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Chapter 16

WAKING UP IN ANDERSONVILLE--SOME DESCRIPTION OF THE PLACE--OUR FIRST
MAIL--BUILDING SHELTER--GEN. WINDER--HIMSELF AND LINEAGE.

We roused up promptly with the dawn to take a survey of our new abiding
place. We found ourselves in an immense pen, about one thousand feet
long by eight hundred wide, as a young surveyor--a member of the
Thirty-fourth Ohio--informed us after he had paced it off. He estimated
that it contained about sixteen acres. The walls were formed by pine
logs twenty-five feet long, from two to three feet in diameter, hewn
square, set into the ground to a depth of five feet, and placed so close
together as to leave no crack through which the country outside could be
seen. There being five feet of the logs in the ground, the wall was, of
course, twenty feet high. This manner of enclosure was in some respects
superior to a wall of masonry. It was equally unscalable, and much more
difficult to undermine or batter down.

The pen was longest due north and south. It was divided in the center
by a creek about a yard wide and ten inches deep, running from west to
east. On each side of this was a quaking bog of slimy ooze one hundred
and fifty feet wide, and so yielding that one attempting to walk upon it
would sink to the waist. From this swamp the sand-hills sloped north and
south to the stockade. All the trees inside the stockade, save two, had
been cut down and used in its construction. All the rank vegetation of
the swamp had also been cut off.

There were two entrances to the stockade, one on each side of the creek,
midway between it and the ends, and called respectively the "North Gate"
and the "South Gate." These were constructed double, by building
smaller stockades around them on the outside, with another set of gates.
When prisoners or wagons with rations were brought in, they were first
brought inside the outer gates, which were carefully secured, before the
inner gates were opened. This was done to prevent the gates being
carried by a rush by those confined inside.

At regular intervals along the palisades were little perches, upon which
stood guards, who overlooked the whole inside of the prison.

The only view we had of the outside was that obtained by looking from the
highest points of the North or South Sides across the depression where
the stockade crossed the swamp. In this way we could see about forty
acres at a time of the adjoining woodland, or say one hundred and sixty
acres altogether, and this meager landscape had to content us for the
next half year.

Before our inspection was finished, a wagon drove in with rations, and a
quart of meal, a sweet potato and a few ounces of salt beef were issued
to each one of us.

In a few minutes we were all hard at work preparing our first meal in
Andersonville. The debris of the forest left a temporary abundance of
fuel, and we had already a cheerful fire blazing for every little squad.
There were a number of tobacco presses in the rooms we occupied in
Richmond, and to each of these was a quantity of sheets of tin, evidently
used to put between the layers of tobacco. The deft hands of the
mechanics among us bent these up into square pans, which were real handy
cooking utensils, holding about--a quart. Water was carried in them from
the creek; the meal mixed in them to a dough, or else boiled as mush in
the same vessels; the potatoes were boiled; and their final service was
to hold a little meal to be carefully browned, and then water boiled upon
it, so as to form a feeble imitation of coffee. I found my education at
Jonesville in the art of baking a hoe-cake now came in good play, both
for myself and companions. Taking one of the pieces of tin which had not
yet been made into a pan, we spread upon it a layer of dough about a
half-inch thick. Propping this up nearly upright before the fire, it was
soon nicely browned over. This process made it sweat itself loose from
the tin, when it was turned over and the bottom browned also. Save that
it was destitute of salt, it was quite a toothsome bit of nutriment for a
hungry man, and I recommend my readers to try making a "pone" of this
kind once, just to see what it was like.

The supreme indifference with which the Rebels always treated the matter
of cooking utensils for us, excited my wonder. It never seemed to occur
to them that we could have any more need of vessels for our food than
cattle or swine. Never, during my whole prison life, did I see so much
as a tin cup or a bucket issued to a prisoner. Starving men were driven
to all sorts of shifts for want of these. Pantaloons or coats were
pulled off and their sleeves or legs used to draw a mess's meal in.
Boots were common vessels for carrying water, and when the feet of these
gave way the legs were ingeniously closed up with pine pegs, so as to
form rude leathern buckets. Men whose pocket knives had escaped the
search at the gates made very ingenious little tubs and buckets, and
these devices enabled us to get along after a fashion.

After our meal was disposed of, we held a council on the situation.
Though we had been sadly disappointed in not being exchanged, it seemed
that on the whole our condition had been bettered. This first ration was
a decided improvement on those of the Pemberton building; we had left the
snow and ice behind at Richmond--or rather at some place between Raleigh,
N. C., and Columbia, S. C.--and the air here, though chill, was not
nipping, but bracing. It looked as if we would have a plenty of wood for
shelter and fuel, it was certainly better to have sixteen acres to roam
over than the stiffing confines of a building; and, still better, it
seemed as if there would be plenty of opportunities to get beyond the
stockade, and attempt a journey through the woods to that blissful land
--"Our lines."

