A stockade had been erected on the fair ground, and fourteen hundred officers were confined there. This was the first stockade we had seen, and while our names were being taken and we were being searched I had a chance to examine it. It was made of large trees driven into the ground, the inside covered with boards, and was about fifteen feet high. A walk was built around it for the guard, and at each corner was placed a piece of artillery, which commanded the inside of the prison.
The door swung open and we were marched in. Had we entered the lower regions we could not have been more horrified. Nearly all the officers had assembled at the gate, and such a looking set, - half naked, unshaven and unshorn, some dragging themselves along by the aid of sticks, others lying down in the dirt. For the first time my courage failed me, and my heart grew faint as I thought that I must pass through what they had already seen of prison life. They did not look like human beings, and appeared less so as every mouth opened and the cry of "Fresh fish" was heard on all sides.
It is an old saying that misery loves company, and since I entered Macon stockade I have never doubted it. They would crowd around us, and the gang would howl, "Give them air! Don't steal his blanket. Oh! Don't put that louse on them," etc. We made our way through them as best we could, and as the place was crowded lay down in the dirt, the first vacant spot we found. As soon as we were located, and the excitement attending our reception had subsided, we began to walk about. Our newness was apparent, and we would soon be joined by some honest looking prisoners who would begin to inquire how we were captured, would ask all sorts of questions, and before we were aware of it we would be drawing a line of battle in the dirt with a stick and explaining that "we lay here; the regiment on our left broke; the rebels came in there," etc. A little group would gather around us, all interest and asking questions. After we had satisfied this party they would move on, and soon another would come up and we would go over the same ground. After we had gone through this performance four or five times we began to "catch on," and would show when questioned that we were not so very fresh.
I thought our reception was a little unkind, and resolved that I would never be engaged in anything of the kind, but when the next batch of prisoners arrived I was in the front rank, and howled "Fresh fish" as loudly as the rest of them.
The officers of our regiment became divided here. Major Dunn was in one part of the stockade, Captain Hume and Adjutant Curtis with some of the 71st and 72d Pennsylvania in another. Lieutenant Chubbuck found a friend from Quincy, Mass., and went with him; Lieutenant Osborne and I joined Captain McHugh of the 69th Pennsylvania.
Inside the stockade were two old buildings, each filled with prisoners. Many had dug holes under them, and were sheltered in that way, but the last two or three hundred had no shelter. Around the place was a low fence, twenty feet from the stockade, called the dead line, and it meant all that its name implies, for to touch or step over it brought a shot from the guard, which was the only warning. Our rations were corn-meal, issued uncooked, and as no extra cooking utensils were provided for the additional men, we often had to wait until midnight for a chance to cook our dinner. If we could borrow a kettle we made mush, if a skillet, made bread, and if neither, made a cake by making dough and throwing it into the hot ashes; this was called an ash cake. We drew very little salt, so I exchanged my ten dollar greenback, receiving five for one, Confederate money, and paid two dollars a pound for salt and fifteen for soda. The price of everything was so high that my fifty dollars soon vanished.
The only time I heard music of any kind inside the rebel lines was at Macon. Outside the stockade, where the guards were quartered, were two negroes who played the fife and drum. The could play but one tune, "Bonnie Blue Flag." At reveille, guard mounting, dinner call, retreat and tattoo the fifer shrieked and the drummer pounded out this same old tune. I do not think that the southerners are a musical people, for I never heard their soldiers sing around the camp-fires, and believe they left this, like everything else, to the negroes. There was a chaplain confined with us who was a very earnest Christian. Every night he held services on the steps of the main buildings, and, with a voice that could be heard throughout the prison, would pray for our country and flag, and for damnation and disaster to all rebels. The commanding officer came in one day and ordered him to stop, but he said they put Paul in prison, yet he prayed, and while he had a voice he should pray to his God, and use language best suited to the occasion. Courage always tells, and when they found that they could not frighten him they let him pray unmolested.
