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Southern Historical Society Papers/Volume 01/March/Statement of one of the Guard

We will add the following article, written by Mr. L. M. Park, of La Grange, Georgia, who is personally known to us as a gentleman of unimpeachable character, and whose testimony is of the highest importance, as he speaks of what he saw himself. His article was originally written for the Southern Magazine, and while it contains some expressions which are bitter against the slanderers of our people, we will give it entire except the concluding paragraphs:

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The "Rebel Prison Pen" at Andersonville, Georgia.

It is the duty of every lover of justice, when he sees a gross and injurious calumny put into circulation which he is able to refute from direct knowledge, to challenge it at once, and more especially if it is aimed at his own people, and meant to be used to their injury. It is true that in those regions for which these calumnies are prepared they are too generally preferred to the truth, even when the truth is offered; but the duty of affirming the truth is no less obligatory on those who are able to affirm it. It is with this view that the following paper is written to correct certain statements which recently appeared in Appleton's Journal[1] professing to relate facts gleaned during a trip to Andersonville, Georgia, concerning the Confederate military prison there and the treatment of Federal prisoners. Instead of reviewing the article in detail, I will merely take up, one by one, the principal false statements.


It was my fortune to be stationed at Andersonville almost from the first establishment of the prison until the removal to Millen, Georgia, or Camp Lawton, and I unhesitatingly pronounce the statement that "the prisoners had to drink the water which conveyed the offal of three camps and two large bakeries or kitchens off before it reached them," utterly false. The guards drank of the same water that quenched the prisoners' thirst, cooked their food with the same water, the same large stream or creek flowing through the encampment of guards and stockade, or prison-pen, as Northern writers sneeringly call it. The camps of the guards all faced the stream, while their sinks were far off in the rear, and orders were most strict not to muddy the water, much less defile it in any way. As to the offal of the bakeries, these being presided over by prisoners on parole, and who did the cooking for the entire prison, I cannot believe they would pollute the water their brother prisoners had to drink. As rapidly as they could the prisoners dug wells; in all some two hundred were dug, and purer, sweeter, colder water I never drank. Being on the staff of Captain Wirz, I had free access to the prison at all times day or night, and whenever I wished to quench my thirst, I went inside the prison and drank from one of these wells.


That "providential spring" is an impious myth. I have been in the prisons thousands of times and never before heard it so called, except on reading the Herald's account of the anniversary of the Fulton street prayer meeting, when some pharisaically pious old brother recited a long rigmarole about this same "providential spring," and said it was planted there in direct answer to prayer. The gist of this spring tale is that when the prisoners' sickness and suffering from thirst was at its greatest, all at once, in the twinkling of an eye, this spring gushed forth in direct answer to prayer. Was ever such blasphemy? If such was the case, why does the spring still exist after it has answered its purpose? Do those rocks of Horeb struck by Moses to slake the children of Israel's thirst still exist, and at this late day the water gush forth? It is all a cock-and-bull story, and unlike Sterne's, one of the poorest I ever heard.


If my recollection serves me right, there was yet another of these same "providential springs" inside the stockade, and that Providence who sends the rain alike upon the just and the unjust gave unto the wicked and ungodly Rebels three of these "providential springs" and I am sure he did not plant ours in answer to prayer, for we had just as soon drunk the branch water.


The Confederate Government has always been harshly assailed for its want of humanity in not having barracks to house the prisoners from the sun and rains. A more senseless hue and cry was never heard. How was it possible to saw timber into planks without saw-mills? There were two water-power mills distant three and six miles respectively, but such rude, primitive affairs undeserving the name. The nearest steam saw-mill was twenty-three miles distant (near Smithville), the next at Reynolds, about fifty miles distant; but the great bulk of the lumber used, fully two-thirds, was brought from Gordon, a distance of eighty miles. Even if these mills had had the capacity to supply the necessary amount of lumber, it would still have been impossible to have provided barracks for the prisoners, as all the available engines of all the railroads in the Confederacy were taxed to their utmost capacity in transporting supplies for the army in the field and to the prisons. But few even of the officers of the guard had shanties, and these few were built of slabs and sheeting, which every one knows is the refuse of the mills. And even though there were no lack of lumber, when we remember that there was but one solitary manufactory of cut nails in the limits of the Confederacy, certainly no blame could be attached to the authorities for not furnishing more comfortable quarters for them. Nearly every building in the encampment was built of rough logs and covered with clap-boards split from the tree and held to their places by poles. The force of these statements is readily appreciated by every intelligent, unprejudiced mind. Besides, is it customary for any nation in time of war to treat their prisoners in a more humane manner than their own soldiers in the field? The inquiry becomes pertinent when we reflect that during the last two years of the war there was not a tent of any description to be found in any of the armies of the Confederacy, save such as were captured from the Federals.


