Charles Johnson of Endicott - Part 3
Our wood was brought by railroad, and a squad of men were detailed to carry this wood into the quarters. The wood was cut about four or five feet in length. Two of the strongest men were detailed to carry the wood. This was then worked into slivers or sticks by us. We had no axe but used a railroad spike and an old-fashioned wagon wheel box, with these we were enabled to work the wood. Whatever amount of wood these two men brought had to do us for 24 hours.
After being in the prison for six weeks or so, we made plans to break out, this being before we became so weak. We were separated from the commissioned officers by guards, so we planned the whole outbreak. Our plan was to seize the arms from the guards, who were guarding the well, cookhouse and gate, and were about 30 in number. We could get their arms and cartridges and then fire on the outside guards and get out through the gates. Well, the plan sounded good, but when it came to getting the cartridges there was but one. Of course, after the first shot was fired we did not get much farther.
About 2 o’clock that afternoon a trainload of rebel soldiers came through. The guards were frightened so they rushed this regiment upon us. They set cannons in the stockade and made a cross-fire upon us. Of course we couldn’t do anything. That really was the worst moment of my life. There we were, huddled like a lot of sheep, with them firing incessantly upon us. We had absolutely nothing to defend ourselves within, so had to take it. The old tobacco factory had a big chimney so I slipped behind the chimney, so as to be out of range of the firing. After the firing was over we were ordered to our quarters. One of our men dropped down under an oak tree, a rebel gun was fired and he was shot through the forehead. We went to our tents and while talking a charge of buck shot hit me in the back of the head. When I came to myself I felt the back of my head and it was bleeding. However, things could have been much worse, even then there was something to amuse even at that critical time. An old Irishman near me had gotten shot in the knee. He danced like some circus clown, swearing and cussing the rebels with his own Irish brogue.
Of course, there were a great many of them wounded and they were taken into the hospital and placed on benches or tables with a strong guard around them. It was certainly pitiful to see these comrades suffer and even worse when the young doctors began hacking off their arms and legs. Such screaming and screeching and untold misery, I thought I could never stand it. The rebels had absolutely no mercy with the men because we had tried to break out.
When I went to the head of the stairs I could see a pile of feet thrown in the corner. A great many of our men had suffered frozen feet and gangrene had set in. Such misery, thousands afflicted in the same way and no one to care for them.
We were somewhat gladdened at times only to have it sink into disappointment. A report would come every week to the effect that we were to be paroled or exchanged. At last the time came and the three thousand of us who were the survivors of about 12,000 were paroled in March of ‘65, having spent the winter only in this prison, which had made the lives of all who could stand their tortures-just hell and misery. When we left the stockade we were given three days’ supply of rations and camped beside a railroad. The train was late in arriving and by the time it came our rations were all gone, so we had nothing until we could reach Richmond.
All the way along the train stopped at most every station to throw off the dead bodies of those who died on the way. When we
reached Danville the train stopped for a time. A few of us walked around and came upon a foundry. A man there had ten bushels of potatoes. He gave us some of them which we boiled in a kettle. I found I couldn’t eat them without salt, so seeing a planter’s place in the distance, walked to it. Nearing the house I saw a line of log houses which the slaves had as their quarters. What should be coming out of the door but a darkey with a part of a bag of just what I was seeking-salt. He warned me not to let the people of the plantation see me but to go behind the log house, which I did and through the opening of the logs he handed me a generous piece of salt. These potatoes tasted better to me, it seemed, than anything I had eaten, because we had never received potatoes while in the prison camp.
We were riding in box cars on this trip and the conditions were absolutely filthy. Many of us who were stronger made our quarters on top of the cars and rode in this manner. It was raining so much that we were chilled through most of the time. Just below Danville the train stopped, the lieutenant told us we could get down and warm ourselves as the train was going to stay there for about one hour. There were some darkies there who built a nice big fire and we had our blankets spread out ready to make ourselves comfortable, when behold the train was moving. There were three of us left. We tried to reach the train, all running for it. One of the fellows who was larger than I stumbled over me and knocked me sprawling. By the time I regained my feet the train was gone.
The two of us who were left hardly knew what to do. We went to the railroad station and asked the agent if he could help us. He proved to be a rank rebel and wouldn’t help us. We went back to the fire and were there a while when a rebel officer came along, asking us what we were doing there. We saluted him and told him our story, also that we had asked the agent and had been refused help. He immediately went to the station agent, called him for not giving us information and ordered us to be put on the next train. After the third night of watchful waiting we were put on a train bound for Richmond.
This was in the spring of ‘65. The rivers were so swollen that it was impossible for us to get across. The boats were not able to run for two weeks after we had arrived at Richmond. When the time did come we were taken and when exchanged from the rebel point to our own point, a great string of ambulances were bearing the wounded and sick who were unable to help themselves. The officers wanted all to walk who could, so I, feeling fairly well, walked. I found it a mighty hard job and had to stop every little ways to rest before going farther.
Stationed along the shore by our boat was a Christian Ladies’ Committee, who served us with a few cookies and coffee. These proved a life saver. They were certainly mighty good and sometimes I can almost taste them yet. After leaving there our boat, landed at Annapolis Junction, where a hospital was located. When we were taken from the boat we were given a good scrubbing, shaved and new uniforms, making us quite like humans again.
They would not allow me to go directly home. I stayed about two weeks in the hospital and was then given a 30-day furlough. Home certainly looked good to me after the long weary months spent in the prison camp, seeing the many dying, one never knew when his time was coming. When my 30 days was up I found I was unable to go back. My doctor secured an extension of 20 more days to my furlough and by that time Lee surrendered at Appomattox and all paroled prisoners were ordered discharged. My company returned to Elmira in June and at that time I was discharged.
They now live at 81 Monroe street, Endicott, and celebrated their golden wedding anniversary seven years ago.
Source: E.- J. WORKERS’ REVIEW (August 20, 1919), page 22. STORY OF A CIVIL WAR VETERAN
By A. B.
Submitted by Debbie Barnes
Submitted by Debbie Barnes