8 - ANDERSONVILLE
Soon we were to have the awful experiences of the worst of the prisons. We were ordered to get ready to go to Andersonville. At this time Andersonville wasn't the awful place it was after a few months later. We considered it good news, having heard of it being a large roomy lot, midst the pine forest, where frost and snow were almost unknown. There were about fifteen hundred of us in the Danville prison. At Danville we were joined by three carloads, and at Bell Island, one carload. After we had passed Charlottesville the weather became uncomfortably warm, and we were eight days on the journey. When we had gone about a half the distance the filth that accumulated made it almost unbearable for us, so I succeeded in getting permission from the officer in charge to allow us to clean the car out.
We were all happy over the change to the sunny climate of the south; the cold weather and confinement at Danville had become very distressing to us, though we were under some anxiety as to whether we were to have as good treatment as we had in Danville. Our next stop was at Macon, where we were stopped overnight and waited further orders, and also to avoid getting to Andersonville in the nighttime. Andersonville was about one hundred miles further on.
Arriving at Andersonville, we found to our surprise, that it was a very small place - two log buildings, the railway station and a log cabin, the dimensions of which were probably about sixteen by twenty feet. The 5th Georgia was the regiment to take care of us until we were safely within the stockade. The headquarters of Captain Wirz were beside the gate. Here we were all lined up and counted and compared with the descriptive list which had been sent to him in advance of us. Captain Wirz's house was a very humble log structure. He was the most conspicuous man in the crowd. A tall, thin, homely, and ornery looking man - the homeliest man since God made little green apples. We were marched in two's from the car to the prison gate. Here we were counted off into divisions of ninety, under the charge of a Sergeant.
When the time arrived for our Company ninety two, to enter, Captain Wirz called for a Sergeant. At this call my antagonist at Danville stepped forward to take command. "Who are you?" he gruffly commanded. Instantly there was such a storm of protest went up from the men that Wirz demanded the man who had, or rather the Sergeant who had charge of this division, or the main part of them at Danville, step forth. So at this command it became my duty to show myself to the ruffian. "Who are you?", he demanded in the same gruff tone. "Hileman, sir" I answered as shortly as I could, for I had already hated the man. "Do you like him?" he asked turning to the men. They replied favorable to myself. So I was appointed to resume charge of the Division in our new prison. While I was not at all anxious for the duty imposed upon me, I was satisfied to see my late adversary sat down upon as he was by the men.
As soon each Division was prepared for admission to the prison, was taken inside and allotted its position upon the ground, indicated by a stake driven in the ground, with the number of the division upon it. As we passed through the gate, two by two, we were again searched for our possessions. We advised them that it was a waste of time because we have been stripped of everything worth taking long since. The only thing I had left in my possession was the knife that I used to divide the rations with in Danville. I implored them to leave that with me, to be used only for such a purpose here. They very reluctantly consented to do so.
Our allotment of ground was bordering upon hospital ground near the East end of the stockade. The space was almost one hundred and forty feet long and wide enough to allow men to lay feet-to-feet. But as the prison got crowded later we had to just reduce the space about one half. There were three main paths extending through the enclosure, they were about three feet in width. The "dead line", which was marked by posts driven in the ground, and a board nailed across the top of them about three feet from the ground, separated the stockade from the inside by a strip of ground about ten feet wide. This "dead-line" extended around the edge of the whole enclosure. Besides this space set off by the dead-line, there were about three and one half acres of marsh which was impossible of use. Up the dead-line every two hundred feet was a sentry box occupied by a guard. These guards were relieved from duty every three hours.
The prison contained, at first, fifteen acres. The stockade that surrounded it was made of pine logs which were driven, or dug, into the ground many feet. They stood about ten feet above the surface and were put in as close together as possible. The soil was almost pure white sand. The whole stockade was surrounded by a very heavy pitch pine forest. There was not a farm in ten miles of the prison, I should judge. A small creek ran through the enclosure, or a prison, as it was. It was a nice little stream. When we came there, there were perhaps fifteen thousand prisoners here, and they represented most of our regiments. They had succeeded in making a good many little places of shelter. One crowd had made a shanty that would shelter about eighteen or twenty men. So things didn't look so awful bad at that time, for there was room to keep kind of a half decent for such a place - but as our numbers rapidly swelled later, our troubles rapidly increased.