We had been at Macon about a week when one of the officers came to me and asked me if I would like to escape. I answered "Yes." We talked awhile on various subjects, and on leaving he said he would call for me that night. At midnight he came, and I went with him to one corner of the stockade, where we were joined by three more. We formed a circle with our hands on each other's shoulders, and I took the most solemn obligation ever taken by man. I swore to obey in every particular the orders of my superior officers, to take life if necessary in order to escape, and to kill anyone who should betray us. Our organization was called the Council of Ten, as it was governed by ten officers selected by the captains of the companies. We were divided into companies of thirty-two, each commanded by a captain, and subdivided into squads of eight, commanded by a sergeant; the privates only knew the sergeants, the sergeant knew his captain and the captain his Council of Ten. We had signs, passwords, grips and signals, and a grand rallying-cry. We were ordered to provide ourselves with clubs if they could be obtained, or in place of them have a stone located where we could easily get it.
It was strange to me why this organization was required, but I was informed that traitors were in the camp, that several tunnels had been started, and when ready to open, the rebels would come in, go directly to them, and driving down a crowbar would find them the first trial. It was hard to believe that any Union officer would betray his comrades, and we concluded that the rebels must have some of their men in with us, at any rate our leaders thought that a secret organization was necessary for our protection.
A good part of the time was taken by the rebels in finding out if any had escaped. Every day the commanding officers with the guard would come in and drive us to one side of the prison, then back in single file between two guards, counting us as we passed through. It was not oftenthat the first count was right, and we would be driven back again. It usually took from one to three hours before they were satisfied that "we were all thar."
The last of July it was rumored that six hundred were to leave the prison to be exchanged. The "old fish" took little stock in it. The order of the council was for all of our members to go who could. The next day was all excitement. The rebel officer in charge came in, said that exchange had been agreed upon, and that all would soon go, but only six hundred would go that day. They began to check out the first five squads and Captain McHugh, Lieutenant Osborne (who joined the council the night after I did) and myself flanked out when other names were called. We believed that "the last shall be first." As all who went out were not members of our own order we were directed to tie a string in our buttonholes so that we could be recognized. We were marched to the station and placed in box cars. Our sergeant posted two men over each guard in the car, with orders to seize and tie them when the order was given. This was to be a red light shown from the forward car. Our leaders had maps of the country and had concluded to capture the train at Pocotaligo Bridge, seven miles from the sea-coast, take the muskets from the guard, put the guard in the cars, set the train in motion, then make our way to the coast, signal our gun-boats, and be saved. Thus far everything had worked well. The guards in our car had not a cartridge left in their boxes, as we had taken them all out and had been able to take some of the caps off their muskets. We were as determined a body of men as ever lived, and it would have been liberty or death with most of us. Some in our car had been over the road and knew where we were expected to begin work. We waited for the signal, but it was not shown, and we began to get uneasy as it was evident that we had passed the point. Some jumped from the cars, but we were so near Charleston they were recaptured and arrived in the city as soon as we did. Some one had blundered or we were betrayed. We never found out who was responsible, but always thought we were betrayed by a regular army officer, who was exchanged soon after we arrived in Charleston. I do not think he entered the jail with us.
Disheartened, hungry and tired we arrived in Charleston. We did not know why we had been sent there but in every heart was a hope that it might be an exchange. They marched us through the city down into the burned district. As we halted on one of the streets a woman on the sidewalk said to me, "I don't think they will put you way down under the fire." This was the first intimation I received of what they intended to do with us, but it soon became known that we were to be placed under the fire of our batteries on Morris Island. The noble qualities of the southern chivalry were being shown to us every day, yet this was the most cowardly act of all, - to place unarmed men under the fire of their own guns.
We continued the march to the jail and were turned into the yard. I was more wealthy than when we left Macon. There were several naval officers in our squad and the rebels had allowed them to retain their personal property. While at Macon they had bought most of their food and saved their meal. On the march to Charleston one was directly in front of me. He had a heavy load to carry, and not being used to marching had a hard time. Among his effects was a bag containing about a peck of meal. He would change it from one hand to another, and at last set it down, as he could carry it no further. I was in light marching order and as soon as it touched the ground I picked it up and carried it into our new prison. I also had a broken water pitcher that the guard had allowed me to take out of the gutter, so I had meal and a dish to mix it in.
