Sunday, October 22, 2017

Remembering Private Henry Adams, 'City of the Living Dead'

Grave marker for 120 Union soldiers buried in a trench at Florence (S.C.) National Cemetery.
Like this blog on Facebook.

Deep in thought, the tall, mid-70ish man wearing a gray suit and blue tie stared down at the pearl-white tombstone. He had traveled to Florence, S.C., from Ohio to attend the funeral of a friend, a Korean War veteran, but was captivated for the moment by the marker for the unknown soldiers.

Under the government-issued gravestone we both examined at the national cemetery, the remains of 120 Union soldiers lie buried. In another trench only steps away, a gravestone marks the final resting place of 133 more Union soldiers. Yards from that marker, 128 more poor souls lie buried in another trench.

In all, there are 16 such markers at the Florence National Cemetery, where massive trenches hold the bodies of more than 2,000 Union soldiers -- mostly victims of disease, malnutrition or inhumane treatment at the Confederate prison stockade nearby. The bodies of the POWs were buried haphazardly on what once was land of a plantation owner who may have been a Union sympathizer. "Chucked 'em in like muttons," an observer recalled.

Pocket diary kept by 16th Connecticut Private Henry Adams
while he was a captive at the Florence (S.C.) Stockade.
(Connecticut Histocial Society collection)
As we tried to take in the enormity of the Civil War tragedy, the elderly man and I reached the same conclusion. "What a shame," we said to each other, slowly shaking our heads.

Two years ago at the Connecticut Historical Society in Hartford, I read the unforgettable diary kept by a POW whose remains probably lie under one of those 16 markers in Florence. Already weak from his imprisonment at Andersonville, in southwestern Georgia, 16th Connecticut Private Henry Adams was transferred to the Florence Stockade on Oct. 8, 1864.

"Cool and pleasant," the 20-year-old soldier wrote on Oct. 19, 1864, in his leather-covered pocket diary. "We heard a sermon preached in our ward. There is talk of an exchange of the sick but can't tell." The entry in the diary the next day, written in another person's hand, stunningly read: "The writer of the foregoing died at 9 o'clock pm."

After my cemetery visit,  I drove the short distance down a narrow road to see what remains of where Henry had died nearly 153 years earlier. From September 1864 until the 23-acre camp closed in February 1865, more than 13,000 Union soldiers passed through the gates at the Florence Stockade. Nearly 2,800 of them died there.

Months after the war, the area next to the camp was "full of sink-holes and stagnant waters," according to a Chicago newspaper correspondent, and plagued by "miasmatic odors and malarial influences." It was, the correspondent noted, a "breeding-place of agues and fevers, typhoids and rheumatic complaints -- the rank and pestilerous home of disease and death." Today, the town's water treatment plant is located about 75 yards from a gravel road leading to the old stockade.

Nature and time have conspired to erase almost all traces of the original POW camp. But the remarkable, descriptive newspaper account -- published in the Chicago Tribune on Oct, 30, 1865 (see below) -- fills in gaps in our imagination. On a hot, stormy fall day "within the stockade," the correspondent found prisoners' pathetic huts, scraps from a Bible, a diary, a photograph of three ladies and much more in the "City of the Living Dead."

And on a sandy slope about a quarter-mile from the stockade, he discovered trenches filled with Union dead. Those soldiers "laid themselves down in long rows for final sleep," he wrote, "and for the glorious reward due unselfish souls."

        GOOGLE STREET  VIEW: Pan right to see gravel road leading to stockade site.

(From Our Special Correspondent)
Within The Stockade,
Florence, S.C., Oct. 15, 1865

Does it seem affectation that I date my letter from "Within the Stockade" at this place? At least I write it there -- write it in my note book, on my knee, sitting on a block of wood, in one of the hut houses built by the hands of those who served the cause of Union and Liberty in the prisons of Secession and Slavery -- write it to the accompaniment of glaring lightning and crashing thunder and driving rain. Will these mud walls shelter me through the storm on this hot Sunday afternoon? I cannot forget that they have sheltered men who perilled vastly more than ease and comfort; and as I look through the hold that they called a "door," and see the acres of such barbaric but sanctified habitation, I lift a reverent heart of thanksgiving to Him who gave us the victory and blessed the struggle and suffering of that great army through whom we have National unity and the assured promise of universal freedom.

