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Warren County Local History by Dallas Bogan

Andersonville Prison As Experienced And Written By Joseph W. O'Neall

Contributor:
Dallas Bogan on 15 Oct 2004
Source:
The following was written by Joseph W. O'Neall and inserted into the Western Star February 11, 1912.
Comments:

Dallas Bogan writes;
"The horrors of the prisons during the Civil War, at the time of this dramatic epic of the War Between the States, is a story of prisons being over crowded, unsanitary, and certainly an undesirable condition for human endurance. The northern prisons were by no means an exception to the rule. Some historians feel that with the lack of food and supplies in the seceded states that all was being done that could be afforded. The northern prisons, not all, certainly were negligent in the treatment of the southern prisoners. The deaths at the northern prison of Elmira, N.Y., were approximately, percentage-wise, as high as Andersonville. The Union was not as desperate for food and supplies at this period in time. However, so much has been publicized and written about Andersonville, that the feeling runs high in regards to its presence."

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GOODBYE TO DANVILLE

It is the middle of May, 1864, we had been in prison almost eight months, and are now to start on a long, tiresome, killing journey, to that horror or horrors, that hellhole of hellholes, I can call it by no milder term, Andersonville, Sumter County, Georgia, where we are for four long months, to rot, yes rot, to starve and to suffer untold and untellable pains and anguish. Where three, Frederick J. Cattlehock, Edward Shannon and Frederick J. Weiser of the four members, of Co. A [35th OVI] to reach Andersonville are to die, starve to death, and where more than 13,000 of my comrades starved to death and now lie buried in the National cemetery at that place. More men than was killed on both sides in any one of the great battles of the war, almost literally proving as true the words of Captain W.S. Winder, son of General John S. Winder, who laid out and superintended the building of the blockade that "I am going to build a pen here that will kill more damned Yankees than can be destroyed in the front."
And now before telling the story of Andersonville as best I can (it will be a feeble effort as the story can never be told), I must, for a few weeks turn aside, lest some of my readers conclude that I think Companies A & F, 35th O.V.I., put down the rebellion, and speak of some of the other brave, Warren County boys, companies and regiments. Thus far I have not only been able to speak of the record, but as well to add my personal experience and knowledge, hereafter I must rely upon the records and such information as I may be able to gather from Comrades and histories. In the meantime we must leave Frederick J. Cattlehock, Joseph W. O'Neall, Edward Shannon and Frederick J. Weiser of Company A, 35th. Tobias ("Doc") Ross, Joseph B. Woodward, William Adams, Jacob Confer, and David Staley, Company B, 2nd O.V.I. in prison No. 6 at Danville. All these were Warren County boys.

HORRORS OF ANDERSONVILLE

I come now to the saddest, blackest and most damnable story of a history. A story no tongue can tell, no pen write, no painter picture, an untold and untellable story. Many have attempted it, all have and must for want of descriptive powers, no matter how great, fail. For the sake of my countrymen-I wish there was no such story to tell. I would to God I could forever blot it from my memory. The scenes of horror in Rebel prison pens witnessed, are yet to me 48 years after their occurrence like a dreadful night mare. My story is not a pleasing one. It is a story of service of wounds, of capture, of confinement in Rebel prisons, for 15 months and five days, a story of starvation, of rotting with scurvy, of burning in the hot sun in an almost tropical climate and at other times of almost freezing of nakedness, of escape from prisons, of being hunted down like wild beasts, by blood hounds, of cruel murder and of unequaled brutality.

NONE OTHER IN HISTORY

Dark as is the cloud, black as is the picture, it has a silver lining. Search the pages of history, ancient and modern. Nowhere will be found an account of patient suffering, pain and anguish, heroism, loyalty and patriotism equal to that of the men, Union soldiers confined in Rebel prisons and that which to most men even under like circumstances would have been a temptation too strong to resist. Any of us on any day of our confinement by taking the oath of allegiance to the Confederacy and agreeing to serve as camp guards, going into Confederate workshops, serving as workmen, clerks, mechanics, serving in bomb proof positions and always from our armies, could during our imprisonment have gotten out and enjoyed the best the Confederacy had. But be it said to the honor, loyalty, fidelity and patriotism of the more than 98,000 Union soldiers captured and reduced to actual confinement, that less than two percent accepted these terms, some, yes many did so, did it only as a means of escape to our lines, believing that an oath administered to a Confederate officer has no binding effect, morally or legally. Many such did so escape at the first opportunity.


