Note: The following excerpt comes from
the recently published novel Hiram's Honor: Reliving Private Terman's Civil War
by Max R. Terman and appears here through the courtesy of the author. Private Hiram Terman was captured at
Gettysburg, sent to Andersonville—and survived! What would that have
been like? Based on over ten years of research, Max Terman, Hiram’s
descendant, revisits the camps, battlegrounds, and prisons and
writes as if he were Private Terman of the 82nd Ohio Infantry in
this fact-based, first person account.
In this excerpt, Private Terman
arrives at the Confederate prisoner of war camp at Andersonville, Georgia with other members of
the 82nd Ohio in a group they call the "Buckeye Manor." The religious
Isaiah, secular Seth, and quick-witted Bushey are Hiram’s closest
friends as they strive to survive in the grinding misery of the
South’s most infamous prison camp. Sam Parker is a Confederate guard
whose life was spared by Hiram at the Battle of McDowell.
Soon after his arrival in late
March 1864, Captain Henry Wirz, the new superintendent of
Andersonville, changed the way prisoners were counted and divided
into messes. Under the new system, each detachment was made up of
two hundred seventy prisoners, each of these then had three nineties
and each ninety had three messes of thirty. We were in the second
detachment, second ninety or detachment 2.2.
This recounting and reorganizing of
ten thousand prisoners occurred just when untrained Georgia Reserves
of young boys, old men, and soldiers unable to serve in the field
were replacing regular Confederate infantry soldiers at the guard
posts. During our wood gathering details Sam Parker told us that all
able bodied men were needed for fronts in Virginia, Tennessee, and
other battles erupting throughout the South. Sam said he was worried
that some of the young guards may have short fuses and that we
should be careful.
To add to the confusion and
uncertainty, Rebel sergeants counted and recounted, sometimes taking
all morning. Rations were delayed. Weakened prisoners fainted in the
hot sun and men became sick and death rates increased. Prisoners
became increasingly desperate and tried to escape by any means
possible, mostly by walking away from wood gathering details or by
tunneling under the walls. All of this infuriated Wirz who wanted an
orderly and tightly run prison camp with all men accounted for and
As numbers of prisoners grew, food
and supplies became harder to procure. Rebel quartermasters cut back
on meat and amounts of cornmeal. Reduced rations fueled more
discontent. Starving men became frantic. Escape attempts by
Men absent from roll counts slogged
through the swamps with bloodhounds and hired man hunters on their
trails. Most were caught, put in chains, and thrown back into the
prison. Others were put in stocks where they lay exposed to the
weather, unable to move. Furthermore, food was withheld from the
detachments of the men who escaped from the stockade. An air of fear
and anger spread through the prison as spring moved into summer.
Escape was certainly on the minds
of the Buckeye Manor but we were perplexed. Isaiah started the
conversation as we sat in the humid and damp shade of our hut near
the end of April.
“We have to try to escape. It’s our
duty as soldiers! I know of a tunnel being dug by some Pennsylvania
coal miners over by the east wall. They could use our help.” To this
some would nod ascent but others like Seth replied with caution.
“Isaiah, didn’t you see those poor
souls in the chain gangs and in the stocks? Those bloodhounds are
good at tracking down Yankee hides and the boys are all bit up by
those dogs.” A pair of prisoners dragging a ball and chain trudged
by our shelter.
“Besides, we’re in the middle of
Georgia. Where can you go in these swamps?” Each of us surveyed the
prison around us. “No, we best figure out how to survive ‘till we
get exchanged or Union cavalry raids get us out. These Reb guards
will run at the first sign of Union horseflesh and carbines.”
Bushey Thomas, rubbing the back of
his head, remarked. “Can you imagine what it would be like to be ten
feet underground in a tunnel and then have the thing cave in on you?
It happened to a Massachusetts soldier named O’Brien. By the time
they dug him out, he had suffocated to death. His mouth was full of
dirt from screamin’ for help.”
Thus, while escape was in our
hearts, caution ruled our minds, as we grew accustomed to the
monotony of roll calls, collecting rations, trying to cook and
prepare meals, and the ranting of Captain Wirz.
One early May morning as we stood
at roll call in the rain going through a third recount, Isaiah,
weakened by giving too many of his rations away, fainted. Wirz
immediately recognized the gap in the line and rode his gray horse
up to where Seth and I were trying to revive Isaiah.
“Get up you damned Yankee and get
back in line!” Seth looked up at Wirz with a scowl that would fry
“You blasted fool, can’t you see he
has fainted!” Wirz then called over a guard who was a mere boy,
maybe fifteen years old.