We found the jail yard a filthy place. In the centre was an old privy that had not been cleaned for a long time, and near it was a garbage pile, where all the garbage of the jail was deposited. A gallows occupied a place in the rear of the yard. The wall surrounding the yard was twenty feet high, so that no air could reach us and the hot sun came down on our unprotected heads.
The cooking utensils we had were those brought from Macon, and were not half enough to supply our wants. The jail was filled with all classes of criminals, male and female, and, with the exception of the women, all were allowed in the yard during some portion of the day. There were also several soldiers of the "Maryland line" who had refused to do duty longer for the Confederacy, and several negroes belonging to the 54h Massachusetts, captured at the siege of Fort Wagner. The negroes were not held as prisoners of war but rather as slaves. Their captors did not know exactly what to do with them. They were brave fellows, and at night we could hear them singing in their cells. I remember a part of one song. It was a parody on "When this cruel war is over," and ran as follows:-
"Weeping, sad and lonely
O, how bad I feel
Down in Charleston, South Carolina,
Praying for a good square meal"
We could hear our batteries on Morris Island, and often shells would pass over us. The second night we were there two rockets were sent up near the jail, and after that the line of fire was changed. The rebels could not account for the rockets and all concluded that they were discharged by our spies, or Union men in the city.
Our home was under a window of the jail. Sometimes it would rain all night and we would have to sit crouched against the walls. Our rations were mostly rice, and we had not half wood enough to cook it properly. Each day a four-foot stick of wood was issued to twenty-five men; we would cut it up into twenty-five little piles, one man would turn his back and another would call the names of the mess, at the same pointing to a pile of wood. If by a chance he or one of his friends received a sliver more than another some one would declare that there was an understanding between the two.
We were visited by the rebel generals Johnson and Thompson, who had returned from our lines, and after that our rations were less than before. One day the rice was so poor and so full of bugs that we refused to accept it and held an indignation meeting. We drew up a petition to General Jones, the rebel officer commanding the department, asking, if the rebels could not or would not issue rations enough to keep us alive, that our government might be allowed to do so. The next day they sent in the same rice, and as the petition did not satisfy our hunger we ate it, bugs and all, to keep from starving. Another day they issued nothing but lard. What they thought we could do with that I never learned, but I drew two spoonfuls on a chip and let it melt in the sun.
We had no change of underclothing, no soap to wash with and were covered with vermin. We hunted them three times each day but could not get the best of them. They are very prolific and great-grand-children would be born in twenty-four hours after they struck us. We made the acquaintance of a new kind here, - those that live in the head. We had no combs, and before we knew it our heads had more inhabitants than a New York tenement-house. After a hard scratch we obtained an old pair of shears and cut each other's hair close to our heads.
We were growing weaker day by day; were disposed to lie down most of the time, but knew that would not do, so resolved to walk as much as possible. We craved vegetables, and scurvy began to appear, sores breaking out on our limbs. One day a naval officer bought a watermelon. As he devoured it I sat and watched him, the water running out of my mouth; when he had finished he threw the rind on the garbage pile, and I was there. I ate it so snug that there was not much left for the next.
Lieutenant Osborne and myself were the only officers of the 19th in the jail yard; the rest we left at Macon. One day a detachment came into the workhouse, the next building to ours, and I received a note, which was thrown over the wall, informing me that Captain Hume and Adjutant Curtis were with them. Exchange stock was unsteady; several officers were exchanged by special order, some of them through the assistance of friends south, others by the influence of friends in Washington. Often the report would come in that a general exchange had been arranged, and the cry would go through the yard "Pack up, pack up, all exchanged." While it was an old story, and some of our comrades had heard it many times, the faintest hearts grew stronger and visions of home would come, only to be swept away by the fact that the morrow found them starving in the prison as before.
