Opium Eating online

. (page 2 of 9)
Online LibraryAnonymousOpium Eating → online text (page 2 of 9)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

punish all for the offence of a few, where they could conveniently, was
the invariable rule. Offence! as if nature as well as reason did not teach
a man to make his escape from such a place, if possible. It is his right;
and it is expected that he will attempt to do so at the first opportunity,
in less barbarous countries. To prevent this, guards are detailed, and
they have a right to shoot a man down in the attempt if they observe him,
and on command he will not surrender himself; but men, like birds, are
born free, and if, being imprisoned under such circumstances, an
opportunity to escape presents itself, it is not only natural for a man to
avail himself of it, but it is also his duty to do so. Such was the usual
custom of the rebels - to punish all for the offence of a part. Having
stripped the prisoners upon the battle-field, to their very shirt and
pants in many cases, they sent them into their "cattle-pen," as they
termed it, to perish from exposure and starvation; their hands and feet
and all exposed parts blistering in the hot sun, as though roasted in
fire; scorching by day in the unbearable heat, and by night chilled to the
very bone with cold.

Those who have not dwelt or sojourned in the South, have no idea of the
peculiarities of the climate there. In the North, during the summer, we
have steady warm weather both day and night, but it is not so down South.
There the days are excessively hot and the nights exceedingly chilly. I
admit that this is delightful, if one has a roof over his head and
bed-covering, but to a man lying upon the bare ground, without either
shelter or covering of any kind, and with but scanty wearing apparel, it
is a great hardship. In addition to this, it rained twenty-one days in
succession during our stay at Andersonville; and the new prisoners, having
no shelter, had to bear it the best they could.

Now, if the reader can realize the scene I have attempted to describe, I
shall be satisfied. If he can, in his mind's eye, see hundreds of
emaciated, haggard, and half-naked men lying about on the bare ground of
an inclosed field (which is divided into two sections by a swamp, in the
middle of which runs a little ditch of water), the largest number lying
around the swamp and at the edge of the rising ground; if he can see these
poor fellows in the morning, after a rainy night, almost buried beneath
the sand and dirt which the rain has washed down from the hillside upon
them, too exhausted and weak to arise, - many that never will arise again
in this life, and are now breathing their last; not a soul near to give
them a drink or speak to them - I say, if the reader realizes this scene in
his own mind, he will catch a faint glimpse of the actual fact as it
existed. Those that are still able to get up, and remain upon their feet
long enough to be counted for rations, do so when the time comes, and then
lie down again in the burning sun, or, if able, pass the day in wandering
wearily about the camp; the only interruption being the drawing of
rations. These, when drawn, are devoured with the voraciousness of a
tiger. The constant exposure to the fierce rays of a Southern sun has
burned their hands and feet in great scars and blisters. Covered with sand
and dirt from head to foot, their poor, shrunken bodies and cadaverous,
horror-striking faces are enough to soften the heart of a Caligula or a
Nero; but no pity or relief comes. Day after day they must scorch in the
sun; night after night must their starved bodies shiver with cold, while
the pitiless rain must chill and drench with its unceasing torrents the
last spark of vitality out of them. The only relief that comes is in a
speedy and inevitable death. No one can last long under these conditions,
and the time required to kill a man was well ascertained and wonderfully
short. To endure three such terrible hardships as gradual starvation,
intolerable heat, and shivering cold, day after day and night after night
in unremitting succession, man was never made. How I wish every man and
woman in the North could understand, and realize in their minds and
hearts, the awful condition of our men at Andersonville, as in the case of
the shelterless, new, and scurvy-infected old prisoners.

"It _might_ frae monie a blunder free 'em,
And foolish notion."

It might soften their hearts to the suffering they now see around them.



The condition of the old prisoners at this time (say during the month of
August, 1864, and about or near four months after our arrival), as far as
mortality was concerned, was fully as appalling as that of the new. While
the new prisoners seemed fairly dissolving before the resistless sweep of
outward influences, as fatal inward difficulties carried the old ones off
just as rapidly.