“If dis man says one more word,
shoot him! I vill have order in this prison!” The boy grimaced as he
clumsily pulled back the hammer of an old smoothbore musket. He then
laboriously aimed it at Seth. I quickly put my hand on Seth’s
shoulder and said, “Let’s pick him up and hold him. You grab his
right arm and I’ll get his left.”
Andersonville, 1864 (Library of Congress).
As we raised Isaiah, his limp legs
solidified and he regained consciousness. Coughing, he then righted
himself and stood in line. Wirz sneered at us and waved his hand at
the guard. The boy exhaled in relief, lowered his gun, and released
the hammer. Smiling to his comrades, he then walked back to his
The prisoners around us murmured
their disgust. Isaiah’s good heart and deeds were well known and an
affront to him was an insult to them all. Finally, the count was
finished and rations, meager as they were, reached our famished
More crowding in late May agitated
the discontent that pervaded the prison grounds. Nearly twenty
thousand prisoners now inhabited the cramped space of Andersonville.
The constant bumping and physical contact stressed every man who
straightaway wanted to get out. Plans of escape were on everyone’s
Prayer meetings sprang up around
the camp like mushrooms. Men heretofore brazen and callous about
religious things began to fear death and sought salvation. Sermons
and hymns could be heard around the stockade almost every evening.
Petitions to the Lord for rescue rode every prayer.
Groups of men began to dig shafts
and side tunnels for escape. The Rebels, who reportedly had spies
roaming among us, tried to ferret out any organized strategies for a
break out. Wirz especially feared a mass run at the gates or walls
and aimed cannons filled with canister and grapeshot on the prison
grounds. To remind us of the deadly consequences of a charge on the
walls, he occasionally fired a shell over the grounds.
He also established a no-man’s land
around the inside of the prison demarcated by a deadline of boards
nailed to poles set in the ground about nineteen feet inside the
walls. Any prisoner in that space (or even reaching into it) was
liable to be shot by the guards. Not only did this deadline add
another means of dying, it also made the overcrowding worse by
taking away space. Those who had set up comfortable quarters next to
the shaded walls now had to move to the interior.
Selfishness and self-preservation
vanquished morality and produced thievery and a general atmosphere
of violence. Evil increased its grip on Andersonville and wickedness
flourished along with hoards of flies, lice, and mosquitoes. As new
groups of prisoners entered the stockade, this whirlpool of misery
twisted and spun, sucking more and more men into the depths of hell
June brought rainy steamy days that
became relentlessly oppressive in the foul prison pen where any
breeze was blocked by the high stockade walls. A trip outside was
worth almost any price and prisoners fought over who could carry
dead or wounded men outside to the dead house or hospital.
The overcrowding produced horribly
unsanitary conditions, especially along the stockade creek. The
sinks overflowed with excrement, contaminating the upper reaches of
the stream. Wounds exposed to this filth became gangrenous and arms,
legs, fingers and toes rotted and dropped off living men, revealing
raw nerves and bones. Maggot infested bodies littered the prison.
The summer of 1864 witnessed the playing out of Darwin’s theory of
natural selection as the weak died and only the strong continued to
endure the misery of Andersonville.
Those of us who survived seemed to
be thin and wiry. Two of the taller men of the Buckeye Manor died in
the extreme conditions of hot, wet weather and scant rations. We who
survived could barely carry the dysentery-riddled bodies of these
farm boys from Ohio to the south gate. Those who kept cleaner and
could get along on less food and water somehow persisted. There were
now seven of us in our hut in the middle of a mass of tents on the
upper north slope.
From our higher vantage point, we
could see almost the entire prison including the forts and buildings
outside the stockade. The camp of the raiders on the southwest side
of the prison was the focus of our group one hot afternoon in
mid-June. Seth, after silently watching the raider camp for some
“Hiram, remember what you said
about the rats in your barn in Ohio?” After using an old dirty rag
to wipe sweat off my forehead, I murmured a feeble “yeah”.
“Those raiders over there are the
mean, tough rats. They band together and take everything they need
from the rest of us who just squeal and run away.”
At that moment, some men down by
the swamp stirred and shouts of “murder, murder, and thief” pierced
the steamy air. Three large men ran away from the commotion, quickly
crossed the bridge over stockade creek, and then casually walked up
to the raider camp. Cheers and backslapping greeted the thieves who
waved blankets and watches in the air. Seth gritted his teeth.
“Good God, look at those thievin’
raiders! How can we put up with that? Those sons of perdition have
got to be stopped!” Realizing the importance of this comment, the
rest of the Buckeye Manor stirred from their slumber and focused on
the area that Seth was so intently observing.
The man who the raiders attacked
was now at the north gate angrily beckoning the guard. We could hear
his cries, as he demanded to see Wirz. Soon the man left the
stockade accompanied by a Rebel officer. Isaiah, shading his eyes
with his hand, stared at the doors of the gate that were now
closing. Turning to us, he asked.
