The Life and Times
of a Civil War Breveted Captain
David G. James
Researched and written by his great grandson Fred G. Cook
When I began this, it was the original intent to provide information to an Internet surfer wanting to learn more about the Civil War prison in Florence South Carolina. Since my great grandfather D.G. James had personal experiences as a war prisoner at Florence, I decided to research the matter from my Civil War Library of books I've been collecting over the years.
Being an avid Civil War buff right down to uniform, musket, drum and all the trimmings as a full fledged reenactor that I am, the project soon became an obsession with me. I couldn't lay it down until I "marched" through the entire war with him. I'm sure there's enough material from what I wrote to screenwrite a movie that would easily surpass Ted Turner's "Gettysburg" AND "Andersonville" combined. But who would want to sit through a 12 hour "docu-drama" without at least a haversack full of munchies and a canteen full of soda?
I found much enjoyment digging into those exciting but tragic four years of his life. Tragic in the sense that it was a senseless war. I still feel Americans didn't have to go to that extreme in killing one another to the tune of some 600 THOUSAND just to settle their political differences.
Exciting in the sense that he wasn't one of the 600 thousand as he DID survive and went on to live out a rich and rewarding life.
There is an incident that took place while my great grandfather was pulling picket duty down in Mississippi some time after the siege and battle at Corinth. This was shared with me with my cousins Jim and Rich Brindley of Richland Center and La Crosse, respectively. I didn't put it in the main part of the book simply because it clearly points out just how much a "survivor" Dave James was. In addition to outfoxing the rebs for extra rations at Florence, here is another case-in-point:
Orders from headquarters...top command simply said no soldier was to take advantage of the civilians during the occupation of northern troops in the South. This was probably more emphasized for troops stationed in Mississippi being that "Old Miss" had many northern sympathizers even if the state seceded from the Union. So stealing or other acts against its citizenry would be dealt with very harshly. But that still didn't stop Dave and some of his comrades of Company C in "snitching" a few chickens so they could have an evening feast of sorts. But when the irate woman approached their regimental commander, the good colonel ordered an assembly of the troops and said, "Alright madam! Point out the scallywags and I will personally see that they are severely punished!". The woman walked up and down the line pointing to those she could easily identify...one being Private Dave James. "Oh NO madam! You are mistaken in pointing out Private James! I have complete confidence that you are in total error as young Dave here wouldn't ever do such a treacherous and vile act as stealing a chicken". The woman was so completely taken aback by the colonel's oratory that she may have begun wondering if it hadn't been just a figment of her imagination from the very beginning. Needless to say, all charges were dropped. However, my cousins never did say whether they had chicken that night for supper or not. His friendly personality was as such that it followed him throughout most of his life.
He was admired as a successful business man and never for a moment did he turn his back on the less fortunate in his community. In later years he set up a trust specifically earmarked for the "down and out" and to this day it is still in existence with proceeds from the interest drawn used for that purpose.
He died on October 3, 1921 in Richland Center at the age of 78 years. Yes, I did find his "war years" most interesting. He was only 18 upon entering the military, but managed to see three major battles - Shiloh, Corinth and Atlanta, before being captured and nearly starved to death the last 7 months as a prisoner of war...all taking place before his 22nd birthday.
To: "Jimmy" James, who gave me her grandfather's "civil war gun" (even though it was manufactured in 1876). It was the thought that counted...and the seed that she planted in her son's mind to tell our descendents about "D.G.'s war years" in an exciting and factual manner.
Prelude to Battle
When they say there's frost on the pumpkins, they're either talking about an early October morning in Deerfield, New Hampshire or Richland Center Wisconsin as both are at about the same latitude on God's green earth. I don't think Dave, Norm, Billy or their younger sister Lizzie were too excited about moving west, although Lizzie was a bit too young to know the difference. But as Dave put it, "mother and father saw a golden opportunity in forging west as so many other families were doing during the recession of 1851". And move they did.
Richland Center was but a small farming community nestled in the valley of the unpredictable Pine River which helped serve as a power source for the grist mill near the south end of town. George and Lois took a gamble, but both were confident they could successfully make a go of it in the mercantile business. The James family were opposed to strong drink so when the offer to set up business on the same street as the local saloon, George made the front room of their home as his store and for a time the community in general chuckled at his eccentric nature in getting his point across.
Eventually though, George did move his shop more into the growing business district of town and young Dave sensed a sigh of relief that the family didn't stand out for having such an arrangement in the first place. Business was good for George and it wasn't long before he took his two older sons into proprietorship with him. "James and Sons" had a certain distinction as the sign went up over the newly expanded carriage, tin smith and hardware store. In fact, it now encompassed a major portion of a city block. Norm's heart was in to farming and the James enterprise expanded its horizons to agriculture as well. Life was good and Richland Center was every bit of it's name. The land was rich and farming in Richland County provided livings for a growing immigration arriving from the east almost on a daily basis. As land cost rose, immigration dropped off and by 1860 life in the County seemed picture perfect.
Norm completed high school and spent much of his time out on the corporate farm. He still kept his irons in the fire in helping his father manage the carriage and hardware store. Dave, although being the middle of the three boys in age, was the smallest in size. But his determination and ferocity easily made up for his lack in height. He was well liked by his peers and seemed like a natural in working in his father's store after school and throughout the Summers.
George and Lois James were good for Richland Center and Richland Center was good for them. The family fit right in to the scheme of things. It was the good life. Wisconsin was still growing. The industrial communities all centered around the lead mine region of the southwestern part of the state. Dodgeville, Mineral Point and Shulesburg became boom towns overnight as new lead mines were opened and ore smelters belched their columns of smoke.
For a territory that had become a state just 13 before the war that turned everyone's life around, Wisconsin had become something more then a spot on the map.
The provisional capitol was moved from Belmont to Madison, a town built in and around a swamp in central Dane County, and with exception of a few grumbling politicians from Grant County, it seemed to be a smart move all in all. But there were dark clouds on the horizon. America in general was having serious "growing pains" west of the Mississippi River. The California gold rush can be thanked for that. Everywhere you looked, the plains were being overwhelmed with the influx of white settlers something the native Americans didn't want any part of. In addition of "indian uprisings" there were white settler's uprisings as well. Vigilantes ruled many small western communities before law and order had a chance to prevail and hangings were as common as shootings. Fortunately, RIchland Center was free of this sort of mayhem and aside from an occasional disruption down at the local saloon, things were fairly civilized compared to their western counterpart.
But a deeper concern began to overtake the community. Although the western "problem" would take care of itself, politicians east of the Mississippi were at odds with each other over the question of "state's rights" and that matter of slavery. Oh sure, they were having scraps with each other over in MIssouri, Arkansas and Kansas, but most of those folks were "lawless" to begin with and fighting over slavery was as good an excuse as anything else.
But now, it was spreading eastward. Some guy by the name of John Brown and his followers went out to a place called Harper's Ferry in "Old Virginia" with the intentions of taking over a government arsenal. I guess Mr. Brown thought he'd pass out weapons to all those negro slaves so they could shoot their owners and therefore become free people. Anyway, the "siege" didn't really amount to much and some federal officer by the name of Lee and a small detail quelled the situation. Brown was taken over to the County seat at Charlestown and tried for murder, found guilty and hung under the direction of both the State of Virginia and U.S. military.
It was only the tip of the iceberg. There were actually people who agreed with Brown in freeing the negroes. For most northerners though, it wasn't here nor there as far as they were concerned. If the southern states want to keep negroes as slaves, it was their business. Wisconsin opposed slavery and that was our business, so live and let live.
But, the clouds kept getting darker and bigger and before you knew it, there was talk of some of those southern states leaving America altogether. I guess they called it "seceding". Yet there was nothing in our United States Constitution that said a state could do this legally. Sometimes politicians are like little boys. One takes a stick and draws a line in the dirt and dares the other to "step" over the line. Or one will take a wood chip and put it on his shoulder then dare the other to try and "knock" it off. Whatever these "boy" politicians did to get something started, worked and before you know it, we had eleven states do this "seceding" thing. They got together to form another "country" and called themselves the Confederate States of America.
The United States of America took on a new name as well. The northern states became the "Union" while the southern states became the "Confederacy". It was early April 1861. Dave graduated from high school and focused on working in his father's enterprise. No one really gave it much thought that this "civil war" thing would last long.
Local newspapers kept everyone up to date as what was happening...which wasn't much in the first months of the war. Some of the boys in the surrounding communities signed up to join Wisconsin regiments being formed. The 1st Wisconsin was formed with mostly boys from the Milwaukee area. The 2nd Wisconsin soon followed with boys from La Crosse, Grant County, Portage, Fox Lake...well, we could go on and on, but more and more were taking up the cause. Its no surprise then that Norm all of a sudden got "a bug up his butt" to leave the farm and head off to Madison and sign up with the newly forming 16th Wisconsin. It was October and I'm sure the two older James boys had many a discussion about this unsettled "War Between the States). Dave may have had initial thoughts as to his size and whether they would even accept someone of his small stature. "Look at it this way Davy!" Norm said with a wide grin. "If they don't take you, you can come back home and run both the store and farm while I'm gone."
Within the week, Dave followed his brother Norman to Madison and contrary to his older brother's kidding, was accepted into Company D with his brother. Younger brother William was only 14 at the time and whether he could have gotten in as a musician wasn't even a matter for discussion. George and Lois flatly said "NO!" And William would remain at the home front for the duration (or until he reached 16).
