Subscribe for ad free access & additional features for teachers. Authors: 267, Books: 3,607, Poems & Short Stories: 4,435, Forum Members: 71,154, Forum Posts: 1,238,602, Quizzes: 344

Chapter 31


May and June made sad havoc in the already thin ranks of our battalion.
Nearly a score died in my company--L--and the other companies suffered
proportionately. Among the first to die of my company comrades, was a
genial little Corporal, "Billy" Phillips--who was a favorite with us all.
Everything was done for him that kindness could suggest, but it was of
little avail. Then "Bruno" Weeks--a young boy, the son of a preacher,
who had run away from his home in Fulton County, Ohio, to join us,
succumbed to hardship and privation.

The next to go was good-natured, harmless Victor Seitz, a Detroit cigar
maker, a German, and one of the slowest of created mortals. How he ever
came to go into the cavalry was beyond the wildest surmises of his
comrades. Why his supernatural slowness and clumsiness did not result in
his being killed at least once a day, while in the service, was even
still farther beyond the power of conjecture. No accident ever happened
in the company that Seitz did not have some share in. Did a horse fall
on a slippery road, it was almost sure to be Seitz's, and that imported
son of the Fatherland was equally sure to be caught under him. Did
somebody tumble over a bank of a dark night, it was Seitz that we soon
heard making his way back, swearing in deep German gutterals, with
frequent allusion to 'tausend teuflin.' Did a shanty blow down, we ran
over and pulled Seitz out of the debris, when he would exclaim:

"Zo! dot vos pretty vunny now, ain't it?"

And as he surveyed the scene of his trouble with true German phlegm, he
would fish a brier-wood pipe from the recesses of his pockets, fill it
with tobacco, and go plodding off in a cloud of smoke in search of some
fresh way to narrowly escape destruction. He did not know enough about
horses to put a snaffle-bit in one's mouth, and yet he would draw the
friskiest, most mettlesome animal in the corral, upon whose back he was
scarcely more at home than he would be upon a slack rope. It was no
uncommon thing to see a horse break out of ranks, and go past the
battalion like the wind, with poor Seitz clinging to his mane like the
traditional grim Death to a deceased African. We then knew that Seitz
had thoughtlessly sunk the keen spurs he would persist in wearing; deep
into the flanks of his high-mettled animal.

These accidents became so much a matter-of-course that when anything
unusual occurred in the company our first impulse was to go and help
Seitz out.

When the bugle sounded "boots and saddles," the rest of us would pack up,
mount, "count off by fours from the right," and be ready to move out
before the last notes of the call had fairly died away. Just then we
would notice an unsaddled horse still tied to the hitching place. It was
Seitz's, and that worthy would be seen approaching, pipe in mouth, and
bridle in hand, with calm, equable steps, as if any time before the
expiration of his enlistment would be soon enough to accomplish the
saddling of his steed. A chorus of impatient and derisive remarks would
go up from his impatient comrades:

"For heaven's sake, Seitz, hurry up!"

"Seitz! you are like a cow's tail--always behind!"

"Seitz, you are slower than the second coming of the Savior!"

"Christmas is a railroad train alongside of you, Seitz!"

"If you ain't on that horse in half a second, Seitz, we'll go off and
leave you, and the Johnnies will skin you alive!" etc., etc.

Not a ripple of emotion would roll over Seitz's placid features under the
sharpest of these objurgations. At last, losing all patience, two or
three boys would dismount, run to Seitz's horse, pack, saddle and bridle
him, as if he were struck with a whirlwind. Then Seitz would mount, and
we would move 'off.

For all this, we liked him. His good nature was boundless, and his
disposition to oblige equal to the severest test. He did not lack a
grain of his full share of the calm, steadfast courage of his race, and
would stay where he was put, though Erebus yawned and bade him fly.
He was very useful, despite his unfitness for many of the duties of a
cavalryman. He was a good guard, and always ready to take charge of
prisoners, or be sentry around wagons or a forage pile-duties that most
of the boys cordially hated.

But he came into the last trouble at Andersonville. He stood up pretty
well under the hardships of Belle Isle, but lost his cheerfulness--his
unrepining calmness--after a few weeks in the Stockade. One day we
remembered that none of us had seen him for several days, and we started
in search of him. We found him in a distant part of the camp, lying near
the Dead Line. His long fair hair was matted together, his blue eyes had
the flush of fever. Every part of his clothing was gray with the lice
that were hastening his death with their torments. He uttered the first
complaint I ever heard him make, as I came up to him:

"My Gott, M ----, dis is worse dun a dog's det!"

