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Chapter 69


Winder had found in Barrett even a better tool for his cruel purposes
than Wirz. The two resembled each other in many respects. Both were
absolutely destitute of any talent for commanding men, and could no more
handle even one thousand men properly than a cabin boy could navigate a
great ocean steamer. Both were given to the same senseless fits of
insane rage, coming and going without apparent cause, during which they
fired revolvers and guns or threw clubs into crowds of prisoners, or
knocked down such as were within reach of their fists. These exhibitions
were such as an overgrown child might be expected to make. They did not
secure any result except to increase the prisoners' wonder that such
ill-tempered fools could be given any position of responsibility.

A short time previous to our entry Barrett thought he had reason to
suspect a tunnel. He immediately announced that no more rations should
be issued until its whereabouts was revealed and the ringleaders in the
attempt to escape delivered up to him. The rations at that time were
very scanty, so that the first day they were cut off the sufferings were
fearful. The boys thought he would surely relent the next day, but they
did not know their man. He was not suffering any, why should he relax
his severity? He strolled leisurely out from his dinner table, picking
his teeth with his penknife in the comfortable, self-satisfied way of a
coarse man who has just filled his stomach to his entire content--an
attitude and an air that was simply maddening to the famishing wretches,
of whom he inquired tantalizingly:

"Air ye're hungry enough to give up them G-d d d s--s of b----s yet?"

That night thirteen thousand men, crazy, fainting with hunger, walked
hither and thither, until exhaustion forced them to become quiet, sat on
the ground and pressed their bowels in by leaning against sticks of wood
laid across their thighs; trooped to the Creek and drank water until
their gorges rose and they could swallow no more--did everything in fact
that imagination could suggest--to assuage the pangs of the deadly
gnawing that was consuming their vitals. All the cruelties of the
terrible Spanish Inquisition, if heaped together, would not sum up a
greater aggregate of anguish than was endured by them. The third day
came, and still no signs of yielding by Barrett. The Sergeants counseled
together. Something must be done. The fellow would starve the whole
camp to death with as little compunction as one drowns blind puppies.
It was necessary to get up a tunnel to show Barrett, and to get boys who
would confess to being leaders in the work. A number of gallant fellows
volunteered to brave his wrath, and save the rest of their comrades.
It required high courage to do this, as there was no question but that
the punishment meted out would be as fearful as the cruel mind of the
fellow could conceive. The Sergeants decided that four would be
sufficient to answer the purpose; they selected these by lot, marched
them to the gate and delivered them over to Barrett, who thereupon
ordered the rations to be sent in. He was considerate enough, too, to
feed the men he was going to torture.

The starving men in the Stockade could not wait after the rations were
issued to cook them, but in many instances mixed the meal up with water,
and swallowed it raw. Frequently their stomachs, irritated by the long
fast, rejected the mess; any very many had reached the stage where they
loathed food; a burning fever was consuming them, and seething their
brains with delirium. Hundreds died within a few days, and hundreds more
were so debilitated by the terrible strain that they did not linger long

The boys who had offered themselves as a sacrifice for the rest were put
into a guard house, and kept over night that Barrett might make a day of
the amusement of torturing them. After he had laid in a hearty
breakfast, and doubtless fortified himself with some of the villainous
sorgum whisky, which the Rebels were now reduced to drinking, he set
about his entertainment.

The devoted four were brought out--one by one--and their hands tied
together behind their backs. Then a noose of a slender, strong hemp rope
was slipped over the first one's thumbs and drawn tight, after which the
rope was thrown over a log projecting from the roof of the guard house,
and two or three Rebels hauled upon it until the miserable Yankee was
lifted from the ground, and hung suspended by the thumbs, while his
weight seemed tearing his limbs from his shoulder blades. The other
three were treated in the same manner.

The agony was simply excruciating. The boys were brave, and had resolved
to stand their punishment without a groan, but this was too much for
human endurance. Their will was strong, but Nature could not be denied,
and they shrieked aloud so pitifully that a young Reserve standing near
fainted. Each one screamed:

"For God's sake, kill me! kill me! Shoot me if--you want to, but let me
down from here!" The only effect of this upon Barrett was to light up
his brutal face with a leer of fiendish satisfaction. He said to the
guards with a gleeful wink:

"By God, I'll learn these Yanks to be more afeard of me than of the old
devil himself. They'll soon understand that I'm not the man to fool
with. I'm old pizen, I am, when I git started. Jest hear 'em squeal,
won't yer?"

