Memoirs of John W Bartleson
Editor's note: The text has been rendered as near to the original as possible. Minor text errors have been retained, inasmuch as they do not create significant syntax issues, but, in many cases, add to the story. In some cases additional information is provided with brackets and some unreadable words and errors followed by a [sic] notation. In addition, some hyperlinks are provided to sites with additional information about specific locations and battles.
Chapter Two: Part One - Youth
Chapter Two: Part Two - Battle!
I kept up with the company. I always have thought that one-fourth of the men dropped out or suffered sunstrokes during the six-mile run. The companies had been reduced from the Red River expedition and from sickness—we had only thirty five or forty of the hardiest members left. We crossed Tishaminge Creek [Tishimingo] and came to Brice Cross Roads, a church, cemetery, some stores and shops and a few buildings. The firing was only a short distance away and was drawing nearer. Indicating that our forces were falling back. We were ordered to stack our haversacks with rations, blankets, coats and everything except gun, cartridge box and fort[y] or fifty bullets, and the canteen, which was indispensable. We rushed south a run, then east, then turned north into a small field, called Porter field; this was nearly half a mile from the cross roads before mentioned, had woods in front and cleared land to the west. The right of our regiment was on the edge of the woods on the south. Other regiments of the brigade were stationed along the fence.
We send out skirmishers and did not have long to wait. About this time my oldest brother, Edwin, who had served in the Mexican war and was at this time a sergeant in our regiment, came to me and said, “Johhnie, you must stand up to the works. Some of the men have shown the white feather.” I said, “Ed, you attend to your own business and I will attend to mine.” The skirmish line came rushing back and the bullets began whizzing past. I cocked my gun and thought I would fire through the woods in the direction of the enemy. My gun burst the cap, but did not shoot. I hammered on the breech of the gun to prime it or jar some powder in the tube. I then leveled my gun for a shot and the gun snapped but did not burst the cap. Then I discovered I had put two caps on, stuck together, [and the hammer's] force was not sufficient to burst two caps. Just then a bullet struck a rotten rail and three some splinters on me. My first thought was I would be killed before I could shoot at all; I was still anxious to have one good battle, the fighting heretofore had not satisfied me. Just then I saw a rebel coming through the wood not more than sixty yards away. I leveled my gun at him and fired. The bullet struck a small sapling between me and the enemy, and scraped off the bark.
At this time, for some reason that I do not know, unless it was to straighten out the line, our regiment was ordered to fall back to the middle of the small field, the Porter Field. There was a draw or low place running from the fence to the south of the field, and we fell back to this draw, about 150 yards from the fence on the east, our first position. We had the protection here of lower ground, a snags or stubs of trees and a few fallen logs. Our Company, I, was well down in the field near the left of the Regiment Company K on the left and Company A on the right up to the south fence and extending in to the woods. Six of us were behind one snag were protection, fanning out, I second from the snag on the right; Corporal Eli Sowers next to the snag on my left and William Bellamy on my right. I was in my shirt sleeves, with gun, cartridges and canteen. The rebels had come right up to the fence we had vacated, 125 to 150 yards away. At the corner of the fence or field we could see them standing, and smoke boiling up along the fence disclosed the location of others lying down. Most of our company with the captain, my brother, was on my right. Our business now was to shoot and shoot often, taking good aim at the men or near the bottom fence rails.
I saw [fell] on my knees and stayed in the position through it all. After while William Bellamy exclaimed, “Boys, I am shot.” I asked “Where?” He answered “In the back.” I am sure this was not so, but he must have felt the sensation in his back. He was smiling with his last words. I turned and fired my gun, and when I turned again to look at Bellamy, his body had fallen forward and he was dead. I believe he was shot square in the breast. In a little while I glanced to the left and Alfred Lingle was stretched out dead, without a struggle. I knew the rebels were over shooting, that is, shooting down hill. The bark and rotten wood were raining constantly from the snag.
I knew, too, there were no woodpeckers on this snag, only bullets. I was in plain view, being on my knees, but I also knew the enemy was over-shooting. Up to this time I had not been afraid, being busy attention to my duty. My gun got so clogged with dirt and burst powder I could not put a bullet down, even after I had taken the paper off the bullet. I took Bellamy’s gun and cast mine aside, and kept on shooting. One of the boys just behind me was wounded in the neck. He had fallen with his head down hill. He called loudly, this was bad, up to this time all had been quiet. Once in a while I would look up the line to my right to see the boys. Tom Hill was behind a log on my right in full sight. A bullet struck him square in the forehead; the boys laid him down.
