solution: Write the short summaries of 7 chapters each (2 paragraphs each) Andersonville Andersonville –

Write the short summaries of 7 chapters each (2 paragraphs each)

Andersonville

Andersonville -The Last Depot Page 1

Civil War America

Gary W. Gallagher, editor

Andersonville -The Last Depot Page 2

Andersonville

The Last Depot

William Marvel

Andersonville -The Last Depot Page 3

© 1994 The University of North Carolina Press

All rights reserved

Manufactured in the United States of America

The paper in this book meets the guidelines for permanence and durability of the Committee on Production

Guidelines for Book Longevity of the Council on Library Resources.

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Marvel, William.

Andersonville : the last depot / by William Marvel.

p. cm.—(Civil War America)

Includes bibliographical references (p.) and index.

ISBN 0-8078-2152-7 (cloth : alk. paper)

1. Andersonville Prison. 2. United States—History—Civil War,

1861–1865—Prisoners and prisons, Confederate. 3. Prisoners

of war—Confederate States of America. 4. Prisoners of war—

United States—History—19th century. I. Title. II. Series.

E612.A5M44 1994 93-40101

973.7’71—dc20

CIP

99 98 97 96 6 5 4 3

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To
HARVEY KNIGHT
of Atmore, Alabama,
1947–1992,
the quintessential
army buddy

Andersonville -The Last Depot Page 5

Contents

Preface

1

I Find Me in a Gloomy Wood

2

All Hope Abandon

3

Then Spoke the Thunder

4

A Deep and Muddy River

5

But Yet the Will Roll’d Onward

6

Each in His Narrow Cell Forever Laid

7

April Is the Cruelest Month

Notes

Bibliography

Sources and Acknowledgments

Andersonville -The Last Depot Page 6

Preface

Some 41,000 men shuffled into the prison stockade at Anderson Station, Georgia, between February of 1864

and April of 1865. Of these, perhaps 26,000 lived long enough to reach home. Theirs was undoubtedly the

most unpleasant experience of the Civil War, but, almost without exception, those who wrote about

Andersonville appear to have exaggerated their tribulations at that place. Some did so deliberately, for polit-

ical reasons or simply because accounts of prison misery sold well in the postwar North. Others forgot per-

sonal acts of kindness, regurgitating tales of horrible cruelties that they never witnessed because, as one of

them reasoned, they must have been true. In many cases they based their anecdotes on testimony from the

trial of Henry Wirz, the transcript of which runs heavy with some of the most absurd hearsay that any amer-

ican judge ever permitted to stand.

Literary demands may have driven former prisoners to enliven their recollections with grisly imaginings or

borrowings, if only to avoid infecting their readers with the sheer tedium of Andersonville. Memories of their

helplessness at the hands of their captors and crystallized suspicions that their deprivation was an act of con-

scious design may also have provoked a certain license with the truth. These men did not, however, have to

embellish their accounts to produce a picture of immense suffering: the prison and the circumstances provid-

ed that without any infusion of malice.

Much effort has been expended by various partisans to prove that Southern spite against prisoners or Northern

intransigence on the exchange question was responsible for this tragedy. Surviving documents seem to dis-

credit any accusation of deliberate deprivation, unless one takes the position that the Richmond government

should have devoted a greater proportion of its dwindling resources to its prisoners than to its own army, but

thorough examination of the exchange question would require the better part of a book. This will not be that

book. Clearly the breakdown of prisoner exchange was responsible for the lengthy imprisonments that

allowed vitamin deficiency to kill and cripple so many, but the real cause of that breakdown is less certain.

It was the Federal government that suspended the exchange cartel, first in response to disagreement over num-

bers and then in protest of the Confederate refusal to repatriate black soldiers. At one point it appeared that

the two sides might work that out, except perhaps for those prisoners who were recognized as former slaves,

but the Federal government insisted on absolute equality for all black prisoners: it could do no less without

appearing to foresake them. Conversely, as hungry for manpower as it was, the Confederacy could not com-

ply without renouncing the very reason for its existence. Northern stubbornness on that point puzzled equal-

ly resolute Southerners, leading them to suspect that this was merely an excuse for keeping the large prepon-

derance of prisoners held in Union prisons. In the summer of 1864 Ulysses Grant let it slip that there was at

least a grain of truth to that argument: as hard as it was on those in Southern prisons, he contended, it would

be kinder to those still in the ranks if each side kept what prisoners it had, since that would end the war soon-

er.

