Andersonville, Volume 2
Part 2 out of 3
and made the excuse for opening with the artillery. Wirz, who happened
to be in a complaisant humor, approved of the design, and allowed him the
use of the enclosure of the North Gate to confine his prisoners in.
In spite of Key's efforts at secrecy, information as to his scheme
reached the Raiders. It was debated at their headquarters, and decided
there that Key must be killed. Three men were selected to do this work.
They called on Key, a dusk, on the evening of the 2d of July. In
response to their inquiries, he came out of the blanket-covered hole on
the hillside that he called his tent. They told him what they had heard,
and asked if it was true. He said it was. One of them then drew a
knife, and the other two, "billies" to attack him. But, anticipating
trouble, Key had procured a revolver which one of the Pilgrims had
brought in in his knapsack and drawing this he drove them off, but
without firing a shot.
The occurrence caused the greatest excitement. To us of the Regulators
it showed that the Raiders had penetrated our designs, and were prepared
for them. To the great majority of the prisoners it was the first
intimation that such a thing was contemplated; the news spread from squad
to squad with the greatest rapidity, and soon everybody was discussing
the chances of the movement. For awhile men ceased their interminable
discussion of escape and exchange--let those over worked words and themes
have a rare spell of repose--and debated whether the Raiders would whip
the regulators, or the Regulators conquer the Raiders. The reasons which
I have previously enumerated, induced a general disbelief in the
probability of our success. The Raiders were in good health well fed,
used to operating together, and had the confidence begotten by a long
series of successes. The Regulators lacked in all these respects.
Whether Key had originally fixed on the next day for making the attack,
or whether this affair precipitated the crisis, I know not, but later in
the evening he sent us all order: to be on our guard all night, and ready
for action the next morning.
There was very little sleep anywhere that night. The Rebels learned
through their spies that something unusual was going on inside, and as
their only interpretation of anything unusual there was a design upon the
Stockade, they strengthened the guards, took additional precautions in
every way, and spent the hours in anxious anticipation.
We, fearing that the Raiders might attempt to frustrate the scheme by an
attack in overpowering force on Key's squad, which would be accompanied
by the assassination of him and Limber Jim, held ourselves in readiness
to offer any assistance that might be needed.
The Raiders, though confident of success, were no less exercised. They
threw out pickets to all the approaches to their headquarters, and
provided otherwise against surprise. They had smuggled in some canteens
of a cheap, vile whisky made from sorghum--and they grew quite hilarious
in their Big Tent over their potations. Two songs had long ago been
accepted by us as peculiarly the Raiders' own--as some one in their crowd
sang them nearly every evening, and we never heard them anywhere else.
The first began:
In Athol lived a man named Jerry Lanagan;
He battered away till he hadn't a pound.
His father he died, and he made him a man agin;
Left him a farm of ten acres of ground.
The other related the exploits of an Irish highwayman named Brennan,
whose chief virtue was that
What he rob-bed from the rich he gave unto the poor.
And this was the villainous chorus in which they all joined, and sang in
such a way as suggested highway robbery, murder, mayhem and arson:
Brennan on the moor!
Brennan on the moor!
Proud and undaunted stood
John Brennan on the moor.
They howled these two yearly the live-long night. They became eventually
quite monotonous to us, who were waiting and watching. It would have
been quite a relief if they had thrown in a new one every hour or so,
by way of variety.
Morning at last came. Our companies mustered on their grounds, and then
marched to the space on the South Side where the rations were issued.
Each man was armed with a small club, secured to his wrist by a string.
The Rebels--with their chronic fear of an outbreak animating them--had
all the infantry in line of battle with loaded guns. The cannon in the
works were shotted, the fuses thrust into the touch-holes and the men
stood with lanyards in hand ready to mow down everybody, at any instant.
The sun rose rapidly through the clear sky, which soon glowed down on us
like a brazen oven. The whole camp gathered where it could best view the
encounter. This was upon the North Side. As I have before explained the
two sides sloped toward each other like those of a great trough. The
Raiders' headquarters stood upon the center of the southern slope, and
consequently those standing on the northern slope saw everything as if
upon the stage of a theater.
While standing in ranks waiting the orders to move, one of my comrades
touched me on the arm, and said:
"My God! just look over there!"
I turned from watching the Rebel artillerists, whose intentions gave me
more uneasiness than anything else, and looked in the direction indicated
by the speaker. The sight was the strangest one my eyes ever
encountered. There were at least fifteen thousand perhaps twenty
thousand--men packed together on the bank, and every eye was turned on
us. The slope was such that each man's face showed over the shoulders of
the one in front of him, making acres on acres of faces. It was as if
the whole broad hillside was paved or thatched with human countenances.
When all was ready we moved down upon the Big Tent, in as good order as
we could preserve while passing through the narrow tortuous paths between
the tents. Key, Limber Jim, Ned Carigan, Goody, Tom Larkin, and Ned
Johnson led the advance with their companies. The prison was as silent
as a graveyard. As we approached, the Raiders massed themselves in a
strong, heavy line, with the center, against which our advance was
moving, held by the most redoubtable of their leaders. How many there
were of them could not be told, as it was impossible to say where their
line ended and the mass of spectators began. They could not themselves
tell, as the attitude of a large portion of the spectators would be
determined by which way the battle went.
Not a blow was struck until the lines came close together. Then the
Raider center launched itself forward against ours, and grappled savagely
with the leading Regulators. For an instant--it seemed an hour--the
struggle was desperate.
Strong, fierce men clenched and strove to throttle each other; great
muscles strained almost to bursting, and blows with fist and club-dealt
with all the energy of mortal hate--fell like hail. One-perhaps
two-endless minutes the lines surged--throbbed--backward and forward a
step or two, and then, as if by a concentration of mighty effort, our
men flung the Raider line back from it--broken--shattered. The next
instant our leaders were striding through the mass like raging lions.
Carrigan, Limber Jim, Larkin, Johnson and Goody each smote down a swath
of men before them, as they moved resistlessly forward.
We light weights had been sent around on the flanks to separate the
spectators from the combatants, strike the Raiders 'en revers,' and,
as far as possible, keep the crowd from reinforcing them.
In five minutes after the first blow--was struck the overthrow of the
Raiders was complete. Resistance ceased, and they sought safety in
As the result became apparent to the--watchers on the opposite hillside,
they vented their pent-up excitement in a yell that made the very ground
tremble, and we answered them with a shout that expressed not only our
exultation over our victory, but our great relief from the intense strain
we had long borne.
We picked up a few prisoners on the battle field, and retired without
making any special effort to get any more then, as we knew, that they
could not escape us.
We were very tired, and very hungry. The time for drawing rations had
arrived. Wagons containing bread and mush had driven to the gates, but
Wirz would not allow these to be opened, lest in the excited condition of
the men an attempt might be made to carry them. Key ordered operations
to cease, that Wirz might be re-assured and let the rations enter.
It was in vain. Wirz was thoroughly scared. The wagons stood out in the
hot sun until the mush fermented and soured, and had to be thrown away,
while we event rationless to bed, and rose the next day with more than
usually empty stomachs to goad us on to our work.
WHY THE REGULATORS WERE NOT ASSISTED BY THE ENTIRE CAMP--PECULIARITIES OF
BOYS FROM DIFFERENT SECTIONS--HUNTING THE RAIDERS DOWN--EXPLOITS OF MY
LEFT-HANDED LIEUTENANT--RUNNING THE GAUNTLET.
I may not have made it wholly clear to the reader why we did not have the
active assistance of the whole prison in the struggle with the Raiders.
There were many reasons for this. First, the great bulk of the prisoners
were new comers, having been, at the farthest, but three or four weeks in
the Stockade. They did not comprehend the situation of affairs as we
older prisoners did. They did not understand that all the outrages--or
very nearly all--were the work of--a relatively small crowd of graduates
from the metropolitan school of vice. The activity and audacity of the
Raiders gave them the impression that at least half the able-bodied men
in the Stockade were engaged in these depredations. This is always the
case. A half dozen burglars or other active criminals in a town will
produce the impression that a large portion of the population are law
breakers. We never estimated that the raiding N'Yaarkers, with their
spies and other accomplices, exceeded five hundred, but it would have
been difficult to convince a new prisoner that there were not thousands
of them. Secondly, the prisoners were made up of small squads from every
regiment at the front along the whole line from the Mississippi to the
Atlantic. These were strangers to and distrustful of all out side their
own little circles. The Eastern men were especially so. The
Pennsylvanians and New Yorkers each formed groups, and did not fraternize
readily with those outside their State lines. The New Jerseyans held
aloof from all the rest, while the Massachusetts soldiers had very little
in Common with anybody--even their fellow New Englanders. The Michigan
men were modified New Englanders. They had the same tricks of speech;
they said "I be" for "I am," and "haag" for "hog;" "Let me look at your
knife half a second," or "Give me just a sup of that water," where we
said simply "Lend me your knife," or "hand me a drink." They were less
reserved than the true Yankees, more disposed to be social, and, with all
their eccentricities, were as manly, honorable a set of fellows as it was
my fortune to meet with in the army. I could ask no better comrades than
the boys of the Third Michigan Infantry, who belonged to the same
"Ninety" with me. The boys from Minnesota and Wisconsin were very much
like those from Michigan. Those from Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Iowa and
Kansas all seemed cut off the same piece. To all intents and purposes
they might have come from the same County. They spoke the same dialect,
read the same newspapers, had studied McGuffey's Readers, Mitchell's
Geography, and Ray's Arithmetics at school, admired the same great men,
and held generally the same opinions on any given subject. It was never
difficult to get them to act in unison--they did it spontaneously; while
it required an effort to bring about harmony of action with those from
other sections. Had the Western boys in prison been thoroughly advised
of the nature of our enterprise, we could, doubtless, have commanded
their cordial assistance, but they were not, and there was no way in
which it could be done readily, until after the decisive blow was struck.
The work of arresting the leading Raiders went on actively all day on the
Fourth of July. They made occasional shows of fierce resistance, but the
events of the day before had destroyed their prestige, broken their
confidence, and driven away from their, support very many who followed
their lead when they were considered all-powerful. They scattered from
their, former haunts, and mingled with the crowds in other parts of the
prison, but were recognized, and reported to Key, who sent parties to
arrest them. Several times they managed to collect enough adherents to
drive off the squads sent after them, but this only gave them a short
respite, for the squad would return reinforced, and make short work of
them. Besides, the prisoners generally were beginning to understand and
approve of the Regulators' movement, and were disposed to give all the
Myself and "Egypt," my taciturn Lieutenant of the sinewy left arm, were
sent with our company to arrest Pete Donnelly, a notorious character, and
leader of, a bad crowd. He was more "knocker" than Raider, however.
He was an old Pemberton building acquaintance, and as we marched up to
where he was standing at the head of his gathering clan, he recognized me
"Hello, Illinoy," (the name by which I was generally known in prison)
"what do you want here?"
I replied, "Pete, Key has sent me for you. I want you to go to
"What the ---- does Key want with me?"
"I don't know, I'm sure; he only said to bring you."
"But I haven't had anything to do with them other snoozers you have been
a-having trouble with."
"I don't know anything about that; you can talk to Key as to that.
I only know that we are sent for you."
"Well, you don't think you can take me unless I choose to go? You haint
got anybody in that crowd big enough to make it worth while for him to
waste his time trying it."
I replied diffidently that one never knew what--he could do till he
tried; that while none of us were very big, we were as willing a lot of
little fellows as he ever saw, and if it were all the same to him, we
would undertake to waste a little time getting him to headquarters.
