upon the spot to any extent he desired, by simply making
his wishes known. Even the best of chums would have sharp quarrels and
brisk fights, and this disposition increased as disease made greater
inroads upon them. I saw in one instance two brothers-both of whom died
the next day of scurvy--and who were so helpless as to be unable to rise,
pull themselves up on their knees by clenching the poles of their tents--
in order to strike each other with clubs, and they kept striking until
the bystanders interfered and took their weapons away from them.

But Stiggall and Emerson never quarreled with each other. Their
tenderness and affection were remarkable to witness. They began to go
the way that so many were going; diarrhea and scurvy set in; they wasted
away till their muscles and tissues almost disappeared, leaving the skin
lying fiat upon the bones; but their principal solicitude was for each
other, and each seemed actually jealous of any person else doing anything
for the other. I met Emerson one day, with one leg drawn clear out of
shape, and rendered almost useless by the scurvy. He was very weak, but
was hobbling down towards the Creek with a bucket made from a boot leg.
I said:

"Johnny, just give me your bucket. I'll fill it for you, and bring it up
to your tent."

"No; much obliged, M ----" he wheezed out; "my pardner wants a cool
drink, and I guess I'd better get it for him."

Stiggall died in June. He was one of the first victims of scurvy, which,
in the succeeding few weeks, carried off so many. All of us who had read
sea-stories had read much of this disease and its horrors, but we had
little conception of the dreadful reality. It usually manifested itself
first in the mouth. The breath became unbearably fetid; the gums swelled
until they protruded, livid and disgusting, beyond the lips. The teeth
became so loose that they frequently fell out, and the sufferer would
pick them up and set them back in their sockets. In attempting to bite
the hard corn bread furnished by the bakery the teeth often stuck fast
and were pulled out. The gums had a fashion of breaking away, in large
chunks, which would be swallowed or spit out. All the time one was
eating his mouth would be filled with blood, fragments of gums and
loosened teeth.

Frightful, malignant ulcers appeared in other parts of the body; the
ever-present maggot flies laid eggs in these, and soon worms swarmed
therein. The sufferer looked and felt as if, though he yet lived and
moved, his body was anticipating the rotting it would undergo a little
later in the grave.

The last change was ushered in by the lower parts of the legs swelling.
When this appeared, we considered the man doomed. We all had scurvy,
more or less, but as long as it kept out of our legs we were hopeful.
First, the ankle joints swelled, then the foot became useless. The
swelling increased until the knees became stiff, and the skin from these
down was distended until it looked pale, colorless and transparent as a
tightly blown bladder. The leg was so much larger at the bottom than at
the thigh, that the sufferers used to make grim jokes about being modeled
like a churn, "with the biggest end down." The man then became utterly
helpless and usually died in a short time.

The official report puts down the number of deaths from scurvy at three
thousand five hundred and seventy-four, but Dr. Jones, the Rebel surgeon,
reported to the Rebel Government his belief that nine-tenths of the great
mortality of the prison was due, either directly or indirectly, to this
cause.

The only effort made by the Rebel doctors to check its ravages was
occasionally to give a handful of sumach berries to some particularly bad
case.

When Stiggall died we thought Emerson would certainly follow him in a day
or two, but, to our surprise, he lingered along until August before
dying.

CHAPTER XXXII

"OLE BOO," AND "OLE SOL, THE HAYMAKER"--A FETID, BURNING DESERT--NOISOME
WATER, AND THE EFFECTS OF DRINKING IT--STEALING SOFT SOAP.

The gradually lengthening Summer days were insufferably long and
wearisome. Each was hotter, longer and more tedious than its
predecessors. In my company was a none-too-bright fellow, named Dawson.
During the chilly rains or the nipping, winds of our first days in
prison, Dawson would, as he rose in, the morning, survey the forbidding
skies with lack-luster eyes and remark, oracularly:

"Well, Ole Boo gits us agin, to-day."

He was so unvarying in this salutation to the morn that his designation
of disagreeable weather as "Ole Boo" became generally adopted by us.
When the hot weather came on, Dawson's remark, upon rising and seeing
excellent prospects for a scorcher, changed to: "Well, Ole Sol, the
Haymaker, is going to git in his work on us agin to-day."

As long as he lived and was able to talk, this was Dawson's invariable
observation at the break of day.

He was quite right. The Ole Haymaker would do some famous work before he
descended in the West, sending his level rays through the wide
interstices between the somber pines.

By nine o'clock in the morning his beams would begin to fairly singe
everything in the crowded pen. The hot sand would glow as one sees it in
the center of the unshaded highway some scorching noon in August. The
high walls of the prison prevented the circulation inside of any breeze
that might be in motion, while the foul stench rising from the putrid
Swamp and the rotting ground seemed to reach the skies.

