"Thank God that Richmond is at last rid of old Winder. God have mercy
upon those to whom he has been sent."

Remorseless and cruel as his conduct of the office of Provost Marshal
General was, it gave little hint of the extent to which he would go in
that of Commissary General of Prisoners. Before, he was restrained
somewhat by public opinion and the laws of the land. These no longer
deterred him. From the time he assumed command of all the Prisons east
of the Mississippi--some time in the Fall of 1863--until death removed
him, January 1, 1865--certainly not less than twenty-five thousand
incarcerated men died in the most horrible manner that the mind can
conceive. He cannot be accused of exaggeration, when, surveying the
thousands of new graves at Andersonville, he could say with a quiet
chuckle that he was "doing more to kill off the Yankees than twenty
regiments at the front." No twenty regiments in the Rebel Army ever
succeeded in slaying anything like thirteen thousand Yankees in six
months, or any other time. His cold blooded cruelty was such as to
disgust even the Rebel officers. Colonel D. T. Chandler, of the Rebel
War Department, sent on a tour of inspection to Andersonville, reported
back, under date of August 5, 1864:

"My duty requires me respectfully to recommend a change in the officer in
command of the post, Brigadier General John H. Winder, and the
substitution in his place of some one who unites both energy and good
judgment with some feelings of humanity and consideration for the welfare
and comfort, as far as is consistent with their safe keeping, of the vast
number of unfortunates placed under his control; some one who, at least,
will not advocate deliberately, and in cold blood, the propriety of
leaving them in their present condition until their number is
sufficiently reduced by death to make the present arrangements suffice
for their accommodation, and who will not consider it a matter of self-
laudation and boasting that he has never been inside of the Stockade--a
place the horrors of which it is difficult to describe, and which is a
disgrace to civilization--the condition of which he might, by the
exercise of a little energy and judgment, even with the limited means at
his command, have considerably improved."

In his examination touching this report, Colonel Chandler says:

"I noticed that General Winder seemed very indifferent to the welfare of
the prisoners, indisposed to do anything, or to do as much as I thought
he ought to do, to alleviate their sufferings. I remonstrated with him
as well as I could, and he used that language which I reported to the
Department with reference to it--the language stated in the report. When
I spoke of the great mortality existing among the prisoners, and pointed
out to him that the sickly season was coming on, and that it must
necessarily increase unless something was done for their relief--the
swamp, for instance, drained, proper food furnished, and in better
quantity, and other sanitary suggestions which I made to him--he replied
to me that he thought it was better to see half of them die than to take
care of the men."

It was he who could issue such an order as this, when it was supposed
that General Stoneman was approaching Andersonville:

ANDERSONVILLE, Ga., July 27, 1864.
The officers on duty and in charge of the Battery of Florida Artillery at
the time will, upon receiving notice that the enemy has approached within
seven miles of this post, open upon the Stockade with grapeshot, without
reference to the situation beyond these lines of defense.

Brigadier General Commanding.

This man was not only unpunished, but the Government is to-day supporting
his children in luxury by the rent it pays for the use of his property--
the well-known Winder building, which is occupied by one of the
Departments at Washington.

I confess that all my attempts to satisfactorily analyze Winder's
character and discover a sufficient motive for his monstrous conduct have
been futile. Even if we imagine him inspired by a hatred of the people
of the North that rose to fiendishness, we can not understand him.
It seems impossible for the mind of any man to cherish so deep and
insatiable an enmity against his fellow-creatures that it could not be
quenched and turned to pity by the sight of even one day's misery at
Andersonville or Florence. No one man could possess such a grievous
sense of private or national wrongs as to be proof against the daily
spectacle of thousands of his own fellow citizens, inhabitants of the
same country, associates in the same institutions, educated in the same
principles, speaking the same language--thousands of his brethren in
race, creed, and all that unite men into great communities, starving,
rotting and freezing to death.