The life in the jail yard began to tell on us. At Macon groups would get together, sing old army songs, and merry laughter would be heard as some wit told his story, but now we heard no songs; the men walked about sullen and silent; it required little provocation to bring on a fight, as all were nervous and irritable. Our quarters grew worse each day, as nothing was done to change the sanitary condition of the yard, and six hundred men, each doing his best, could not keep it clean unless assisted from the outside.
About the middle of August we were told by the rebel officer in charge that if we would give our parole not to escape they would provide better quarters for us. At first the feeling was general that we would not do it; but after a while they began to go out, those who had talked the loudest being the first to go. Our little mess reasoned together; we feared that we should die here, as we suffered as much for want of shelter as food; we saw that the chances for escape were very poor, and, as all the field officers had signed, concluded we would. This parole was an agreement that they should furnish us good quarters in the old United States Marine Hospital and we should have the liberty of the house and yard, in consideration of which we were not to escape. We were the last squad to leave the yard and as we went took an old "A" tent that the rebels had brought in a few days before for some sick men. Although we had been in prison but eight weeks we had learned the ropes and took anything we could lift.
We found on arriving at the Marine that we had made a mistake in not being first; then we might have had a parlor, now we must sleep on the upper balcony, but it was such a nice place, dry and clean, that we would have been contented to have slept on the roof. We arranged our captured tent to sleep on and proposed to cut it up for clothing at some future time. We slept soundly that night and were awakened the next morning by a rebel officer and two guards, who were searching for the tent. They took our names, saying we had violated our parole and must go back to jail. We did not spend a real happy day; every hour we expected the guard would come in and march us out, but night found us unmolested and we never heard from it again.
From our balcony we could look out over a part of the city. In our rear were only blackened ruins; nearly every house had been riddled with shot and our own had not escaped; but in front the houses looked clean and each was surrounded with flowering trees and shrubs. It must have been a fine city before the ravages of war came. Our rations were about the same as in the jail yard, but were issued more regularly, and we had a better chance to cook. When we entered the Marine Hospital I saw an old two-gallon can and captured it. It had been used for spirits of turpentine. I unsoldered the top, cleaned it by boiling ashes, and made a bale out of an old piece of hoop. I now had quite an outfit, - my kettle, pitcher, spoon and a railroad spike to split my wood. I was a bloated capitalist.
In a few days a change could be seen in the appearance of the prisoners; those who had been blue and careless of their personal appearance began to brace up. We organized by electing Captain Belger of the Rhode Island Artillery as commander of the prison; he appointed a good staff and issued orders in regard to the cleanliness of the house and yard. A daily detail was made for fatigue duty, and any violation of the rules promptly reported. Glee clubs began to be formed, and we had a fine quartet besides an orchestra of four pieces. Lieutenant Rockwell was the owner of a flute, and in some way two violins and a double bass were procured, which proved of great assistance to all, as it helped to keep us from thinking of our condition.
Lieut. Frank Osborne and I had passed a unanimous vote that we would live through our confinement, and in order to carry it out must take extra care of ourselves. In the yard was a pump and every night we took a bath, one of us getting under the nose while the other worked the handle.
The shelling of the city by our batteries was constant. At night we could see the flash as the old "swamp angel" on Morris Island was discharged, then by the light of the fuse we could see the shells sailing through the air; when over the city they would explode and balls of fire would descend on the houses. At times four or five houses would be in flames at once, then our batteries would pass in the shells at the rate of twenty an hour. We could hear the rebels rallying their fire department, which was composed of negroes, and the engines would go rushing past the prison. These events were very pleasant to us and the more frequent the shells came the louder we would cheer. At times they would burst over us and pieces would fall in the yard. The guards were nearly frightened to death, as they were "new issue" and had never been under fire before; we would have felt a little easier if they had gone farther up town, but acted as though we liked it.