“Where is that man going? How did
he get out of the gate so quick? Do you suppose he will get to see
Wirz? Do you think anything will be done about the raiders?”
No one in our group had the energy
to speculate further. Hardly anyone in the stockade did anything
until the hot sun mercifully descended behind the horizon. As we
reclined on our bunks, the grinding monotony of the stockade
reclaimed the seven soldiers of the Buckeye Manor.
In our hut, we were much better off
than the masses that surrounded us. Most prisoners were under flimsy
tents or makeshift shabangs. Some had no shelter at all, the heat
relentlessly removing life from their burned bodies.
With evening came a hard rain and
we refilled our clay vessels with runoff from the roof. As we picked
lice off each other and swatted mosquitoes, we questioned whether we
should sleep on our ground cloths or put them on the roof to shed
the abundant amounts of water coming down in waves from the heavens.
It had rained almost every day in June. Isaiah had kept a diary in
the pages of his Bible that revealed twenty-one straight days of
Small drips of muddy water formed
and ran down the inside of the roof as the moisture dissolved the
clay between the pine logs. I decided to go outside and place my
rubber blanket on the roof since I did not want to repack the spaces
with clay. I could not imagine having the strength to do that job
As I exited the door, I bumped into
Isaiah who was carrying a man in his arms. The flashes of lightning
revealed the unconscious limp body of the young courier we had
helped earlier. Isaiah was barely able to speak to me as he
struggled up to the entrance of our hut.
Forgetting my mission to cover the
roof, I helped Isaiah pull the boy into the hut out of the rain. The
eyes of the rest of the Buckeye Manor were on Isaiah.
“I found this boy lying in his
shebang almost drowning. I would like to add him to our mess if the
rest of you agree.” I disrupted a long silence.
“We certainly have room in the hut
now.” As Isaiah placed the man on the center bunk, Seth questioned
“Isaiah, do you think we can save
every poor wretch out there?”
Isaiah carefully caressed the boy’s
forehead and felt his neck for signs of life. Finding a weak pulse,
he looked at Seth. “No, Seth, just this one life tonight.” Seth took
a deep breath, exhaled, and slowly approached the boy. Seth paused
over the boy as a lightning flash revealed his young face, amazingly
peaceful, almost childlike.
“What’s his name, regiment?” Isaiah
said he did not know his name. “You don’t even know his name? What’s
your connection with him?” Exhausted, Isaiah closed his eyes and
then calmly spoke.
“I met him earlier and his face
came into my mind tonight as I slept. I felt that he was in trouble
so I got up and went to his shebang.” Isaiah looked like he would
faint but continued. “I found him drowning, unconscious. It was
surely a sign from God.”
Seth clapped his hands and then ran
his fingers through his straggly hair. He then moved to his bunk
where we heard him mutter. “Why not, the more the merrier!”
I heated a bowl of my sassafras tea
and spooned it slowly into the young courier. The brew warmed his
blood and got it coursing again. The next day we found him conscious
and awake. His name was Richard Cummings and he was the son of a
prominent New York congressional representative.
He had not been able to find any
men from his regiment and was still alone. He most certainly would
have died if Isaiah had not brought him to our hut. Tears ran down
the boy’s pine pitch darkened face as he repeatedly thanked and
blessed us for saving his life. The Buckeye Manor was now up to
The last week of April had brought
Andersonville a group of two thousand “fresh fish” that changed the
economic and social fabric of the prison. These were the “Plymouth
Brethren”, a group of well-equipped and fancily dressed soldiers
captured by the Rebels at a fort in North Carolina.
These men had made special
surrender arrangements with their captors that allowed them to keep
their knapsacks, equipment, and money. The Rebels honored this
agreement and into Andersonville came an infusion of money and items
heretofore unseen in the market place. Watches, pots and pans,
knives, spoons, blankets, writing utensils—the variety of materials
in their knapsacks seemed limitless.
Convinced that they would not be in
this “despicable place” more than a few weeks before being
exchanged, the Plymouth Brethren readily traded these items for food
and extra rations. We were amazed that only a few astute men in
their group realized that they had better hang on to items that
might be needed for an extended stay. Old prisoners like us realized
that exchange was an improbable dream and that grinding day-to-day
survival was what really mattered.
A surprise came to us in late June
when Richard Cummings recognized one of these men as his cousin and
left us to take up residence with the Plymouth Brethren. Richard
later proved to be an “angel unawares” as he brought us a large
metal cooking pan for our mess. This bonus of an item from the
Plymouth Brethren allowed us to better combine our rations of meal,
peas, bacon, and bartered vegetables to make a stew.