The refuse of the whole place was expected to be dumped nearer to the east end, where the creek made it's exit, in order to avoid as much as possible the contamination of the water. There was no semblance of anything to conceal the men in their duties of nature. The cook house was built upon the north side of the of the creek; it was nothing more than a shack. The refuse of this establishment must go into the creek - and contaminate it's water in much of it's course through the prison.
It was almost impossible to determine the color of those who had been in the prison for some time before we arrived. They were almost as black as the Negroes, being so much covered by smoke and grime - they of course had no soap. When the weather was rainy and cold, in the earlier part of the season, they had built fires to dry their clothing and it was this smoke, no doubt, that added much to the blackness of their skin.
The prison was made the 1st of February, we arrived there the 22nd of the same month. They said they established this big prison in the far south to be near the chief source of their supplies. But they had, no doubt, another more vital reason for placing it there - to be a safe distance from the Union armies. Before the transfer of the prisoners from Richmond, that city was in much danger of being taken by the Union forces. Most of the men taken before we arrived, had been taken from McClellan's and Buell's armies.
It was really amusing to watch the poor fellows giving each other a bath. Sand was used as a substitute for soap. They were surely aware of the harsh treatment they heaped upon men who had already suffered so much from the men and the elements, but there was no question of it being the most effective cleaner provided by nature in this region. Of course there were great many who could not submit to such a cleansing. They were certainly hard to distinguish as white men.
We were restricted to our allotted space of ground only at ration time and during sleeping time. When the bread wagon time came around we must be on hand if we expected to get our share. Some of the early settlers had made slight places of shelter of the hewing's of pine trees. But there was no protection afforded by the Confederate authorities for the owners of these frail structures. As far as they were concerned anyone had a right to clandestinely make away with such for firewood purposes, at their own risk of punishment, from the rightful owners.
For the first day or two the newcomers had little chance to do anything for themselves, on account of the pressing eagerness of the earlier prisoners to learn the news of the outer world. The upper most thought was - when are we going to be exchanged? and next, where are our armies? We were besieged, as others before us had been, with such questions. Whenever a group learned of where we were from, they eagerly sought us to know of the news from the north.
The first performance of the day was roll call which was done by the sergeants of Captain Wirz's headquarters. We all answered "here" to our name, at least we were supposed to do so. But sometimes we drew rations for dead men. If the Sergeant was hurried he didn't look to see the one answering the name, hence the deception worked upon him. At other times he wouldn't take the time to take the roll call and just merely asked "your men all here?" which question was directed to the Sergeant of the ninety. He would do this when he saw not any dead men around.
The dead were carried to the dead line and laid near the gate to be convenient for the dead wagon, that brought our rations also. You see, the one trip of this wagon served two purposes. The dead were laid upon the ground without any covering other than that of which they died in. They were loaded into the wagon just like so many dead hogs, taken to a partly cleared field which was known as Andersonville cemetery.
There was a young man of the Michigan Cavalry Regiment who had been a preacher. He was a bright persuasive talker and he became very much disgusted and discouraged, and in fact, despaired of living much longer, and was very anxious to get out and see what disposition of our dead was being made. Lieutenant Reese, of the 5th Georgia, had commanded the guards, and fortunately, I was well acquainted with this whole soul'd man, even though he was a Confederate, more from circumstances than from choice. So I made known to him the desire of the young preacher-soldier with the result that he was granted a parole of honor. He visited the burial ground, and his report of what he witnessed there, was indeed sickening. He said holes are dug about the size of a mans body, and then the bodies are thrown in until the hole is nearly full, one body upon another. He added also, sometimes the grave is left uncovered for two or three days until the stench is almost unbearable - then Negroes were compelled to cover them.
The report aroused to it a degree that called for immediate action in the matter. The result was that we sent word to Wirz that we must have a conference with him immediately. The next morning he rode in on his gray horse. We all knew him and there was a great shout went up - "Ahhh, there goes the organ grinder's monkey - that was the name given to him by our men. It must be said however, that those within range of his great pistol didn't take the risk of saluting him in those words. He always carried with him two pistols, one in his hand and the other in his belt. He never entered the prison afoot. When that derisive shout went up most of us despaired of receiving any consideration from this austere, cold hearted and cruel man. But we met with him and made our plea, which was that he allow some of our men to go out on parole of honor, being pledged by the others of us, to help in giving our dead a more decent burial.