The conversation seemed unnecessarily long to "Egypt," who stood by my
side; about a half step in advance. Pete was becoming angrier and more
defiant every minute. His followers were crowding up to us, club in
hand. Finally Pete thrust his fist in my face, and roared out:
"By ---, I ain't a going with ye, and ye can't take me,
you ---- ---- ---- "
This was "Egypt's" cue. His long left arm uncoupled like the loosening
of the weight of a pile-driver. It caught Mr. Donnelly under the chin,
fairly lifted him from his feet, and dropped him on his back among his
followers. It seemed to me that the predominating expression in his face
as he went, over was that of profound wonder as to where that blow could
have come from, and why he did not see it in time to dodge or ward it
As Pete dropped, the rest of us stepped forward with our clubs, to engage
his followers, while "Egypt" and one or two others tied his hands and
otherwise secured him. But his henchmen made no effort to rescue him,
and we carried him over to headquarters without molestation.
The work of arresting increased in interest and excitement until it
developed into the furore of a hunt, with thousands eagerly engaged in
it. The Raiders' tents were torn down and pillaged. Blankets, tent
poles, and cooking utensils were carried off as spoils, and the ground
was dug over for secreted property. A large quantity of watches, chains,
knives, rings, gold pens, etc., etc.--the booty of many a raid--was
found, and helped to give impetus to the hunt. Even the Rebel
Quartermaster, with the characteristic keen scent of the Rebels for
spoils, smelled from the outside the opportunity for gaining plunder,
and came in with a squad of Rebels equipped with spades, to dig for
buried treasures. How successful he was I know not, as I took no part
in any of the operations of that nature.
It was claimed that several skeletons of victims of the Raiders were
found buried beneath the tent. I cannot speak with any certainty as to
this, though my impression is that at least one was found.
By evening Key had perhaps one hundred and twenty-five of the most noted
Raiders in his hands. Wirz had allowed him the use of the small stockade
forming the entrance to the North Gate to confine them in.
The next thing was the judgment and punishment of the arrested ones.
For this purpose Key organized a court martial composed of thirteen
Sergeants, chosen from the, latest arrivals of prisoners, that they might
have no prejudice against the Raiders. I believe that a man named Dick
McCullough, belonging to the Third Missouri Cavalry, was the President of
the Court. The trial was carefully conducted, with all the formality of
a legal procedure that the Court and those managing the matter could
remember as applicable to the crimes with which the accused were charged.
Each of these confronted by the witnesses who testified against him, and
allowed to cross-examine them to any extent he desired.
The defense was managed by one of their crowd, the foul-tongued Tombs
shyster, Pete Bradley, of whom I have before spoken. Such was the fear
of the vengeance of the Raiders and their friends that many who had been
badly abused dared not testify against them, dreading midnight
assassination if they did. Others would not go before the Court except
at night. But for all this there was no lack of evidence; there were
thousands who had been robbed and maltreated, or who had seen these
outrages committed on others, and the boldness of the leaders in their
bight of power rendered their identification a matter of no difficulty
The trial lasted several days, and concluded with sentencing quite a
large number to run the gauntlet, a smaller number to wear balls and
chains, and the following six to be hanged:
John Sarsfield, One Hundred and Forty-Fourth New York.
William Collins, alias "Mosby," Company D, Eighty-Eighth Pennsylvania,
Charles Curtis, Company A, Fifth Rhode Island Artillery.
Patrick Delaney, Company E, Eighty-Third Pennsylvania.
A. Muir, United States Navy.
Terence Sullivan, Seventy-Second New York.
These names and regiments are of little consequence, however, as I
believe all the rascals were professional bounty-jumpers, and did not
belong to any regiment longer than they could find an opportunity to
desert and join another.
Those sentenced to ball-and-chain were brought in immediately, and had
the irons fitted to them that had been worn by some of our men as a
punishment for trying to escape.
It was not yet determined how punishment should be meted out to the
remainder, but circumstances themselves decided the matter. Wirz became
tired of guarding so large a number as Key had arrested, and he informed
Key that he should turn them back into the Stockade immediately. Key
begged for little farther time to consider the disposition of the cases,
but Wirz refused it, and ordered the Officer of the Guard to return all
arrested, save those sentenced to death, to the Stockade. In the
meantime the news had spread through the prison that the Raiders were to
be sent in again unpunished, and an angry mob, numbering some thousands,
and mostly composed of men who had suffered injuries at the hands of the
marauders, gathered at the South Gate, clubs in hand, to get such
satisfaction as they could out of the rascals. They formed in two long,
parallel lines, facing inward, and grimly awaited the incoming of the
objects of their vengeance.
The Officer of the Guard opened the wicket in the gate, and began forcing
the Raiders through it--one at a time--at the point of the bayonet, and
each as he entered was told what he already realized well--that he must
run for his life. They did this with all the energy that they possessed,
and as they ran blows rained on their heads, arms and backs. If they
could succeed in breaking through the line at any place they were
generally let go without any further punishment. Three of the number
were beaten to death. I saw one of these killed. I had no liking for
the gauntlet performance, and refused to have anything to do with it,
as did most, if not all, of my crowd. While the gauntlet was in
operation, I was standing by my tent at the head of a little street,
about two hundred feet from the line, watching what was being done.
A sailor was let in. He had a large bowie knife concealed about his
person somewhere, which he drew, and struck savagely with at his
tormentors on either side. They fell back from before him, but closed in
behind and pounded him terribly. He broke through the line, and ran up
the street towards me. About midway of the distance stood a boy who had
helped carry a dead man out during the day, and while out had secured a
large pine rail which he had brought in with him. He was holding this
straight up in the air, as if at a "present arms." He seemed to have
known from the first that the Raider would run that way. Just as he came
squarely under it, the boy dropped the rail like the bar of a toll gate.
It struck the Raider across the head, felled him as if by a shot, and his
pursuers then beat him to death.
THE EXECUTION--BUILDING THE SCAFFOLD--DOUBTS OF THE CAMP-CAPTAIN WIRZ
THINKS IT IS PROBABLY A RUSE TO FORCE THE STOCKADE--HIS PREPARATIONS
AGAINST SUCH AN ATTEMPT--ENTRANCE OF THE DOOMED ONES--THEY REALIZE THEIR
FATE--ONE MAKES A DESPERATE ATTEMPT TO ESCAPE--HIS RECAPTURE--INTENSE
EXCITEMENT--WIRZ ORDERS THE GUNS TO OPEN--FORTUNATELY THEY DO NOT-THE SIX
ARE HANGED--ONE BREAKS HIS ROPE--SCENE WHEN THE RAIDERS ARE CUT DOWN.
It began to be pretty generally understood through the prison that six
men had been sentenced to be hanged, though no authoritative announcement
of the fact had been made. There was much canvassing as to where they
should be executed, and whether an attempt to hang them inside of the
Stockade would not rouse their friends to make a desperate effort to
rescue them, which would precipitate a general engagement of even larger
proportions than that of the 3d. Despite the result of the affairs of
that and the succeeding days, the camp was not yet convinced that the
Raiders were really conquered, and the Regulators themselves were not
thoroughly at ease on that score. Some five thousand or six thousand new
prisoners had come in since the first of the month, and it was claimed
that the Raiders had received large reinforcements from those,--a claim
rendered probable by most of the new-comers being from the Army of the
Key and those immediately about him kept their own counsel in the matter,
and suffered no secret of their intentions to leak out, until on the
morning of the 11th, when it became generally known that the sentences
were too be carried into effect that day, and inside the prison.
My first direct information as to this was by a messenger from Key with
an order to assemble my company and stand guard over the carpenters who
were to erect the scaffold. He informed me that all the Regulators would
be held in readiness to come to our relief if we were attacked in force.
I had hoped that if the men were to be hanged I would be spared the
unpleasant duty of assisting, for, though I believed they richly deserved
that punishment, I had much rather some one else administered it upon
them. There was no way out of it, however, that I could see, and so
"Egypt" and I got the boys together, and marched down to the designated
place, which was an open space near the end of the street running from
the South Gate, and kept vacant for the purpose of issuing rations.
It was quite near the spot where the Raiders' Big Tent had stood, and
afforded as good a view to the rest of the camp as could be found.
Key had secured the loan of a few beams and rough planks, sufficient to
build a rude scaffold with. Our first duty was to care for these as they
came in, for such was the need of wood, and plank for tent purposes, that
they would scarcely have fallen to the ground before they were spirited
away, had we not stood over them all the time with clubs.
The carpenters sent by Key came over and set to work. The N'Yaarkers
gathered around in considerable numbers, sullen and abusive. They cursed
us with all their rich vocabulary of foul epithets, vowed that we should
never carry out the execution, and swore that they had marked each one
for vengeance. We returned the compliments in kind, and occasionally it
seemed as if a general collision was imminent; but we succeeded in
avoiding this, and by noon the scaffold was finished. It was a very
simple affair. A stout beam was fastened on the top of two posts, about
fifteen feet high. At about the height of a man's head a couple of
boards stretched across the space between the posts, and met in the
center. The ends at the posts laid on cleats; the ends in the center
rested upon a couple of boards, standing upright, and each having a piece
of rope fastened through a hole in it in such a manner, that a man could
snatch it from under the planks serving as the floor of the scaffold, and
let the whole thing drop. A rude ladder to ascend by completed the
As the arrangements neared completion the excitement in and around the
prison grew intense. Key came over with the balance of the Regulators,
and we formed a hollow square around the scaffold, our company marking
the line on the East Side. There were now thirty thousand in the prison.
Of these about one-third packed themselves as tightly about our square as
they could stand. The remaining twenty thousand were wedged together in
a solid mass on the North Side. Again I contemplated the wonderful,
startling, spectacle of a mosaic pavement of human faces covering the
whole broad hillside.
Outside, the Rebel, infantry was standing in the rifle pits, the
artillerymen were in place about their loaded and trained pieces, the No.
4 of each gun holding the lanyard cord in his hand, ready to fire the
piece at the instant of command. The small squad of cavalry was drawn up
on the hill near the Star Fort, and near it were the masters of the
hounds, with their yelping packs.
All the hangers-on of the Rebel camp--clerks, teamsters, employer,
negros, hundreds of white and colored women, in all forming a motley
crowd of between one and two thousand, were gathered together in a group
between the end of the rifle pits and the Star Fort. They had a good
view from there, but a still better one could be had, a little farther to
the right, and in front of the guns. They kept edging up in that
direction, as crowds will, though they knew the danger they would incur
if the artillery opened.
The day was broiling hot. The sun shot his perpendicular rays down with
blistering fierceness, and the densely packed, motionless crowds made the
heat almost insupportable.
Key took up his position inside the square to direct matters. With him
were Limber Jim, Dick McCullough, and one or two others. Also, Ned
Johnson, Tom Larkin, Sergeant Goody, and three others who were to act as
hangmen. Each of these six was provided with a white sack, such as the
Rebels brought in meal in. Two Corporals of my company--"Stag" Harris
and Wat Payne--were appointed to pull the stays from under the platform
at the signal.
A little after noon the South Gate opened, and Wirz rode in, dressed in a
suit of white duck, and mounted on his white horse--a conjunction which
had gained for him the appellation of "Death on a Pale Horse." Behind
him walked the faithful old priest, wearing his Church's purple insignia
of the deepest sorrow, and reading the service for the condemned. The
six doomed men followed, walking between double ranks of Rebel guards.
All came inside the hollow square and halted. Wirz then said:
"Brizners, I return to you dose men so Boot as I got dem. You haf tried
dem yourselves, and found dem guilty--I haf had notting to do wit it.