All in the prison drew the same rations; so none had enough to eat that
depended upon their rations for their entire subsistence. So we all
suffered, and suffered all we could bear, and bore suffering which, unless
relieved, must end in certain death - and soon enough. We were all wasting
away day by day. Though all suffered, the condition of some was worse than
that of others; still, as the Confederates did not issue enough food for a
man to subsist on, death in a limited time was certain to overtake all of
us who depended entirely upon our rations.

God knows how badly we all felt, with the insufficiency of our food, the
eternal tediousness of time, and the discouraging prospect of release.

But I must return to that class of prisoners of which I was a
representative, the "Chickamauga men;" and before I give an account of the
scurvy which broke out among us, I desire to relate briefly something of
my own feelings and experiences.

All I wish to say in this connection is, how hunger - this gradual
starvation - affected me. The scurvy broke out, I presume, in July, among
our men. At this time, and for a long time past, and during the remainder
of my imprisonment, I was thin, and although not very strong, stronger
than most of my comrades, - for be it remembered, I was one of the _lucky_
few that lived, and not among the great majority, for they are in the
South now in their graves, - I seemed to stand it better than most men, and
was pointed at and remarked about accordingly; and once, when the scurvy
was at its height, I got sick and was down for a day or so, my comrades
exclaimed, "Ah, ha! - - is coming down with the rest of us!" Yet my
sufferings at this time were so severe, that, had we not departed from
Andersonville within a few days, as we did, I would have remained there
forever. Although I had, by an ever-watchful activity, both as to bodily
exercise and the obtaining of one or two small Irish potatoes, kept the
scurvy in abeyance, I was so permeated with it, that I could not touch a
toe of my bare foot against the merest twig, without sending, as it were,
an electric shock of the most excruciating pain through every bone in my

Ten months of prison life, during nearly all of which was continued a
system of slow starvation, had so absorbed and dried up my stomach, that,
although I still starved daily, the coarse corn bread, half-baked as it
was, ever seemed to stick in the centre of my stomach, and cause me an
incessant dull pain. This pain continued until I was finally released, and
afterwards. After having survived all, and gotten home, I found my stomach
so contracted, that, although I was always hungry after as well as before
a meal, I could eat but very little, and that distressed me greatly. In
fact, it seemed that I had saved my life at the expense of my stomach.

To return to the prison. I suffered continuously, and was so weak that I
spent a considerable portion of each day in a kind of trance-like
condition - dreaming - my thoughts floating at will, within the limits of my
mental horizon, with too little sail to be in danger of drifting very far
out at sea; but I must say that in this state I passed the happiest hours
of my prison life, my imagination being my greatest friend, and enabling
my fancy more than once to set the prisoner free. After eating in the
morning, before the heat became too intense, I would start on my trip for
exercise, or to make some kind of a trade for a potato, if possible. Again
in the evening, after eating, I would do the same. Naked creature that I
was! All that summer my clothing consisted of a shirt and a pair of
drawers! I must have had some kind of a hat.

I speak of trading; to allow the reader to understand what is meant, I
will explain. Although all prisoners were searched, some were fortunate
enough to pass the ordeal of examination, retaining their valuables
successfully concealed about them; these being traded to a guard for
provisions, to wit: onions, potatoes, etc., brought the produce to the
inside of the prison, and being inside was exposed for sale at a heavy
profit by the lucky and enterprising Yankee.

