The fifth part of a century almost has sped with the flight of time since
the outbreak of the Slaveholder's Rebellion against the United States.
The young men of to-day were then babes in their cradles, or, if more
than that, too young to be appalled by the terror of the times. Those
now graduating from our schools of learning to be teachers of youth and
leaders of public thought, if they are ever prepared to teach the history
of the war for the Union so as to render adequate honor to its martyrs
and heroes, and at the same time impress the obvious moral to be drawn
from it, must derive their knowledge from authors who can each one say of
the thrilling story he is spared to tell: "All of which I saw, and part
of which I was."
The writer is honored with the privilege of introducing to the reader a
volume written by an author who was an actor and a sufferer in the scenes
he has so vividly and faithfully described, and sent forth to the public
by a publisher whose literary contributions in support of the loyal cause
entitle him to the highest appreciation. Both author and publisher have
had an honorable and efficient part in the great struggle, and are
therefore worthy to hand down to the future a record of the perils
encountered and the sufferings endured by patriotic soldiers in the
prisons of the enemy. The publisher, at the beginning of the war,
entered, with zeal and ardor upon the work of raising a company of men,
intending to lead them to the field. Prevented from carrying out this
design, his energies were directed to a more effective service. His
famous "Nasby Letters" exposed the absurd and sophistical argumentations
of rebels and their sympathisers, in such broad, attractive and admirable
burlesque, as to direct against them the "loud, long laughter of a
world!" The unique and telling satire of these papers became a power and
inspiration to our armies in the field and to their anxious friends at
home, more than equal to the might of whole battalions poured in upon the
enemy. An athlete in logic may lay an error writhing at his feet, and
after all it may recover to do great mischief. But the sharp wit of the
humorist drives it before the world's derision into shame and everlasting
contempt. These letters were read and shouted over gleefully at every
camp-fire in the Union Army, and eagerly devoured by crowds of listeners
when mails were opened at country post-offices. Other humorists were
content when they simply amused the reader, but "Nasby's" jests were
arguments--they had a meaningthey were suggested by the necessities and
emergencies of the Nation's peril, and written to support, with all
earnestness, a most sacred cause.
The author, when very young, engaged in journalistic work, until the drum
of the recruiting officer called him to join the ranks of his country's
defenders. As the reader is told, he was made a prisoner. He took with
him into the terrible prison enclosure not only a brave, vigorous,
youthful spirit, but invaluable habits of mind and thought for storing up
the incidents and experiences of his prison life. As a journalist he had
acquired the habit of noticing and memorizing every striking or thrilling
incident, and the experiences of his prison life were adapted to enstamp
themselves indelibly on both feeling and memory. He speaks from personal
experience and from the stand-paint of tender and complete sympathy with
those of his comrades who suffered more than he did himself. Of his
qualifications, the writer of these introductory words need not speak.
The sketches themselves testify to his ability with such force that no
commendation is required.
This work is needed. A generation is arising who do not know what the
preservation of our free government cost in blood and suffering. Even
the men of the passing generation begin to be forgetful, if we may judge
from the recklessness or carelessness of their political action. The
soldier is not always remembered nor honored as he should be. But, what
to the future of the great Republic is more important, there is great
danger of our people under-estimating the bitter animus and terrible
malignity to the Union and its defenders cherished by those who made war
upon it. This is a point we can not afford to be mistaken about. And
yet, right at this point this volume will meet its severest criticism,
and at this point its testimony is most vital and necessary.
Many will be slow to believe all that is here told most truthfully of the
tyranny and cruelty of the captors of our brave boys in blue. There are
no parallels to the cruelties and malignities here described in Northern
society. The system of slavery, maintained for over two hundred years at
the South, had performed a most perverting, morally desolating, and we
might say, demonizing work on the dominant race, which people bred under
our free civilization can not at once understand, nor scarcely believe
when it is declared unto them. This reluctance to believe unwelcome
truths has been the snare of our national life. We have not been willing
to believe how hardened, despotic, and cruel the wielders of
irresponsible power may become.