About this time [my brother], Captain [James John] Bartleson came down the line to where I was and said, “Get away from here—don’t you see all are killed but you?” I answered “I couldn’t help it.” Then I noticed that I alone of the six was left. Up to this time I had fired about forty times. I had fifty cartridges to start with and only a few were left. The right of the regiment had got mixed hand-to-hand [fighting] with the enemy and the company had captured a flag. About now we got orders to retreat, up to this time, no shells had been thrown into our ranks. The rebel artillery was about a half mile north east at the Porter House, on a hill; there were woods between our regiment and their artillery and they shelled the regiments in their front, to the north of our location with grape and canister and made hovoc with them. We retreated back across the little field about 200 yards to the fence. I got to my feet and turned my back to the bullets; I was badly scared. I did not run. We kept a line at a fast walk across the field. My legs wanted to run but we did not. I had a great dread of being shot in the back. At the fence, which was overgrown with briars and brush I turned, faced about and said “Now shoot!”
In crossing this field, not over 400 yards wide, rebels with their guns resting on fences, bullets skipping the ground all around, I did not see a man hit. We continued our retreat through a narrow piece of wood until we came to the cemetery and church at the cross-roads. Lines were formed as best we could, ammunition was issued in a small amount, our artillery was stationed at the corner of the church, theirs was in front not far away. There were shells and noise and confusion; we were ordered to fix bayonets. Supposing something would be doing, we kept on shooting, firing in two ranks. Some one was firing over my shoulder. A bullet must have struck his bayonet near my ear. It was as if a piece of steel clanged in my ear. I became deaf and to add to my trouble, my second gun became so dirty I could not push a bullet down it. I took a rag and went to a tree. By putting the rag on the ramrod I could jam the rod against the tree, and by working it back and forth removed some of the dirt and burned powder. While I was thus occupied I felt something strike my wrist. Thinking on of the boys was careless, I turned around to scold him, but no one was present. I looked at my wrist and saw a drop of blood, the thought I had been wounded. For a minute I was scared. Then I took my wrist in the other hand, rubbed it and said, “It is nothing.” I had left the company as it seemed only minutes, yet not a man was in sight. Then I turned to the church, not more than 40 to 50 feet away, and there were two pieces of artillerymen cutting out the horses. Bullets were striking the church, chipping off the boards.
Just then I met my brother, Capt. James John Bartleson. He said, “Where the h--- is the company?” I never heard him swear before or afterward. He held his pistol in his hand. He had been to help two wounded men under the church, Tom Bohan and Mike Malone, two good Irishmen. I answered his questions, “I don’t know.” Then I glanced to the south and saw the colors. The Regiment had taken the south road at the crossroads, marched south, swung around the head of a draw and was marching west. I looked southwest and saw a plain path leading down across the branch and intersecting with the road the Regiment was taking. This path was probably taken by the congregation on its way to church as a short cut. I ran with all my speed, my brother following me and we soon rejoined the Company. Before we left the church the Captain declared he could see the rebels not more than fifty feet away, their guns resting on the fence palings, shooting straight at us.
Gen. N.D. Forrest
Less than half a mile from the cross roads we crossed Tishimingo Creek [Tishimingo], the bridge was party broken, and with the artillery, cavalry, infantry and ambulances there was a tremendous jam, all in panic reteat. Near the bridge was a stretch of flat land, and in the timber was parked the wagon train, all filled with provisions and things we need to eat and drink. The wagons had been set on fire, teamsters or anyone who wanted a mule were cutting the animals loose, wagons were destroyed to keep the Rebels from getting them. Most of us believe that General Sturgis had planned to deliver [to General Sherman] General Forest, Rebel commander. I found a box of new guns that had been thrown from a wagon. I took a new Springfield rifle, discarding my old one. I still had five or six cartridges, so I loaded my new gun.
