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A Visit To Andersonville Prison

United States Military Civil War Cemetery
Andersonville, Ga. Established July 26, 1865

Interments 13,259

   (The correspondent of the Chicago Times while making a tour of the South in November of 1879 , including a visit to the infamous Andersonville prison, has vividly portrayed the foul indignities heaped upon the unfortunate soldiers of the Union who suffered and died of hunger and exposure in Andersonville. From his report we take the following extracts.)
   The cemetery includes twenty-five acres and a brick wall five feet high surrounds it. There is a marble stone at the head of every soldier buried here. Vacant places in the ghastly lines of marble that stretch away in the distance indicate that a scout, spy, or a teamster lies beneath the sod, the only reason for this discrimination against him being that, however faithful and useful he might have been in the cause for which all of his thousands of sleeping fellows died, he was not one of the enlisted men for whom, and for whom only, congress appropriated money for this memorial. A simple block of marble, numbered, marks the grave of the unknown dead, while the marble at the heads of 12,776 known men are graven with the name of each sleeper and his regiment. Urns bearing flowering plants stand at various places on the finely kept lawn. The superintendent's residence, standing immediately inside the carriage entrance, is a one-story brick house with a mansard roof which forms really another story.
   When the rebels buried the dead Union soldiers here, they allowed but twelve inches to each man. This brings the small headstones closely together. Some ideas of the ghastly faces may be gained by remembering that there are five thousand two hundred and eighty feet in a mile, and these men, lying on their sides, packed closely together, as the twelve inches they were allowed required them to be laid, would make a line of dead men two miles long, and fifty-nine feet over. The rows of graves are broken by a wide, vacant space, running across them, in the center of the lot, and there are carriage drives around the place. These drives, it appears, are not wholly satisfactory to some of the noble Georgians of the vicinity, who have, I am credibly informed, expressed a fervent desire to leave the graveled paths and "drive over the graves of the yanks." This was such a fervent desire that the attention of the War Department was called to it, and stringent rules regulating the conduct of visitors are posted at the gates as the results.
   We make our way but a few yards into the grounds before we come upon one of the wells which thirsting men of of 1864 dug so patiently, though unavailingly, through the hard, red clay. It was more than sixty feet, about six feet wide at the top, having been enlarged from the original two feet diameter by the rains of fifteen years. A glance down this deep well was not sufficient to find the bottom. That could only be seen by looking long enough to accustom the eye to the darkness, when not only the bottom become visible but also starting at the north, the entrance of a tunnel through which the diggers hoped in not too long a time, to find their liberty, but never did. These wells were numerous. Some are as deep as this, and others were apparently abandoned soon after their undertaking. A herd of goats were nibbling the scant herbage among them, and, besides ourselves there was no sign of life visible about the place except those easily satisfied grazers.
   None of the caves in the sides of the hills where the men burrowed remain though their sites on the south hill are plainly visible where the roots have fallen. On the north side of the ravine the rains not only broke the roots in, but, continuing the work, washed the excavations away at the sides and bottoms until they have merged in chasms twenty or thirty feet wide and as deep, with briers and brambles clinging to their edges.

The River Of Death

   To so many men is now clear as crystal. In extent it does not vary much from its dimensions of 1864. It is still about four feet wide and eight to ten inches deep, while the quagmire which was such a villainous accessory is gaining in solidity though it is still impassable in some places. Between the cemetery and the stockade lie the ruins of the hut in which the bloodhounds were confined upon their return from the chase of their human game. There is no vestige of the hospital. The bakery where, for a few weeks the rebels undertook to bake the meals of the prisoners into unleavened bread has also totally disappeared . The roads over which the carts wended their way with ghastly loads of men starved to thin death, and all the well beaten approaches to the entrance are grown over with trees. All the evidences of suffering, which may have appeared upon these sloping grounds and the pestilential stream that divided them are as surely gone as are the screams of agony which, in those terrible day continually rent the air.
   In the course of the summer of 1864,when the prison was crowded to its very fullest extent, and when the cruel sufferings of the men were at their worst, two singularly striking dramatic episodes occurred within the palisades. One was this: That one August morning a spring of the clearest, coldest and sweetest of water broke out of the north hill, half way from the quagmire to the summit, and near the western wall. The water in the cesspool in thee ravine had become indescribably foul- so foul that its description must not appear in print. Yet it was all that these tens of thousands of men had, as before stated, for all the purposes for which water is put by man, when on this bright dewy morning the spring broke out and ran cheerily down the hill, the greatest boon those panting men could have found. To this day it is called the 'Providential Spring,' and is held in reverence by the Negroes who sometimes visit the place. The little niche in the hill from which it makes its way is covered with briers. For the three years in which, after its evacuation , the government gave it up, Robert Dinkins also relinquished it and no care whatever at this time is bestowed upon this wonderful spring.
   This was the other episode: Among the prisoner who were turned into the pen were a hundred or two who had come from the slums of New York. They had been thieves all their lives until the war broke out, when they turned bounty jumpers. Hence they hailed from all parts of the North. In prison they continued all of the practices of their life, and robbed their fellow prisoners of blankets, clothing, money, or any valuables they might chance to posses. Success emboldened them to higher deeds of valor, and it was finally decided to suppress them. The men appointed to this duty were termed regulators, and Sgt. Leroy M. Key, of the 111th Illinois regiment, from Bloomington, was appointed to the command, with Corp. Ned Carrigan, of Chicago, second. The regulators attacked the enemy in their camp on the south hill early in the morning, took six ring leaders captive, tried them by a courts martial of thirteen sergeants, sentenced them to death and hung them among the plaudits of nearly thirty thousand men, the rebels furnishing ropes and timber for the gallows.
   If future ages produce a historian of the war he will probably find himself at a loss to account for the fact -as wonderful as any connected with the Andersonville iniquity- that none of the men really responsible for the crimes were ever brought to punishment. Wirtz, the beastly, brutal instrument of beastly and brutal masters, was hung for his share of the work, but the men under his alleged authority he committed his atrocious work have never been called to account.
   Today (1879) the stockade is nearly in ruins. Trees are shading all the grounds that lie within its lines. It seems to me that it would be a proper and fitting thing for the government to take these grounds, enclose them, care for them, and hold them, with the cemetery, sacred to the memories of the martyrs of Andersonville.

See: http://www.nps.gov/history/seac/histback.htm
Andersonville Prison POW Camp

2008 UEB


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