The James boys were a majority in Company D...at least for a short period. Under unknown circumstances, Dave transferred to Company C before their regiment was mustered into the Union Army that following January.
Camp Randall was formally the state fairgrounds and was situated on the outskirts of the state capitol city of Madison. The first regiment to take it's formal training at Camp Randall was the 2nd Wisconsin. They were a rowdy bunch who took full advantage of the city when on pass or on furlough. By the time they finally shipped off to Washington, D.C., the camp commander and mayor of the city came to a mutual understanding and limited access to the city was permitted. Other regiments followed the 2nd including the 16th Wisconsin. The drills were constant and unending. The 3 1/2 month encampment at Randall proved successful for the 16th and on January 31st, the United States government accepted them as a readied unit for military service.
The 16th Wisconsin continued to drill and prepare for combat the entire month of February and into March of '62. Then on March 13th, they struck camp and took "the first train for St. Louis Missouri". The train arrived at East St. Louis on the night of March 14 and remained in the yards overnight. The next morning, the regiment was transferred to the steamer Planet which immediately set out for Savannah Tennessee where the regiment would join General Grant's western armies.
I'm sure that many things ran through both Dave's and Norm's minds. Would they actually see combat? What will it be like to be shot with a muzzle loader having a .58 bore? "Some say its like being kicked by a whole army of mules", one of Dave's comrades said during one of their philosophical moments. Their minds turned to more pleasant things as the steamer Planet made its way down the Mississippi and up the Ohio. As they neared Cairo Illinois, Dave quipped, "This is the farthest south I've ever been!".
The Planet pointed it's blunt nose on to the Tennessee River and took on every appearance of a pleasure cruise. Their steamer stopped along the way for the regiment to see the destructive forces of Commodore Foote's bombardments of Johnsonville and Fort Henry in the previous month. It was their first signs of war and it left a sense of emptiness to the reality of war. The steamer reached Savannah Tennessee on March 20th and then continued up river to a place called "Pittsburg Landing".
Seeing the Elephant
Pittsburg Landing was nothing more then a loading dock on the Tennessee River with a couple of out buildings at best. Aside from the makeshift docks, there was little to see of the natural surrounding. It was obvious that Grant's Army had arrived as white tentage could be seen well off into the distance. The 16th Wisconsin now became part of the white sea of canvas for the next several days, if not weeks.
Finally, the regiment received its orders to report to the front of the encampment and attach itself to Colonel Peabody's brigade of General Prentiss' Sixth Division with the Army of The Tennessee (an appropriate name to fit the occasion). The next two weeks would be performing camp duty and drill both as a brigade and then in division strength. It was only a matter of time before they would eventually engage the enemy. Pittsburg Landing was a short "stone's throw" from Corinth Mississippi where it was known that rebel forces were steadily building up.
On April 4th, even General Prentiss was becoming bored with the whole situation and called for a review of the division in a field to the left and front about a 1/4 mile from where the 16th Wisconsin were camped. This field would later be named "The Review Field". After the ceremonies were completed, the general chose to take a ride down an old road towards the front. He and his escort rode their horses at a gallop and had gone a distance of about 450 yards before running head long into a squadron of Confederates coolly witnessing the entire affair. The rebs made no effort to engage the general or his escort and proceeded to beat a hasty retreat.
General Prentiss shared his knowledge with Sherman and Grant and it was decided to advance his picket line another 1 1/2 miles the next day. Colonel Benjamin Allen of the 16th Wisconsin ordered companies A, B, C and D to join two companies of the 21st Missouri under the command of Colonel Moore.
The six companies formed their picket line about a mile in front of Shiloh Church or 3 1/2 miles southwest of Pittsburg Landing. It was Saturday afternoon on April 5th and the companies prepared for the unexpected. Dave with his Company C and Norman with his Company D. At least they wouldn't be struck down by the same cannon shot or miniball, Dave thought as darkness closed the end of another day. It was one time that he felt good about being as small as he was. At least he wouldn't be an easy target when and if the shooting started. Everyone on the line was of the same opinion; they all wished they were back home. It was going to be a sleepless night.
Between 4 and 5 a.m., Colonel Moore heard a commotion out beyond his picket line and ordered Captain Saxe to deploy his Company A and make an advance toward the disturbance. Company A had gone but a short distance when the early morning air was suddenly filled with a tremendous volley of musketry. Captain Saxe of Saxeville and Sergeant John H. Williams of Berlin met instant death. The time was precisely 4:55 a.m. History would write that Captain Edward Saxe was the first officer killed at Shiloh... and in all probability, Williams the first sergeant to meet his maker at the battle.
Company A immediately returned fire and carefully withdrew back to their original picket line as Companies B,C and D drew into line and also began returning fire. General Prentiss, having been informed of the situation, went immediately to the 16th Wisconsin regimental commander, Colonel Allen, to inform him of Saxe's death. Prentiss then ordered Allen to get the remainder of his regiment into line.
He then went down the line and informed the 21st Missouri to do likewise before going to brigade headquarters. Within the hour, Prentiss returned and at 6 a.m. his brigade advanced about a 1/4 mile where they remained for close to a half hour's time. The boys in companies A, B, C and D of the original picket line ever so carefully, steadily withdrew the 1 1/4 miles back to where their regiments had originally dug in. Shortly after 6:30, the two regiments advanced another 1/4 mile when the order to "change front to the right" was given. This placed them near the Rhea Field where they waited for the retreating skirmish line of the six company pickets.
By 7 a.m., the two groups reunited and the entire brigade engaged in holding this position as the advancing Confederates pushed their way toward Pittsburg Landing. Prentiss' brigade held their position for a half hours time before being pressed due to lack of support on either flank. The brigade was ordered to pull back and reform in a line rear of their original camp. This was accomplished at about 8:00 a.m. The fight was intense as the brigade attempted to hold the camp. Lieutenant-Colonel Fairchild, second in command of the 16th Wisconsin, was severely wounded and taken from the field. Colonel Allen's horse was shot out from under him and while mounting a second animal, that too was killed.
Prentiss' Brigade held the line until ammunition became critically low. "The rebel hordes continued to press our front and flank", Dave later wrote. "They were rolling up against us in great column like waves of the ocean".
Finding valor was of little importance to common sense against such odds, Prentiss ordered his men to "take to the trees for shelter boys....Fall back....Fall back!". The brigade then fell back, fighting to their best advantage and in doing so inflicted a large number of casualties on their advancing enemy. The 16th Wisconsin's ammunition had run out as they found General Hurlbut's division in their controlled and orderly retreat. Colonel Shaw's 14th Iowa regiment of Wallace's division replaced the 16th Wisconsin at this point of time while they went to replenish their cartridge boxes and take a much needed rest behind Hurlbut's line. Dave's regiment had been under fire and without food or water since 6 a.m.
Their so called "rest" was of short duration as a staff officer rode up to Colonel Allen and requested his regiment back on the front to relieve an Indiana regiment who had run out of ammunition. As the 16th came back on line and began returning fire, Allen received a wound and had to retire from the field. With both Fairchild and Allen out of action, Major Thomas Reynolds from Madison took over command of the regiment.
The regiment maintained this position until about 3:00 p.m. when the troops to their left gave way and the regiment again had to fall back on a line rear of the Bloody Pond which was left of the Hornet's Nest.
Here was more desperate fighting, which was the key to the overall situation that faced General Grant. He informed General Prentiss that "If you can hold your position until sundown, the Army of the Tennessee will be safe!". General Prentiss complied but at great sacrifice. At 5:30 p.m., he, with a part of his division, were compelled to surrender to avoid complete annihilation. After Prentiss' surrender, the remainder of the division fell back to the last line formed that day.
The Confederates again appeared at their front, but not with much force. After receiving a couple of well-directed volleys from the Union line, the rebs fell back out of reach of musketry and bivouacked for the night in what originally was the 16th's original camp. As darkness fell over the battlefield, a torrential thunderstorm unmercifully soaked Union soldiers who remained on line the entire night. Thus ended the first day of battle for April 6, 1862...at that time, the bloodiest single day battle ever fought on the American continent.
Monday morning of April 7 came as the Spring rains let up. Dave James and his comrades "enjoyed" a breakfast consisting of raw pork and hardtack before his regiment was ordered to advance and seek out the enemy. The rebs had fallen back nearly a mile and lay in line waiting for the advancing Union. By now the remnants of Prentiss' division had been reinforced by General Wallace's division of the Army of the Tennessee and two divisions of General Buell's army who had arrived at Pittsburg Landing during the night. Wallace's division had as yet to see action so now the Union had "fresh" troops on the line. The exhausted 16th was placed in reserve and only used to reinforce different parts of the line when and where there was a need.
The Confederates was put in retreat until about 4:00 Monday afternoon when they abandoned the field. The 16th Wisconsin was then ordered to return to camp and immediately went about the task of caring for their wounded and burying the dead.
The two day battle left both armies with heavy casualties...13,047 for the Union - 10,699 for the Confederacy. The total dead for both North and South was tallied at 3,482. Wounded and missing: 20,314. The 16th Wisconsin alone suffered 62 dead, 189 wounded and 26 missing (of which 4 were later identified as having been taken prisoner). All six of the regiment's color guard were killed.