We had gone only a short distance when the Rebel artillery found our range and had it trained on every bend in the road. We were not running: we could not run. Soon we passed through a long lane. Many were killed here. Years afterwards, a Rebel told that they had to remove our dead from the path of their artillery. After we had retreated about three miles, and were near a white house owned by a Methodist minister, on a long slope of a hill. I happened to glance back along the road and to my surprise saw, about 150 yards away, a body of Rebel cavalry and artillery crossing the road, hoping to station their guns to catch us as the next turn of the road at the top of the hill. There seemed to be quite a number of our boys around, although I did not look around. I dropped to my knees behind a stump about a foot high, not much protection, but all that was near. I fired at once and began loading. Some of the horses [were] without riders. I fired again. About this time I saw a man beside an oak tree. I was loading for a third time when Ping! And the rim of my hat on the right side dropped down. I said to my self, That was close. I could see the fellow loading. I took a good rest on my knee and fired. I looked around and not one of our men was in sight. If I ever ran in my life, it was then! I did not stop to load.
Brice Battle Cemetery
In January, 1908, while on a visit to the same battle field, the Methodist minister’s son told me there was a Rebel artillery soldier buried at the root of this tree. The tree bark showed that it had been struck with bullets, probably others besides my own.
Gen. S.D. Sturgis
I want to add that from the time we went into the battle, until the rout was complete, that we never received an order from General Sturgis. It was most poorly, the most badly managed battle I ever heard of or read of. The General kept well to the rear of danger. He was the first into the retreat and the first to reach Memphis. He was a West Point product, who made his own report in his own favor and was never punished for his inefficiency or disloyalty. In the first place, he was responsible for letting the Cavalry engage the enemy while the Infantry was too far in the rear, and exhausted many before they could reach the front. Then the worn out Cavalry withdrew and we were whipped in detail, without order to change our positions. The wagon train was advanced too far and never turned back to us, but was captured or destroyed. It appears that the General desired to deliver us to the Rebels intact.
Gen. AJ Smith
If our leader had been General A J Smith, as on the Red River, he would have brought on the fight with the Cavalry, stationed the Infantry and Artillery in favorable positions, and as the Cavalry fell back the Infantry would have scored a great victory. General Smith used these very tactics, later, at Tupelo, Mississippi, and whipped the Confederate, [General] Forrest.
Well, we retreated, tramping all night through mud and swamps. It was very dark, could see nothing. Sometime in the night I encountered Captain Bartleson riding a mule. He asked me if I want to ride. I replied that some of the other boys were much worse off than I. He said he would carry my gun, but when he turned the mule over to someone else, also gave [that soldier] my gun, which in that way was lost to me.
We reached Ripley, Mississippi, about sunrise, 22 miles from the crossroads, hungry, footsore, very weary and sleepy. I sat down on the porch of a little store, that same porch on which I sat 44 years after the battle, and exclaimed, “Thank God we are safe now.” Just then firing began in the east part of town. I then thought all was lost, and heard the command, “Fall in.”
Not more than eight or nine of my Company had retained their guns during the night. They had been lost on the dark march. My brother had taken my gun to relieve me, as I have said, and it was lost. Dave Williams Wilson of Company J had his gun, but was too crippled in his feet and he could not keep on with the gun squad. The Captain took Williams Wilson’s gun and offered it to some of the other boys who had lost their arms, but they refused it, so he offered it to me and I took it. Doing so caused me a long term of prison life.
It was the arrangement for those with guns to go south and try to fight off the enemy, while those without guns should go north west about 110 miles to Memphis and get through. Those who did not stop to sleep escaped. We who had guns stuck out down the main street of Ripley, Mississippi, on the double quick run. The rebels on the east believed we were the main army and followed us. As a matter of act, the Artillery and main part of the army had gone northwest. We had not advanced two blocks until bullets were flying thick and fast up the street from the east. One bullet struck me in the fleshy part of my leg below the knee. I thought I was wounded, but I kept running. Afterwards I found it was only a bruise and it did not hurt much. It seemed that much lead was [wasted] in the attempt to kill one man.
In this battle were 600 killed and wounded on each [side]. We lost 1300 prisoners, 135 from our regiment, all the artillery and wagon train; yet history records it as one of the minor engagements! The negro soldiers, who were taken prisoners, were marched off to the woods in squads and were shot down like dogs. We would hear the volley from the guns, then the Rebel guards would come marching back, and we were ordered to march on!
An eyewitness of the battle ground told me the time I visited him next day that not a twig was left where the Rebels lay at the fence in the woods in front of our Regiment. The trees were sheared clean with bullets, yet we did not kill all in our front. After going on the run south from Ripley we came to a creek, bank full of water. A foot log spanned it, but so many were waiting to cross the log, that I, with others, carried my cartridge box in my arms and waded the creek, which was up to my waist. Then came a long up hill stretch of plowed ground. I thought I could slow up and give my pants a chance to dry, so I walked, although others were running, no officers in sight.