FLORENCE IS A NAME rather than a place -- or, say, a point at which three railroads centre, rather than a town. There is a hotel and a church and a machine shop, and two so called stores and three bar-rooms and twenty-five or thirty residences, and a great pine forest. There is a long broad street -- at one end of which is the hotel -- a somewhat pretentious, two-story wood building, with a wide and lofty piazza in front, and an ungainly tower in the centre. At the further end of the street are the stories and the machine shop. Midway are the apothecary's and the hospital, and a vacant law office. Back of the street, in the pines, are the dwellings which constitute the town. The three railroads have a common starting-point just in front of the hotel. Passengers from Wilmington to Charleston reach here about seven in the evening, and leave about three in the morning, after paying two dollars each for supper and lodging of a passably good character. Passengers from Charleston to Wilmington reach here about the same hour, leave at the same time, and pay the same tax of support of the landlord. Those from Columbia get supper here, and are taxed one dollar. Those for Cheraw are obliged to disburse three dollars for supper, lodging and breakfast. The town is, therefore, a railroad eating-house with sleeping rooms attached.

Months after the Civil War ended,  the Chicago Tribune
published a remarkable, descriptive account 
of what remained at the Florence Stockade.
Situated at the intersection of the great cross line of railroad with the great coast line, about one hundred miles from either Wilmington or Charleston, and about seventy-five miles from either the coast or Columbia, it was peculiarly adapted for the location and safety of a prison.

THE STOCKADE is about a mile and a half north of east from the hotel, about a third of a mile from the railroad, and near the centre of a great opening in the pine forest, which is locally known as "the old field." The field is a sandy, rolling, fenceless, irregularly-shaped tract of 400 acres, more or less, which probably at some time formed the tillable portion of two or three plantations, mostly given up to turpentine and rosin making. The stockade is about thirty-five yards wide, north and south, and some seventy-five yards long, east and west, containing, perhaps, sixteen or seventeen acres. Through the middle of this enclosure, from north and south, flows a little stream of water, five or six feet in width and four or five inches in depth. It is a swiftly running stream, and the water has a not unpleasant taste. From either end the prison-pen slopes off to this brook -- making five or six acres of low, marshy ground, laying principally east of the stream, full of sink-holes and stagnant waters, and misamatic odors and malarial influences -- the breeding-place of agues and fevers, typhoids and rheumatic complaints -- the rank and pestilferous home of disease and death, than which hellish malignity could scarcely have fashioned one more fit to the purpose of that foul treason which laid its foundation in slavery and sought to enthrone Rapine and Anarchy as twin deities in the land of Law and Liberty.

Everything remains as the rebels left it when they evacuated Florence -- remains almost as it was when the hill-sides swarmed with our soldier prisoners. On the east and on the west, twenty rods or so distant from these walls, are long lines of earthworks reaching away to the timber on either side, and far down in front of these again are the numerous rifle-pits commanding the advance for nearly a hundred yards. The main entrance to the stockade was at the northwest corner. Near this corner were the log houses of the guard, and a half a dozen small ovens. The barracks stand almost as they did when last occupied, but the houses over the ovens have been burned. Just north of this entrance is a handsome little grove of half a dozen trees, among which yet remain the benches and stools of the officers of the guard. Fifty feet in front of the middle of the northern wall was the flag-staff whence floated the banner of treason and slavery. Its stump only remains, and loyal and disloyal alive cut chips of a memento therefrom. Across the pestinlential quagmire, beyond the northeast corner, is another deserted village of log houses -- houses of the guard for the rear of the prison pen, not one of which has been touched. I went among them with the wonder if some long-haried, lean-bodied, leering-eyed Johnnie might not spring out with ready musket and bid me halt; and sure enough, from one of them suddenly emerged a fellow in gray, who looked at me a moment, and then strode away with a swinging and defiant step. In the southeast corner of the pen was the rear entrance -- thence the prisoners went to fetch wood, a dozen cords of which yet lie piled only five or six rods away.

