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Chapter 21: our last prison.

  • The exchange stopped.
  • -- Wilson's raid. -- new hope. -- stocks. -- a Hasty move. -- another plan to escape. -- great excitement among the rebs. -- rebel lies. -- corralled for the last time

For two weeks after the exchange was stopped, our excitement was kept at white heat by rumors of Wilson's raid. At first, he was in Mississippi; next we heard rumors of his movements in Alabama. He was coming toward us, and we began to feel confident that instead of being exchanged we would be released. This filled us with hope and put us in fine spirits. The whole camp seemed cheerful, and confident that we would soon get out, in some way. [174]

After my chums left me I went into partnership with Bob Mc-, a man who belonged to the same company that I did. He was captured at Chicamauga, in September, 1863; was taken to Richmond, spent the winter on Belle Isle; was taken from there to Danville, Va., and thence to Andersonville. He stood seventeen months of prison life — they couldn't kill him! He was a short, thick-set man, thirty-eight or forty years of age. He was quite bald-headed; and had had the scurvy for almost a year. During the crowded term of 1864, he was taken to the tent hospital, outside the stockade. He was almost dead then, but he ate sumac-berries freely, and got better; so much better, that he and a comrade started one night to run away.

It was a poor run. They became entangled in the swamps, and only got five or six miles. The next day they were missed. The Andersonville pack of hounds were turned loose, and they were treed before night. For this grave sin of trying to get away, Bob was put in the stocks! They had a number of these implements of torture [175] in front of Wirtz's quarters. The peculiar style of the set in which Bob was fastened, was a strong frame, with four posts securing the ends of two heavy timbers, like joists; in each of these was a semicircular notch. The joists were brought together horizontally so as to fit the notches around a man's neck, and fastened there by keys at the ends. They were then lowered so as to depress the body about three inches lower than its natural position-so that the victim could neither straighten up nor sit down.

The next morning after Bob's recapture, his neck was fastened in this machine, and he stood in this painful position twelve hours. It was a hot day in September, and the sun poured his burning rays upon Bob's bare bald head all day.

They did not give him a bite to eat nor a drop to drink during the twelve hours, although he begged piteously for water.

About two o'clock, the sun baking his head caused him to become unconscious for an instant, and his legs gave way; the back of his head and his chin struck the timbers [176] with a crack that brought him to consciousness suddenly, and made him think for a moment that his neck was broken. Though his poor, scurvied limbs ached as if they would break, he stood it until sunset. He was then released, received a ration of bread, and was turned into the stockade.

Bob was a jolly, good-natured fellow to be with; and by the partnership, we had a pretty fair equipment — for Andersonville. I had my tent, my half blanket, my pan, that I made out of the car-roofing, and a railroad-spike. Bob had a tent as good as mine, which we spread over mine, and as the holes hardly ever came in both at the same place one patched the other bravely. He had a wooden bucket which he had made, that would hold a quart; an old sock, which we used for a meal-sack when we drew our rations; it was one of those old regulation woolen socks, but it proved to be a very useful article in our household economy. Then he had his toothpick tools, and we became partners in that industry.

About four o'clock one day, toward the last of March, two long trains stopped at [177] the station. A guard was detailed in a hurry. The counting-sergeants came in and ordered us to get ready to go out at once.

“How many are you going to take?”

“Every ----has to be out a-foah mawnin‘!”

We guessed at once that Wilson was coming our way, so we asked-

“ Where's Wilson's raiders?”

He answered in one long word that sounded like, “Damifino!” --which we interpreted to mean that he didn't wish to tell.

We passed the word around our part of the prison, “Let's take the last train, and may be Wilson will catch us.” They hurried us all they could. The first train was loaded, and pulled out about sunset. Ours did not get loaded till after dark. They would count off eighty men, and crowd them up to a car door, and keep saying-“Hurry up, dah! Hurry up, dah!”

Our old chum, Tom, with whom the reader is well acquainted, was in the midst of such a squad, and instead of climbing into the car he crept under it, and passing under [178] the depot building, got left. He kept himself hid till Wilson came, and so he got away and found his regiment.

