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Chapter 76


One terrible phase of existence at Florence was the vast increase of
insanity. We had many insane men at Andersonville, but the type of the
derangement was different, partaking more of what the doctors term
melancholia. Prisoners coming in from the front were struck aghast by
the horrors they saw everywhere. Men dying of painful and repulsive
diseases lined every step of whatever path they trod; the rations given
them were repugnant to taste and stomach; shelter from the fiery sun
there was none, and scarcely room enough for them to lie down upon.
Under these discouraging circumstances, home-loving, kindly-hearted men,
especially those who had passed out of the first flush of youth, and had
left wife and children behind when they entered the service, were
speedily overcome with despair of surviving until released; their
hopelessness fed on the same germs which gave it birth, until it became
senseless, vacant-eyed, unreasoning, incurable melancholy, when the
victim would lie for hours, without speaking a word, except to babble of
home, or would wander aimlessly about the camp--frequently stark
naked--until he died or was shot for coming too near the Dead Line.
Soldiers must not suppose that this was the same class of weaklings who
usually pine themselves into the Hospital within three months after
their regiment enters the field. They were as a rule, made up of
seasoned soldiery, who had become inured to the dangers and hardships of
active service, and were not likely to sink down under any ordinary

The insane of Florence were of a different class; they were the boys who
had laughed at such a yielding to adversity in Andersonville, and felt a
lofty pity for the misfortunes of those who succumbed so. But now the
long strain of hardship, privation and exposure had done for them what
discouragement had done for those of less fortitude in Andersonville.
The faculties shrank under disuse and misfortune, until they forgot their
regiments, companies, places and date of capture, and finally, even their
names. I should think that by the middle of January, at least one in
every ten had sunk to this imbecile condition. It was not insanity so
much as mental atrophy--not so much aberration of the mind, as a
paralysis of mental action. The sufferers became apathetic idiots, with
no desire or wish to do or be anything. If they walked around at all
they had to be watched closely, to prevent their straying over the Dead
Line, and giving the young brats of guards the coveted opportunity of
killing them. Very many of such were killed, and one of my Midwinter
memories of Florence was that of seeing one of these unfortunate
imbeciles wandering witlessly up to the Dead Line from the Swamp, while
the guard--a boy of seventeen--stood with gun in hand, in the attitude of
a man expecting a covey to be flushed, waiting for the poor devil to come
so near the Dead Line as to afford an excuse for killing him. Two sane
prisoners, comprehending the situation, rushed up to the lunatic, at the
risk of their own lives, caught him by the arms, and drew him back to

The brutal Barrett seemed to delight in maltreating these demented
unfortunates. He either could not be made to understand their condition,
or willfully disregarded it, for it was one of the commonest sights to
see him knock down, beat, kick or otherwise abuse them for not instantly
obeying orders which their dazed senses could not comprehend, or their
feeble limbs execute, even if comprehended.

In my life I have seen many wantonly cruel men. I have known numbers of
mates of Mississippi river steamers--a class which seems carefully
selected from ruffians most proficient in profanity, obscenity and
swift-handed violence; I have seen negro-drivers in the slave marts of
St. Louis, Memphis and New Orleans, and overseers on the plantations of
Mississippi and Louisiana; as a police reporter in one of the largest
cities in America, I have come in contact with thousands of the
brutalized scoundrels--the thugs of the brothel, bar-room and alley--who
form the dangerous classes of a metropolis. I knew Captain Wirz. But in
all this exceptionally extensive and varied experience, I never met a man
who seemed to love cruelty for its own sake as well as Lieutenant
Barrett. He took such pleasure in inflicting pain as those Indians who
slice off their prisoners' eyelids, ears, noses and hands, before burning
them at the stake.

That a thing hurt some one else was always ample reason for his doing it.
The starving, freezing prisoners used to collect in considerable numbers
before the gate, and stand there for hours gazing vacantly at it. There
was no special object in doing this, only that it was a central point,
the rations came in there, and occasionally an officer would enter, and
it was the only place where anything was likely to occur to vary the
dreary monotony of the day, and the boys went there because there was
nothing else to offer any occupation to their minds. It became a
favorite practical joke of Barrett's to slip up to the gate with an
armful of clubs, and suddenly opening the wicket, fling them one after
another, into the crowd, with all the force he possessed. Many were
knocked down, and many received hurts which resulted in fatal gangrene.
If he had left the clubs lying where thrown, there would have been some
compensation for his meanness, but he always came in and carefully
gathered up such as he could get, as ammunition for another time.

I have heard men speak of receiving justice--even favors from Wirz.
I never heard any one saying that much of Barrett. Like Winder, if he
had a redeeming quality it was carefully obscured from the view of all
that I ever met who knew him.