MOST MEN MERE BOYS

When we take into account the further fact that the great majority of the prisoners were mere boys, tens of thousands of them under twenty years of age, some of them unnaturalized citizens, foreigners, I challenge the world to point to a brighter page of history, to so severe a test of faith, fidelity and loyalty. Fully realizing that to accept the oft repeated offer of liberty made by our prison keepers, meant to relieve some man to be sent to the front to shoot down our more fortunate comrades, we steadfastly refused, preferring death to dishonor. All honor to these honorable self-sacrificing loyal patriots, heroes. The Government should give to each of these men a medal of honor, much more so than to the soldiers who accidentally picked up a Rebel flag on some battlefield, as is now done.


TRAVELED AS BEASTS

According to the best of my recollection we left Danville, Va. on May 14, 1864. Again we were crowded fifty, sixty and seventy men in a box freight car with no conveniences. Many of the prisoners were suffering with bowel trouble, diarrhea and dysentery. Two guards with loaded muskets were stationed in each door and as many as half a dozen on top of each car. Before leaving Danville, one day's ration of corn bread was issued to us. Of this we made, as usual, one meal. Our train no matter how often our engine was changed, it was drawn by an old worn out rickety, squeaking, squealing wagon over a worn out, half ballasted railroad often at the rate of over four or five- miles per hour. Often without any apparent reason, stopping for hours with the merciless rays of the sun beating down upon us. In a number of instances putting out the flickering lamp of life, literally roasted alive.

CUT WOOD IN FOREST

We stopped now and then while the train crew and some volunteers took axes and went into the woods and cut wood for the engine and also for water for the engine which in many cases had to be carried in buckets from neighboring ponds. Save on these occasions and once when near Branch Hill, S.C., where we spent the greater part of a night and at Augusta, Ga., where rations were issued, we were not allowed to leave the train, no matter how great the necessity. Conditions were fearful and beyond description. The cars were filthy and the stench almost unbearable. The thought of it sickens me to this day. God forbid that human beings, even beasts shall ever again be called upon to endure such torture. How any of lived to tell the story is more than I can tell. Many died enroute. Going we knew not where and our guards were seemingly and no doubt were as ignorant as we. At Augusta, Ga., one of the Rebel officers told some of us that we were going to Camp Sumter near Macon, Ga., where we would have plenty of fresh air and good water.

ARRIVE AT ANDERSONVILLE

I have no doubt but that he thought he was telling the truth. We got plenty of air but it was anything but pure water. It was poisoned before it reached us as we shall see further on. After five nights and almost six days our engine blew down breaks and we were ordered to leave the train. We were at Andersonville, Sumter County, Georgia.
Andersonville was there as it is now, a miserable little hamlet, a station on the Macon and Albany now the Southwestern Railroad, sixty miles south of Macon and about 300 miles from the gulf. As I recall, it had only about half a dozen rude huts, shacks or shanties, I think, but one of more than one story. Prior to the establishment of the prison, at this place, Andersonville was wholly unknown to the historian, the student of history or to the outside world. I doubt if it ever prior to that time had a place on the map of Georgia. It was in fact known only to the train men of this particular railroad and to a few of the inhabitants of the nearby towns and immediate surrounding country, but it will hereafter for all time come to be known to the historian and the student of history everywhere as the place where 12,974 known and 925 unknown brave, true-hearted, self-sacrificing heroic Union men died and now lie buried in the National Cemetery at that place, died of starvation, want of proper food in this Christian land of plenty, in one of the richest agricultural sections of southwestern Georgia, of disease, scurvy and its results which might have been avoided by the issuance, as rations of a new vegetable of which where was abundance in the nearby surrounding country and were in some instances offered to the Rebel authorities without money and without price, died of want of shelter yet surrounded by an immense forest said to cover an area of nearly 30,000 square miles and with saw mills buzzing in our very ears, and with any number of prisoners willing to perform the necessary labor, died because of over-crowding.