Surprising to all it was what when he agreed to our request. Our plan was to bury in a trench, as we did in the battlefield, in such a way as the bodies would be separated by laying pine brush between them - so that in the event of moving the remains in the future, the difficulty would be lessened as much as possible, after such a manner of burial. One of those to go out was a young fellow from New York who was an expert engraver. He was to engrave upon the headboard the name, company, and regiment of the deceased. There was much rejoicing in this being allowed to us. It lifted a heavy cloud from over us, though it was sentimental.
At this time there would be five or six dead some mornings, at other times there would be none. In a short time the old pieces of boards, which we had in hand, were all used for the headboards on the graves - while we didn't halt in our work on that account. Through the courtesy of Lieutenant Reese, I was allowed to go out to the burial field also. Then I used my experience in wood cutting to good advantage. We cut down pitch pine trees, divided them into sections of about three feet in length, then we split these into slabs. Upon these slabs our expert engraver cut up on them the name, company, and regiment of each one as his body was brought for burial in this, his last resting place.
Our trouble was not altogether with the Confederates. About the first of June the prisoners came in very fast from the wilderness, and among them were many from New York - ruffians and villains. These fellows were entirely without sympathy or brotherly love, and worse, took every mean and low advantage to get from the weak, and almost helpless ones, who had suffered here for months, their rations or anything had a chance to possess which would add to their satisfaction or comfort.
Our allotted space was still more limited as the newcomers came crowding in. The oppressiveness of the heat became awful. We were fast losing hope of being relieved of our indescribable misery by being released from this hellish hole. Our rations were cornbread twice a week, and soft beans which were raised for cattle feed, were served to us once a week. These beans could be cooked for a whole day and still been not be fit for human food. The remainder of the time we got raw cornmeal, which was left in a tub for the division or company. Then the Sergeant had to see that his company was served before the wagon came around for the empty tub. Once in a week or two meat was brought to us, but this was so full of maggots, that the Johnny's couldn't think of eating, though they were half starved. Most of our deaths seemed to be from diarrhea, though once in a while one died of pneumonia caused by exposure.
At this time raiders came in very fast. These men were bounty men from New York mostly. We called them wharf rats. These men got from several hundred to several thousand dollars in bounty money. And it looked as though they planned to let themselves be captured as soon as possible after getting into the service, thinking they would only have a short confinement when the war would be over. That is the way it appeared to the rest of us anyway. These bounty men who came into the Andersonville prison at that time, were the most disreputable men imaginable, whoever pretended to fight for their country.
We were now getting still more and more crowded. The hospital had to be moved from within the enclosure of the prison. They also took several hundred of the sickest men and put them in the hospital. There were several of we sergeants got together and decided upon a proposition to put to Captain Wirz, which was; we would furnish about six men from each company; the strongest and the best men, who would go out on parole of honor to cut pine slabs in the forest to make sheds for the hospital grounds. This plan had the approval of the Doctor in charge of the hospital, but Wirz was made of a very different mind on the subject - "no! no!, the more damned Yankees who die the better" he said in a cruel and vengeful voice.
There were now about thirty five thousand prisoners and gaining in numbers rapidly. About the last of June the raiders got to be desperately bad, they killed several of our own boys most cruelly. It was about this time that two whole regiments were captured at Wilmington and sent here with the understanding that they should keep their equipment with the exception of guns and ammunition. The prison companies were filling out their quota by these men. Then the remainder were put into the hospital grounds.
I got fifteen of these new men in my company, one of them by the name of Dowd had a fine gold watch. The watch and chain had cost him five hundred dollars he said. Many of them had considerable money and other valuables. Dowd had about three thousand dollars worth of valuables. It was not long before the raiders were busy planning on a raid on the newcomers. I saw some of the raiders in our midst, and immediately after the coming of the new men, asking the time of the day and etcetera just to see as nearly as possible what their possessions might be.
