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Chapter 14: camp Lawton.

  • The Columbus jail.
  • -- better fare. -- to Macon. -- new plans for escape. -- camp Lawton

The jail at Columbus was an iron building. It consisted of a hall about twelve feet wide, twenty feet long, and twelve feet high; with a double tier of cells on each side. Each cell was about six feet cube. A shelf about two feet wide ran along each side of the hall, six feet from the floor, by which we had access to the upper tier of cells. In each cell was a kind of bunk or shelf to sleep on.

When Tom and I were turned into that jail, there were seventeen jail-birds there. [127] I remember the number seventeen, but am not sure whether there were seventeen before we entered, or whether we made the number.

One man — a murderer — was kept locked in his cell. All the rest of us stayed in the common hall by day, and slept in the cells, or on the hall floor by night, as we pleased.

We were a select company. One old man was there for dodging the conscript law. There were two deserters from the rebel army, waiting until they could be forwarded to their command. There were two roughs who were sent there for raising a row in a brothel down town. A Texan, for killing a quartermaster. Three negroes; two of them for trying to run off. I can't remember all of them but last, as the chief of criminals, Tom and I-two Yanks!

We were there ten or twelve days!

I don't remember the exact time; but it was a good place to stay. We had two good meals per day, consisting of good corn bread (not the Andersonville kind), bacon, cabbage, rice, etc., all well cooked and enough of it. One of the negroes had [128] friends outside who brought him peanuts, which he shared with us; and the roughs had “friends” of their kind, who brought them delicacies, and when they learned that there were Yanks in there, they gave us oranges.

We improved in health, strength, and spirits, rapidly; and we passed another resolution by a large majority: Whereas, we have to be prisoners; Resolved-That we would rather be treated as criminals than as prisoners of war! And I now record that resolution in these minutes.

The blessings of this world are transient, and sooner or later we have to give them up. The Columbus jail was not an exception. About two hundred prisoners, captured by Hood at Atlanta, Georgia, were being forwarded to prison by way of Columbus. When they arrived, our jailer was ordered to put us with them.

We were taken out of jail in the evening, and put with the other prisoners, who were corralled on a vacant lot and closely guarded. The next morning we were loaded on a train of flat cars and taken to Macon. [129]

Tom was feeling well, and my feet were in a fair way to recover. Hood was about Chattanooga, so we decided that if we run that night we would jump off, and aim to go straight to Atlanta. The reader may try to imagine our disappoint when, instead of going on, they took us off the cars at Macon, and again put us in camp. We saw that they did not intend to travel by night, so we tried to think of some way to run the guard.

We were put in a place that had a high, tight board fence on three sides of it; on the fourth ran the Ocmulgee river. The guards walked around inside of the fence, and along the river bank. Tom conceived the idea of slipping past the guard on the bank, getting down to the water, and quietly swimming and floating with the current out of town. We tried to do it, but the guard was too vigilant, and we had to give it up after narrowly escaping being shot.

The next morning we were again put on the flat cars, and started toward Savannah. Riding on those open flat cars gave us a good chance to see the country, and we [130] made close observations, even counting the streams we crossed. The country was very flat, large swamps were abundant — it looked as if fully half the land was swampy. We saw but few clearings or other indications of an inhabited country. We did not think we could get through such a country by night, but it looked as though there would not be much danger in daylight.

About three o'clock we came to Millen Junction, where the Augusta road intersects the Savannah & Macon railroad. Our train switched off and ran up the Augusta road two or three miles, to where the rebels had established a new prison, called by them, “Camp Lawton,” but known to us as the “Millen prison.”

This prison was built on the same general plan as the one at Andersonville, but it was much better every way.

It was a stockade pen, enclosing about twenty-five acres. Wall, sentry-boxes, and dead-line as at Andersonville. The water was clear and comparatively pure, as there was no camp on the creek above the pen. The trees along this creek were left for [131] shade, making probably three acres of timber. The creek went murmuring through this forest shade, following its own winding channel for about half the distance across the pen. From the middle of the pen to the lower stockade the stream was confined in a straight channel about four feet wide, through which it rushed in a way that would carry off all the filth of the prison. A good bridge was built across the creek at the head of this straight part.

The prisoners all stayed on the west side of the stream, and used the grove and the east side as a kind of public park or promenade.

What would we not have given for such an addition to Andersonville, during those horrible hot days in August? [132]

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