Dave remembers helping bury the dead. It took him and his comrades, that had been placed on reserve, several days to bury the 3,482 that lay strewn over the battlefield. There were areas which had caught fire burning bodies beyond recognition and therefore many could not be identified. Dave found a book laying next to a dead Confederate soldier and wrote the inscription "Found on the Shiloh battlefield and stained with the blood of a rebel soldier, April 8, 1862 by D. G. James".
The book would later be passed down to a great-great-granddaughter Lori Beth (Cook) Bessler, a librarian with the Wisconsin State Historical Society...a most fitting recipient considering what the book stood for. The 16th Wisconsin would see more action in the weeks and months to come.
Mopping Up and Going Home
The 16th Wisconsin, although not at full strength, took part in the siege of Corinth (Mississippi) which lasted from April 29 until June 10, 1862. The western theater of the Civil War amounted to a series of "hit and run" maneuvers by the Confederates and Corinth was no exception. The matter was finally resolved in the actual "Battle of Corinth" on October 3 and 4, 1862. Dave later received acknowledgement by his commanding officer for "meritous and exceptional duty" at Corinth, yet it was never explained on paper (as his descendants have yet to find) what those accomplishments were.
One of the biggest challenges for Dave James and the 16th Wisconsin was ahead of them. Now with Shiloh and Corinth behind them and 1862 all but history, the matter of Vicksburg and opening the Mississippi waterway presented itself to become another challenge. General Grant's concern over the taking of Vicksburg posed serious considerations to take into account. Vicksburg overlooked the Mississippi River with its high bluffs. River traffic was all but out of the question with Confederate guns trained on its main channel. And Vicksburg was all but an impregnable fortress just by its topographic features. On the river side, were the horrendous bluffs with fortifications. Equally on all the other approaches to the city, Confederate earthworks and gun emplacements would cause great loss of life in attempting to overtake their batteries.
Time was a factor that General Grant considered. By isolating Vicksburg from the outside world, he would literally "starve them out". This would mean having complete control over Mississippi river traffic, and to block all roads leading into Vicksburg.
With Vicksburg sitting atop high bluffs overlooking the river, Grant decided to build a canal that would circumvent Vicksburg's gun emplacements altogether making them useless to obstruct traffic. He called in his engineers and work commenced on the "canal to nowhere" as it was later called.
But the work force had to be protected from the ever illusive rebel army and the 16th Wisconsin was called in to stand provost. They were alternatively assigned to Lake Providence Louisiana then to Red Bone Church Mississippi, then back to Lake Providence in providing protection for the canal builders on one hand, then in blocking traffic into Vicksburg from the east. They engaged in an occasional skirmish while on picket duty which amounted to nothing more then a minor exchange of rifle fire with a well intended reb here and there.
While at Lake Providence, most veteran soldiers of the 16th's enlistment ran out and either they extended their enlistments or the regiment would have to disband. The United States government decided to make it "appealing" by offering re-enlistees a 30 day furlough. It was a combination of "call to duty" and the furlough enticement that led to the successful reenlistment of the entire regiment. Not only did it give the Union time to replace the depleted companies within the regiment, it gave the veterans time to be with their families before the "Spring Campaign".
Dave was about to turn 20 when he arrived home back in Richland Center. It was good seeing his mother and father, sister Lizzie and brother Norman. Norman had been discharged that previous Autumn on a disability and young William had turned 16 and left to serve his Country as a musician...something that George and Lois felt was safer then seeing him toting a rifle. Naturally, everyone had thousands of questions to ask Dave about the war.
"Did he think it would last much longer? Are you being fed well? What do you know about the eastern campaign? Is it true Grant is being considered to head the whole army? They say President Lincoln likes his style. What's it like to be under his command?" And on and on the questions came. And of war stories? Dave was reluctant in sharing his experiences in front of "mother and father" as he didn't want to unnecessarily worry them. Perhaps in a private moment, he shared what went on at Corinth during the siege and actual battle with brother Norman. Norm would understand since they had both "seen the elephant" at Shiloh.
Dave looked healthy and fit when he arrived home on furlough. In fact, the local paper commented on how well and "handsome" that young James boy looked. The army must be doing him well. And fit he was. His weight was proportionate to his height so being slightly over 5 feet in height, his weight of 110 pounds wasn't all that far out of range. You might say he was "lean and mean as a fighting machine"...if that sort of saying existed back in early 1864.
As most furloughs go, the clock whizzed by and before he knew it, he was on his way back to Camp Randall in Madison to reunite with his reformed 16th Wisconsin. Now it was April and they were back to full strength with new and seasoned troops intermixed. It wouldn't be long now before they got back in there and settled this war once and for all. Spirits were high as the 16th boarded the train for Prairie du Chien on the Mississippi.
There they transferred onto a steamer and headed down the same route they had nearly three years earlier, passing Ft. Donnelson, Ft. Henry and now, Pittsburg Landing on the Tennessee. Their steamer continued up the Tennessee until they reached Clifton Tennessee where they disembarked. The next part of their "journey" proved once and for all their top fitness as they marched every step of the way to Ackworth Georgia, a distance of some 375 miles.
All Roads Lead to Atlanta
While the 16th was enroute from Clifton, McPherson's Army of the Tennessee had seized Snake Creek Gap in Georgia where the Western & Atlantic Railroad crossed going into Resaca. It was May 7th. Sherman's intentions that once McPherson broke the supply lines at Resaca, Confederate General Joe Johnston would have to retreat into the mountainous region to the east and where he could seize the opportunity and destroy Johnston's army.
The next morning, they encountered entrenched Confederates holding Resaca's outskirts and after a time, the General decided that the rebs had added strong reinforcements to their lines and reluctantly withdrew back to Snake Creek Gap. When Sherman heard of McPherson's decision, he immediately sent his entire army to back up McPherson. Three days later the Federals began their concerted effort to upend Johnston's defenses at Resaca. It took another three days before Johnston's forces evacuated the town.
By May 25th, Sherman decided to advance his armies away from the rail network. His goal was Dallas Georgia. But at New Hope Church he "took it on the chin" twice within a three day period and reverted his forces to his left. In the meantime Johnston surmised that this was weakening Sherman's extreme right near Dallas and took offensive action on May 28th. McPherson in the meantime was behind Johnston's lines and in short time the Confederates were caught in a storm of Union fire resulting in heavy losses with hardly a chance to return fire.
By June 3rd, the Union occupied Ackworth and Sherman gave them a well earned break.
It was at Ackworth, the 16th Wisconsin rejoined the Army of the Tennessee on June 8th. They teamed up with 5 other regiments consisting of the 20th, 30th, 31st and 45th Illinois and the 12th Wisconsin to make up the 1st Brigade (Brigadier General Manning F. Force commanding). The 1st Brigade was one of three brigades making up the Third Division (Brigadier General Mortimer D. Leggett commanding) of the XVII Army Corps (Major General Francis P. Blair commanding). Blair's XVII was one of four Corps to serve in Major General James B. McPherson's Army of the Tennessee which made up 24,380 of the 110,123 that would be converging on Atlanta in the weeks ahead.
Sherman had thus far forced the Confederacy to retreat 60 miles. He had crossed two major rivers without fighting a single major battle. Now with only 30 miles and one more major river to cross between him and the City of Atlanta, the juices began to flow. But it wasn't going to be all that simple in getting there. The terrain south of Ackworth was anything but flat.
Aside from areas of hills covered in dense, humid and sticky forests, peppered with deep ravines and meandering small creeks, there were three low rounded mountains of Johnston's army had safely retreated toward. Sherman placed his bets that it would be the fourth mountain where he would meet any reasonable resistance. The mountain shielded Marietta from the north and blocked the rail route to the Chattahoochee River which skirted its north base. Procuring Kennesaw Mountain wasn't going to be an easy task.
And William Tecumsah Sherman was so convinced of that fact that in a telegram to Washington he said without any reservation "...Kennesaw is the key to the whole country." Georgia experienced one of the wettest Springs in years. There wasn't a day that it didn't rain from the end of May until well into the third week of June. The armies of both the Union and Confederacy both experienced everything from daily drizzles to torrential downpours. Everyone not protected from the elements soon found themselves "soaked to the skin". Obviously moving the masses would now create wide swaths of muddy roads and trails. by June 10th, Sherman's Army once again began its drive toward Atlanta...and Kennesaw Mountain, their primary objective. McPherson Army of the Tennessee took a route parallel with the railroad through Big Shanty toward Marietta while General Thomas' Army of the Cumberland headed straight south toward Pine Mountain. General Schofield's Army of the Ohio stayed to the right of Thomas heading for Lost Mountain.
To give you an example in the ironies of war, picture yourself in two places at the same time;
One is standing beside Joseph Johnston, Confederate General in the defense of the Atlanta campaign. Accompanying him are Generals Polk and Hardee. As they mount an artillery fortification for a better view from their vantage point, they are warned that yankee cannons were well within range of their exposed position. But the warning goes unheeded. In fact, a small group of rebel soldiers gather to watch the generals take turns scanning the area with their binoculars.
The other place is standing approximately a 1/4 mile northwest of your first position. There before you is William T. Sherman, General of the Military Division of the Mississippi. The general is moving along his own lines when he up and spots the Confederate group.
Angered at their boldness, he goes to the nearest artillery batteries and orders their captains to commence fire on those "arrogant bastards".