There is many a man who has a hatred so intense that nothing but the
death of the detested one will satisfy it. A still fewer number thirst
for a more comprehensive retribution; they would slay perhaps a half-
dozen persons; and there may be such gluttons of revenge as would not be
satisfied with the sacrifice of less than a score or two, but such would
be monsters of whom there have been very few, even in fiction. How must
they all bow their diminished heads before a man who fed his animosity
fat with tens of thousands of lives.

But, what also militates greatly against the presumption that either
revenge or an abnormal predisposition to cruelty could have animated
Winder, is that the possession of any two such mental traits so strongly
marked would presuppose a corresponding activity of other intellectual
faculties, which was not true of him, as from all I can learn of him his
mind was in no respect extraordinary.

It does not seem possible that he had either the brain to conceive, or
the firmness of purpose to carry out so gigantic and long-enduring a
career of cruelty, because that would imply superhuman qualities in a man
who had previously held his own very poorly in the competition with other

The probability is that neither Winder nor his direct superiors--Howell
Cobb and Jefferson Davis--conceived in all its proportions the gigantic
engine of torture and death they were organizing; nor did they comprehend
the enormity of the crime they were committing. But they were willing to
do much wrong to gain their end; and the smaller crimes of to-day
prepared them for greater ones to-morrow, and still greater ones the day
following. Killing ten men a day on Belle Isle in January, by starvation
and hardship, led very easily to killing one hundred men a day in
Andersonville, in July, August and September. Probably at the beginning
of the war they would have felt uneasy at slaying one man per day by such
means, but as retribution came not, and as their appetite for slaughter
grew with feeding, and as their sympathy with human misery atrophied from
long suppression, they ventured upon ever widening ranges of
destructiveness. Had the war lasted another year, and they lived, five
hundred deaths a day would doubtless have been insufficient to disturb

Winder doubtless went about his part of the task of slaughter coolly,
leisurely, almost perfunctorily. His training in the Regular Army was
against the likelihood of his displaying zeal in anything. He instituted
certain measures, and let things take their course. That course was a
rapid transition from bad to worse, but it was still in the direction of
his wishes, and, what little of his own energy was infused into it was in
the direction of impetus,-not of controlling or improving the course.
To have done things better would have involved soma personal discomfort.
He was not likely to incur personal discomfort to mitigate evils that
were only afflicting someone else. By an effort of one hour a day for
two weeks he could have had every man in Andersonville and Florence given
good shelter through his own exertions. He was not only too indifferent
and too lazy to do this, but he was too malignant; and this neglect to
allow--simply allow, remember--the prisoners to protect their lives by
providing their own shelter, gives the key to his whole disposition,
and would stamp his memory with infamy, even if there were no other
charges against him.



While I was at Savannah I got hold of a primary geography in possession
of one of the prisoners, and securing a fragment of a lead pencil from
one comrade, and a sheet of note paper from another, I made a copy of the
South Carolina and Georgia sea coast, for the use of Andrews and myself
in attempting to escape. The reader remembers the ill success of all our
efforts in that direction. When we were at Blackshear we still had the
map, and intended to make another effort," as soon as the sign got
right." One day while we were waiting for this, Walter Hartsough, a
Sergeant of Company g, of our battalion, came to me and said:

"Mc., I wish you'd lend me your map a little while. I want to make a

I handed it over to him, and never saw him more, as almost immediately
after we were taken out "on parole" and sent to Florence. I heard from
other comrades of the battalion that he had succeeded in getting past the
guard line and into the Woods, which was the last they ever heard of him.
Whether starved to death in some swamp, whether torn to pieces by dogs,
or killed by the rifles of his pursuers, they knew not. The reader can
judge of my astonishment as well as pleasure, at receiving among the
dozens of letters which came to me every day while this account was
appearing in the BLADE, one signed "Walter Hartsough, late of Co. K,
Sixteenth Illinois Cavalry." It was like one returned from the grave,
and the next mail took a letter to him, inquiring eagerly of his
adventures after we separated. I take pleasure in presenting the reader
with his reply, which was only intended as a private communication to
myself. The first part of the letter I omit, as it contains only gossip
about our old comrades, which, however interesting to myself, would
hardly be so to the general reader.

