John W Urban.

Battle field and prison pen, or Through the war, and thrice a prisoner in rebel dungeons online

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BATTLE FIELD



PRISON PEN,



Througli the War, and Thrice a Prisoner



IN



REBEL DUNGEONS.



A graphic recital of personal experiences throughout the whole period of
the late War for the Union — during which the author was actively
engaged in 25 Battles and Skirmishes, was three times taken
prisoner of war, and incarcerated in the notorious rebel
dungeons, Libby, Pemberton, Andersonville, Savan-
nah, and others. An inside view of those dens
of death, atrocities practiced, etc., etc.; in fact,
a recital of possibly as varied and thrill-
ing experiences as were known dur-
ing all the wild vicissitudes of
that terrible four years of
internecine strife.



BY JOHN W. URBAN,

Company ^^D^'' First Regiment Fennsyhania Reserve Infaniry^



PROFUSELY ILLUSTRATED.



Hubbard Brothers, Publishers,

PHILADELPHIA, BOSTON, NEW YORK, CINCINNATI, CHICAGO,

ST. LOUIS, KANSAS CITY.

A. L. BANCROFT & CO., SAN FRANCISCO.



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THE NEW rmx
PUBLIC LIBRARY

737206A

ASTOB, LENOX AHQ

TIX.DEN rOUNOATiONS

R 1934 V



Copyright, 1882, by Hubbard Bros.



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TO

MOTHERS,

WIVES AND SISTERS,

DAUGHTERS AND SWEETHEARTS,

OF THE UNION SOLDIERS, WHO BY HEROIC

SELF-SACRIFICE AND BY LOYAL DEVOTION TO

THEIR COUNTRY, EQUAL TO THE WOMEN OF SPARTA,

GAVE THEIR

SONS, HUSBANDS, BROTHERS, FATHERS, AND LOVERS TO

THE UNION CAUSE, AND WHO BY THEIR STEADFAST

DEVOTION TO THE FLAG, DID SO MUCH TO

PRESERVE THE GOVERNMENT, THIS

VOLUME IS GRATEFULLY AND

VERY RESPECTFULLY

DEDICATED

BY

THE AUTHOR.



AUTHOR'S PREFACE.

\TO event has ever occurred In the history of the
^^ world, greater In magnitude, or which has
drawn to It more Intense Interest, than the great
Civil War In the United States, or what Is more
generally known as the Southern Rebellion. This
terrible conflict, so fiercely contested, and which
swept to bloody graves more than half a million
of able-bodied citizens of the country, will ever be
a subject of attention to the historian, and to the
reader.

Much has been written of this struesfle, but the
author would surely be presumptuous to Imagine
that he could fully cover the ground of the four
years' mighty struggle that, like a tempest of
death, swept over the land. Much also was writ-
ten at the close of the war, which In the hurry
and anxiety to get the literature of the war into
the market, was erroneous.

The writer of the present day has an easy task,
compared with his predecessors. Much that was
then obscure has now become clear and vivid.
No chapter In the history of the Civil War Is so
Imperfectly understood as the one relating to the
military prisons of the South. This part of the

(V)



VI. PREFACE.

history of our country can only be given by those
who endured its horrors, and tasted of its bitter-
ness. Survivors of these terrible dens will tell
the story of their sufferings to friends, until the
last of them have passed away ; but much will
remain with the unwritten history of the war.

The object of the author is to give a fair, truth-
ful account of the course of treatment adopted by
the rebel authorities toward the poor unfortunate
Union soldiers who fell into their hands, and to
avoid all artificial colorine or statements that are
not in strict conformity with the truth, in such a
statement as he would be willing to answer for at
the great day of final account. It must, however,
be remembered that the stern reality of our
prison-life, the horrible scenes there enacted, are
more strange, exciting, and wonderful than the
most brilliant romance, or stories of fiction ; and,
reader, if things should appear that may seem in-
credible to you, remember that in reality compar-
atively little is known of the terrible suffering of
the inmates of these Southern hell-holes ; and with
all you may glean from those who endured their
horrors, and relate their sufferings, yet will it be
far short of the whole truth — for no human tono^ue
or pen can describe the agony, wretchedness, and
misery the poor soldiers endured who fell into the
hands of the rebels.