It was everyone for himself, and Rebels on horseback after us. Their troops, as I have said, were General Forrest’s mounted troops, the same that had pillaged, destroyed and killed the colored troops at Fort Pillow earlier in the war. At the top of the hill we came to timber. I could hear firing distinctly behind me. Just then a big Dutchman, John Watcamp, passed me on a full run, panting, but able to say, “Hurry up, you, the Rebels youst behind.” And now the Cavalry which was supposed to protect the rear came charging along at full trot or gallop. I had to [stand] outside of the road in the woods, or be run over. We kept jogging along, footman, Cavalry, mule riders all along the road.
Some time during the forenoon, I caught up with Colonel Rodgers and Adjutant J. J. Fitzgerrell, riding along comfortably on their horses. In the afternoon, when probably 12 or 14 miles from Ripley, I came across my brother, Captain Bartleson. He said he was all in and for me to save myself if I could. I have always wondered why he had not proposed for us to hide in the brush and try to make our way to Memphis by night. Some did so, and while they nearly famished, the escaped prison. I was only a boy and had no one to advise me.
Keeping on until one foot was so badly blistered with sand and dirt grinding into the tender part, I finally took off one shoe and carried it. I tackled one young soldier on a mule, asking him to let me ride behind him. He finally agreed, on my promise to dismount if the animal balked as carrying double. Soon we began to be fired upon by the Rebels from behind trees. They had cut across the road and stationed themselves in the woods. By this time we had quite a body on horse and mule back. The mounts were urged into a full run, testing their strength and endurance. One man, who fell off his horse just in front of me was shot, and horses trampled on him. I can see to this day another soldier with a big hole in the back of his coat. He called for help but clung to his horse. We passed the first group of the enemy but my companion declared his mule could not continue to carry two and I would have to get off. I had promised, and so I got off, for I have always tried to keep my word good. The riders passed on and I was alone.
It was then two or three o’clock, in the afternoon of June 11, 1864. I had eaten nothing since the noon before. I had double-quicked six miles to get into the fight , and I have often the G A R [Grand Army of the Republic] boys, I kept ahead of a horse for forty miles to get away from the fight. [Text presented as written.]
I started up the road in the direction all were traveling, knowing nothing of the geography of the country I was in. I had not gone far before three Rebs came into the road just ahead of me and called Halt! I said, “You bet your life.” As we marched back, I found my shoe which I had dropped while riding the mule, and also found an army blouse which I appropriated. The blouse was old, but I kept it all through my prison term.
After marching on the back track two or three or four miles, we came to a halt. There were about 100 more of our men who had been picked up, among them my brother, Captain Bartleson. He said, “Well, Johnnie, I suppose it was all for the best;” but I said, “I don’t see any best in this.” It was late in the evening and a drizzling rain was falling. There was nothing to eat, and if you have followed my [writings], you will understand what I did first. I dropped to the ground without bed or bedding. It rained on my all night, warm June rain. I have never enjoyed a sweeter sleep. From this moment I had no responsibility, took things as they came and took what I could, keeping out of danger.
Next morning began our march to prison. We did not know where we were. At intervals more prisoners would join us. So passed the 12th of June—still nothing to eat—on the 13th we passed over the battle field where the wagon train had burned. We picked up some sour crackers that had soaked in the rain for three days.
We reached Guntown, 10 miles southwest of Brice Crossroads, the evening of June 13th, we drew a small ration and were loaded into box cars. These was a railroad running east and west from Cornith to Tupelo, and on south to Meridian, Mississippi. They loaded 82 of us into one small box car, tight and hot, no space for air. There was not more than standing room. Some of the strong had appropriate[d] all they required sitting down, leaning back against the side of the car, with legs stretched full length for the night. It was fearfully dark, no light; all the way [the only way] you could locate a man was by his swearing and there were nearly 1300 varieties of profanity!
I got stuck between the legs of a big fellow who proved, by the way he swored and kicked, to be an Irishman. I steadied myself first on one sore foot, then on the other, holding with my hands to the roof or side of the car, which was moving at a fast gait over rough dirt roads. Not wanting to make a disturbance, I finally asked the man to pull in his surplus length of leg, so I could relax, as I could not stand longer. He swore his regret that he had not shillalah. I told him if he didn’t take in his legs I would sit on them. He swore harder. To make my word good, I pulled myself up as high as possible, then I dropped down, a dead weight. The he swore in double Irish and the fight began. One think about a fight in the dark, Science is discarded, and we were soon fighting all around; but after a time we got quiet and each had a little space. I was very sore—this was the most miserable night of my whole life.