I vash my hands of eferyting connected wit dem. Do wit dem as you like,
and may Gott haf mercy on you and on dem. Garts, about face! Voryvarts,
With this he marched out and left us.
For a moment the condemned looked stunned. They seemed to comprehend for
the first time that it was really the determination of the Regulators to
hang them. Before that they had evidently thought that the talk of
hanging was merely bluff. One of them gasped out:
"My God, men, you don't really mean to hang us up there!"
Key answered grimly and laconically:
"That seems to be about the size of it."
At this they burst out in a passionate storm of intercessions and
imprecations, which lasted for a minute or so, when it was stopped by one
of them saying imperatively:
"All of you stop now, and let the priest talk for us."
At this the priest closed the book upon which he had kept his eyes bent
since his entrance, and facing the multitude on the North Side began a
plea for mercy.
The condemned faced in the, same direction, to read their fate in the
countenances of those whom he was addressing. This movement brought
Curtis--a low-statured, massively built man--on the right of their line,
and about ten or fifteen steps from my company.
The whole camp had been as still as death since Wirz's exit. The silence
seemed to become even more profound as the priest began his appeal.
For a minute every ear was strained to catch what he said. Then, as the
nearest of the thousands comprehended what he was saying they raised a
shout of "No! no!! NO!!" "Hang them! hang them!" "Don't let them go!
"Hang the rascals! hang the villains!"
"Hang,'em! hang 'em! hang 'em!"
This was taken up all over the prison, and tens of thousands throats
yelled it in a fearful chorus.
Curtis turned from the crowd with desperation convulsing his features.
Tearing off the broad-brimmed hat which he wore, he flung it on the
ground with the exclamation!
"By God, I'll die this way first!" and, drawing his head down and folding
his arms about it, he dashed forward for the center of my company, like a
great stone hurled from a catapult.
"Egypt" and I saw where he was going to strike, and ran down the line to
help stop him. As he came up we rained blows on his head with our clubs,
but so many of us struck at him at once that we broke each other's clubs
to pieces, and only knocked him on his knees. He rose with an almost
superhuman effort, and plunged into the mass beyond.
The excitement almost became delirium. For an instant I feared that
everything was gone to ruin. "Egypt" and I strained every energy to
restore our lines, before the break could be taken advantage of by the
others. Our boys behaved splendidly, standing firm, and in a few seconds
the line was restored.
As Curtis broke through, Delaney, a brawny Irishman standing next to him,
started to follow. He took one step. At the same instant Limber Jim's
long legs took three great strides, and placed him directly in front of
Delaney. Jim's right hand held an enormous bowie-knife, and as he raised
it above Delaney he hissed out:
"If you dare move another step, you open you ---- ---- ----, I'll open
you from one end to the other.
Delaney stopped. This checked the others till our lines reformed.
When Wirz saw the commotion he was panic-stricken with fear that the
long-dreaded assault on the Stockade had begun. He ran down from the
headquarter steps to the Captain of the battery, shrieking:
"Fire! fire! fire!"
The Captain, not being a fool, could see that the rush was not towards
the Stockade, but away from it, and he refrained from giving the order.
But the spectators who had gotten before the guns, heard Wirz's excited
yell, and remembering the consequences to themselves should the artillery
be discharged, became frenzied with fear, and screamed, and fell down
over and trampled upon each other in endeavoring to get away. The guards
on that side of the Stockade ran down in a panic, and the ten thousand
prisoners immediately around us, expecting no less than that the next
instant we would be swept with grape and canister, stampeded
tumultuously. There were quite a number of wells right around us, and
all of these were filled full of men that fell into them as the crowd
rushed away. Many had legs and arms broken, and I have no doubt that
several were killed.
It was the stormiest five minutes that I ever saw.
While this was going on two of my company, belonging to the Fifth Iowa
Cavalry, were in hot pursuit of Curtis. I had seen them start and
shouted to them to come back, as I feared they would be set upon by the
Raiders and murdered. But the din was so overpowering that they could not
hear me, and doubtless would not have come back if they had heard.
Curtis ran diagonally down the hill, jumping over the tents and knocking
down the men who happened in his way. Arriving at the swamp he plunged
in, sinking nearly to his hips in the fetid, filthy ooze. He forged his
way through with terrible effort. His pursuers followed his example, and
caught up to him just as he emerged on the other side. They struck him
on the back of the head with their clubs, and knocked him down.
By this time order had been restored about us. The guns remained silent,
and the crowd massed around us again. From where we were we could see
the successful end of the chase after Curtis, and could see his captors
start back with him. Their success was announced with a roar of applause
from the North Side. Both captors and captured were greatly exhausted,
and they were coming back very slowly. Key ordered the balance up on to
the scaffold. They obeyed promptly. The priest resumed his reading of
the service for the condemned. The excitement seemed to make the doomed
ones exceedingly thirsty. I never saw men drink such inordinate
quantities of water. They called for it continually, gulped down a quart
or more at a time, and kept two men going nearly all the time carrying it
When Curtis finally arrived, he sat on the ground for a minute or so, to
rest, and then, reeking with filth, slowly and painfully climbed the
steps. Delaney seemed to think he was suffering as much from fright as
anything else, and said to him:
"Come on up, now, show yourself a man, and die game."
Again the priest resumed his reading, but it had no interest to Delaney,
who kept calling out directions to Pete Donelly, who was standing in the
crowd, as to dispositions to be made of certain bits of stolen property:
to give a watch to this one, a ring to another, and so on. Once the
priest stopped and said:
"My son, let the things of this earth go, and turn your attention toward
those of heaven."
Delaney paid no attention to this admonition. The whole six then began
delivering farewell messages to those in the crowd. Key pulled a watch
from his pocket and said:
"Two minutes more to talk."
Delaney said cheerfully:
"Well, good by, b'ys; if I've hurted any of y ez, I hope ye'll forgive
me. Shpake up, now, any of yez that I've hurted, and say yell forgive
We called upon Marion Friend, whose throat Delaney had tried to cut three
weeks before while robbing him of forty dollars, to come forward, but
Friend was not in a forgiving mood, and refused with an oath.
"Time's up!" put the watch back in his pocket and raised his hand like an
officer commanding a gun. Harris and Payne laid hold of the ropes to the
supports of the planks. Each of the six hangmen tied a condemned man's
hands, pulled a meal sack down over his head, placed the noose around his
neck, drew it up tolerably close, and sprang to the ground. The priest
began praying aloud.
Key dropped his hand. Payne and Harris snatched the supports out with a
single jerk. The planks fell with a clatter. Five of the bodies swung
around dizzily in the air. The sixth that of "Mosby," a large, powerful,
raw-boned man, one of the worst in the lot, and who, among other crimes,
had killed Limber Jim's brother-broke the rope, and fell with a thud to
the ground. Some of the men ran forward, examined the body, and decided
that he still lived. The rope was cut off his neck, the meal sack
removed, and water thrown in his face until consciousness returned.
At the first instant he thought he was in eternity. He gasped out:
"Where am I? Am I in the other world?"
Limber Jim muttered that they would soon show him where he was, and went
on grimly fixing up the scaffold anew. "Mosby" soon realized what had
happened, and the unrelenting purpose of the Regulator Chiefs. Then he
began to beg piteously for his life, saying:
"O for God's sake, do not put me up there again! God has spared my life
once. He meant that you should be merciful to me."
Limber Jim deigned him no reply. When the scaffold was rearranged, and a
stout rope had replaced the broken one, he pulled the meal sack once more
over "Mosby's" head, who never ceased his pleadings. Then picking up the
large man as if he were a baby, he carried him to the scaffold and handed
him up to Tom Larkin, who fitted the noose around his neck and sprang
down. The supports had not been set with the same delicacy as at first,
and Limber Jim had to set his heel and wrench desperately at them before
he could force them out. Then "Mosby" passed away without a struggle.
After hanging till life was extinct, the bodies were cut down, the
meal-sacks pulled off their faces, and the Regulators formal two parallel
lines, through which all the prisoners passed and took a look at the
bodies. Pete Donnelly and Dick Allen knelt down and wiped the froth off
Delaney's lips, and swore vengeance against those who had done him to
AFTER THE EXECUTION--FORMATION OF A POLICE FORCE--ITS FIRST CHIEF
--"SPANKING" AN OFFENDER.
After the executions Key, knowing that he, and all those prominently
connected with the hanging, would be in hourly danger of assassination if
they remained inside, secured details as nurses and ward-masters in the
hospital, and went outside. In this crowd were Key, Ned Carrigan, Limber
Jim, Dick McCullough, the six hangmen, the two Corporals who pulled the
props from under the scaffold, and perhaps some others whom I do not now
In the meanwhile provision had been made for the future maintenance of
order in the prison by the organization of a regular police force, which
in time came to number twelve hundred men. These were divided into
companies, under appropriate officers. Guards were detailed for certain
locations, patrols passed through the camp in all directions continually,
and signals with whistles could summon sufficient assistance to suppress
any disturbance, or carry out any orders from the chief.
The chieftainship was first held by Key, but when he went outside he
appointed Sergeant A. R. Hill, of the One Hundredth O. V. I.--now a
resident of Wauseon, Ohio,--his successor. Hill was one of the
notabilities of that immense throng. A great, broad-shouldered, giant,
in the prime of his manhood--the beginning of his thirtieth year--he was
as good-natured as big, and as mild-mannered as brave. He spoke slowly,
softly, and with a slightly rustic twang, that was very tempting to a
certain class of sharps to take him up for a "luberly greeny." The man
who did so usually repented his error in sack-cloth and ashes.
Hill first came into prominence as the victor in the most stubbornly
contested fight in the prison history of Belle Isle. When the squad of
the One Hundredth Ohio--captured at Limestone Station, East Tennessee, in
September,1863--arrived on Belle Isle, a certain Jack Oliver, of the
Nineteenth Indiana, was the undisputed fistic monarch of the Island.
He did not bear his blushing honors modestly; few of a right arm that
indefinite locality known as "the middle of next week," is something
that the possessor can as little resist showing as can a girl her first
solitaire ring. To know that one can certainly strike a disagreeable
fellow out of time is pretty sure to breed a desire to do that thing
whenever occasion serves. Jack Oliver was one who did not let his biceps
rust in inaction, but thrashed everybody on the Island whom he thought
needed it, and his ideas as to those who should be included in this class
widened daily, until it began to appear that he would soon feel it his
duty to let no unwhipped man escape, but pound everybody on the Island.
One day his evil genius led him to abuse a rather elderly man belonging
to Hill's mess. As he fired off his tirade of contumely, Hill said with
more than his usual "soft" rusticity:
Jack Oliver turned on him savagely.
"Well! may be you want to take it up?"
The grin on Hill's face looked still more verdant, as he answered with
Jack foamed, but his fiercest bluster could not drive that infantile
smile from Hill's face, nor provoke a change in the calm slowness of his
It was evident that nothing would do but a battle-royal, and Jack had
sense enough to see that the imperturbable rustic was likely to give him
a job of some difficulty. He went off and came back with his clan, while
Hill's comrades of the One Hundredth gathered around to insure him fair
play. Jack pulled off his coat and vest, rolled up his sleeves, and made
other elaborate preparations for the affray. Hill, without removing a
garment, said, as he surveyed him with a mocking smile:
Jack roared out,
"By ---, I'll make you partickeler before I get through with you. Now,
how shall we settle this? Regular stand-up-and knock-down, or rough and
If anything Hill's face was more vacantly serene, and his tones blander
than ever, as he answered:
They closed. Hill feinted with his left, and as Jack uncovered to guard,
he caught him fairly on the lower left ribs, by a blow from his mighty
right fist, that sounded--as one of the by-standers expressed it--"like
striking a hollow log with a maul."
