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Prison Life in Andersonville By John L. Maile Characters: 7962

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03

The writer of the following narrative feels justified in calling attention to his military record in order that he may be furnished with a warrant for inviting the attention of readers to the matters herein described. Broadly speaking, his record is that he saw nearly four years of active service, including ten months of confinement in Confederate prisons and three months in hospitals and parole camps.

Given more in detail it would be as follows: He enlisted at the age of seventeen, on September 2, 1861, at Hastings in the Eighth Regiment Michigan Volunteer Infantry; Company F of which N. H. Walbridge was Captain; Traverse Phillips, First Lieutenant; Jacob Maus, Second Lieutenant, and John D. Sumner, Orderly Sergeant.

The Eighth was known as the famous "wandering" regiment of Michigan-ex-Governor Col. William M. Fenton, Commander.

His regiment was mustered in at Grand Rapids and journeyed via Detroit, Cleveland and Pittsburg to Washington, going into camp on Meridian Hill overlooking the capitol. On October 19th, with his regiment, he embarked from Annapolis on the steamship Vanderbilt, taking part in the Dupont Expedition to the South Carolina coast and occupancy of Beaufort and the Sea Islands.

He was in engagements on Coosaw river, and at the bombardment of Fort Paluski off Savannah. While his regiment was in the campaign of James Island, near Charleston, he was in the Signal Corps service on the Beaufort river. In April the regiment sailed to Virginia; he was at the second Bull-Run in July, and with the Maryland campaign of South Mountain, Antietam; the succeeding Fredericksburg fighting and thence via Kentucky to Vicksburg and Jackson, Mississippi.

In the autumn of '63 he marched via Cumberland Gap to East Tennessee and took part in conflicts at Blue Springs, Lenoir Station, Campbell's Station, the siege of Knoxville, and defense of Fort Saunders. After re-enlistment with his comrades in January he marched over the mountains nearly two hundred miles in ten days through deep snow to the railroad at Crab Orchard, Kentucky. This severe ordeal was followed by a brief respite of a thirty days' furlough from Cincinnati to Michigan.

In April, 1864, the regiment rejoined the Ninth Army Corps at Annapolis, and on May 3rd he was, after examination in Washington, confirmed for a commission as Lieutenant. On the 4th, he overtook his regiment camping near the Rappahannock river; on the evening of the 5th the vicinity of the Rapidan river was reached in full view of the smoke of Sedgwick's artillery opening the great battle of the Wilderness. On the afternoon of the 6th, his regiment was ordered into action when he with a thousand others from the division was taken prisoner and marched to Lee's headquarters, where he saw the famous general, whom he remembers as sitting with great dignity of bearing upon his horse, calmly viewing the situation. And it was reported that he kindly remarked to a group of prisoners that they must make the best of their predicament. On the 9th the examination papers came for the new Lieutenant, but he was now the guest of the Confederacy and could not be excused.

A comrade sent to his home the disquieting message, "missing in action and probably killed," but happily from Orange Courthouse by the great kindness of a Virginia Lieutenant a telegram was forwarded by flag of truce to his parents stating that he still survived. The memorial services announced for the following week were postponed and are yet to take place.

Introductory experiences as a prisoner of war included many hours of fasting, followed by a most exhaustive march of twenty-eight miles to Orange Courthouse under close cavalry guard; thence by rail to Gordonsville, where the place of detention was a pen frequently used for the rounding up of cattle. At this point the prisoners were usually relieved of any superfluous clothing and outfit.

Fortunately the writer had discovered in the crowd five member

s of his regiment. He and they drew together as companions in misfortune, and formed a group in which each one was to have a share and share alike of all they possessed; and they entered into a solemn pledge to care for one another in sickness.

Very early in the morning of our night at Gordonville we were aroused by the sharp command, "Wake up there, wake up there, you Yanks. Fall into two ranks. Quick there," given by a Confederate sergeant. The occasion was the arrival of a trainload of beef cattle for the Confederate army, and the master of transportation saw an opportunity to load the prisoners into the freight cars just made vacant and which were to return to Lynchburg immediately.

To be thus unceremoniously aroused from sleep and hustled into filthy cars made us very indignant, but "There is a divinity that shapes our ends; rough-hew them how we will," and in the confusion of moving in the twilight, and the absence of inspection we got off scot free from the usual ceremony of being stripped of superabundant clothes and accouterments. Thus our group of six were each left in possession of a blanket, a section of shelter tent, a haversack, a tin cup and plate, a knife, a fork, a spoon, and such scanty clothing as we had on. The extras we possessed were a frying pan, a file, and several pocket knives, two or three towels, a small mirror, and a thin piece of mottled soap. The latter was used exclusively for a Sunday morning wash of hands and face until it melted away.

This unusual amount of equipment was kept as inconspicuous as possible and was safely carried through the prisons at Lynchburg and Danville, where we awaited transportation to an unknown destination, which proved to be the military inferno of Andersonville, in southwestern Georgia, to reach which we rode more than seven hundred miles from the battlefield packed fifty and sixty in a freight car, with twenty or thirty of our number on the top.

The locomotives, which burned pitch pine, emitted clouds of acrid smoke that, mingled with dust arising from the roadbed, enveloped the train in a gloomy, suffocating pall. Mile after mile the worn, rattling freight cars and wheezing engine crept along the right-of-way, which, as a narrow lane, threaded the interminable pitch-pine forests that admitted no stirring breeze.

On Sunday morning we arrived in the beautiful city of Augusta, Georgia. Our train was sidetracked on a principal thoroughfare whose borders were embowered in luxuriant foliage which screened attractive homes, whence the church bells were calling the summer-dressed occupants. On the sidewalk opposite from the train groups of the people loitered to gaze upon the grimy, famished prisoners who swarmed upon the tops of the freight cars and formed a sweltering crowd within.

Several ladies deferred their church-going, re-entered their houses, emerged with baskets filled with sandwiches, crossed the street to the side of the train and, overcoming the objections of the guards, handed out the precious food to the grateful men, who responded with their most courteous thanks.

This little piece of genuine chivalry was the one bright spot in the torturing journey, and was matched by the sensibilities of some Southern ladies, who later viewing the interior of Andersonville from the stockade platform, turned away their faces weeping.

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Larger Image

Ground Plan of Andersonville Stockade.

Description: Fig. 1, Keeper's House; 2, "P. Spring"; 3, Nat'l Monument; 4, Purchased Property; 5, Stockade; 6, Outer Stockade; 7, Deadline; 8, Forts and Batteries; 9, Main Fort; 10, [1]Gallows; 11, Magazine; 12, Capt. Wirtz' Headquarters; 13, To Cemetery; 14, Wells and Tunnels; 15, Dead House; 16, Guard Camp; 17, Road to Station; 18, Creek; 19, North Gate; 20, South Gate; 21, Flag Pole.


This view looks westward. Providence Spring was located just below the north gate, close to the stockade X.

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