The raiders were thoroughly organized. About the third day they made their fatal raid. This was the first time that my company had been molested by them. They commenced their operations by approaching our men to have a gambling game. This man Dowd, a man of splendid physique and general appearance, promptly declined their invitation as did the others. The next move was they asked the time of day, and Dowd unsuspectingly took out his watch to accommodate the villain. Some grabbed hold of him while others took his watch and chain. Then the fight commenced. But our men being unprepared for such an occasion, was soon worsened to the extent that many were knocked down and robbed of everything of value. The tent was knocked over, and in the strife a couple of the raiders were severely cracked on their heads by some of us who rushed to the assistance of our boys.
Though these fellows had been reported time and again for their deviltry, Wirz paid no attention to our complaints. But this affair, being so much worse than anything previously, we couldn't endure it further without a strenuous protest to Wirz. Dowd and myself soon managed to secure an audience with him, with the result that he promised us there would be a full investigation of the trouble. The following day we were made very happy with the sense of great relief by the appearance of Wirz accompanied by a strong squad of guards. He called upon all those who had been robbed to report their losses and to assist him by identifying those who had taken part in the robberies.
A squad of Negroes were put to work in building a stockade to separate a part of the prison enclosure for the confinement of the guilty ones. A number of days passed before we succeeded in finding all of them. Finally about two hundred of the raiders were picked out. Wirz then said to us - "now you fellows must go ahead and try those devils yourselves, I'll have nothing to do with that".
There were many lawyers, good lawyers, and other experienced in the procedure of law in our number. So lawyers were appointed to represent both sides, a judge appointed, and a jury was impaneled. All of which required considerable time. Many men were thrown out before a jury was secured - so many had been mistreated by the Raiders. The trial proceeded with all the regularity of the criminal court. None but witnesses and guards, besides the necessary persons, were allowed to be present at the trial. The pleas of the Lawyers were as good as any court, in spite of the fact that the men were sadly weakened by the awful privations of this terrible place.
When the trial was ended, Captain Wirz, accompanied by a strong squad of guards, entered the prison to represent the Confederacy in finally disposing of the case. The jury found six men guilty of murder - the Colonel, Captain, a Lieutenant and three Sergeants. They were found guilty directly and indirectly, the latter in taking the rations and causing starvation. Quite a number were found guilty of maltreating the prisoners.
Those guilty of murder were sentenced to be hung, quite a number to the ball-and-chain, the others were to run the gauntlet - which was a lane two or three hundred yards in length formed by a line of prisoners on either side, and to execute the sentence to the utmost of their ability by beating the Raiders over their backs with the most effective sticks they could procure .
When the verdict was announced Wirz said "now I deliver you up to your men, I guarded them, I fed them, I allowed your men to try em, now you find em guilty". Turning to the wretches, under the sentence of death, he said "now all I say is - that God have mercy on your damned souls". And before he could turn and ride away, one of the prisoners, way back in the crowd, shouted "that's more than God will give you, you old man". He ignored the taunt and sullenly rode away from the hell on earth.
A gallows had been erected a little east of the south gate to hang the six men simultaneously. The Colonel, and leader of the gang, was a powerful and large Irishman. When they dropped, his rope broke, and little stunned by the terrible ordeal, he rushed away toward his Division, tramping down and knocking aside all those who were in his way. He succeeded in making his escape. Finding a dead man lying in a hole, he pulled him out of it, crawled into the hole himself, and then pulled the corpse over himself. In this way he avoided detection for about a couple of hours. He was roughly dragged back to the scaffold while he cowardly pleaded for his life to be spared, but the next drop he was sent into eternity.
The whole affair was too horrible, but the men deserved their fate. The running of the gauntlet had a very salutary effect upon those evily disposed.
Most of the valuables which had been stolen by the Raiders had been disposed of. Some traded or sold to the guards with out a doubt, others perhaps buried for future recovery. But Dowd fortunately recovered his gold watch and chain which were worth five hundred dollars.