The color in Jack's face paled. He did not seem to understand how he had
laid himself open to such a pass, and made the same mistake, receiving
again a sounding blow in the short ribs. This taught him nothing,
either, for again he opened his guard in response to a feint, and again
caught a blow on his luckless left, ribs, that drove the blood from his
face and the breath from his body. He reeled back among his supporters
for an instant to breathe. Recovering his wind, be dashed at Hill
feinted strongly with his right, but delivered a terrible kick against
the lower part of the latter's abdomen. Both closed and fought savagely
at half-arm's length for an instant; during which Hill struck Jack so
fairly in the mouth as to break out three front teeth, which the latter
swallowed. Then they clenched and struggled to throw each other. Hill's
superior strength and skill crushed his opponent to the ground, and he
fell upon him. As they grappled there, one of Jack's followers sought to
aid his leader by catching Hill by the hair, intending to kick him in the
face. In an instant he was knocked down by a stalwart member of the One
Hundredth, and then literally lifted out of the ring by kicks.
Jack was soon so badly beaten as to be unable to cry "enough!" One of
his friends did that service for him, the fight ceased, and thenceforth
Mr. Oliver resigned his pugilistic crown, and retired to the shades of
private life. He died of scurvy and diarrhea, some months afterward, in
The almost hourly scenes of violence and crime that marked the days and
nights before the Regulators began operations were now succeeded by the
greatest order. The prison was freer from crime than the best governed
City. There were frequent squabbles and fights, of course, and many
petty larcenies. Rations of bread and of wood, articles of clothing,
and the wretched little cans and half canteens that formed our cooking
utensils, were still stolen, but all these were in a sneak-thief way.
There was an entire absence of the audacious open-day robbery and murder
--the "raiding" of the previous few weeks. The summary punishment
inflicted on the condemned was sufficient to cow even bolder men than the
Raiders, and they were frightened into at least quiescence.
Sergeant Hill's administration was vigorous, and secured the best
results. He became a judge of all infractions of morals and law, and sat
at the door of his tent to dispense justice to all comers, like the Cadi
of a Mahometan Village. His judicial methods and punishments also
reminded one strongly of the primitive judicature of Oriental lands.
The wronged one came before him and told his tale: he had his blouse, or
his quart cup, or his shoes, or his watch, or his money stolen during the
night. The suspected one was also summoned, confronted with his accuser,
and sharply interrogated. Hill would revolve the stories in his mind,
decide the innocence or guilt of the accused, and if he thought the
accusation sustained, order the culprit to punishment. He did not
imitate his Mussulman prototypes to the extent of bowstringing or
decapitating the condemned, nor did he cut any thief's hands off, nor yet
nail his ears to a doorpost, but he introduced a modification of the
bastinado that made those who were punished by it even wish they were
dead. The instrument used was what is called in the South a "shake"
--a split shingle, a yard or more long, and with one end whittled down to
form a handle. The culprit was made to bend down until he could catch
around his ankles with his hands. The part of the body thus brought into
most prominence was denuded of clothing and "spanked" from one to twenty
times, as Hill ordered, by the "shake" in same strong and willing hand.
It was very amusing--to the bystanders. The "spankee" never seemed to
enter very heartily into the mirth of the occasion. As a rule he slept
on his face for a week or so after, and took his meals standing.
The fear of the spanking, and Hill's skill in detecting the guilty ones,
had a very salutary effect upon the smaller criminals.
The Raiders who had been put into irons were very restive under the
infliction, and begged Hill daily to release them. They professed the
greatest penitence, and promised the most exemplary behavior for the
future. Hill refused to release them, declaring that they should wear
the irons until delivered up to our Government.
One of the Raiders--named Heffron--had, shortly after his arrest, turned
State's evidence, and given testimony that assisted materially in the
conviction of his companions. One morning, a week or so after the
hanging, his body was found lying among the other dead at the South Gate.
The impression made by the fingers of the hand that had strangled him,
were still plainly visible about the throat. There was no doubt as to
why he had been killed, or that the Raiders were his murderers, but the
actual perpetrators were never discovered.
JULY--THE PRISON BECOMES MORE CROWDED, THE WEATHER HOTTER, NATIONS
POORER, AND MORTALITY GREATER--SOME OF THE PHENOMENA OF SUFFERING AND
All during July the prisoners came streaming in by hundreds and thousands
from every portion of the long line of battle, stretching from the
Eastern bank of the Mississippi to the shores of the Atlantic. Over one
thousand squandered by Sturgis at Guntown came in; two thousand of those
captured in the desperate blow dealt by Hood against the Army of the
Tennessee on the 22d of the month before Atlanta; hundreds from Hunter's
luckless column in the Shenandoah Valley, thousands from Grant's lines in
front of Petersburg. In all, seven thousand one hundred and twenty-eight
were, during the month, turned into that seething mass of corrupting
humanity to be polluted and tainted by it, and to assist in turn to make
it fouler and deadlier. Over seventy hecatombs of chosen victims
--of fair youths in the first flush of hopeful manhood, at the threshold
of a life of honor to themselves and of usefulness to the community;
beardless boys, rich in the priceless affections of homes, fathers,
mothers, sisters and sweethearts, with minds thrilling with high
aspirations for the bright future, were sent in as the monthly sacrifice
to this Minotaur of the Rebellion, who, couched in his foul lair, slew
them, not with the merciful delivery of speedy death, as his Cretan
prototype did the annual tribute of Athenian youths and maidens, but,
gloating over his prey, doomed them to lingering destruction. He rotted
their flesh with the scurvy, racked their minds with intolerable
suspense, burned their bodies with the slow fire of famine, and delighted
in each separate pang, until they sank beneath the fearful accumulation.
Theseus [Sherman. D.W.]--the deliverer--was coming. His terrible sword
could be seen gleaming as it rose and fell on the banks of the James, and
in the mountains beyond Atlanta, where he was hewing his way towards them
and the heart of the Southern Confederacy. But he came too late to save
them. Strike as swiftly and as heavily as he would, he could not strike
so hard nor so sure at his foes with saber blow and musket shot, as they
could at the hapless youths with the dreadful armament of starvation and
Though the deaths were one thousand eight hundred and seventeen more than
were killed at the battle of Shiloh--this left the number in the prison
at the end of the month thirty-one thousand six hundred and
seventy-eight. Let me assist the reader's comprehension of the
magnitude of this number by giving the population of a few important
Cities, according to the census of 1870:
Cambridge, Mass 89,639
Charleston, S. C. 48,958
Columbus, O. 31,274
Dayton, O. 30,473
Fall River, Mass 26,766
Kansas City, Mo 32,260
The number of prisoners exceeded the whole number of men between the ages
of eighteen and forty-five in several of the States and Territories in
the Union. Here, for instance, are the returns for 1870, of men of
military age in some portions of the country:
New Hampshire 60,684
Rhode Island 44,377
West Virginia 6,832
It was more soldiers than could be raised to-day, under strong pressure,
in either Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut,
Dakota, Delaware, District of Columbia, Florida, Idaho, Louisiana, Maine,
Minnesota, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Medico, Oregon,
Rhode Island, South Carolina, Utah, Vermont or West Virginia.
These thirty-one thousand six hundred and seventy-eight active young men,
who were likely to find the confines of a State too narrow for them, were
cooped up on thirteen acres of ground--less than a farmer gives for
play-ground for a half dozen colts or a small flock of sheep. There was
hardly room for all to lie down at night, and to walk a few hundred feet
in any direction would require an hour's patient threading of the mass of
men and tents.
The weather became hotter and hotter; at midday the sand would burn the
hand. The thin skins of fair and auburn-haired men blistered under the
sun's rays, and swelled up in great watery puffs, which soon became the
breeding grounds of the hideous maggots, or the still more deadly
gangrene. The loathsome swamp grew in rank offensiveness with every
burning hour. The pestilence literally stalked at noon-day, and struck
his victims down on every hand. One could not look a rod in any
direction without seeing at least a dozen men in the last frightful
stages of rotting Death.
Let me describe the scene immediately around my own tent during the last
two weeks of July, as a sample of the condition of the whole prison:
I will take a space not larger than a good sized parlor or sitting room.
On this were at least fifty of us. Directly in front of me lay two
brothers--named Sherwood--belonging to Company I, of my battalion, who
came originally from Missouri. They were now in the last stages of
scurvy and diarrhea. Every particle of muscle and fat about their limbs
and bodies had apparently wasted away, leaving the skin clinging close to
the bone of the face, arms, hands, ribs and thighs--everywhere except the
feet and legs, where it was swollen tense and transparent, distended with
gallons of purulent matter. Their livid gums, from which most of their
teeth had already fallen, protruded far beyond their lips. To their left
lay a Sergeant and two others of their company, all three slowly dying
from diarrhea, and beyond was a fair-haired German, young and intelligent
looking, whose life was ebbing tediously away. To my right was a
handsome young Sergeant of an Illinois Infantry Regiment, captured at
Kenesaw. His left arm had been amputated between the shoulder and elbow,
and he was turned into the Stockade with the stump all undressed, save
the ligating of the arteries. Of course, he had not been inside an hour
until the maggot flies had laid eggs in the open wound, and before the
day was gone the worms were hatched out, and rioting amid the inflamed
and super-sensitive nerves, where their every motion was agony.
Accustomed as we were to misery, we found a still lower depth in his
misfortune, and I would be happier could I forget his pale, drawn face,
as he wandered uncomplainingly to and fro, holding his maimed limb with
his right hand, occasionally stopping to squeeze it, as one does a boil,
and press from it a stream of maggots and pus. I do not think he ate or
slept for a week before he died. Next to him staid an Irish Sergeant of
a New York Regiment, a fine soldierly man, who, with pardonable pride,
wore, conspicuously on his left breast, a medal gained by gallantry while
a British soldier in the Crimea. He was wasting away with diarrhea, and
died before the month was out.
This was what one could see on every square rod of the prison. Where I
was was not only no worse than the rest of the prison, but was probably
much better and healthier, as it was the highest ground inside, farthest
from the Swamp, and having the dead line on two sides, had a ventilation
that those nearer the center could not possibly have. Yet, with all
these conditions in our favor, the mortality was as I have described.
Near us an exasperating idiot, who played the flute, had established
himself. Like all poor players, he affected the low, mournful notes,
as plaintive as the distant cooing of the dove in lowering, weather.
He played or rather tooted away in his "blues"-inducing strain hour after
hour, despite our energetic protests, and occasionally flinging a club at
him. There was no more stop to him than to a man with a hand-organ, and
to this day the low, sad notes of a flute are the swiftest reminder to me
of those sorrowful, death-laden days.
I had an illustration one morning of how far decomposition would progress
in a man's body before he died. My chum and I found a treasure-trove in
the streets, in the shape of the body of a man who died during the night.
The value of this "find" was that if we took it to the gate, we would be
allowed to carry it outside to the deadhouse, and on our way back have an
opportunity to pick up a chunk of wood, to use in cooking. While
discussing our good luck another party came up and claimed the body.
A verbal dispute led to one of blows, in which we came off victorious,
and I hastily caught hold of the arm near the elbow to help bear the body
away. The skin gave way under my hand, and slipped with it down to the
wrist, like a torn sleeve. It was sickening, but I clung to my prize,
and secured a very good chunk of wood while outside with it. The wood
was very much needed by my mess, as our squad had then had none for more
than a week.
THE BATTLE OF THE 22D OF JULY--THE ARMS OF THE TENNESSEE ASSAULTED FRONT
AND REAR--DEATH OF GENERAL MCPHERSON--ASSUMPTION OF COMMAND BY GENERAL
LOGAN--RESULT OF THE BATTLE.