When the anti-slavery reformers of thirty years ago set forth the
cruelties of the slave system, they were met with a storm of indignant
denial, villification and rebuke. When Theodore D. Weld issued his
"Testimony of a Thousand Witnesses," to the cruelty of slavery, he
introduced it with a few words, pregnant with sound philosophy, which can
be applied to the work now introduced, and may help the reader better to
accept and appreciate its statements. Mr. Weld said:
"Suppose I should seize you, rob you of your liberty, drive you into the
field, and make you work without pay as long as you lived. Would that be
justice? Would it be kindness? Or would it be monstrous injustice and
cruelty? Now, is the man who robs you every day too tender-hearted ever
to cuff or kick you? He can empty your pockets without remorse, but if
your stomach is empty, it cuts him to the quick. He can make you work a
life-time without pay, but loves you too well to let you go hungry.
He fleeces you of your rights with a relish, but is shocked if you work
bare-headed in summer, or without warm stockings in winter. He can make
you go without your liberty, but never without a shirt. He can crush in
you all hope of bettering your condition by vowing that you shall die his
slave, but though he can thus cruelly torture your feelings, he will
never lacerate your back--he can break your heart, but is very tender of
your skin. He can strip you of all protection of law, and all comfort in
religion, and thus expose you to all outrages, but if you are exposed to
the weather, half-clad and half-sheltered, how yearn his tender bowels!
What! talk of a man treating you well while robbing you of all you get,
and as fast as you get it? And robbing you of yourself, too, your hands
and feet, your muscles, limbs and senses, your body and mind, your
liberty and earnings, your free speech and rights of conscience, your
right to acquire knowledge, property and reputation, and yet you are
content to believe without question that men who do all this by their
slaves have soft hearts oozing out so lovingly toward their human
chattles that they always keep them well housed and well clad, never push
them too hard in the field, never make their dear backs smart, nor let
their dear stomachs get empty!"
In like manner we may ask, are not the cruelties and oppressions
described in the following pages what we should legitimately expect from
men who, all their lives, have used whip and thumb-screw, shot-gun and
bloodhound, to keep human beings subservient to their will? Are we to
expect nothing but chivalric tenderness and compassion from men who made
war on a tolerant government to make more secure their barbaric system of
These things are written because they are true. Duty to the brave dead,
to the heroic living, who have endured the pangs of a hundred deaths for
their country's sake; duty to the government which depends on the wisdom
and constancy of its good citizens for its support and perpetuity, calls
for this "round, unvarnished tale" of suffering endured for freedom's
The publisher of this work urged his friend and associate in journalism
to write and send forth these sketches because the times demanded just
such an expose of the inner hell of the Southern prisons. The tender
mercies of oppressors are cruel. We must accept the truth and act in
view of it. Acting wisely on the warnings of the past, we shall be able
to prevent treason, with all its fearful concomitants, from being again
the scourge and terror of our beloved land.
Fifteen months ago--and one month before it was begun--I had no more idea
of writing this book than I have now of taking up my residence in China.
While I have always been deeply impressed with the idea that the public
should know much more of the history of Andersonville and other Southern
prisons than it does, it had never occurred to me that I was in any way
charged with the duty of increasing that enlightenment.
No affected deprecation of my own abilities had any part is this.
I certainly knew enough of the matter, as did every other boy who had
even a month's experience in those terrible places, but the very
magnitude of that knowledge overpowered me, by showing me the vast
requirements of the subject-requirements that seemed to make it
presumption for any but the greatest pens in our literature to attempt
the work. One day at Andersonville or Florence would be task enough for
the genius of Carlyle or Hugo; lesser than they would fail preposterously
to rise to the level of the theme. No writer ever described such a
deluge of woes as swept over the unfortunates confined in Rebel prisons
in the last year-and-a-half of the Confederacy's life. No man was ever
called upon to describe the spectacle and the process of seventy thousand
young, strong, able-bodied men, starving and rotting to death. Such a
gigantic tragedy as this stuns the mind and benumbs the imagination.
I no more felt myself competent to the task than to accomplish one of
Michael Angelo's grand creations in sculpture or painting.
Study of the subject since confirms me in this view, and my only claim
for this book is that it is a contribution--a record of individual
observation and experience--which will add something to the material
which the historian of the future will find available for his work.
The work was begun at the suggestion of Mr. D. R. Locke, (Petroleum V.
Nasby), the eminent political satirist. At first it was only intended to
write a few short serial sketches of prison life for the columns of the
TOLEDO BLADE. The exceeding favor with which the first of the series was
received induced a great widening of their scope, until finally they took
the range they now have.
