Andersonville


https://www.ispeech.org

The occasional specimens of the poor white "cracker" population that we
saw, seemed indigenous products of the starved soil. They suited their
poverty-stricken surroundings as well as the gnarled and scrubby
vegetation suited the sterile sand. Thin-chested, round-shouldered,
scraggy-bearded, dull-eyed and open-mouthed, they all looked alike--all
looked as ignorant, as stupid, and as lazy as they were poor and weak.
They were "low-downers" in every respect, and made our rough and simple.
minded East Tennesseans look like models of elegant and cultured
gentlemen in contrast.

We looked on the poverty-stricken land with good-natured contempt, for we
thought we were leaving it forever, and would soon be in one which,
compared to it, was as the fatness at Egypt to the leanness of the desert
of Sinai.

The second day after leaving Andersonville our train struggled across the
swamps into Savannah, and rolled slowly down the live oak shaded streets
into the center of the City. It seemed like another Deserted Village,
so vacant and noiseless the streets, and the buildings everywhere so
overgrown with luxuriant vegetation: The limbs of the shade trees crashed
along and broke, upon the tops of our cars, as if no train had passed
that way for years. Through the interstices between the trees and clumps
of foliage could be seen the gleaming white marble of the monuments
erected to Greene and Pulaski, looking like giant tombstones in a City of
the Dead. The unbroken stillness--so different from what we expected on
entering the metropolis of Georgia, and a City that was an important port
in Revolutionary days--became absolutely oppressive. We could not
understand it, but our thoughts were more intent upon the coming transfer
to our flag than upon any speculation as to the cause of the remarkable
somnolence of Savannah.

Finally some little boys straggled out to where our car was standing, and
we opened up a conversation with them:

"Say, boys, are our vessels down in the harbor yet?"

The reply came in that piercing treble shriek in which a boy of ten or
twelve makes even his most confidential communications:

"I don't know."

"Well," (with our confidence in exchange somewhat dashed,) "they intend
to exchange us here, don't they?"

Another falsetto scream, "I don't know."

"Well," (with something of a quaver in the questioner's voice,) "what are
they going to do, with us, any way?"

"O," (the treble shriek became almost demoniac) "they are fixing up a
place over by the old jail for you."

What a sinking of hearts was there then! Andrews and I would not give up
hope so speedily as some others did, and resolved to believe, for awhile
at least, that we were going to be exchanged.

Ordered out of the cars, we were marched along the street. A crowd of
small boys, full of the curiosity of the animal, gathered around us as we
marched. Suddenly a door in a rather nice house opened; an angry-faced
woman appeared on the steps and shouted out:

"Boys! BOYS! What are you doin' there! Come up on the steps immejitely!
Come away from them n-a-s-t-y things!"

I will admit that we were not prepossessing in appearance; nor were we as
cleanly as young gentlemen should habitually be; in fact, I may as well
confess that I would not now, if I could help it, allow a tramp, as
dilapidated in raiment, as unwashed, unshorn, uncombed, and populous with
insects as we were, to come within several rods of me. Nevertheless,
it was not pleasant to hear so accurate a description of our personal
appearance sent forth on the wings of the wind by a shrill-voiced Rebel
female.

A short march brought us to the place "they were fixing for us by the old
jail." It was another pen, with high walls of thick pine plank, which
told us only too plainly how vain were our expectations of exchange.

When we were turned inside, and I realized that the gates of another
prison had closed upon me, hope forsook me. I flung our odious little
possessions-our can, chess-board, overcoat, and blanket-upon the ground,
and, sitting down beside them, gave way to the bitterest despair.
I wanted to die, O, so badly. Never in all my life had I desired
anything in the world so much as I did now to get out of it. Had I had
pistol, knife, rope, or poison, I would have ended my prison life then
and there, and departed with the unceremoniousness of a French leave.
I remembered that I could get a quietus from a guard with very little
trouble, but I would not give one of the bitterly hated Rebels the
triumph of shooting me. I longed to be another Samson, with the whole
Southern Confederacy gathered in another Temple of Dagon, that I might
pull down the supporting pillars, and die happy in slaying thousands of
my enemies.

While I was thus sinking deeper and deeper in the Slough of Despond, the
firing of a musket, and the shriek of the man who was struck, attracted
my attention. Looking towards the opposite end of the, pen I saw a guard
bringing his still smoking musket to a "recover arms," and, not fifteen
feet from him, a prisoner lying on the ground in the agonies of death.
The latter had a pipe in his mouth when he was shot, and his teeth still
clenched its stem. His legs and arms were drawn up convulsively, and he
was rocking backward and forward on his back. The charge had struck him
just above the hip-bone.

