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Chapter 49

AUGUST--GOOD LUCK IN NOT MEETING CAPTAIN WIRZ--THAT WORTHY'S TREATMENT OF
RECAPTURED PRISONERS--SECRET SOCIETIES IN PRISON--SINGULAR MEETING AND
ITS RESULT--DISCOVERY AND REMOVAL OF THE OFFICERS AMONG THE ENLISTED MEN.

Harney and I were specially fortunate in being turned back into the
Stockade without being brought before Captain Wirz.

We subsequently learned that we owed this good luck to Wirz's absence on
sick leave--his place being supplied by Lieutenant Davis, a moderate
brained Baltimorean, and one of that horde of Marylanders in the Rebel
Army, whose principal service to the Confederacy consisted in working
themselves into "bomb-proof" places, and forcing those whom they
displaced into the field. Winder was the illustrious head of this crowd
of bomb-proof Rebels from "Maryland, My Maryland!" whose enthusiasm for
the Southern cause and consistency in serving it only in such places as
were out of range of the Yankee artillery, was the subject of many bitter
jibes by the Rebels--especially by those whose secure berths they
possessed themselves of.

Lieutenant Davis went into the war with great brashness. He was one of
the mob which attacked the Sixth Massachusetts in its passage through
Baltimore, but, like all of that class of roughs, he got his stomach full
of war as soon as the real business of fighting began, and he retired to
where the chances of attaining a ripe old age were better than in front
of the Army of the Potomac's muskets. We shall hear of Davis again.

Encountering Captain Wirz was one of the terrors of an abortive attempt
to escape. When recaptured prisoners were brought before him he would
frequently give way to paroxysms of screaming rage, so violent as to
closely verge on insanity. Brandishing the fearful and wonderful
revolver--of which I have spoken in such a manner as to threaten the
luckless captives with instant death, he would shriek out imprecations,
curses; and foul epithets in French, German and English, until he fairly
frothed at the mouth. There were plenty of stories current in camp of his
having several times given away to his rage so far as to actually shoot
men down in these interviews, and still more of his knocking boys down
and jumping upon them, until he inflicted injuries that soon resulted in
death. How true these rumors were I am unable to say of my own personal
knowledge, since I never saw him kill any one, nor have I talked with any
one who did. There were a number of cases of this kind testified to upon
his trial, but they all happened among "paroles" outside the Stockade,
or among the prisoners inside after we left, so I knew nothing of them.

One of the Old Switzer's favorite ways of ending these seances was to
inform the boys that he would have them shot in an hour or so, and bid
them prepare for death. After keeping them in fearful suspense for hours
he would order them to be punished with the stocks, the ball-and-chain,
the chain-gang, or--if his fierce mood had burned itself entirely out
--as was quite likely with a man of his shallop' brain and vacillating
temper--to be simply returned to the stockade.

Nothing, I am sure, since the days of the Inquisition--or still later,
since the terrible punishments visited upon the insurgents of 1848 by the
Austrian aristocrats--has been so diabolical as the stocks and
chain-gangs, as used by Wirz. At one time seven men, sitting in the
stocks near the Star Fort--in plain view of the camp--became objects of
interest to everybody inside. They were never relieved from their
painful position, but were kept there until all of them died. I think
it was nearly two weeks before the last one succumbed. What they
endured in that time even imagination cannot conceive--I do not think
that an Indian tribe ever devised keener torture for its captives.

The chain-gang consisted of a number of men--varying from twelve to
twenty-five, all chained to one sixty-four pound ball. They were also
stationed near the Star Fort, standing out in the hot sun, without a
particle of shade over them. When one moved they all had to move.
They were scourged with the dysentery, and the necessities of some one
of their number kept them constantly in motion. I can see them
distinctly yet, tramping laboriously and painfully back and forward over
that burning hillside, every moment of the long, weary Summer days.

