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Chapter 54

SAVANNAH PROVES TO BE A CHANGE FOR THE BETTER--ESCAPE FROM THE BRATS OF
GUARDS--COMPARISON BETWEEN WIRZ AND DAVIS--A BRIEF INTERVAL OF GOOD
RATIONS--WINDER, THE MAN WITH THE EVIL EYE--THE DISLOYAL WORK OF A
SHYSTER.

After all Savannah was a wonderful improvement on Andersonville.
We got away from the pestilential Swamp and that poisonous ground.
Every mouthful of air was not laden with disease germs, nor every cup of
water polluted with the seeds of death. The earth did not breed
gangrene, nor the atmosphere promote fever. As only the more vigorous
had come away, we were freed from the depressing spectacle of every third
man dying. The keen disappointment prostrated very many who had been of
average health, and I imagine, several hundred died, but there were
hospital arrangements of some kind, and the sick were taken away from
among us. Those of us who tunneled out had an opportunity of stretching
our legs, which we had not had for months in the overcrowded Stockade we
had left. The attempts to escape did all engaged in them good, even
though they failed, since they aroused new ideas and hopes, set the blood
into more rapid circulation, and toned up the mind and system both.
I had come away from Andersonville with considerable scurvy manifesting
itself in my gums and feet. Soon these signs almost wholly disappeared.

We also got away from those murderous little brats of Reserves,
who guarded us at Andersonville, and shot men down as they would stone
apples out of a tree. Our guards now were mostly, sailors, from the
Rebel fleet in the harbor--Irishmen, Englishmen and Scandinavians, as
free hearted and kindly as sailors always are. I do not think they ever
fired a shot at one of us. The only trouble we had was with that portion
of the guard drawn from the infantry of the garrison. They had the same
rattlesnake venom of the Home Guard crowd wherever we met it, and shot us
down at the least provocation. Fortunately they only formed a small part
of the sentinels.

Best of all, we escaped for a while from the upas-like shadow of Winder
and Wirz, in whose presence strong men sickened and died, as when near
some malign genii of an Eastern story. The peasantry of Italy believed
firmly in the evil eye. Did they ever know any such men as Winder and
his satellite, I could comprehend how much foundation they could have for
such a belief.

Lieutenant Davis had many faults, but there was no comparison between him
and the Andersonville commandant. He was a typical young Southern man;
ignorant and bumptious as to the most common matters of school-boy
knowledge, inordinately vain of himself and his family, coarse in tastes
and thoughts, violent in his prejudices, but after all with some streaks
of honor and generosity that made the widest possible difference between
him and Wirz, who never had any. As one of my chums said to me:

"Wirz is the most even-tempered man I ever knew; he's always foaming
mad."

This was nearly the truth. I never saw Wirz when he was not angry;
if not violently abusive, he was cynical and sardonic. Never, in my
little experience with him did I detect a glint of kindly, generous
humanity; if he ever was moved by any sight of suffering its exhibition
in his face escaped my eye. If he ever had even a wish to mitigate the
pain or hardship of any man the expression of such wish never fell on my
ear. How a man could move daily through such misery as he encountered,
and never be moved by it except to scorn and mocking is beyond my limited
understanding.

Davis vapored a great deal, swearing big round oaths in the broadest of
Southern patois; he was perpetually threatening to:

"Open on ye wid de ahtillery," but the only death that I knew him to
directly cause or sanction was that I have described in the previous
chapter. He would not put himself out of the way to annoy and oppress
prisoners, as Wirz would, but frequently showed even a disposition to
humor them in some little thing, when it could be done without danger or
trouble to himself.

By-and-by, however, he got an idea that there was some money to be made
out of the prisoners, and he set his wits to work in this direction.
One day, standing at the gate, he gave one of his peculiar yells that he
used to attract the attention of the camp with:

"Wh-ah-ye!!"

We all came to "attention," and he announced:

"Yesterday, while I wuz in the camps (a Rebel always says camps,) some of
you prisoners picked my pockets of seventy-five dollars in greenbacks.
Now, I give you notice that I'll not send in any moah rations till the
money's returned to me."

This was a very stupid method of extortion, since no one believed that he
had lost the money, and at all events he had no business to have the
greenbacks, as the Rebel laws imposed severe penalties upon any citizen,
and still more upon any soldier dealing with, or having in his possession
any of "the money of the enemy." We did without rations until night,
when they were sent in. There was a story that some of the boys in the
prison had contributed to make up part of the sum, and Davis took it and
was satisfied. I do not know how true the story was. At another time
some of the boys stole the bridle and halter off an old horse that was
driven in with a cart. The things were worth, at a liberal estimate,
one dollar. Davis cut off the rations of the whole six thousand of us
for one day for this. We always imagined that the proceeds went into his
pocket.