The first salvo causes the Confederates to scatter for "dear life", with the exception of General Leonidas Polk, who not only is too overweight, but too dignified to move very fast. The second salvo sends a shell crashing through his chest, killing him instantly. The shock in losing Polk brings tears to General Joe Johnston as he softly mumbles, "I would rather anything than this".
One frustrated Confederate leaves a personal message behind upon leaving Pine Mountain:
"You damned Yankee sons of bitches has killed our old Gen. Polk."
Late on the afternoon of June 15, McPherson's troops including the 16th Wisconsin encountered Confederate outposts a mile beyond Big Shanty pushing them from delaying positions back to the base of Brushy Mountain where Brigadier General William Harrow's Fourth Division swept around their flank capturing 150 prisoners. Brushy Mountain itself, was held by the Confederates until June 18 when they withdrew.
Within a week, Sherman issued Special Field Orders No. 28 to his subordinant commanders. His plan for the Battle of Kennesaw Mountain. If all went by plan, he would destroy the Confederate Army in one big battle, which would commence on Monday morning, June 27th. On the Confederate side of the coin, Johnston had every right to believe his position was secure and strong enough to withstand any sustained assault the Union would be able to muster.
The fateful day arrived on a typical hot sweltering southern morning and at precisely 8 a.m., the entire Union artillery opened up with a thunderous bombardment. One Confederate estimated fifty Union cannons concentrated their fire on the mountain. McPherson's attack posed no immediate danger to the Confederate entrenchments. Leggett's division including the 16th Wisconsin decided to maintain a distance from the rebel line astride Bell's Ferry Road. Their deadly musketry in conjunction with four artillery batteries earned respect from any Federals who came too close.
On Kennesaw Mountain's north shoulder, Union forces met with the same resistance as vegetation was so dense that skirmishers ran headlong onto the defenders line and were simply blown back by a hail of lead. Along the face of the mountain three regiments leading the XVI Army Corps advanced and spread out at the mountain's base. Men of the 66th Illinois literally jumped into the rifle pits of the 1st Alabama in hand to hand combat. The 64th Illinois chased the 25th Arkansas clear of its position and began their steep and challenging climb up the face. Some made it to within 30 yards of the Confederate held crest and in a few isolated places, sheltered themselves behind boulders and trees in holding their ground.
But still, the Confederates had little difficulty in maintaining their hold on the mountain. All the news being reported back to Sherman's headquarters was bad. McPherson was at a stalemate. Thomas' attack had failed. Schofield reported his "sideshow" was making progress, but not much. Davis', Smith's and Newton's divisions were holding their advance positions but no more. Casualties were considered high with two good brigade commanders mortally wounded. What appeared possible and reasonable in the early hours of the morning all but seemed futile by mid-morning. Sherman still was reluctant to admit defeat. He pressed Thomas to make a renewed attack only to be bluntly told, "One or two more assaults would use up this army." By days end, Sherman sent his evening messages off to Washington that he had fought a sharp but unsuccessful battle thus far. Estimates had his own losses pegged at 3,000 and as for the enemy, he had serious doubts they had inflicted much harm. His one "ace up his sleeve" was Schofield. Schofield's gain suggested a way for a flanking maneuver. All he needed now were supplies which would take a few days. In the meantime, he would reinforce Schofield's position to prevent the enemy from dislodging him.
By July 1, everything was ready. McPherson marched his army including the 16th Wisconsin, in a leapfrog fashion beyond Schofield and aimed his sights for either the railroad or the river crossings. If Johnston would maintain his position for a few more days, this would allow the Union to strengthen their hold and eventually jeopardize his army. The Confederate general was too cunning and prudently decided to abandon Kennesaw Mountain and reestablish a new line of defense at Smyrna.
So after dark on the night of July 2, the Confederate defenders quietly and efficiently retreat. He was satisfied with what was accomplished; They had stalled Sherman for a fortnight, quell his attacks and inflict disproportionate losses. To Sherman, Kennesaw Mountain was not a defeat. As long as he continued forging ahead, he saw no association with defeat whatsoever. If he couldn't suppress the enemy with a frontal attack, then by golly, he'd go around them. Johnston's stand at Smyrna surprised Sherman as he thought the Confederate general would flee to the south banks of the Chattahoochee. McPherson was sent out to flank Johnston's left flank while Thomas' skirmishing pressed at his front. There was some sharp fighting on July 4th but again, Johnston slipped away in the night and fell back to his river fortifications.
By July 8, Sherman's main force approached the front of Johnston's line while Union forces went downstream to locate a fordable crossing. Meanwhile, General Schofield's army and Kenner Garrard's Union cavalry division hastened upstream for the same purpose. Schofield successfully made his crossing and on the July 9, Garrard found a suitable crossing at Roswell. Johnston's original intent of stopping Sherman from crossing the Chattahoochee had failed. He was once again forced into a retreat. Sherman had won the day without fighting a single battle or the loss of a single man.
The real sting came when Johnston received a telegram from Richmond and Jefferson Davis. The telegram was curt and to the point; Since he had failed to stop the enemy invasion and inspired no confidence of final victory, he was therefore relieved of command and was to immediately turn it over to Lt. General John Bell Hood, "temporarily promoted to general".
Hood jumped at the opportunity bestowed him by his President Davis and began envisioning a surprise attack on the enemy to commence on July 20 near their front paralleling Peachtree Creek. His scheme was for three of Hardee's divisions and three of A.P. Stewarts divisions to wheel to their left as they advanced on the line. This would force the Union into the pocket formed by Peachtree creek and the Chattahoochee. Unfortunately for Hood, his subordinate commanders misread the plan and after two hours of savage fighting, the attacks ground to a stalemate.
In the meantime, McPherson Federals had maneuvered east of Atlanta and was within artillery range of the city and threatening to overpower Wheeler's cavalrymen. Hood had no choice but to send his reserves over to help Wheeler defend Atlanta's east side. Hardee had no choice but to cut off the battle at Peachtree Creek. Hood again set about to outfox Sherman.
He baited the Union general by sending his main body from Atlanta's outer line to the inner perimeter of fortifications. While this was taking place, Hardee led his corps on a 15 mile circular march to strike the unprotected Union left and rear, east of the city. The plan was good but the execution of the plan once again failed miserably.
Hardee began his march at dark on July 21 and as he passed through Atlanta was joined by Cleburne's Division, which had just been pulled back into the city defenses after fighting all day around Bald Hill. Obviously, nobody was getting much sleep. Yet the greatest loss on July 22 was not for lack of sleep.
Hood had miscalculated. He had expected Hardee to reach the Federal rear at daybreak, but he had only gotten to their flank by noon. Walker's and Bate's men none the less moved in for the attack at approximately 12:15 and the Battle of Atlanta was under way. Leggitt's division was defending Bald Hill in a seesaw struggle in holding his position much of the afternoon.
Major General James B. McPherson had earlier met with his corps commanders and staff during the morning of July 22 and by early afternoon was eating lunch in a grove of trees north of the Hill. Upon hearing the first sound of rifle fire from he southeast, he mounted his horse and galloped southward to have a better look. He met Colonel Strong, his Chief of staff, and instructed him to investigate the situation then turning his horse, rode down the road leading toward Gile A. Smith's Fourth Division. He was followed by his orderly, Colonel Robert K. Scott and his signal officer, Lieutenant William H. Sherfy. They had gone but 150 yards when they passed across the front of the 5th Confederate Infantry regiment of Cleburne's Division, which was advancing under the command of Captain Richard Beard. Beard called out to McPherson to surrender, but either not hearing or attempting to escape, the general wheeled his horse to the right and was immediately shot through the back and lungs. Colonel Scott's horse was shot out from under him by the same volley and was taken prisoner. Lieutenant Sherfy's horse slammed him into a tree, breaking his watch and the precise time of McPherson's death was instantly recorded for all history. The hands froze at 2:02 p.m. on July 22, 1864. Beard pointed to McPherson's body and asked the captured Colonel Scott, "Who is this man lying here?" Scott answered with tears in his eyes, "Sir, it is General McPherson. You have just killed the best man in our army".
The fire fight is so intense that few outside the "inner circle" of officers realize the great loss the Army of the Tennessee has taken with McPherson's death. The war goes on charge after charge pounds at both lines. Today, there will be many deaths. There will be just as many who will become wounded or disoriented in exactly where their lines are. By five in the afternoon Leggit's Division is on the defense at Bald Hill. Corporal Dave James of Company C of the 16th Wisconsin mans one of the "johnnys" rifle pits taken hours earlier by his regiment in the see-saw action of both lines. "Ready yourselves boys! Here they come again!", cries out their Company commander. Several of his comrades are visibly shaken but hold their ground. "I'm hit!....Oh Lord...I'm hit!, calls out a soldier standing next to Dave. "Can you make it back to to our regiment?", Dave shouts as he rams another miniball down the muzzle of his rifle. "I....I, think so", comes a bewildered reply. "THEN DO IT! I'll cover you until you're clear...NOW GO!"