After this, Lieutenant Reese allowed us to make laws to punish any of our men for theft or evil doing; we were to punish by lashing with nine tails, bucking, and gagging. One fellow in the Company next to ours had his cup stolen while he was cooking his meal. The thief was given nine lashes in the presence of thousands of his fellow prisoners. Gagging was performed by tying a stick of wood in the mouth of the man who had done wrong, was overly boisterous, and etcetera. Bucking was done by sitting the thief on the ground and drawing his knees up until his feet were near his chin, then tying his hands together over his shins, then placing a stick under his knees and over his arms. The only way he could move was to fall over on his side. It was a most humiliating punishment and caused much amusement to the onlookers.
Most of the stealing done now was over the rations which was about all that was left after the Raiders had cleaned us out of what we were allowed to have. Our being allowed to punish the offenders had the desired effect. Although there were those who were born thieves, and to who punishment was not sufficient to stop them, abandoned their disposition entirely. Another mild punishment was to deprive the thief of the rations for a day for stealing another's rations. This had a very good effect.
About the middle of July disease was taking off about one hundred of the prisoners. The heat was terrific and heavy thunderstorms nearly every day, which were indeed a godsend to us as it washed great quantities of filth away. And every Company dug a well near the creek. Around the wells dirt was ridged up to prevent the water from running in on the surface. The heavy rains improved our water, which had been polluted by the awful amount of filth, by washing it away. The condition of nearly all by now was chronic diarrhea. It was awful to behold, words cannot describe the situation. We had nothing in the shape of scissors or razors but a small pair of pocket scissors owned by John W. January, a drummer boy, who used them to cut off the bones and tendons of his feet which were eaten off by gangrene. So one might imagine the way the appearance of this thirty thousand starved, and nearly naked men, the majority who hadn't had a haircut or a shave in six months - he vermin was simply indescribable.
About this time our numbers were increased by two Regiments which were captured at the Battle of Atlanta, from General Sherman, by Joe Johnson. The first hour enclosure had to be extended, so they were held in North Carolina until this was accomplished. In the meantime many of us were scheming desperately to escape. Meetings were held wherever we had the room to congregate, and plan ways of escape and further movements, after that was accomplished. We knew of the later prisoners who had come in, of the whereabouts of Sherman and Joe Johnson. So our plan was to carefully avoid Johnson and all Join Sherman's army. When safe within his lines, we expected to soon redeem our health and strength, and help in tearing up railroads and etcetera.
The greatest difficulty we anticipated, was of course, in making our getaway from the stockade. We decided to tunnel under the stockade as near to the creek as we could, so in the event of pursuit by the bloodhounds, we could escape much easier along the streams and over the marshes. We were well organized in a military way. Our Brigadier General was a man well trained in military tactics. He was from New York. He was to be Commander-in-Chief of our forces. We had carefully planned for, and selected, the foraging parties. The first work of tunneling was to be done from our wells to the stockade, one tunnel on each side of the creek. The object of this was to get under the stockade and undermine that, so that when all was ready, a rush of three hundred picked men against it, the great fence, would go down and take with it three guard posts - and make a gap wide enough to let our twenty thousand men through in a few minutes.
Our plan was to get the arms of the guards who fell when part of the stockade went down. There were about one hundred guards in all, many of them being gray haired old men, others mere boys - this was especially so after the Battle of Atlanta. During the night every guard called out his number and "all is well". So you can see how there was almost a constant call of the guards around the stockade. Sometimes a prisoner would yell an answer - "yes all is well, and the Confederacy's gone to hell". In answer to this the guard would indignantly retort "you-uns should shut-up, or we-uns will shoot". I remember of only once of them carrying out there threat, the bullet striking an innocent man who was standing near the daring patriot.
We had almost completed our work of undermining the stockade, and our plans all laid for storming the wall of the stockade, disarming the falling guards, and also make the remaining ones prisoners, which would have been an easy matter because they were desperately sick of their task. I do believe that there would have been very few shots fired at us. But fate decreed that our plans should fail - the night before our plans were put into execution, the heavens opened and poured out one of the greatest rainstorms I have ever seen. In a few moments the creek was a raging torrent. All of those who were able to stand were compelled to be upon their feet, and those who were too weak to stand were carried to the highest ground in our power to reach. This excessively heavy rain was proceeded by about ten days of wet weather, the ground was thoroughly soaked when the weather culminated in a cloudburst. Everyone was of course awake, who could possibly hold his eyes open.