In Andersonville alone, 13,269 Union prison-
ers, who were in the prime of life — strong, robust



. PREFACE. Vll

and healthy — perished. And in all the Southern
prisons, as near as could be ascertained, about
65,000 men fell victims to rebel brutality. Who
can doubt but that it was a fairly concocted, pre-
meditated plan of their captors to destroy them,
and that, too, in a most horrible manner? The
plea of inability to prevent the terrible mortality
can avail them nothing. That thousands of their
captives died in a land of lumber piles and for-
ests, alone effectually destroys that defense. With
such shelter, food, water, and medical attendance,
as they could have furnished, and which the laws
of humanity would have required, the mortality
would not have been one-tenth of the number
which perished. But, allowing even twenty per
cent, which of itself would have been a fearful
mortality, and the fact remains that at least 52,000
helpless men fell victims to inhuman treatment.
It would, however, not be just to charge the
people of the South with the great crime. The
most and worst of these dens of death, the rebel
authorities kept away from civilization as much
as possible, and comparatively few of the people
knew any thing of the barbarities practiced in
them, and would have been powerless to prevent
it. Especially was this so in Andersonville, the
spot where the climax of barbarity was reached.
Located in a sparsely-settled country, where but
few persons would find out the horrible nature of
the slaughter-house, it was well adapted for the



VUl PREFA'CK. ,

purpose it was Intended for. To Jefferson Davis,
his cabinet advisers, and to the demons whom they
sent to these prisons to carry out their deviHsh
plans, and who appear to have been well adapted
for that kind of work, belongs the infamy of per-
petrating one of the most horrible crimes known
in the history of the world, and one that will for-
ever remain a blot and stigma on that page of
our country's history. But very little of the
terrible barbarity which characterized the prisons
in the South, extended to the combatants in the
field. While it must be admitted that in a few
cases the war was signalized by some acts that
were a reproach and disgrace to the participants,
the general conduct of the armies in the field
was such as reflected honor on the people ol
the land

J. W. U.



CONTENTS,



PAGB

CHAPTER I. The Overt Act of Treason and its Effect

North and South, 13

The Overt Act of Treason — The Bombardment — Fire in the Fort
— Surrender of Fort Sumter — Beauregard's Congratulation — The
North Aroused — Volunteering — Prominent Adherents — A Solid
North— Rebel Sympathizers.

CHAPTER II. Advance of the Grand Army from Washing-
ton AND ITS Defeat at Bull Run, . . 34
The First Muster — The Storm of Secession — Prevalent Errors —
Gen. Scott's Opinion — Advance on Richmond — A Host of Civilians
-^—Disastrous Delay — Battle at Bull Run — Victory at Hand — The
Critical Moment — The Panic — Defeat — Forces Engaged — The Cap-
ital's Peril — Cause of Disaster — Opinions on the Fight — Good Out
of Evil.

CHAPTER III. Departure of McClellan's Army for the

Peninsula, 69

Organizing the Army — The Army Moving — Strength of Manas-
sas — Off for the Peninsula — Fighting on the Peninsula — On the
Chickahominy — Battle of Seven Pines — Interrupted by Floods —
Precautions.

CHAPTER IV. Advance of McDowell from Washington, . 89
Occupation of Fredericksburg — Jackson's Strategy — Defenses of
Richmond — Reinforcing McClellan — Welcomed by Negroes — At
Mechanicsville.

