Southern Historical Society Papers/Volume 01/March/Testimony of Federal Prisoners

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Southern Historical Society Papers: Volume 1 Number 3  (1876) 
Testimony of Federal Prisoners
Southern Historical Society Papers, March 1876

Let us follow the preceding statements by the following

TESTIMONY OF THE PRISONERS THEMSELVES.

In reference to the recent discussion in Congress, an editor in Mr. Blaine's own State (Maine) says:

"In all the talk that is being made about Andersonville prison by agitators and politicians who hope to profit by stirring up dead animosities, it is noticeable that no evidence is produced from men who were prisoners at that place. In order to get the views and experiences of an actual prisoner, we called a few days ago upon Mr. John F. Frost, whose business place is a stone's throw from our office. Mr. Frost says:

"'I was orderly of Captain Folger's company, Nineteenth Maine; was made prisoner at Petersburg in June, 1864, and was at Andersonville eleven months, or until the war ended. There was suffering among the men who were sick, from lack of medicines and delicacies, but all had their rations as fully and regularly as did the Confederate guard. Their were times of scarcity, when supply trains were cut off by the Federal forces; and at such times I have known the guard to offer to buy the prisoners' rations, being very short themselves. On these occasions the guards would take a portion of the scanty supplies from the people of the country to feed the prisoners. The Rebels were anxious to effect an exchange and get the prisoners off their hands, but it was reported and believed among the prisoners that the Federal authorities refused. At one time I was with a detail of three thousand prisoners who were marched two hundred miles to the coast to be exchanged, but it was declined by the Federal authorities, as was reported, and we marched back with no enviable feelings. I believe that the larger share of the responsibility for the suffering in that prison belonged to our own Government. Wirz was harsh and cruel to the prisoners, and deserved hanging. But I believe the Confederate authorities did as well as they could for the prisoners in the matter of clothing, provisions and medicines.'

"This, let it be remembered, is not the talk of a designing politician who stayed safely at home, but the testimony of a soldier of good record, from an actual experience of eleven months in Andersonville prison."

The following resolutions were adopted by the prisoners:

[Copy.]

"Resolutions that were adopted by the Federal prisoners who had been confined at Andersonville, and dated Savannah, September 23, 1864" (see United States Sanitary Commission Memoirs, by Professor A. Flint, New York):

* * * "Resolved, That while allowing the Confederate Government all due praise for the attention paid to the prisoners, numbers of our men are consigned to early graves," etc.

"Resolved, That ten thousand of our brave comrades have descended into untimely graves, caused by difference in climate, food, etc. And whereas these difficulties still remain, we would declare our firm belief that unless we are speedily exchanged we have no other alternative but to share the same lamentable fate of our comrades.  *  *  Must this thing still go on? Is there no hope?  *  *  * 

"Resolved,  *  *  *  We have suffered patiently, and are still willing to suffer, if by so doing we can benefit the country; but we most respectfully beg leave to say that we are not willing to suffer to further the ends of any party or clique to the detriment of our families and our country.

(Signed)"P. Bradley,

"Chairman of Committee in behalf of Prisoners."

We give the following full extract from the testimony of Prescott Tracy, of the Eighty-second regiment New York volunteers, before the United States Sanitary Commission, and published in their report:

"As far as we saw General Winder and Captain Wirz, the former was kind and considerate in his manners, the latter harsh, though not without kindly feelings.

"It is a melancholy and mortifying fact that some of our trials came from our own men. At Belle Isle and Andersonville there were among us a gang of desperate men, ready to prey on their fellows. Not only thefts and robberies, but even murders were committed. Affairs become so serious at Camp Sumter that an appeal was made to General Winder, who authorized an arrest and trial by a criminal court. Eighty-six were arrested, and six were hung, besides others who were severely punished. These proceedings effected a marked change for the better.

"Some few weeks before being released, I was ordered to act as clerk in the hospital. This consists simply of a few scattered trees and fly tents, and is in charge of Dr. White, an excellent and considerate man, with very limited means, but doing all in his power for his patients. He has twenty five assistants, besides those detailed to examine for admittance to the hospital. This examination was made in a small stockade attached to the main one, to the inside door of which the sick came or were brought by their comrades, the number to be removed being limited. Lately, in consideration of the rapidly increasing sickness, it was extended to one hundred and fifty daily. That this was too small an allowance is shown by the fact that the deaths within our stockade were from thirty to forty a day. I have seen one hundred and fifty bodies waiting passage to the 'dead house,' to be buried with those who died in hospital. The average of deaths through the earlier months was thirty a day. At the time I left, the average was over one hundred and thirty, and one day the record showed one hundred and forty-six.

"The proportion of deaths from starvation, not including those consequent on the diseases originating in the character and limited quantity of food—such as diarrhœa, dysentery and scurvy—I cannot state; but, to the best of my knowledge, information and belief, there were scores every month. We could at any time point out many for whom such a fate was inevitable, as they lay or feebly walked, mere skeletons, whose emaciation exceeded the examples given in Leslie's Illustrated for June 18, 1864. For example: in some cases the inner edges of the two bones of the arms, between the elbow and the wrist, with the intermediate blood vessels, were plainly visible when held toward the light. The ration, in quantity, was perhaps barely sufficient to sustain life, and the cases of starvation were generally those whose stomachs could not retain what had become entirely indigestible.

"For a man to find, on waking, that his comrade by his side was dead, was an occurrence too common to be noted. I have seen death in almost all the forms of the hospital and battlefield, but the daily scenes in Camp Sumter exceeded in the extremity of misery all my previous experience.

"The work of burial is performed by our own men, under guards and orders, twenty-five bodies being placed in a single pit, without head-boards, and the sad duty performed with indecent haste. Sometimes our men were rewarded for this work with a few sticks of firewood, and I have known them to quarrel over a dead body for the job.

"Dr. White is able to give the patients a diet but little better than the prison rations—a little flour porridge, arrow-root, whiskey, and wild or hog tomatoes. In the way of medicine, I saw nothing but camphor, whiskey, and a decoction of some kind of bark—white oak, I think. He often expressed his regret that he had not more medicines."

We beg leave to call especial attention to the passages in the above extract which we have italicised, and which are very significant in testimony which was gotten up to prove "Rebel barbarity."

Another Andersonville prisoner testifies as follows before the United States Congressional Committee:

"We never had any difficulty in getting vegetables; we used to buy almost anything that we wanted of the sergeant who called the roll mornings and nights. His name was Smith, I think; he was Captain Wirz's chief sergeant. We were divided into messes, eight in each mess; my mess used to buy from two to four bushels of sweet potatoes a week, at the rate of fifteen dollars Confederate money per bushel. [They got twenty dollars of Confederate money for one dollar of greenbacks in those days.] Turnips were bought at twenty dollars a bushel. We had to buy our own soap for washing our own persons and clothing; we bought meat and eggs and biscuit. There seemed to be an abundance of those things; they were in the market constantly. That sergeant used to come down with a wagon-load of potatoes at a time, bringing twenty or twenty-five bushels at a load sometimes."