CROWDED INTO HERDS

At one time deducting the swamp and dead line 18,520 prisoners were confined on less than 14 acres with thousands of unoccupied acres surrounding us. Many died of diarrhea and dysentery caused by having to eat half-cooked sour cornbread made of un-bolted corn meal, half cooked sour mush made of the same kind of unbolted corn meal, also raw unbolted corn meal eaten raw for the want of food and the means to cook it and that too surrounded by an immense woods. Many were poisoned to death by being compelled to drink swamp water from a miserable sluggish stream that received the refuse of the camp of our prison guards and of the cookhouse before it reached us, with Sweet Water, a flowing stream with plenty of fairly good water for drinking and bathing purposes less than half a mile away. Do you wonder that 13,719 of the prisoners confined at Andersonville died? Do you not rather wonder that only one of the more than 42,000 confined there lived to leave it and to tell the story?
Andersonville will live forever hereafter stand as a synonym of all that is cruel, hateful and wicked. The very mention of the word Andersonville will ever hereafter cause the strongest to of us to shiver and bring to all of us the blush of shame.


OPENED IN FEBRUARY

The prison was opened in the month of February, 1864. The first prisoners to enter found the brush and top of trees that had been cut down to make the stockade. These were converted into shacks. The limbs trimmed, one end driven in to the ground, the others brought together and fastened at the top. The whole covered with blankets, overcoats, dog tents of pine leaves, and in there with sand. In some instances the ends were closed by throwing up sand barks. Fortunate indeed were the inhabitants of such a mansion. Others dug holes in the ground and lived like ground hogs. Each prisoner was dependent on his own ingenuity for shelter.
Before our arrival, yes long before, every limb had been used, every stump and root used for building shacks or fuel. We even had great difficulty in finding a place to bed down. Every time we would stop somebody would call out, "Move on, that place belongs to me."


ERECT RUDE SHACKS

A Confederate officer, who came in with us, finally located us on the north side near the east side of the prison. "Doc" Ross still had some money. He bought some poles and still having a blanket, as did Joe Woodward, he and Dave Staley lived. Will Adams, Jacob Comber and myself dug a hole in the ground and traded some brass buttons off of Jake's blouse and two days rations for a ridge pole, stretched my warm dog tent over and dug a little trench around for drainage purposes. In this hole in the ground Adams, Comber and myself lived for about two months. We slept on the bare ground using Adams' blanket for our covering. This during the day was spread over the top with the dog tent shutting out the sun. Both were frequently removed by day to dry out our sleeping quarters. We were drowned out on several occasions and had to sleep on the street, but on the whole faired as well as most of our comrades.


THE PRISON

The prison was a huge gap hewn in a mighty forest. It was about 800 yards east of the railroad station. Its length north and south was 11 feet; its width east and west was 700 feet; its area 770,000 square feet. Rebel authorities gave the area as 740,520 feet. From the area must be deducted a wholly inhabitable swamp containing 3 3/4 acres and the dead line of 141,470 feet, reducing the available area to 599,350 feet or a little less than 14 acres. Within this circumscribed area were crowded 29,030 Union soldiers, hundreds of them wounded, thousands of them sick, scarcely a well man among them, approximately a strip to each prisoner seven feet long and three feet wide, barely enough to lie down on. Here must be performed all the offices on line, cooking, eating, sleeping, washing, exercising and answering the calls of nature.
Either the last of July or the first of August the area was increased by about one third, say five acres, on to something less than 20 acres and our numbers too, on August 8, 1864, to 33,114.