As important as the exchange question was to the prisoners, the finer points of the debate do not bear partic-

ularly on what actually happened at Andersonville. It may not even be possible to determine whether the issue

of black soldiers was a pretense, or whether the more pragmatic motive evolved during the cartel’s suspen-

sion, since intentions varied widely among those who held power. Grant’s implied policy of attrition was just

as legitimate as the administration’s stated motive was high-minded: if it was adherence to such a policy that

led to the deaths of thousands who might otherwise have lived, it probably saved even more lives that might

have been lost, North and South, by prolongation of the conflict.

Andersonville -The Last Depot Page 7

That would have been a tough bill of goods to sell in 1865, had Grant’s reasoning been public knowledge.

Even the principle of equal treatment for black prisoners held little sway with many in the North: Lincoln’s

own secretary of the navy privately denounced the obstinacy over former slaves. The inhabitants of

Andersonville felt particularly bitter on that account. Prison officials played the card for all it was worth,

prompting great numbers of prisoners to express contempt for the Lincoln administration, which they felt had

abandoned them for the “confiscated contrabands.”

Back home, many of the prisoners’ families shared that sentiment. It therefore behooved the victors to estab-

lish that enemy malevolence had caused it all rather than a matter of lofty principle or a conscious practical

policy of the victims’ own government. That aim proved consistent with the politics of the bloody shirt, and

military justice provided the requisite scapegoat. With that pronouncement one frail Swiss immigrant went to

the gallows and Andersonville came to signify all that was evil in the hated Confederacy.

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Andersonville

Only the winners decide what were war crimes.
—Garry Wills

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1 —

I Find Me in a Gloomy Wood

As on any other day, the world spent Tuesday, November 24, 1863, spinning the thread of tomorrow’s events

from the flax of yesterday’s. In Moscow a former political prisoner struggled to document the horrors of his

experience; from Copenhagen a new Danish king evoked the wrath of the growing Prussian empire when he

cast a covetous eye on two German duchies; at the mouth of the Seine a young artist who would help change

the complexion of painting sketched the rugged coast of his native Normandy; off Japan a British frigate

avenged the execution of a countryman with a surprise bombardment of the city of Kagoshima; in the wind-

whipped autumn chill that reminded him of his Norwegian homeland, a laboring man in Winchester,

Wisconsin,

learned that his name—Knud Hanson—had been drawn that very day from a tumbler full of such names, and

now he would have to fight in the war that raged across the American continent. 1

That same evening George Templeton Strong attended a lecture by Henry Ward Beecher at the Academy of

Music in New York. The address benefited the U.S. Sanitary Commission, to which Strong belonged. When

the Reverend Beecher ran out of words—a rare enough event in itself—he and the more prominent members

of his audience adjourned to the home of the Sanitary Commission’s president. Beecher’s sister, the author of

Uncle Tom’s Cabin, offered her presence at this soirée, impressing Mr. Strong as a ‘’very bright and agree-
able” lady. 2

In the wee hours of November 24 an Iowa farmboy, George Shearer, clambered down the bank of the

