Chapter 18: sent back to Andersonville.
- “Flanking.” -- exchange. -- a dash for liberty. -- moved again. -- a square meal. -- back to Andersonville
In the pine woods, about a mile from Blackshear, we were corralled on about five acres of ground. There was no wall or fence to enclose us. A dead-line was staked off, and outside of it another row of stakes marked the line of sentinels who stood about ten or fifteen steps apart: all around us ready to shoot any one who passed the first row of stakes. Had there been nothing between us and liberty except that guard, we could have broken through and escaped; but the memory  of those wide rivers and dreary swamps, and the fact that it was now winter, made us hesitate to run a gauntlet of hounds and patrolmen, and probable starvation. Then, too, the fact that they built no wall around us, and no quarters for themselves, made us think they did not intend to keep us there very long. We drew raw rations, about the same as at Millen prison; but a few of us improved them slightly by “flanking.” The trick of “flanking” a ration was not possible at Andersonville or Millen, where we were carefully counted into and out of the pen. But here we were all massed in the grove, and the guard placed around us, and then ordered to form into companies of one hundred to be counted for rations. One rebel sergeant had about ten of these companies to count and report. As soon as one squad. had been counted and marked full, the “flanker” would drop out of line, and by careful dodging and skulking would take his place in another hundred, before the sergeant would get to it, and thus get himself counted again. Of course wherever  he could succeed in being counted he took a “mess number,” and drew a ration. When the rations came in he had to have a chum to assist him, and usually two or three divided the extra ration thus obtained. When we were counted onto the train to take us away, it was found that the number of men reported for rations exceeded the actual number in the pen about seven hundred. At least we were informed that such was the case by the rebels themselves. We had been in this place but a few days when we were informed that a special exchange of ten thousand sick and wounded prisoners was ordered to take place immediately, and that two thousand were to be taken from our pen. This news threw us into a fever of excitement; and when, two days later they began to take out the number, the law of self-preservation brought out the worst elements of human nature. Sick men, whose lives depended on their getting out, were cheated out of their chance, and some of the stoutest and heartiest men there feigned sickness and wounds and got away. They were taken to Savannah,  where a part of them were exchanged about the middle of December. The remainder were sent back in a few days. One evening, just at dark about a thousand of us broke guard, and took to the woods. We thought to try to find the Atlantic coast, but we were soon caught and brought back. The enterprise failed so completely that it is scarcely worth the mention. I was one of those who tried it. All the comfort we had was the satisfaction of making the Johnnies rattle around lively to overhaul us and get us back. We stayed at Blackshear about two weeks; I do not remember the exact time. We were then loaded on the cars and taken to Thomasville, which is near the southwest corner of the State. Here we were corralled and guarded in the same manner as at Blackshear, I think the country around Thomasville is about as fine as can be found in Georgia. The soil is good, and the climate mild enough for figs to grow out of doors. We were left here about a week when all who could walk were made to march  sixty miles across the country to Albany. I do not know what became of the sick who could not walk. We never saw them any more. On this march, Tom B , my old chum of the swamps, slipped his guard and went to a farm-house and got a square meal, and then told what manner of man he was, and let the old citizen arrest him and bring him back. At Albany we were crowded in and around the depot. Many of the citizens came down to see us and talk with us. The guard was kind, and allowed us to talk with them. Some were pleasant and agreeable, and others were ill-natured and quarrelsome. Some wanted to know what “Youalls want to fight we-uns for.” Some asked us to sing a song, and we gave them “John Brown,” with a chorus of three or four thousand voices. That song always touched the right spot. The next day two or three trains of cars backed in. We were soon aboard. Now, where? To Andersonville!  On Christmas Day. The day of peace and good-will; when all the earth was gladness and song; when all were trying to see how much happiness they could enjoy and give; when there was feasting and merriment, and sweet surprises, in Christian homes! Yes, on that day, as if to make our lives blacker by the contrast of pleasant recollections, we were brought back to Andersonville. About two o'clock P. M. we were counted through the double gate. Old Wirtz was there, cursing us as we entered. “You come back! You flank me — I keep you,” blurting out short sentences and long oaths. About the first of October Tom and I had left that horrible pen, hoping never to see it again. After all our weary toil and changing scenes and prisons, we are back at last to the starting point! About ten thousand went to Blackshear. Some of them were exchanged, some died, some were left sick at Thomasville,--about seven thousand returned to Andersonville. A few sick ones had remained there all the  time, but not many — perhaps two thousand. We all settled on the south side of the brook. The north side, that had contained a population of twenty thousand in the crowded period of August and September, contained but a few stragglers on the 1st of January. On the south side we were thickly settled, but not crowded as we were before.