In this way several stands were started. Paroled men, going out to work
during the day, on coming in at night, sometimes smuggled produce into
camp, which was disposed of in the same way. But trade was never very
extensive until the capture of the "Plymouth men;" then it reached its
greatest proportions. The Plymouth men were so called because captured at
Plymouth, N. C. They composed a brigade, and had just been paid their
back-pay and veteran bounty, and were on the eve of going home on their
veteran furlough, when, alas! they were unfortunately captured. These men
had the easiest terms of capitulation of any prisoners taken in the late

They were allowed to retain all of their clothing and money, and
consequently marched into prison under much more favorable circumstances
than prisoners generally. "It is an ill wind that blows nobody good," and
the appearance of the Plymouth men in the pen at Andersonville was a
providential thing for many an old prisoner. The old ones knew the tricks
of trade, and soon had a great part of the Plymouth men's money. The
arrival of the Plymouth men was a great blessing to many who were there
before them, and in fact improved the spirits of the whole camp. As I said
before, trade then went up to its highest round. Stands could be seen
everywhere, and the continual crowds, surging up and down the two main
thoroughfares, presented an interesting and exciting scene. Another
feature in the trading line was one which always manifested itself more
particularly after the drawing of rations, to wit: persons having no money
would trade corn-meal for bread, or peas for bread, or bread for meat,
etc., to suit their varying tastes or necessities. This noise, added to
that of the stand-keepers crying their wares, raised a din above which
nothing else could be heard, and gave the camp the appearance of being
quite a business place. Produce was very high, however; ordinary biscuits
selling for twenty-five cents (green-back) apiece, and onions seventy-five
cents to a dollar. Irish potatoes, the size of a pigeon's egg, were sold
for twenty-five cents each, and larger ones for more in proportion. This
extensive trading was bound to decline, and then finally collapse. As the
produce all came from the outside, that was where the money had to go, and
as soon as the supply of money was exhausted, trade of necessity had to
sink. Then only remained the trading of one kind of ration for another.

This extensive trading, growing out of the Plymouth money, was a very good
thing for us while it lasted. Although the great majority of the prisoners
reaped no advantage from it in receiving any addition to the quantity of
their food, still it enlivened the camp for all, and was a _material_
blessing to hundreds, - nay, I would perhaps be nearer the truth in saying
thousands. Many an old, sun-dried veteran of a long incarceration, who
would have otherwise certainly died of the scurvy, by shrewdness and
dickering in some way, possessed himself of a few dollars, which,
judiciously invested in raw Irish potatoes, and administered to himself,
arrested the further progress of the fell destroyer, and saved his life
for his friends and family. Money was a very good thing to have at
Andersonville. It would have purchased life in thousands of cases.



I shall now attempt a description of the ravages of the scurvy among the
Chickamauga prisoners.

It must have been during the month of July, 1864, that this dreadful
disease made its appearance, - I mean among the men with whom I was
identified (the Chickamauga men); how much sooner or later it afflicted
other classes of prisoners, I am unable to state. Our men seemed to be
doing well at this time, having shelter, and the rations still being
tolerably fair. But it was all outward show, the inside being rotten. We
had lived too long without green vegetables, or acids, or fruit of any
kind. The first symptoms of the scurvy appeared in the mouth, the gums
becoming black, swollen, and mortified. Then in quick succession the lower
limbs were involved, - large, dark spots appearing near the knee or on the
calves of the legs. These spots gradually became larger and more sore and
disabling; at the same time, the cords under the knees becoming so
contracted as to draw the calves back against the thighs, or nearly so.
The spots varied a trifle in color, - that is, as to shades, - but generally
bore the same heavy, dull, dead, blackish appearance, as though the blood
had congealed in one place underneath the skin, and then putrefied. It
usually took the disease several months to run its course, the spots
growing larger, and the whole system becoming greatly shaken; the victim,
long since deprived of the power of locomotion, lies helplessly on his
back, calmly awaiting his Lord's release from his terrible suffering;
until, at length, the disease reaches his bowels and vital parts, when his
chain is broken, his fetters fall loosely from him, and his spirit speeds
its winged flight, glorious with its sudden joy, to that prisonless realm
of everlasting peace. Hundreds upon hundreds lay upon their backs in this
condition, the number decreasing day by day as the quota of dead was
carried off. No hope for them on this side of the valley, - and well they
knew it, and died like heroes. Twenty good-sized Irish potatoes would have
cured any case of scurvy before it reached the vitals; but if two would
have done it, they could not have been obtained, as the rebels did not
issue them, and the prisoner had no money, - so he sleeps the long last
sleep. So many old prisoners died of the scurvy, that scarcely any were
left to tell their story. Hovel after hovel was emptied entirely, every
man swept away by the relentless scourge. Oh, what a heavy charge rests
against those who could have prevented, or at least mitigated, this! But
the Confederates could have prevented the scurvy entirely. Their own men
did not have it. However, it is not my object to criminate or stir up old
animosities. I merely wish to relate some of my prison experiences, and
describe their results. There are twelve thousand "Yankee" prisoners
buried at Andersonville. During the month of August, 1864, when there were
thirty-five thousand men incarcerated there, the number of deaths averaged
one hundred per day. All the day long the dead were being carried out, and
every morning a long line of corpses, which had accumulated during the
night, could be seen lying at the southern gate.

