Andersonville


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So we set about repairing our faithful old blanket--now full of great
holes. We watched the dead men to get pieces of cloth from their
garments to make patches, which we sewed on with yarn raveled from other
fragments of woolen cloth. Some of our company, whom we found in the
prison, donated us the three sticks necessary to make tent-poles--
wonderful generosity when the preciousness of firewood is remembered.
We hoisted our blanket upon these; built a wall of mud bricks at one end,
and in it a little fireplace to economize our scanty fuel to the last
degree, and were once more at home, and much better off than most of our
neighbors.

One of these, the proprietor of a hole in the ground covered with an arch
of adobe bricks, had absolutely no bed-clothes except a couple of short
pieces of board--and very little other clothing. He dug a trench in the
bottom of what was by courtesy called his tent, sufficiently large to
contain his body below his neck. At nightfall he would crawl into this,
put his two bits of board so that they joined over his breast, and then
say: "Now, boys, cover me over;" whereupon his friends would cover him up
with dry sand from the sides of his domicile, in which he would slumber
quietly till morning, when he would rise, shake the sand from his
garments, and declare that he felt as well refreshed as if he had slept
on a spring mattress.

There has been much talk of earth baths of late years in scientific and
medical circles. I have been sorry that our Florence comrade if he still
lives--did not contribute the results of his experience.

The pinching cold cured me of my repugnance to wearing dead men's
clothes, or rather it made my nakedness so painful that I was glad to
cover it as best I could, and I began foraging among the corpses for
garments. For awhile my efforts to set myself up in the mortuary second-
hand clothing business were not all successful. I found that dying men
with good clothes were as carefully watched over by sets of fellows who
constituted themselves their residuary legatees as if they were men of
fortune dying in the midst of a circle of expectant nephews and nieces.
Before one was fairly cold his clothes would be appropriated and divided,
and I have seen many sharp fights between contesting claimants.

I soon perceived that my best chance was to get up very early in the
morning, and do my hunting. The nights were so cold that many could not
sleep, and they would walk up and down the streets, trying to keep warm
by exercise. Towards morning, becoming exhausted, they would lie down on
the ground almost anywhere, and die. I have frequently seen so many as
fifty of these. My first "find" of any importance was a young
Pennsylvania Zouave, who was lying dead near the bridge that crossed the
Creek. His clothes were all badly worn, except his baggy, dark trousers,
which were nearly new. I removed these, scraped out from each of the
dozens of great folds in the legs about a half pint of lice, and drew the
garments over my own half-frozen limbs, the first real covering those
members had had for four or five months. The pantaloons only came down
about half-way between my knees and feet, but still they were wonderfully
comfortable to what I had been--or rather not been--wearing. I had
picked up a pair of boot bottoms, which answered me for shoes, and now I
began a hunt for socks. This took several morning expeditions, but on
one of them I was rewarded with finding a corpse with a good brown one--
army make--and a few days later I got another, a good, thick genuine one,
knit at home, of blue yarn, by some patient, careful housewife. Almost
the next morning I had the good fortune to find a dead man with a warm,
whole, infantry dress-coat, a most serviceable garment. As I still had
for a shirt the blouse Andrews had given me at Millen, I now considered
my wardrobe complete, and left the rest of the clothes to those who were
more needy than I.

Those who used tobacco seemed to suffer more from a deprivation of the
weed than from lack of food. There were no sacrifices they would not
make to obtain it, and it was no uncommon thing for boys to trade off
half their rations for a chew of "navy plug." As long as one had
anything--especially buttons--to trade, tobacco could be procured from
the guards, who were plentifully supplied with it. When means of barter
were gone, chewers frequently became so desperate as to beg the guards to
throw them a bit of the precious nicotine. Shortly after our arrival at
Florence, a prisoner on the East Side approached one of the Reserves with
the request:

"Say, Guard, can't you give a fellow a chew of tobacco?"

To which the guard replied:

"Yes; come right across the line there and I'll drop you down a bit."

The unsuspecting prisoner stepped across the Dead Line, and the guard--a
boy of sixteen--raised his gun and killed him.