New morning we reached Meridian, Mississippi. We clung to the hope of being paroled here, but instead were relocated into box cars. We were never again so crowded as on the first night, and even were permitted to ride on the top of the cars. We were taken to Cahaba, Alabama, where we are crossed the Tombigbee River on a small steamer, then were taken by train to Selma, Alabama, then by boat up the Alabama River to Montgomery, thence by rail to Columbus, Georgia, then by rail to Andersonville, Georgia, which is 10 miles north of Americus, Georgia, on the Ga Cen R R [Georgia Central Railroad], and the prison is probably 60 miles south of Macon.
We reached Andersonville, June 19, 1864. We had gathered bad stories of prison life on our way. The prison was east of the station about three quarters of a mile. Little could be surmised from the outside appearance of the place. Outside the prison stockade we were formed into columns of four abreast. I hankered to ease my foot which was still sore, but, as we were counted off in companies, up the line came a Rebel officer. I remember him about five feet five inches in height, whiskers on his face, a foreigner, said to Swiss-German; he after ward proved to be a butcher. Capt. Carl Wurz [Henry Wirz] seeing me on my knees he ordered, “Stand up you.” I stood up. His sword was large and dangle[d] on the ground making all the noise possible.
Captain Henry Wurz
The prison was three quarters of a mile east of Anderson stations was an oblong tract containing about 18 acres, running north and south slops from each end into the center, which contained a spring branch from west to east with probably two or three acres of swamp or marsh. The prison was enclosed with a stockade of hewn and squared pine timbers about 14 inches square, set on end about six feet in the ground, and 14 feet abot [above] ground, with a box picket post for guards erected on the stockade about 100 yards apart. In [those] posts there was always a sentinel, crying out at night, “Post No--- ten o’clock and all’s well.” There were two large gates on the west, one on the south and leading east from this gate was the Main Street. Through this gate the prisoners entered and the dead were carried out. On the north side was a gate through which provisions were brought, and leading east from this gate was Market Street. All marketing and trafficking and trading were done on this street, mornings and evenings. At the east end of this street was a large Rebel sutler’s store [store operated by a person who followed an army and sold provisions], where you could buy almost everything you wanted if you had the money. Twenty five cents in greenback was equal to $1 in Rebel money.
We had not salt in any of food. Some of the prison prices were salt, 25 c teaspoonful; sorghum, $1 per pint; onions 50 c each, eggs 40 c; wood 2 inches square, 4 feet long, 25 c. These prices were in greenbacks. A ration for one day of bread, about three inches square filled with flies, was 25 cents. I bought nothing except salt, wood, and sometimes sorghum. Then I made the sorghum into taffy sticks and sold them for 10 cents each.
The wagons that brought in our food, evenings, were used in the morning for hauling the dead to the cemetery. Each day the dead numbered from 50 to 75. One time I helped to carry a comrade to the gate, trying to get him admitted to the hospital. The third morning, when we carried him in a blanket, they admitted him. While outside I saw two negroes, with a four mule team drive up and begin loading dead soldiers into the wagon; one took his head and one his feet, then heaved him into the wagon. When the wagon was filled it was a horrible sight. They would drive to the cemetery, three quarters of a mile away, where paroled prisoners were digging graves. A trench as wide as a man was long laid side by side about two feet apart.
Amost 14,000 starved, brave soldier boys lie buried in this now beautiful cemetery with its long rows of headstones.
The prison gates were double-stockaded for safety. Just inside the stockade prison and running all around the prison was the dead line. It was 18 feet inside the stockade, encircling the prison. Small stakes had been driven into the ground about 18 inches above ground and on these stakes were driven four-inch strips of board. For a prisoner to touch this dead line brought the penalty of death and the guards were willing to shoot at every opportunity. Our guards were boys and old gray whiskered men, too young and too old for active service. It was said that a furlough was promised each guard every main he killed.
