Though the deaths were one thousand eight hundred and seventeen more than
were killed at the battle of Shiloh--this left the number in the prison
at the end of the month thirty-one thousand six hundred and seventy-
eight. Let me assist the reader's comprehension of the magnitude of this
number by giving the population of a few important Cities, according to
the census of 1870:
Cambridge, Mass 89,639
Charleston, S. C. 48,958
Columbus, O. 31,274
Dayton, O. 30,473
Fall River, Mass 26,766
Kansas City, Mo 32,260
The number of prisoners exceeded the whole number of men between the ages
of eighteen and forty-five in several of the States and Territories in
the Union. Here, for instance, are the returns for 1870, of men of
military age in some portions of the country:
New Hampshire 60,684
Rhode Island 44,377
West Virginia 6,832
It was more soldiers than could be raised to-day, under strong pressure,
in either Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut,
Dakota, Delaware, District of Columbia, Florida, Idaho, Louisiana, Maine,
Minnesota, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Medico, Oregon,
Rhode Island, South Carolina, Utah, Vermont or West Virginia.
These thirty-one thousand six hundred and seventy-eight active young men,
who were likely to find the confines of a State too narrow for them, were
cooped up on thirteen acres of ground--less than a farmer gives for play-
ground for a half dozen colts or a small flock of sheep. There was
hardly room for all to lie down at night, and to walk a few hundred feet
in any direction would require an hour's patient threading of the mass of
men and tents.
The weather became hotter and hotter; at midday the sand would burn the
hand. The thin skins of fair and auburn-haired men blistered under the
sun's rays, and swelled up in great watery puffs, which soon became the
breeding grounds of the hideous maggots, or the still more deadly
gangrene. The loathsome swamp grew in rank offensiveness with every
burning hour. The pestilence literally stalked at noon-day, and struck
his victims down on every hand. One could not look a rod in any
direction without seeing at least a dozen men in the last frightful
stages of rotting Death.
Let me describe the scene immediately around my own tent during the last
two weeks of July, as a sample of the condition of the whole prison:
I will take a space not larger than a good sized parlor or sitting room.
On this were at least fifty of us. Directly in front of me lay two
brothers--named Sherwood--belonging to Company I, of my battalion, who
came originally from Missouri. They were now in the last stages of
scurvy and diarrhea. Every particle of muscle and fat about their limbs
and bodies had apparently wasted away, leaving the skin clinging close to
the bone of the face, arms, hands, ribs and thighs--everywhere except the
feet and legs, where it was swollen tense and transparent, distended with
gallons of purulent matter. Their livid gums, from which most of their
teeth had already fallen, protruded far beyond their lips. To their left
lay a Sergeant and two others of their company, all three slowly dying
from diarrhea, and beyond was a fair-haired German, young and intelligent
looking, whose life was ebbing tediously away. To my right was a
handsome young Sergeant of an Illinois Infantry Regiment, captured at
Kenesaw. His left arm had been amputated between the shoulder and elbow,
and he was turned into the Stockade with the stump all undressed, save
the ligating of the arteries. Of course, he had not been inside an hour
until the maggot flies had laid eggs in the open wound, and before the
day was gone the worms were hatched out, and rioting amid the inflamed
and super-sensitive nerves, where their every motion was agony.
Accustomed as we were to misery, we found a still lower depth in his
misfortune, and I would be happier could I forget his pale, drawn face,
as he wandered uncomplainingly to and fro, holding his maimed limb with
his right hand, occasionally stopping to squeeze it, as one does a boil,
and press from it a stream of maggots and pus. I do not think he ate or
slept for a week before he died. Next to him staid an Irish Sergeant of
a New York Regiment, a fine soldierly man, who, with pardonable pride,
wore, conspicuously on his left breast, a medal gained by gallantry while
a British soldier in the Crimea. He was wasting away with diarrhea, and
died before the month was out.
This was what one could see on every square rod of the prison. Where I
was was not only no worse than the rest of the prison, but was probably
much better and healthier, as it was the highest ground inside, farthest
from the Swamp, and having the dead line on two sides, had a ventilation
that those nearer the center could not possibly have. Yet, with all
these conditions in our favor, the mortality was as I have described.
Near us an exasperating idiot, who played the flute, had established
himself. Like all poor players, he affected the low, mournful notes,
as plaintive as the distant cooing of the dove in lowering, weather.
He played or rather tooted away in his "blues"-inducing strain hour after
hour, despite our energetic protests, and occasionally flinging a club at
him. There was no more stop to him than to a man with a hand-organ, and
to this day the low, sad notes of a flute are the swiftest reminder to me
of those sorrowful, death-laden days.