One can readily comprehend the horrors of death on the burning sands of
a desert. But the desert sand is at least clean; there is nothing worse
about it than heat and intense dryness. It is not, as that was at
Andersonville, poisoned with the excretions of thousands of sick and
dying men, filled with disgusting vermin, and loading the air with the
germs of death. The difference is as that between a brick-kiln and a
sewer. Should the fates ever decide that I shall be flung out upon sands
to perish, I beg that the hottest place in the Sahara may be selected,
rather than such a spot as the interior of the Andersonville Stockade.

It may be said that we had an abundance of water, which made a decided
improvement on a desert. Doubtless--had that water been pure. But every
mouthful of it was a blood poison, and helped promote disease and death.
Even before reaching the Stockade it was so polluted by the drainage of
the Rebel camps as to be utterly unfit for human use. In our part of the
prison we sank several wells--some as deep as forty feet--to procure
water. We had no other tools for this than our ever-faithful half
canteens, and nothing wherewith to wall the wells. But a firm clay was
reached a few feet below the surface, which afforded tolerable strong
sides for the lower part, ana furnished material to make adobe bricks for
curbs to keep out the sand of the upper part. The sides were continually
giving away, however, and fellows were perpetually falling down the
holes, to the great damage of their legs and arms. The water, which was
drawn up in little cans, or boot leg buckets, by strings made of strips
of cloth, was much better than that of the creek, but was still far from
pure, as it contained the seepage from the filthy ground.

The intense heat led men to drink great quantities of water, and this
superinduced malignant dropsical complaints, which, next to diarrhea,
scurvy and gangrene, were the ailments most active in carrying men off.
Those affected in this way swelled up frightfully from day to day. Their
clothes speedily became too small for them, and were ripped off, leaving
them entirely naked, and they suffered intensely until death at last came
to their relief. Among those of my squad who died in this way, was a
young man named Baxter, of the Fifth Indiana Cavalry, taken at
Chicamauga. He was very fine looking--tall, slender, with regular
features and intensely black hair and eyes; he sang nicely, and was
generally liked. A more pitiable object than he, when last I saw him,
just before his death, can not be imagined. His body had swollen until
it seemed marvelous that the human skin could bear so much distention
without disruption, All the old look of bright intelligence had been.
driven from his face by the distortion of his features. His swarthy hair
and beard, grown long and ragged, had that peculiar repulsive look which
the black hair of the sick is prone to assume.

I attributed much of my freedom from the diseases to which others
succumbed to abstention from water drinking. Long before I entered the
army, I had constructed a theory--on premises that were doubtless as
insufficient as those that boyish theories are usually based upon--that
drinking water was a habit, and a pernicious one, which sapped away the
energy. I took some trouble to curb my appetite for water, and soon
found that I got along very comfortably without drinking anything beyond
that which was contained in my food. I followed this up after entering
the army, drinking nothing at any time but a little coffee, and finding
no need, even on the dustiest marches, for anything more. I do not
presume that in a year I drank a quart of cold water. Experience seemed
to confirm my views, for I noticed that the first to sink under a
fatigue, or to yield to sickness, were those who were always on the
lookout for drinking water, springing from their horses and struggling
around every well or spring on the line of march for an opportunity to
fill their canteens.

I made liberal use of the Creek for bathing purposes, however, visiting
it four or five times a, day during the hot days, to wash myself all
over. This did not cool one off much, for the shallow stream was nearly
as hot as the sand, but it seemed to do some good, and it helped pass
away the tedious hours. The stream was nearly all the time filled as
full of bathers as they could stand, and the water could do little
towards cleansing so many. The occasional rain storms that swept across
the prison were welcomed, not only because they cooled the air
temporarily, but because they gave us a shower-bath. As they came up,
nearly every one stripped naked and got out where he could enjoy the full
benefit of the falling water. Fancy, if possible, the spectacle of
twenty-five thousand or thirty thousand men without a stitch of clothing
upon them. The like has not been seen, I imagine, since the naked
followers of Boadicea gathered in force to do battle to the Roman
invaders.

It was impossible to get really clean. Our bodies seemed covered with a
varnish-like, gummy matter that defied removal by water alone.
I imagined that it came from the rosin or turpentine, arising from the
little pitch pine fires over which we hovered when cooking our rations.
It would yield to nothing except strong soap-and soap, as I have before
stated--was nearly as scarce in the Southern Confederacy as salt. We in
prison saw even less of it, or rather, none at all. The scarcity of it,
and our desire for it, recalls a bit of personal experience.

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