"Civil War Prisoner - Not Equal to Describe Hell on Earth"

by John H. Conrad,

Company G, 38th Illinois Infantry Regiment

(See Photo)

Submitted by: Barbara "Clifton" Guinn, gmfrontporch@yahoo.com, web page - Grandma's Front Porch

The following is an account of the Civil War experience of John Henry Conrad, my great-great-grandfather. John was born 8 Jun 1841, Illinois, and at the age of 10 was left an orphan. He enlisted in Company G, 38th Illinois Volunteer Infantry when he was 20 years of age and served 3 years and 7 months. He was discharged on 12 Mar 1865. After the war, he married Louisa Hall and their children were all born in Illinois. Later they moved and settled in Craig, Nebraska. John died 26 Mar 1915 in Nebraska (his obit is at the end of this article).

The article was first published on the front page of the Craig (Nebraska) Advertiser on May 31, 1907, with the headline "Civil War Prisoner - Not Equal to Describe Hell on Earth" and was later reprinted in the Burt County (Nebraska) Plaindealer, July 9, 1970.

My name will be found upon the muster roll as John H. Conrad, Company G. 38 Regiment, Volunteer Infantry enlisted at Camp Butler, Springfield, Illinois in August. 1861. W. P. Carlin was our Colonel. when I enlisted. Later I was our Brigade Commander. We were sent down from Camp Butler to Pilot Knob, Missouri, to help watch Price of the Confederates. In the later part of October we had a "brush" with about two or three regiments of his forces at Fredricktown, Missouri. They "skedadled" leaving a few men killed.

Early in the spring of 1862 we left Pilot Knob and went down through Arkansas. The march was noted more for mud than anything else. When we arrived at Jackson port on the White River, an order came for two regiments to re-enforce the army collecting at Shiloh. The twenth-first and thirty-eight Illinois, eighth Wisconsin, and first Indiana Cavalry. in Arkansas.

Then we began a rapid movement for Cape Girardlaw, Missouri, which we reached in time to take passage on the old Empress, a lower Mississippi steamboat. We passed Carlo, up the Ohio and Tennessee rivers to Pittsburg, landing just three days too late for that battle. We then joined the army at the siege of Corinth, Mississippi. We were then when the rebels evacuated that place. Then we were sent with a detachment down towards Holy Springs and came very near being trapped by the Rebs but escaped by marching all night.

But comrades, I can, in this very limited span, give but a very brief history of my army experience. From this on the great acts in the history of our country began to be made with a rapidity and magnitude that astonished the world and came near paralyzing the resources of our country.

I will state that we were put with that body of men that became known as the Army of the Cumberland. We followed Brackstone Bragg when he made the raid through Tennessee and Kentucky.

We were at the battle of Perryville. Our regiment captured a battery there and followed Bragg back into Tennessee, and stopped awhile to rest up and kill "gray backs."

While there the fifteenth Wisconsin, twenty-first Illinois, and one regiment of our second brigade made a quick movement west of Nashville and captured eighty-two "Bush-whackers," burned three houses, one distillery, barms, granaries, tobacco houses, etc. This was in retaliation for some of their work in Middle Tennessee.

The army of the Cumberland was reorganized at Nashville. Buell was superseded by William. Rosecrans. My regiment was in the second brigade, first division, twentieth corps, and was commanded by M. McCook, right wing; Pap Thomas, left wing; General Crittenden, center. This if I remember right was the make up of the forces as far as the infantry was concerned. The battle of Stone River was the next great battle to be fought. (For a correct account see history.) The thirty-eighth suffered fearfully in that battle. Our killed was nearly one hundred. Our small company lost six, two more died from wounds afterwards. I received a wound in that battle for which I drew four dollars up to the passing of the New Law.

All of the old comrades who were in the right at the battle of Stone River remember the cottonfield and the swamp.

The day after our fight on the right, we took about fifteen or twenty prisoners, while out on the skirmish line. It was a little foggy that morning and there was a little mixing up of the lines and our boys came in with more men than they went out with.

My wound did not put me out of the fight; I was in it from start to finish.

After the rebels fell back the army camped for quite a while around Murfreesboro. The camp life, foraging, picket duty, and skirmishing I have not space to write of. While we were in here in the summer some time we advanced on-Bragg, and also our brigade had a battle at Kows Gap; the twenty-first and thirty-eighth Illinois, took a twelve pound brass Napoleon cannon. One man was killed in my regiment.

Soon after this we had a brisk fight at Liberty Gap. We had two killed in our company and two slightly wounded. Our regiment charged bayonets on them and drove them back, and captured the flag of the fifth Georgia. I saw a number of dead "Johnies" near the flag.

Our next battle was Chickamango. Our regiment went into that battle on Saturday with 214 men at roll call and on Sunday morning there were only 100 that answered the roll. Our company went into the fight with three Sergeants in commands (for a description of this battle read history).

I was taken prisoner Sunday afternoon, September 20, 1863. The prisoners were taken to the rear of rebel army and sent to the railroad station and started Monday morning en route for Richmond. I wish I had space to describe the trip on the train. Everything appeared to be worn out. It would give a railroad crew of the present time the delirium tremens to be told to take charge of such an outfit of rolling stock. Even the darkies that ran the train seemed to think anything was good enough to take us Yankees to the "hell" that they had in preparation for us.

Sufficient to say that in about ten days we reached Richmond. During the time we were on the road they had begun that great contraction scheme that proved so fatal to our avoirdupois and the shrinking of our stomachs. It will be useless for me to try to describe the hell of those poisons.