I know that what is contained herein will be bitterly denied. I am
prepared for this. In my boyhood I witnessed the savagery of the Slavery
agitation--in my youth I felt the fierceness of the hatred directed
against all those who stood by the Nation. I know that hell hath no fury
like the vindictiveness of those who are hurt by the truth being told of
them. I apprehend being assailed by a sirocco of contradiction and
calumny. But I solemnly affirm in advance the entire and absolute truth
of every material fact, statement and description. I assert that, so far
from there being any exaggeration in any particular, that in no instance
has the half of the truth been told, nor could it be, save by an inspired
pen. I am ready to demonstrate this by any test that the deniers of this
may require, and I am fortified in my position by unsolicited letters
from over 3,000 surviving prisoners, warmly indorsing the account as
thoroughly accurate in every respect.
It has been charged that hatred of the South is the animus of this work.
Nothing can be farther from the truth. No one has a deeper love for
every part of our common country than I, and no one to-day will make more
efforts and sacrifices to bring the South to the same plane of social and
material development with the rest of the Nation than I will. If I could
see that the sufferings at Andersonville and elsewhere contributed in any
considerable degree to that end, and I should not regret that they had
been. Blood and tears mark every step in the progress of the race, and
human misery seems unavoidable in securing human advancement. But I am
naturally embittered by the fruitlessness, as well as the uselessness of
the misery of Andersonville. There was never the least military or other
reason for inflicting all that wretchedness upon men, and, as far as
mortal eye can discern, no earthly good resulted from the martyrdom of
those tens of thousands. I wish I could see some hope that their
wantonly shed blood has sown seeds that will one day blossom, and bear a
rich fruitage of benefit to mankind, but it saddens me beyond expression
that I can not.
The years 1864-5 were a season of desperate battles, but in that time
many more Union soldiers were slain behind the Rebel armies, by
starvation and exposure, than were killed in front of them by cannon and
rifle. The country has heard much of the heroism and sacrifices of those
loyal youths who fell on the field of battle; but it has heard little of
the still greater number who died in prison pen. It knows full well how
grandly her sons met death in front of the serried ranks of treason, and
but little of the sublime firmness with which they endured unto the
death, all that the ingenious cruelty of their foes could inflict upon
them while in captivity.
It is to help supply this deficiency that this book is written. It is a
mite contributed to the better remembrance by their countrymen of those
who in this way endured and died that the Nation might live. It is an
offering of testimony to future generations of the measureless cost of
the expiation of a national sin, and of the preservation of our national
This is all. I know I speak for all those still living comrades who went
with me through the scenes that I have attempted to describe, when I say
that we have no revenges to satisfy, no hatreds to appease. We do not
ask that anyone shall be punished. We only desire that the Nation shall
recognize and remember the grand fidelity of our dead comrades, and take
abundant care that they shall not have died in vain.
For the great mass of Southern people we have only the kindliest feeling.
We but hate a vicious social system, the lingering shadow of a darker
age, to which they yield, and which, by elevating bad men to power, has
proved their own and their country's bane.
The following story does not claim to be in any sense a history of
Southern prisons. It is simply a record of the experience of one
individual--one boy--who staid all the time with his comrades inside the
prison, and had no better opportunities for gaining information than any
other of his 60,000 companions.
The majority of the illustrations in this work are from the skilled
pencil of Captain O. J. Hopkins, of Toledo, who served through the war in
the ranks of the Forty-second Ohio. His army experience has been of
peculiar value to the work, as it has enabled him to furnish a series of
illustrations whose life-like fidelity of action, pose and detail are
Some thirty of the pictures, including the frontispiece, and the
allegorical illustrations of War and Peace, are from the atelier of Mr.
O. Reich, Cincinnati, O.
A word as to the spelling: Having always been an ardent believer in the
reformation of our present preposterous system--or rather, no system--of
orthography, I am anxious to do whatever lies in my power to promote it.
In the following pages the spelling is simplified to the last degree
allowed by Webster. I hope that the time is near when even that advanced
spelling reformer will be left far in the rear by the progress of a
people thoroughly weary of longer slavery to the orthographical
absurdities handed down to us from a remote and grossly unlearned
Toledo, O., Dec. 10, 1879.