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    Chapter 28

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    Chapter 29
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    MAY--INFLUX OF NEW PRISONERS--DISPARITY IN NUMBERS BETWEEN THE EASTERN
    AND WESTERN ARMIES--TERRIBLE CROWDING--SLAUGHTER OF MEN AT THE CREEK.

    In May the long gathering storm of war burst with angry violence all
    along the line held by the contending armies. The campaign began which
    was to terminate eleven months later in the obliteration of the Southern
    Confederacy. May 1, Sigel moved up the Shenandoah Valley with thirty
    thousand men; May 3, Butler began his blundering movement against
    Petersburg; May 3, the Army of the Potomac left Culpeper, and on the 5th
    began its deadly grapple with Lee, in the Wilderness; May 6, Sherman
    moved from Chattanooga, and engaged Joe Johnston at Rocky Face Ridge and
    Tunnel Hill.

    Each of these columns lost heavily in prisoners. It could not be
    otherwise; it was a consequence of the aggressive movements. An army
    acting offensively usually suffers more from capture than one on the
    defensive. Our armies were penetrating the enemy's country in close
    proximity to a determined and vigilant foe. Every scout, every skirmish
    line, every picket, every foraging party ran the risk of falling into a
    Rebel trap. This was in addition to the risk of capture in action.

    The bulk of the prisoners were taken from the Army of the Potomac. For
    this there were two reasons: First, that there were many more men in that
    Army than in any other; and second, that the entanglement in the dense
    thickets and shrubbery of the Wilderness enabled both sides to capture
    great numbers of the other's men. Grant lost in prisoners from May 5 to
    May 31, seven thousand four hundred and fifty; he probably captured
    two-thirds of that number from the Johnnies.

    Wirz's headquarters were established in a large log house which had been
    built in the fort a little distant from the southeast corner of the
    prison. Every day--and sometimes twice or thrice a day--we would see
    great squads of prisoners marched up to these headquarters, where they
    would be searched, their names entered upon the prison records, by clerks
    (detailed prisoners; few Rebels had the requisite clerical skill) and
    then be marched into the prison. As they entered, the Rebel guards would
    stand to arms. The infantry would be in line of battle, the cavalry
    mounted, and the artillerymen standing by their guns, ready to open at
    the instant with grape and canister.

    The disparity between the number coming in from the Army of the Potomac
    and Western armies was so great, that we Westerners began to take some
    advantage of it. If we saw a squad of one hundred and fifty or
    thereabouts at the headquarters, we felt pretty certain they were from
    Sherman, and gathered to meet them, and learn the news from our friends.
    If there were from five hundred to two thousand we knew they were from
    the Army of the Potomac, and there were none of our comrades among them.
    There were three exceptions to this rule while we were in Andersonville.
    The first was in June, when the drunken and incompetent Sturgis (now
    Colonel of the Seventh United States Cavalry) shamefully sacrificed a
    superb division at Guntown, Miss. The next was after Hood made his
    desperate attack on Sherman, on the 22d of July, and the third was when
    Stoneman was captured at Macon. At each of these times about two
    thousand prisoners were brought in.

    By the end of May there were eighteen thousand four hundred and
    fifty-four prisoners in the Stockade. Before the reader dismisses this
    statement from his mind let him reflect how great a number this is.
    It is more active, able-bodied young men than there are in any of our
    leading Cities, save New York and Philadelphia. It is more than the
    average population of an Ohio County. It is four times as many troops as
    Taylor won the victory of Buena Vista with, and about twice as many as
    Scott went into battle with at any time in his march to the City of
    Mexico.