A special exchange was arranged between our Navy Department and that of
the Rebels, by which all seamen and marines among us were exchanged.
Lists of these were sent to the different prisons and the men called for.
About three-fourths of them were dead, but many soldiers divining, the
situation of affairs, answered to the dead men's names, went away with
the squad and were exchanged. Much of this was through the connivance of
the Rebel officers, who favored those who had ingratiated themselves with
them. In many instances money was paid to secure this privilege, and I
have been informed on good authority that Jack Huckleby, of the Eighth
Tennessee, and Ira Beverly, of the One Hundredth Ohio, who kept the big
sutler shop on the North Side at Andersonville, paid Davis five hundred
dollars each to be allowed to go with the sailors. As for Andrews and
me, we had no friends among the Rebels, nor money to bribe with, so we
stood no show.

The rations issued to us for some time after our arrival seemed riotous
luxury to what we had been getting at Andersonville. Each of us received
daily a half-dozen rude and coarse imitations of our fondly-remembered
hard tack, and with these a small piece of meat or a few spoonfuls of
molasses, and a quart or so of vinegar, and several plugs of tobacco for
each "hundred." How exquisite was the taste of the crackers and
molasses!

It was the first wheat bread I had eaten since my entry into Richmond
--nine months before--and molasses had been a stranger to me for years.
After the corn bread we had so long lived upon, this was manna. It seems
that the Commissary at Savannah labored under the delusion that he must
issue to us the same rations as were served out to the Rebel soldiers and
sailors. It was some little time before the fearful mistake came to the
knowledge of Winder. I fancy that the news almost threw him into an
apoplectic fit. Nothing, save his being ordered to the front, could have
caused him such poignant sorrow as the information that so much good food
had been worse than wasted in undoing his work by building up the bodies
of his hated enemies.

Without being told, we knew that he had been heard from when the tobacco,
vinegar and molasses failed to come in, and the crackers gave way to corn
meal. Still this was a vast improvement on Andersonville, as the meal
was fine and sweet, and we each had a spoonful of salt issued to us
regularly.

I am quite sure that I cannot make the reader who has not had an
experience similar to ours comprehend the wonderful importance to us of
that spoonful of salt. Whether or not the appetite for salt be, as some
scientists claim, a purely artificial want, one thing is certain, and
that is, that either the habit of countless generations or some other
cause, has so deeply ingrained it into our common nature, that it has
come to be nearly as essential as food itself, and no amount of
deprivation can accustom us to its absence. Rather, it seemed that the
longer we did without it the more overpowering became our craving.
I could get along to-day and to-morrow, perhaps the whole week, without
salt in my food, since the lack would be supplied from the excess I had
already swallowed, but at the end of that time Nature would begin to
demand that I renew the supply of saline constituent of my tissues, and
she would become more clamorous with every day that I neglected her
bidding, and finally summon Nausea to aid Longing.

The light artillery of the garrison of Savannah--four batteries,
twenty-four pieces--was stationed around three sides of the prison, the
guns unlimbered, planted at convenient distance, and trained upon us,
ready for instant use. We could see all the grinning mouths through the
cracks in the fence. There were enough of them to send us as high as
the traditional kite flown by Gilderoy. The having at his beck this
array of frowning metal lent Lieutenant Davis such an importance in his
own eyes that his demeanor swelled to the grandiose. It became very
amusing to see him puff up and vaunt over it, as he did on every
possible occasion. For instance, finding a crowd of several hundred
lounging around the gate, he would throw open the wicket, stalk in with
the air of a Jove threatening a rebellious world with the dread thunders
of heaven, and shout:

"W-h-a-a y-e-e! Prisoners, I give you jist two minutes to cleah away
from this gate, aw I'll open on ye wid de ahtillery!"