The pot was an obvious blessing and
caused much introspection and discussion in the Buckeye Manor around
many a meal. We debated repeatedly whether we should help other
destitute men around us. Bushey Thomas said the pan in front of us
argued strongly that we should. Others thought our connection with
Richard and the pan was just a fortunate but improbable outcome of a
The ‘dilemma” was the subject of a
discussion on another night in late June. Seth was stirring a stew
cooking in the large metal pan. The rains had mercifully stopped and
the night was clear and moonlit.
“Well, it worked out with Richard
but you fellows see my point, don’t you? How can we take any more
men into our mess? We will be swamped and all of us will starve.”
Seth lowered his carved wooden
spoon into the pan for a bit more stew. A shot rang out. His hand
jerked spilling some of the precious brew onto the ground. We peered
out of the hut into the darkness and could only see the glowing
light of the fires lighting the perimeter of the stockade. A guard
was standing on the wall with his rifle pointed downward.
Bushey, after a long silence,
remarked. “Another fellow exchanged and paroled to the heavenly
shores!” I followed with a question.
“I wonder if he was trying to get
some of the cleaner water where the stream enters the pen? I can’t
believe they would shoot a man for reaching into the deadline for
some water but I’ve seen four men shot in that area!” Seth shook his
“I bet the poor wretch walked into
the deadline on purpose hoping to end his suffering.” This comment
caused us all to consider the condition we were in at this hellish
By the end of June, almost thirty
thousand prisoners were crammed into the prison. Disease was rampant
and the hospital, which had been moved from inside the prison to the
outside, overflowed with sick and dying men. Surgeons were without
medicines due to the Union blockade of Southern ports.
Rations, already too small, were
cut in half. The only way we survived was to use our greenbacks to
buy food at the market. Those without money starved. The dead pile
at the south gate numbered over fifty, sometimes near a hundred.
Men became even more frantic with
hunger. For more food, some turned into spies for Wirz and reported
the locations of tunnels or informed guards about attempts to
escape. A mass escape plan was foiled when Wirz learned of it and
threatened to fire canister and grapeshot if a rush on the walls or
gates was attempted. Spies or traitors who were caught by the other
prisoners had their heads half-shaved or were tattooed with two T’s
standing for “tunnel traitor”. These “half-shaves” did not survive
long unless the Rebels took them outside.
Some desperate prisoners accepted
offers to join the Confederate army in exchange for food and
clothing. Not many did this, an impressive credit to our patriotism
given the absolute misery that men were under. “Death before
dishonor! Death before dishonor!” chanted a group of prisoners at a
Confederate officer trying to recruit more skeletons.
Others committed suicide by
stepping over the deadline. Young boys barely able to peer over the
walls of the pigeon roosts shot these miserable men.
One afternoon as I walked along the
deadline, I saw a young guard go into shock after shooting a
one-legged and insane prisoner called Chickamauga. Chickamauga was
suspected of being the spy who revealed the mass escape plan. His
isolation and destitute circumstances evidently caused him to lose
his mind and cross the deadline.
After shooting the man, the young
guard just stared at the corpse, becoming almost catatonic. He did
not respond at all to the jeering crowd protesting his action. I
moved closer careful not to get too near the deadline.
Sam Parker, who occupied the next
guard station or “pigeon roost”, climbed up to the boy’s guard post,
his wooden leg produced a noticeable thump. Sam glanced at me before
placing his hand on the boy’s back.
“Son, if you didn’t shoot that poor
wretch you might have been shot yourself. Ain’t no way a boy your
age should be in a place like this. I pray to God that this war ends
before too long and we both can get out of here.”
The young guard gradually took his
stare off the now stiffening corpse of Chickamauga and found the
eyes of Sam Parker. Wiping a tear from his cheek, he shouldered his
musket. Sam gave me a glance and shook his head. I reciprocated in
Sadly, the raiders recruited more
and more Union soldiers ready to sell their souls by killing and
robbing their fellow prisoners. Attacks by these brutes became
commonplace in June. We estimated that there were almost one
thousand raiders generally located on the southwest side of the
prison. Bands of club wielding brutes roamed the grounds robbing men
suspected of having money or other items the raiders desired. This
was often done at night where the thieves would communicate by
whistling when they selected their prey.
Frightful were the nights when this
eerie whistling suddenly roused us to attention and caused the hair
to stand up on the napes of our necks. Grabbing his club and peering
out of the hut into the blackness, Seth remarked one night. “These
damned vultures are our own men, our own men damn it! How can Union
soldiers be such fiends?”
Isaiah had a ready answer. “We are
all fiends by nature, Seth. It’s by the grace of God that we control
For the most part, the raiders
avoided groups such as ours that were vigilant and well prepared
against their predations. They mostly attacked the weak,
defenseless, and new arrivals that were lured to where they could be
overwhelmed in the now packed stockade.