I had an illustration one morning of how far decomposition would progress
in a man's body before he died. My chum and I found a treasure-trove in
the streets, in the shape of the body of a man who died during the night.
The value of this "find" was that if we took it to the gate, we would be
allowed to carry it outside to the deadhouse, and on our way back have an
opportunity to pick up a chunk of wood, to use in cooking. While
discussing our good luck another party came up and claimed the body.
A verbal dispute led to one of blows, in which we came off victorious,
and I hastily caught hold of the arm near the elbow to help bear the body
away. The skin gave way under my hand, and slipped with it down to the
wrist, like a torn sleeve. It was sickening, but I clung to my prize,
and secured a very good chunk of wood while outside with it. The wood
was very much needed by my mess, as our squad had then had none for more
than a week.
THE BATTLE OF THE 22D OF JULY--THE ARMS OF THE TENNESSEE ASSAULTED FRONT
AND REAR--DEATH OF GENERAL MCPHERSON--ASSUMPTION OF COMMAND BY GENERAL
LOGAN--RESULT OF THE BATTLE.
Naturally, we had a consuming hunger for news of what was being
accomplished by our armies toward crushing the Rebellion. Now, more than
ever, had we reason to ardently wish for the destruction of the Rebel
power. Before capture we had love of country and a natural desire for
the triumph of her flag to animate us. Now we had a hatred of the Rebels
that passed expression, and a fierce longing to see those who daily
tortured and insulted us trampled down in the dust of humiliation.
The daily arrival of prisoners kept us tolerably well informed as to the
general progress of the campaign, and we added to the information thus
obtained by getting--almost daily--in some manner or another--a copy of a
Rebel paper. Most frequently these were Atlanta papers, or an issue of
Appeal," as they used to facetiously term a Memphis paper that left that
City when it was taken in 1862, and for two years fell back from place to
place, as Sherman's Army advanced, until at last it gave up the struggle
in September, 1864, in a little Town south of Atlanta, after about two
thousand miles of weary retreat from an indefatigable pursuer. The
papers were brought in by "fresh fish," purchased from the guards at from
fifty cents to one dollar apiece, or occasionally thrown in to us when
they had some specially disagreeable intelligence, like the defeat of
Banks, or Sturgis, or Bunter, to exult over. I was particularly
fortunate in getting hold of these. Becoming installed as general reader
for a neighborhood of several thousand men, everything of this kind was
immediately brought to me, to be read aloud for the benefit of everybody.
All the older prisoners knew me by the nick-name of "Illinoy"--
a designation arising from my wearing on my cap, when I entered prison,
a neat little white metal badge of "ILLS." When any reading matter was
brought into our neighborhood, there would be a general cry of:
"Take it up to 'Illinoy,'" and then hundreds would mass around my
quarters to bear the news read.
The Rebel papers usually had very meager reports of the operations of the
armies, and these were greatly distorted, but they were still very
interesting, and as we always started in to read with the expectation
that the whole statement was a mass of perversions and lies, where truth
was an infrequent accident, we were not likely to be much impressed with
There was a marled difference in the tone of the reports brought in from
the different armies. Sherman's men were always sanguine. They had no
doubt that they were pushing the enemy straight to the wall, and that
every day brought the Southern Confederacy much nearer its downfall.
Those from the Army of the Potomac were never so hopeful. They would
admit that Grant was pounding Lee terribly, but the shadow of the
frequent defeats of the Army of the Potomac seemed to hang depressingly
There came a day, however, when our sanguine hopes as to Sherman were
checked by a possibility that he had failed; that his long campaign
towards Atlanta had culminated in such a reverse under the very walls of
the City as would compel an abandonment of the enterprise, and possibly a
humiliating retreat. We knew that Jeff. Davis and his Government were
strongly dissatisfied with the Fabian policy of Joe Johnston. The papers
had told us of the Rebel President's visit to Atlanta, of his bitter
comments on Johnston's tactics; of his going so far as to sneer about the
necessity of providing pontoons at Key West, so that Johnston might
continue his retreat even to Cuba. Then came the news of Johnston's
Supersession by Hood, and the papers were full of the exulting
predictions of what would now be accomplished "when that gallant young
soldier is once fairly in the saddle."
All this meant one supreme effort to arrest the onward course of Sherman.
It indicated a resolve to stake the fate of Atlanta, and the fortunes of
the Confederacy in the West, upon the hazard of one desperate fight.
We watched the summoning up of every Rebel energy for the blow with
apprehension. We dreaded another Chickamauga.
The blow fell on the 22d of July. It was well planned. The Army of the
Tennessee, the left of Sherman's forces, was the part struck. On the
night of the 21st Hood marched a heavy force around its left flank and
gained its rear. On the 22d this force fell on the rear with the
impetuous violence of a cyclone, while the Rebels in the works
immediately around Atlanta attacked furiously in front.