The spring branch I mentioned came through the prison from the west, being formed by several springs out of the hills a mile away. There is entered the stockade, the slopes of the hills from each side came together and these was a swamp. A rocky ford was used for crossing, the water being about five feet wide, a beautiful spring branch. The dead line right along beside this ford and this was the only crossing for the 30,000 to 35,000 prisoners, from one side of the prison to the other. As I have said, the marshy ground would not admit passage. The Rebels had erected no wooden sinks or drainway along this stream but compelled the prisoners to pick their way out into this marsh to deposit excrement. This marsh naturally filled with flies and worms, worms burrowing in during hot days and worked out during cools nights, even crawling up to the higher ground among the sleeping prisoners. Along the swamp, at the slope of the higher ground, barrels were sunk in the ground to provide cleaner water. In the morning the worms were all over the water. The flies were everywhere and into everything. Our meal and cornbread was from meal not sifted; every man had piles, before a man had completed his cleaning sometimes the flies would infect him, as he probably would be too weak to fight the flies away.
As I have said the said the dead line ran very close to the little ford across the spring. We older [prisoners] had learned of the danger at the crossing; but new prisoners coming in almost daily would get in trouble, as they were reach under the dead line for cleaner water. The guard would always be ready to shoot and quite a number were killed in that way. I always kept an eye on the guard when I went daily to wash. Later, when revisiting the prison, I crossed the ford and caught myself looking at the spot where the guard used to be stationed, rifle cocked, ready to shoot on the slightest provocation.
The Rebel cook house was built just outside the stockade on the west and was built over the spring branch, so we caught all the filth from the cooking, although it didn’t add much to the already bitter misery of our existence. The bread was baked in large pans and without salt. When it was baked and brought into the prison for the three-inch square ration, I have seen as many as 13 flies on one portion. I didn’t eat the flies, but they didn’t spoil the bread.
The rice and meal for mush were cooked in large vats; the negro peas or beans were emptied out of a sack into that vat, hulls, bugs, dirt and all, when eating them, the bugs would be crunched with the teeth. The mush and cooked rice were brought to us often soured, green and filthy. We ate it and were glad of the chance, no one was afflicted with a squeamish stomach, at least I was not. What I feared as a dormant stomach [text as written].
On the south end of the stockade, raised high about the stockade, was a large fort, built in a star-shape, manned by many guns, all pointed directly toward the prison. On the north end of the stockade were three high forts, guns all trained on the prison, ready to sweep every corner of the camp. One hundred east of the gates, running north and south the length of the prison, Rebels had erected high poles, with flags on top. This was a warning never to congregate in large numbers between the poles and the west line of the stockade where the gates were located. At the southeast corner and outside the stockade, a few tents were set up, supposed to be a hospital; nothing good came to us from the name. Before were entered the stockade we were formed into companies for the purpose of receiving rations.
There were three detachments of 90 men each headed by one of our sergeants, then nine companies of 10 men each head by a boss or captain of each [company]; then the companies of 10 men each man drawing his ration singly, after it had been drawn and split three or four times from and old dirty cloth spread on the ground. We all went by numbers and our rations were designated that way by our captains. Sometimes when honesty was not followed, there would be a big fight. For that reason, I always let my partner draw the rations. He was larger and a better fighter.
Andersonville prison was first occupied about February, 1864, prisoners being brought from Belle Isle. Then there were some stumps and logs and the prisoners were able to construct fairly comfortable dugouts. When I arrived, all was bare, even all the roots having been dug from the ground. Before entering, the officers above sergeants were separated from the privates and they were sent to a prison at Macon, Georgia. In that way I was separated from my brother, Captain Bartleson. Before the Captain left us, he traded for, and gave to me, a good woolen blanket. I already had an old bed tick, so I was well supplied. On entering the prison gate, the old prisoners would line both sides of Main Street, “Hotel Anderson. Fresh fish, This is the place—Order what you want, and Where are you from?”
I soon was guying [laughing] with arriving prisoners. We soon numbered 30,000, on not over 15 acres of solid ground, a small place. Many bounty jumpers and roughnecks were among the early prisoners. They were well organized and every night raided the newly arrived prisoners. If resisted they would take a life. Every night men would come running down the narrow walk, crying “Murder.” I thought this was much worse than fighting. To be murdered by one of our own men was too much. We had no protection. Some one knew all the roughs but was afraid to report them.
The law abiding prisoners organized, appointed a police captain with plenty of police to back them. We organized a court of sergeants from among the prisoners, then asked a squad of Rebels with guns to come in an assist us in arresting the lawless element. This was a good turn from the Rebels; probably 80 or 100 of the worst were arrested and tried before our court martial of sergeants. Six were condemned to be hung [sic] and 40 or 50 were put in stocks for their punishment. The Rebels assisted us to erect a gallows and we hung [sic] six at one time. One fell to the ground, a knot had slipped on his rope. He hanged along. I could see it all from the place I was located, the Rebels standing by their guns to see that no danger occurred to them.