In a few days we gave him all the funeral in our power; tied his big toes
together, folded his hands across his breast, pinned to his shirt a slip
of paper, upon which was written:

Co. L, Sixteenth Illinois Cavalry.

And laid his body at the South Gate, beside some scores of others that
were awaiting the arrival of the six-mule wagon that hauled them to the
Potter's Field, which was to be their last resting-place.

John Emerson and John Stiggall, of my company, were two Norwegian boys,
and fine specimens of their race--intelligent, faithful, and always ready
for duty. They had an affection for each other that reminded one of the
stories told of the sworn attachment and the unfailing devotion that were
common between two Gothic warrior youths. Coming into Andersonville some
little time after the rest of us, they found all the desirable ground
taken up, and they established their quarters at the base of the hill,
near the Swamp. There they dug a little hole to lie in, and put in a
layer of pine leaves. Between them they had an overcoat and a blanket.
At night they lay upon the coat and covered themselves with the blanket.
By day the blanket served as a tent. The hardships and annoyances that
we endured made everybody else cross and irritable. At times it seemed
impossible to say or listen to pleasant words, and nobody was ever
allowed to go any length of time spoiling for a fight. He could usually
be accommodated upon the spot to any extent he desired, by simply making
his wishes known. Even the best of chums would have sharp quarrels and
brisk fights, and this disposition increased as disease made greater
inroads upon them. I saw in one instance two brothers-both of whom died
the next day of scurvy--and who were so helpless as to be unable to rise,
pull themselves up on their knees by clenching the poles of their tents
--in order to strike each other with clubs, and they kept striking until
the bystanders interfered and took their weapons away from them.

But Stiggall and Emerson never quarreled with each other. Their
tenderness and affection were remarkable to witness. They began to go
the way that so many were going; diarrhea and scurvy set in; they wasted
away till their muscles and tissues almost disappeared, leaving the skin
lying fiat upon the bones; but their principal solicitude was for each
other, and each seemed actually jealous of any person else doing anything
for the other. I met Emerson one day, with one leg drawn clear out of
shape, and rendered almost useless by the scurvy. He was very weak, but
was hobbling down towards the Creek with a bucket made from a boot leg.
I said:

"Johnny, just give me your bucket. I'll fill it for you, and bring it up
to your tent."

"No; much obliged, M ----" he wheezed out; "my pardner wants a cool
drink, and I guess I'd better get it for him."

Stiggall died in June. He was one of the first victims of scurvy, which,
in the succeeding few weeks, carried off so many. All of us who had read
sea-stories had read much of this disease and its horrors, but we had
little conception of the dreadful reality. It usually manifested itself
first in the mouth. The breath became unbearably fetid; the gums swelled
until they protruded, livid and disgusting, beyond the lips. The teeth
became so loose that they frequently fell out, and the sufferer would
pick them up and set them back in their sockets. In attempting to bite
the hard corn bread furnished by the bakery the teeth often stuck fast
and were pulled out. The gums had a fashion of breaking away, in large
chunks, which would be swallowed or spit out. All the time one was
eating his mouth would be filled with blood, fragments of gums and
loosened teeth.

Frightful, malignant ulcers appeared in other parts of the body; the
ever-present maggot flies laid eggs in these, and soon worms swarmed
therein. The sufferer looked and felt as if, though he yet lived and
moved, his body was anticipating the rotting it would undergo a little
later in the grave.

The last change was ushered in by the lower parts of the legs swelling.
When this appeared, we considered the man doomed. We all had scurvy,
more or less, but as long as it kept out of our legs we were hopeful.
First, the ankle joints swelled, then the foot became useless. The
swelling increased until the knees became stiff, and the skin from these
down was distended until it looked pale, colorless and transparent as a
tightly blown bladder. The leg was so much larger at the bottom than at
the thigh, that the sufferers used to make grim jokes about being modeled
like a churn, "with the biggest end down." The man then became utterly
helpless and usually died in a short time.

The official report puts down the number of deaths from scurvy at three
thousand five hundred and seventy-four, but Dr. Jones, the Rebel surgeon,
reported to the Rebel Government his belief that nine-tenths of the great
mortality of the prison was due, either directly or indirectly, to this

The only effort made by the Rebel doctors to check its ravages was
occasionally to give a handful of sumach berries to some particularly bad

When Stiggall died we thought Emerson would certainly follow him in a day
or two, but, to our surprise, he lingered along until August before

John McElroy