Then walking from one prisoner to another, he said:

"D---n yer skins, ye'll dig tunnels, will ye? Ye'll try to git out, and
run through the country stealin' and carryin' off niggers, and makin'
more trouble than yer d----d necks are worth. I'll learn ye all about
that. If I ketch ye at this sort of work again, d----d ef I don't kill
ye ez soon ez I ketch ye."

And so on, ad infinitum. How long the boys were kept up there undergoing
this torture can not be said. Perhaps it was an hour or more. To the
locker-on it seemed long hours, to the poor fellows themselves it was
ages. When they were let down at last, all fainted, and were carried
away to the hospital, where they were weeks in recovering from the
effects. Some of them were crippled for life.

When we came into the prison there were about eleven thousand there.
More uniformly wretched creatures I had never before seen. Up to the
time of our departure from Andersonville the constant influx of new
prisoners had prevented the misery and wasting away of life from becoming
fully realized. Though thousands were continually dying, thousands more
of healthy, clean, well-clothed men were as continually coming in from
the front, so that a large portion of those inside looked in fairly good
condition. Put now no new prisoners had come in for months; the money
which made such a show about the sutler shops of Andersonville had been
spent; and there was in every face the same look of ghastly emaciation,
the same shrunken muscles and feeble limbs, the same lack-luster eyes and
hopeless countenances.

One of the commonest of sights was to see men whose hands and feet were
simply rotting off. The nights were frequently so cold that ice a
quarter of an inch thick formed on the water. The naked frames of
starving men were poorly calculated to withstand this frosty rigor, and
thousands had their extremities so badly frozen as to destroy the life in
those parts, and induce a rotting of the tissues by a dry gangrene.
The rotted flesh frequently remained in its place for a long time
--a loathsome but painless mass, that gradually sloughed off, leaving the
sinews that passed through it to stand out like shining, white cords.

While this was in some respects less terrible than the hospital gangrene
at Andersonville, it was more generally diffused, and dreadful to the
last degree. The Rebel Surgeons at Florence did not follow the habit of
those at Andersonville, and try to check the disease by wholesale
amputation, but simply let it run its course, and thousands finally
carried their putrefied limbs through our lines, when the Confederacy
broke up in the Spring, to be treated by our Surgeons.

I had been in prison but a little while when a voice called out from a
hole in the ground, as I was passing:

"S-a-y, Sergeant! Won't you please take these shears and cut my toes

"What?" said I, in amazement, stopping in front of the dugout.

"Just take these shears, won't you, and cut my toes off?" answered the
inmate, an Indiana infantryman--holding up a pair of dull shears in his
hand, and elevating a foot for me to look at.

I examined the latter carefully. All the flesh of the toes, except
little pads at the ends, had rotted off, leaving the bones as clean as if
scraped. The little tendons still remained, and held the bones to their
places, but this seemed to hurt the rest of the feet and annoy the man.

"You'd better let one of the Rebel doctors see this," I said, after
finishing my survey, "before you conclude to have them off. May be they
can be saved."

"No; d----d if I'm going to have any of them Rebel butchers fooling
around me. I'd die first, and then I wouldn't," was the reply. "You can
do it better than they can. It's just a little snip. Just try it."

"I don't like to," I replied. "I might lame you for life, and make you
lots of trouble."

"O, bother! what business is that of yours? They're my toes, and I want
'em off. They hurt me so I can't sleep. Come, now, take the shears and
cut 'em off."

I yielded, and taking the shears, snipped one tendon after another, close
to the feet, and in a few seconds had the whole ten toes lying in a heap
at the bottom of the dug-out. I picked them up and handed them to their
owner, who gazed at them, complacently, and remarked:

"Well, I'm darned glad they're off. I won't be bothered with corns any
more, I flatter myself."

John McElroy