In an 1897 illustration by a former POW at the Florence Stockade, the camp's commander fires
 at captives from atop a wall. (Library of Congress)
"THE WALLS OF THE STOCKADE are fifteeen feet high, built of unhewn logs and some nine or ten inches in diameter, set deeply in the ground. This solid wall of oak and pine logs is unbroken except by the gate openings and the quagmire -- the marshy ground necessitating the substitutions of a stout board fence for the wall of logs. Outside the wall is, of course, a wide and deep ditch, the earth from which is thrown against the logs and forms a narrow path about three or four feet below their tops, whereon the guard walked and overlooked this prison-pen, and from whence fiends in human shape shot half-crazed boys who straggled over this dead-line, which runs just behind the hut within which I set. A ditch could not be dug through the quagmire, and so there are picket platforms built on the fence there -- one, noticeably, on each side over the brook.

Inside the stockade there has been very little change save such as time makes. In the northwest corner, near the main entrances, was the hospital -- seven log house, each some forty feet long and twenty feet wide. These the guard partially burned when they left. Through the centre of the enclosure from east to west is a narrow graded road -- the bridge over the creek has partially fallen in, but the road-bed is as hard and smooth as it was six months ago. The rebels attempted to burn the stockade wall by firing piles of wood thrown against it on the inside, but the fire refused its work and only scorched the logs at seventy-five or a hundred points of the long line, and the half burned sticks of wood and the little bundles of pitch-pine remain in the their places to show how the mist destructive of the elements enlisted in the service of the Union and saved this prison pen as an eloquent token of the cost of Liberty.

DOES ANY MAN, horrified by the stories told concerning it believe the famous and imfamous "DEAD-LINE" a myth? However it may have been elsewhere, here it was a hateful reality. It is about twenty feet inside the stockade walls. Part of the way is marked by a light pole laid in crotches -- elsewhere it is only marked by the line, which distinguises trodden from untrodden ground -- of earth rank with grass and earth bare of grass. Just back of this hut, in the northeastern quarter, there is only this line of grass and no grass. Doubtless this was the best of the Southern prison pens; but  even here, if current reporting among such of the town's people as can be induced to speak of all of the stockade, is true, the guards indulged in that very pleasant and exceedingly humorous amusement which consisted in tossing pieces of meat or bread into the stockade, between the wall and dead-line, in order to get a shot at some Yankee boy who was so hungry as to thoughtlessly rush for it, There fellows would have their joke, you see! Shall we mudsills complain thereat? At least we may give thanks that the days of the chivalry were numbered when our sons of Illinois moved on their works in the spring-time. If they also serve who stand and wait, did not these also serve who died between the wall and the dead-line?

Go no more, even in dreams, to Pompeii and Herculaneum, buried cities of the old world. Here is the ...


In this late-19th century illustration by a former Florence Stockade POW,  a prisoner has his
wounds dressed as a guard looks on. (Library of Congress.)
City as populous as those, as fruitful as those in the signs and tokens of a life that was and is not. On those eleven or twelve acrres there were at least 2,500 houses -- perhaps 3,000 would be a more correct figure; and no less than three-fourths of them are nearly as good as there were on the day of their sudden evacuation, and in hundreds of them are memorials of life of want and woe which 13,000 men knew here, and from which 4,000 passed through the door of the dead-house to the slope way yonder by the timber, and laid themselves down in long rows for final sleep, and for the glorious reward due unselfish souls.

In the construction of these habitations there is almost variety on a common general plan. This one in which I sit, and through which the still driving storm begins to beat, furnishes that general plan, with very little elaboration or decoration. Come in and see it. Do you find the door low and narrow, and have you a horror of this squat roof and these smoky walls, and this earth floor? Yet here lived three or four men -- for many weeks doubtless and, perhaps, for many months! The hut is six and half feet long four feet and three inches wide, and about five feet high in the centre. A hole of fifteen inches depth was dug ; at either end of it was set a forked stick; in these two forks was laid a ridge pole. The wall of our house is the side of the old; the roof is the slope of sticks or slabs or wood resting on the ridge pole, and at the edge of the hole. This is the general plan. The huts smaller than this are more numerous than those larger. The back end is made of sticks driven into the ground against which earth has been thrown. The front end is built with more care. Half of it is mud brick, and the door and the little chimney at the corner occupy the other half. The door is simply a hole; the chimney is seemingly built up of little bricks, and gives a tiny fireplace of about fifteen inches square. The roof was first covered with pine brush and then with six or eight inches of earth.