Tennessee River under the eerie glow of a full moon and joined his comrades in the flat bottom of a square-

ended pontoon boat. With surprisingly little noise beyond the dull clunking of poles and an occasional cough

or sneeze, Shearer’s and many other boats glided across the shimmering water to a dark, indefinite shore, the

passengers touched by the beauty and romance of the occasion in spite of their nervous anticipation. When

the blunt prows grounded just below the mouth of East Chickamauga Creek, there came a hollow thudding

of feet, like so many kettle drummers practicing the long roll, as the companies scrambled ashore and formed

ranks in their azure, moon-painted overcoats. They marched to a stubbly cornfield in the shadow of a hill,

where officers whispered that they might rest for a couple of hours. Their lines melted to the ground just

behind the supine silhouette of the 5th Iowa Infantry, at the center of which lay Corporal John Whitten, clutch-

ing the furled red, white, and blue banner of the Hawkeye State. Shearer and Whitten curled on the cold earth

and tried to sleep, for they had been awake all night now, but the thought of what was to come must have

troubled their repose. 3

Beyond the hill that hid the Iowans sat the extreme right flank of Braxton Bragg’s Army of Tennessee. Six

miles to the southwest, on the far side of Chattanooga, another Federal force waited to throw itself against

Bragg’s left, on Lookout Mountain, and in the morning they would all move forward to settle accounts for

the Union army’s humiliation at Chickamauga nine weeks before. The work would take two days; when it

was over, George Shearer would lie in a field hospital with a bandage bound around the trough a bullet had

plowed through his scalp, while John Whitten would no longer own either his flag or his liberty. 4

Andersonville -The Last Depot Page 10

Two hundred fifty miles south of Chattanooga, the citizens of Sumter County, Georgia, still reveled in the

news of Chickamauga; not since Chancellorsville had such a victory swelled Southern hopes. Thirty months

of war had begun to wear on the population. Prices seemed out of control, and some items could not be had

at any price. Eggs, corn, and wheat flour periodically disappeared from village markets as farmers speculat-

ed in more profitable crops. The Sumter Republican, of Americus, joked about the wasteful habit of eating
three meals a day, and praised the patriotic farmer who turned his cotton fields over to corn. A year earlier

Sumter County farmers had tried to force the price of corn up by cutting production. They had had some suc-

cess in their conspiratorial venture, so the 1863 crop had been a little more plentiful, but discontent still sim-

mered in southwest Georgia’s piney woods. The farmers made plans to organize anew, and the Republican ,
which had just raised its subscription rate again, complained of hearing disloyal sentiments muttered on the

dusty streets of Americus. 5

One of the muttering men may have been Ambrose Spencer. Though he had been South many years now,

Spencer was a genuine Yankee, born and bred in upstate New York. Always on the lookout for the main

chance, he had come to Georgia hoping to join the planter aristocracy—perhaps as a means of restoring the

dwindling dignity of the family name. His grandfather and namesake had been a prominent jurist, and his

father had served as secretary of both the War and Treasury departments under John Tyler, but his brother had

been hanged in the wake of the infamous Somerset mutiny and his father had resigned from the cabinet, never
to hold public office again. 6

Spencer had not done well in his Georgia enterprises, and his wife, a Sussex-born immigrant, owned the prop-

erty on which they lived. At the outbreak of war he tried for a direct commission in the Provisional Army, but

failing that he attempted to raise an artillery company. The Confederate War Department declined to accept

his battery without muster rolls naming the scores of recruits he claimed to have enlisted, refusing him a com-

mission even when he implied imaginary service in the Mexican War, and for a time the disappointed Spencer

acted like a man who wished to retire from society: he put his wife’s Starkeville Road home on the market,

and when a Macon cleric bought that house Spencer moved his family out to a two-hundred-acre plantation

he had convinced Mrs. Spencer to buy southwest of Americus. Through the Christmas season of 1862 the

rebuffed patriot advertised that he wanted everyone who had borrowed books from him to return them. This

November of 1863, however, he came out of his exile long enough to cast about, without success, for some

sort of government sinecure that might support him better than the plantation did. 7

November 24 found Shepherd Pryor, another Sumter County resident, in Richmond’s Chimborazo Hospital.

