Andersonville


https://www.ispeech.org

XII. Gangrenous spots, followed by rapid destruction of tissue, appeared
in some cases in which there had been no previous or existing wound or
abrasion; and without such well established facts, it might be assumed
that the disease was propagated from one patient to another in every
case, either by exhalations from the gangrenous surface or by direct
contact.

In such a filthy and crowded hospital as that of the Confederate, States
Military Prison of Camp Sumter, Andersonville, it was impossible to
isolate the wounded from the sources of actual contact of the gangrenous
matter. The flies swarming over the wounds and over filth of every
description; the filthy, imperfectly washed, and scanty rags; the limited
number of sponges and wash-bowls (the same wash-bowl and sponge serving
for a score or more of patients), were one and all sources of such
constant circulation of the gangrenous matter, that the disease might
rapidly be propagated from a single gangrenous wound. While the fact
already considered, that a form of moist gangrene, resembling hospital
gangrene, was quite common in this foul atmosphere in cases of dysentery,
both with and without the existence of hospital gangrene upon the
surface, demonstrates the dependence of the disease upon the state of the
constitution, and proves in a clear manner that neither the contact of
the poisonous matter of gangrene, nor the direct action of the poisoned
atmosphere upon the ulcerated surface, is necessary to the development of
the disease; on the other hand, it is equally well-established that the
disease may be communicated by the various ways just mentioned. It is
impossible to determine the length of time which rags and clothing
saturated with gangrenous matter will retain the power of reproducing the
disease when applied to healthy wounds. Professor Brugmans, as quoted by
Guthrie in his commentaries on the surgery of the war in Portugal, Spain,
France, and the Netherlands, says that in 1797, in Holland, 'charpie,'
composed of linen threads cut of different lengths, which, on inquiry, it
was found had been already used in the great hospitals in France, and had
been subsequently washed and bleached, caused every ulcer to which it was
applied to be affected by hospital gangrene. Guthrie affirms in the same
work, that the fact that this disease was readily communicated by the
application of instruments, lint, or bandages which had been in contact
with infected parts, was too firmly established by the experience of
every one in Portugal and Spain to be a matter of doubt. There are facts
to show that flies may be the means of communicating malignant pustules.
Dr. Wagner, who has related several cases of malignant pustule produced
in man and beasts, both by contact and by eating the flesh of diseased
animals, which happened in the village of Striessa in Saxony, in 1834,
gives two very remarkable cases which occurred eight days after any beast
had been affected with the disease. Both were women, one of twenty-six
and the other of fifty years, and in them the pustules were well marked,
and the general symptoms similar to the other cases. The latter patient
said she had been bitten by a fly upon the back d the neck, at which part
the carbuncle appeared; and the former, that she had also been bitten
upon the right upper arm by a gnat. Upon inquiry, Wagner found that the
skin of one of the infected beasts had been hung on a neighboring wall,
and thought it very possible that the insects might have been attracted
to them by the smell, and had thence conveyed the poison.

[End of Dr. Stevenson's Statement]

..........................

The old adage says that "Hunger is the best sauce for poor food," but
hunger failed to render this detestable stuff palatable, and it became so
loathsome that very many actually starved to death because unable to
force their organs of deglutition to receive the nauseous dose and pass
it to the stomach. I was always much healthier than the average of the
boys, and my appetite consequently much better, yet for the last month
that I was in Andersonville, it required all my determination to crowd
the bread down my throat, and, as I have stated before, I could only do
this by breaking off small bits at a time, and forcing each down as I
would a pill.

A large part of this repulsiveness was due to the coarseness and foulness
of the meal, the wretched cooking, and the lack of salt, but there was a
still more potent reason than all these. Nature does not intend that man
shall live by bread alone, nor by any one kind of food. She indicates
this by the varying tastes and longings that she gives him. If his body
needs one kind of constituents, his tastes lead him to desire the food
that is richest in those constituents. When he has taken as much as his
system requires, the sense of satiety supervenes, and he "becomes tired"
of that particular food. If tastes are not perverted, but allowed a free
but temperate exercise, they are the surest indicators of the way to
preserve health and strength by a judicious selection of alimentation.

In this case Nature was protesting by a rebellion of the tastes against
any further use of that species of food. She was saying, as plainly as
she ever spoke, that death could only be averted by a change of diet,
which would supply our bodies with the constituents they so sadly needed,
and which could not be supplied by corn meal.