I had gone after one of our boys who was in very bad condition and was located about half way down to the creek, and was returning with him in an attempt to put him away from danger of the water overcoming him, when there was a terrific yell came from the direction of the creek at the stockade. Excitedly looking around to see what had caused the yell, I soon saw, by the bright lightening, that the creek had taken out about six rods of the stockade, and there were three or four guards struggling in the raging torrent for their lives. Immediately there was an excited rush began for the gap by the prisoners, but they were abruptly halted by the great flood sweeping through the gap in the stockade. None would care to risk their lives in that raging torrent which was about ten feet deep. In a short lapse of time there were guards on hand to prevent any escapes when the flood subsided.
The next morning there were about a hundred and fifty Negroes at work repairing the stockade. Our work in tunneling and undermining was revealed that day. Wirz was nearly crazed with anger. He stationed a battery of eighteen pieces of old brass cannon on a commanding position and said "We'll sweep the whole stockade with grape and canister if the devils make a move to get out". For along time after this Negroes, accompanied by officers, made an examination of the prison grounds by driving iron bars down into the sandy soil to see if there was any tunneling any more. The Negroes said later "we sometimes pretend to find a hollow place just to see the officers get down and dig".
Previous to the heavy rains the lice were so thick that by raking aside the dust with ones foot they could plainly be seen crawling up the leg, thick as they could be, and traveling with great speed. But the heavy rains greatly relieved us of this awful pest. Very often in digging wells we used the dirt to cover a spot where one had lain in sickness or death, for in such places that the vermin would be swarming thick. The filth of the sink of the cook house was all taken away by the flood. This was a Godsend to us because a portion of our water is supplied by it. It was principally for this reason that we dug wells for drinking water.
After the storm it became very necessary to have our firewood replenished. So several men from each Company, accompanied by guards, went out to get a supply where the woods had been invaded by the Confederates for posts and other items. While out on this expedition we got a slab of pitch pine, about five feet long and a foot wide, to hew into a trough for the great spring that had providentially broken through the ground in the prison enclosure - but just inside the dead-line. It was gushing out a stream of cold clear water as large as a man's thigh. We had to divert its flow from directly into the creek, to another way, by which we could have better access to it, and also to confine the flow into a stream instead of being spread out. Lieutenant Reese came into the prison and supervised us as we put our trough into position. We had to have special permission from headquarters to work on the deadline, which was necessary in doing this work.
The Confederates, or at least many of them, were awed by this intervention in our behalf of providence, it seemed. Wirz put quite a force of men to work beyond the prison to find, by digging down, the source of the spring - but his efforts were all futile. In preparing for our assault upon the stockade, and the escape to follow, we had used much of our best wood for shillelaghs. These we secreted in a cave. Our tunnels and cave led us away from our wells, in fact, that was the only way we could succeed in accomplishing this thing without detection.
About this time we were visited by a party of Confederates; five surgeons, a Major, and two others, who were sent to investigate the conditions of the prison. Reports had been sent to Congress describing the awful conditions of the Confederate prisons and no doubt it was a result of such reports that the Rebels did this. There was a party of us out there in the woods where we were met by this party of officials. As we heard them coming by the patter of the horses hooves, I said "who's coming?". They said " oh they are gentlemen coming to inspect the prison", and most likely, as we had been expecting them for some time, but the wet weather must have stopped them. "Well if that is the case we better get out of sight - they'll not care to see a lot of naked and starving men such as we" I said. "Never mind, you're the ones they've come to see" said a guard determinedly. "My God man, we're not fit to be seen by civilized man" I said, my breast was heaving with emotion.
When we had finished speaking, the party came into view a short distance from us, all on horseback. Following the immediate excitement of the occasion, we had a quiet and dispassionate discussion of the situation as regard to the Union and the Confederacy. "Well what do you really think of our having the advantage of the situation?" asked one of the officers. "No indeed, you did have the advantage I believe, but now judging from what we have heard from the new prisoners, I should unhesitatingly say that we have the advantage. We have the Mississippi, and that is a very important advantage" I continued with the firmness of true conviction. He underestimated the resources of the Union, and I could see the desperate weakness of the Confederacy - and we hadn't received the news of the Battle of Gettysburg by this time.
