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 46

SURLY BRITON--THE STOLID COURAGE THAT MAKES THE ENGLISH FLAG A BANNER OF
TRIUMPH--OUR COMPANY BUGLER, HIS CHARACTERISTICS AND HIS DEATH--URGENT
DEMAND FOR MECHANICS--NONE WANT TO GO--TREATMENT OF A REBEL SHOEMAKER
--ENLARGEMENT OF THE STOCKADE--IT IS BROKEN BY A STORM--THE WONDERFUL
SPRING.

Early in August, F. Marriott, our Company Bugler, died. Previous to
coming to America he had been for many years an English soldier, and I
accepted him as a type of that stolid, doggedly brave class, which forms
the bulk of the English armies, and has for centuries carried the British
flag with dauntless courage into every land under the sun. Rough, surly
and unsocial, he did his duty with the unemotional steadiness of a
machine. He knew nothing but to obey orders, and obeyed them under all
circumstances promptly, but with stony impassiveness. With the command
to move forward into action, he moved forward without a word, and with
face as blank as a side of sole leather. He went as far as ordered,
halted at the word, and retired at command as phlegmatically as he
advanced. If he cared a straw whether he advanced or retreated, if it
mattered to the extent of a pinch of salt whether we whipped the Rebels
or they defeated us, he kept that feeling so deeply hidden in the
recesses of his sturdy bosom that no one ever suspected it. In the
excitement of action the rest of the boys shouted, and swore, and
expressed their tense feelings in various ways, but Marriott might as
well have been a graven image, for all the expression that he suffered to
escape. Doubtless, if the Captain had ordered him to shoot one of the
company through the heart, he would have executed the command according
to the manual of arms, brought his carbine to a "recover," and at the
word marched back to his quarters without an inquiry as to the cause of
the proceedings. He made no friends, and though his surliness repelled
us, he made few enemies. Indeed, he was rather a favorite, since he was
a genuine character; his gruffness had no taint of selfish greed in it;
he minded his own business strictly, and wanted others to do the same.
When he first came into the company, it is true, he gained the enmity of
nearly everybody in it, but an incident occurred which turned the tide in
his favor. Some annoying little depredations had been practiced on the
boys, and it needed but a word of suspicion to inflame all their minds
against the surly Englishman as the unknown perpetrator. The feeling
intensified, until about half of the company were in a mood to kill the
Bugler outright. As we were returning from stable duty one evening,
some little occurrence fanned the smoldering anger into a fierce blaze;
a couple of the smaller boys began an attack upon him; others hastened to
their assistance, and soon half the company were engaged in the assault.

He succeeded in disengaging himself from his assailants, and, squaring
himself off, said, defiantly:

"Dom yer cowardly heyes; jest come hat me one hat a time, hand hI'll
wollop the 'ole gang uv ye's."

One of our Sergeants styled himself proudly "a Chicago rough," and was as
vain of his pugilistic abilities as a small boy is of a father who plays
in the band. We all hated him cordially--even more than we did Marriott.

He thought this was a good time to show off, and forcing his way through
the crowd, he said, vauntingly:

"Just fall back and form a ring, boys, and see me polish off the---fool."

The ring was formed, with the Bugler and the Sergeant in the center.
Though the latter was the younger and stronger the first round showed him
that it would have profited him much more to have let Marriott's
challenge pass unheeded. As a rule, it is as well to ignore all
invitations of this kind from Englishmen, and especially from those who,
like Marriott, have served a term in the army, for they are likely to be
so handy with their fists as to make the consequences of an acceptance
more lively than desirable.

So the Sergeant found. "Marriott," as one of the spectators expressed
it, "went around him like a cooper around a barrel." He planted his
blows just where he wished, to the intense delight of the boys, who
yelled enthusiastically whenever he got in "a hot one," and their delight
at seeing the Sergeant drubbed so thoroughly and artistically, worked an
entire revolution in his favor.

Thenceforward we viewed his eccentricities with lenient eyes, and became
rather proud of his bull-dog stolidity and surliness. The whole
battalion soon came to share this feeling, and everybody enjoyed hearing
his deep-toned growl, which mischievous boys would incite by some petty
annoyances deliberately designed for that purpose. I will mention
incidentally, that after his encounter with the Sergeant no one ever
again volunteered to "polish" him off.