The stockade was built by the negroes belonging to the neighboring farms, either hired or pressed into service by the Confederate authorities to cut down the immense pine trees growing on the ground intended for the stockade; and these same trees were then cut into proper lengths and hewn upon the spot, and then planted in a ditch dug four feet deep to receive them. In this manner was the stockade made. Before it was completed the prisoners were forwarded in great numbers; and it being impossible to keep them in the cars, we had to put them in the completed end of the stockade and double the guards, and our whole force kept ever ready, day and night, for the slightest alarm; for at first we had only the shattered remnants—of two regiments the Twenty-sixth Alabama and the Fifty-fifth Georgia—numbering in all some three hundred and fifty men. This constituted the guard. In about ten days thereafter my regiment the First Georgia reserves, composed of young boys and old men (I was not sixteen), just organized—were sent to take the place of the Twenty-sixth Alabama and Fifty-fifth Georgia, so they could be sent to the front for duty. In a few days after our arrival the 2d, 3d and 4th Georgia reserves, all composed of lads and hoary-headed men (for we were reduced to the strait of "robbing the cradle and the grave for men to make soldiers of"), joined us as rapidly as they could be organized. The author of "Jaunt in the South" says "When the stockade was occupied in 1864, there was not a tree or blade of grass within it. Its redish sand was entirely barren, and not the smallest particle of green showed itself. But now the surface is covered completely with underbrush; a rich growth of bushes, trees and plants has covered the entire area, and where before was a dreary desert, there is now a wild and luxurious garden." I have before said the ground was covered with a pine forest, and the trees were utilized to build the stockade. Any one who has traveled south of Macon, Georgia, knows the pine is abundant, and in fact almost the only tree. In these forests the ground is covered by wire grass or other grass peculiar to them.


The main reasons for locating the prison at Andersonvillle, after its first being thought the most secure place in the Confederacy from Yankee cavalry raids, was the abundance of the water and the timber wherewith to construct the prison rapidly, and its being in the very heart of the grain-growing region of the South, which would make it less inconvenient to supply with provisions such a vast multitude.


In the summer of 1867, I set out for New York, being resolved to live no longer in the South, where negroes were being placed over us by Yankee bayonets, and in their vernacular, "de bottom rail wuz agittin' on de top er de fence." I traveled very leisurely, and stopped in every city of any note on my route, and kept eyes and ears wide open to drink in everything. I visited the Ohio State capitol at Columbus, and in the museum of curiosities were some small paper boxes carefully preserved in a glass case, containing what purported to have been the exact quality and quantity of rations issued per diem to each prisoner at Andersonville. In one box was about a pint of coarse unbolted meal, and in another about one tablespoonful of rice; and still another box with about two tablespoonsful of black peas; and in a tiny little box was about one-eighth of a teaspoon of salt. Underneath it is all explained, and says, among other things, "When rice was given, the peas were withheld; but when they had no rice, this kind of peas was given instead." It is needless to tell how my blood boiled at such an atrociously malicious and false exhibition. No wonder the hatred of the North is kept alive, and the bloody chasm continually widened by such wicked and uncharitable displays as this in one of the largest and most enlightened States in the Union.


I was for three months a clerk in the Commissary Department at Andersonville, and it was my business to weigh out rations for the guards and prisoners alike; and I solemnly assert that the prisoners got ounce for ounce and pound for pound of just the same quality and quantity of food as did the guards. The State authorities of Ohio ought to blush at thus traducing and slandering a fallen foe, and never in the first instance to have placed on exhibition for preservation as truth this fabrication of partisan hate. No Andersonville prisoner, unless he were lost to all sense of honor and shame, could make such a statement as that the rations were no more than the specimens shown.