A bushy-bearded captain of the 12th Georgia Infantry, Pryor nursed an ugly purple scar on his right leg, six

inches above the knee. He had been in the war from the start, and had won his brigade commander’s praise

at Gettysburg, but during the Bristoe campaign a piece of shell had laid him low as he led his skirmish line

forward somewhere beyond Warrenton. Captain Pryor wanted to go home now, but his wound was nearly

healed and he might soon have to return to duty: remembering that Georgia’s civil officers were exempt from

military service, he decided to run for sheriff of Sumter County. Deputy Sheriff William Wesley Turner and

one other candidate, a speculator, had already announced for the seat in July, and the election was only a few

weeks away, but Pryor wrote to his Sumter County friends in the 10th Georgia Infantry Battalion and Cutts’s

Artillery Battalion, asking for their support. As a battle-scarred veteran he had good reason to suppose that he

could beat two men who had spent the war at home. 8

Andersonville -The Last Depot Page 11

Shepherd Pryor had sustained his wound in the last real offensive that Robert E. Lee’s army ever undertook.

The contending armies in Virginia sat much farther south now, along the Rapidan River, and now it was the

Yankees who proposed taking the initiative. Ira Pettit, a twenty-two-year-old farm lad from western New

York, passed November 24 resting in camp at Paoli Mills with his company of the 11th U.S. Infantry. Pettit,

too, had fought at Gettysburg, though on the opposite end of the line from Captain Pryor, and his regiment

had taken a fearful pounding. In a couple of days these Regulars would march south, for the Culpeper Ford

of the Rapidan, bound for a place called Mine Run. 9

At Morton’s Ford, on the same river, Colonel Edward O’Neal waited for the long blue columns with which

Ira Pettit would march. At forty-five, O’Neal commanded the brigade that included his own 26th Alabama:

he had led that brigade since the spring, through Chancellorsville and Gettysburg, in the same division as

Shepherd Pryor, but when this Thanksgiving offensive was over he would be displaced by a junior officer pro-

moted over his head. Thus robbed of his general’s stars, the proud Irishman would raise such a stink as to get

himself and his regiment transferred elsewhere, but for now he rode conscientiously up and down his reach

of the river, occasionally peering into the mists with his binoculars. 10

That same day Hiram Jepperson, another Gettysburg veteran, walked a beat along a prison stockade on the

mile-long spit of sand where the Potomac River emptied into Chesapeake Bay. Clam flats bordered either side

of Point Lookout military prison, adding their saline pungency to the crowded peninsula where some eight

thousand Confederates lived in drafty tents inside the pale; other prisoners, who had taken the oath of alle-

giance to the United States, populated a separate camp nearby. Jepperson’s 5th New Hampshire was one of

three Granite State regiments that had just arrived to guard these Southrons. It was a monotonous duty

patrolling the prison, but presumably it was preferable to the bloody career the regiment had followed since

Hiram joined it in August of 1862: he had seen four major battles in his first ten months of service. Still, he

did not seem inclined to go home if he could, for there was little left for him there. The illegitimate son of a

Lisbon farmgirl, Hiram had lived most of his life with neighbors, as a hired hand, especially after his moth-

er married. His grandfather acted as his guardian, but the only time he seems to have exercised that office was

when he signed a waiver for the boy to enlist. Swearing to the minimum age of eighteen years (he was only

sixteen, and at five-foot-two he had a few inches yet to grow), Hiram scratched his laborious mark on an

enlistment certificate and turned his back, apparently forever, on the Connecticut River valley. One more bat-

tle still lay ahead of him this November 24, but as he paced his beat he was probably more interested in the

meal his company would enjoy for Thanksgiving, two days away. 11

At that very moment another New Hampshire youth trod Morris Island, a similarly sandy outcrop about five

hundred miles down the coast, at the entrance to Charleston harbor. Aaron Elliott plodded up and down and

back and forth in the shadow of the abandoned Confederate bastion known as Battery Wagner, while his non-

commissioned officers tried to imbue a new influx of recruits and substitutes with some basic notions of

close-order drill. Each company of the 7th New Hampshire had drawn its share of 268 “fresh fish,” some of

whom were a rough-looking lot. The new men nearly outnumbered the old. Siege guns hammering at the city

and at Fort Sumter and Fort Moultrie outplayed the beat of the drums, and the slippery sand threw even the

most willing feet astray. Sergeants cursed, privates chuckled, and officers shook their heads.