Andersonville did not improve either his temper or his communicativeness.
He seemed to want to get as far away from the rest of us as possible,
and took up his quarters in a remote corner of the Stockade, among utter
strangers. Those of us who wandered up in his neighborhood occasionally,
to see how he was getting along, were received with such scant courtesy,
that we did not hasten to repeat the visit. At length, after none of us
had seen him for weeks, we thought that comradeship demanded another
visit. We found him in the last stages of scurvy and diarrhea. Chunks
of uneaten corn bread lay by his head. They were at least a week old.
The rations since then had evidently been stolen from the helpless man by
those around him. The place where he lay was indescribably filthy, and
his body was swarming with vermin. Some good Samaritan had filled his
little black oyster can with water, and placed it within his reach.
For a week, at least, he had not been able to rise from the ground;
he could barely reach for the water near him. He gave us such a glare of
recognition as I remembered to have seen light up the fast-darkening eyes
of a savage old mastiff, that I and my boyish companions once found dying
in the woods of disease and hurts. Had he been able he would have driven
us away, or at least assailed us with biting English epithets. Thus he
had doubtless driven away all those who had attempted to help him.
We did what little we could, and staid with him until the next afternoon,
when he died. We prepared his body, in the customary way: folded the
hands across his breast, tied the toes together, and carried it outside,
not forgetting each of us, to bring back a load of wood.

The scarcity of mechanics of all kinds in the Confederacy, and the urgent
needs of the people for many things which the war and the blockade
prevented their obtaining, led to continual inducements being offered to
the artizans among us to go outside and work at their trade. Shoemakers
seemed most in demand; next to these blacksmiths, machinists, molders and
metal workers generally. Not a week passed during my imprisonment that I
did not see a Rebel emissary of some kind about the prison seeking to
engage skilled workmen for some purpose or another. While in Richmond
the managers of the Tredegar Iron Works were brazen and persistent in
their efforts to seduce what are termed "malleable iron workers," to
enter their employ. A boy who was master of any one of the commoner
trades had but to make his wishes known, and he would be allowed to go
out on parole to work. I was a printer, and I think that at least a
dozen times I was approached by Rebel publishers with offers of a parole,
and work at good prices. One from Columbia, S. C., offered me two
dollars and a half a "thousand" for composition. As the highest price
for such work that I had received before enlisting was thirty cents a
thousand, this seemed a chance to accumulate untold wealth. Since a man
working in day time can set from thirty-five to fifty "thousand" a week,
this would make weekly wages run from eighty-seven dollars and fifty
cents to one hundred and twenty-five dollars--but it was in Confederate
money, then worth from ten to twenty cents on the dollar.

Still better offers were made to iron workers of all kinds,
to shoemakers, tanners, weavers, tailors, hatters, engineers, machinists,
millers, railroad men, and similar tradesmen. Any of these could have
made a handsome thing by accepting the offers made them almost weekly.
As nearly all in the prison had useful trades, it would have been of
immense benefit to the Confederacy if they could have been induced to
work at them. There is no measuring the benefit it would have been to
the Southern cause if all the hundreds of tanners and shoemakers in the
Stockade could have, been persuaded to go outside and labor in providing
leather and shoes for the almost shoeless people and soldiery. The
machinists alone could have done more good to the Southern Confederacy
than one of our brigades was doing harm, by consenting to go to the
railroad shops at Griswoldville and ply their handicraft. The lack of
material resources in the South was one of the strongest allies our arms
had. This lack of resources was primarily caused by a lack of skilled
labor to develop those resources, and nowhere could there be found a
finer collection of skilled laborers than in the thirty-three thousand
prisoners incarcerated in Andersonville.

All solicitations to accept a parole and go outside to work at one's
trade were treated with the scorn they deserved. If any mechanic yielded
to them, the fact did not come under my notice. The usual reply to
invitations of this kind was:

"No, Sir! By God, I'll stay in here till I rot, and the maggots carry me
out through the cracks in the Stockade, before I'll so much as raise my
little finger to help the infernal Confederacy, or Rebels, in any shape
or form."

In August a Macon shoemaker came in to get some of his trade to go back
with him to work in the Confederate shoe factory. He prosecuted his
search for these until he reached the center of the camp on the North
Side, when some of the shoemakers who had gathered around him, apparently
considering his propositions, seized him and threw him into a well.
He was kept there a whole day, and only released when Wirz cut off the
rations of the prison for that day, and announced that no more would be
issued until the man was returned safe and sound to the gate.

The terrible crowding was somewhat ameliorated by the opening in July of
an addition--six hundred feet long--to the North Side of the Stockade.
This increased the room inside to twenty acres, giving about an acre to
every one thousand seven hundred men,--a preposterously contracted area
still. The new ground was not a hotbed of virulent poison like the olds
however, and those who moved on to it had that much in their favor.

The palisades between the new and the old portions of the pen were left
standing when the new portion was opened. We were still suffering a
great deal of inconvenience from lack of wood. That night the standing
timbers were attacked by thousands of prisoners armed with every species
of a tool to cut wood, from a case-knife to an ax. They worked the
live-long night with such energy that by morning not only every inch of
the logs above ground had disappeared, but that below had been dug up,
and there was not enough left of the eight hundred foot wall of
twenty-five-foot logs to make a box of matches.

One afternoon--early in August--one of the violent rain storms common to
that section sprung up, and in a little while the water was falling in
torrents. The little creek running through the camp swelled up
immensely, and swept out large gaps in the Stockade, both in the west and
east sides. The Rebels noticed the breaches as soon as the prisoners.
Two guns were fired from the Star Tort, and all the guards rushed out,
and formed so as to prevent any egress, if one was attempted. Taken by
surprise, we were not in a condition to profit by the opportunity until
it was too late.