Where the fellow came from, what State was entitled to the discredit of
producing and raising him, what he was before the War, what became of him
after he left us, are matters of which I never heard even a rumor, except
a very vague one that he had been killed by our cavalry, some returned

prisoner having recognized and shot him.

Colonel Iverson, of the Fifth Georgia, was the Post Commander. He was a
man of some education, but had a violent, ungovernable temper, during
fits of which he did very brutal things. At other times he would show a
disposition towards fairness and justice. The worst point in my
indictment against him is that he suffered Barrett to do as he did.

Let the reader understand that I have no personal reasons for my opinion
of these men. They never did anything to me, save what they did to all
of my companions. I held myself aloof from them, and shunned intercourse
so effectually that during my whole imprisonment I did not speak as many
words to Rebel officers as are in this and the above paragraphs, and most
of those were spoken to the Surgeon who visited my hundred. I do not
usually seek conversation with people I do not like, and certainly did
not with persons for whom I had so little love as I had for Turner, Ross,
Winder, Wirz, Davis, Iverson, Barrett, et al. Possibly they felt badly
over my distance and reserve, but I must confess that they never showed
it very palpably.

As January dragged slowly away into February, rumors of the astonishing
success of Sherman began to be so definite and well authenticated as to
induce belief. We knew that the Western Chieftain had marched almost
unresisted through Georgia, and captured Savannah with comparatively
little difficulty. We did not understand it, nor did the Rebels around
us, for neither of us comprehended the Confederacy's near approach to
dissolution, and we could not explain why a desperate attempt was not
made somewhere to arrest the onward sweep of the conquering armies of the
West. It seemed that if there was any vitality left in Rebeldom it would
deal a blow that would at least cause the presumptuous invader to pause.
As we knew nothing of the battles of Franklin and Nashville, we were
ignorant of the destruction of Hood's army, and were at a loss to account
for its failure to contest Sherman's progress. The last we had heard of
Hood, he had been flanked out of Atlanta, but we did not understand that
the strength or morale of his force had been seriously reduced in

Soon it drifted in to us that Sherman had cut loose from Savannah, as
from Atlanta, and entered South Carolina, to repeat there the march
through her sister State. Our sources of information now were confined
to the gossip which our men--working outside on parole,--could overhear
from the Rebels, and communicate to us as occasion served. These
occasions were not frequent, as the men outside were not allowed to come
in except rarely, or stay long then. Still we managed to know
reasonably, soon that Sherman was sweeping resistlessly across the State,
with Hardee, Dick Taylor, Beauregard, and others, vainly trying to make
head against him. It seemed impossible to us that they should not stop
him soon, for if each of all these leaders had any command worthy the
name the aggregate must make an army that, standing on the defensive,
would give Sherman a great deal of trouble. That he would be able to
penetrate into the State as far as we were never entered into our minds.

By and by we were astonished at the number of the trains that we could
hear passing north on the Charleston & Cheraw Railroad. Day and night
for two weeks there did not seem to be more than half an hour's interval
at any time between the rumble and whistles of the trains as they passed
Florence Junction, and sped away towards Cheraw, thirty-five miles north
of us. We at length discovered that Sherman had reached Branchville, and
was singing around toward Columbia, and other important points to the
north; that Charleston was being evacuated, and its garrison, munitions
and stores were being removed to Cheraw, which the Rebel Generals
intended to make their new base. As this news was so well confirmed as
to leave no doubt of it, it began to wake up and encourage all the more
hopeful of us. We thought we could see some premonitions of the glorious
end, and that we were getting vicarious satisfaction at the hands of our
friends under the command of Uncle Billy.

One morning orders came for one thousand men to get ready to move.
Andrews and I held a council of war on the situation, the question before
the house being whether we would go with that crowd, or stay behind. The
conclusion we came to was thus stated by Andrews:

"Now, Mc., we've flanked ahead every time, and see how we've come out.
We flanked into the first squad that left Richmond, and we were
consequently in the first that got into Andersonville. May be if we'd
staid back we'd got into that squad that was exchanged. We were in the
first squad that left Andersonville. We were the first to leave Savannah
and enter Millen. May be if we'd staid back, we'd got exchanged with the
ten thousand sick. We were the first to leave Millen and the first to
reach Blackshear. We were again the first to leave Blackshear. Perhaps
those fellows we left behind then are exchanged. Now, as we've played
ahead every time, with such infernal luck, let's play backward this time,
and try what that brings us."

"But, Lale," (Andrews's nickname--his proper name being Bezaleel), said
I, "we made something by going ahead every time--that is, if we were not
going to be exchanged. By getting into those places first we picked out
the best spots to stay, and got tent-building stuff that those who came
after us could not. And certainly we can never again get into as bad a
place as this is. The chances are that if this does not mean exchange,
it means transfer to a better prison."