While at the Marine I had a stroke of good luck. We were American citizens and believed in the right of petitions. One day those who had their money taken from them at Richmond drew up a petition and forwarded it to the rebel commander, setting forth the fact that the money had been taken, and the promise that it should be returned, and praying him to interest himself in our behalf. We expected that we should never hear from it again, but in about a week fifteen received their money and I was one of the number. The rest they said would soon come, but it never did. I exchanged twenty dollars, receiving seven and a half confederate for one. My first purchase was a fine-tooth comb, - an article that could be used to advantage, - which cost me ten dollars, a quart of sweet potatoes for two dollars, and ten small onions for fifty cents each. We tried hard to be prudent and not forget that we had once been poor, but our wants were so many that in three days the one hundred and fifty dollars were all gone, and all we had to show was our comb and a darning needle. But our health was improved; we had eaten some of the potatoes raw, and those with the onions had helped our scurvy.
Prisoners were constantly coming into Charleston from various places, and exchange stock was often high. One day a squad of officers who had been in Savannah were marched into the jail yard. From our quarters on the upper balcony we could see them but were not allowed to talk. I recognized Lieutenant McGinnis, also Capt. C. W. Hastings of the 12th Massachusetts, Capt. G. W. Creasey of the 35th, Lieutenants Cross, Moody and Shute of the 59th, besides several others who had been comrades at Macon. They remained a few days, then were sent to other prisons. I wrote a note to McGinnis, tied it to a stone and threw it over the wall. This was in violation of my parole, but I could not help that.
One day about a thousand of our men came into the jail yard from Andersonville. It is impossible to describe their condition; they were nearly naked, their skins were as dark as Indians and dried to their bones. Sergt. Daniel Corrigan of Company E was with them. It was a long time before I could recognize him; he had no shirt and I could see that he was much emaciated, but he walked about, and I was sure that if any one got a ration Corrigan would, as he was the best forager in the regiment. I did not close my eyes to sleep that night, the coughing of the men in the yard preventing it. They remained but one day, then were taken to the fair ground.
Negroes passed the prison nearly every day on the way to Fort Sumter to restore the works which were being knocked to pieces by our batteries and gun-boats. They were collected from the plantations in the country and were a frightened looking set. They knew that their chances for life were small, and they sang mournful songs as they marched along.
The greatest trouble I had was cooking. I had no special qualifications for that work, and could not boil dish-water without burning it on; but according to our rule, I must cook for our mess once in three days. My feet were bare, and the rice or mush would boil over on them, and as I jumped back I was sure to land in some other fellow's fire. Frank was one of the best friends a man ever had and would often take my place, but McHugh was bound that I should learn the business.
October 1 the yellow fever broke out. Our guards were the first taken down, the captain and some of his men dying; then it struck the officers in the prison, and it was not thought safe to remain longer in Charleston, so October 5 we were ordered to pack up and informed that we were to be removed to Columbia. Our squad did not go until the 6th, but they started us so early that we had no time to cook our rice. As we left the prison I bought an apple dumplingof an old colored woman, and am ashamed to say that in my haste I forgot to return the spoon she loaned me to eat it with. If she will send me her address I will send her a dozen as good as the one she lost.
We were sorry to leave Charleston. While it was called the "hot-bed of secession," we had received the best treatment there of any place in the south. Our guards were kind, and we were seldom taunted by the citizens. We marched through the city, taking our baggage, and, as no two were dressed alike, were a queer-looking procession. There were many Germans in the city, and as we had several officers in our party from that land, they were anxious to do them favors. One had a bottle of whiskey and gave it to one of his countrymen when the guard was not looking. Our comrade had on a rebel jacket, and as he indulged quite freely in the whiskey soon got returns and was fairly full, but the guard, thinking that he was a citizen, said, "You get out of the ranks," and he got. Assisted by his friends he was soon passed through the lines, and we afterwards heard from him with Sheridan in the Shenandoah Valley.
Arriving at the depot, we were placed in box-cars, and, as usual on the southern railroads, the train ran off the track in a half-hour after we started, which delayed us several hours. The night was dark and rainy, and several escaped, among them Lieutenant Parker of the 1st Vermont heavy artillery. He was pursued by bloodhounds, and when we arrived at Columbia was brought in so terribly torn and bitten by them that he died before night.
[ Previous Chapter | Table of Contents | Next Chapter ]