Friday, February 08, 2019

Now & Then: In their own words, POWs on Andersonville 'hell'

The National Park Service has marked with stakes the wartime location of the infamous 
Andersonville deadline. (CLICK ON ALL IMAGES TO ENLARGE.)
PANORAMA: A stream slices between two hills at the 26.5-acre site. 
(Click at upper right for full-screen experience.)

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Nearly 154 years after the last prisoner left Andersonville, the former POW camp remains cloaked in sadness. Perhaps the 26 1/2-acre prison site should simply be covered with black mourning crepe. It's a painful place to visit.

Andersonville diary of Samuel J. Gibson of the 103rd Pennsylvania.
(Read it on Library of Congress site.)
Almost 13,000 Union prisoners died at the camp, mainly from scurvy, dysentery and diarrhea. Albert Harry Shatzel, a 21-year-old in the 1st Vermont Cavalry, was one of the lucky ones. He survived. So, too, did the private's diary of his wretched four-month experience in southwestern Georgia.

" ... there never was such misery known since the world stood as there is on the streets in this den of Hell. There is no tounge or Pen that can discribe the situation of the sick Wounded & Rotten men in hear," he wrote on Aug. 4, 1864, while a POW at Andersonville. "God help the Prisoner for their life is a horable one especially those confined in hear."

Coupled with photos (and a video) I shot recently at Andersonville, here are the words of  Union survivors culled from diaries they kept there. The POW camp opened in February 1864 and closed in April 1865. (Click on link for diary source of each quote.)

A view of  terrain POWs saw when they entered camp.
"As we waited, the great gates of the prison swung on their ponderous oaken hinges, and we were ushered into what seemed to us Hades itself. Strange, skeleton men, in tattered, faded blue — and not much of blue either, so obscured with dirt were their habiliments — gathered and crowded around us; their faces were so begrimed with pitch-pine smoke and dirt, that for a while we could not discern whether they were negroes or white men."

-- Warren. L. Goss, 2nd Massachusetts Heavy Artillery

Water from Sweetwater Creek was used by POWs for bathing, washing clothes and sometimes for drinking.
A source of disease, the water was often deadly to drink. Today, the NPS warns about other dangers.
“If this is not Hell itself, it must be pandemonium; which is only Hell Gate. Heaven forbid I should ever see a worse place.”

 -- Samuel J. Gibson, 103rd Pennsylvania 

A branch of Sweetwater Creek at the 26.5-acre prison site.
"The prison lot contains about 30 acres, located on two hills with a swamp between and a small stream, running through the swamp. In this swamp, the men on both hills meet to draw water, wash, etc. We are served with raw rations of corn meal and a small piece of bacon, so the men have to cook for themselves. A large number have nothing to cook in and bake little cakes on pieces of board held before the fire."

 -- Michael Dougherty, 13th Pennsylvania Cavalry

“In the center of the whole was a swamp, occupying about three or four acres of the narrowed limits, and a part of this marshy place had been used by the prisoners as a sink, and excrement covered the ground, the scent arising from which was suffocating. (Watch video above.) The ground allotted to our ninety was near the edge of this plague-spot, and how we were to live through the warm summer weather in the midst of such fearful surroundings, was more than we cared to think of just then.”

-- Robert Kellogg, 16th Connecticut

If a prisoner crossed the deadline -- a low rail fence used to keep POWs away from the stockade walls -- 
 he could get shot by a guard.
"One of the poor Boys shot dead by the Guard while geting a cup of watter. The Ball passed through his head. He stuck his head under the Dead Line to get some watter but he will never go there again. Dam the laws of such men as those are hear for they consider it an honor to murder a man ... all in all they are not to blame for they get a Furlough of 35 days for every man they kill."

-- Albert Harry Shatzel, 1st Vermont Cavalry

Prisoners dug wells and escape tunnels in the camp. Is this the remains of one?
“Signs of scurvy have appeared in my mouth around the gums of my diseased teeth. The gums swell up and turn dark purple. Where others have it and do not recover, this swelling spreads in a few days until the face and neck turn black as if blood settled all over it; then the teeth drop out—the jaws become set and a general rotting process is the last stage. With others the disease shows itself first in the limbs, rendering them stiff and helpless. My general feeling is one of complete lassitude and low spirits. Am feeling very poorly.”

-- George Hitchcock, 21st Massachusetts

Site of the Andersonville hospital, a short distance outside the prison stockade. 
"See here Mr. Confederacy, this is going a little too far. You have no business to kill us off at this rate. About thirty or forty die daily. They have rigged up an excuse for a hospital on the outside, where the sick are taken. Admit none though who can walk or help themselves in any way. Some of our men are detailed to help as nurses, but in a majority of cases those who go out on parole of honor are cut-throats and robbers, who abuse a sick prisoner."

-- John L. Ransom, 9th Michigan Cavalry

"This is the first Sabbath I ever spent in a Hospital. It has been very quiet but no attention has been paid to the sacredness of the day at all. I would so like to hear a good sermon from some good chaplin. I do so hope that there is an exchange of the sick on the way. If I could only get into one of our Hospitals I think there would be some chance of my geting well. Good speed the day when we may all arrive in our lines."

-- Charles Ross, 11th Vermont

      PANORAMA: View of 26.5-acre camp and a replica of the war-time stockade fence.
                                     (Click at upper right for full-screen experience.)

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  1. I visited here in the spring of 2011 and walked these hallowed grounds and shaking my head in amazement of what this place must have been like in 1864-65. The adjoining cemetery was one of the most somber places I have ever been to. Wonderful pictures, thanks.

  2. Must have been a very horrid place. Would like to see this hallowed place for myself. Nice job & well done.

  3. A prig of misery for sure. May their souls Rest In Peace.

  4. I visited in September of 2018 and was able to visit an ancestors grave in the cemetery. I had two ancestors who were held at Andersonville, Roland and William LeVaughn of the 16th Connecticut, William died at Andersonville and Roland died in Charleston after being transferred there.

  5. Another journal....Diary of a Dead Man, from the journal of Ira Pettit of Wilson, NY. We visited his grave there when we went. The POW Museum ia also incredible!

  6. The book, Eye of the Storm, an eyewitness account of the war by Yankee soldier Robert Knox Sneden, details his time at this prison. It is very detailed and gives a dramatic account of Andersonville.

  7. It's disputed who was the first casualty of Pearl Harbor, but Theodore Wheeler Croft was killed on Ford Island, one of the first to die. In 1948 he and his brother were buried in Andersonville Cemetery. I'm not sure why; perhaps due to his family living there?

  8. I had 2 ancestors who were taken to Andersonville. Nicolas Yenor was in the 17th Co. G Michigan Infantry from Summerfield, MI. He was captured at Spotsylvania, VA on 5-12-1864 and was taken to Charlestown, SC where he died on 9-30-1864. I saw the place he where he was captured in Spotsylvania during a tour and the coach stopped to let me take a photo of the Michigan Memorial Stone. F. E. Averill was in the 9th Co. I Vermont Infantry and wa captured and taken to Andersonville. He died there from diarrhea. Unfortunately, our 5 years of Civil War 150th Tours never went to Andersonville, and I never was able to pay my respect to my ancestors there. I became a CW Reenactor to honor my 13 CW ancestor soldiers