How needless was this confinement of our rations to corn meal, and
especially to such wretchedly prepared meal, is conclusively shown by the
Rebel testimony heretofore given. It would have been very little extra
trouble to the Rebels to have had our meal sifted; we would gladly have
done it ourselves if allowed the utensils and opportunity. It would have
been as little trouble to have varied our rations with green corn and
sweet potatos, of which the country was then full.

A few wagon loads of roasting ears and sweet potatos would have banished
every trace of scurvy from the camp, healed up the wasting dysentery,
and saved thousands of lives. Any day that the Rebels had chosen they
could have gotten a thousand volunteers who would have given their solemn
parole not to escape, and gone any distance into the country, to gather
the potatos and corn, and such other vegetables as were readily
obtainable, and bring, them into the camp.

Whatever else may be said in defense of the Southern management of
military prisons, the permitting seven thousand men to die of the scurvy
in the Summer time, in the midst of an agricultural region, filled with
all manner of green vegetation, must forever remain impossible of
explanation.

CHAPTER LI.

SOLICITUDE AS TO THE FATE OF ATLANTA AND SHERMAN'S ARMY--PAUCITY OF NEWS
--HOW WE HEARD THAT ATLANTA HAD FALLEN--ANNOUNCEMENT OF A GENERAL
EXCHANGE--WE LEAVE ANDERSONVILLE.

We again began to be exceedingly solicitous over the fate of Atlanta and
Sherman's Army: we had heard but little directly from that front for
several weeks. Few prisoners had come in since those captured in the
bloody engagements of the 20th, 22d, and 28th of July. In spite of their
confident tones, and our own sanguine hopes, the outlook admitted of very
grave doubts. The battles of the last week of July had been looked at it
in the best light possible--indecisive. Our men had held their own,
it is true, but an invading army can not afford to simply hold its own.
Anything short of an absolute success is to it disguised defeat. Then we
knew that the cavalry column sent out under Stoneman had been so badly
handled by that inefficient commander that it had failed ridiculously in
its object, being beaten in detail, and suffering the loss of its
commander and a considerable portion of its numbers. This had been
followed by a defeat of our infantry at Etowah Creek, and then came a
long interval in which we received no news save what the Rebel papers
contained, and they pretended no doubt that Sherman's failure was already
demonstrated. Next came well-authenticated news that Sherman had raised
the siege and fallen back to the Chattahoochee, and we felt something of
the bitterness of despair. For days thereafter we heard nothing, though
the hot, close Summer air seemed surcharged with the premonitions of a
war storm about to burst, even as nature heralds in the same way a
concentration of the mighty force of the elements for the grand crash of
the thunderstorm. We waited in tense expectancy for the decision of the
fates whether final victory or defeat should end the long and arduous
campaign.

At night the guards in the perches around the Stockade called out every
half hour, so as to show the officers that they were awake and attending
to their duty. The formula for this ran thus:

"Post numbah 1; half-past eight o'clock, and a-l-l 's w-e-l-l!"

Post No. 2 repeated this cry, and so it went around.

One evening when our anxiety as to Atlanta was wrought to the highest
pitch, one of the guards sang out:

"Post numbah foah--half past eight o'clock--and Atlanta's--gone--t-o--
hell"

The heart of every man within hearing leaped to his mouth. We looked
toward each other, almost speechless with glad surprise, and then gasped
out:

"Did 'you hear THAT?"

The next instant such a ringing cheer burst out as wells spontaneously
from the throats and hearts of men, in the first ecstatic moments of
victory--a cheer to which our saddened hearts and enfeebled lungs had
long been strangers. It was the genuine, honest, manly Northern cheer,
as different from the shrill Rebel yell as the honest mastiff's deep-
voiced welcome is from the howl of the prowling wolf.