Perhaps a hundred of the huts are entirely above ground. Possibly a score are so high that an ordinary man can stand straight in them. But then there are a thousand built over holes three feet deep -- a thousand not more than four feet high in the ridge -- a thousand not more than four feet square -- some hundreds that show only such height above ground as a well-filled grave. Do you deem it awful that men should live in such habitations as these? Yet they were palaces beside the burrows of Salisbury. The thousands of tiny brick used here were made from the reddish earth of the hill side west of the brook. The graded flat extending back sixty or seventy feet from the stream suggests a parade ground; but it was only the bed on which these little bricks were sun-baked. In the use of the brick there was sometimes a great deal of skill and ingenuity displayed. One sees with pleasure a score or two of chimneys that are modeled after architectural beauty; one finds not a few fire-places that are constructed with elaborate improvements. So, too, a few of the huts have doors curiously braided or woven of splinters. There is, indeed, over in the southwest corner, one whole house, above ground, woven, walls and roof, like a basket. These things, though, are exceptional; generally there was only so much as would answer the baldest utilitarianism.

I saw with gladness that there was plenty of wood. Some of it, as I have already said, is still piled in a long rank just outside the stockade. There is an abundance, also, scattered all about the enclosure -- particularly east of the brook. Look into a hundred huts, and you shall see wood ready cut for the little fire-place in seventy-five of them surely. In a few cases it even yet lies nicely piled against the chimney on the outside.

A prisoner struggles to haul a large log into the Florence Stockade while guards watch.
(Library of Congress)


Here is a great pine knot fashioned into a barber's chair, for which many a many would be glad to bid a hundred dollars at a Sanitary Fair. It is nothing but a rough bit of log, but its purpose is evident enough. They putched quoits sometimes, I judge, for over there in the southeast corner is even now the little post at which it was aimed, with an old horse shoe lying near. So, too, they seem to have indulged in cricket in the sweet spring days when Gen. Sherman and his forces were in the State above, for I found one wicket in its place. Did they indulge in games at bows and arrows? -- for I picked up what was clearly an arrow. That they played checkers is certain, for just down the hill a little is a hut in which is a rude checker-board, and in the corner near the fire-place I tumbled out half a dozen of their pieces -- four round and two square, cut from pine splinters. I guess they also played cards, for, in one hut I picked up the ten of clubs, the five spot and the queen of hearts, and the ace and the jack of spades. You see, life came to a sudden pause here -- there was no time for blotting out all the marks of this daily existence; and walk where you will stumble against something that suggests it was but yesterday these prison-boys found liberty.

The occupant of one house was German. Here is a scrap from some German newspaper, a leaf from a German testament -- parts of the second and third chapters of Second Corinthians -- and a bit of German manuscript, probably a letter.

In this hut I found an old tin plate, part of an iron fork, the blad of a table knife, an empty bottle, and the bowl of a clay pipe, An Irishman lived here -- he wrote his name on one of the posts, "MIC O'LARY," and I have half a leaf from his prayer book: "O Lord God, I would not only pray for myself but for all men. Bless my relatives and friends wherever they are. Bless, too, my enemies, and may they become my friends. May universal peace soon prevail." So the simple heart lifted sublime prayer in the night time, and consecrated his tent with the balm of forgiveness.

In this little square, deep hole-house, was a page of Hazzlit's Table Talk, a rude wooden spoon, a pair or wooden knives, a tin plate, and an armful of pine wood. Was it this morning that the tenant moved out into the large world?