And with that the wounded soldier scampers over the parapit holding his wounded arm and races to safety. In one momentus blurr, a line of gray pours into his rifle pit and for a moment everything stands still. Corporal James is in the a position of pouring black down the muzzle of his rifle when his enemy stands before him with fixed bayonet. "Give it up Billy! You're our prisoner!" And with that, the surprised James simply pushes his weapon forward as if to say, "Then take it and be done with it"...but nothing comes out of his mouth. He simply clasps his hands behind his head and offers no resistance. He had held his position long enough for a wounded friend to reach safety and this will be a remembered moment. In the next chapter, Corporal Dave James explains in his own words of being as a prisoner of war and of his stay at both Andersonville Georgia and Florence South Carolina.
by D. G. James
I was captured at the battle of Atlanta, July 22, 1864, together with fourteen others of my regiment who were on the skirmish line that day. We were taken by the Eleventh Tennessee Confederate Infantry. We were conducted to the rear where we found quite a number of others assembled preparatory to migration to our future home, Andersonville, Georgia. Our captors were very kind, and they treated us as gentlemen. While we stopped to rest towards evening, one of the guards took a piece of Johnny-cake out of his haversack and began eating it. As we had been captured toward evening, he asked me if I had had my supper. I told him no, nor had I had any dinner either, for we had been fighting since early in the morning. He very generously divided his cornbread with me and expressed his sympathy, as we did not know what was in store for us.
After getting well back from the fighting lines, our captors turned us over to the Third Arkansas Cavalry. Then the process of robbery commenced, which was repeated every time our guards were changed. First they took my hat and canteen; those of us who had good shoes or any attractive garments were compelled to give them up. Sometimes we got in return an old pair of shoes that would scarcely hold together. Then they might throw us a pair of old, dilapidated pants and coat well stocked with graybacks. If we protested against such treatment, they coolly informed us that if we did not give them up they would blow our brains out, and they backed up the threat with a cocked revolver pointed at us. We were marched that night to a little town called East Point, six miles distant. There, for reasons unknown to us, we remained two days. During this time all was quiet at Atlanta. We could hear no news from the army until the middle of the afternoon of the second day.
Their pontoon train went by in great haste, which excited our curiosity, and we were informed that Sherman's army had met defeat and was making a precipitous retreat; and that their pontoon train was ordered to bridge the Tennessee river to intercept Sherman's retreat. The next morning the batteries opened up at Atlanta. One of our comrades asked the officer if their army wasn't making considerable noise in crossing the Tennessee. He came back with an oath, threatening to shoot the man for his impudence.
While at East Point we received two and one half hardtacks, made of shorts, for two days' rations. The third day they gave us three of these hardtacks and started us on our line of march south. Our guard consisted of a small part of the 54th Georgia Infantry, under command of a captain who was very kind to us; also, his men were courteous and they treated us as well as possible under the circumstances. They allowed us to camp in orchards where we could gather green apples and to invade cornfields to procure corn, which we roasted by the fires; and so we fared sumptuously. Two and on half day's march brought us to Griffin, Georgia.
It being rumored that General Blair had been captured, and was in our party disguised as a private, several members of Congress who had served with the general walked up and down our line, but failed to locate him. After this inspection was over we were crowded into some box cars that they had been transporting cattle in, without cleaning. We were crowded so closely that it was impossible for all to sit down at the same time, so part would stand awhile and then change. This rested our weary limbs.
We arrived at Macon about dark. The people came to the train to see the Yankees and made themselves very obnoxious. Our guards, as I have before mentioned, were not in sympathy with the stay-at-homes, as they dubbed them, so allowed us prisoners to talk back. We made good so far as blackguarding went. The women were very abusive, yet it did not take them a great deal to be satisfied, as the guard gave the prisoners all the latitude they desired in retaliating. Ont he morning of the 28th we arrived at our destination, Andersonville, which fact was hailed with joy by all on board, as our limbs were tired and cramped, and we had been without food for a day and a half, and with only five and a half crackers made of short for six days. We had been informed that rations would be furnished in abundance, and were looking forward to the time when we could get all we desired to eat. We were formed into two ranks and marched from the station to Captain Wirz's headquarters. Then we were put into detachments of two hundred and seventy each, and every detachment was sub-divided into three messes,--all this for the convenience of roll call and the issuing of rations.
When the gate was opened and we got a view of what was before us, the scene was indescribable. Over thirty thousand men on nineteen acres of ground,--without shelter; some naked, others bareheaded, barefooted, deformed, and almost unrecognizable as human beings. To a man looking at it from a distance, it gave the appearance of a huge ant-hill, with one moving mass of humanity only visible. As we were going through the throng, staring eyes protruding from their sockets looked us over to see if there might not be some acquaintance among the new arrivals from whom they could hear from home, or friends at the front. As we passed along, a poor weak boy lay beside the path with a pail made of a bootleg, begging for some one to get him a drink of water, and promising that, after getting it, he would never ask for anything more.
I took the pail and went to the creek. This took some time, as it was very difficult to locate any one in that miserable mass. Poor boy! when I reached him he had breathed his last. I was too late.
Here we received our introduction to the demon Wirz, which sent a shudder through our whole system when we realized we were at the mercy of a fiend incarnate. We were sitting, resting from our weary journey, when Wirz came out and, with an oath, gave the order to "Get up!" We all obeyed with alacrity, except one man next to me, who could not hear. He had been wounded in the head, and had he been able to hear, was too weak to rise. In one instant Wirz cried out at the top of his voice to shoot the damned Yankee S.O.B. The guard refused to obey the command, when Wirz threatened him with arrest the next time he refused to obey.
When the enrolling was done, the comrades gathered around the wounded man and assisted him to his feet.
About four in the afternoon we were marched to the north gate. The outer gate was thrown open and the enclosure filled; then that gate was closed, the inside gate opened, and the squad ushered into the prison. This performance was repeated until all of us were shut inside the stockade. This precaution was taken to avoid the prisoners making a stampede, should both gates be open at one time. We were informed that we should receive our daily ration as soon as we got inside the gate. We waited anxiously until they were through issuing to the old prisoners, which was about seven in the evening. We were then informed it was so late we would not get anything to eat that night. The next night we received one-half pint of corn meal, with more cob than meal, in the raw state, but with neither wood nor cooking utensils. We traded our meal with some prisoners who had fuel for some cooked,--they tolling us pretty heavily. The next day, when Wirz was inside the stockade and some of the boys protested to him against the small rations, and he answered, "You vas pretty sleek fellows. I take that out of you fore long."
They dealt cooked rations to half of the prisoners for two weeks and raw to the other half, alternately. The cooked ration consisted of a piece of cornbread about two inches square, a pint of cow-pea soup, with about three peas to the pint, and two bugs to each pea. They were cooked in the sack, and with many of them in the pod. When we received the raw ration, we got every day for fuel a piece of wood about two feet long and two inches in diameter. After we had got ourselves together, we organized a company for tunneling; but before we got our tunnel completed, Wirz found out what we were doing. He informed us that he would take that out of us, and he proceeded to do so by cutting our rations off for two days, telling us that he would starve us until we would behave. When any one who had done the tunneling was detected, he was taken outside and put into the chain-gang or the stocks.
Wirz kept forty-two blood hounds, divided into three packs, a man in charge of each pack. The dogs were let loose every morning and taught to make that circuit of the stockade.
The prisoners inside could hear their howling and baying, knowing that when the baying became especially hideous the dogs had hit the trail of some poor prisoner who, after tunneling for days and nights, buoyed up with hope of escaped, was at last to be torn to pieces by the hounds; or, if he succeeded in climbing a tree, to fall into the hands of brutes fully as much to be dreaded as the blood-thirsty hounds. If the prisoner resisted, he was shot; if re-captured, he was subject to several grades of punishment,--the first, to be put into the standing stocks. nothing more barbarous ever was practiced since the Spanish Inquisition. This instrument of torture consisted of a square frame, formed by four upright posts joined and fitted with bars in which notches were cut and so arranged to secure the arms at the wrists, the head at the neck, the legs at the ankles. The poor fellow was left in these stocks twenty-four hours in rain or sunshine.
If he survived this, he was chained to a thirty-two pound cannon ball, with a chain two feet long; and then another victim was generally chained to his other leg, with a ball weighing sixty-four pounds between them. The chains were so short they had to carry the thirty-two pound balls by means of strings attached to them. The sixty-four pound ball was fastened to a stick so it could be carried across their shoulders when they had to move about. The treatment sometimes lasted from two to four weeks, depending upon the whim of Wirz. Captain Wirz is to be credited with the invention of another devilish contrivance. Twelve men were fastened, by means of iron collars connected with short chains, in a circle, the chains from twenty inches to two feet in length, every man being thus chained to a fellow prisoner, one on his right, the other on his left. A thirty-two pound ball was chained to the leg of every fourth man. These men could not sit, lie or stand erect with any degree of comfort, yet they remained in this condition four weeks without shelter. Medicinal aid was denied the sick; the dead alone were removed from the gang, and then the others were obliged to carry the extra weight, as the balls were allowed to remain attached to the chain. Another cruel punishment consisted in fastening the prisoners' feet a foot from the ground, thus permitting them to lie down or sit up, as they chose.
It was a source of very great amusement for the rebels to get up on the stockade and eat watermelons, then throw the rinds over to the prisoners and watch them scramble after and devour them with avidity of so many starved animals.
Soon after my arrival in prison, I adopted the policy of going to the creek to bathe after midnight because, fewer were there at that time. During the day the creek was well occupied by men drinking and procuring water for cooking purposes, bathing, and the sink. One morning about two o'clock while several were bathing near the bridge, a guard nearby fired into the party without a word of warning, and for no other reason than mere hellishness or desire to get a furlough. He killed three men and wounded another. he was soon relieved and, I presume, went on a furlough. Such deeds as they were daily occurrence.
