Andersonville


https://www.ispeech.org

As November wore away long-continued, chill, searching rains desolated
our days and nights. The great, cold drops pelted down slowly,
dismally, and incessantly. Each seemed to beat through our emaciated
frames against the very marrow of our bones, and to be battering its way
remorselessly into the citadel of life, like the cruel drops that fell
from the basin of the inquisitors upon the firmly-fastened head of their
victim, until his reason fled, and the death-agony cramped his heart to
stillness.

The lagging, leaden hours were inexpressibly dreary. Compared with many
others, we were quite comfortable, as our hut protected us from the
actual beating of the rain upon our bodies; but we were much more
miserable than under the sweltering heat of Andersonville, as we lay
almost naked upon our bed of pine leaves, shivering in the raw, rasping
air, and looked out over acres of wretches lying dumbly on the sodden
sand, receiving the benumbing drench of the sullen skies without a groan
or a motion.

It was enough to kill healthy, vigorous men, active and resolute, with
bodies well-nourished and well clothed, and with minds vivacious and
hopeful, to stand these day-and-night-long solid drenchings. No one can
imagine how fatal it was to boys whose vitality was sapped by long months
in Andersonville, by coarse, meager, changeless food, by groveling on the
bare earth, and by hopelessness as to any improvement of condition.

Fever, rheumatism, throat and lung diseases and despair now came to
complete the work begun by scurvy, dysentery and gangrene, in
Andersonville.

Hundreds, weary of the long struggle, and of hoping against hope, laid
themselves down and yielded to their fate. In the six weeks that we were
at Millen, one man in every ten died. The ghostly pines there sigh over
the unnoted graves of seven hundred boys, for whom life's morning closed
in the gloomiest shadows. As many as would form a splendid regiment--as
many as constitute the first born of a populous City--more than three
times as many as were slain outright on our side in the bloody battle of
Franklin, succumbed to this new hardship. The country for which they
died does not even have a record of their names. They were simply
blotted out of existence; they became as though they had never been.

About the middle of the month the Rebels yielded to the importunities of
our Government so far as to agree to exchange ten thousand sick. The
Rebel Surgeons took praiseworthy care that our Government should profit
as little as possible by this, by sending every hopeless case, every man
whose lease of life was not likely to extend much beyond his reaching the
parole boat. If he once reached our receiving officers it was all that
was necessary; he counted to them as much as if he had been a Goliath.
A very large portion of those sent through died on the way to our lines,
or within a few hours after their transports at being once more under the
old Stars and Stripes had moderated.

The sending of the sick through gave our commandant--Captain Bowes--a
fine opportunity to fill his pockets, by conniving at the passage of well
men. There was still considerable money in the hands of a few prisoners.
All this, and more, too, were they willing to give for their lives.
In the first batch that went away were two of the leading sutlers at
Andersonville, who had accumulated perhaps one thousand dollars each by
their shrewd and successful bartering. It was generally believed that
they gave every cent to Bowes for the privilege of leaving. I know
nothing of the truth of this, but I am reasonably certain that they paid
him very handsomely.

Soon we heard that one hundred and fifty dollars each had been sufficient
to buy some men out; then one hundred, seventy-five, fifty, thirty,
twenty, ten, and at last five dollars. Whether the upright Bowes drew
the line at the latter figure, and refused to sell his honor for less
than the ruling rates of a street-walker's virtue, I know not. It was
the lowest quotation that came to my knowledge, but he may have gone
cheaper. I have always observed that when men or women begin to traffic
in themselves, their price falls as rapidly as that of a piece of tainted
meat in hot weather. If one could buy them at the rate they wind up
with, and sell them at their first price, there would be room for an
enormous profit.

The cheapest I ever knew a Rebel officer to be bought was some weeks
after this at Florence. The sick exchange was still going on. I have
before spoken of the Rebel passion for bright gilt buttons. It used to
be a proverbial comment upon the small treasons that were of daily
occurrence on both sides, that you could buy the soul of a mean man in
our crowd for a pint of corn meal, and the soul of a Rebel guard for a
half dozen brass buttons. A boy of the Fifth-fourth Ohio, whose home was
at or near Lima, O., wore a blue vest, with the gilt, bright-trimmed
buttons of a staff officer. The Rebel Surgeon who was examining the sick
for exchange saw the buttons and admired them very much. The boy stepped
back, borrowed a knife from a comrade, cut the buttons off, and handed
them to the Doctor.