A Regiment of Rebel Infantry constantly was camped at the west side of the prison. Everything passed off quietly, and we had no more trouble of any kind. The police force was retained. The six raiders are buried in a row by themselves in the cemetery, and are not in line with any honorable soldiers, they were nearly all foreigners.
Soon after this, probably in the early part of July, 1864, our camp was enlarged by taking in seven acres to the north. Now I was in a comparatively clean place, with breathing room, some form to small streets and locations. Now we chose or selected our bunkies or companions. With me were Corporal Bently Sowers, Jacob Allbright, and Tom Diltz. I had one blanket and bed tick, one of the boys had part of a horse blanket; we got a few sticks and made a shade and some shelter with the bed tick and horse blanket.
We lay on the ground, hard clay and sand mixed, it felt hard as a rock; we lay in a row and covered with my good blanket. For pillows I had my old shoes, pants and woollen [sic] shirt. Through the day I wore my cotton drawers and old blouse. The vermin were crawling everywhere on the ground. I was chewed [up] with it from head to foot. I could shake them out of my blouse and cotton drawers, but when cold weather came, and I had to wear my pants and knit woollen [sic] shirt, it was different. I would then take off my shirt twice a day, shake it, turn it inside out. I was fortunate to have these clothes and shoes when cold weather came, for I have seen many boys who looked well in the evening, but were corpses the next morning.
We four slept together for awhile, but I found one of them [would] lie awake and steal my food for breakfast; and one never washed and was extremely lazy, lousy and dirty. I had a fight with one of them and separated from them, so far as I could, so guarded my own rations and went alone. In a few days, Bently Sowers had a muss [fight] with them and withdrew, so we were all going it alone. I soon saw that two men together, sharing their fortunes, would be a better plan. Bently Sowers was a good, loyal, clean man, about twelve years my senion, very particular. I had not liked him very well in the camp at home [text as written], but now his qualities appealled to me. I told him I had a proposition that if we were to join as partners, we would win. I told him I had a plan whereby we could double on food and have fairly plenty to eat of the kind. He accepted my proposition. I told him we would have to make a sacrifice to begin with. That evening he went down and drew our rations. I went down on Market Street and sold most of it. I bought a shovel blade of a dirt shovel. The next day our policy was the same. I sold most of our rations and bought 25 cents of wood. The next day I took all of our salable ration down on Market Street, crying out, “Who wants to trade a raw ration for a cooked ration?” The Rebels were issuing some raw rations, as meal and rice, and nothing to cook it in or wood to cook it with, and part of the camp was drawing cooked food. I traded our rations for meal, and mixing a little sour rice or mush with the meal, sweetening it up, adding a little water, and making cakes. They looked very tempting after being browned to a finish on my cake pan [dirt shovel]. It took little fuel, applying one or two splinters or shavings at a time. The one ration of meal would make two rations of cakes. I never had trouble disposing of my wares. Bentley was as good a cook as I. We later bought a two quart coffee pot for cooking rice and added a camp kettle. We would use it for cooking and carrying provisions from place to place. Bentley always said how much we could eat at a meal, putting it in two piles on a short board, telling me to take my choice. We ate twice each day, at nine in the morning and after market hours in the evening. We always kept two or three days food supply on hand.
Gen. J.B. Pherson
After the battle of Atlanta, on July 22, 1864, and where the beloved General McPherson was killed, many Union boys were taken prisoner and brought to Andersonville. We stood at the gate on Main Street, guying [laughing at] them with all kinds of hooting and inquiring what their Regiments had been, when one fellow called out, “31st Illinois.” I had know quite a number who served in the 31st Illinois, General John A Logan’s old Regiment from Southern Illinois. After a few hours among the new prisoners, I found an old friend, John Reed, from my own company country, whom I had known from childhood. I was glad to see him and all the time after [that] he came, we were much together. He had brought in a pair of shears, which were badly needed in the prison, and he was kept busy cutting hair. He lived to get home and I always spoke of him as my Andersonville barber.
After these arrived from Atlanta, we had fully 35,000 prisoners camped within a the small area, with ever increasing dirty and the death rate increasing.