I spent one night in Libby prison. From there we were sent on to the Pemberton. We stayed there seven weeks. Did they starve us? I had a dream one night among the first I was there and thought, no felt that I was starving; that hunger like a hideous "nightmare" was knawing at the very vitals of life. I seemed to remember that there.. was something to eat in my haversack. I looked, and sure enough there was a small piece of something. I took it out and putting it in my mouth, began to eat. Pah! That part of my dream was true. That small piece of something that I had put in my mouth was a small piece of soap. While here, I saw an advertisement in a Richmond paper for dead animals. I thought no more about it then, but just about this time they began giving us meat that was badly putrified, and judging by the large, round ribs that were given us, I remembered the ad had read: "Even dead horses and mules will be taken." I was then pretty well satisfied where the poor mules went.

From Richmond we were sent to Danville, on the North Carolina side of the Dan River. We stayed here until March, 1864. During the winter, the smallpox broke out in the buildings we occupied, and a great many died from it. I seemed to be an immune for I did not take it. But my hips became almost worn out from lying on the hard floor. I got into a scrape while there, or rather while I was keeping some one else out of a scrape. I really was somewhat guilty. Some of the boys cut into the cookhouse and took some bread. I discovered them and they divided with me. The Rebs found out that I knew some-thing about it, and when I refused to tell on the boys I was taken out with two others and bricked. I lay on the frozen ground for three more hours, but for all that I would not tell who did it and the Rebs never did find out who did it. I was not able to straighten out for some time after I was released and sent back into the building.

In Marcy, 1864, we arrived at Andersonville. I do not feel equal to describe this veritable hell on earth. The disease, the starvation, the filth, the exposure to the elements by being shelterless, and the utter disregard of the rebels to the very smallest details of humanity. I contracted scurvy while here, and it came near getting away with me. Sometime in October, we were sent away from Andersonville, first to Charleston and from there to Florence which by the way was a repetition of Andersonville only 'worse,' if possible. At Andersonville, two days was the longest we had to go without rations, while in Florence there were two different times that we went three days without a bit of rations, and when we did get it, it consisted only of about a pint of meal.

But oh! the agony of hope deferred! Will we ever get out again? Will we ever see God's country again? Thousands did not. I was pretty badly played out and by the 15th of December the Rebels began picking out the puniest ones first, and I happened to be taken the next morning. We were put aboard a train and were taken to Charleston. We were then taken, put on a rebel transport and were taken on past old fort Sumter to one of the United States steamers. Once again we were under the "stars. and stripes." In three days we arrived at Annapolis. We were there about ten days, then we were sent to Baltimore, and from there were sent home on a furlough. I arrived home on New Years eve, and was taken sick and was not out of my bed for eight weeks. Finally I recovered and reported, and was discharged March 10, 1865, three years and nearly seven months from time of enlistment.

The prison life has affected me ever since, by rheumatism, heart trouble, lung trouble and the effects of scurvy.

John Conrad Company G., 38th Reiment Illinois, V, Infantry

I am including his obit as it reflects some of the information on his civil war experience and also whos how he did not let if affect his way of living:

John H. Conrad Sr. passed away at his home some time between the hours of 12 and 7 AM, Friday, March 26, 1915. He had been in failing health for some time, but had been up and around each day and at a late hour Thursday evening was sitting up reading as was his custom. His death was discovered by neighbors who, noticing the light still burning at 10 o'clock Friday morning went in and found him lying on the couch fully dressed.

Mr. Conrad was born June 8, 1841 and at the age of 10 years was left an orphan. At the age of 20 years he enlisted in Company G, 37th Illinois Infantry, serving 3 years and 7 months and was honorably discharged March 12, 1865. During his service he endured the torture of imprisonment in the Libbey, Andersonville, Florence and Danville prisons.

He was united in marriage to Louisa hall, December 23, 1879, and to this union was born four children: Mrs. Charles Riley (Myrtle Jane my great-grandmother), Craig; Mrs. Francis Curren, (Frances Marrion), Polk; John H. Junior, Omah; and Frederic, who died in infancy. His wife passed away in April, 1892, since which time Mr. Conrad has lived a lonely yet cheerful life, rearing his family of three children unaided. Although having tasted life in all its inhumane phases and encountering an abundance of thorns amongst the roses along life's highway, he was always optimistic, believing as well as expressing the fact that no matter what his burden, some other had an even greater one.

The deceased was enlisted under the name of Coonrod. On September 20, 1863, he was taken prisoner at the Battle of Chickamauga and confined in Libby prison from which place he was later removed to Andersonville prison. After serving some time there he was exchanged, and later was captured the 2nd time and sentenced to confinement in the Danville and Florence prisons. After 13 months imprisonment there, during which time he went 3 days and 3 nights without food, he was exchanged from the Florence prison. He was wounded at the Battle of Stone River.

He did not take delight in recounting the horrors of his experience; therefore but little is known with regard to these. It is safe to say that had he so desired he could have related happenings equal to those of any who served in the Civil War.

It was his custom to look on the bright side of life, rather than resurrect the bitter. It was his desire that the Stars and Stripes, for which he fought, bled and suffered, should be buried with him and this wish was respected; an example of patriotism to the youth of today and a lasting tribute to the country he loved and honored.

The many friends here will sadly miss their old friend, Uncle John, as he was familiarly called by old and young alike. His cheerfulness and optimism during a career of devotion and service, pain and sorrow, will be an inspiration to all who knew him, and his memory will be revered by all.

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