A comrade writes to remind me of the beneficent work of the Masonic
Order. I mention it most gladly, as it was the sole recognition on the
part of any of our foes of our claims to human kinship. The churches of
all denominations--except the solitary Catholic priest, Father Hamilton,
--ignored us as wholly as if we were dumb beasts. Lay humanitarians were
equally indifferent, and the only interest manifested by any Rebel in the
welfare of any prisoner was by the Masonic brotherhood. The Rebel Masons
interested themselves in securing details outside the Stockade in the
cookhouse, the commissary, and elsewhere, for the brethren among the
prisoners who would accept such favors. Such as did not feel inclined to
go outside on parole received frequent presents in the way of food, and
especially of vegetables, which were literally beyond price. Materials
were sent inside to build tents for the Masons, and I think such as made
themselves known before death, received burial according to the rites of
the Order. Doctor White, and perhaps other Surgeons, belonged to the
fraternity, and the wearing of a Masonic emblem by a new prisoner was
pretty sure to catch their eyes, and be the means of securing for the
wearer the tender of their good offices, such as a detail into the
Hospital as nurse, ward-master, etc.

I was not fortunate enough to be one of the mystic brethren, and so
missed all share in any of these benefits, as well as in any others,
and I take special pride in one thing: that during my whole imprisonment
I was not beholden to a Rebel for a single favor of any kind. The Rebel
does not live who can say that he ever gave me so much as a handful of
meal, a spoonful of salt, an inch of thread, or a stick of wood.
From first to last I received nothing but my rations, except occasional
trifles that I succeeded in stealing from the stupid officers charged
with issuing rations. I owe no man in the Southern Confederacy gratitude
for anything--not even for a kind word.

Speaking of secret society pins recalls a noteworthy story which has been
told me since the war, of boys whom I knew. At the breaking out of
hostilities there existed in Toledo a festive little secret society,
such as lurking boys frequently organize, with no other object than fun
and the usual adolescent love of mystery. There were a dozen or so
members in it who called themselves "The Royal Reubens," and were headed
by a bookbinder named Ned Hopkins. Some one started a branch of the
Order in Napoleon, O., and among the members was Charles E. Reynolds,
of that town. The badge of the society was a peculiarly shaped gold pin.
Reynolds and Hopkins never met, and had no acquaintance with each other.
When the war broke out, Hopkins enlisted in Battery H, First Ohio
Artillery, and was sent to the Army of the Potomac, where he was
captured, in the Fall of 1863, while scouting, in the neighborhood of
Richmond. Reynolds entered the Sixty-Eighth Ohio Volunteer Infantry,
and was taken in the neighborhood of Jackson, Miss.,--two thousand miles
from the place of Hopkins's capture. At Andersonville Hopkins became one
of the officers in charge of the Hospital. One day a Rebel Sergeant, who
called the roll in the Stockade, after studying Hopkins's pin a minute,
said:

"I seed a Yank in the Stockade to-day a-wearing a pin egzackly like that
ere."

This aroused Hopkins's interest, and he went inside in search of the
other "feller." Having his squad and detachment there was little
difficulty in finding him. He recognized the pin, spoke to its wearer,
gave him the "grand hailing sign" of the "Royal Reubens," and it was duly
responded to. The upshot of the matter was that he took Reynolds out
with him as clerk, and saved his life, as the latter was going down hill
very rapidly. Reynolds, in turn, secured the detail of a comrade of the
Sixty-Eighth who was failing fast, and succeeded in saving his life--all
of which happy results were directly attributable to that insignificant
boyish society, and its equally unimportant badge of membership.

Along in the last of August the Rebels learned that there were between
two and three hundred Captains and Lieutenants in the Stockade, passing
themselves off as enlisted men. The motive of these officers was
two-fold: first, a chivalrous wish to share the fortunes and fate of their
boys, and second, disinclination to gratify the Rebels by the knowledge
of the rank of their captives. The secret was so well kept that none of
us suspected it until the fact was announced by the Rebels themselves.
They were taken out immediately, and sent to Macon, where the
commissioned officers' prison was. It would not do to trust such
possible leaders with us another day.

John McElroy