We settled down to make the best of things. A Rebel Sergeant came in
presently and arranged us in hundreds. We subdivided these into messes
of twenty-five, and began devising means for shelter. Nothing showed the
inborn capacity of the Northern soldier to take care of himself better
than the way in which we accomplished this with the rude materials at our
command. No ax, spade nor mattock was allowed us by the Rebels, who
treated us in regard to these the same as in respect to culinary vessels.
The only tools were a few pocket-knives, and perhaps half-a-dozen
hatchets which some infantrymen-principally members of the Third
Michigan--were allowed to retain. Yet, despite all these drawbacks, we
had quite a village of huts erected in a few days,--nearly enough, in
fact, to afford tolerable shelter for the whole five hundred of us
first-comers.

The wither and poles that grew in the swamp were bent into the shape of
the semi-circular bows that support the canvas covers of army wagons, and
both ends thrust in the ground. These formed the timbers of our
dwellings. They were held in place by weaving in, basket-wise, a network
of briers and vines. Tufts of the long leaves which are the
distinguishing characteristic of the Georgia pine (popularly known as the
"long-leaved pine") were wrought into this network until a thatch was
formed, that was a fair protection against the rain--it was like the
Irishman's unglazed window-sash, which "kep' out the coarsest uv the
cold."

The results accomplished were as astonishing to us as to the Rebels,
who would have lain unsheltered upon the sand until bleached out like
field-rotted flax, before thinking to protect themselves in this way.
As our village was approaching completion, the Rebel Sergeant who called
the roll entered. He was very odd-looking. The cervical muscles were
distorted in such a way as to suggest to us the name of "Wry-necked
Smith," by which we always designated him. Pete Bates, of the Third
Michigan, who was the wag of our squad, accounted for Smith's condition
by saying that while on dress parade once the Colonel of Smith's regiment
had commanded "eyes right," and then forgot to give the order "front."
Smith, being a good soldier, had kept his eyes in the position of gazing
at the buttons of the third man to the right, waiting for the order to
restore them to their natural direction, until they had become
permanently fixed in their obliquity and he was compelled to go through
life taking a biased view of all things.

Smith walked in, made a diagonal survey of the encampment, which, if he
had ever seen "Mitchell's Geography," probably reminded him of the
picture of a Kaffir village, in that instructive but awfully dull book,
and then expressed the opinion that usually welled up to every Rebel's
lips:

"Well, I'll be durned, if you Yanks don't just beat the devil."

Of course, we replied with the well-worn prison joke, that we supposed we
did, as we beat the Rebels, who were worse than the devil.

There rode in among us, a few days after our arrival, an old man whose
collar bore the wreathed stars of a Major General. Heavy white locks
fell from beneath his slouched hat, nearly to his shoulders. Sunken gray
eyes, too dull and cold to light up, marked a hard, stony face, the
salient feature of which was a thin-upped, compressed mouth, with corners
drawn down deeply--the mouth which seems the world over to be the index
of selfish, cruel, sulky malignance. It is such a mouth as has the
school-boy--the coward of the play ground, who delights in pulling off
the wings of flies. It is such a mouth as we can imagine some
remorseless inquisitor to have had--that is, not an inquisitor filled
with holy zeal for what he mistakenly thought the cause of Christ
demanded, but a spleeny, envious, rancorous shaveling, who tortured men
from hatred of their superiority to him, and sheer love of inflicting
pain.

The rider was John H. Winder, Commissary General of Prisoners,
Baltimorean renegade and the malign genius to whose account should be
charged the deaths of more gallant men than all the inquisitors of the
world ever slew by the less dreadful rack and wheel. It was he who in
August could point to the three thousand and eighty-one new made graves
for that month, and exultingly tell his hearer that he was "doing more
for the Confederacy than twenty regiments."

His lineage was in accordance with his character. His father was that
General William H. Winder, whose poltroonery at Bladensburg, in 1814,
nullified the resistance of the gallant Commodore Barney, and gave
Washington to the British.

The father was a coward and an incompetent; the son, always cautiously
distant from the scene of hostilities, was the tormentor of those whom
the fortunes of war, and the arms of brave men threw into his hands.

Winder gazed at us stonily for a few minutes without speaking, and,
turning, rode out again.

Our troubles, from that hour, rapidly increased.

John McElroy