It has been charged as a crying shame upon the Confederacy by ignorant humanitarians that the South might at least have given the prisoners wheat bread occasionally; that they rarely ate corn bread in their own land, and that the bread we issued was made of meal so coarse and unsifted that it caused dysentery, thereby largely increasing the mortality. It is well known now that the South depends very largely, and with shame I confess it, on the West for her bread and bacon, and the cotton belt proper makes but little pretension of raising wheat, for the climate, it is said, is unsuited; so that the region round about Andersonville, being in the very heart of the cotton-growing section of Georgia, such a thing as feeding prisoners on flour was simply impossible, and the little flour that was obtained as tithes (one-tenth of all the crops raised was required by our Government) was devoted entirely to the use of the hospitals. Not only was this true of the territory immediately surrounding Andersonville, but of the whole South. Our own armies were unsupplied with flour, and perhaps not one family in fifty throughout the whole land enjoyed that luxury. The guards eat the same bread, or rather meal; the bread eaten by the prisoners being baked by regular bakers (prisoners detailed for that purpose), while the guards did their own cooking. The meal, however, was the same, and both were unsifted and in truth very coarse. I ate the unsifted meal always.


Another cry of holy horror is raised every time the "Dead Line" is mentioned, as if this dead line was prima facie evidence that the Southerners were as barbarous and cruel a race as ever blotted the face of earth. The civilized North, however, had the same barbarous dead line in their prisons, and in fact originated the device. It was a necessity with us, for we had never at any one time more than 1,200 to 1,500 guards in the four regiments fit for duty, and we had the keeping at one time of nearly 40,000 prisoners. By a concerted plan of onslaught they could at any time have scaled the walls, captured guards, and with the weapons of their keepers overrun the entire country, which, all south of Dalton, Georgia (100 miles north of Atlanta), was left wholly unprotected save by gray-haired old men and young boys; and the women, children and negroes, who were the only hope for the making of crops for our armies, would have been helplessly at their mercy. This dead line was clearly defined, and consisted of stakes driven into the ground twenty feet from the stockade walls, and on these stakes was a three-inch strip of plank nailed all around the inside of the prison. They were all notified that a step beyond this line was not prudent, and they were not so unwise as to venture beyond that limit.


Speaking of the number and burial of the dead, the writer of the aforesaid "Jaunt" says: "The authorities at the stockade who had charge of the interment of the Federal dead did their work rudely,  *   *   *  digging pits and burying them in." Then he goes on: "It is hard to comprehend the true value of the number, 14,000; its magnitude eludes you. Fourteen thousand men would form a great mob, or a great army, or a great town. Here you have 14,000 men lying silently in a few acres. Within these bounds men have suffered as greatly as have any since the world began." In reply to this, I would merely say the burial was the work of prisoners paroled especially for the purpose, both the hauling of the bodies to the ground, the digging of the graves, and even the records of the names were all done by paroled prisoners. Books and a tent were provided solely for the latter purpose. Owing to the weakness of the guard, paroled prisoners were employed for this duty, as we could spare no men for the purpose; and if the work was rudely or carelessly done the blame rests with them. As compensation they were given double rations and almost entire freedom. As to the number of the dead, we admit that it is great, but statistics show that more Southern soldiers died in Northern prisons than Northern soldiers in Southern prisons. In vain have Northern writers tried to disprove this fact.


Great as was the mortality among the prisoners, it was no greater in proportion to numbers than that of the guard, which is fully attested by the reports of the surgeon in charge. Besides, it is well known to every soul that can or does read that the Confederacy, through their agent, Judge Ould, made frequent and tireless efforts to get the United States Government, through their agent, General Butler, to exchange. But no, the Federal authorities would not hear to it; but acting on the avowed and promulgated idea that the South, being blockaded, could not recruit her armies from foreign lands, while to the North the whole of Europe was opened, they cruelly determined not to exchange, so as to detain our soldiers from again fighting them, well knowing that even then we had made our last conscription (17 to 50 years), and when those we had were killed up or in prison we would of course be over-powered. This was their cold-blooded, brutal policy; and closely did they stick to it, even till we were almost literally wiped out, while the men they had fighting us were in most part hired substitutes, drafted men, and foreign hirelings.


Farther, as to the mortality among the prisoners, let it be remembered that a majority of the deaths caused in our prisons was for want of proper medicines, which we did not have and could not get, except by blockade-running. Had the Federal Government any of the milk of human kindness in its composition, it would have acceded to our earnest request to take cotton in exchange for drugs to administer to their own dying soldiers. Their immense manufactories were lying idle for want of cotton, while we had it but could not use it. But as these self-same drugs and medicines would also be applied to the relief of our own sick soldiers, they determined it would be to their advantage to let all die alike, knowing the South could get no more men to supply the places of the sick, the dying, and those they had imprisoned, so refused all overtures. After using every effort and exhausting every argument to get an exchange, we proposed—as we had no medicines and could get none, except what we accidentally ran in through the blockade from Europe (they being declared contraband, and always confiscated whenever captured by the blockading fleet) we proposed to turn over to them all their sick, without requiring man for man, but giving them absolutely up, if the United States would only send vessels for transporting them. This was done at Camp Lawton (Millen, Georgia), after the prison was removed from Andersonville for greater security.


