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   Chapter 6 UNSEALING OF THE SPRING.

Prison Life in Andersonville By John L. Maile Characters: 6163

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03


On Friday morning an ominous stillness pervaded nature. By the middle of the forenoon a dense, dark cloud was noticed in the southwest quarter of the horizon, slowly creeping upward. It rose above the treetops majestic and awful in appearance. A troop of small, scurrying, angry-looking clouds seemed to form an advancing line to the vast mass of storm cloud. The onward movement quickened, and soon the front of the mountain of approaching cloud assumed a gray appearance, caused by the mighty downpour of water which more nearly than anything else seemed a continuous cloudburst.

Crashes of thunder broke over our heads and flashes of lightning swished around us as if the air was filled with short circuits. The awful moving wall came towards us rapidly and we understood what was happening.

As the mighty deluge swept through the clearing west of the prison, we bowed our heads in preparation of submersion in the advancing waterspout. When it came upon us the sensation was as if a million buckets of water were being poured upon us at once. The air was so filled with the roaring, hissing flood that we could not look up, but bent forward to protect our faces, covering our nostrils with our hands to preserve a little breathing space.

Instantly rivulets of water poured down over our bodies as if a hose were discharging its stream on our shoulders, and the surface of the filthy ground was soon covered with a rush of muddy water. The swamp space as quickly filled with great swirling eddies. The upper stockade served as a dam across the creek, which in a few minutes became swollen into the dimensions of a river. Driftwood bore down upon the stockade, causing it to give way with a mighty crash. The heavy timbers were whirled across the prison as if they were mere straws, and by the force of their impact carried away the rear stockade. From the batteries solid shot was fired over our heads to warn us that if we attempted to escape through the opening in the wall we would be swept by the cannon. The roar of the guns chimed harmoniously with the thundering of the storm. In the awful suspense of such overwhelming conditions the progress of time could not be measured. The downpour may have continued twenty minutes, perhaps half an hour, or possibly longer. So great was its fury that we felt it must soon end or it would end us. Fortunately, it ceased as suddenly as it came. Looking up, we saw the great water wall retreating. The sun burst forth with unwonted vigor and shone with brilliant effect upon the receding rain. A dense fog arose from the drying garments of thirty-five thousand human bodies and from the exhalations of surrounding surfaces. As the heavy mist cleared away, the drenched and forlorn prisoners tried to be merry. They viewed with complacency the breach in the walls of the infamous pen and wished that every timber had been leveled to the earth.

A witty comrade on the south hill of the prison, thinking to convey desired information to the north side, shouted at the top of his voice, "Water! Water!" Men on the north side,

as by a common impulse, answered back, and the two great companies in turn shouted the magic word, much as the opposite hosts on Ebal and Gerazim alternately responded, "Amen."

Immediately after this antiphonal outburst a voice was heard from the north gate, ringing out in clear tones the thrilling words, "A spring! A spring! A spring has broken out!" "Where, where?" was the eager inquiry which arose at once from many lips. The writer tried to press his way towards the north gate, but the crowd was so dense that no progress could be made. The excitement of the moment was indescribable. During a lull some one sang out, "You fellows over by the north gate, tell us, has a spring broken out?" "Yes," was the reply, an emphatic "Yes." Then was further shouted the explanation, "Where the trench was dug the flood has torn up the earth and a spring has gushed out."

As soon as opportunity afforded we pressed our way to the spot, and there, just below the north gate, in the center of the space between the stockade and the dead-line, at the point where the earth had been most deeply excavated, the sloping surfaces had gathered the waters of the flood. The bottom of the trench was torn up some twenty inches, uncovering the vent of a spring of purest crystal water, which shot up into the air in a column and, falling in a fanlike spray, went babbling down the grade into the noxious brook. Looking across the dead-line, we beheld with wondering eyes and grateful hearts the fountain spring.

But our relief was not yet realized; the question which now concerned us was how to bring its cooling waters within reach of our lips. In the afternoon and evening of that eventful Friday we prayed that God would so turn the heart of Capt. Wirtz that he would allow the precious water to be conveyed within our lines. We waited in suspense for the answer, and on Saturday morning, to our delight, we saw the quartermaster again enter the gate with a gang of slaves, bringing fence boards, hammers, nails, axes and stakes. A double row of the latter was driven, so that the direction crossed the dead-line at a slight angle down the hill. A strip was nailed across each pair of stakes, and in the aperture rested a trough made of two fence boards nailed together. At the lower end of this chute in an excavation was set a sugar hogshead, around which clay was tamped so as to aid in making it watertight. When all was ready the upper end of the chute was thrust under the falling column of water, which swiftly ran down and filled to overflowing the large barrel. From this the men by crowds dipped freely of the refreshing, life-giving water.

Laughter, songs and thanksgiving abounded. Thus was wrought before our eyes a gracious work of Providence which to many of us was quite as wonderful and quite as manifestly the work of the All-Father as was the smitten rock in the Palestine desert from which the thirst of the fainting hosts of Israel was slacked in their desert wanderings.

Stockade bursted by a flood which opened the wonderful "Providence Spring"

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