Friday, May 17, 2019

Andersonville's stream of death: 'Literally alive with ... filth'

A branch of Sweetwater Creek called the Stockade Branch flows through the 26.5-acre Andersonville site.
Modern visitors also face challenges here.

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In the hell of Andersonville, the most horrible area on the 26 1/2-acre grounds may have been a branch of Sweetwater Creek that flowed through camp. Federal prisoners used the water from Stockade Branch for drinking, washing, cooking, defecating and urinating.  "The Sinks" -- the camp latrines -- were built on hillside on the east side of the grounds near Stockade Branch. In diaries and memoirs, scores of prisoners wrote about the noxious smell in the immediate area. Wrote Robert Kellogg of the 16th Connecticut in  Life and Death in Rebel Prisons, published in 1865:
"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. 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."
An inadequate water supply and food rations, as well as unsanitary conditions, led to scurvy, diarrhea and dysentery, the chief causes of death at the camp.

A present-day view of the branch of Sweetwater Creek that flows through Andersonville POW camp.
Here's what other Union prisoners said about the vile place:

"The stream of water that passes through here runs from west to east, dividing the camp into two equal parts. The rebel camps are north and south of this stream, with breastworks and battery of artillery on each corner, south and east are the cook houses and west of all is the railroad depot, about three-fourths of a mile away. The rebels wash their clothing and themselves in this stream, horses and mules are driven into it to drink, buckets, tubs and kettles belonging to the rebel camp and cook houses are washed here, and all the filth of the camps thrown into it; and then it runs through to us. We have to use it, although it is literally alive with vermin and filth of all kinds."

--  Prison Diary of Michael Dougherty, Late Co. B, 13th., Pa., Cavalry.

"The volume [of water] was not sufficient to wash
away the feces."
"With the warm weather the condition of the swamp in the center of the prison became simply horrible. We hear so much now-a-days of blood poisoning from the effluvia of sinks and sewers, that reading it, I wonder how a man inside the Stockade, and into whose nostrils came a breath of that noisomeness, escaped being carried off by a malignant typhus."

A Story of Rebel Military Prisons, 1879

"On different battle fields I have witnessed many horrible sights, but none to compare with what I saw to-day-a man lying on the bank of the stream being eaten to death by maggots. They could be seen issuing from his eyes and mouth, and his body was eaten completely raw in several places. We could do nothing with him but let him alone to die a miserable death."

-- Private Samuel Elliot, Company A, 7th Pennsylvania Reserves

"The sinks over the lower portion of the stream were imperfect in their plan and structure, and excrements were in a large measure deposited so near the borders of the stream as not to be washed away, or else accumulated upon the low boggy ground. The volume was not sufficient to wash away the feces, and they accumulated in such quantities in the lower portion of the stream as to' form a mass of liquid excrement."

The Horrors of Andersonville Rebel Prison, 1891

"One side of the swamp was naturally used as a sink, the men usually going out some distance into the water. Under the summer sun this place early became corruption too vile for description, the men breeding disgusting life, so that the surface of the water moved as with a gentle breeze. The newcomers, on reaching this, would exclaim: "Is this hell?" yet they soon would become callous, and enter unmoved the horrible rottenness. The rebel authorities never removed any filth."

-- Diary of  POW Prescott Tracy

Layout of  Andersonville and immediate surroundings drawn by Union veteran Robert Knox Sneeden.
He was imprisoned at Andersonville from February-December 1864. (Library of Congress)

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1 comment:

  1. The One About the man being eaten by maggots really got to me. War is Hell for Sure.