The shout was taken up all over the prison. Even those who had not heard
the guard understood that it meant that "Atlanta was ours and fairly
won," and they took up the acclamation with as much enthusiasm as we had
begun it. All thoughts of sleep were put to flight: we would have a
season of rejoicing. Little knots gathered together, debated the news,
and indulged in the most sanguine hopes as to the effect upon the Rebels.
In some parts of the Stockade stump speeches were made. I believe that
Boston Corbett and his party organized a prayer and praise meeting.
In our corner we stirred up our tuneful friend "Nosey," who sang again
the grand old patriotic hymns that set our thin blood to bounding,
and made us remember that we were still Union soldiers, with higher hopes
than that of starving and dying in Andersonville. He sang the ever-
glorious Star Spangled Banner, as he used to sing it around the camp fire
in happier days, when we were in the field. He sang the rousing "Rally
Round the Flag," with its wealth of patriotic fire and martial vigor,
and we, with throats hoarse from shouting; joined in the chorus until the
welkin rang again.

The Rebels became excited, lest our exaltation of spirits would lead to
an assault upon the Stockade. They got under arms, and remained so until
the enthusiasm became less demonstrative.

A few days later--on the evening of the 6th of September--the Rebel
Sergeants who called the roll entered the Stockade, and each assembling
his squads, addressed them as follows:

"PRISONERS: I am instructed by General Winder to inform you that a
general exchange has been agreed upon. Twenty thousand men will be
exchanged immediately at Savannah, where your vessels are now waiting for
you. Detachments from One to Ten will prepare to leave early to-morrow
morning."

The excitement that this news produced was simply indescribable. I have
seen men in every possible exigency that can confront men, and a large
proportion viewed that which impended over them with at least outward
composure. The boys around me had endured all that we suffered with
stoical firmness. Groans from pain-racked bodies could not be repressed,
and bitter curses and maledictions against the Rebels leaped unbidden to
the lips at the slightest occasion, but there was no murmuring or
whining. There was not a day--hardly an hour--in which one did not see
such exhibitions of manly fortitude as made him proud of belonging to a
race of which every individual was a hero.

But the emotion which pain and suffering and danger could not develop,
joy could, and boys sang, and shouted and cried, and danced as if in a
delirium. "God's country," fairer than the sweet promised land of Canaan
appeared to the rapt vision of the Hebrew poet prophet, spread out in
glad vista before the mind's eye of every one. It had come--at last it
had come that which we had so longed for, wished for, prayed for, dreamed
of; schemed, planned, toiled for, and for which went up the last earnest,
dying wish of the thousands of our comrades who would now know no
exchange save into that eternal "God's country" where

Sickness and sorrow, pain and death
Are felt and feared no more.

Our "preparations," for leaving were few and simple. When the morning
came, and shortly after the order to move, Andrews and I picked our well-
worn blanket, our tattered overcoat, our rude chessmen, and no less rude
board, our little black can, and the spoon made of hoop-iron, and bade
farewell to the hole-in-the-ground that had been our home for nearly
seven long months.

My feet were still in miserable condition from the lacerations received
in the attempt to escape, but I took one of our tent poles as a staff and
hobbled away. We re-passed the gates which we had entered on that
February night, ages since, it seemed, and crawled slowly over to the
depot.

I had come to regard the Rebels around us as such measureless liars that
my first impulse was to believe the reverse of anything they said to us;
and even now, while I hoped for the best, my old habit of mind was so
strongly upon me that I had some doubts of our going to be exchanged,
simply because it was a Rebel who had said so. But in the crowd of
Rebels who stood close to the road upon which we were walking was a young
Second Lieutenant, who said to a Colonel as I passed:

"Weil, those fellows can sing 'Homeward Bound,' can't they?"

This set my last misgiving at rest. Now I was certain that we were going
to be exchanged, and my spirits soared to the skies.

Entering the cars we thumped and pounded toilsomely along, after the
manner of Southern railroads, at the rate of six or eight miles an hour.
Savannah was two hundred and forty miles away, and to our impatient minds
it seemed as if we would never get there. The route lay the whole
distance through the cheerless pine barrens which cover the greater part
of Georgia. The only considerable town on the way was Macon, which had
then a population of five thousand or thereabouts. For scores of miles
there would not be a sign of a human habitation, and in the one hundred
and eighty miles between Macon and Savannah there were only three
insignificant villages. There was a station every ten miles, at which
the only building was an open shed, to shelter from sun and rain a casual
passenger, or a bit of goods.

«- Previous | 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32 33 34 35 36 37 38 39 40 41 42 43 44 45 46 47 48 49 50 51 52 53 54 55 56 57 58 59 60 61 62 63 64 65 66 67 68 69 70 71 72 | View All | Next -»