CHAPTER V. The Seven Days' Fight on the Peninsula, . 103
Pushing the Fighting — Change of Base — Rebel Preparations —
Fight at Beaver Dam — A Creditable Retreat — Cold Harbor — The
Battle Raging — Hand to Hand — Repulsing a Charge — Panic — A
Rebel Account — A Rebel Report — Retreating — A Horrid March —
Terrible Scenes — Leaving the Wounded — Pursuit Checked — Closing
up the Fight — Malvern Hill — Harrison's Landing.

ix



X CONTENTS.

PAGH

CHAPTER VI. My First Capture 146

Night Movements — Capture of a Spy — Desperate Fighting — Death
of Col. Simmons — Fighting Renewed — The Last Shot — Brave
Men — Among the Wounded — Taken Prisoner — Rebel Soldiers —
Battle of Malvern Hill — Rebels in Retreat — Surgeons at Work —
Off" for Richmond — Libby Prison — Belle Island.

CHAPTER VII. Gen. Lee's Invasion of Pennsylvania — Battle

OF Gettysburg, 180

The Invasion Planned — Lee Advancing — The North Aroused —
Secession Sympathizers — Hooker's Tactics — Hooker Superseded by
Meade — Meade in Command — Disposition of Forces — Battle Im-
pending—Death of Reynolds — Getting into Position — Lee Misled
— Hancock's Inspection — The Battle Line — The Men in Line —
Sickles' Movements — Furious Fighting — Struggle for Round Top
— A Night Attack — The Final Assault — Roar of Artillery — Terrible
Slaughter — Close of the Contest — Lee's Retreat — Dr. Falk's Letter.

CHAPTER VIII. Battle of the Wilderness — Our Capture

AND Re-capture, 234

Gen. Grant in Command — The Shenandoah Campaign — Forward
Again — Counter Movements — In the Wilderness — Skirmishing —
Withdrawing the Skirmishers — The Verge of Battle — Still Fighting
— The Enemy Repulsed — The Battle Ended — A Close Race — Again
in Battle Line — Fleeing for Liberty — A Prisoner Again — Marching
to Richmond — Re-captured — Rebel Stores Burned — Contrabands —
Brotherly Help — Sheridan's Raid — Sheridan's Gallantry — Leading
in Person — Among the Boys Again.

CHAPTER IX. Advance of Grant's Forces, . . . .284
Cold Harbor — Working and Fighting — Captured Again — Victory
for the Reserves — A Plan of Escape — Shot on the Last Day —
Searching Prisoners — Libby and Pemberton — En Route to Ander-
sonville — Planning to Escape — Arrival at Andersonville.

CHAPTER X. Andersonville, 309

Hard to Believe — The Prison Pen Described — Terrible Inhuman-
ity — No Shelter — Miserable Rations — Soaked with Rain — Hopes
of Exchange.

CHAPTER XL Hanging of the Thieves, , . . .324
Mosby's Marauders — Mr. Kellogg's Book — Pocket-picking — The
Hanging — Severity Demanded.



CONTENTS. XI

PAGH

CHAPTER XII. Enlargement of Our Prison, . . 336

A New Pen — Religious Work — Prayer Meetings — The Regulators
— Rations Served — Molasses instead of Meat — Commotion Among
the Rebs — Mean Workmen — Wretched Water — Indignant at Bar-
barities — Digging for Water — Tunneling Out — Traitors Among the
Prisoners — A Traitor Punished — The Dead Prisoners — Shamming
Death — Terrible Mortality — Longing for Death — Idiocy and Mania
— News from Without — The Old Flag and the New — Misapprehen-
sions at the South — Loyal Prisoners — Rebel and Federal Prisons —
Who was Responsible ?