"All right, sir," said he as his itching palm closed over the coveted
ornaments; "you can pass," and pass he did to home and friends.

Captain Bowes's merchandizing in the matter of exchange was as open as
the issuing of rations. His agent in conducting the bargaining was a
Raider--a New York gambler and stool-pigeon--whom we called "Mattie."
He dealt quite fairly, for several times when the exchange was
interrupted, Bowes sent the money back to those who had paid him,
and received it again when the exchange was renewed.

Had it been possible to buy our way out for five cents each Andrews and I
would have had to stay back, since we had not had that much money for
months, and all our friends were in an equally bad plight. Like almost
everybody else we had spent the few dollars we happened to have on
entering prison, in a week or so, and since then we had been entirely
penniless.

There was no hope left for us but to try to pass the Surgeons as
desperately sick, and we expended our energies in simulating this
condition. Rheumatism was our forte, and I flatter myself we got up two
cases that were apparently bad enough to serve as illustrations for a
patent medicine advertisement. But it would not do. Bad as we made our
condition appear, there were so many more who were infinitely worse,
that we stood no show in the competitive examination. I doubt if we
would have been given an average of "50" in a report. We had to stand
back, and see about one quarter of our number march out and away home.
We could not complain at this--much as we wanted to go ourselves,
since there could be no question that these poor fellows deserved the
precedence. We did grumble savagely, however, at Captain Bowes's
venality, in selling out chances to moneyed men, since these were
invariably those who were best prepared to withstand the hardships of
imprisonment, as they were mostly new men, and all had good clothes and
blankets. We did not blame the men, however, since it was not in human
nature to resist an opportunity to get away--at any cost-from that
accursed place. "All that a man hath he will give for his life," and I
think that if I had owned the City of New York in fee simple, I would
have given it away willingly, rather than stand in prison another month.

The sutlers, to whom I have alluded above, had accumulated sufficient to
supply themselves with all the necessaries and some of the comforts of
life, during any probable term of imprisonment, and still have a snug
amount left, but they, would rather give it all up and return to service
with their regiments in the field, than take the chances of any longer
continuance in prison.

I can only surmise how much Bowes realized out of the prisoners by his
venality, but I feel sure that it could not have been less than three
thousand dollars, and I would not be astonished to learn that it was ten
thousand dollars in green.

CHAPTER LXIV

ANOTHER REMOVAL--SHERMAN'S ADVANCE SCARES THE REBELS INTO RUNNING US AWAY
FROM MILLEN--WE ARE TAKEN TO SAVANNAH, AND THENCE DOWN THE ATLANTIC &
GULF ROAD TO BLACKSHEAR

One night, toward the last of November, there was a general alarm around
the prison. A gun was fired from the Fort, the long-roll was beaten in
the various camps of the guards, and the regiments answered by getting
under arms in haste, and forming near the prison gates.

The reason for this, which we did not learn until weeks later, was that
Sherman, who had cut loose from Atlanta and started on his famous March
to the Sea, had taken such a course as rendered it probable that Millen
was one of his objective points. It was, therefore, necessary that we
should be hurried away with all possible speed. As we had had no news
from Sherman since the end of the Atlanta campaign, and were ignorant of
his having begun his great raid, we were at an utter loss to account for
the commotion among our keepers.

About 3 o'clock in the morning the Rebel Sergeants, who called the roll,
came in and ordered us to turn out immediately and get ready to move.

The morning was one of the most cheerless I ever knew. A cold rain
poured relentlessly down upon us half-naked, shivering wretches, as we
groped around in the darkness for our pitiful little belongings of rags
and cooking utensils, and huddled together in groups, urged on
continually by the curses and abuse of the Rebel officers sent in to get
us ready to move.