Naturally, we had a consuming hunger for news of what was being
accomplished by our armies toward crushing the Rebellion. Now, more than
ever, had we reason to ardently wish for the destruction of the Rebel
power. Before capture we had love of country and a natural desire for
the triumph of her flag to animate us. Now we had a hatred of the Rebels
that passed expression, and a fierce longing to see those who daily
tortured and insulted us trampled down in the dust of humiliation.
The daily arrival of prisoners kept us tolerably well informed as to the
general progress of the campaign, and we added to the information thus
obtained by getting--almost daily--in some manner or another--a copy of a
Rebel paper. Most frequently these were Atlanta papers, or an issue of
Appeal," as they used to facetiously term a Memphis paper that left that
City when it was taken in 1862, and for two years fell back from place to
place, as Sherman's Army advanced, until at last it gave up the struggle
in September, 1864, in a little Town south of Atlanta, after about two
thousand miles of weary retreat from an indefatigable pursuer. The
papers were brought in by "fresh fish," purchased from the guards at from
fifty cents to one dollar apiece, or occasionally thrown in to us when
they had some specially disagreeable intelligence, like the defeat of
Banks, or Sturgis, or Bunter, to exult over. I was particularly
fortunate in getting hold of these. Becoming installed as general reader
for a neighborhood of several thousand men, everything of this kind was
immediately brought to me, to be read aloud for the benefit of everybody.
All the older prisoners knew me by the nick-name of "Illinoy"
--a designation arising from my wearing on my cap, when I entered prison,
a neat little white metal badge of "ILLS." When any reading matter was
brought into our neighborhood, there would be a general cry of:
"Take it up to 'Illinoy,'" and then hundreds would mass around my
quarters to bear the news read.
The Rebel papers usually had very meager reports of the operations of the
armies, and these were greatly distorted, but they were still very
interesting, and as we always started in to read with the expectation
that the whole statement was a mass of perversions and lies, where truth
was an infrequent accident, we were not likely to be much impressed with
There was a marled difference in the tone of the reports brought in from
the different armies. Sherman's men were always sanguine. They had no
doubt that they were pushing the enemy straight to the wall, and that
every day brought the Southern Confederacy much nearer its downfall.
Those from the Army of the Potomac were never so hopeful. They would
admit that Grant was pounding Lee terribly, but the shadow of the
frequent defeats of the Army of the Potomac seemed to hang depressingly
There came a day, however, when our sanguine hopes as to Sherman were
checked by a possibility that he had failed; that his long campaign
towards Atlanta had culminated in such a reverse under the very walls of
the City as would compel an abandonment of the enterprise, and possibly a
humiliating retreat. We knew that Jeff. Davis and his Government were
strongly dissatisfied with the Fabian policy of Joe Johnston. The papers
had told us of the Rebel President's visit to Atlanta, of his bitter
comments on Johnston's tactics; of his going so far as to sneer about the
necessity of providing pontoons at Key West, so that Johnston might
continue his retreat even to Cuba. Then came the news of Johnston's
Supersession by Hood, and the papers were full of the exulting
predictions of what would now be accomplished "when that gallant young
soldier is once fairly in the saddle."
All this meant one supreme effort to arrest the onward course of Sherman.
It indicated a resolve to stake the fate of Atlanta, and the fortunes of
the Confederacy in the West, upon the hazard of one desperate fight.
We watched the summoning up of every Rebel energy for the blow with
apprehension. We dreaded another Chickamauga.
The blow fell on the 22d of July. It was well planned. The Army of the
Tennessee, the left of Sherman's forces, was the part struck. On the
night of the 21st Hood marched a heavy force around its left flank and
gained its rear. On the 22d this force fell on the rear with the
impetuous violence of a cyclone, while the Rebels in the works
immediately around Atlanta attacked furiously in front.
It was an ordeal that no other army ever passed through successfully.
The steadiest troops in Europe would think it foolhardiness to attempt to
withstand an assault in force in front and rear at the same time.
The finest legions that follow any flag to-day must almost inevitably
succumb to such a mode of attack. But the seasoned veterans of the Army
of the Tennessee encountered the shock with an obstinacy which showed
that the finest material for soldiery this planet holds was that in which
undaunted hearts beat beneath blue blouses. Springing over the front of
their breastworks, they drove back with a withering fire the force
assailing them in the rear. This beaten off, they jumped back to their
proper places, and repulsed the assault in front. This was the way the
battle was waged until night compelled a cessation of operations. Our
boys were alternately behind the breastworks firing at Rebels advancing
upon the front, and in front of the works firing upon those coming up in
the rear. Sometimes part of our line would be on one side of the works,
and part on the other.
In the prison we were greatly excited over the result of the engagement,
of which we were uncertain for many days. A host of new prisoners
perhaps two thousand--was brought in from there, but as they were
captured during the progress of the fight, they could not speak
definitely as to its issue. The Rebel papers exulted without stint over
what they termed "a glorious victory." They were particularly jubilant
over the death of McPherson, who, they claimed, was the brain and guiding
hand of Sherman's army. One paper likened him to the pilot-fish, which
guides the shark to his prey. Now that he was gone, said the paper,
Sherman's army becomes a great lumbering hulk, with no one in it capable
of directing it, and it must soon fall to utter ruin under the skilfully
delivered strokes of the gallant Hood.
We also knew that great numbers of wounded had been brought to the prison
hospital, and this seemed to confirm the Rebel claim of a victory, as it
showed they retained possession of the battle field.
About the 1st of August a large squad of Sherman's men, captured in one
of the engagements subsequent to the 22d, came in. We gathered around
them eagerly. Among them I noticed a bright, curly-haired, blue-eyed
infantryman--or boy, rather, as he was yet beardless. His cap was marked
"68th O. Y. Y. L," his sleeves were garnished with re-enlistment stripes,
and on the breast of his blouse was a silver arrow. To the eye of the
soldier this said that he was a veteran member of the Sixty-Eighth
Regiment of Ohio Infantry (that is, having already served three years, he
had re-enlisted for the war), and that he belonged to the Third Division
of the Seventeenth Army Corps. He was so young and fresh looking that
one could hardly believe him to be a veteran, but if his stripes had not
said this, the soldierly arrangement of clothing and accouterments, and
the graceful, self-possessed pose of limbs and body would have told the
observer that he was one of those "Old Reliables" with whom Sherman and
Grant had already subdued a third of the Confederacy. His blanket,
which, for a wonder, the Rebels had neglected to take from him, was
tightly rolled, its ends tied together, and thrown over his shoulder
scarf-fashion. His pantaloons were tucked inside his stocking tops,
that were pulled up as far as possible, and tied tightly around his ankle
with a string. A none-too-clean haversack, containing the inevitable
sooty quart cup, and even blacker half-canteen, waft slung easily from
the shoulder opposite to that on which the blanket rested. Hand him his
faithful Springfield rifle, put three days' rations in his haversack, and
forty rounds in his cartridge bog, and he would be ready, without an
instant's demur or question, to march to the ends of the earth, and fight
anything that crossed his path. He was a type of the honest, honorable,
self respecting American boy, who, as a soldier, the world has not
equaled in the sixty centuries that war has been a profession.
I suggested to him that he was rather a youngster to be wearing veteran
chevrons. "Yes," said he, "I am not so old as some of the rest of the
boys, but I have seen about as much service and been in the business
about as long as any of them. They call me 'Old Dad,' I suppose because
I was the youngest boy in the Regiment, when we first entered the
service, though our whole Company, officers and all, were only a lot of
boys, and the Regiment to day, what's left of 'em, are about as young a
lot of officers and men as there are in the service. Why, our old
Colonel ain't only twenty-four years old now, and he has been in command
ever since we went into Vicksburg. I have heard it said by our boys that
since we veteranized the whole Regiment, officers, and men, average less
than twenty-four years old. But they are gray-hounds to march and
stayers in a fight, you bet. Why, the rest of the troops over in West
Tennessee used to call our Brigade 'Leggett's Cavalry,' for they always
had us chasing Old Forrest, and we kept him skedaddling, too, pretty
lively. But I tell you we did get into a red hot scrimmage on the 22d.
It just laid over Champion Hills, or any of the big fights around
Vicksburg, and they were lively enough to amuse any one."
"So you were in the affair on the 22d, were you! We are awful anxious to
hear all about it. Come over here to my quarters and tell us all you
know. All we know is that there has been a big fight, with McPherson
killed, and a heavy loss of life besides, and the Rebels claim a great
"O, they be -----. It was the sickest victory they ever got. About one
more victory of that kind would make their infernal old Confederacy ready
for a coroner's inquest. Well, I can tell you pretty much all about that
fight, for I reckon if the truth was known, our regiment fired about the
first and last shot that opened and closed the fighting on that day.
Well, you see the whole Army got across the river, and were closing in
around the City of Atlanta. Our Corps, the Seventeenth, was the extreme
left of the army, and were moving up toward the City from the East.
The Fifteenth (Logan's) Corps joined us on the right, then the Army of
the Cumberland further to the right. We run onto the Rebs about sundown
the 21st. They had some breastworks on a ridge in front of us, and we
had a pretty sharp fight before we drove them off. We went right to
work, and kept at it all night in changing and strengthening the old
Rebel barricades, fronting them towards Atlanta, and by morning had some
good solid works along our whole line. During the night we fancied we
could hear wagons or artillery moving away in front of us, apparently
going South, or towards our left. About three or four o'clock in the
morning, while I was shoveling dirt like a beaver out on the works, the
Lieutenant came to me and said the Colonel wanted to see me, pointing to
a large tree in the rear, where I could find him. I reported and found
him with General Leggett, who commanded our Division, talking mighty
serious, and Bob Wheeler, of F Company, standing there with his
Springfield at a parade rest. As soon as I came up, the Colonel says:
"Boys, the General wants two level-headed chaps to go out beyond the
pickets to the front and toward the left. I have selected you for the
duty. Go as quietly as possible and as fast as you can; keep your eyes
and ears open; don't fire a shot if you can help it, and come back and
tell us exactly what you have seen and heard, and not what you imagine or
suspect. I have selected you for the duty.'
"He gave us the countersign, and off we started over the breastworks and
through the thick woods. We soon came to our skirmish or pickets, only a
few rods in front of our works, and cautioned them not to fire on us in
going or returning. We went out as much as half a mile or more, until we
could plainly hear the sound of wagons and artillery. We then cautiously
crept forward until we could see the main road leading south from the
City filled with marching men, artillery and teams. We could hear the
commands of the officers and see the flags and banners of regiment after
regiment as they passed us. We got back quietly and quickly, passed
through our picket line all right, and found the General and our Colonel
sitting on a log where we had left them, waiting for us. We reported
what we had seen and heard, and gave it as our opinion that the Johnnies
were evacuating Atlanta. The General shook his head, and the Colonel
says: 'You may re turn to your company.' Bob says to me:
"'The old General shakes his head as though he thought them d---d Rebs
ain't evacuating Atlanta so mighty sudden, but are up to some devilment
again. I ain't sure but he's right. They ain't going to keep falling
back and falling back to all eternity, but are just agoin' to give us a
rip-roaring great big fight one o' these days--when they get a good
ready. You hear me!'