You have heard of Providence Spring. As I have said, the water supply could not have been worse. Many on the hill ground had resorted to digging wells. Their principal digging tools were an old knife and a half canteen used as a scoop or shovel. As if 12 to 20 feet good water could be secured. Many of these well holes are on the ground today. In the early days of August, 3,000 prisoners, I was told had banded together to rush the stockade or perish in the attempt. The good Lord stepped in and His Providence prevented the attempt. That is the reason I am here today, after lapse of nearly 65 years. Their plan was to begin a tunnel near the dead line, carrying the dirt at night to the spring branch to be washed away. I was not aware of the plan, but [it] progressed well. They had dug a tunnel to the stockade, then, digging, under the stockade and along the side, went down the stockade nearly 100 feet. When all was in readiness, the 3,000 were to make the rush and push over the stockade, and attempt to capture the Rebel Infantry guard and make their escape. All were without arms, which would have defeated the plan, as cannon and forts commanded all the prison. Not one of us would have escaped, and old butcher Wurz [Wirz], commander of the prison would have been delighted.
When was all completed and ready for the rush, clouds began to gather in the western sky. The clouds grew blacker and blacker; we were watching from out shelter on the north side. All at once came the might crashing sound of thunder, the flash of lightning. It seems the heavens opened and the rain came down in torrents. The came was swept with wind and water, our shelter was blown down, and it was pitful to see the see the wretched sick about us. After a while the storm ceased and all was calm. I went down to the spring branch and crossing to see how things looked, to my surprise found the stockade was washed down for more than 100 feet. A Rebel regiment was standing just outside at parade rest, as much as to say “Come on.”
Some of the boys were into the water up to their necks, trying to secure some of the logs for fuel. I was only a spectator, taking no chances being shot out of season. The next morning, it was found that when the stockade was blown over at about 150 or 200 feet north of the spring branch, it had uncovered a spring. After the stockade was repaired, we persuaded the Rebels to put in a trough at this spring to conduct the water to us across the dead line. When this was done, we stationed guards at the trough, compelling the prisoner to take his turn at filling his vessel. The stream from this spring was about one inch in size and was running for 44 years in full force when I visited the prison ground. The W R C [Woman's Relief Corps] later bought all this land and gave it to the government. These good women put up an enclosure and when I revisited the place I found the spring and ground very well preserved.
Sometime in the first of August, there was a call to parole some of the prisoners and 1000 of the sickest were taken out. We never lost hopes of being paroled, and when I saw 50 to 75 dead each day, I could only resolve: “You fellows may die; I am going home to Mother.” I have always believed that almost any one might have died there within two weeks if he gave up and willed it so.
During the month of August, 10 per cent of all the prisoners in Andersonville died of starvations and filthy exposure. Some time during August there was a call for the exchange of all the General Sherman forces taken at Atlanta. I had to part with my friend, John Reed. He wanted me to go with them. I told him I did not belong to Sherman’s army, and if I got out on a hoax and then were sent back, it would break my heart. Besides, I thought we soon would be paroled. Two of my company did try it, on such false representation, and when they reached Sherman’s lines, they were discovered. There was an order for all not of Sherman’s army to march to the front and they would be paroled. They took the bait and the Rebel guard surrounded them and marched them back to prison. They were very bad [perhaps sad or mad] boys, but of just such discipline the Army was made.
Our Cavalry in Georgia was making raids, trying to reach us, but were defeated. The attempt alarmed the Rebels and so on the last of the August they began transferred us to other prisons. We hailed the move with delight, because nothing could be worse the Andersonville.
About the first of September we broke our little camp at the north of the and march to the south side, expecting to take the train the next morning—for Somewhere. There was an accident to the railroad and that caused us to be held where we were until the last of September, when we boarded cars and taken to Savannah, Georgia.
We were leaving Andersonville prison; I have not gone into details over the horrors of prison life. If all the fly bitten, vermin infected, skeleton prisoners could speak, they would tell you the horrible stories of their sufferings, but all along the same lines. We had begun to suffer from that dreadful disease, scurvy. Nearly all had piles and nearly all had scurvy. It attacked the mouth and legs. My mouth was affecting, with gums swollen and pus oozing. My parent [friend], John Bentley Sowers felt it worse in his legs and he became lame. As I was a healthy boy of 18, and having been on the march for three months, camping out doors, I had developed resistance to disease that carried me along for the first two or three months. In addition, through our policy of trading, I had eaten almost double rations, although never what I hungered for, even of the filthy quality. I was getting thin, but still with my activities, preserved fairly good strength
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