But we concluded, as I said above, to reverse our usual order of
procedure and flank back, in hopes that something would favor our escape
to Sherman. Accordingly, we let the first squad go off without us, and
the next, and the next, and so on, till there were only eleven hundred
--mostly those sick in the Hospital--remaining behind. Those who went
away--we afterwards learned, were run down on the cars to Wilmington, and
afterwards up to Goldsboro, N. C.

For a week or more we eleven hundred tenanted the Stockade, and by
burning up the tents of those who had gone had the only decent,
comfortable fires we had while in Florence. In hunting around through
the tents for fuel we found many bodies of those who had died as their
comrades were leaving. As the larger portion of us could barely walk,
the Rebels paroled us to remain inside of the Stockade or within a few
hundred yards of the front of it, and took the guards off. While these
were marching down, a dozen or more of us, exulting in even so much
freedom as we had obtained, climbed on the Hospital shed to see what the
outlook was, and perched ourselves on the ridgepole. Lieutenant Barrett
came along, at a distance of two hundred yards, with a squad of guards.
Observing us, he halted his men, faced them toward us, and they leveled
their guns as if to fire. He expected to see us tumble down in ludicrous
alarm, to avoid the bullets. But we hated him and them so bad, that we
could not give them the poor satisfaction of scaring us. Only one of our
party attempted to slide down, but the moment we swore at him he came
back and took his seat with folded arms alongside of us. Barrett gave
the order to fire, and the bullets shrieked aver our heads, fortunately
not hitting anybody. We responded with yells of derision, and the worst
abuse we could think of.

Coming down after awhile, I walked to the now open gate, and looped
through it over the barren fields to the dense woods a mile away, and a
wild desire to run off took possession of me. It seemed as if I could
not resist it. The woods appeared full of enticing shapes, beckoning me
to come to them, and the winds whispered in my ears:

"Run! Run! Run!"

But the words of my parole were still fresh in my mind, and I stilled my
frenzy to escape by turning back into the Stockade and looking away from
the tempting view.

Once five new prisoners, the first we had seen in a long time, were
brought in from Sherman's army. They were plump, well-conditioned,
well-dressed, healthy, devil-may-care young fellows, whose confidence in
themselves and in Sherman was simply limitless, and their contempt for
all Rebels and especially those who terrorized over us, enormous.

"Come up here to headquarters," said one of the Rebel officers to them as
they stood talking to us; "and we'll parole you."

"O go to h--- with your parole," said the spokesman of the crowd, with
nonchalant contempt; "we don't want none of your paroles. Old Billy'll
parole us before Saturday."

To us they said:

"Now, you boys want to cheer right up; keep a stiff upper lip. This
thing's workin' all right. Their old Confederacy's goin' to pieces like
a house afire. Sherman's promenadin' through it just as it suits him,
and he's liable to pay a visit at any hour. We're expectin' him all the
time, because it was generally understood all through the Army that we
were to take the prison pen here in on our way."

I mentioned my distrust of the concentration of Rebels at Cheraw, and
their faces took on a look of supreme disdain.

"Now, don't let that worry you a minute," said the confident spokesman.
"All the Rebels between here and Lee's Army can't prevent Sherman from
going just where he pleases. Why, we've quit fightin' 'em except with
the Bummers advance. We haven't had to go into regular line of battle
against them for I don't know how long. Sherman would like anything
better than to have 'em make a stand somewhere so that he could get a
good fair whack at 'em."

No one can imagine the effect of all this upon us. It was better than a
carload of medicines and a train load of provisions would have been.
From the depths of despondency we sprang at once to tip-toe on the
mountain-tops of expectation. We did little day and night but listen for
the sound of Sherman's guns and discuss what we would do when he came.
We planned schemes of terrible vengeance on Barrett and Iverson, but
these worthies had mysteriously disappeared--whither no one knew. There
was hardly an hour of any night passed without some one of us fancying
that he heard the welcome sound of distant firing. As everybody knows,
by listening intently at night, one can hear just exactly what he is
intent upon hearing, and so was with us. In the middle of the night boys
listening awake with strained ears, would say:

"Now, if ever I heard musketry firing in my life, that's a heavy skirmish
line at work, and sharply too, and not more than three miles away,

Then another would say:

"I don't want to ever get out of here if that don't sound just as the
skirmishing at Chancellorsville did the first day to us. We were lying
down about four miles off, when it began pattering just as that is doing

And so on.

One night about nine or ten, there came two short, sharp peals of
thunder, that sounded precisely like the reports of rifled field pieces.
We sprang up in a frenzy of excitement, and shouted as if our throats
would split. But the next peal went off in the usual rumble, and our
excitement had to subside.

John McElroy