Andersonville -The Last Depot Page 12

More than two years before, on his sixteenth birthday, Aaron Elliott had left his Goffstown home for the abut-

ting town of Manchester, where he enlisted in the regiment with which he now served. His father not only

allowed him to go, but permitted his older brother Warren to join him when the 7th left the state. That

deprived Mr. Elliott of his only two farmhands: of his other four children, two were too young to be of any

help and the other two lived in the private, tragic world of deaf-mutes. For months Warren and Aaron supple-

mented their family’s income with their army pay, but that source had been cut in half since July, when Warren

was killed in the ill-fated assault on Battery Wagner.

At last the drill sergeants gave up for the day. Recruits and veterans alike found cool spots to sit, for even late

November can be uncomfortably warm on the sea islands, and there they contemplated their empty pockets

and the crates of canned chicken the sutlers had stocked for the holiday. The native Yankee that he was, Aaron

Elliott would probably not go into debt for delicacies, so there would be no sutler’s wares for him. 12

While Elliott lounged on the Carolina sand, Thomas Genzardi writhed on his cot in a Richmond prison hos-

pital along the James River, not far from Captain Pryor’s ward. His intestines seemed alternately to twist and

explode within him, curling him up like a caterpillar, and whatever nourishment he took soon came surging

back up. The roving ward surgeon diagnosed it as cholera morbus, but by November 24 Genzardi had lain in

the hospital twelve days and it was beginning to look as though he might pull through; he had begun to absorb

at least some of the liquids the nurses fed him, and the doctor saw that as a good sign. Another week would

say for certain whether he would live.

In the past two years Genzardi had nearly completed a broad circuit of the United States. His real name was

Salvador Ginsardi, and he had been born in Boston in 1843, shortly after his family arrived from Italy. By

1850 his mother was dead, and his father supported him by playing a flute in a Charlestown band, but music

made for a precarious living. Pedro Ginsardi eventually took his son to New York, and there they finally part-

ed, but not before Anglicizing their names slightly: in August of 1861 Pedro enlisted in the 12th U.S. Infantry

band as Peter Genzardi, leaving Salvador to drift into the American West as Thomas Genzardi. The son also

played an instrument, but the frontier saw little call for orchestral woodwinds, and late in the autumn of 1862

the unemployed musician enlisted as a private in the 8th Kansas Infantry, at Fort Leaven-worth.

Genzardi’s company had served on detached duty at Fort Kearny, Nebraska, but more recently it had been

fighting Confederate guerrillas. Three months after he enlisted, “Thomas” boarded a steamboat with four

companies of the 8th Kansas, and in the spring the reunited regiment joined William Rosecrans’s army in

Tennessee. With that army the

Kansans marched into northern Georgia, and there, on September 19, Peter Genzardi’s only child saw his first

and last battle. Early that afternoon his brigade swept across the Lafayette Road and past a log schoolhouse,

where several Georgia regiments battered the point of the Federal spearhead and drove it back, pinching off

a couple of dozen of the foremost Yankees as prisoners. Thomas Genzardi huddled among those two dozen,

and that is what had brought him to Richmond. A prisoner exchange and another hundred miles would have

taken him to Washington, closing the missing length of his loop around the contiguous states. 13

Andersonville -The Last Depot Page 13

In the woods less than a mile north of the spot where Thomas Genzardi became a prisoner, the same

Confederate onslaught nearly encircled a fought-out brigade in John Palmer’s division. One by one the Union

regiments ran out of ammunition and withdrew, until the 84th Illinois stood alone against a relentless tide of

grey uniforms that washed inexorably around its right flank. At last the Illinois colonel pulled his regiment

back, leaving behind his dead and a few of his wounded. One of those unfortunate few, a loquacious former

gardener named Thomas Herburt, had fallen behind when a bullet clipped his right leg. The onrushing

Confederates bounded over him, ignoring him for the present, but later the provost guards came along to gath-

er him up. Confederate surgeons tried to save his leg, but infection set in after they transported him to