Some ingenious fellow of our number organized a company for tunneling. The plan was to dig a well two feet deep and then start to drift at a right angle, carrying the dirt to the creek or swamp to dispose of it, doing all the work at night. We always failed in thus attempting to escape.
We dug wells all the way from forty to sixty feet deep, hauling the dirt up in old cans or in little wooden buckets, made with pocket-knives by splitting the staves out of roots mined from the grounds, and using for ropes to raise the dirt the clothing from the dead. We tried another method of tunneling, which almost proved successful.
We started from a shanty near the dead line, making for the entrance a small hole which could be covered at day and uncovered while we worked at night. We evaded the scrutiny of the inspectors until the tunnel was nearly completed, the crust overhead about to be broken and the attempt made to escape. Some one revealed it, or some spy discovered the plan, and so all our hopes were blasted. Our rations were cut off two days for thus trying to gain freedom. We then gave up tunneling for good.
I saw one man shot while under his blanket asleep. The bullet seemed to tear off the whole top of his head. while the victim was in his dying struggle, the guard stood there and laughed, as though it was a huge joke.
I saw another victim walk over the dead line and sit down inside, seeming indifferent to the cry of the prisoners to get out of that or he would be shot. The guard was prompt to execute the order,--fired, but missed. The prisoner remarked, "Pretty close; try it again." The rebels looking on laughed at the poor shot, while the other prisoners dared not venture inside to take the prisoner out for fear of meeting sure death themselves. The fiend of a guard loaded his gun and took deliberate aim; there was a sharp crack, and the poor fellow was relieved of his misery, then left to lie there for hours before being taken out and laid beside the reserve for burial.
About the first of September the rebels, thinking we were to remain all winter, gave us an opportunity to build sheds. A few of the stronger were detailed to go outside and cut and hew some of the pine timber in the vicinity. Their rations were increased to provide strength to work, and, as it also offered an opportunity to pick up chips for fires, it was an envied privilege. One day I succeeded in getting a chance to go out for wood, and, as we were returning with chips in our pockets and limbs in our hands, a rebel officer near the gate made a rush, kicked the limbs out of our hands and made us empty our pockets. This performance created a hearty laugh from the on-looking rebels. The sheds we built were made by putting boards on poles. While they afforded shelter from the direct rays of the sun and from the rain, the sides being open, they offered little protection from the wind or cold.
The men suffering from scurvy and other diseases were becoming more desperate, occasionally deliberately crawling across the dead line in spite of the protests of fellow prisoners, the guards never hesitated to use them as targets.
The home papers had noted sometime before the writer's capture that Sergeant William Nelson of the 10th Wisconsin had been taken prisoner. He was a kind, genial fellow whom we all loved at home, albeit he had some notions of his own about diet. When I inquired for Sergeant Nelson, he was pointed out to me.
The strong, active, young man I had known was almost unrecognizable. He was engaged in separating maggots from a piece of bacon hew was eating. When I addressed him he said, "My God! have they got you in this hell hole? I am glad to see you, but God knows I am sorry to see you here." He related his experience in various prisons and told how at Danville, not satisfied with starving and shooting prisoners, they had infected them with small-pox. When reminded that he was not so particular as formerly about his diet, he replied, "I did not think any power aside from that of Satan himself could be capable of perpetrating such outrages on the human race."
from one prison for another prison
About the tenth September, a brown piece of paper announcing an exchange of prisoners was thrown into the stockade, saying they were to be exchanged at Savannah. This caused a great excitement. The old prisoners were to be taken first. On the twelfth day of September the detachment under charge of Sergeant Nelson was ordered to go. As one of his men had died that morning, he offered to take me as substitute, if the plan should not be discovered. That scheme had been worked before, and I must not, he said, be disappointed if it failed.
On the 13th of September we left, full of hope that relief was in sight. We were crowded into box cars by guards with fixed bayonets, which they used occasionally in spite of the piteous cry of the sick inside for more room. One door was opened a little and two guards were stationed at each side. We spent almost two hours in the afternoon at Macon, where the crowds jeered us. Some sympathetic women, pitying our plight, threw bread to us. From here we went to Charleston. The night before we reached that place there was bright moonlight, but as we neared the coast we saw some faint hope of escape in, perhaps, being able to signal a passing ship. The condition of the road bed rendered it necessary for the train to run slowly. Some of the prisoners watched their opportunity, when the guard was nodding, to push him out the door. The guards on top the car, thinking it was an escaping prisoner, opened fire and riddled him with bullets. Of the prisoners who tried by jumping to the ground, to escape, some were killed, some wounded; and a very few succeeded in reaching our lines.
We had been told along the line that an exchange was being made at Charleston, but upon our arrival there we made but a short stop before starting northward.
They then claimed that we were to be exchanged at Richmond. We made a stop at Florence, South Carolina, which relieved us, as we were cramped and sorely in need of rations. We reached Florence about four in the afternoon of September 14th, but were kept in the cars all night. The following morning we moved about two miles out of town where we were unloaded and stationed in a field. Here we were permitted to gather some rails and build a fire, yet we had nothing to cook or eat. There were cornfields in the immediate neighborhood and the men were vainly crying to gather some. The next day, September 16, we still fasted, but by that time many had lost all desire for food.
Five men near me lying beneath one blanket died that afternoon from starvation. About one hundred in all, out of eight hundred, died of starvation there in a single day. The day before some of the stronger ones had made a stampede for the cornfield. The rebels beat the long roll and the whole garrison soon turned out and with hounds and guns succeeded in capturing most of them.
One poor drummer boy who was shot replied to Colonel Iverson's question as to why he tried to escape, "Oh Colonel, I am so hungry," and then fell back dead. One man from an Illinois regiment eluded the hounds for two days before they caught his trail. at daybreak the third morning he heard the baying of hounds and used a club to keep them off until the owners came up.
The guards then took the club away from him and permitted the dogs to bite him to encourage them for future work. He was returned to us, and his torn clothing and lacerated limbs corroborated his story. Another prisoner was concealed by slaves in a hollow log two days.
They then gave him some sweet potatoes and baked possum and started him, as he said, for "God's country"; but the hounds caught his trail and his fate was similar to that of the Illinois prisoner.
About ten o'clock on the night of the 16th, some citizens brought us some corn meal. We were allowed about three tablespoons full each. The next day we were given a sorghum stalk about a foot long. This was all we had in four days. The days following we were given squash one day and beans the next for about two weeks. We were faring better for rations, but lacked water, the camp being quite a distance from the creek.
Colonel Iverson, who was put in command of us, was unlike Captain Wirz. He was kind in his promises for our comfort, but failed to carry them out. In the meantime, slaves were building another stockade, about a half a mile away, and in plain sight. Colonel Iverson put us in (the) charge of Colonel O'Neil of the 10th Tennessee Infantry. It was his mission to organize a battalion from the prisoners and they dubbed "galvanized Yanks."
For some days he mingled with us and expressed sorrow at our condition. He claimed that the confederacy had tried to exchange us and had offered two of us for one of their men, but had met with the reply from our officers that we were only bounty-jumpers and coffee-coolers for whom they had no use. He, however, expressed confidence in us, and offered us good clothes and food and pay to relieve their men in the garrison. At the close of the war he promised us each one hundred and sixty acres of land for a homestead. he then came back in a few days with the rolls, ready to organize his battalion, but to his chagrin and anger not a man put down his name. He cursed and threatened, and Colonel Iverson came to his relief, trying direct starvation on us. At last he succeeded in securing five hundred recruits from men who took the oath of allegiance to the southern confederacy, rather than starve. The poor starved wretch who shared my dugout replied to Colonel O'Neil's offer of relief by enlisting, "I believe I will starve a little while longer before I take that step." At that Colonel O'Neil yelled, "By God, I will starve you until you will come to it." He did, but poor James Shanley of Company C, 2nd Wisconsin Cavalry, first went insane and then died, January 27, 1865; he starved to death because of his loyalty to his country.
The stockade completed, those of us who were not "galvanized" were ordered inside, the sick along remaining in the tents. The prisoners who raised their hands swearing allegiance to the southern confederacy in preference to starvation have been censured, yet to this late day I have charity for them, well knowing that when they made oath before Almighty God they inserted this mental reservation--until they had an opportunity to escape to our lines. Some did, and rendered good service to the government until the close of the war.
This stockade was of logs about eighteen feet high enclosing about seven and one-half acres. There was the usual dead line, and a cannon over a platform in each corner of the stockade. A shallow, sluggish stream three feet wide ran through it.
The ground was covered with brush and stumps where the trees had been cut for the stockade. We were not slow in making use of this refuse for shelter. A few axes had been secured and smuggled in, and these were used nights. Those who had secured confederate currency paid a dollar an hour for the use of an axe. After we had been inside the stockade a few days, Colonel Iverson's lieutenant was put in command. As a fiend incarnate, he was second to no one, not even Wirz.
