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Chapter 71

DECEMBER--RATIONS OF WOOD AND FOOD GROW LESS DAILY--UNCERTAINTY AS TO THE
MORTALITY AT FLORENCE--EVEN THE GOVERNMENT'S STATISTICS ARE VERY
DEFICIENT--CARE FOB THE SICK.

The rations of wood grew smaller as the weather grew colder, until at
last they settled down to a piece about the size of a kitchen rolling-pin
per day for each man. This had to serve for all purposes--cooking, as
well as warming. We split the rations up into slips about the size of a
carpenter's lead pencil, and used them parsimoniously, never building a
fire so big that it could not be covered with a half-peck measure.
We hovered closely over this--covering it, in fact, with our hands and
bodies, so that not a particle of heat was lost. Remembering the
Indian's sage remark, "That the white man built a big fire and sat away
off from it; the Indian made a little fire and got up close to it," we
let nothing in the way of caloric be wasted by distance. The pitch-pine
produced great quantities of soot, which, in cold and rainy days, when we
hung over the fires all the time, blackened our faces until we were
beyond the recognition of intimate friends.

There was the same economy of fuel in cooking. Less than half as much as
is contained in a penny bunch of kindling was made to suffice in
preparing our daily meal. If we cooked mush we elevated our little can
an inch from the ground upon a chunk of clay, and piled the little sticks
around it so carefully that none should burn without yielding all its
heat to the vessel, and not one more was burned than absolutely
necessary. If we baked bread we spread the dough upon our chessboard,
and propped it up before the little fire-place, and used every particle
of heat evolved. We had to pinch and starve ourselves thus, while within
five minutes' walk from the prison-gate stood enough timber to build a
great city.

The stump Andrews and I had the foresight to save now did us excellent
service. It was pitch pine, very fat with resin, and a little piece
split off each day added much to our fires and our comfort.

One morning, upon examining the pockets of an infantryman of my hundred
who had just died, I had the wonderful luck to find a silver quarter.
I hurried off to tell Andrews of our unexpected good fortune. By an
effort he succeeded in calming himself to the point of receiving the news
with philosophic coolness, and we went into Committee of the Whole Upon
the State of Our Stomachs, to consider how the money could be spent to
the best advantage. At the south side of the Stockade on the outside of
the timbers, was a sutler shop, kept by a Rebel, and communicating with
the prison by a hole two or three feet square, cut through the logs. The
Dead Line was broken at this point, so as to permit prisoners to come up
to the hole to trade. The articles for sale were corn meal and bread,
flour and wheat bread, meat, beaus, molasses, honey, sweet potatos, etc.
I went down to the place, carefully inspected the stock, priced
everything there, and studied the relative food value of each. I came
back, reported my observations and conclusions to Andrews, and then staid
at the tent while he went on a similar errand. The consideration of the
matter was continued during the day and night, and the next morning we
determined upon investing our twenty-five cents in sweet potatos, as we
could get nearly a half-bushel of them, which was "more fillin' at the
price," to use the words of Dickens's Fat Boy, than anything else offered
us. We bought the potatos, carried them home in our blanket, buried them
in the bottom of our tent, to keep them from being stolen, and restricted
ourselves to two per day until we had eaten them all.

The Rebels did something more towards properly caring for the sick than
at Andersonville. A hospital was established in the northwestern corner
of the Stockade, and separated from the rest of the camp by a line of
police, composed of our own men. In this space several large sheds were
erected, of that rude architecture common to the coarser sort of
buildings in the South. There was not a nail or a bolt used in their
entire construction. Forked posts at the ends and sides supported poles
upon which were laid the long "shakes," or split shingles, forming the
roofs, and which were held in place by other poles laid upon them.
The sides and ends were enclosed by similar "shakes," and altogether they
formed quite a fair protection against the weather. Beds of pine leaves
were provided for the sick, and some coverlets, which our Sanitary
Commission had been allowed to send through. But nothing was done to
bathe or cleanse them, or to exchange their lice-infested garments for
others less full of torture. The long tangled hair and whiskers were not
cut, nor indeed were any of the commonest suggestions for the improvement
of the condition of the sick put into execution. Men who had laid in
their mud hovels until they had become helpless and hopeless, were
admitted to the hospital, usually only to die.