THE STOCKADE

The whole was surrounded by a stockade made of pine logs hewn nearly square about eight to ten inches in diameter, set closely together and firmly planted in the ground five feet deep, making a palacade 15 feet above ground. These timbers were placed so closely together that no crack was left through which we could see and to some extent impeded the recirculation of air. A wall like this was greatly superior to a wall made of stone and mortar of cement. It is equally hard to scale impossible, or nearly so, to undermine and much more difficult to batter down. Later and often the Rebels had discovered a number of tunnels and some of the prisoners had escaped through tunnels, a second stockade made in the same way and 16 feet in height and running entirely around the prison was built and still later as Sherman advanced, a third twelve feet above ground was built.
The two latter for purposes of offense and defense. Two Star forts on which were mounted two batteries of six guns each trained upon the prison within full view.


SENTRY BOXES

 

On top of the stockade at regular intervals, about 300 yards, were what we call dog houses, sentry boxes in which were stationed a sentry with a musket in hand. From this elevated position the sentinels could see over the prison and give the alarm if anything was going wrong in the prison.

THE DEAD LINE

A slight raise 20 feet from the inner stockade marked the dead line. To cross this or even to get too close meant death and often without so much as a warning. Several prisoners who were some distance from the dead line were shot. It was rumored and the rumor confirmed by our guards that every guard who killed a Yankee was given a thirty days furlough or a reward for his fidelity.

THE SWAMP

Near the center of the prison was one of the most deadly swamps in Georgia. As heretofore stated it covered an area of about 3 3/4 acres. This swamp might well be called a marsh of slimy ooze, so soft in many places that a prisoner in attempting to cross it would sink to his hips. It was wholly unfit for occupation and for a long period was used only as a place where the calls of nature were answered. It very soon became a seething mass of filth, covered with great green flies and maggots. These flies were vicious and would sting like an adder. The bite in many cases became a great sore and often terminating in gangrene often causing the death of the victim. Stench was something awful. Some of the citizens living in the vicinity called us witnesses in the Wirz trial testified under oath that it could be smelled for two miles. We had no means of escaping.
During the latter part of August, 1864, the Rebel authorities made some effort to cover a part of it with sand and the prison became so crowded that some of the late arrivals were compelled to occupy it. Other parts were used as formerly.

THE WATER

Through this swamp of filth ran a sluggish stream of water four of five feet wide and a few inches deep. For months this was our only supply of water and for all purposes, drinking, bathing and laundry. Before this stream reached us it received the filth of the camp of our guards and the cookhouse. I have often seen it covered an inch deep with filth yet crazed with thirst we were compelled to drink the poisoned water, drinking droughts of death, filling us with disease and many cases causing death.
After a time many wells were dug and a partial supply of water for drinking purposes was obtained. These wells were dug with our hands and half-canteens used as shovels. They were partnership wells and those only interested in the partnership were allowed to draw water from them. All could not have wells less there be no place to lie down and sleep and many had still to use the filthy water from the creek. I was, after a time fortunate enough, through the kindness of Comrade Edward Shannon, who loaned me $5 to buy an interest in one of these wells.

PROVIDENCE SPRING

I come now to what had thus far and always will be a disputed question. I shall not attempt to settle the dispute. The very religious believe that this spring was an answer to prayer or a miracle. Others assert that it was the natural result of heavy rains. It is still held in highest veneration by the Negroes and superstitious of that vicinity. Many of them assert that it still has wonderful grace giving and healing properties. I will state the facts as I remember them and let my readers decide for themselves.
It rained almost the entire night and day during the month of August, 1864. Many of the shacks built by the prisoners were washed down and many of us living in dug outs were drowned out. The prison became a mud hole. The little creek running through the prison became a great river. The stockade was broken above and below and thank God the swamp was partially cleared of its filth. Before we realized what had happened, when the stockade broke and before we could take advantage of it, the battery fired two shots. The long row was beaten and the entire guards were summoned to the breaks. Several who attempted to escape were shot. I think two or three did escape. This break in the stockade occurred on the last days in August, 1864.