At the North Side of the prison, the path down to the Creek lay right
along side of the Dead Line, which was a mere furrow in the ground.

At night the guards, in their zeal to kill somebody, were very likely to
imagine that any one going along the path for water was across the Dead
Line, and fire upon him. It was as bad as going upon the skirmish line
to go for water after nightfall. Yet every night a group of boys would
be found standing at the head of the path crying out:

"Fill your buckets for a chew of tobacco."

That is, they were willing to take all the risk of running that gauntlet
for this moderate compensation.

CHAPTER LXXI

DECEMBER--RATIONS OF WOOD AND FOOD GROW LESS DAILY--UNCERTAINTY AS TO THE
MORTALITY AT FLORENCE--EVEN THE GOVERNMENT'S STATISTICS ARE VERY
DEFICIENT--CARE FOB THE SICK.

The rations of wood grew smaller as the weather grew colder, until at
last they settled down to a piece about the size of a kitchen rolling-pin
per day for each man. This had to serve for all purposes--cooking, as
well as warming. We split the rations up into slips about the size of a
carpenter's lead pencil, and used them parsimoniously, never building a
fire so big that it could not be covered with a half-peck measure.
We hovered closely over this--covering it, in fact, with our hands and
bodies, so that not a particle of heat was lost. Remembering the
Indian's sage remark, "That the white man built a big fire and sat away
off from it; the Indian made a little fire and got up close to it," we
let nothing in the way of caloric be wasted by distance. The pitch-pine
produced great quantities of soot, which, in cold and rainy days, when we
hung over the fires all the time, blackened our faces until we were
beyond the recognition of intimate friends.

There was the same economy of fuel in cooking. Less than half as much as
is contained in a penny bunch of kindling was made to suffice in
preparing our daily meal. If we cooked mush we elevated our little can
an inch from the ground upon a chunk of clay, and piled the little sticks
around it so carefully that none should burn without yielding all its
heat to the vessel, and not one more was burned than absolutely
necessary. If we baked bread we spread the dough upon our chessboard,
and propped it up before the little fire-place, and used every particle
of heat evolved. We had to pinch and starve ourselves thus, while within
five minutes' walk from the prison-gate stood enough timber to build a
great city.

The stump Andrews and I had the foresight to save now did us excellent
service. It was pitch pine, very fat with resin, and a little piece
split off each day added much to our fires and our comfort.

One morning, upon examining the pockets of an infantryman of my hundred
who had just died, I had the wonderful luck to find a silver quarter.
I hurried off to tell Andrews of our unexpected good fortune. By an
effort he succeeded in calming himself to the point of receiving the news
with philosophic coolness, and we went into Committee of the Whole Upon
the State of Our Stomachs, to consider how the money could be spent to
the best advantage. At the south side of the Stockade on the outside of
the timbers, was a sutler shop, kept by a Rebel, and communicating with
the prison by a hole two or three feet square, cut through the logs. The
Dead Line was broken at this point, so as to permit prisoners to come up
to the hole to trade. The articles for sale were corn meal and bread,
flour and wheat bread, meat, beaus, molasses, honey, sweet potatos, etc.
I went down to the place, carefully inspected the stock, priced
everything there, and studied the relative food value of each. I came
back, reported my observations and conclusions to Andrews, and then staid
at the tent while he went on a similar errand. The consideration of the
matter was continued during the day and night, and the next morning we
determined upon investing our twenty-five cents in sweet potatos, as we
could get nearly a half-bushel of them, which was "more fillin' at the
price," to use the words of Dickens's Fat Boy, than anything else offered
us. We bought the potatos, carried them home in our blanket, buried them
in the bottom of our tent, to keep them from being stolen, and restricted
ourselves to two per day until we had eaten them all.