"Saying which we both went to our companies, and laid down to get a
little sleep. It was about daylight then, and I must have snoozed away
until near noon, when I heard the order 'fall in!' and found the regiment
getting into line, and the boys all tallying about going right into
Atlanta; that the Rebels had evacuated the City during the night, and
that we were going to have a race with the Fifteenth Corps as to which
would get into the City first. We could look away out across a large
field in front of our works, and see the skirmish line advancing steadily
towards the main works around the City. Not a shot was being, fired on
"To our surprise, instead of marching to the front and toward the City,
we filed off into a small road cut through the woods and marched rapidly
to the rear. We could not understand what it meant. We marched at quick
time, feeling pretty mad that we had to go to the rear, when the rest of
our Division were going into Atlanta.
"We passed the Sixteenth Corps lying on their arms, back in some open
fields, and the wagon trains of our Corps all comfortably corralled, and
finally found ourselves out by the Seventeenth Corps headquarters. Two
or three companies were sent out to picket several roads that seemed to
cross at that point, as it was reported 'Rebel Cavalry' had been seen on
these roads but a short time before, and this accounted for our being
rushed out in such a great hurry.
"We had just stacked arms and were going to take a little rest after our
rapid march, when several Rebel prisoners were brought in by some of the
boys who had straggled a little. They found the Rebels on the road we
had just marched out on. Up to this time not a shot had been fired.
All was quiet back at the main works we had just left, when suddenly we
saw several staff officers come tearing up to the Colonel, who ordered us
to 'fall in!' 'Take aims!' 'about, face!' The Lieutenant Colonel dashed
down one of the roads where one of the companies had gone out on picket.
The Major and Adjutant galloped down the others. We did not wait for
them to come back, though, but moved right back on the road we had just
come out, in line of battle, our colors in the road, and our flanks in
open timber. We soon reached a fence enclosing a large field, and there
could see a line of Rebels moving by the flank, and forming, facing
toward Atlanta, but to the left and in the rear of the position occupied
by our Corps. As soon as we reached the fence we fired a round or two
into the backs of these gray coats, who broke into confusion.
"Just then the other companies joined us, and we moved off on 'double
quick by the right flank,' for you see we were completely cut off from
the troops up at the front, and we had to get well over to the right to
get around the flank of the Rebels. Just about the time we fired on the
rebels the Sixteenth Corps opened up a hot fire of musketry and artillery
on them, some of their shot coming over mighty close to where we were.
We marched pretty fast, and finally turned in through some open fields to
the left, and came out just in the rear of the Sixteenth Corps, who were
fighting like devils along their whole line.
"Just as we came out into the open field we saw General R. K. Scott,
who used to be our Colonel, and who commanded our brigade, come tearing
toward us with one or two aids or orderlies. He was on his big clay-bank
horse, 'Old Hatchie,' as we called him, as we captured him on the
battlefield at the battle of 'Matamora,' or 'Hell on the Hatchie,' as our
boys always called it. He rode up to the Colonel, said something
hastily, when all at once we heard the all-firedest crash of musketry and
artillery way up at the front where we had built the works the night
before and left the rest of our brigade and Division getting ready to
prance into Atlanta when we were sent off to the rear. Scott put spurs
to his old horse, who was one of the fastest runners in our Division,
and away he went back towards the position where his brigade and the
troops immediately to their left were now hotly engaged. He rode right
along in rear of the Sixteenth Corps, paying no attention apparently to
the shot and shell and bullets that were tearing up the earth and
exploding and striking all around him. His aids and orderlies vainly
tried to keep up with him. We could plainly see the Rebel lines as they
came out of the woods into the open grounds to attack the Sixteenth
Corps, which had hastily formed in the open field, without any signs of
works, and were standing up like men, having a hand-to-hand fight.
We were just far enough in the rear so that every blasted shot or shell
that was fired too high to hit the ranks of the Sixteenth Corps came
rattling over amongst us. All this time we were marching fast, following
in the direction General Scott had taken, who evidently had ordered the
Colonel to join his brigade up at the front. We were down under the
crest of a little hill, following along the bank of a little creek,
keeping under cover of the bank as much as possible to protect us from
the shots of the enemy. We suddenly saw General Logan and one or two of
his staff upon the right bank of the ravine riding rapidly toward us.
As he neared the head of the regiment he shouted:
"'Halt! What regiment is that, and where are you going?'" The Colonel,
in a loud voice, that all could hear, told him: "The Sixty-Eighth Ohio;
going to join our brigade of the Third Division--your old Division,
General, of the Seventeenth Corps."
"Logan says, 'you had better go right in here on the left of Dodge.
The Third Division have hardly ground enough left now to bury their dead.
God knows they need you. But try it on, if you think you can get to
"Just at this moment a staff officer came riding up on the opposite side
of the ravine from where Logan was and interrupted Logan, who was about
telling the Colonel not to try to go to the position held by the Third
Division by the road cut through the woods whence we had come out, but to
keep off to the right towards the Fifteenth Corps, as the woods referred
to were full of Rebels. The officer saluted Logan, and shouted across:
"General Sherman directs me to inform you of the death of General
McPherson, and orders you to take command of the Army of the Tennessee;
have Dodge close well up to the Seventeenth Corps, and Sherman will
reinforce you to the extent of the whole army.'
"Logan, standing in his stirrups, on his beautiful black horse, formed a
picture against the blue sky as we looked up the ravine at him, his black
eyes fairly blazing and his long black hair waving in the wind.
He replied in a ringing, clear tone that we all could hear:
"Say to General Sherman I have heard of McPherson's death, and have
assumed the command of the Army of the Tennessee, and have already
anticipated his orders in regard to closing the gap between Dodge and the
"This, of course, all happened in one quarter of the time I have been
telling you. Logan put spurs to his horse and rode in one direction,
the staff officer of General Sherman in another, and we started on a
rapid step toward the front. This was the first we had heard of
McPherson's death, and it made us feel very bad. Some of the officers
and men cried as though they had lost a brother; others pressed their
lips, gritted their teeth, and swore to avenge his death. He was a great
favorite with all his Army, particularly of our Corps, which he commanded
for a long while. Our company, especially, knew him well, and loved him
dearly, for we had been his Headquarters Guard for over a year. As we
marched along, toward the front, we could see brigades, and regiments,
and batteries of artillery; coming over from the right of the Army, and
taking position in new lines in rear of the Sixteenth and Seventeenth
Corps. Major Generals and their staffs, Brigadier Generals and their
staffs, were mighty thick along the banks of the little ravine we were
following; stragglers and wounded men by the hundred were pouring in to
the safe shelter formed by the broken ground along which we were rapidly
marching; stories were heard of divisions, brigades and regiments that
these wounded or stragglers belonged, having been all cut to pieces;
officers all killed; and the speaker, the only one of his command not
killed, wounded or captured. But you boys have heard and seen the same
cowardly sneaks, probably, in fights that you were in. The battle raged
furiously all this time; part of the time the Sixteenth Corps seemed to
be in the worst; then it would let up on them and the Seventeenth Corps
would be hotly engaged along their whole front.
"We had probably marched half an hour since leaving Logan, and were
getting pretty near back to our main line of works, when the Colonel
ordered a halt and knapsacks to be unslung and piled up. I tell you it
was a relief to get them off, for it was a fearful hot day, and we had
been marching almost double quick. We knew that this meant business
though, and that we were stripping for the fight, which we would soon be
in. Just at this moment we saw an ambulance, with the horses on a dead
run, followed by two or three mounted officers and men, coming right
towards us out of the very woods Logan had cautioned the Colonel to
avoid. When the ambulance got to where we were it halted. It was pretty
well out of danger from the bullets and shell of the enemy. They
stopped, and we recognized Major Strong, of McPherson's Staff, whom the
all knew, as he was the Chief Inspector of our Corps, and in the
ambulance he had the body of General McPherson. Major Strong,
it appears, during a slight lull in the fighting at that part of the
line, having taken an ambulance and driven into the very jaws of death to
recover the remains of his loved commander. It seems he found the body
right by the side of the little road that we had gone out on when we went
to the rear. He was dead when he found him, having been shot off his
horse, the bullet striking him in the back, just below his heart,
probably killing him instantly. There was a young fellow with him who
was wounded also, when Strong found them. He belonged to our First
Division, and recognized General McPherson, and stood by him until Major
Strong came up. He was in the ambulance with the body of McPherson when
they stopped by us.
"It seems that when the fight opened away back in the rear where we had
been, and at the left of the Sixteenth Corps which was almost directly in
the rear of the Seventeenth Corps, McPherson sent his staff and orderlies
with various orders to different parts of the line, and started himself
to ride over from the Seventeenth Corps to the Sixteenth Corps, taking
exactly the same course our Regiment had, perhaps an hour before, but the
Rebels had discovered there was a gap between the Sixteenth and
Seventeenth Corps, and meeting no opposition to their advances in this
strip of woods, where they were hidden from view, they had marched right
along down in the rear, and with their line at right angles with the line
of works occupied by the left of the Seventeenth Corps; they were thus
parallel and close to the little road McPherson had taken, and probably
he rode right into them and was killed before he realized the true
"Having piled our knapsacks, and left a couple of our older men, who were
played out with the heat and most ready to drop with sunstroke, to guard
them, we started on again. The ambulance with the corpse of Gen.
McPherson moved off towards the right of the Army, which was the last we
ever saw of that brave and handsome soldier.
"We bore off a little to the right of a large open field on top of a high
hill where one of our batteries was pounding away at a tremendous rate.
We came up to the main line of works just about at the left of the
Fifteenth Corps. They seemed to be having an easy time of it just then
--no fighting going on in their front, except occasional shots from some
heavy guns on the main line of Rebel works around the City. We crossed
right over the Fifteenth Corps' works and filed to the left, keeping
along on the outside of our works. We had not gone far before the Rebel
gunners in the main works around the City discovered us; and the way they
did tear loose at us was a caution. Their aim was rather bad, however,
and most of their shots went over us. We saw one of them--I think it was
a shell--strike an artillery caisson belonging to one of our-batteries.
It exploded as it struck, and then the caisson, which was full of
ammunition, exploded with an awful noise, throwing pieces of wood and
iron and its own load of shot and shell high into the air, scattering
death and destruction to the men and horses attached to it. We thought
we saw arms and legs and parts of bodies of men flying in every
direction; but we were glad to learn afterwards that it was the contents
of the knapsacks of the Battery boys, who had strapped them on the
caissons for transportation.
"Just after passing the hill where our battery was making things so
lively, they stopped firing to let us pass. We saw General Leggett, our
Division Commander, come riding toward us. He was outside of our line of
works, too. You know how we build breastworks--sort of zigzag like, you
know, so they cannot be enfiladed. Well, that's just the way the works
were along there, and you never saw such a curious shape as we formed our
Division in. Why, part of them were on one side of the works, and go
along a little further and here was a regiment, or part of a regiment on
the other side, both sets firing in opposite directions.
"No sir'ee, they were not demoralized or in confusion, they were cool and
as steady as on parade. But the old Division had, you know, never been
driven from any position they had once taken, in all their long service,
and they did not propose to leave that ridge until they got orders from
some one beside the Rebs.
"There were times when a fellow did not know which side of the works was
the safest, for the Johnnies were in front of us and in rear of us.
You see, our Fourth Division, which had been to the left of us, had been
forced to quit their works, when the Rebs got into the works in their
rear, so that our Division was now at the point where our line turned
sharply to the left, and rear--in the direction of the Sixteenth Corps.
"We got into business before we had been there over three minutes.