PRAY FOR DELIVERANCE

For many days and nights, prior to this incident, Boston Corbett, Sergeant Thomas J. Shepherd, known as the Andersonville chaplain, Sergeant Robert H. Kellogg and many other would assemble and hold revival service earnestly praying for the conversion of souls and that God would send relief and deliver us. When one morning the prison was astonished beyond measure to find that during the night a copious spring pouring forth a great stream of pure, cool, clear water, sweet water fit for the Gods, an inexhaustible quantity had burst forth. The very religious believed and many still maintain that it came in answer to prayer and that it was a miracle. Others said that it was the result of the heavy rains. However this may be, it was certainly providential and saved the lives of thousands. This spring was on the north side of the prison. A police force organized among the prisoners at once took charge of it. No one was allowed to pollute its waters. At almost anytime of day a thousand men could be seen standing in line awaiting turns to fill such vessels as they might have.
The spring is still there. I, accompanied by my daughter, had the pleasure of visiting it only a few years ago and of drinking again of its invigorating waters. The old prison grounds are now owned by the ladies of the W.R.C., and the noble women of this patriotic organization have erected over it a handsome fountain. God bless the loyal women.
I pause to ask if any reason can be given why the person was located where the only supply of water was a miserable stream of water a few feet wide and a few inches deep running through a deadly swamp where only a short distance away was sweet water, a river where was plenty of water. Does not it prove the words of Captain Sid Winder, a son of General Winder who laid out the prison that "I'm going to build a pen that will kill more d___ Yankees than can be destroyed at the front."
Are you not ready to say you wonder that any man who entered Andersonville is now living to tell the story. I am not through. I wish the story did end here.
The entrance to the stockade was by two ponderous gates, one on the north and one on the south side of heavy hewn timber, firmly bolted to cross timber. So heavy were these gates that it required the strength of several stout men to open them. They were enclosed in a second stockade about 50 feet square with heavy gates. When prisoners were to be brought in they were first passed through the outer gates when it was shut, securely fastening them in, then the second gate was open and the prisoners turned into the stockade. In like manner were wagons loaded with rations or returning loaded with the dead, passed through the gates. Never were both gates opened at the same time. Over these gates might well have been written "He who enters here leaves all hope behind."

INSIDE THE STOCKADE

We have seen that the enclosure after deducting the swamp and dead line contained upon the last of July or the first of August, 1864, a little less than 14 acres and after that date about 19 acres, giving to each prisoner on August 8, 1864, when there were 33,114 prisoners in the stockade a strip of ground six by four feet.
The prison lay north and south of the swamp. The banks were quite steep, the soil sandy yet very tenacious sandy clay. Here we starved and rotted, were racked with pain, devoured by vermins, the ground fairly crawled with grey backs, stung by maggots, flies and were poisoned by the filth of our prison and of the Rebel camp. There was not within the enclosure a single building of any kind or nature, stone brick frame of log, save and except an open shed about 20 by 50 feet, covered with pine boughs at the southeast corner used as a hospital. Only two trees both on the south side had been left standing. Both were of what is known as the broad lead or umbrella pine so called because the leaves are broad and because there are no limbs, save at the very top, not a sprig of grass or hyssop branch, nothing but the bare ground. Here with no shelter or covering save the blue cannon of heaven protecting as from the scorching rays of the Georgia sun, when as sworn to by Ambrose Spencer, a citizen residing near Andersonville, the thermometer at 130 degrees, or the chilly dews at night or the pelting and night storm. We baked by day, shivered by night and were often nearly drowned. A few were little better off. Finding that the prisoners who slept in holes in the ground were first to die. We moved out and slept in the open air.


FOOTNOTES: [a place to add additional information that you might want to submit]

20 Oct 2004 Dallas Bogan Boston Corbett mentioned in Joseph O'neall's story of Andersonville was the assassin of John Wilkes Booth, who assassinated Lincoln.

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