Richmond. By November 24 he had begun to suffer great pain in the wound, but prison doctors were too over-

worked and their hospitals were too crowded for timely treatment. New patients could only be admitted as

others died or were discharged, and not until December 20 would a bed open up in Hospital 21: a surgeon

would put Mr. Herburt on his table while the steward wiped off the saw, and when the leg was gone they

would carry him to a cot in the teeming wards, where he would spend the next seven weeks regaling his

annoyed fellow prisoners with endless renditions of his last battle. The hooknosed Canadian never seemed to

shut up, and the other patients might have wished for the return of Patrick Delany, the burly, bullying Irishman

whose discharge from the hospital had made room for Herburt. 14

Elsewhere in that same hospital lay a young German who had just arrived in America, only to be swept up by

scavenging substitute brokers who dubbed him George Albert, enrolled him in the 52nd New York, and

promptly relieved him of most of his substantial bounty. Barely two months had passed since he donned his

uniform, but he had been six weeks a prisoner already. He fell ill early and often, and whenever he saw the

doctors he tried to tell them his real name, which was something like Albrecht but which the attendants took

down as Allbeck or Ilbeck. On the morning of November 24 he complained of loose bowels. 15

Genzardi, Herburt, Delany, and “Albert” typified the nine thousand Union prisoners within musket shot of the

Confederate capitol building, most of whom occupied the sprawling camp on Belle Isle, in the middle of the

James River. This hostile multitude worried Richmond authorities in more ways than one. Not only did they

offer great danger if Yankee cavalry should raid the city, they were literally eating up tons of food in a com-

munity that had little to spare, diminishing civilian supplies and driving up prices. Of late the meat and bread

rations had periodically failed to arrive in time to give the prisoners their daily allotment, and the command-

ers of the various prison buildings blanched at the prospect of hungry captives going on a rampage, especial-

ly when guards were so few. Heretofore the Richmond prisons had been relieved now and then by wholesale

exchanges, where soldiers in blue or grey returned to their respective lines in an even trade, private for pri-

vate and captain for captain. Thanks at least partly to the complicating factor of black men wearing Federal

uniforms, the exchange system had broken down in the past few weeks, and that meant the Richmond dun-

geons would only continue to swell. Settling in along the Rapidan after his autumn feints at the enemy, Robert

E. Lee suggested to the Richmond authorities that it was high time to start looking for another place to house

their reluctant guests. 16

Andersonville -The Last Depot Page 14

Secretary of War James Seddon agreed, but suitable buildings were hard to come by. Owners of warehouses

and factories hesitated to sell or lease their property, probably because their neighbors would surely protest,

and Seddon had had no better luck looking for a more rural equivalent of Belle Isle in the Yadkin and Roanoke

rivers. As a temporary expedient he had moved four thousand of Richmond’s thirteen thousand prisoners to

Danville in mid-November, but the people of Danville would not leave their complaints unvoiced for long.

The solution that finally occurred to the secretary was a stockade prison in some isolated but productive

region, somewhere near a railroad, and preferably in a warmer climate: in their flimsy tents the Belle Isle pris-

oners were already suffering terribly from the cold Tidewater nights. On November 24 Seddon detailed these

general criteria in a note to Brigadier General John Winder, his chief prison keeper, sending the message down

to the general’s office by the hand of a War Department clerk. 17

John Henry Winder was not the sort of fellow any child might have been glad to have for a grandfather. At

sixty-three he was a dour, crusty old man. He raked his thinning white hair forward like a Roman senator, and

affected those preposterous throat whiskers that cranky old men of his generation so often wore, shaving his

face well below the jawline but allowing the rest of his beard to creep over his standing collar like chest hair

gone wild: perhaps men of his disposition dared allow no barber near their gullets with a razor. Winder had

worn a uniform all but seventeen years of his life—for forty-two of them the blue flannel of the U.S. Army.

They had not been especially happy years, either. He had known too much of death, and too little of success.

As the son of a Baltimore general blamed for allowing the British to burn Washington in 1814, he had suf-

fered a good many unfriendly jokes in his career. Most of Winder’s service had been in the Commissary or

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