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   Chapter 4 A DEARTH OF WATER.

Prison Life in Andersonville By John L. Maile Characters: 7608

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03


If the food supply of Andersonville was bad, the water supply was worse. To understand the situation and to see how little was done to overcome the difficulties involved, and to make the most of the existing facilities for the relief of the suffering, one has to consider the formation of this prison encampment.

The surface of the interior consisted of two hillsides, sloping respectively north and south towards the center which was occupied by a swamp of nearly four acres. This was traversed by a sluggish creek which was some five feet wide and six inches deep, and made its way along the foot of the south slope. Up the stream were located the headquarters of Capt. Wirtz, the camps of the Confederate artillery and infantry and the cook-house for the prisoners. The drainage of these localities entered the creek which flowed into the prison through spaces between the stockade timbers, and polluted the water which was the chief supply of the prison, and which, at midnight, in its clearest condition, was the color of amber. The intervening space at the foot of the north hill was a wide morass, and when overflowed by rains became a vast cesspool on which boundless swarms of flies settled down and laid their eggs; which were speedily hatched by the fervent heat of the nearly tropical sun, and became a horrible undulating mass. On a change of wind the odor could be detected miles away; indeed it was reported that the people of Macon petitioned General Howell Cobb, the military governor of Georgia, for a removal of the prison located sixty miles away, lest an awful pestilence sweep over their country!

The turkey buzzards, birds of ill omen, would come up against the wind, alight on the bare limbs of the tall pines overlooking the prison, and circle over the grizzled city as if waiting to descend for a carrion feast.

When we entered the prison on May 23rd, our detachment of two hundred and seventy men was scheduled fifty-five, indicating the presence of fourteen thousand eight hundred and fifty prisoners. The number steadily rose until a reported thirty-five thousand were present at one time. As the arrivals increased by hundreds and thousands, the daily mortality was counted by scores and hundreds, and many of the sick were without shelter from the heat of the pitiless sun.

As the killed and wounded are scattered over the fields of the sanguinary battle, so our dying sick lay around on every hand. In the early summer, Capt. Wirtz issued to the prisoners picks and shovels, with which to dig wells for increased water supply. From some of these wells the men started tunnels through which to escape. Discovering this, the commander withdrew the tools, and ordered the wells to be filled up. Permission to keep one of them open was purchased by a group of prisoners. It was sunk to a necessary depth, covered with a platform and trap door, and supplied about one thousand men.

Aside from this well, for the favored few, the only water supply was from about twelve feet of the length of the creek which reached between the dead-line and the bridge connecting the two divisions of the prison. A terrible water famine set in, with the result that many of the ailing ones became insane from thirst.

In these unsanitary surroundings there is a well authenticated case of a man who was severely afflicted with scurvy. As he lay in the place of filth and stench, without medical attention until gangrene of the lower limbs set in, he realized that to save his life he must lose his feet. No one of his comrades had the nerve to perform the necessary operation, so he obtained an old knife and disjointed his pedal extremities.

"In November, 1863, an order was issued for the establishment of a prison in Georgia, the granary of the eastern part of the Confed

eracy, and for this purpose a tract of land was selected near the town of Andersonville. A stockade 15 feet high, inclosing 16? acres, was built, and this, in June, 1864, was enlarged to 26? acres, but 3? acres near the center were too marshy to be used. A small stream ran through the inclosure, which, it was thought, would furnish water sufficient for drinking and for bathing. The trees within the stockade were cut down and no shelter was provided for the expected inmates, who began to arrive in February, 1864, before the rude prison was completed according to the design, and before an adequate supply of bacon for their use had been received. Prisoners continued to come until, on the 5th of May, there were about 12,000, which number went on increasing until in August it exceeded 32,000. Their condition was one of extreme wretchedness. Those who came first erected rude shelters from the debris of the stockade; later arrivals burrowed in the ground or protected themselves with any blankets or pieces of cloth of which they had not been deprived according to the practice of robbing men who were taken prisoners which prevailed on both sides. Through an unfortunate location of the baking and cooking houses on the creek above the stockade the water became polluted before it reached the prisoners, so that to obtain pure water they must dig wells. After a severe storm a spring broke out within the inclosure, and this became one of the main reliances for drinking water. The sinks were constructed over the lower part of the stream, but the current was not swift enough to carry away the ordure, and when the stream was swollen by rain and overflowed, the foecal matter was deposited over a wide area, producing a horrible stench. This was the famous prison of Andersonville."-From Rhodes' History of the United States, Vol. V, pp. 483-515.

"The history of Andersonville prison pen has shocked the world with its tales of horror, of woe, and of death, before unheard of and unknown to civilization. No pen can describe, no artist can paint, no imagination comprehend their fearful and unutterable sufferings.

"Into the narrow confines of this prison were herded more than thirty-five thousand enlisted men, whose only fault was they 'wore the Union blue,' many of them the bravest and best, the most devoted and heroic of those grand armies that carried the flag of the Union to final victory. For long and weary months they suffered and died for that flag. Here they suffered unsheltered from the burning rays of a southern sun, or were drenched by the rain and deadly dews of the night. All this while they were in every stage of physical disease-hungered, emaciated, starving.

"Is it a wonder that during the month of August, 1864, one man died in every eleven minutes, night and day, or that, for six months, beginning April, 1864, one died every twenty-two and one-half minutes night and day? This should forever silence the assertion that men would be taken prisoners rather than risk their lives on the firing line. The lack of water was the cause of much disease and suffering. Under the most favorable circumstances the water supply was insufficient for one-quarter of the number of men confined there. All the water obtainable was from a sluggish creek that ran through the grounds; and, in addition to this, there were thirty-six hundred men acting as guards camped on the bank of this stream before it reached the prison pen, and the water became so foul no words can describe it."-From "A Sketch of Andersonville," by Mrs. Lizabeth A. Turner, Chairman Andersonville Prison Board. Journal of the Twenty-fifth National Convention of the Woman's Relief Corps, page 169.

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"More things are wrought by prayer

Than this world dreams of."

-Tennyson.

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