The diseases were different in character from those which swept off the
prisoners at Andersonville. There they were mostly of the digestive
organs; here of the respiratory. The filthy, putrid, speedily fatal
gangrene of Andersonville became here a dry, slow wasting away of the
parts, which continued for weeks, even months, without being necessarily
fatal. Men's feet and legs, and less frequently their hands and arms,
decayed and sloughed off. The parts became so dead that a knife could be
run through them without causing a particle of pain. The dead flesh hung
on to the bones and tendons long after the nerves and veins had ceased to
perform their functions, and sometimes startled one by dropping off in a
lump, without causing pain or hemorrhage.

The appearance of these was, of course, frightful, or would have been,
had we not become accustomed to them. The spectacle of men with their
feet and legs a mass of dry ulceration, which had reduced the flesh to
putrescent deadness, and left the tendons standing out like cords, was
too common to excite remark or even attention. Unless the victim was a
comrade, no one specially heeded his condition. Lung diseases and low
fevers ravaged the camp, existing all the time in a more or less virulent
condition, according to the changes of the weather, and occasionally
ragging in destructive epidemics. I am unable to speak with any degree
of definiteness as to the death rate, since I had ceased to interest
myself about the number dying each day. I had now been a prisoner a
year, and had become so torpid and stupefied, mentally and physically,
that I cared comparatively little for anything save the rations of food
and of fuel. The difference of a few spoonfuls of meal, or a large
splinter of wood in the daily issues to me, were of more actual
importance than the increase or decrease of the death rate by a half a
score or more. At Andersonville I frequently took the trouble to count
the number of dead and living, but all curiosity of this kind had now
died out.

Nor can I find that anybody else is in possession of much more than my
own information on the subject. Inquiry at the War Department has
elicited the following letters:


I.

The prison records of Florence, S. C., have never come to light, and
therefore the number of prisoners confined there could not be ascertained
from the records on file in this office; nor do I think that any
statement purporting to show that number has ever been made.

In the report to Congress of March 1, 1869, it was shown from records as
follows:


Escaped, fifty-eight; paroled, one; died, two thousand seven hundred and
ninety-three. Total, two thousand eight hundred and fifty-two.

Since date of said report there have been added to the records as
follows:

Died, two hundred and twelve; enlisted in Rebel army, three hundred and
twenty-six. Total, five hundred and thirty-eight.

Making a total disposed of from there, as shown by records on file, of
three thousand three hundred and ninety.

This, no doubt, is a small proportion of the number actually confined
there.

The hospital register on file contains that part only of the alphabet
subsequent to, and including part of the letter S, but from this
register, it is shown that the prisoners were arranged in hundreds and
thousands, and the hundred and thousand to which he belonged is recorded
opposite each man's name on said register. Thus:

"John Jones, 11th thousand, 10th hundred."

Eleven thousand being the highest number thus recorded, it is fair to
presume that not less than that number were confined there on a certain
date, and that more than that number were confined there during the time
it was continued as a prison.


II

Statement showing the whole number of Federals and Confederates captured,
(less the number paroled on the field), the number who died while
prisoners, and the percentage of deaths, 1861-1865

FEDERALS
Captured .................................................. 187,818
Died, (as shown by prison and hospital records on file).... 30,674
Percentage of deaths ...................................... 16.375

CONFEDERATES
Captured .................................................. 227,570
Died ...................................................... 26,774
Percentage of deaths ...................................... 11.768