The enlarging of the stockade at
the north end, about twenty paces away from our hut, marked the
beginning of the month of July. Ten more acres of unsoiled ground
with tree stumps was made available and all detachments numbered
above forty-eight were instructed to pull up stakes and move as
quickly as possible to the new area.
About thirteen thousand prisoners
moved through a large hole made in the old north wall in about two
hours. So fierce was the stampede that some prisoners were trampled
to death unable to get out of the way.
Opening this hole in the wall of
the stockade released a valve on the human steam boiler of
Andersonville. While the stockade was still crowded, the moving of
the thirteen thousand prisoners to the new space allowed us to now
walk around without having to push and shove and have constant
contact. It also supplied us with a needed supply of wood.
As soon as night fell, the
prisoners on both sides of the old wall began tearing it down. Like
ants removing sticks from an anthill, the logs disappeared one by
one. Groups of thin, emaciated men performed miraculous feats of
strength, loosening logs buried five feet in the soil and dragging
them away. By the next day, the entire wall was gone and the new ten
acres lay open to the old original seventeen making a total area now
of about twenty seven acres.
The Buckeye Manor secured a whole
log that we took turns chipping into bundles of firewood using a
railroad spike. We traded some of these bundles in the market for
sweet potatoes, green ears of corn, blackberries, and sumac berries
that helped prevent scurvy. Prisoners all around us were losing
teeth from disintegrating gums and leg muscles were involuntarily
contracting so that a man could not walk.
Contracting scurvy was a serious
matter and all of us were acutely aware of its symptoms. A sour mash
beer made from fermented corn meal was also sold in the market as a
scurvy cure but we invested solely in vegetables, a proven
preventative for a host of maladies.
More difficult to come by for the
majority of prisoners was a cure for the robbing and mugging of the
raiders. The number of attacks in June going into July was
unacceptable. Men were now being attacked, robbed, and killed in
broad daylight as well as at night. An organized resistance began
taking form all over the camp.
In our area of the stockade, the
first call to action came at a prayer meeting. Seth, Isaiah, and I
were some of the first men to volunteer to be part of a large force
of men dedicated to identifying and capturing thieves, flankers, and
raiders. We were called the regulators, a type of police force.
Memories of being in the provost guard for General Sigel coursed
through my mind.
An Illinois sergeant named Limber
Jim became the leader of the regulators. Limber Jim and a number of
other sergeants had communicated with Captain Wirz and convinced him
to help subdue and keep under guard men known to be thieves and
raiders who would then be given a trial and meted out punishment. We
were convinced that this would be the best way to end the misery of
Anything that restored order was
favored by Wirz and with his help, the scoundrels were gathered up
during the last week of June and the first week of July.
At the orders of Limber Jim, a tall
and lanky man with a fetching personality, the Buckeye Manor grabbed
our poles and headed for the south bank where the bulk of the
raiders resided in rather plush style on stolen food and other
items. As we approached the raiders, the same fear that I
experienced on the battlefield gripped me. The raiders were in much
better physical shape than us and their line of clubs and knives was
We, however, possessed the added
strength and determination of the righteous cause that fueled our
anger. Seth, Isaiah, and I along with a growing group of other men
attacked on the left flank of the raider line. In five minutes their
defense, held together only by selfishness and greed, broke. We used
our poles to knock down and hold seven raiders trying to escape
after the front of the raider line dissolved. Each of these brutes
snarled at us like rabid animals, threatening to cut our throats
once this “farce was over”.
The swelling number of prisoners
plus the Rebel guards soon overwhelmed the resistance of the raiders
and the result for the thieves and murders was far from being a
farce. The ringleaders plus over two hundred known thieves were soon
put under guard in the holding areas of the gates to the stockade.
Credit must be given to Wirz and
the Rebel guards for helping to achieve this successful outcome.
Wirz, ever careful of the mass escape, nevertheless, had his
artillery guns loaded and ready should anything but the capture of
the raiders transpire.