One of the party, an officer, said to me "well what do you people in the North think of our Confederacy anyway?". "Probably it wouldn't be safe for me to say just what we do think of it", so I answered. " I am a gentleman sir, and give you my word that I am such here as I would be anywhere" He answered audibly. "Well then I'll tell you" - "we believe that it is a foul scheme hatched in the very depths of hell", I said with all the emphasis that could be put into the few words. My interrogator immediately drew his pistol while his whole being trembled with anger. "Down with that you dirty coward, and you pretending to be a gentleman. I'll see that you are severely punished for this dastardly act" said the Major as he intervened.
We were held back for some time to wait for another squad to return to prison with us, they had also been out for wood. We saw nothing of the party of investigators in the prison. We are told that they passed through, taking notes of the general arrangements of things only. They gave more time to the hospital, which was situated out in the woods. They made out a report and sent it to the Federal General who had charge of the exchange of prisoners. They proposed to exchange our sick men for good sound Confederates, but of course that was promptly disagreed to.
Soon after this we again commenced to dig another tunnel for escape. We were determined to make another attempt to escape, but in another way. It was to start our tunnel about five rods distance from the stockade. Then go under it, come up just beyond the large pitch pine trees that were a few yards from the stockade. Beyond this the timber was so thick it covered almost completely from view of the guards on the stockade, even in the daytime.
There were about a dozen of us who were chiefly interested in the scheme and did most of the tunneling work. As a reward, we were have the first chance for escape. The arrangement provided that one at a time should go through the tunnel at two minute intervals. The tunnel led away from the well and was about twenty feet deep. As a means of ascent and descent it had a pole notched to use as a ladder. For hoisting the dirt we used a tent canvas made into a rope, also had the receptacle of the dirt was of the same material.
The tunnel started at a depth of about ten feet from the surface. We had to be extremely careful about who we took into confidence in our scheme because there were some who would betray us on a promise of parole. There were several tunnels which had been nearly completed when the workers were betrayed by one of themselves. One in particular I remember of, was on the other side of the creek, it was a short and wide one aimed to come up at the battery. A hundred prisoners could have gotten out of there in a few minutes. The scheme was to take the battery, and get arms, them proceed to take the guards by surprise after which the gates would soon be swung open. Then every man fight to the death if necessary.
This was all prevented by a scoundrel by the name of "Chestnut" of Kentucky. He revealed the plot the night before the tunnel was to be finished, and he was the leader of the scheme. He secured his liberty - had he ever been returned to prison, he would have surely been killed. It was reported that he joined the Rebel army, but we never found out if whether it was so.
So we went to work with split canteens, for dirt scrapers, in our new tunnel. The hole was large enough to admit a man on his hands and knees, and the soil was almost pure sand. The work was all done in the nighttime. We worked in three shifts first, but the further we got in the more men was needed.
It so happened that when the stockade was reached, I was busy elsewhere, one day drawing rations. The other day I was at the burying grounds to identify a former Mason who had been buried the day previously. Lieutenant Reese told me to go out and edify the body and have it re-interred with the head toward the east. We found the body and wrapped it in an old piece of tent cloth, and was buried as ordered. For this service I was given a chunk of cornbread and a sack of sweet potatoes - these things made a veritable feast for us. Lieutenant Reese happened to go through the prison while we were enjoying our feast and saw us. He looked at me rather inquiringly and said, "no wonder you are starving, when you do get a chance to feed up a little, you give most of it to those around you". "Well Lieutenant I never could be satisfied to take it all in myself when there are others around me who are needing it as badly as I was". He earnestly replied " yes I can plainly see that is so, but you must do justice to yourself" he added.
One day shortly after this time there were several of us sitting upon the ground talking when Lieutenant Reese came by, we invited him to have a chair with us. The only thing that there was around to sit upon the dirt was a pine slab laying not too far off. During the conversation that followed, I said " there are not many of your men who like Wirz, are there?"... "No indeed, not one of us - why there is the Colonel Ives, he hates him worse than the devil does holy water". There never was a nobler man in the Confederate uniform than that Lieutenant Reese. He was only twenty five years of age, he had servants to wait upon him in his father's house, but with all of that he was entirely unspoiled by the ease and luxury of his earlier life.
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