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Chapter 16: Enlistments.

  • Attempt to Entice prisoners to make Shoes for the rebel army.
  • -- the temptation. -- Enlistments. -- running the gauntlet. -- another change.

When we were in Andersonville there were many attempts to find mechanics and artisans among the prisoners.

Calls were made for shoemakers, machinists, blacksmiths, etc. The rebel authorities offered to furnish food and clothing and pay good wages to any one who would go out on parole and work in their shops. It was a great temptation to mechanics who were starving in filth and rags; and a good many yielded to it and went out. I will say, though, that but few native Americans [139] were among them. They were generally foreigners who did not fully understand the war and it's issues.

It was also intimated that if any one would enlist in their army, he would receive rations and pay as a soldier, but while in Andersonville I saw no strong effort to induce any one to enlist. But in Camp Lawton, soon after the Presidential election, rebel recruiting officers came into the pen and openly and boldly tried to hire men to join the rebel army.

They offered any one a good suit and fifty dollars (Confederate) at once, and would take him out and put him on full rations, as soon as he would sign his name to their muster roll.

Winter was rapidly coming. Already its cold, driving rains and a few chilling frosts had reached our wretched abode — if you can call an open field an abode. You need not travel twenty rods to view a thousand naked backs, turning purple in the cold, bleak wind. Our own Government had refused to exchange us. There seemed to be no prospect of escape. The prospect of [140] staying alive in there was about as hopeless. Is it strange that they found a few men who were willing to swear allegiance to the Confederacy — with the mental reservation that they would desert as soon as they could?

As I look back across sixteen years at those events, my surprise is, that so few could be found who would go! I forget the exact number, but I think about seventy enlisted at that time. Less than one in a hundred.

After their names had been obtained, a drum beaten at the gate called them out. As they went over the creek toward the gate, thousands-almost the entire campcrossed over to see them go out; and the miserable wretches had to run a gauntlet of the fiercest hisses and blood-curdling curses that ever saluted mortal ears! And only the presence of a strong rebel guard prevented that vast mob from falling upon them, then and there. Such an hour of fierce excitement leaves its track on the soul for years. To-day, as memory calls it up, my hand trembles under its influence. [141]

About the last of November, the rebel sergeants came into camp just after noon and gave orders to about half the prisoners to get ready to go out that evening. This order threw the camp into the wildest excitement. “Is it an exchange?” “Where are we going?” “Why are we moved?” We pelted the Johnnies with such questions to no purpose. They told us they knew nothing about it. We were all anxious to go. Not only the hundreds that were ordered, but all the rest took down their meager tents and rolled them up, and at sunset the whole camp was massed at the gate, impatiently waiting for it to open.

The first hundred was called. A hundred was counted out. Not the hundred that had messed together; for wherever there was a weak or sick man in the squad, he was unceremoniously crowded out by a stronger man of another hundred. No man said, “by your leave.” It was a grand illustration of the “survival of the fittest.” Selfishness ruled supreme. Groans, curses and blows mingled, as men struggled to keep in place, or crowded to find one by [142] displacing some one else. Since “Oats” has turned preacher, and is trying to walk in the path of peace, I think I had better not tell in what part of the column he went out.

We were loaded on trains, and run down to Millen Junction, where we remained closely guarded until after midnight. We tried to find out from the guard our destination, but they either did not know or would not tell. After a weary delay they pulled out on the Savannah road, and ran at unusual speed — for a freight train-or thirty or forty miles, when they stopped and went into a sidetrack at a station, in the midst of a dreary, swampy flat, where we remained until daylight.

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