A line of the Rebs tried to charge across the open fields in front of us,
but by the help of the old twenty-four pounders (which proved to be part
of Cooper's Illinois Battery, that we had been alongside of in many a
hard fight before), we drove them back a-flying, only to have to jump
over on the outside of our works the next minute to tackle a heavy force
that came for our rear through that blasted strip of woods. We soon
drove them off, and the firing on both sides seemed to have pretty much
"'Our Brigade,' which we discovered, was now commanded by 'Old Whiskers'
(Colonel Piles, of the Seventy-Eighth Ohio. I'll bet he's got the
longest whiskers of any man in the Army.) You see General Scott had not
been seen or heard of since he had started to the rear after our regiment
when the fighting first commenced. We all believed that he was either
killed or captured, or he would have been with his command. He was a
splendid soldier, and a bull-dog of a fighter. His absence was a great
loss, but we had not much time to think of such things, for our brigade
was then ordered to leave the works and to move to the right about twenty
or thirty rods across a large ravine, where we were placed in position in
an open corn-field, forming a new line at quite an angle from the line of
works we had just left, extending to the left, and getting us back nearer
onto a line with the Sixteenth Corps. The battery of howitzers, now
reinforced by a part of the Third Ohio heavy guns, still occupied the old
works on the highest part of the hill, just to the right of our new line.
We took our position just on the brow of a hill, and were ordered to lie
down, and the rear rank to go for rails, which we discovered a few rods
behind us in the shape of a good ten-rail fence. Every rear-rank chap
came back with all the rails he could lug, and we barely had time to lay
them down in front of us, forming a little barricade of six to eight or
ten inches high, when we heard the most unearthly Rebel yell directly in
front of us. It grew louder and came nearer and nearer, until we could
see a solid line of the gray coats coming out of the woods and down the
opposite slope, their battle flags flying, officers in front with drawn
swords, arms at right shoulder, and every one of them yelling like so
many Sioux Indians. The line seemed to be massed six or eight ranks
deep, followed closely by the second line, and that by the third, each,
if possible, yelling louder and appearing more desperately reckless than
the one ahead. At their first appearance we opened on them, and so did
the bully old twenty-four-pounders, with canister.
"On they came; the first line staggered and wavered back on to the
second, which was coming on the double quick. Such a raking as we did
give them. Oh, Lordy, how we did wish that we had the breech loading
Spencers or Winchesters. But we had the old reliable Springfields, and
we poured it in hot and heavy. By the time the charging column got down
the opposite slope, and were struggling through the thicket of
undergrowth in the ravine, they were one confused mass of officers and
men, the three lines now forming one solid column, which made several
desperate efforts to rush up to the top of the hill where we were
punishing them so. One of their first surges came mighty near going
right over the left of our Regiment, as they were lying down behind their
little rail piles. But the boys clubbed their guns and the officers used
their revolvers and swords and drove them back down the hill.
"The Seventy-Eighth and Twentieth Ohio, our right and left bowers, who
had been brigaded with us ever since 'Shiloh,' were into it as hot and
heavy as we had been, and had lost numbers of their officers and men, but
were hanging on to their little rail piles when the fight was over.
At one time the Rebs were right in on top of the Seventy-Eighth. One big
Reb grabbed their colors, and tried to pull them out of the hands of the
color-bearer. But old Captain Orr, a little, short, dried-up fellow,
about sixty years old, struck him with his sword across the back of the
neck, and killed him deader than a mackerel, right in his tracks.
"It was now getting dark, and the Johnnies concluded they had taken a
bigger contract in trying to drive us off that hill in one day than they
had counted on, so they quit charging on us, but drew back under cover of
the woods and along the old line of works that we had left, and kept up a
pecking away and sharp-shooting at us all night long. They opened fire
on us from a number of pieces of artillery from the front, from the left,
and from some heavy guns away over to the right of us, in the main works
"We did not fool away much time that night, either. We got our shovels
and picks, and while part of us were sharpshooting and trying to keep the
Rebels from working up too close to us, the rest of the boys were putting
up some good solid earthworks right where our rail piles had been, and by
morning we were in splendid shape to have received our friends, no matter
which way they had come at us, for they kept up such an all-fired
shelling of us from so many different directions; that the boys had built
traverses and bomb-proofs at all sorts of angles and in all directions.
"There was one point off to our right, a few rods up along our old line
of works where there was a crowd of Rebel sharpshooters that annoyed us
more than all the rest, by their constant firing at us through the night.
They killed one of Company H's boys, and wounded several others. Finally
Captain Williams, of D Company, came along and said he wanted a couple of
good shots out of our company to go with him, so I went for one. He took
about ten of us, and we crawled down into the ravine in front of where we
were building the works, and got behind a large fallen tree, and we laid
there and could just fire right up into the rear of those fellows as they
lay behind a traverse extending back from our old line of works. It was
so dark we could only see where to fire by the flash of guns, but every
time they would shoot, some of us would let them have one. They staid
there until almost daylight, when they, concluded as things looked, since
we were going to stay, they had better be going.
"It was an awful night. Down in the ravine below us lay hundreds of
killed and wounded Rebels, groaning and crying aloud for water and for
help. We did do what we could for those right around us--but it was so
dark, and so many shell bursting and bullets flying around that a fellow
could not get about much. I tell you it was pretty tough next morning to
go along to the different companies of our regiment and hear who were
among the killed and wounded, and to see the long row of graves that were
being dug to bury our comrades and our officers. There was the Captain
of Company E, Nelson Skeeles, of Fulton County, O., one of--the bravest
and best officers in the regiment. By his side lay First Sergeant
Lesnit, and next were the two great, powerful Shepherds--cousins but more
like brothers. One, it seems, was killed while supporting the head of
the other, who had just received a death wound, thus dying in each
"But I can't begin to think or tell you the names of all the poor boys
that we laid away to rest in their last, long sleep on that gloomy day.
Our Major was severely wounded, and several other officers had been hit
more or less badly.
"It was a frightful sight, though, to go over the field in front of our
works on that morning. The Rebel dead and badly wounded laid where they
had fallen. The bottom and opposite side of the ravine showed how
destructive our fire and that of the canister from the howitzers had
been. The underbrush was cut, slashed, and torn into shreds, and the
larger trees were scarred, bruised and broken by the thousands of bullets
and other missiles that had been poured into them from almost every
conceivable direction during the day before.
"A lot of us boys went way over to the left into Fuller's Division of the
Sixteenth Corps, to see how some of our boys over there had got through
the scrimmage, for they had about as nasty a fight as any part of the
Army, and if it had not been for their being just where they were, I am
not sure but what the old Seventeenth Corps would have had a different
story to tell now. We found our friends had been way out by Decatur,
where their brigade had got into a pretty lively fight on their own hook.
"We got back to camp, and the first thing I knew I was detailed for
picket duty, and we were posted over a few rods across the ravine in our
front. We had not been out but a short time when we saw a flag of truce,
borne by an officer, coming towards us. We halted him, and made him wait
until a report was sent back to Corps headquarters. The Rebel officer
was quite chatty and talkative with our picket officer, while waiting.
He said he was on General Cleburne's staff, and that the troops that
charged us so fiercely the evening before was Cleburne's whole Division,
and that after their last repulse, knowing the hill where we were posted
was the most important position along our line, he felt that if they
would keep close to us during the night, and keep up a show of fight,
that we would pull out and abandon the hill before morning. He said that
he, with about fifty of their best men, had volunteered to keep up the
demonstration, and it was his party that had occupied the traverse in our
old works the night before and had annoyed us and the Battery men by
their constant sharpshooting, which we fellows behind the old tree had
finally tired out. He said they staid until almost daylight, and that he
lost more than half his men before he left. He also told us that General
Scott was captured by their Division, at about the time and almost the
same spot as where General McPherson was killed, and that he was not hurt
or wounded, and was now a prisoner in their hands.
"Quite a lot of our, staff officers soon came out, and as near as we
could learn the Rebels wanted a truce to bury their dead. Our folks
tried to get up an exchange of prisoners that had been taken by both
sides the day before, but for some reason they could not bring it about.
But the truce for burying the dead was agreed to. Along about dusk some
of the boys on my post got to telling about a lot of silver and brass
instruments that belonged to one of the bands of the Fourth Division,
which had been hung up in some small trees a little way over in front of
where we were when the fight was going on the day before, and that when,
a bullet would strike one of the horns they could hear it go 'pin-g' and
in a few minutes 'pan-g' would go another bullet through one of them.
"A new picket was just coming' on, and I had picked up my blanket and
haversack, and was about ready to start back to camp, when, thinks I,
'I'll just go out there and see about them horns.' I told the boys what
I was going to do. They all seemed to think it was safe enough, so out I
started. I had not gone more than a hundred yards, I should think, when
here I found the horns all hanging around on the trees just as the boys
had described. Some of them had lots of bullet holes in them. But I saw
a beautiful, nice looking silver bugle hanging off to one side a little.
'I Thinks,' says I, 'I'll just take that little toot horn in out of the
wet, and take it back to camp.' I was just reaching up after it when I
heard some one say,
"'Halt!' and I'll be dog-Boned if there wasn't two of the meanest looking
Rebels, standing not ten feet from me, with their guns cocked and pointed
at me, and, of course, I knew I was a goner; they walked me back about
one hundred and fifty yards, where their picket line was. From there I
was kept going for an hour or two until we got over to a place on the
railroad called East Point. There I got in with a big crowd of our
prisoners, who were taken the day before, and we have been fooling along
in a lot of old cattle cars getting down here ever since.
"So this is 'Andersonville,' is it a Well, by ---!"
CLOTHING: ITS RAPID DETERIORATION, AND DEVICES TO REPLENISH IT--DESPERATE
EFFORTS TO COVER NAKEDNESS--"LITTLE RED CAP" AND HIS LETTER.
Clothing had now become an object of real solicitude to us older
prisoners. The veterans of our crowd--the surviving remnant of those
captured at Gettysburg--had been prisoners over a year. The next in
seniority--the Chickamauga boys--had been in ten months. The Mine Run
fellows were eight months old, and my battalion had had seven months'
incarceration. None of us were models of well-dressed gentlemen when
captured. Our garments told the whole story of the hard campaigning we
had undergone. Now, with months of the wear and tear of prison life,
sleeping on the sand, working in tunnels, digging wells, etc., we were
tattered and torn to an extent that a second-class tramp would have
This is no reflection upon the quality of the clothes furnished by the
Government. We simply reached the limit of the wear of textile fabrics.
I am particular to say this, because I want to contribute my little mite
towards doing justice to a badly abused part of our Army organization
--the Quartermaster's Department. It is fashionable to speak of "shoddy,"
and utter some stereotyped sneers about "brown paper shoes," and
"musketo-netting overcoats," when any discussion of the Quartermaster
service is the subject of conversation, but I have no hesitation in
asking the indorsement of my comrades to the statement that we have never
found anywhere else as durable garments as those furnished us by the
Government during our service in the Army. The clothes were not as fine
in texture, nor so stylish in cut as those we wore before or since, but
when it came to wear they could be relied on to the last thread. It was
always marvelous to me that they lasted so well, with the rough usage a
soldier in the field must necessarily give them.
But to return to my subject. I can best illustrate the way our clothes
dropped off us, piece by piece, like the petals from the last rose of
Summer, by taking my own case as an example: When I entered prison I was
clad in the ordinary garb of an enlisted man of the cavalry--stout,
comfortable boots, woolen pocks, drawers, pantaloons, with a
"reenforcement," or "ready-made patches," as the infantry called them;
vest, warm, snug-fitting jacket, under and over shirts, heavy overcoat,
and a forage-cap. First my boots fell into cureless ruin, but this was
no special hardship, as the weather had become quite warm, and it was
more pleasant than otherwise to go barefooted. Then part of the
underclothing retired from service. The jacket and vest followed, their
end being hastened by having their best portions taken to patch up the
pantaloons, which kept giving out at the most embarrassing places. Then
the cape of the overcoat was called upon to assist in repairing these
continually-recurring breaches in the nether garments. The same
insatiate demand finally consumed the whole coat, in a vain attempt to
prevent an exposure of person greater than consistent with the usages of
society. The pantaloons--or what, by courtesy, I called such, were a
monument of careful and ingenious, but hopeless, patching, that should
have called forth the admiration of a Florentine artist in mosaic.