Over the next few days, a trial by
jury was given to the raiders. Six of the ringleaders were sentenced
to death by hanging and the two hundred others convicted of crimes
were to run a gauntlet. One by one, the raiders were released from
the prison gate doors to run through a double line of club wielding
and fisted prisoners. The blows killed many of the thieves while
others were able to run the line of death and limp out into the
stockade to disappear among the chanting throngs to nurse their
After this, the six leaders of the
raiders with hands tied behind their backs were led up to the
gallows. Three Rebel guards beat drums playing the death march in
the background. One of the condemned men tried to escape by running
through the masses down across the swamp. He became mired in the
filthy mess and was eventually led back to the gallows. A Catholic
priest from Savannah who had been unselfishly helping dying
prisoners, then pleaded for their lives saying that all of us in
these terrible conditions deserved mercy and a second chance. Those
men who endured without attacking their fellows listened but drowned
out the priest’s words with repeating chants. “No, hang em! No, hang
Finally, a silence came over the
grim scene. The six men were then allowed to say any last words. A
couple of them broke down from their bravado and lamented their
ways. They claimed that they were good men once but had fallen in
with the wrong crowd and had given vent to their desires and lost
their sense of morality. They asked for forgiveness. My thoughts
briefly went back to the preacher at Camp Simon Kenton and his short
sermon. Others were stoically silent, saying nothing. Two of the
raiders snarled and cursed the men who put them into this situation
telling everybody to “go to hell”.
“You will soon be there” was the
response of Seth who with Isaiah and I stood about thirty yards off
to the west of the gallows.
Isaiah had a sad but angry look on
his face as he murmured, “God’s will, God’s will”. Surveying the
rest of the Buckeye Manor revealed demeanors ranging from
anticipation to disbelief. A sense of profound unrest settled into
my stomach as I watched the noose go around the neck of Willie
Collins who stood on the end of the gallows closest to us.
Meal bags were placed over their
heads. I jerked as the planks were pulled out from under the men and
the ropes stretched and strained, squeaking under the weight of the
Willie Collins had jumped at just
this moment and his weight snapped the rope. As he hit the ground
and rolled, the bag came off his head. The poor brute then looked up
from the ground and witnessed the others gasp and strain as the
taught ropes slowly strangled his partners in crime. Their legs
straightened and shook as life leaped from their convulsing bodies.
Collins blubbered like a man possessed.
“Please fellows, God has spared my
life. Don’t put me up there again!” As two of the regulators lifted
him, he tried to drop to the ground to secure seconds to his
miserable life. One of the men lifting him then spoke.
“Ah, come on Willie. Stand up and
take your medicine. You killed and robbed and it’s done. You’re
going to hang. Don’t look at these others. It just makes it worse.”
Indeed, it was if the worst of the
raiders was given this psychological torture before his own bout
with strangulation was to begin. Soon, mercifully, his huge lifeless
body swung beside the others. After twenty minutes, the bodies of
the hanged men were lowered to the ground and left in position on
the filthy clay of the south bank at Andersonville.
Prisoners filed by them for hours
until darkness fell on the horrific scene and the bodies were
removed to be buried apart from the other soldiers who died at
Andersonville. Prisoners needing firewood quickly removed the wood
from the gallows and soon more fires than usual flared up in the
cool, damp Georgia night. The Buckeye Manor did not sleep well but
the nightmare of the raiders was at an end. The regulators, now
numbering about twelve hundred, formed a police force that
maintained a relative if somewhat arbitrary sense of justice in the
Soon the monotony and misery that
was the essence of our reality came back into our consciousness. The
relentless challenges of survival resumed as the days of July
sizzled and burned in slow progression from sunrise to sunset.
The relentless march south of Union
forces in the summer of 1864 exposed more Federals to capture and
increased the numbers of new Union prisoners coming into the camp.
Some of these new prisoners were from regiments now fighting in the
state of Georgia, soldiers under General William Tecumseh Sherman.
They brought hope that the war may be ending but dashed any
anticipation of a prisoner exchange.
One new prisoner from Sherman’s
troops, on hearing our complaints about the government abandoning
us, exclaimed. “Exchange? Grant and old Abe will have nothing of it.
The paroled Rebs from our prisons are soon right back in the field
while our men are almost dead when returned to our lines. The worst
sticking point is that Negro soldiers captured are kilt outright or
sent back into slavery, not even put up for exchange. No, I don’t
see much chance of exchange.”
Indeed, one day we observed a local
plantation owner come into the camp with an old gray bearded slave
who walked behind him, head bowed. The portly southerner closely
surveyed some of the colored troops captured in recent battles in
Florida. The black troops turned to him full bore and looked him
fiercely in the eye as he and the old slave walked with a group of
Rebel guards in front of them. The proud look of the colored troops
infuriated the slave owner who suddenly stopped and pointed out a
black sergeant standing erectly off to his left.
“Moses, do you know that negra
standing over thar?” The old slave slowly walked over to the
sergeant and returned to the plantation owner who was slapping a
whip handle into his hand.
“Sho enough, massa, dat one dere is
massa Jones slave, sho enough is. He ran off last plantin’ time.”
With this the Rebel guards seized the protesting colored soldier and
handed him over to the slave owner and his men who waited outside of
the south gate. Absolute anger and pain marked the faces of the
colored sergeant’s comrades as they watched him get shoved and
whipped again into the darkness of slavery.