The storm did one good thing: it swept away a great deal of filth, and
left the camp much more wholesome. The foul stench rising from the camp
made an excellent electrical conductor, and the lightning struck several
times within one hundred feet of the prison.

Toward the end of August there happened what the religously inclined
termed a Providential Dispensation. The water in the Creek was
indescribably bad. No amount of familiarity with it, no increase of
intimacy with our offensive surroundings, could lessen the disgust at the
polluted water. As I have said previously, before the stream entered the
Stockade, it was rendered too filthy for any use by the contaminations
from the camps of the guards, situated about a half-mile above.
Immediately on entering the Stockade the contamination became terrible.
The oozy seep at the bottom of the hillsides drained directly into it all
the mass of filth from a population of thirty-three thousand. Imagine
the condition of an open sewer, passing through the heart of a city of
that many people, and receiving all the offensive product of so dense a
gathering into a shallow, sluggish stream, a yard wide and five inches
deep, and heated by the burning rays of the sun in the thirty-second
degree of latitude. Imagine, if one can, without becoming sick at the
stomach, all of these people having to wash in and drink of this foul
flow.

There is not a scintilla of exaggeration in this statement. That it is
within the exact truth is demonstrable by the testimony of any man--Rebel
or Union--who ever saw the inside of the Stockade at Andersonville. I am
quite content to have its truth--as well as that of any other statement
made in this book--be determined by the evidence of any one, no matter
how bitter his hatred of the Union, who had any personal knowledge of the
condition of affairs at Andersonville. No one can successfully deny that
there were at least thirty-three thousand prisoners in the Stockade, and
that the one shallow, narrow creek, which passed through the prison, was
at once their main sewer and their source of supply of water for bathing,
drinking and washing. With these main facts admitted, the reader's
common sense of natural consequences will furnish the rest of the
details.

It is true that some of the more fortunate of us had wells; thanks to our
own energy in overcoming extraordinary obstacles; no thanks to our
gaolers for making the slightest effort to provide these necessities of
life. We dug the wells with case and pocket knives, and half canteens to
a depth of from twenty to thirty feet, pulling up the dirt in pantaloons
legs, and running continual risk of being smothered to death by the
caving in of the unwalled sides. Not only did the Rebels refuse to give
us boards with which to wall the wells, and buckets for drawing the
water, but they did all in their power to prevent us from digging the
wells, and made continual forays to capture the digging tools, because
the wells were frequently used as the starting places for tunnels.
Professor Jones lays special stress on this tunnel feature in his
testimony, which I have introduced in a previous chapter.

The great majority of the prisoners who went to the Creek for water, went
as near as possible to the Dead Line on the West Side, where the Creek
entered the Stockade, that they might get water with as little filth in
it as possible. In the crowds struggling there for their turn to take a
dip, some one nearly every day got so close to the Dead Line as to arouse
a suspicion in the guard's mind that he was touching it. The suspicion
was the unfortunate one's death warrant, and also its execution. As the
sluggish brain of the guard conceived it he leveled his gun; the distance
to his victim was not over one hundred feet; he never failed his aim; the
first warning the wretched prisoner got that he was suspected of
transgressing a prison-rule was the charge of "ball-and-buck" that tore
through his body. It was lucky if he was, the only one of the group
killed. More wicked and unjustifiable murders never were committed than
these almost daily assassinations at the Creek.

One morning the camp was astonished beyond measure to discover that
during the night a large, bold spring had burst out on the North Side,
about midway between the Swamp and the summit of the hill. It poured out
its grateful flood of pure, sweet water in an apparently exhaustless
quantity. To the many who looked in wonder upon it, it seemed as truly a
heaven-wrought miracle as when Moses's enchanted rod smote the parched
rock in Sinai's desert waste, and the living waters gushed forth.

The police took charge of the spring, and every one was compelled to take
his regular turn in filling his vessel. This was kept up during our
whole stay in Andersonville, and every morning, shortly after daybreak,
a thousand men could be seen standing in line, waiting their turns to
fill their cans and cups with the precious liquid.

I am told by comrades who have revisited the Stockade of recent years,
that the spring is yet running as when we left, and is held in most pious
veneration by the negros of that vicinity, who still preserve the
tradition of its miraculous origin, and ascribe to its water wonderful
grace giving and healing properties, similar to those which pious
Catholics believe exist in the holy water of the fountain at Lourdes.

I must confess that I do not think they are so very far from right.
If I could believe that any water was sacred and thaumaturgic, it would
be of that fountain which appeared so opportunely for the benefit of the
perishing thousands of Andersonville. And when I hear of people bringing
water for baptismal purposes from the Jordan, I say in my heart, "How
much more would I value for myself and friends the administration of the
chrismal sacrament with the diviner flow from that low sand-hill in
Western Georgia."

John McElroy