CHAPTER XIII. Andersonville in August, . . . .388
Andersonville in August — Suftering from Scurvy — Trading But-
tons — "Yankee Tricks" — Stoneman's Raid — Efforts at Suicide — A
Crazy Man Shot — Loneliness in the Prison — Dying of Despair —
Cruel Deceptions — The Terrible Storm — Providential Spring —
Words of Cheer — Horrors of the Dead-House — Heat and Hunger —
The Prison Hospital — Longing for Home — Transfer of Prisoners —
Out at Last — The " Bull-pen" at Savannah — One Meal a Day — Cold,
Disease and Death — Womanly Nobility — Hunted by Bloodhounds.

CHAPTER XIV. Millen Prison, 436

Millen Prison-pen — Poor Shelter — Deaths from Exposure — Dying
Comrades — The Candy Business — Clean Candy — Rebel Confusion
— Sherman Coming — Robbing the Dead — A Comrade's Death — A
Sham Parole — Insult added to Injury — Charleston Bombarded.

CHAPTER XV. Florence Prison, 463

Economizing Salt — Unpardonable Cruelty — Selecting for Parole
— Off Again — Bound for Charleston — Under the Old Flag — Home-
ward Bound — St. John's College Hospital — Home Again.

CHAPTER XVI. St. John's College Hospital, , . 458



LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS,



PAGB

John W. Urban, the Author (Steel), .Frontispiece

Road Between Yorktown and Williamsburg, 78

Battle of Seven Pines and Fair Oaks, 84

Battle-Field of the Seven Pines, 84

Battle of Gaines' Farm, 114

Ruins of Gaines' Mill, 114

Hand to Hand Fighting at Mechanicsville, 122

Field Hospital, 162

Death in the Trenches, 1 74

Gen. George G. Meade, 193

Gen. Robert E. Lee, 193

Chapel in the Camp, 239

Prisoners Entering Andersonville Prison-Pen, 305

Hanging of Six Thieves, 333

Prisoner Shot for Dipping Water Too Near the Dead-Line, . 355
In "God's Country" Again, 479



CHAPTER I.

THE OVERT ACT OF TREASON, AND ITS EFFECT NORTH
AND SOUTH.

'THE twelfth of April, 1861, will ever be memor-
-■- orable in the history of our country. It was on
this day that the first cannon-shot was fired by
the traitors in the South on the National flae.

At half past four o'clock in the morning, the
flash of a gun from the Stevens* Rebel battery,
in Charleston Harbor, followed by the shriek of a
flaming shell, which exploded directly over the
starry flag on Fort Sumter, announced to the
world that the South had rejected all peace over-
tures of the North, and that they desired that the
sword should be the arbiter to settle the issues in
question.

It was now evident that the era of compromise
and diplomacy was ended, and that terrible war,
with all its attending horrors and deluge of blood,
only could wash away alike the treason and the
curse, which since the formation of the govern-
ment had been a constant, festering sore on the
body politic, and a stigma and reproach on the
boasted liberty of our Republic. The first gun
was soon followed by others, and in a few mo-
ments battery after battery responded, until the

(13)



14 BATTLE FIELD AND PRISON PEN.

entire line of rebel fortifications In the harbor,
amounting to more than one hundred heavy
euns, was ralninof a torrent of shot and shell on
the fort held by a handful of brave men, who were
left by their government to defend and hold the
most important harbor in the rebellious States,
aeainst a force exceeding their own more than
one hundred times ; and so ill provided with
provisions were they that starvation would have
compelled them to surrender to the enemy or to
evacuate their position in a few days, even had
the rebels not fired a shot. This the rebels fully
understood, for Gen. Beauregard sent a message
to Major Anderson, a few days before the com-
mencement of the bombardment, requesting him
to state at what time he would evacuate the fort
if not attacked ; and the federal commander re-
plied, "that he would do so at noon on the 15th,
three days later, if he did not in the meantime
receive supplies or different instructions from the
government."