Another black officer stepped
forward at this time and addressed his men. He was a handsome man,
tall and slim, with a distinguished manner. With well-formed words,
he assured his men that “vengeance was the Lord’s and the evil just
witnessed would be repaid with full measure, and even now, the sword
of the Lord was in the land.”
Meanwhile, the pale horse of
pestilence and hunger was roaming Andersonville as the hot
unbearable days of summer and reduced rations squeezed life out of
the miserable prisoners. This led some of our men to write up a
petition to President Lincoln detailing our terrible state of
affairs and demanding that we be exchanged. Wirz even agreed to let
some of our men leave to take this letter to Washington.
Not very many men, including the
Buckeye Manor, felt comfortable signing this document. Isaiah felt
that our government had reasons for leaving us at Andersonville.
Bushey Thomas said that “some lice free clothes and a taste of some
meat and vegetables” would go a long way in helping his
understanding of the matter.
Seth could not understand why some
cavalry units from the Union forces were not sent to free us. “If
Sherman is in Georgia, freeing the prisoners at Andersonville would
give him a lot of extra man power.”
Evidently, the Rebels agreed with
him as they worked feverishly building an additional stockade wall
and earthworks for defense. They also placed more artillery to
defend an attack that they were sure was to come any day.
News of that day came to us in
early August with the arrival of captured cavalry troops of Union
General Stoneman. They had been captured in Macon by Rebel forces in
a failed attempt to attack Andersonville. Even Stoneman was captured
in the attempted raid.
Our two hopes of salvation were to
be exchanged or freed by Union cavalry attacking the stockade and
rescuing us. While rumors of exchange circulated constantly, nobody
took them seriously. The failed raid depressed our spirits even more
than the thirst and hunger that constantly pulled us down.
The fetid grip of death tightened
around Andersonville even more firmly in August. Each day the dead
house received over one hundred prisoners, every corpse a grim
reminder of our own tenuous hold on life. Each of us in the Buckeye
Manor now realized that our lives now hung on our ability to avoid
the pestilence that pervaded the prison pen.
The pitiful and poisonous
conditions were even noted by the Confederate government who sent a
military surgeon named Chandler to inspect the prison. He saw
Andersonville at its worst. Rations had again been cut. Disease,
vermin and starvation threatened every prisoner; none escaped the
ravages of the filthy pen.
Our number in the Buckeye Manor was
reduced by three more due to the ravages of a fever that caused our
comrades to first convulse with heat, then go mad with pain, and
finally collapse. I tried every remedy I had from sumac berries to
sassafras to laurel root but nothing worked. As Isaiah, Seth, and I
dragged the three brave soldiers of the 82nd Ohio to the south gate,
Dr. Chandler noticed our pitiful condition and came up to us.
“How long have you men been in
prison?” asked the Rebel doctor.
“Since our capture at Gettysburg
July 1—first at Belle Island and now here,” I replied. His jaw
dropped as he beheld our thin and gaunt appearance. Calling his
assistant over, he motioned to him to record our names, regiment,
and capture dates on a ledger sheet.
“My God, you have been in prison
over a year? You men will be the first to go in the coming exchange
at Savannah. Just hang on a few more weeks.” He then left shaking
his head and disgustingly repeating, “This is a reproach, a reproach
to the Confederacy!”
The days of August were not only
hot but clean water could not even be bought at the market. Wells
had been dug in the new area of the stockade but the water was as
undrinkable as the putrid Stockade Creek. As we lay in our hut, we
often looked at our dry clay pots just to stir the memory of the
rainwater that we used to have available. All of us showed the
telltale signs of scurvy, tight leg muscles and bleeding gums.
Even Seth attended our prayer
meetings where mournful entreaties were made every night to the
Almighty for deliverance.
On a day in early August, our
prayers were answered. A massive cloudbank formed in the late
afternoon over the prison, the lightning flashed, and the winds blew
as if out of the mouth of God. Torrents of rain came rushing down
and in minutes the stockade creek and swamp were filled with rushing
waters that mounded up against the west and east walls of the
prison. As we watched from our position high on the north slope, the
west stockade wall collapsed followed by the east wall. The
accumulated stench of thirty thousand prisoners was swept away in
Through the waves of rain, we saw
the Rebel guards form battle lines around the openings in the walls.
In the forts, artillery teams quickly staffed their guns. The
suddenness and severity of the storm did not allow for any organized
mass attempt at escape. A few prisoners tried to ride the floating
logs out of the prison but they were captured by the guards and
returned to captivity. Most of us bathed in the rain and restored
our water supplies.