The final entries in 16th Connecicut Private Henry Adams' diary, written at the Florence Stockade.
Adams died there on Oct. 20, 1864. (Connecticut Historical Society)


It is six months since he last passed through the door, yet everything is as orderly and neat as if aranged but an hour ago. His wood is carefully piled in the corner next to the fire place, his tool is sound and strong, his seat against the wall has not fallen down, the bowl of his brier-wood pipe is sweet  and clean. He was saving and thoughtful -- here is the spring of a pocket knife laid away against a possible need; carefully in the pine bush covering of his roof is a little roll of blue army cloth for patches; on a string tied in the corner are strung three buttons. He read somebody's history of English literature, for here is a leaf from a book -- page 229 and 230; he kept the roll of his company, I judge, for here is a page, wet and dingy, from his diary, on which are a dozen names.

In still another hut, I find a rude pipe-bowl, dug out of a sassafras root, and a wooden spoon large enough for a giant. The boy was a home, too, to the tract distributor, for here is No. 80: " Do You Know the Way?" "published by a South Carolina Colportage Board."

The boys who lived here -- a most wretched hut, with its pile of straw in the centre -- were also visited by the tract man, who left with them "An Old Blade in a New Scabbard" -- thus: "Deserted: This is to certify that, within the last twelve months, one Peter Weakhearted has deserted from the army of Jesus Christ. One of our scouts saw him last Sabbath, walking arm in army with Captain Lovesin, of the Whisky Guards, in Cursing Grove, near Lake Perdition. A gracious reward will be give for th recovery and restoration of this deserter to the army."

Sixteen trenches in Florence (S.C) National Cemetery hold the 
remains of more than 2,000 Union POWs.
In the house, with a door at each end -- and there is but one such house -- I found the rarest treasure of the morning. It was tucked into the piney thatching, and concealed by a scrap of red woolen cloth. It is a dagurreotype -- with the cases half worn away by long shuddling in the knapsack and the whole tied together with a bit of black thread. It is apparently the picture of  a mother and two sisters.

A good-looking, sober-faced woman of forty-five, wearing a black bonne  and veil and cape and dress, and holding a dark parasol; a young lady of nineteen or twenty, wearing a hat trimmed with black, a light spring, or fall dress, and a gray sack cloth, and holding a fan; and, between and behind the two, a sweet-faced miss of large and loving eyes, who stands in such position that the only article of dress visible is a black silk cape.

Said I not that here was life arrested in the very pulse-beat. The tale of Florence can be half read even now by the dullest eye.

A quarter of a mile from the entranceway are the eight long rows of mounds, to which so much of this life finally came -- 2,352 -- that is the highest number of the graves, but there are many score unnumbered, and the negroes say the men were often buried at random in the old field. "Chucked 'em in like muttons," said an intelligent negro carpenter, who was often in trouble for trying to feed and help the boys in blue. The half acre of ground occupied by these numbered and known graves, is not enclosed, and grant cows wander at will over the low mounds. Of course the rebels kept a record of this Potter's Field, else why the numbered graves? But that has not been, and probably never will be found.

The storm has passed by, and the sun, now almost in its setting, sufluses the low west with a flood of golden glory. I have spent the entire day in the stockade. The little accessories of its prison life remain as I have drawn them; its body and substance are told in the fact that from one-third to one-fourth of the prisoners brought here are lying yonder in the sandy hill-slope.


133 unknown Union soldiers lie below this marker in Florence (S.C.) National Cemetery.

Have something to add (or correct) in this post? E-mail me here.

1 comment:

  1. John Banks:

    I have come across your Site here and found it very interesting. Since I live here in Reading, PA, Gettysburg is about a 4 hr. drive away for me. I've bee to Gettysburg a number of times in the past and always find it a interesting place to visit. There is so very much History there to see. Even though I've been there, I still have not gotten to see everything. The last time I was there, I took a Ghost Tour. Nothing happened, nor did I see anything "strange". However, I did shoot one Image that showed something that I could not explain. I still have the Image to this day. I'm told and have read all kinds of stories about Haunted Gettysburg, but still wonder if all this is really true. Antietam is is another place that I've been too, also. I wonder if that place is Haunted as much as Gettysburg? With so much death, I can only believe that it truly is.