He was always armed, and on seeing several prisoners assembled would cry out to disperse that crowd, and at the same time would begin firing. He established a whipping post inside the stockade, and detailed two prisoners to wield the cat-o'-nine tails, giving them extra rations of solid food for his brutal work. one of these tools was named Stanton, belonging to the 12th New York Cavalry. The other belonged to a Massachusetts Heavy Artillery regiment, a dark, thick-lipped, coarse fellow, whom the prisoners called "Nigger Pete." Their records were not known, yet it was supposed that they were bounty jumpers from the slums of New York and Boston.
Cold weather soon began to tell on the prisoners. Four of us built a structure 5 1/2 by 6 feet. We dug back into the bank, then set up two strips endwise, and fixed a pole across these to support the roof. At the end we made a fire place and a chimney, which we used for cooking. The brick for our fireplace we fashioned with our hands out of clay and water, then baked them in the sun. We gathered pine needles for our bed. We had a blanket and a half for the four of us. These quarters served very well until the winter rains commenced. Then the clay began to soak and melt, and the water seeped through the roof.
One evening in the early winter, five nice-looking young men came in with a new detachment. They had almost no clothing and only a little wood which they carried in their hands. Not finding any shelter, they built a little fire and lay down. The morning found them frozen stiff. It was known that they were all from a college in Massachusetts. Every morning following a cold night, the creek would be full of men thawing out their feet. Quite often the creek would be covered with ice. Most of the prisoners were destitute of shoes and socks, and their feet, from repeated freezing, would become sore; and they were often obliged to crawl to the creek, where many a poor fellow died from the exertion.
One day the colonel appeared on the bank and requested a middle-aged prisoner to turn a hand-spring. The prisoner replied that the living he received did not warrant such vigorous exercise, and walked off. The angry colonel tried to find the man but the prisoners would not reveal his identity, whereupon the colonel resolved to starve us until we did. No rations were received until the second day after, when the man, rather than have us longer denied food, confessed. The colonel ordered him tied to the whipping post and given fifty lashes on his bare back with the cat-o'-nine tails, which brought blood at every stroke. The poor fellow cringed, yet did not utter a cry. The swamp along the creek became impassable, and a squad was detailed to carry dirt from the bank to make a turnpike, and they, in return, received extra rations. There was a penalty provided for those who tried to flank for rations, and nearly every morning some one was whipped for infraction of this rule.
Every man had his own method of trying to obtain extra rations, I escaped for a few days and, before being re-captured, succeeded in building up a little physically; but after I was re-captured the outlook was poor, so I conceived the idea of falling in with some new arrivals and registered as a Mr. Pease of an Indiana regiment. We were organized into messes of a hundred men each, under charge of our own sergeants, for receiving rations. There were ten messes in a detachment and every detachment was under a rebel sergeant. Every morning he mustered his men, and those who were able fell in line and answered at roll-call. I belonged to the second hundred of the eighth thousand. As a flanker, I was Mr. Pease of the ninth hundred of the tenth thousand.
When the drum beat for morning roll-call I fell in with the second hundred, which broke ranks in time for me to go to the other detachment before they fell in. Then at night my partner would attend to drawing my ration, and I would attend to the other. Putting the three rations together we would cook them. At first I disposed of one ration to hire an old axe with which to split up a stump that was on the claim we squatted on to build our quarters. The latter part of October there were twelve detachments organized, upon the supposition that there were twelve thousand men.
The rebels began to think there was what you would now call some watering of the stock, when it came to roll-call, and they started an investigation. Christmas Eve they gave out word that they were going to give us some meat and sweet potatoes for our Christmas feast. I mistrusted some trickery, so I went to the sergeant of the tenth detachment and told him I had an opportunity to go out on parole to work for the rebel officers, for which I would receive an extra ration. The next evening when it came time for roll-call, a squad of guards came in and drove the prisoners all to one side of the creek, stationed the guards so that none could go back except by falling in with their mess and marching along the causeway over the bridge, where both the sergeants were placed to count them as they crossed. So I counted all right at one place and was reported on parole at the other. When the gentlemen had computed their figures, they had six thousand five hundred men to whom they were issuing twelve thousand rations. Then the lash was used very freely for a number of days. They were very much surprised, and, to say mad, expressed it mildly. The result was that instead of the feast of meat and sweet potatoes we received nothing, they claiming that they did not have time.
New Years came with another count. I had kept up my parole scheme so that it worked all right. Some of the boys who were working the game lost their nerve and went to the officer and confessed, yet they got the penalty just the same. So I stuck to it. Later, when the general roll-call or muster came around, it found me sick and unable to get out of my dugout, and it so happened that the sergeants of both detachments came at the same time to find those that were not able to get out. I took the crazy dodge on it, and answered no questions, as they both claimed me as their man. They called the man, W. Cook, who shared the domain with me, and he informed them that I was out of my head and had been for several days and was unable to answer any questions. He told them who I was. The sergeant who had lost his man became very angry, threatening my life. He reached down into my cave, took me by the leg, dragged me out and gave me several kicks, sending me down the bank into the creek.
He declared that he would give me fifty lashes. Cook told him it would be unnecessary, as he had already killed me. They left me to lie on the ground where the sergeant had left me until the roll-call was over. The boys that I knew gathered around and put me back into my dugout. I remember hearing one man say, "That is the last of poor Dave."
I was unconscious for several days and, before I had gained sufficient strength to get out, Sherman's army had started from Savannah on the great campaign through the Carolinas. Every available man the rebels could spare was rushed to the front to stop him. Our guards were replaced with some conscripted boys and old men, and I imagined that the sergeant that had the account against me, in his haste to stop Sherman, had neglected to hand it over to his successor. Not being anxious to settle the account, I did not refer to it, so it stands there yet to my credit.
The prisoners got into the habit of trading with the slaves working on the stockade, thus getting some sweet potatoes and other vegetables, which they usually ate raw for the scurvy. It seemed to help it immensely. A stop was soon put to this, and prisoners were not permitted to speak to negroes. Then our boys got to bartering with the guards, which trade prospered very well for a short period. We swapped anything we had for something to eat. I had a gold pen and a silver holder, given me by my father so that I would be able to write home after entering the service. Although I gave it to a rebel for a quart of sweet potatoes and then ate them raw. The guards got so they would take what we had for barter to inspect, then fail to return either it or the desired ration. One of my friends mad a ring from a bone and let one of the guards take it for inspection, for which he was to bring a quart of peas when he came on post at the next relief. My friend kept watch for him when he came back on beat and asked for his peas. Instantly, the guard raised his gun to his shoulders, took quick aim and fired. The prisoner dodged, and the ball passed over him and lodged in the dirt roof of a nearby dugout. That was the end of that deal.
Another instance came under my observation. A prisoner belonging to a West Virginia regiment camped next to me. Noticing a guard on the top of the stockade taking a chew from a large plug of tobacco, he asked him if he would please give him a bite. The guard raised his musket to his shoulder and fired. The ball entered the victim, passed into his left breast and down out of his right side. He lived about three hours, suffering intense pain until death relieved him.
Late in the fall the rebels detailed men from among the prisoners to go into the timber and cut poles for a frame and split shakes to roof a hospital; and they also detailed the stronger ones as nurses. This hospital was constructed by setting forked posts in the ground about ten feet apart. poles were placed in these forks for ridge poles and plates. The rafters were then put up of poles hewed off on one side. The shakes were put on the roof and weighted down with poles and stones. The sides were put up by weaving the shakes into sections with vines procured in the swamp. So, when this hospital was ready for its inmates, it had been built without a nail. The fire places for warming and ventilation were erected without a brick. The hospital patients received a change of diet, together with shelter and the warmth of several cozy fire places.
Many of the inmates improved, and it was the means of enabling a number of the poor boys to reach home and the dear ones, who, without it, would never have reached "God's Country".
This was about the time for the presidential election in the north. Colonel Iverson thought he might get some idea of what the verdict would be by taking a vote amongst the prisoners. So they campaigned it a few days. The told us how cruel our government was to us for not exchanging, knowing very well how we were suffering, and that Abe Lincoln was responsible for all we were compelled to endure. They prepared the ballots by bringing in a box with two kinds of peas, black and white. The black peas were for Old Abe and the white ones for Little Mac, as they designated them. They then stationed a guard around the polls to enforce honesty and prevent repeating.
The polls opened at nine in the morning and the voting commenced very briskly, and , as nearly as some could tell by inquiring of every voter coming from the polls as to how he had cast his ballot, they estimated that Lincoln was receiving five-sixths of the votes. This was very disagreeable to the rebels who were watching from the stockade near the boxes.
They could look down into the box from the top of the stockade. We had no means of knowing what the issues were, as we had not received a paper for six months, except little dodgers thrown inside to deceive us. These little papers announced an exchange that was going on for our benefit, yet we concluded it was safe to vote for the man they did not like and, as General Bragg expressed it, "We loved him for the enemies he had made." So all the information we could glean on the issues was what the rebels had seen fit to impart to us. We came to the conclusion that we were not voting in sympathy with their desires. A sergeant was asked by Colonel Iverson whom hew was voting for and what he knew about the issues. The sergeant replied that all he knew was that four years ago he shouted for Abe Lincoln and they were shouting for Jeff Davis, and that now it was safe, because the rebels hated Lincoln so intensely, to vote for him. The rebels became so disgusted with the outlook that about ten in the forenoon they took out the peas and failed to announce the results. Thus ended our presidential campaign, so far as we were concerned.
In December there was an exchange of prisoners arranged, so they claimed. This exchange included only the sick and wounded.