It seemed as though an odor of death pervaded the atmosphere of the camp.
The entire prison-ground was strewn with dying men, - dying without a groan
and without a mourner. It was indeed fortunate for me that Sherman's army
threatened that place during the month of September, 1864, when, so nearly
gone that I could scarcely walk to the depot, I was shipped, among
thousands of others, to another part of the Confederacy. We went from
Andersonville to Charleston. We stayed at Charleston about one month,
during which time I mended a little through having a slight change of
diet. From Charleston we were removed to Florence, in the same State of
South Carolina.

At Florence a prison was erected something similar to the stockade at
Andersonville, but smaller in dimensions. It was situated in a perfect
wilderness, with swampy woodland all around it. The inclosure was not by
any means cleared of fallen trees and brush when we were marched into it.
This was much to our advantage, as winter was coming on. We arrived there
about the latter part of October. The shelter we put up, - and all were
enabled to have shelter here, - though in general more substantial than at
Andersonville, in many instances I could not deem very healthy. To be
explicit, I refer especially to dwelling wholly under ground. Camp reports
of death statistics tended to confirm this opinion. As for myself, I had
good shelter all of the time, and, during the latter part of our sojourn
at Florence prison, I was an occupant of one of the best houses (shanties)
in it. The rations drawn at this prison were among the shortest ever
issued by the rebels to Yankee prisoners. It was certain starvation to
any that depended entirely upon their rations. I did not, and for that
reason I am alive to relate this history. It would be too tedious now for
me to undertake to relate how I succeeded in doing otherwise; let it
suffice, that every faculty of my mind was concentrated upon the subject
of getting more to eat than was issued to me, and that I got it by the
exercise of my faculties to the utmost, - and my muscles, too.

On first arriving at Florence, I got some sweet potatoes, and these
eradicated the scurvy from my body, and gave me a new lease on life; and
after that my sole business was to get enough to eat, for I knew the
preservation of my life depended upon it. At Andersonville, by activity
and the virtue of one or two potatoes, and a taste or so of something
else, perhaps, I had managed to keep the scurvy down sufficiently - and
that is all - for me to get away from that place with my life; and then it
seemed God's providence, more than anything else, for I had so very little
to assist me. But, having gotten away from there and reached Charleston,
and improved a little there, and arriving at Florence, I was placed under
such influences that I regained sounder footing once more. I then went to
work with a determination of trying to live as long as the rebels held me
in their bonds. I knew I must get more to eat than they gave me, or die. I
was an old prisoner, and very thin, and much shattered and broken, and
needed all the food I could get there. A pint of meal was not enough for a
man to subsist upon, as was plainly demonstrated by our men dying off with
prodigious rapidity. Winter was coming on, and more food was needed
instead of less. The prison authorities were cruel and persecuting. Once
for three days not a mouthful of rations was issued. At the end of that
period a heavy increase in the per centum of dead was carried out; - though
I heard poor fellows who had stood it out saying, afterwards, that they
were not so hungry on the third day as on the first. Poor fellows, the
reason was plain, - their stomachs on the third day had become too weak to
manifest the ordinary symptoms of hunger.

