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    Chapter 29

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    Chapter 30
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    SOME DISTINCTION BETWEEN SOLDIERLY DUTY AND MURDER--A PLOT TO ESCAPE
    --IT IS REVEALED AND FRUSTRATED.

    Let the reader understand that in any strictures I make I do not complain
    of the necessary hardships of war. I understood fully and accepted the
    conditions of a soldier's career. My going into the field uniformed and
    armed implied an intention, at least, of killing, wounding, or capturing,
    some of the enemy. There was consequently no ground of complaint if I
    was, myself killed, wounded, or captured. If I did not want to take
    these chances I ought to stay at home. In the same way, I recognized the
    right of our captors or guards to take proper precautions to prevent our
    escape. I never questioned for an instant the right of a guard to fire
    upon those attempting to escape, and to kill them. Had I been posted
    over prisoners I should have had no compunction about shooting at those
    trying to get away, and consequently I could not blame the Rebels for
    doing the same thing. It was a matter of soldierly duty.

    But not one of the men assassinated by the guards at Andersonville were
    trying to escape, nor could they have got away if not arrested by a
    bullet. In a majority of instances there was not even a transgression of
    a prison rule, and when there was such a transgression it was a mere
    harmless inadvertence. The slaying of every man there was a foul crime.

    The most of this was done by very young boys; some of it by old men.
    The Twenty-Sixth Alabama and Fifty-Fifth Georgia, had guarded us since
    the opening of the prison, but now they were ordered to the field, and
    their places filled by the Georgia "Reserves," an organization of boys
    under, and men over the military age. As General Grant aptly-phrased it,
    "They had robbed the cradle and the grave," in forming these regiments.
    The boys, who had grown up from children since the war began, could not
    comprehend that a Yankee was a human being, or that it was any more
    wrongful to shoot one than to kill a mad dog. Their young imaginations
    had been inflamed with stories of the total depravity of the Unionists
    until they believed it was a meritorious thing to seize every opportunity
    to exterminate them.

    Early one morning I overheard a conversation between two of these
    youthful guards:

    "Say, Bill, I heerd that you shot a Yank last night?"

    "Now, you just bet I did. God! you jest ought to've heerd him holler."

    Evidently the juvenile murderer had no more conception that he had
    committed crime than if he had killed a rattlesnake.

    Among those who came in about the last of the month were two thousand men
    from Butler's command, lost in the disastrous action of May 15, by which
    Butler was "bottled up" at Bermuda Hundreds. At that time the Rebel
    hatred for Butler verged on insanity, and they vented this upon these men
    who were so luckless--in every sense--as to be in his command. Every
    pains was taken to mistreat them. Stripped of every article of clothing,
    equipment, and cooking utensils--everything, except a shirt and a pair of
    pantaloons, they were turned bareheaded and barefooted into the prison,
    and the worst possible place in the pen hunted out to locate them upon.
    This was under the bank, at the edge of the Swamp and at the eastern side
    of the prison, where the sinks were, and all filth from the upper part of
    the camp flowed down to them. The sand upon which they lay was dry and
    burning as that of a tropical desert; they were without the slightest
    shelter of any kind, the maggot flies swarmed over them, and the stench
    was frightful. If one of them survived the germ theory of disease is a
    hallucination.

    The increasing number of prisoners made it necessary for the Rebels to
    improve their means of guarding and holding us in check. They threw up a
    line of rifle pits around the Stockade for the infantry guards.
    At intervals along this were piles of hand grenades, which could be used
    with fearful effect in case of an outbreak. A strong star fort was
    thrown up at a little distance from the southwest corner. Eleven field
    pieces were mounted in this in such a way as to rake the Stockade
    diagonally. A smaller fort, mounting five guns, was built at the
    northwest corner, and at the northeast and southeast corners were small
    lunettes, with a couple of howitzers each. Packed as we were we had
    reason to dread a single round from any of these works, which could not
    fail to produce fearful havoc.

    Still a plot was concocted for a break, and it seemed to the sanguine
    portions of us that it must prove successful. First a secret society was
    organized, bound by the most stringent oaths that could be devised.
    The members of this were divided into companies of fifty men each; under
    officers regularly elected. The secrecy was assumed in order to shut out
    Rebel spies and the traitors from a knowledge of the contemplated
    outbreak. A man named Baker--belonging, I think, to some New York
    regiment--was the grand organizer of the scheme. We were careful in each
    of our companies to admit none to membership except such as long
    acquaintance gave us entire confidence in.

    The plan was to dig large tunnels to the Stockade at various places, and
    then hollow out the ground at the foot of the timbers, so that a half
    dozen or so could be pushed over with a little effort, and make a gap ten
    or twelve feet wide. All these were to be thrown down at a preconcerted
    signal, the companies were to rush out and seize the eleven guns of the
    headquarters fort. The Plymouth Brigade was then to man these and turn
    them on the camp of the Reserves who, it was imagined, would drop their
    arms and take to their heels after receiving a round or so of shell.
    We would gather what arms we could, and place them in the hands of the
    most active and determined. This would give us frown eight to ten
    thousand fairly armed, resolute men, with which we thought we could march
    to Appalachicola Bay, or to Sherman.

    We worked energetically at our tunnels, which soon began to assume such
    shape as to give assurance that they would answer our expectations in
    opening the prison walls.

    Then came the usual blight to all such enterprises: a spy or a traitor
    revealed everything to Wirz. One day a guard came in, seized Baker and
    took him out. What was done with him I know not; we never heard of him
    after he passed the inner gate.

    Immediately afterward all the Sergeants of detachments were summoned
    outside. There they met Wirz, who made a speech informing them that he
    knew all the details of the plot, and had made sufficient preparations to
    defeat it. The guard had been strongly reinforced, and disposed in such
    a manner as to protect the guns from capture. The Stockade had been
    secured to prevent its falling, even if undermined. He said, in
    addition, that Sherman had been badly defeated by Johnston, and driven
    back across the river, so that any hopes of co-operation by him would be
    ill-founded.

    When the Sergeants returned, he caused the following notice to be posted
    on the gates:

    NOTICE.

    Not wishing to shed the blood of hundreds, not connected with those
    who concocted a mad plan to force the Stockade, and make in this way
    their escape, I hereby warn the leaders and those who formed
    themselves into a band to carry out this, that I am in possession of
    all the facts, and have made my dispositions accordingly, so as to
    frustrate it. No choice would be left me but to open with grape and
    canister on the Stockade, and what effect this would have, in this
    densely crowded place, need not be told.

    May 25,1864.
    H. Wirz.

    The next day a line of tall poles, bearing white flags, were put up at
    some little distance from the Dead Line, and a notice was read to us at
    roll call that if, except at roll call, any gathering exceeding one
    hundred was observed, closer the Stockade than these poles, the guns
    would open with grape and canister without warning.

    The number of deaths in the Stockade in May was seven hundred and eight,
    about as many as had been killed in Sherman's army during the same time.
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