In our train were five flat-cars, containing about three hundred prisoners. I was on one of these. They were well to the rear of the train, with perhaps two or three box-cars and a caboose behind. The guard did not seem to fancy these flats, so most of them climbed onto the box-cars ahead of us. Soon after we started, some one discovered that there were but three guards on the five flats, and conceived the bold project of cutting the train and giving them the grand bounce. The plan was, to uncouple the rear boxes, and as soon as they were sufficiently to the rear — a mile or soto then uncouple the flats; and as soon as they stopped, to jump off and take to the woods. We knew that those three guards could not stop us, even if they tried.

Going down a grade, the pin was drawn; and we soon saw the space widen, and the rear cars grew dim in the distance. Now for another little grade, and then-

But our guard was too vigilant. One of [179] those on the flats discovered that the rear was gone, and by running over us and jumping from car to car, he managed to alarm the guard on the boxes ahead of us, and soon had two men guarding each coupling. But the train ran about four miles before they made the engineer understand that he had lost a part of his train. He then ran on to the first station, and left us while he went back for the rear.

The Johnnies were badly scared, and terribly indignant at this delay. The officer in command flourished his pistol around us, and swore that if he knew who uncoupled the train he would shoot him! But he did not know. It filled us with exultation and happiness to see the rebs so uneasy.

About daylight we ran into Macon, and stopped, but they did not take us off the cars. From our train we could see up into the business part of town, and noticed a number of large, white flags floating over the principal houses. We asked a negro what they were for, and he said-

Specks de Yanks is comin‘!”

The officers in charge of us held a hurried [180] consultation with the authorities. The engine was turned around and hitched to the other end of our train, and by eight o'clock we were steaming away down the same road we came up the night before. What did they mean-taking us back to Andersonville?

About two or three o'clock P. M. we passed Andersonville, and from the cars we took our last look at that pen of woe. They took us to Albany — to Thomasville, over the same route that we came in December. “Where are we going?” The rebs told us that they were taking us around that way to Savannah, to exchange us-but, as usual, they lied.

They took us eastward from Thomasville to a junction, the name of which I have forgotten. There we took another road, and ran southward till we struck the Jacksonville & Tallehasse railroad, thence eastward again till we reached Lake City, Florida.

In sight of the railroad, about four miles east of Lake City, on an island-or more properly, a peninsula — in a vast cypress [181] swamp, we were corralled for the last time. Our prison was a palmetto-covered knoll, of about two acres area, surrounded on all sides by swamp and water except a narrow low neck across which a corduroy road connected us with the main land.

Here we had plenty of fuel. Pine and cypress logs lay in rich abundance all about us. When we were there, during April, the weather was warm and dry. The trees were full of foliage, and all looked like summer-time. The weather was so pleasant that we hardly needed clothing.

I had gone without a shirt all winter, using my blouse instead. It had now become so rotten and ragged that it was not worth picking the lice off for all the protection it afforded, so I threw it away. My wardrobe then consisted of pants, ending in a neat (?) fringe about the knee, and a leathern gun-sling, which did duty as a suspender. From the waist, upward, I was smoked and tanned to the complexion of well-cured bacon.

Do not think that I was not as welldressed as was fashionable, for the poor did [182] not enjoy a gun-sling to hold their pants up. Bob had a pair of pants, and a shirt, minus the sleeves, that he had made out of a blouse and piece of sack; he also had a piece of pants-leg, which he used for a hat. He would pull one end of it on his head, and throwing the other end backward, he looked like a Grand Turk in full dress.

While we were in this prison our rations consisted of a pint of meal per day. We were there one month, and drew nothing but meal during our stay-we did not even draw salt to season it. Bob and I made ours into mush most of the time. There was plenty of it, such as it was. One day one of the guards shot an alligator, about eight feet long, which he gave to the prisoners. Some of the boys tried steaks off of its tail. That was the only meat eaten in that prison.

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