It was an ordeal that no other army ever passed through successfully.
The steadiest troops in Europe would think it foolhardiness to attempt to
withstand an assault in force in front and rear at the same time.
The finest legions that follow any flag to-day must almost inevitably
succumb to such a mode of attack. But the seasoned veterans of the Army
of the Tennessee encountered the shock with an obstinacy which showed
that the finest material for soldiery this planet holds was that in which
undaunted hearts beat beneath blue blouses. Springing over the front of
their breastworks, they drove back with a withering fire the force
assailing them in the rear. This beaten off, they jumped back to their
proper places, and repulsed the assault in front. This was the way the
battle was waged until night compelled a cessation of operations. Our
boys were alternately behind the breastworks firing at Rebels advancing
upon the front, and in front of the works firing upon those coming up in
the rear. Sometimes part of our line would be on one side of the works,
and part on the other.
In the prison we were greatly excited over the result of the engagement,
of which we were uncertain for many days. A host of new prisoners
perhaps two thousand--was brought in from there, but as they were
captured during the progress of the fight, they could not speak
definitely as to its issue. The Rebel papers exulted without stint over
what they termed "a glorious victory." They were particularly jubilant
over the death of McPherson, who, they claimed, was the brain and guiding
hand of Sherman's army. One paper likened him to the pilot-fish, which
guides the shark to his prey. Now that he was gone, said the paper,
Sherman's army becomes a great lumbering hulk, with no one in it capable
of directing it, and it must soon fall to utter ruin under the skilfully
delivered strokes of the gallant Hood.
We also knew that great numbers of wounded had been brought to the prison
hospital, and this seemed to confirm the Rebel claim of a victory, as it
showed they retained possession of the battle field.
About the 1st of August a large squad of Sherman's men, captured in one
of the engagements subsequent to the 22d, came in. We gathered around
them eagerly. Among them I noticed a bright, curly-haired, blue-eyed
infantryman--or boy, rather, as he was yet beardless. His cap was marked
"68th O. Y. Y. L," his sleeves were garnished with re-enlistment stripes,
and on the breast of his blouse was a silver arrow. To the eye of the
soldier this said that he was a veteran member of the Sixty-Eighth
Regiment of Ohio Infantry (that is, having already served three years, he
had re-enlisted for the war), and that he belonged to the Third Division
of the Seventeenth Army Corps. He was so young and fresh looking that
one could hardly believe him to be a veteran, but if his stripes had not
said this, the soldierly arrangement of clothing and accouterments, and
the graceful, self-possessed pose of limbs and body would have told the
observer that he was one of those "Old Reliables" with whom Sherman and
Grant had already subdued a third of the Confederacy. His blanket,
which, for a wonder, the Rebels had neglected to take from him, was
tightly rolled, its ends tied together, and thrown over his shoulder
scarf-fashion. His pantaloons were tucked inside his stocking tops,
that were pulled up as far as possible, and tied tightly around his ankle
with a string. A none-too-clean haversack, containing the inevitable
sooty quart cup, and even blacker half-canteen, waft slung easily from
the shoulder opposite to that on which the blanket rested. Hand him his
faithful Springfield rifle, put three days' rations in his haversack, and
forty rounds in his cartridge bog, and he would be ready, without an
instant's demur or question, to march to the ends of the earth, and fight
anything that crossed his path. He was a type of the honest, honorable,
self respecting American boy, who, as a soldier, the world has not
equaled in the sixty centuries that war has been a profession.
I suggested to him that he was rather a youngster to be wearing veteran
chevrons. "Yes," said he, "I am not so old as some of the rest of the
boys, but I have seen about as much service and been in the business
about as long as any of them. They call me 'Old Dad,' I suppose because
I was the youngest boy in the Regiment, when we first entered the
service, though our whole Company, officers and all, were only a lot of
boys, and the Regiment to day, what's left of 'em, are about as young a
lot of officers and men as there are in the service. Why, our old
Colonel ain't only twenty-four years old now, and he has been in command
ever since we went into Vicksburg. I have heard it said by our boys that
since we veteranized the whole Regiment, officers, and men, average less
than twenty-four years old. But they are gray-hounds to march and
stayers in a fight, you bet. Why, the rest of the troops over in West
Tennessee used to call our Brigade 'Leggett's Cavalry,' for they always
had us chasing Old Forrest, and we kept him skedaddling, too, pretty
lively. But I tell you we did get into a red hot scrimmage on the 22d.
It just laid over Champion Hills, or any of the big fights around
Vicksburg, and they were lively enough to amuse any one."
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