The rebels, however, were too anxious to
display their great military skill and prowess to
desire so peaceable an ejectment of the hated
"Yankees" from Southern soil; and so for fear
that by giving them a few hours' time they might
evacuate, and thus deprive them of the privilege
of distinguishing themselves, they notified Major
Anderson that in one hour they would open on
the fort. That the bombardment of Fort Sumter,



THE OVERT ACT OF TREASON. I 5

under these circumstances, was entirely ancalled
for, and was only a superb act of Southern bra-
vado, is too plainly evident to deceive any one.
Had not the rebels for five long months worked
most industriously to collect a sufficient force of
the most chivalrous soldiers in the South at
Charleston, for the purpose of capturing the
hated " Yankees " who dared desecrate Southern
soil ? And now that they had a force of seven or
eight thousand men, and had as many cannon in
position as Napoleon had at Jena or Waterloo,
Meade at Gettvsburcr Grant at Vicksburcr, and
four times as many as the last had at the capture
of Fort Donelson ; and as the best engineering
skill in the South, or, as they boasted. In the
world, had been brought Into requisition to con-
struct the forts and batteries that were to demol-
ish their enemies, was it reasonable to suppose
that when all these stupendous preparations had
been perfected, and they were fully prepared to
commence the assault with at least a reasonable
hope of success, and thirsting for the gore of their
enemies, that their hopes of Immortalizing their
names should be dashed to the ground by the
peaceable withdrawal of Major Anderson and his
seventy half-starved soldiers ? Such a thing could
not be thought of. The South must have at least
one chance to prove to the world that one Southern-
er w^as equal to three Yankees ; so, the bom-
bardment commenced.



I 6 BATTLE FIELD AND PRISON PEN.

Major Anderson, the Federal commander was
an experienced soldier, and understood perfectly
well that his position could not be successfully
defended against the tremendous force arrayed
against it, unless he should receive aid from a
powerful Union fleet. He, however, deemed it
necessary so make such a defense as would at
least vindicate his flag, and show the enemies of
his country that all their efforts to dishonor the
nation would not be met with supineness and a
willino^ness to submit to their base dictations. This
brave commander, who appears to have, from the
first commencement of the difficulty, understood
the situation better than his government, had
proven his sagacity and forethought by removing
his small force from Fort Moultrie, a position even
less defensible than Fort Sumter. Here, had
he been properly supported, he would at least
have made a respectable resistance to the assaults
of the rebels.

On account of the small number of his men,
and the desire to give them all the rest possible
before commencing the unequal contest, Major
Anderson kept his men below, where they were
safe from, the furious shower of iron hail which
was makino^ sad havoc with the stone, brick, and
mortar above them, until they had breakfasted ;
when, at seven o'clock, after dividing his com-
mand into three squads, he ordered the fort to
respond to the enemy's fire. The first gun that



THE BOMBARDMENT. I 7

thundered back Federal defiance to Southern
treason, was fired by Captain Doubleday, since
Major-General of United States Volunteers. The
small garrison kept up a vigorous fire on their
numerous foes during the day ; but, as the dark-
ness of night closed over the scene, they ceased
firing. Not so, however, the seven thousand men
who were determined to overcome the seventy
who were shut up in Fort Sumter ; and although
aware that Anderson would have to surrender in
a day or two, they kept up a tremendous bom-
bardment durinor the entire niijht.

Major Anderson had ordered the posterns of
the fort to be closed, and kept his men inside of
the bomb-proofs ; and although the beleaguered
fort was shrouded in darkness and gloom, when
not illuminated by the flashing meteors that fell
from the guns of its multitudinous foes, the rebels
evidently labored under the impression that some
of the heroic defenders of it were still alive, and
It would be the safest plan to keep up the grand
fusilade until the last of the terrible enemy had
been destroyed. Who can tell the disgust these
chivalrous sons of the South must have felt when
they at last succeeded in getting possession of the
fort, to find that, after the furious assault that had
cost them about half a million of dollars and sev-
eral days' hard work, not a Yankee was killed,
and not one even seriously injured ?