One of the buglers of the artillery was a superb musician--evidently some
old "regular" whom the Confederacy had seduced into its service, and his
instrument was so sweet toned that we imagined that it was made of
silver. The calls he played were nearly the same as we used in the
cavalry, and for the first few days we became bitterly homesick every
time he sent ringing out the old familiar signals, that to us were so
closely associated with what now seemed the bright and happy days when we
were in the field with our battalion. If we were only back in the
valleys of Tennessee with what alacrity we would respond to that
"assembly;" no Orderly's patience would be worn out in getting laggards
and lazy ones to "fall in for roll-call;" how eagerly we would attend to
"stable duty;" how gladly mount our faithful horses and ride away to
"water," and what bareback races ride, going and coming. We would be
even glad to hear "guard" and "drill" sounded; and there would be music
in the disconsolate "surgeon's call:"

"Come-get-your-q-n-i-n-i-n-e; come, get your quinine; It'll make you
sad: It'll make you sick. Come, come."

O, if we were only back, what admirable soldiers we would be!
One morning, about three or four o'clock, we were awakened by the ground
shaking and a series of heavy, dull thumps sounding oft seaward.
Our silver-voiced bugler seemed to be awakened, too. He set the echoes
ringing with a vigorously played "reveille;" a minute later came an
equally earnest "assembly," and when "boots and saddles" followed, we
knew that all was not well in Denmark; the thumping and shaking now had
a significance. It meant heavy Yankee guns somewhere near. We heard the
gunners hitching up; the bugle signal "forward," the wheels roll off,
and for a half hour afterwards we caught the receding sound of the bugle
commanding "right turn," "left turn," etc., as the batteries marched
away. Of course, we became considerably wrought up over the matter,
as we fancied that, knowing we were in Savannah, our vessels were trying
to pass up to the City and take it. The thumping and shaking continued
until late in the afternoon.

We subsequently learned that some of our blockaders, finding time banging
heavy upon their hands, had essayed a little diversion by knocking Forts
Jackson and Bledsoe--two small forts defending the passage of the
Savannah--about their defenders' ears. After capturing the forts our
folks desisted and came no farther.

Quite a number of the old Raider crowd had come with us from
Andersonville. Among these was the shyster, Peter Bradley. They kept up
their old tactics of hanging around the gates, and currying favor with
the Rebels in every possible way, in hopes to get paroles outside or
other favors. The great mass of the prisoners were so bitter against the
Rebels as to feel that they would rather die than ask or accept a favor
from their hands, and they had little else than contempt for these
trucklers. The raider crowd's favorite theme of conversation with the
Rebels was the strong discontent of the boys with the manner of their
treatment by our Government. The assertion that there was any such
widespread feeling was utterly false. We all had confidence--as we
continue to have to this day--that our Government would do everything for
us possible, consistent with its honor, and the success of military
operations, and outside of the little squad of which I speak, not an
admission could be extracted from anybody that blame could be attached to
any one, except the Rebels. It was regarded as unmanly and
unsoldier-like to the last degree, as well as senseless, to revile our
Government for the crimes committed by its foes.

But the Rebels were led to believe that we were ripe for revolt against
our flag, and to side with them. Imagine, if possible, the stupidity
that would mistake our bitter hatred of those who were our deadly
enemies, for any feeling that would lead us to join hands with those
enemies. One day we were surprised to see the carpenters erect a rude
stand in the center of the camp. When it was finished, Bradley appeared
upon it, in company with some Rebel officers and guards. We gathered
around in curiosity, and Bradley began making a speech.

He said that it had now become apparent to all of us that our Government
had abandoned us; that it cared little or nothing for us, since it could
hire as many more quite readily, by offering a bounty equal to the pay
which would be due us now; that it cost only a few hundred dollars to
bring over a shipload of Irish, "Dutch," and French, who were only too
glad to agree to fight or do anything else to get to this country. [The
peculiar impudence of this consisted in Bradley himself being a
foreigner, and one who had only come out under one of the later calls,
and the influence of a big bounty.]

Continuing in this strain he repeated and dwelt upon the old lie, always
in the mouths of his crowd, that Secretary Stanton and General Halleck
had positively refused to enter upon negotiations for exchange, because
those in prison were "only a miserable lot of 'coffee-boilers' and
'blackberry pickers,' whom the Army was better off without."

The terms "coffee-boiler," and "blackberry-pickers" were considered the
worst terms of opprobrium we had in prison. They were applied to that
class of stragglers and skulkers, who were only too ready to give
themselves up to the enemy, and who, on coming in, told some gauzy story
about "just having stopped to boil a cup of coffee," or to do something
else which they should not have done, when they were gobbled up. It is
not risking much to affirm the probability of Bradley and most of his
crowd having belonged to this dishonorable class.

