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Chapter 15


As the next nine months of the existence of those of us who survived were
spent in intimate connection with the soil of Georgia, and, as it
exercised a potential influence upon our comfort and well-being, or
rather lack of these--a mention of some of its peculiar characteristics
may help the reader to a fuller comprehension of the conditions
surrounding us--our environment, as Darwin would say.

Georgia, which, next to Texas, is the largest State in the South, and has
nearly twenty-five per cent. more area than the great State of New York,
is divided into two distinct and widely differing sections, by a
geological line extending directly across the State from Augusta, on the
Savannah River, through Macon, on the Ocmulgee, to Columbus, on the
Chattahoochie. That part lying to the north and west of this line is
usually spoken of as "Upper Georgia;" while that lying to the south and
east, extending to the Atlantic Ocean and the Florida line, is called
"Lower Georgia." In this part of the State--though far removed from each
other--were the prisons of Andersonville, Savannah, Millen and
Blackshear, in which we were incarcerated one after the other.

Upper Georgia--the capital of which is Atlanta--is a fruitful,
productive, metalliferous region, that will in time become quite wealthy.
Lower Georgia, which has an extent about equal to that of Indiana, is not
only poorer now than a worn-out province of Asia Minor, but in all
probability will ever remain so.

It is a starved, sterile land, impressing one as a desert in the first
stages of reclamation into productive soil, or a productive soil in the
last steps of deterioration into a desert. It is a vast expanse of arid,
yellow sand, broken at intervals by foul swamps, with a jungle-life
growth of unwholesome vegetation, and teeming With venomous snakes, and
all manner of hideous crawling thing.

The original forest still stands almost unbroken on this wide stretch of
thirty thousand square miles, but it does not cover it as we say of
forests in more favored lands. The tall, solemn pines, upright and
symmetrical as huge masts, and wholly destitute of limbs, except the
little, umbrella-like crest at the very top, stand far apart from each
other in an unfriendly isolation. There is no fraternal interlacing of
branches to form a kindly, umbrageous shadow. Between them is no genial
undergrowth of vines, shrubs, and demi-trees, generous in fruits, berries
and nuts, such as make one of the charms of Northern forests. On the
ground is no rich, springing sod of emerald green, fragrant with the
elusive sweetness of white clover, and dainty flowers, but a sparse,
wiry, famished grass, scattered thinly over the surface in tufts and
patches, like the hair on a mangy cur.

The giant pines seem to have sucked up into their immense boles all the
nutriment in the earth, and starved out every minor growth. So wide and
clean is the space between them, that one can look through the forest in
any direction for miles, with almost as little interference with the view
as on a prairie. In the swampier parts the trees are lower, and their
limbs are hung with heavy festoons of the gloomy Spanish moss, or "death
moss," as it is more frequently called, because where it grows rankest
the malaria is the deadliest. Everywhere Nature seems sad, subdued and

I have long entertained a peculiar theory to account for the decadence
and ruin of countries. My reading of the world's history seems to teach
me that when a strong people take possession of a fertile land, they
reduce it to cultivation, thrive upon its bountifulness, multiply into
millions the mouths to be fed from it, tax it to the last limit of
production of the necessities of life, take from it continually, and give
nothing back, starve and overwork it as cruel, grasping men do a servant
or a beast, and when at last it breaks down under the strain, it revenges
itself by starving many of them with great famines, while the others go
off in search of new countries to put through the same process of
exhaustion. We have seen one country after another undergo this process
as the seat of empire took its westward way, from the cradle of the race
on the banks of the Oxus to the fertile plains in the Valley of the
Euphrates. Impoverishing these, men next sought the Valley of the Nile,
then the Grecian Peninsula; next Syracuse and the Italian Peninsula,
then the Iberian Peninsula, and the African shores of the Mediterranean.
Exhausting all these, they were deserted for the French, German and
English portions of Europe. The turn of the latter is now come; famines
are becoming terribly frequent, and mankind is pouring into the virgin
fields of America.

Lower Georgia, the Carolinas and Eastern Virginia have all the
characteristics of these starved and worn-out lands. It would seem as
if, away back in the distance of ages, some numerous and civilized race
had drained from the soil the last atom of food-producing constituents,
and that it is now slowly gathering back, as the centuries pass, the
elements that have been wrung from the land.

Lower Georgia is very thinly settled. Much of the land is still in the
hands of the Government. The three or four railroads which pass through
it have little reference to local traffic. There are no towns along them
as a rule; stations are made every ten miles, and not named, but
numbered, as "Station No. 4"--"No. 10", etc. The roads were built as
through lines, to bring to the seaboard the rich products of the

Andersonville is one of the few stations dignified with a same, probably
because it contained some half dozen of shabby houses, whereas at the
others there was usually nothing more than a mere open shed, to shelter
goods and travelers. It is on a rudely constructed, rickety railroad,
that runs from Macon to Albany, the head of navigation on the Flint
River, which is, one hundred and six miles from Macon, and two hundred
and fifty from the Gulf of Mexico. Andersonville is about sixty miles
from Macon, and, consequently, about three hundred miles from the Gulf.
The camp was merely a hole cut in the wilderness. It was as remote a
point from, our armies, as they then lay, as the Southern Confederacy
could give. The nearest was Sherman, at Chattanooga, four hundred miles
away, and on the other side of a range of mountains hundreds of miles

To us it seemed beyond the last forlorn limits of civilization. We felt
that we were more completely at the mercy of our foes than ever. While
in Richmond we were in the heart of the Confederacy; we were in the midst
of the Rebel military and, civil force, and were surrounded on every hand
by visible evidences of the great magnitude of that power, but this,
while it enforced our ready submission, did not overawe us depressingly,
We knew that though the Rebels were all about us in great force, our own
men were also near, and in still greater force--that while they were very
strong our army was still stronger, and there was no telling what day
this superiority of strength, might be demonstrated in such a way as to
decisively benefit us.

But here we felt as did the Ancient Mariner:

Alone on a wide, wide sea,
So lonely 'twas that God himself
Scarce seemed there to be.

John McElroy