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   Chapter 5 A CRY TO HEAVEN.

Prison Life in Andersonville By John L. Maile Characters: 3873

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03

The bitter cry which arose from the suffering camp was changed on the lips of a few to an appeal to heaven. Where else could men look in their dire extremity? One evening early in August the sound of the old long metre doxology was heard from the voices of a group of men gathered around the solitary pine stump in the enclosure, which was situated at the end of the north street of the prison where space was left for the ration wagon to turn around. On this stump was seated an emaciated cavalry sergeant, Mr. Shepard, of Columbus, Ohio, formerly an honored preacher of the gospel. In days past he had frequently been called upon to offer prayer over the remains of some deceased comrade, and now he led in the old and well-known hymn to call like-minded souls together.

Some twenty-five unkempt, starving men gathered around him and joined in the familiar strain. What memories of family worship and old-time services in the meeting-house those words called up. Said Brother Shepard in substance: "I have today read in the book of Numbers of Moses striking the rock from which water gushed out for the ample supply of man and beast. I tell you God must strike a rock in Andersonville or we shall all die of thirst. And if there is no rock here, He can smite the ground and bring forth water to supply our desperate needs. Of this I am sure; let us ask Him to do this."

Pointing to an uncombed, unwashed, ragged comrade standing close by, he said, "Will the brother from Chicago pray?" He then successively called on other acquaintances, distinguishing them by their different localities at home. All the prayers were poured out in the one desire for water.

For perhaps an hour the meeting continued and closed with the doxology. The words of the leader were, "Boys, when you awake during the night offer to God a little prayer for water. Do the same many times tomorrow, and let us meet here in the evening to pray again for


If memory be not at fault, these individual and collective petitions were steadfastly offered from Monday evening to Thursday evening.

For a month previous we had noticed that a number of the stockade timbers near the north gate had been loosened by the percolating of the copious rain and that they were sagging considerably and had settled out of line. We wondered why they had been allowed to remain so long in this unsafe condition. Was it a coincidence that after prayer began to be offered the quartermaster of the prison notified Capt. Wirtz that stockade timbers were out of line and should be set right? He was ordered to take a gang of slaves and make the necessary repairs. About fifteen stalwart negroes were marched through the main gate and turned into the twenty-foot space between the dead-line and the wall. With pike poles the closely adjoining posts were heaved into position and the earth was closely tamped.

Then the workers faced about and commenced digging a trench up the hill nearly as wide as the space between the dead-line and the stockade. A part of the gang swung their picks into the red clay which was shoveled against the timbers. Another set followed with heavy rammers and pounded the whole into a smooth, sloping surface which was tamped closely to the base of the wooden wall, making a perfect watershed, and thus preventing the further loosening of the earth at the base of the stockade. By Thursday evening the broad trench with rounded bottom was completed from the swamp up the dead line space to the north gate.

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"Today beneath our Nation's flag,

The old red, white and blue,

A band of noble women work

With a purpose just and true;

To aid and succor those who fought

To save our honored land,

For home and freedom, God and right,

Those earnest women stand."


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