From the private journal of a Confederate officer high in command, both at Andersonville and other Southern prisons, I glean the annexed facts, the first bearing directly upon the foregoing: "At one time an order came to Camp Lawton to prepare 2,000 men for exchange. The order from Richmond was to select first the wounded, next the oldest prisoners and the sickly, filling up with healthy men according to date. This party went first to Savannah, as arranged, but by some mistake the ships were at Charleston, and the poor wretches had to be taken there; and every one who knew the Southern railroads in those days, and the difficulty, or rather impossibility, to procure food for such a crowd along the road, will know what those poor fellows suffered. At Charleston they were refused, the commissioner declaring that 'he was not going to exchange able-bodied men for such miserable specimens of humanity.' (The term used was more brutal.) Finding him obdurate, Colonel Ould requested him to take them without exchange. This he refused with a sneering laugh, and the crowd was ordered back. Never did the writer of this witness such woe-begone countenances, in which misery and hopelessness were more strongly painted, than shown by those poor fellows on their return. And the curses leveled against the rulers who thus treated the defenders of their country were fearful, although certainly well deserved. As the stockade gate closed upon them the surgeon in charge said to the writer: 'Poor fellows! the world has closed upon more than half of them; this disappointment will be their death-knell.' His words proved true. Who murdered those men? Let history answer the question."


Again I extract from the aforesaid journal: "The Northerners talk so much of the cruelty of the South to the Federal prisoners. At one time the unfortunate prisoners were almost without clothing, indeed some had hardly as much as common decency required. The South could not provide them, not being able to clothe their own men. An application was made to Seward. The reply was that 'the Federal Government did not supply clothing to prisoners of war.' Luckily for the poor fellows, a society in New York took the matter in hand, and several bales of clothing and cases of shoes were forwarded to Richmond, and divided, in proportion to numbers, among the prisons."


A great deal has been said of the cruelty to the prisoners inside the stockade. This so-called cruelty was inflicted by their own men. In every prison a police with a chief, all from the prisoners, was appointed to keep order, see to the enforcement of the regulations, and inquire into all offences, reporting through their chief to the Commandant. The punishments, such as were used in the Federal army, were ordered to be inflicted by these men, and some were of such a barbarous nature that they were prohibited with disgust by the Confederate officers, who substituted milder and more humane ones; and yet the former were in common practice in the Federal armies, as testified by all the prisoners.


Among the numerous lies invented by Northerners, and actually still believed by some parties to this day, was the story that the Confederates used to hunt and worry prisoners with bloodhounds. Now it is well known that the breed of bloodhounds is nearly extinct in the South, and the large packs of those dogs alluded to by writers on this subject existed only in their imaginations, the prolific brains of penny-a-liners, whose vile and lying compositions even now abound in many so-called respectable New York papers. No public man is safe from their atrocious attacks. Among the various specimens of this dog alluded to by the above-named gentry, was the famous bloodhound of the Libby prison. The writer has often seen this formidable animal, which certainly in his youth must have been as fine a specimen of the kind as could be met anywhere, but unfortunately for the thrilling portion of the accounts of his doings at the time of the war, the poor beast, worn out from old age and with hardly a tooth in his head, wandered about a harmless, inoffensive creature. He was the property of the Commandant of the Libby, who kept him because he was a pet dog of his father's, and there the brute lived a pensioner in his old age. As to his worrying men, he could not, had he even tried, have worried a child. The other prisons had none, not even as pensioners. Among the records history gives us of using those dogs to hunt men, it is stated that during the Florida war a number of bloodhounds were imported by the Federal Government from Cuba to hunt the Indians out of the Everglades, and that numbers of the natives were worried to death by the ferocious beasts. The writer does not deny that when a prisoner got out of the stockade trying to escape, if no clue could be obtained of his whereabouts, a few mongrel or half-bred fox-hounds were used to track him, but the worrying was all done in the correspondent's own brain. However, it suited the times and made the article sell. The only complaint made is that this vile and malicious lie is still, if not believed, repeated by some who use it for party purposes, and thus help to keep up the bad feeling between the North and South.}}


  1. See September monthly part "A Jaunt in the South." These corrections were offered to that journal, but declined on the ground of personal regard for the author of "A Jaunt in the South," who is a regular contributor.