The assertion that either the great Chief-of-Staff or the still greater
War-Secretary were even capable of applying such epithets to the mass of
prisoners is too preposterous to need refutation, or even denial.
No person outside the raider crowd ever gave the silly lie a moment's
toleration.

Bradley concluded his speech in some such language as this:

"And now, fellow prisoners, I propose to you this: that we unite in
informing our Government that unless we are exchanged in thirty days, we
will be forced by self-preservation to join the Confederate army."

For an instant his hearers seemed stunned at the fellow's audacity, and
then there went up such a roar of denunciation and execration that the
air trembled. The Rebels thought that the whole camp was going to rush
on Bradley and tear him to pieces, and they drew revolvers and leveled
muskets to defend him. The uproar only ceased when Bradley was hurried
out of the prisons but for hours everybody was savage and sullen, and
full of threatenings against him, when opportunity served. We never saw
him afterward.

Angry as I was, I could not help being amused at the tempestuous rage of
a tall, fine-looking and well educated Irish Sergeant of an Illinois
regiment. He poured forth denunciations of the traitor and the Rebels,
with the vivid fluency of his Hibernian nature, vowed he'd "give a year
of me life, be J---s, to have the handling of the dirty spalpeen for ten
minutes; be G-d," and finally in his rage, tore off his own shirt and
threw it on the ground and trampled on it.

Imagine my astonishment, some time after getting out of prison, to find
the Southern papers publishing as a defense against the charges in regard
to Andersonville, the following document, which they claimed to have been
adopted by "a mass meeting of the prisoners:"

"At a mass meeting held September 28th, 1864, by the Federal prisoners
confined at Savannah, Ga., it was unanimously agreed that the following
resolutions be sent to the President of the United States, in the hope
that he might thereby take such steps as in his wisdom he may think
necessary for our speedy exchange or parole:

"Resolved, That while we would declare our unbounded love for the Union,
for the home of our fathers, and for the graves of those we venerate, we
would beg most respectfully that our situation as prisoners be diligently
inquired into, and every obstacle consistent with the honor and dignity
of the Government at once removed.

"Resolved, That while allowing the Confederate authorities all due praise
for the attention paid to prisoners, numbers of our men are daily
consigned to early graves, in the prime of manhood, far from home and
kindred, and this is not caused intentionally by the Confederate
Government, but by force of circumstances; the prisoners are forced to go
without shelter, and, in a great portion of cases, without medicine.

"Resolved, That, whereas, ten thousand of our brave comrades have
descended into an untimely grave within the last six months, and as we
believe their death was caused by the difference of climate, the peculiar
kind and insufficiency of food, and lack of proper medical treatment;
and, whereas, those difficulties still remain, we would declare as our
firm belief, that unless we are speedily exchanged, we have no
alternative but to share the lamentable fate of our comrades. Must this
thing still go on! Is there no hope?

"Resolved, That, whereas, the cold and inclement season of the year is
fast approaching, we hold it to be our duty as soldiers and citizens of
the United States, to inform our Government that the majority of our
prisoners ate without proper clothing, in some cases being almost naked,
and are without blankets to protect us from the scorching sun by day or
the heavy dews by night, and we would most respectfully request the
Government to make some arrangement whereby we can be supplied with
these, to us, necessary articles.

"Resolved, That, whereas, the term of service of many of our comrades
having expired, they, having served truly and faithfully for the term of
their several enlistments, would most respectfully ask their Government,
are they to be forgotten? Are past services to be ignored? Not having
seen their wives and little ones for over three years, they would most
respectfully, but firmly, request the Government to make some
arrangements whereby they can be exchanged or paroled.

"Resolved, That, whereas, in the fortune of war, it was our lot to become
prisoners, we have suffered patiently, and are still willing to suffer,
if by so doing we can benefit the country; but we must most respectfully
beg to say, that we are not willing to suffer to further the ends of any
party or clique to the detriment of our honor, our families, and our
country, and we beg that this affair be explained to us, that we may
continue to hold the Government in that respect which is necessary to
make a good citizen and soldier.

"P. BRADLEY,

"Chairman of Committee in behalf of Prisoners."


In regard to the above I will simply say this, that while I cannot
pretend to know or even much that went on around me, I do not think it
was possible for a mass meeting of prisoners to have been held without
my knowing it, and its essential features. Still less was it possible
for a mass meeting to have been held which would have adopted any such
a document as the above, or anything else that a Rebel would have found
the least pleasure in republishing. The whole thing is a brazen
falsehood.

John McElroy