As I collected water off the roof
into our clay pots, I saw Isaiah and Seth, both with their arms
outstretched towards the heavens. Isaiah was weeping; his tears
joined the raindrops that ran down his cheeks. Seth was wiping his
body with a wet rag, murmuring, “Thank you Lord, thank you Lord.”
Had the profane but close friend of mine finally received a
convincing demonstration of the existence of the Almighty?
Noticing my penetrating stare, Seth
slowly dropped his arms, composed himself, and came with Isaiah, who
was still weeping, over to near the hut where I stood. Placing his
left hand on my back and his right on Isaiah’s head, he embraced us.
No words came from his lips but his message penetrated our hearts.
As the refreshing rain let up, we
went into our hut and began singing Amazing Grace. Our feeble voices
joined thousands of others from all around the camp. Our singing
mixed with the sounds of Rebels and slaves working zealously
throughout the night and over the next few days to rebuild the walls
and washed out areas of the stockade.
The storm left a lasting blessing
to us in the form of a new spring that formed near the north gate
just inside the dead line. The Rebels built a trough to convey this
life-giving water to the prisoners. Thousands stood in line for
hours to get a refreshing drink from this new source of water.
Before long, the name of Providence Spring was given to this vital
source of water that no doubt saved hundreds if not thousands of
This was not the only improvement
that came to the prison as we went into the middle part of August.
For some reason, Captain Wirz took sick and went to Macon to
recover. In his absence, an officer named Davis took command and
immediately instituted measures to clean up the stockade. Conditions
improved and better rations were also provided. The weather at night
became more pleasant and sleep helped many a prisoner to recover.
However, record numbers of men continued to get sick and die. The
struggles of prison life finally laid Isaiah low.
As the sounds of slaves and
multitudes of workers building a new wall around the original
stockade filled the days and nights, our friend Isaiah lay on his
bunk struggling to stay alive. Like the others who died previously,
he became feverish and hot, shaking with chills and then losing
consciousness. Seth, Bushey, and I took turns attending to Isaiah’s
needs. We brought him water and shared our rations. We bathed him
and cleaned up his bouts of diarrhea. We were the last of the
Buckeye Manor and we did not want to lose another life. Isaiah had a
strong constitution and gradually showed signs of recovery but he
could not walk and was totally dependent on us.
With September came new and serious
rumors of parole and exchange. Captain Wirz returned and our hopes
again sank. The only good news was that Sherman had captured Atlanta
and the end of the war seemed closer. We learned this through a
Rebel guard who late at night on September 4 called out “post number
ten and all’s well and Atlanta’s goin’ to hell.” After this
pronouncement, the stockade literally pulsed with excitement as
nearly comatose prisoners suddenly found new vigor.
Over the next days, Rebel officers
called together the various detachments and told them to get ready
to board the trains to the coastal port of Savannah to meet Union
ships that would take us home. A new energy swept through the camp
as the dead literally sprang to life. We were to be one of the first
detachments to leave and immediately began gathering up items that
we thought we might need.
Isaiah watched us from his bunk, his eyes alternately closing and
opening in weakness, as the rest of us excitedly prepared for the
short train trip to Savannah. Seth went over to Isaiah and put his
hand on his warm forehead.
“Hang on, Isaiah. We are finally
going to get out of this, er ah, prison. I almost said damn, didn’t
I, Isaiah?” The sick man managed a slight smile. “Well, I am turning
a new leaf, the Lord willing, and you, me, Hiram, and Bushey will
even form a new kind of church back there in Ohio. What should we
call it? Let me see here.” He looked at the rest of us who bore a
resemblance to a circle of vultures eyeing two skeletons. Bushey
“Isaiah is a Hard Shell Baptist,
ain’t he?” Isaiah gave a short moan. “And Hiram, you and I are
Presbyterians and Seth there, well, he is a new convert. Why don’t
we call ourselves Hard Pressed New Baptists?” Realizing that this
was the first time I could remember hearing laughter anywhere in
Andersonville, I replied.
“I certainly agree with the hard
pressed part!” After a few seconds, our laughter turned to silence
as we noticed that Isaiah had again lost consciousness. Seth came
over close to me and began whispering.
“Hiram, you know the Rebs are only
going to allow able bodied men to leave for Savannah. Our side won’t
exchange anybody who can’t make their own way on board those Union
ships. Those who can’t walk are going to have to stay behind. If
Isaiah can’t get up on his feet, what are we going to do?” Bushey
overheard us and leaned up close.
“If he can’t walk, we will carry
him between us. The Rebs will never know he’s being carried if we
get into the middle of a crowd.” This sounded like a good plan and
we talked the rest of the night about Savannah, the Union ships, and
the details on how to get our good friend carried out of
Andersonville. The thought of leaving him for the surgeons in the
wretched hospital was not an option.