When we read, however (as Schmucker, in his

2



1 8 BATTLE FIELD AND PRISON PEN.

History of the Civil War, expressed it), "that the
wharves and what is called the battery were filled
with a delighted and astonished multitude, who
gazed with mingled wonder and exultation at the
countless shells as they described their symmetri-
cal parabolas through the midnight heavens, and
then descended upon the silent fortress," we may
come to the conclusion that this demonstration
was kept up to still further fire the Southern
heart, and excite her sons to greater deeds of
valor and daring.

At dawn on the following day, the brave little
garrison again opened fire, but were soon com-
pelled to cease firing, on account of a greater
danger threatening them than the fire from the
enemy's guns. The wooden barracks had caught
fire several times during the first day's bombard-
ment, but had been extinguished without call-
ing off the garrison from working the guns ; but
now the barracks were again on fire, and it soon
became evident that the flames could not be con-
trolled without the garrison devoting all their
time to it.

An eye-witness thus graphically describes the
scene :

" For the fourth time, the barracks were set on
fire early on Saturday morning, and attempts
were made to extinguish the flames ; but it was
soon discovered that red-hot shot were being
thrown into the fort with fearful rapidity, and it



FIRE IN THE FORT. 1 9

became evident that it would be impossible to put
out the conflagration. The whole garrison was
then set to work — or as many as could be spared
— to remove the powder from the magazines,
which was desperate work, rolling barrels of pow-
der through the fire.

"Ninety odd barrels had been rolled out
through the flames, when the heat became so in-
tense as to make it impossible to get out any
more. The doors were then closed and locked,
and the fire spread and became general. The
wind so directed the smoke as to fill the fort so
full that the men could not see each other ; and,
with the hot, stifling air, it was as much as a man
could do to breathe. Soon they were obliged to
cover their faces with wet cloths, in order to get
alone at all, so dense was the smoke and so
scorchinor the heat.

'' But few cartridges were left, and the guns
were fired slowly ; nor could more cartridges be
made, on account of the sparks falling in every
part of the works. A gun was fired every now
and then, only to let the fleet and the people in
the town knew that the fort had not been si-
lenced. The cannoneers could not see to aim,
much less where they hit.

"After the barracks were well on fire, the bat-
teries directed upon Fort Sumter increased their
cannonading to a rapidity greater than had been
attained before. About this time, the shells and



20 BATTLE FIELD AND PRLSON PEN.

ammunition in the upper service-magazine ex^
ploded, scattering the tower and upper portion of
the building in every direction. The crash of the
beams, the roar of the flames, and the shower of
fragments of the fort, with the blackness of the
smoke, made the scene indescribably terrific and
grand. This situation continued for several hours.
Meanwhile, the main gates were burned down,
and the chassis of the barbette guns were burned
away on the gorge, and the upper portions of the
towers had been demolished by shells.

"There was not a portion of the fort where a
breath of pure air could be had for hours, except
through a wet cloth. The fire spread to the
men's quarters on the right hand and on the left,
and endangered the powder which had been
taken out of the mao^azines. The men went
through the fire and covered the barrels with wet
cloths ; but the danger of the fort's blowing up
became so imminent that they were obliged to
heave the powder out of the embrasures. While
the powder was being thrown overboard, all the
guns of Moultrie, of the iron floating battery, of
the enfilade battery, and of the Dahlgren battery,
worked with increasing vigor.

"All but four barrels were thus disposed of,
and those remaining were wrapped in many
thicknesses of wet woolen blankets. But three
cartridges were left, and these were in the guns.
About this time, the flag-staff of Fort Sumter was



SURRENDER OF FORT SUMTER. 21

shot down, some fifty feet from the truck ; this
being the ninth time that it had been struck by a
shot. The men cried out, * The flag is down ! it has



Online LibraryJohn W UrbanBattle field and prison pen, or Through the war, and thrice a prisoner in rebel dungeons → online text (page 1 of 28)