Hence my effort to live was not out of place; on the contrary, if I had
still a lingering hope of surviving, the greatest efforts I could put
forth seemed there almost mockery, and sadly inadequate to the end.

In fact, though I could not bring myself to the thought of yielding and
dying, I nevertheless felt that my ever getting North again alive was most
"too good a thing to happen." As far as possible, I kept the subject from
my mind.

Winter came on at last. The weather was cold, and, after a particularly
cold night, one could go into the "poor-houses" of every "thousand," and
there find men stark dead in the attitude in which they had fallen
backward from their scanty fires. Each "thousand" afforded a "poor-house."
These were occupied by poor wretches who, in the vain hope of saving their
lives by obtaining more food or making their escape, or both, had taken
the oath of allegiance to the Southern Confederacy, and joined the rebel

The Confederates found this expedient and experiment in recruiting their
depleted army a failure, and turned the "galvanized Yankees" (as they were
called) back into the stockade again. Having lost their local habitation,
and become isolated and alienated from their former friends, who condemned
their action and remained behind, being cast off and forsaken of
everybody, they congregated together in these "poor-houses," which were
erected for the benefit of such as they. At Charleston and at Florence we
were divided, for convenience, into sections of one thousand men each.

Although located in the midst of a forest, we did not draw enough wood to
cook our rations, let alone to keep us warm. A day's ration of wood was
about the size of an ordinary stick of oven-wood. We were also situated in
a very unhealthy place, being surrounded by an immense swamp. The swamp
furnished the water we drank and consumed otherwise.

A disease, commonly designated the "swamp fever," broke out, seizing a
majority of us, and proving fatal in many cases. The per cent. of
mortality here was far higher than at Andersonville. We were under worse
conditions, and suffered and died proportionately. Though in respect to
shelter our condition seemed improved, this consideration was enormously
outweighed and overbalanced by our much worse condition in many other
regards. The longer a man was detained in rebel prisons, the weaker he
became, and we seemed to have reached the culminating point and extreme
end of human endurance at this time at Florence, viz., the winter of 1864
and '65.

The elements of the swamp fever were in every Florence prisoner (and bound
to come out some time), and were the outgrowth and effect of the water we
drank, and the other conditions in which we participated in common; and I
believe that, almost without an exception, every man had it, - though some
not until they were safely within our lines. With regard to myself, I was
attacked by it on the evening of the night we left Florence prison
forever. We took our sudden departure in the month of February, 1865. We
were hurried out at a terrible rate, the rebels being greatly frightened
by the report that Sherman was near. Although feeling wretchedly, and
burning with fever, I went along. We were marched to the railroad, and
shipped aboard freight cars, the rebels cramming as many of us as they
could in each car. We were so crowded we could scarcely sit or stand; yet
I was so sick that I could do neither, and had to lie down upon the floor,
and risk being trampled upon.

Of the journey to Wilmington, N. C., I scarcely remember anything except
our starting. At Wilmington, after lying upon the sand some hours, I was
assisted into the cars, and we started for Goldsboro'. At the latter place
we got off the cars, and were marched some distance out of town to camp.

That night there was a heavy storm, and the rain poured down in torrents.
We lay upon the ground with nothing but a blanket over us; and, though I
was suffering from fever, I got soaking wet to the skin. Oh, dear, it is
almost heart-breaking to think over those times. Almost dead, as I was,
from long privations, sickness, and exhaustion, produced by trying, in my
sick and weakened state, to keep along with my companions, one would think
this in addition would have utterly annihilated and finished me. The next
day we marched back to Goldsboro'. It being evening, and no train ready to

2 4 5 6 7 8 9

Online LibraryAnonymousOpium Eating → online text (page 2 of 9)