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    Chapter 19

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    Chapter 20
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    The emptying of the prisons at Danville and Richmond into Andersonville
    went on slowly during the month of March. They came in by train loads of
    from five hundred to eight hundred, at intervals of two or three days.
    By the end of the month there were about five thousand in the stockade.
    There was a fair amount of space for this number, and as yet we suffered
    no inconvenience from our crowding, though most persons would fancy that
    thirteen acres of ground was a rather limited area for five thousand men
    to live, move and have their being a upon. Yet a few weeks later we were
    to see seven times that many packed into that space.

    One morning a new Rebel officer came in to superintend calling the roll.
    He was an undersized, fidgety man, with an insignificant face, and a
    mouth that protruded like a rabbit's. His bright little eyes, like those
    of a squirrel or a rat, assisted in giving his countenance a look of
    kinship to the family of rodent animals--a genus which lives by stealth
    and cunning, subsisting on that which it can steal away from stronger and
    braver creatures. He was dressed in a pair of gray trousers, with the
    other part of his body covered with a calico garment, like that which
    small boys used to wear, called "waists." This was fastened to the
    pantaloons by buttons, precisely as was the custom with the garments of
    boys struggling with the orthography of words in two syllables. Upon his
    head was perched a little gray cap. Sticking in his belt, and fastened
    to his wrist by a strap two or three feet long, was one of those
    formidable looking, but harmless English revolvers, that have ten barrels
    around the edge of the cylinder, and fire a musket-bullet from the
    center. The wearer of this composite costume, and bearer of this amateur
    arsenal, stepped nervously about and sputtered volubly in very broken
    English. He said to Wry-Necked Smith:

    "Py Gott, you don't vatch dem dam Yankees glose enough! Dey are
    schlippin' rount, and peatin' you efery dimes."

    This was Captain Henri Wirz, the new commandant of the interior of the
    prison. There has been a great deal of misapprehension of the character
    of Wirz. He is usually regarded as a villain of large mental caliber,
    and with a genius for cruelty. He was nothing of the kind. He was
    simply contemptible, from whatever point of view he was studied.
    Gnat-brained, cowardly, and feeble natured, he had not a quality that
    commanded respect from any one who knew him. His cruelty did not seem
    designed so much as the ebullitions of a peevish, snarling little temper,
    united to a mind incapable of conceiving the results of his acts, or
    understanding the pain he was Inflicting.

    I never heard anything of his profession or vocation before entering the
    army. I always believed, however, that he had been a cheap clerk in a
    small dry-goods store, a third or fourth rate book-keeper, or something
    similar. Imagine, if you please, one such, who never had brains or
    self-command sufficient to control himself, placed in command of
    thirty-five thousand men. Being a fool he could not help being an
    infliction to them, even with the best of intentions, and Wirz was not
    troubled with good intentions.

    I mention the probability of his having been a dry-goods clerk or
    book-keeper, not with any disrespect to two honorable vocations, but
    because Wirz had had some training as an accountant, and this was what
    gave him the place over us. Rebels, as a rule, are astonishingly
    ignorant of arithmetic and accounting, generally. They are good shots,
    fine horsemen, ready speakers and ardent politicians, but, like all
    noncommercial people, they flounder hopelessly in what people of this
    section would consider simple mathematical processes. One of our
    constant amusements was in befogging and "beating" those charged with
    calling rolls and issuing rations. It was not at all difficult at times
    to make a hundred men count as a hundred and ten, and so on.

    Wirz could count beyond one hundred, and this determined his selection
    for the place. His first move was a stupid change. We had been grouped
    in the natural way into hundreds and thousands. He re-arranged the men
    in "squads" of ninety, and three of these--two hundred and seventy men
    --into a "detachment." The detachments were numbered in order from the
    North Gate, and the squads were numbered "one, two, three." On the rolls
    this was stated after the man's name. For instance, a chum of mine, and
    in the same squad with me, was Charles L. Soule, of the Third Michigan
    Infantry. His name appeared on the rolls:

    "Chas. L. Soule, priv. Co. E, 8d Mich. Inf., 1-2."

    That is, he belonged to the Second Squad of the First Detachment.

    Where Wirz got his, preposterous idea of organization from has always
    been a mystery to me. It was awkward in every way--in drawing rations,
    counting, dividing into messes, etc.

    Wirz was not long in giving us a taste of his quality. The next morning
    after his first appearance he came in when roll-call was sounded, and
    ordered all the squads and detachments to form, and remain standing in
    ranks until all were counted. Any soldier will say that there is no duty
    more annoying and difficult than standing still in ranks for any
    considerable length of time, especially when there is nothing to do or to
    engage the attention. It took Wirz between two and three hours to count
    the whole camp, and by that time we of the first detachments were almost
    all out of ranks. Thereupon Wirz announced that no rations would be
    issued to the camp that day. The orders to stand in ranks were repeated
    the next morning, with a warning that a failure to obey would be punished
    as that of the previous day had been. Though we were so hungry, that,
    to use the words of a Thirty-Fifth Pennsylvanian standing next to me--his
    "big intestines were eating his little ones up," it was impossible to
    keep the rank formation during the long hours. One man after another
    straggled away, and again we lost our rations. That afternoon we became
    desperate. Plots were considered for a daring assault to force the gates
    or scale the stockade. The men were crazy enough to attempt anything
    rather than sit down and patiently starve. Many offered themselves as
    leaders in any attempt that it might be thought best to make. The
    hopelessness of any such venture was apparent, even to famished men,
    and the propositions went no farther than inflammatory talk.

    The third morning the orders were again repeated. This time we succeeded
    in remaining in ranks in such a manner as to satisfy Wirz, and we were
    given our rations for that day, but those of the other days were
    permanently withheld.

    That afternoon Wirz ventured into camp alone. He was assailed with a
    storm of curses and execrations, and a shower of clubs. He pulled out
    his revolver, as if to fire upon his assailants. A yell was raised to
    take his pistol away from him and a crowd rushed forward to do this.
    Without waiting to fire a shot, he turned and ran to the gate for dear
    life. He did not come in again for a long while, and never afterward
    without a retinue of guards.
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