I have been shown--in later years--many table tops, ornamented in
marquetry, inlaid with thousands of little bits of wood, cunningly
arranged, and patiently joined together. I always look at them with
interest, for I know the work spent upon them: I remember my
The clothing upon the upper part of my body had been reduced to the
remains of a knit undershirt. It had fallen into so many holes that it
looked like the coarse "riddles" through which ashes and gravel are
sifted. Wherever these holes were the sun had burned my back, breast and
shoulders deeply black. The parts covered by the threads and fragments
forming the boundaries of the holes, were still white. When I pulled my
alleged shirt off, to wash or to free it from some of its teeming
population, my skin showed a fine lace pattern in black and white, that
was very interesting to my comrades, and the subject of countless jokes
They used to descant loudly on the chaste elegance of the design, the
richness of the tracing, etc., and beg me to furnish them with a copy of
it when I got home, for their sisters to work window curtains or tidies
by. They were sure that so striking a novelty in patterns would be very
acceptable. I would reply to their witticisms in the language of
Portia's Prince of Morocco:
Mislike me not for my complexion--
The shadowed livery of the burning sun.
One of the stories told me in my childhood by an old negro nurse, was of
a poverty stricken little girl "who slept on the floor and was covered
with the door," and she once asked--
"Mamma how do poor folks get along who haven't any door?"
In the same spirit I used to wonder how poor fellows got along who hadn't
One common way of keeping up one's clothing was by stealing mealsacks.
The meal furnished as rations was brought in in white cotton sacks.
Sergeants of detachments were required to return these when the rations
were issued the next day. I have before alluded to the general
incapacity of the Rebels to deal accurately with even simple numbers.
It was never very difficult for a shrewd Sergeant to make nine sacks
count as ten. After awhile the Rebels began to see through this sleight
of hand manipulation, and to check it. Then the Sergeants resorted to
the device of tearing the sacks in two, and turning each half in as a
whole one. The cotton cloth gained in this way was used for patching,
or, if a boy could succeed in beating the Rebels out of enough of it,
he would fabricate himself a shirt or a pair of pantaloons. We obtained
all our thread in the same way. A half of a sack, carefully raveled out,
would furnish a couple of handfuls of thread. Had it not been for this
resource all our sewing and mending would have come to a standstill.
Most of our needles were manufactured by ourselves from bones. A piece
of bone, split as near as possible to the required size, was carefully
rubbed down upon a brick, and then had an eye laboriously worked through
it with a bit of wire or something else available for the purpose.
The needles were about the size of ordinary darning needles, and answered
the purpose very well.
These devices gave one some conception of the way savages provide for the
wants of their lives. Time was with them, as with us, of little
importance. It was no loss of time to them, nor to us, to spend a large
portion of the waking hours of a week in fabricating a needle out of a
bone, where a civilized man could purchase a much better one with the
product of three minutes' labor. I do not think any red Indian of the
plains exceeded us in the patience with which we worked away at these
minutia of life's needs.
Of course the most common source of clothing was the dead, and no body
was carried out with any clothing on it that could be of service to the
survivors. The Plymouth Pilgrims, who were so well clothed on coming in,
and were now dying off very rapidly, furnished many good suits to cover
the nakedness of older, prisoners. Most of the prisoners from the Army
of the Potomac were well dressed, and as very many died within a month or
six weeks after their entrance, they left their clothes in pretty good
condition for those who constituted themselves their heirs,
administrators and assigns.
For my own part, I had the greatest aversion to wearing dead men's
clothes, and could only bring myself to it after I had been a year in
prison, and it became a question between doing that and freezing to
Every new batch of prisoners was besieged with anxious inquiries on the
subject which lay closest to all our hearts:
"What are they doing about exchange!"
Nothing in human experience--save the anxious expectancy of a sail by
castaways on a desert island--could equal the intense eagerness with
which this question was asked, and the answer awaited. To thousands now
hanging on the verge of eternity it meant life or death. Between the
first day of July and the first of November over twelve thousand men
died, who would doubtless have lived had they been able to reach our
lines--"get to God's country," as we expressed it.
The new comers brought little reliable news of contemplated exchange.
There was none to bring in the first place, and in the next, soldiers in
active service in the field had other things to busy themselves with than
reading up the details of the negotiations between the Commissioners of
Exchange. They had all heard rumors, however, and by the time they
reached Andersonville, they had crystallized these into actual statements
of fact. A half hour after they entered the Stockade, a report like this
would spread like wildfire:
"An Army of the Potomac man has just come in, who was captured in front
of Petersburg. He says that he read in the New York Herald, the day
before he was taken, that an exchange had been agreed upon, and that our
ships had already started for Savannah to take us home."
Then our hopes would soar up like balloons. We fed ourselves on such
stuff from day to day, and doubtless many lives were greatly prolonged by
the continual encouragement. There was hardly a day when I did not say
to myself that I would much rather die than endure imprisonment another
month, and had I believed that another month would see me still there,
I am pretty certain that I should have ended the matter by crossing the
Dead Line. I was firmly resolved not to die the disgusting, agonizing
death that so many around me were dying.
One of our best purveyors of information was a bright, blue-eyed,
fair-haired little drummer boy, as handsome as a girl, well-bred as a
lady, and evidently the darling of some refined loving mother. He
belonged, I think, to some loyal Virginia regiment, was captured in one
of the actions in the Shenandoa Valley, and had been with us in
Richmond. We called him "Red Cap," from his wearing a jaunty,
gold-laced, crimson cap. Ordinarily, the smaller a drummer boy is the
harder he is, but no amount of attrition with rough men could coarse the
ingrained refinement of Red Cap's manners. He was between thirteen and
fourteen, and it seemed utterly shameful that men, calling themselves
soldier should make war on such a tender boy and drag him off to prison.
But no six-footer had a more soldierly heart than little Red Cap, and
none were more loyal to the cause. It was a pleasure to hear him tell
the story of the fights and movements his regiment had been engaged in.
He was a good observer and told his tale with boyish fervor. Shortly
after Wirz assumed command he took Red Cap into his office as an Orderly.
His bright face and winning manner; fascinated the women visitors at
headquarters, and numbers of them tried to adopt him, but with poor
success. Like the rest of us, he could see few charms in an existence
under the Rebel flag, and turned a deaf ear to their blandishments.
He kept his ears open to the conversation of the Rebel officers around
him, and frequently secured permission to visit the interior of the
Stockade, when he would communicate to us all that he has heard.
He received a flattering reception every time he cams in, and no orator
ever secured a more attentive audience than would gather around him to
listen to what he had to say. He was, beyond a doubt, the best known and
most popular person in the prison, and I know all the survivors of his
old admirer; share my great interest in him, and my curiosity as to
whether he yet lives, and whether his subsequent career has justified the
sanguine hopes we all had as to his future. I hope that if he sees this,
or any one who knows anything about him, he will communicate with me.
There are thousands who will be glad to hear from him.
A most remarkable coincidence occurred in regard to this comrade.
Several days after the above had been written, and "set up," but before
it had yet appeared in the paper, I received the following letter:
Alleghany County, Md., March 24.
To the Editor of the BLADE:
Last evening I saw a copy of your paper, in which was a chapter or two of
a prison life of a soldier during the late war. I was forcibly struck
with the correctness of what he wrote, and the names of several of my old
comrades which he quoted: Hill, Limber Jim, etc., etc. I was a drummer
boy of Company I, Tenth West Virginia Infantry, and was fifteen years of
age a day or two after arriving in Andersonville, which was in the last
of February, 1884. Nineteen of my comrades were there with me, and, poor
fellows, they are there yet. I have no doubt that I would have remained
there, too, had I not been more fortunate.
I do not know who your soldier correspondent is, but assume to say that
from the following description he will remember having seen me in
Andersonville: I was the little boy that for three or four months
officiated as orderly for Captain Wirz. I wore a red cap, and every day
could be seen riding Wirz's gray mare, either at headquarters, or about
the Stockade. I was acting in this capacity when the six raiders
--"Mosby," (proper name Collins) Delaney, Curtis, and--I forget the other
names--were executed. I believe that I was the first that conveyed the
intelligence to them that Confederate General Winder had approved their
sentence. As soon as Wirz received the dispatch to that effect, I ran
down to the stocks and told them.
I visited Hill, of Wauseon, Fulton County, O., since the war, and found
him hale and hearty. I have not heard from him for a number of years
until reading your correspondent's letter last evening. It is the only
letter of the series that I have seen, but after reading that one, I feel
called upon to certify that I have no doubts of the truthfulness of your
correspondent's story. The world will never know or believe the horrors
of Andersonville and other prisons in the South. No living, human being,
in my judgment, will ever be able to properly paint the horrors of those
I formed the acquaintance of several Ohio soldiers whilst in prison.
Among these were O. D. Streeter, of Cleveland, who went to Andersonville
about the same time that I did, and escaped, and was the only man that I
ever knew that escaped and reached our lines. After an absence of
several months he was retaken in one of Sherman's battles before Atlanta,
and brought back. I also knew John L. Richards, of Fostoria, Seneca
County, O. or Eaglesville, Wood County. Also, a man by the name of
Beverly, who was a partner of Charley Aucklebv, of Tennessee. I would
like to hear from all of these parties. They all know me.
Mr. Editor, I will close by wishing all my comrades who shared in the
sufferings and dangers of Confederate prisons, a long and useful life.
RANSOM T. POWELL
SOME FEATURES OF THE MORTALITY--PERCENTAGE OF DEATHS TO THOSE LIVING
--AN AVERAGE MEAN ONLY STANDS THE MISERY THREE MONTHS--DESCRIPTION OF THE
PRISON AND THE CONDITION OF THE MEN THEREIN, BY A LEADING SCIENTIFIC MAN
OF THE SOUTH.
Speaking of the manner in which the Plymouth Pilgrims were now dying,
I am reminded of my theory that the ordinary man's endurance of this
prison life did not average over three months. The Plymouth boys arrived
in May; the bulk of those who died passed away in July and August.
The great increase of prisoners from all sources was in May, June and
July. The greatest mortality among these was in August, September and
Many came in who had been in good health during their service in the
field, but who seemed utterly overwhelmed by the appalling misery they
saw on every hand, and giving way to despondency, died in a few days or
weeks. I do not mean to include them in the above class, as their
sickness was more mental than physical. My idea is that, taking one
hundred ordinarily healthful young soldiers from a regiment in active
service, and putting them into Andersonville, by the end of the third
month at least thirty-three of those weakest and most vulnerable to
disease would have succumbed to the exposure, the pollution of ground and
air, and the insufficiency of the ration of coarse corn meal. After this
the mortality would be somewhat less, say at the end of six months fifty
of them would be dead. The remainder would hang on still more
tenaciously, and at the end of a year there would be fifteen or twenty
still alive. There were sixty-three of my company taken; thirteen lived
through. I believe this was about the usual proportion for those who
were in as long as we. In all there were forty-five thousand six hundred
and thirteen prisoners brought into Andersonville. Of these twelve
thousand nine hundred and twelve died there, to say nothing of thousands
that died in other prisons in Georgia and the Carolinas, immediately
after their removal from Andersonville. One of every three and a-half
men upon whom the gates of the Stockade closed never repassed them alive.
Twenty-nine per cent. of the boys who so much as set foot in
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