The Rebel officer in command of the guard was sitting on his horse inside
the pen at the time, and rode forward to see what the matter was.
Lieutenant Davis, who had come with us from Andersonville, was also
sitting on a horse inside the prison, and he called out in his usual
harsh, disagreeable voice:

"That's all right, Cunnel; the man's done just as I awdahed him to."

I found that lying around inside were a number of bits of plank--each
about five feet long, which had been sawed off by the carpenters engaged
in building the prison. The ground being a bare common, was destitute of
all shelter, and the pieces looked as if they would be quite useful in
building a tent. There may have been an order issued forbidding the
prisoners to touch them, but if so, I had not heard it, and I imagine the
first intimation to the prisoner just killed that the boards were not to
be taken was the bullet which penetrated his vitals. Twenty-five cents
would be a liberal appraisement of the value of the lumber for which the
boy lost his life.

Half an hour afterward we thought we saw all the guards march out of the
front gate. There was still another pile of these same kind of pieces of
board lying at the further side of the prison. The crowd around me
noticed it, and we all made a rush for it. In spite of my lame feet I
outstripped the rest, and was just in the act of stooping down to pick
the boards up when a loud yell from those behind startled me. Glancing
to my left I saw a guard cocking his gun and bringing it up to shoot me.
With one frightened spring, as quick as a flash, and before he could
cover me, I landed fully a rod back in the crowd, and mixed with it.
The fellow tried hard to draw a bead on me, but I was too quick for him,
and he finally lowered his gun with an oath expressive of disappointment
in not being able to kill a Yankee.

Walking back to my place the full ludicrousness of the thing dawned upon
me so forcibly that I forgot all about my excitement and scare, and
laughed aloud. Here, not an hour age I was murmuring because I could
find no way to die; I sighed for death as a bridegroom for the coming of
his bride, an yet, when a Rebel had pointed his gun at me, it had nearly
scared me out of a year's growth, and made me jump farther than I could
possibly do when my feet were well, and I was in good condition
otherwise.

CHAPTER II.

SAVANNAH--DEVICES TO OBTAIN MATERIALS FOR A TENT--THEIR ULTIMATE SUCCESS
--RESUMPTION OF TUNNELING--ESCAPING BY WHOLESALE AND BEING RECAPTURED EN
MASSE--THE OBSTACLES THAT LAY BETWEEN US AND OUR LINES.

Andrews and I did not let the fate of the boy who was killed, nor my own
narrow escape from losing the top of my head, deter us from farther
efforts to secure possession of those coveted boards. My readers
remember the story of the boy who, digging vigorously at a hole, replied
to the remark of a passing traveler that there was probably no ground-hog
there, and, even if there was, "ground-hog was mighty poor eatin', any
way," with:

"Mister, there's got to be a ground-hog there; our family's out o' meat!"

That was what actuated us: we were out of material for a tent. Our
solitary blanket had rotted and worn full of holes by its long double
duty, as bed-clothes and tent at Andersonville, and there was an
imperative call for a substitute.

Andrews and I flattered ourselves that when we matched our collective or
individual wits against those of a Johnny his defeat was pretty certain,
and with this cheerful estimate of our own powers to animate us, we set
to work to steal the boards from under the guard's nose. The Johnny had
malice in his heart and buck-and-ball in his musket, but his eyes were
not sufficiently numerous to adequately discharge all the duties laid
upon him. He had too many different things to watch at the same time.
I would approach a gap in the fence not yet closed as if I intended
making a dash through it for liberty, and when the Johnny had
concentrated all his attention on letting me have the contents of his gun
just as soon as he could have a reasonable excuse for doing so, Andrews
would pick u a couple of boards and slip away with them. Then I would
fall back in pretended (and some real) alarm, and--Andrew would come up
and draw his attention by a similar feint, while I made off with a couple
more pieces. After a few hours c this strategy, we found ourselves the
possessors of some dozen planks, with which we made a lean-to, that
formed a tolerable shelter for our heads and the upper portion of our
bodies. As the boards were not over five feet long, and the slope reduce
the sheltered space to about four-and-one-half feet, it left the lower
part of our naked feet and legs to project out-of-doors. Andrews used to
lament very touchingly the sunburning his toe-nails were receiving.
He knew that his complexion was being ruined for life, and all the Balm
of a Thousand Flowers in the world would not restore his comely ankles to
that condition of pristine loveliness which would admit of their
introduction into good society again. Another defect was that, like the
fun in a practical joke, it was all on one side; there was not enough of
it to go clear round. It was very unpleasant, when a storm came up in a
direction different from that we had calculated upon, to be compelled to
get out in the midst of it, and build our house over to face the other
way.