    These eighteen thousand four hundred and fifty-four men were cooped up on
    less than thirteen acres of ground, making about fifteen hundred to the
    acre. No room could be given up for streets, or for the usual
    arrangements of a camp, and most kinds of exercise were wholly precluded.
    The men crowded together like pigs nesting in the woods on cold nights.
    The ground, despite all our efforts, became indescribably filthy, and
    this condition grew rapidly worse as the season advanced and the sun's
    rays gained fervency. As it is impossible to describe this adequately,
    I must again ask the reader to assist with a few comparisons. He has an
    idea of how much filth is produced, on an ordinary City lot, in a week,
    by its occupation by a family say of six persons. Now let him imagine
    what would be the result if that lot, instead of having upon it six
    persons, with every appliance for keeping themselves clean, and for
    removing and concealing filth, was the home of one hundred and eight men,
    with none of these appliances.

    That he may figure out these proportions for himself, I will repeat some
    of the elements of the problem: We will say that an average City lot is
    thirty feet front by one hundred deep. This is more front than most of
    them have, but we will be liberal. This gives us a surface of three
    thousand square feet. An acre contains forty-three thousand five hundred
    and sixty square feet. Upon thirteen of these acres, we had eighteen
    thousand four hundred and fifty-four men. After he has found the number
    of square feet that each man had for sleeping apartment, dining room,
    kitchen, exercise grounds and outhouses, and decided that nobody could
    live for any length of time in such contracted space, I will tell him
    that a few weeks later double that many men were crowded upon that space
    that over thirty-five thousand were packed upon those twelve and a-half
    or thirteen acres.

    But I will not anticipate. With the warm weather the condition of the
    swamp in the center of the prison became simply horrible. We hear so
    much now-a-days of blood poisoning from the effluvia of sinks and sewers,
    that reading it, I wonder how a man inside the Stockade, and into whose
    nostrils came a breath of that noisomeness, escaped being carried off by
    a malignant typhus. In the slimy ooze were billions of white maggots.
    They would crawl out by thousands on the warm sand, and, lying there a
    few minutes, sprout a wing or a pair of them. With these they would
    essay a clumsy flight, ending by dropping down upon some exposed portion
    of a man's body, and stinging him like a gad-fly. Still worse, they
    would drop into what he was cooking, and the utmost care could not
    prevent a mess of food from being contaminated with them.

    All the water that we had to use was that in the creek which flowed
    through this seething mass of corruption, and received its sewerage.
    How pure the water was when it came into the Stockade was a question.
    We always believed that it received the drainage from the camps of the
    guards, a half-a-mile away.

    A road was made across the swamp, along the Dead Line at the west side,
    where the creek entered the pen. Those getting water would go to this
    spot, and reach as far up the stream as possible, to get the water that
    was least filthy. As they could reach nearly to the Dead Line this
    furnished an excuse to such of the guards as were murderously inclined to
    fire upon them. I think I hazard nothing in saying that for weeks at
    least one man a day was killed at this place. The murders became
    monotonous; there was a dreadful sameness to them. A gun would crack;
    looking up we would see, still smoking, the muzzle of the musket of one
    of the guards on either side of the creek. At the same instant would
    rise a piercing shriek from the man struck, now floundering in the creek
    in his death agony. Then thousands of throats would yell out curses and
    denunciations, and--

    "O, give the Rebel ---- ---- ---- ---- a furlough!"

    It was our belief that every guard who killed a Yankee was rewarded with
    a thirty-day furlough. Mr. Frederick Holliger, now of Toledo, formerly a
    member of the Seventy-Second Ohio, and captured at Guntown, tells me, as
    his introduction to Andersonville life, that a few hours after his entry
    he went to the brook to get a drink, reached out too far, and was fired
    upon by the guard, who missed him, but killed another man and wounded a
    second. The other prisoners standing near then attacked him, and beat
    him nearly to death, for having drawn the fire of the guard.

    Nothing could be more inexcusable than these murders. Whatever defense
    there might be for firing on men who touched the Dead Line in other parts
    of the prison, there could be none here. The men had no intention of
    escaping; they had no designs upon the Stockade; they were not leading
    any party to assail it. They were in every instance killed in the act of
    reaching out with their cups to dip up a little water.
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