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Chapter 19: Andersonville in winter.

  • Andersonville in winter.
  • -- the weather. -- how fuel was obtained. -- efforts to keep warm. -- good news. -- manufacturing industries. -- “raising” Confederate money

It was now the dead of winter. It rained about four days of a week, and was cloudy and damp nearly all the time. Heavy east winds prevailed. We seldom saw the sun shine. Our sack-tent, that never did keep the rain out, was now rotten and torn till we had to patch it nearly all over with such scraps of old shirts, pants, or blankets, as we could find.

The rebel authorities allowed a detail of three men from each hundred to go outunder guard — to the woods to pick limbs [158] and such other pieces of wood as we could find, for fuel. There was an abundance of good wood all around us, but we had no axes with which to prepare it, and had to content ourselves with such scraps as old Time and Storm had prepared. The best of it was where pine logs had rotted and left the knots. These, being full of tar, burned freely in the dampest weather.

In this way about two hundred men went out every day, and returned with an armfull or a shoulder-load of wood. We soon picked up all that we could get, near the stockade, and had to go farther and farther into the woods. I think most of our wood was carried three-fourths of a mile. We were too weak to carry a large load so far, but we did our best. I know that when I got out I carried in a load that gave me the thumps.

When we got our wood home, with a railroad spike for a wedge, and a pine knot for a maul; we split it; and broke it up fine so as to make it go as far as possible-and even then we were without wood most of the time. [159]

Think of it! Three men from a hundred go out every day. If you get out to-day, it will be thirty-three days-or nearly five weeks-before your turn comes again! It would take a strong man to carry wood enough to keep him dry and warm for five weeks.

Here, again, the strong took advantage of the weak. If a man was sick and weak, some stronger man would give him a chew of tobacco, or a spoonful of rice, for his “turn” to go for wood. Then, with onefourth his load of wood he could buy two or three times as much rice or tobacco as he paid for the “turn;” and very likely in the course of a week or two, when a cold rain had fallen all night, you would find the weak man, in a hole in the sand, doubled up like a jackknife, chilled to death!

Does some one say, “That must have been a mean set in Andersonville, to treat each other so?” Look around you. Even in the Northern States, I see the strong and shrewd taking advantage of the weak and simple. “Let him that is without sin cast the first stone.” [160]

One way we had to keep warm, those damp, chilly days, was to dig a funnelshaped hole in the sand, about four feet in diameter, and two feet deep. Four of us would sit in this hole. Our feet would be together in the bottom; our knees together in the center; then leaning forward till our heads were almost together, we would spread our blanket over the pile, and draw it down close to the edges-thus keeping in the heat of our bodies and the warmth of our breath. I have sat in such a hole frequently all day, except time enough to draw and eat my rations. Some dug these holes larger and deeper than the one I have described, and eight or ten would get into them.

Those were dreary days. It rained almost constantly during January. There was plenty of timber all around us. We would have gladly cut and carried it, and built huts and fires. There is no apology for not letting us do so. Hundreds chilled to death for want of them. They were mur-dered-brutally, in cold blood!

Once in a while we would have a clear [161] day, and we would dry our clothes and blankets, take down our tents, and let the sun dry the sand on which we slept, pull off our clothes and kill the vermin on themand feel comparatively comfortable and happy.

About the first of January a few prisoners were brought in, who told us that Sherman had reached the sea, at Savannah, and had turned northward into Carolina. So the last lingering hope that he would rescue us died within us. A few days later a squad of prisoners came in from the western division of the army, and brought the news of the battle of Nashville, and told us how “Pap” Thomas had utterly crushed Hood's army. Among these prisoners, was one called “Old beard” --a nomme de querre-of my own regiment. He brought us much news from our comrades who escaped when we were captured, and gave us a history of subsequent campaigns, such as only one soldier can give to another.

This was the last reliable news we received till it was all over. I can't describe [162] the suspense, the anxiety, that almost consumed us, and I will not try.

During the winter the guard relaxed much of its sternness and rigor, and many of the men who composed it were willing to enter into conversation and traffic with us, when their officers were not in sight. This gave rise to several manufacturing industries. One was carving pipes. Some of the boys, when they got out for wood, would dig greenbriar-roots, and from these, and other kinds of wood, finely-carved pipes were made. Frequently two or three weeks labor was expended on a single pipe, which was then sold for a half gallon of “nigger peas,” a quart of meal, or three dollars “Confed.”

Another branch of business was carving toothpicks. These were made from the bones of meat that we drew, and, like the pipes, they were valuable in proportion to the amount of labor bestowed on them.

Bob Mc made toothpicks. His kit of tools consisted of a piece of an old caseknife, one side of it cut full of notches for a saw; a brick-bat, which he used for grindstone, [163] file, and polisher; and a piece of coarse needle fastened into a bone handle, and ground flat-pointed, which served as a drill or boring machine. With such a set of tools, if he had favorable weather, he could turn out two good toothpicks per month.

Still another branch of business (?) carried on at this time, was “raising” Confederate notes. Confederate money was poorly made, both in design and execution. The “ones” and “twos,” and “tens” and “twenties” were almost alike, except in the figures that told their denomination. If a man could get a one or two-dollar bill, he knew where to take it and have it converted into a ten or twenty-“All work done in the best style of art and warranted to pass.” In buying beans or meal with this money, we always aimed to trade so as to get one or two small bills in change so that we could make another “raise.” I expect that good brother who thought we stole the sacks from the quartermaster, will think this looks like counterfeiting. It does look that way, and had those Yanks been [164] caught at it, they might have been sent to Andersonville!-the worst imprisonment I can think of-and sentenced to remain there as long as Confederate money had a value. [165]

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