May 27, 1879.

Dear Comrade Mc.:
I have been living in this town for ten years, running a general store,
under the firm name of Hartsough & Martin, and have been more successful
than I anticipated.

I made my escape from Thomasville, Ga., Dec. 7, 1864, by running the
guards, in company with Frank Hommat, of Company M, and a man by the name
of Clipson, of the Twenty-First Illinois Infantry. I had heard the
officers in charge of us say that they intended to march us across to the
other road, and take us back to Andersonville. We concluded we would
take a heavy risk on our lives rather than return there. By stinting
ourselves we had got a little meal ahead, which we thought we would bake
up for the journey, but our appetites got the better of us, and we ate it
all up before starting. We were camped in the woods then, with no
Stockade--only a line of guards around us. We thought that by a little
strategy and boldness we could pass these. We determined to try.
Clipson was to go to the right, Hommat in the center, and myself to the
left. We all slipped through, without a shot. Our rendezvous was to be
the center of a small swamp, through which flowed a small stream that
supplied the prisoners with water. Hommat and I got together soon after
passing the guard lines, and we began signaling for Clipson. We laid
down by a large log that lay across the stream, and submerged our limbs
and part of our bodies in the water, the better to screen ourselves from
observation. Pretty soon a Johnny came along with a bunch of turnip
tops, that he was taking up to the camp to trade to the prisoners. As he
passed over the log I could have caught him by the leg, which I intended
to do if he saw us, but he passed along, heedless of those concealed
under his very feet, which saved him a ducking at least, for we were
resolved to drown him if he discovered us. Waiting here a little longer
we left our lurking place and made a circuit of the edge of the swamp,
still signaling for Clipson. But we could find nothing of him, and at
last had to give him up.

We were now between Thomasville and the camp, and as Thomasville was the
end of the railroad, the woods were full of Rebels waiting
transportation, and we approached the road carefully, supposing that it
was guarded to keep their own men from going to town. We crawled up to
the road, but seeing no one, started across it. At that moment a guard
about thirty yards to our left, who evidently supposed that we were
Rebels, sang out:

"Whar ye gwine to thar boys?"

I answered:

"Jest a-gwine out here a little ways."

Frank whispered me to run, but I said, "No; wait till he halts us, and
then run." He walked up to where we had crossed his beat--looked after
us a few minutes, and then, to our great relief, walked back to his post.
After much trouble we succeeded in getting through all the troops, and
started fairly on our way. We tried to shape our course toward Florida.
The country was very swampy, the night rainy and dark, no stars were out
to guide us, and we made such poor progress that when daylight came we
were only eight miles from our starting place, and close to a road
leading from Thomasville to Monticello. Finding a large turnip patch,
we filled our pockets, and then hunted a place to lie concealed in during
the day. We selected a thicket in the center of a large pasture. We
crawled into this and laid down. Some negros passed close to us, going
to their work in an adjoining field. They had a bucket of victuals with
them for dinner, which they hung on the fence in such a way that we could
have easily stolen it without detection. The temptation to hungry men
was very great, but we concluded that it was best and safest to let it

As the negros returned from work in the evening they separated, one old
man passing on the opposite side of the thicket from the rest. We halted
him and told him that we were Rebs, who had taken a French leave of
Thomasville; that we were tired of guarding Yanks, and were going home;
and further, that we were hungry, and wanted something to eat. He told
us that he was the boss on the plantation. His master lived in
Thomasville. He, himself, did not have much to eat, but he would show us
where to stay, and when the folks went to bed he would bring us some
food. Passing up close to the negro quarters we got over the fence and
lay down behind it, to wait for our supper.

«- 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 -»