Though roused at 3 o'clock, the cars were not ready to receive us till
nearly noon. In the meantime we stood in ranks--numb, trembling, and
heart-sick. The guards around us crouched over fires, and shielded
themselves as best they could with blankets and bits of tent cloth.
We had nothing to build fires with, and were not allowed to approach
those of the guards.

Around us everywhere was the dull, cold, gray, hopeless desolation of the
approach of minter. The hard, wiry grass that thinly covered the once
and sand, the occasional stunted weeds, and the sparse foliage of the
gnarled and dwarfish undergrowth, all were parched brown and sere by the
fiery heat of the long Summer, and now rattled drearily under the
pitiless, cold rain, streaming from lowering clouds that seemed to have
floated down to us from the cheerless summit of some great iceberg; the
tall, naked pines moaned and shivered; dead, sapless leaves fell wearily
to the sodden earth, like withered hopes drifting down to deepen some
Slough of Despond.

Scores of our crowd found this the culmination of their misery. They
laid down upon the ground and yielded to death as s welcome relief,
and we left them lying there unburied when we moved to the cars.

As we passed through the Rebel camp at dawn, on our way to the cars,
Andrews and I noticed a nest of four large, bright, new tin pans--a rare
thing in the Confederacy at that time. We managed to snatch them without
the guard's attention being attracted, and in an instant had them wrapped
up in our blanket. But the blanket was full of holes, and in spite of
all our efforts, it would slip at the most inconvenient times, so as to
show a broad glare of the bright metal, just when it seemed it could not
help attracting the attention of the guards or their officers. A dozen
times at least we were on the imminent brink of detection, but we finally
got our treasures safely to the cars, and sat down upon them.

The cars were open flats. The rain still beat down unrelentingly.
Andrews and I huddled ourselves together so as to make our bodies afford
as much heat as possible, pulled our faithful old overcoat around us as
far as it would go, and endured the inclemency as best we could.

Our train headed back to Savannah, and again our hearts warmed up with
hopes of exchange. It seemed as if there could be no other purpose of
taking us out of a prison so recently established and at such cost as
Millen.

As we approached the coast the rain ceased, but a piercing cold wind set
in, that threatened to convert our soaked rags into icicles.

Very many died on the way. When we arrived at Savannah almost, if not
quite, every car had upon it one whom hunger no longer gnawed or disease
wasted; whom cold had pinched for the last time, and for whom the golden
portals of the Beyond had opened for an exchange that neither Davis nor
his despicable tool, Winder, could control.

We did not sentimentalize over these. We could not mourn; the thousands
that we had seen pass away made that emotion hackneyed and wearisome;
with the death of some friend and comrade as regularly an event of each
day as roll call and drawing rations, the sentiment of grief had become
nearly obsolete. We were not hardened; we had simply come to look upon
death as commonplace and ordinary. To have had no one dead or dying
around us would have been regarded as singular.

Besides, why should we feel any regret at the passing away of those whose
condition would probably be bettered thereby! It was difficult to see
where we who still lived were any better off than they who were gone
before and now "forever at peace, each in his windowless palace of rest."
If imprisonment was to continue only another month, we would rather be
with them.

Arriving at Savannah, we were ordered off the cars. A squad from each
car carried the dead to a designated spot, and land them in a row,
composing their limbs as well as possible, but giving no other funeral
rites, not even making a record of their names and regiments. Negro
laborers came along afterwards, with carts, took the bodies to some
vacant ground, and sunk them out of sight in the sand.

We were given a few crackers each--the same rude imitation of "hard tack"
that had been served out to us when we arrived at Savannah the first
time, and then were marched over and put upon a train on the Atlantic &
Gulf Railroad, running from Savannah along the sea coast towards Florida.
What this meant we had little conception, but hope, which sprang eternal
in the prisoner's breast, whispered that perhaps it was exchange; that
there was some difficulty about our vessels coming to Savannah, and we
were being taken to some other more convenient sea port; probably to
Florida, to deliver us to our folks there. We satisfied ourselves that
we were running along the sea coast by tasting the water in the streams
we crossed, whenever we could get an opportunity to dip up some. As long
as the water tasted salty we knew we were near the sea, and hope burned
brightly.

«- 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 -»