The Rebels did something more towards properly caring for the sick than
at Andersonville. A hospital was established in the northwestern corner
of the Stockade, and separated from the rest of the camp by a line of
police, composed of our own men. In this space several large sheds were
erected, of that rude architecture common to the coarser sort of
buildings in the South. There was not a nail or a bolt used in their
entire construction. Forked posts at the ends and sides supported poles
upon which were laid the long "shakes," or split shingles, forming the
roofs, and which were held in place by other poles laid upon them.
The sides and ends were enclosed by similar "shakes," and altogether they
formed quite a fair protection against the weather. Beds of pine leaves
were provided for the sick, and some coverlets, which our Sanitary
Commission had been allowed to send through. But nothing was done to
bathe or cleanse them, or to exchange their lice-infested garments for
others less full of torture. The long tangled hair and whiskers were not
cut, nor indeed were any of the commonest suggestions for the improvement
of the condition of the sick put into execution. Men who had laid in
their mud hovels until they had become helpless and hopeless, were
admitted to the hospital, usually only to die.

The diseases were different in character from those which swept off the
prisoners at Andersonville. There they were mostly of the digestive
organs; here of the respiratory. The filthy, putrid, speedily fatal
gangrene of Andersonville became here a dry, slow wasting away of the
parts, which continued for weeks, even months, without being necessarily
fatal. Men's feet and legs, and less frequently their hands and arms,
decayed and sloughed off. The parts became so dead that a knife could be
run through them without causing a particle of pain. The dead flesh hung
on to the bones and tendons long after the nerves and veins had ceased to
perform their functions, and sometimes startled one by dropping off in a
lump, without causing pain or hemorrhage.

The appearance of these was, of course, frightful, or would have been,
had we not become accustomed to them. The spectacle of men with their
feet and legs a mass of dry ulceration, which had reduced the flesh to
putrescent deadness, and left the tendons standing out like cords, was
too common to excite remark or even attention. Unless the victim was a
comrade, no one specially heeded his condition. Lung diseases and low
fevers ravaged the camp, existing all the time in a more or less virulent
condition, according to the changes of the weather, and occasionally
ragging in destructive epidemics. I am unable to speak with any degree
of definiteness as to the death rate, since I had ceased to interest
myself about the number dying each day. I had now been a prisoner a
year, and had become so torpid and stupefied, mentally and physically,
that I cared comparatively little for anything save the rations of food
and of fuel. The difference of a few spoonfuls of meal, or a large
splinter of wood in the daily issues to me, were of more actual
importance than the increase or decrease of the death rate by a half a
score or more. At Andersonville I frequently took the trouble to count
the number of dead and living, but all curiosity of this kind had now
died out.

Nor can I find that anybody else is in possession of much more than my
own information on the subject. Inquiry at the War Department has
elicited the following letters:

I.

The prison records of Florence, S. C., have never come to light, and
therefore the number of prisoners confined there could not be ascertained
from the records on file in this office; nor do I think that any
statement purporting to show that number has ever been made.

In the report to Congress of March 1, 1869, it was shown from records as
follows:

Escaped, fifty-eight; paroled, one; died, two thousand seven hundred and
ninety-three. Total, two thousand eight hundred and fifty-two.

Since date of said report there have been added to the records as
follows:

Died, two hundred and twelve; enlisted in Rebel army, three hundred and
twenty-six. Total, five hundred and thirty-eight.

Making a total disposed of from there, as shown by records on file, of
three thousand three hundred and ninety.

This, no doubt, is a small proportion of the number actually confined
there.

The hospital register on file contains that part only of the alphabet
subsequent to, and including part of the letter S, but from this
register, it is shown that the prisoners were arranged in hundreds and
thousands, and the hundred and thousand to which he belonged is recorded
opposite each man's name on said register. Thus:

"John Jones, 11th thousand, 10th hundred."

Eleven thousand being the highest number thus recorded, it is fair to
presume that not less than that number were confined there on a certain
date, and that more than that number were confined there during the time
it was continued as a prison.

II

Statement showing the whole number of Federals and Confederates captured,
(less the number paroled on the field), the number who died while
prisoners, and the percentage of deaths, 1861-1865

FEDERALS
Captured .................................................. 187,818
Died, (as shown by prison and hospital records on file).... 30,674
Percentage of deaths ...................................... 16.375

CONFEDERATES
Captured .................................................. 227,570
Died ...................................................... 26,774
Percentage of deaths ...................................... 11.768

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