Still we had a tent, and were that much better off than three-fourths of
our comrades who had no shelter at all. We were owners of a brown stone
front on Fifth Avenue compared to the other fellows.

Our tent erected, we began a general survey of our new abiding place.
The ground was a sandy common in the outskirts of Savannah. The sand was
covered with a light sod. The Rebels, who knew nothing of our burrowing
propensities, had neglected to make the plank forming the walls of the
Prison project any distance below the surface of the ground, and had put
up no Dead Line around the inside; so that it looked as if everything was
arranged expressly to invite us to tunnel out. We were not the boys to
neglect such an invitation. By night about three thousand had been
received from Andersonville, and placed inside. When morning came it
looked as if a colony of gigantic rats had been at work. There was a
tunnel every ten or fifteen feet, and at least twelve hundred of us had
gone out through them during the night. I never understood why all in
the pen did not follow our example, and leave the guards watching a
forsaken Prison. There was nothing to prevent it. An hour's industrious
work with a half-canteen would take any one outside, or if a boy was too
lazy to dig his own tunnel, he could have the use of one of the hundred
others that had been dug.

But escaping was only begun when the Stockade was passed. The site of
Savannah is virtually an island. On the north is the Savannah River; to
the east, southeast and south, are the two Ogeechee rivers, and a chain
of sounds and lagoons connecting with the Atlantic Ocean. To the west is
a canal connecting the Savannah and Big Ogeechee Rivers. We found
ourselves headed off by water whichever way we went. All the bridges
were guarded, and all the boats destroyed. Early in the morning the
Rebels discovered our absence, and the whole garrison of Savannah was
sent out on patrol after us. They picked up the boys in squads of from
ten to thirty, lurking around the shores of the streams waiting for night
to come, to get across, or engaged in building rafts for transportation.
By evening the whole mob of us were back in the pen again. As nobody was
punished for running away, we treated the whole affair as a lark, and
those brought back first stood around the gate and yelled derisively as
the others came in.

That night big fires were built all around the Stockade, and a line of
guards placed on the ground inside of these. In spite of this
precaution, quite a number escaped. The next day a Dead Line was put up
inside of the Prison, twenty feet from the Stockade. This only increased
the labor of burrowing, by making us go farther. Instead of being able
to tunnel out in an hour, it now took three or four hours. That night
several hundred of us, rested from our previous performance, and hopeful
of better luck, brought our faithful half canteens--now scoured very
bright by constant use-into requisition again, and before the morning.
dawned we had gained the high reeds of the swamps, where we lay concealed
until night.

In this way we managed to evade the recapture that came to most of those
who went out, but it was a fearful experience. Having been raised in a
country where venomous snakes abounded, I had that fear and horror of
them that inhabitants of those districts feel, and of which people living
in sections free from such a scourge know little. I fancied that the
Southern swamps were filled with all forms of loathsome and poisonous
reptiles, and it required all my courage to venture into them barefooted.
Besides, the snags and roots hurt our feet fearfully. Our hope was to
find a boat somewhere, in which we could float out to sea, and trust to
being picked up by some of the blockading fleet. But no boat could we
find, with all our painful and diligent search. We learned afterward
that the Rebels made a practice of breaking up all the boats along the
shore to prevent negros and their own deserters from escaping to the
blockading fleet. We thought of making a raft of logs, but had we had
the strength to do this, we would doubtless have thought it too risky,
since we dreaded missing the vessels, and being carried out to sea to
perish of hunger. During the night we came to the railroad bridge
across the Ogeechee. We had some slender hope that, if we could reach
this we might perhaps get across the river, and find better opportunities
for escape. But these last expectations were blasted by the discovery
that it was guarded. There was a post and a fire on the shore next us,
and a single guard with a lantern was stationed on one of the middle
spans. Almost famished with hunger, and so weary and footsore that we
could scarcely move another step, we went back to a cleared place on the
high ground, and laid down to sleep, entirely reckless as to what became
of us. Late in the morning we were awakened by the Rebel patrol and
taken back to the prison. Lieutenant Davis, disgusted with the perpetual
attempts to escape, moved the Dead Line out forty feet from the Stockade;
but this restricted our room greatly, since the number of prisoners in
the pen had now risen to about six thousand, and, besides, it offered
little additional protection against tunneling.

«- 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 -»