In the detailed statement prepared for Congress dated March 1, 1869, the
whole number of deaths given as shown by Prisoner of War records was
twenty-six thousand three hundred and twenty-eight, but since that date
evidence of three thousand six hundred and twenty-eight additional deaths
has been obtained from the captured Confederate records, making a total
of twenty-nine thousand nine hundred and fifty-six as above shown. This
is believed to be many thousands less than the actual number of Federal
prisoners who died in Confederate prisons, as we have no records from
those at Montgomery Ala., Mobile, Ala., Millen, Ga., Marietta, Ga.,
Atlanta, Ga., Charleston, S. C., and others. The records of Florence,
S. C., and Salisbury, N. C., are very incomplete. It also appears from
Confederate inspection reports of Confederate prisons, that large
percentage of the deaths occurred in prison quarter without the care or
knowledge of the Surgeon. For the month of December, 1864 alone, the
Confederate "burial report"; Salisbury, N. C., show that out, of eleven
hundred and fifty deaths, two hundred and twenty-three, or twenty per
cent., died in prison quarters and are not accounted for in the report of
the Surgeon, and therefore not taken into consideration in the above
report, as the only records of said prisons on file (with one exception)
are the Hospital records. Calculating the percentage of deaths on this
basis would give the number of deaths at thirty-seven thousand four
hundred and forty-five and percentage of deaths at 20.023.

[End of the Letters from the War Department.]

If we assume that the Government's records of Florence as correct, it
will be apparent that one man in every three die there, since, while
there might have been as high as fifty thousand at one time in the
prison, during the last three months of its existence I am quite sure
that the number did not exceed seven thousand. This would make the
mortality much greater than at Andersonville, which it undoubtedly was,
since the physical condition of the prisoners confined there had been
greatly depressed by their long confinement, while the bulk c the
prisoners at Andersonville were those who had been brought thither
directly from the field. I think also that all who experienced
confinement in the two places are united in pronouncing Florence to be,
on the whole, much the worse place and more fatal to life.

The medicines furnished the sick were quite simple in nature and mainly
composed of indigenous substances. For diarrhea red pepper and
decoctions of blackberry root and of pine leave were given. For coughs
and lung diseases, a decoction of wild cherry bark was administered.
Chills and fever were treated with decoctions of dogwood bark, and fever
patients who craved something sour, were given a weak acid drink, made by
fermenting a small quantity of meal in a barrel of water. All these
remedies were quite good in their way, and would have benefitted the
patients had they been accompanied by proper shelter, food and clothing.
But it was idle to attempt to arrest with blackberry root the diarrhea,
or with wild cherry bark the consumption of a man lying in a cold, damp,
mud hovel, devoured by vermin, and struggling to maintain life upon less
than a pint of unsalted corn meal per diem.

Finding that the doctors issued red pepper for diarrhea, and an imitation
of sweet oil made from peanuts, for the gangrenous sores above described,
I reported to them an imaginary comrade in my tent, whose symptoms
indicated those remedies, and succeeded in drawing a small quantity of
each, two or three times a week. The red pepper I used to warm up our
bread and mush, and give some different taste to the corn meal, which had
now become so loathsome to us. The peanut oil served to give a hint of
the animal food we hungered for. It was greasy, and as we did not have
any meat for three months, even this flimsy substitute was inexpressibly
grateful to palate and stomach. But one morning the Hospital Steward
made a mistake, and gave me castor oil instead, and the consequences were
unpleasant.

A more agreeable remembrance is that of two small apples, about the size
of walnuts, given me by a boy named Henry Clay Montague Porter, of the
Sixteenth Connecticut. He had relatives living in North Carolina, who
sent him a small packs of eatables, out of which, in the fulness of his
generous heart he gave me this share--enough to make me always remember
him with kindness.

Speaking of eatables reminds me of an incident. Joe Darling, of the
First Maine, our Chief of Police, had a sister living at Augusta, Ga.,
who occasionally came to Florence with basket of food and other
necessaries for her brother. On one of these journeys, while sitting in
Colonel Iverson's tent, waiting for her brother to be brought out of
prison, she picked out of her basket a nicely browned doughnut and handed
it to the guard pacing in front of the tent, with:

"Here, guard, wouldn't you like a genuine Yankee doughnut?"

The guard-a lank, loose-jointed Georgia cracker--who in all his life seen
very little more inviting food than the his hominy and molasses, upon
which he had been raised, took the cake, turned it over and inspected it
curiously for some time without apparently getting the least idea of what
it was for, and then handed it back to the donor, saying:

"Really, mum, I don't believe I've got any use for it"


John McElroy