They took a few sick who would never be of any use to the government, and made up the balance out of those who were known as the raider cut-throats and bounty-jumpers; as it was an easy task to identify them. One good thing for us was the fact that they took the demons Stanton and Pete, who had been doing the whipping. When the new set of guards came on, it was made up principally of young fellows from South Carolina who were not old enough to go to the front. Judging from their talk they were very desirous of killing a Yankee. I think the most of them had their desires gratified, as the records show.
It was but a short time after guard mount before we could hear the crack of a rifle most any time of the day or night. I heard one of them make the remark, one morning when he went on guard, that he would kill a damned Yankee before he came off duty. He would let the Yanks know that he did not come there for nothing. About daybreak the next morning, a poor fellow came along going to the cree for water.
He little suspected there was a cowardly villain waiting to murder him. Before he could reach the creek, as he was passing the guard's beat, fully ten feet from the dead line, without a word of warning the guard raised his musket to his shoulder and fired, killing the man instantly. he then remarked that he had said he would kill one, and he had done it. He was soon relieved, and, for his reward, received his thirty-day furlough.
All the Comforts of
for the South
Late in the fall arrangements were made by which the United States Sanitary Commission were to be allowed to send some clothing and blankets to the prisoners, and also that the people of the north might send through the lines to their friends and loved ones boxes of food and delicacies,
which would be delivered to them. My mother and several of the good old ladies of our town made up a box and sent it to me. In the box they put some butter, each roll having a silver dollar in it. It is needless to say that I never received the box; and I never knew of but one box having been received by the prisoners at Florence. But very few suits of clothes were ever given to the prisoners. I dare say that there were not to exceed fifty blankets given them, the bulk of them being kept to be put on the backs of their own men. The rebel sergeants used to come into the stockade on cold, frosty mornings dressed warmly in the clothes sent there for the prisoners.
We knew this, for the blankets had on them the letters U.S.S.C. (United States Sanitary Commission).
There was a detail taken out on parole to cut wood in the swamp, half a mile away, and carry it up to the gate to supply the prison and officers' quarters; and to wait on the officers generally, in order to get the additional meager supply of meat or some other solid food that would give them strength to perform the arduous work. About five in the afternoon, the guards would be placed around the woodpile at the entrance to the gate, which would be opened, and a detail from each mess was let out to bring it in. Some days the prisoners would take advantage of the parole and get out of reach of the prison limit and hide.
As soon as it became dark, they would make an effort to escape the vigilance of the scouts and the scent of the hounds, and some did. Others were captured and returned to receive their punishment of lashes, etc.,
It was a habit of two lieutenants, Mosby and Barrett, when they wanted recreation, to post themselves on the cap over the gate and, armed with heavy walking sticks, as the prisoners passed through, hit them over the head to see who could knock down the larger number. The prisoners would run the gauntlets, stooping or dodging, of course, to avoid the blows. When one of them was knocked down, there was loud merriment among the guards and officers looking on. One evening Lieutenant Mosby wa playing a lone hand at the post over the gate, and just ahead of me was a fine looking fellow that he had singled out for a blow. The man dodged; the club slipped from the lieutenant's hand and went flying out among the prisoners. The fellow at whom he struck, picked it up to carry in for fuel to cook his allowance.
Mosby jumped down, ran into the crowd cursing and calling the prisoners all the vile names he could think of. Inquiring for the man that had his cane, no one responded, knowing full well to what it would lead. They gathered around in the endeavor to secrete him, yet to no avail.
Mosby located him, gathered up his gad and pounded the poor fellow over the head and shoulders until he became exhausted. During this time, Colonel Iverson, who was standing by, caught up a stick of wood and ran towards us crying, "Kill the damned Yankee."
The prisoners gathered around the poor victim, who was bleeding profusely, so the colonel should not reach him, fearing he would kill him anyway. When the colonel found that he was balked, in his rage he ordered the guard to fire into the crowd, but they failed to obey the order.
A man by the name of Melvin Grigsby, a member of Company C, Second Wisconsin Cavalry, was out on detail for some time, working for the officers' mess. He fared quite well, getting some warm clothes and provisions. He made his plans to escape, revealing the scheme to a comrade named Carr, and then by forging a pas and bribing a sergeant of the guards, he got away. Every morning, when the roll was called, Carr would answer to Grigsby's roll-call and count. He did this for several days, until they had a general roll-call and count. This gave Grigsby a good start before his absence was discovered. A search was made, but no Grigsby was found. The matter was reported to the colonel, who sent a guard inside the stockade to bring out Carr, who was escorted to headquarters and asked where Grigsby was. He replied that he did not know. The colonel called him a damned liar. When Carr was asked how Grigsby escaped, he did not choose to tell. The colonel then commenced to cuff him severely on the head, saying that he would compel him to tell. Carr told him to cuff away--that every dog had his day.
Whereupon the colonel commenced kicking as well as striking him, saying that he would compel him to tell by putting him in the dungeon; if he did not tell then he would torture him for three hours in the stretchers; and that as a last resort he would kill him.
Carr was thrown into the dungeon, and after he suffered as long as he thought he could possibly stand it, he called the guard and told him to send for the colonel, who came and let him down, asking him if he was ready to tell how Grigsby escaped. Carr still replied in the negative, and requested that if the colonel had any humanity left to kill him, as he could not stand that another hour. He was too weak to stand. The colonel then went away leaving him there for two days and two nights without food. Then he was brought back inside the stockade in a delirious state and turned over to his friends. He remained in that condition for some days, having a run of fever. After several weeks of suffering, without any medical treatment, or any food except the prison fare, he began to recover, and he lived to be paroled to reach home and friends.
I must describe the dungeon and stretchers, the place and means for persecution, and where Carr passed two days. It was situated in one corner of the stockade under the gun platforms, built of logs and entirely closed in with a dirt embankment around the sides and top, except the opening for the door, which was a double one; and it did not admit a ray of light. There was no ventilation whatever. The guard on top was ever on the alert to see that the prisoners did not make their escape. The water seeped in through the top until it wa in some places several inches deep. All the ground was completely covered with it. The stretchers were then fixed on the timbers supporting them by hanging two cords from them and then fastening them to the prisoner's thumbs, drawing him up with his arms behind him until his toes would barely reach the ground. Then, after leaving him there with the doors closed from one to two hours, until life was nearly extinct, he would be let down to survive a short and miserable existence.
Here is an instance of loyalty: A drummer boy there, scarcely twelve years old, who had lost several of his toes by gangrene, was hobbling around with the aid of a stick. He was barefooted and bareheaded. When a rebel came in to beat the drum for roll call, our boy stood near the gate to get a look outside as the gate opened. The rebel had no music or time to him, so the boy asked him to let him beat the assembly, which he did in fine style, considering his swollen hands and stiff fingers. The colonel was observing it all from the outside and came in and asked the boy if he would like to come out and get into good, comfortable quarters, where he could get clothes and plenty to eat. He asked the colonel what he wanted him to do, and received the reply that he was wanted to drill a corps of drummer boys for him. The little patriot hesitate a minute, looked at his swollen, diseased feet and his dilapidated condition generally, then thoughtfully said, "No, I thin too much of my country to drum for rebels." The colonel passed out somewhat chagrined at the rebuff received from the heroic little drummer boy. Had all the prisoners been as loyal to the flag as this drummer boy, the rebel officers would not have had so comfortable quarters, and there would not have been so fine a flag staff bearing the rebel banner to the breeze.
The Beginning of the End
About the first of February (1865), new prisoners began to arrive in small numbers. They were Sherman's bummers who had been picked up in small squads, having ventured too far out to get a few more chickens or smoked hams. They gave the prisoners some hope of being rescued. The guards had been reduced to a minimum. The rebels paroled some of the prisoners, taking a very light guard to escort them to our lines to convince them that they were going to be exchanged under a flag of truce; but they soon changed their course, giving as their reason that our men had fired on the flag of truce and refused to receive prisoners. Some were brought back, yet quite a number escaped. We afterwards learned that they had started them for Richmond, but one of our cavalry raids had cut off their communication. So they had to return.
February 15th, there wa bustle around the prison, both outside and in. We knew General Sherman's army was coming our way. The rebels said an exchange was going on at Wilmington, North Carolina. The large majority of our men were anxious to go, yet a few thought it safer to remain and be relieved by Sherman; but the rebels would not have it that way, telling us that Sherman had been whipped at Savannah, then at Pocotaigo and again at Columbia. What pleased us prisoners was the fact that every time Sherman was defeated, he got nearer to us. The rebels commenced on the 15th to move us away, and on the 17th,they took out the last squad that was able to be moved. They did this at the point of the bayonet, as some of our men insisted on staying. The last took their departure about dark.
The transportation was the same as usual, in crowded box cars with no rations. We arrived at Wilmington, North Carolina, about three in the afternoon of the 17th and were then ferried across the river. Nothing of importance transpired, only that the usual number escaped. One man was killed, and another shot in the head; but, not being dead, he was loaded on the train and brought along. The poor fellow's head was so swollen that one would hardly know he was a human being. He suffered intense pain, as we knew by his continual groaning. The people along the line assured us that the exchange was going on at Wilmington, but we were, as usual, skeptical. Upon arrival there, to our surprise we could see an exchange going on down the river at Fort Anderson, but it was an exchange of shot and shell between the fleet and the fort. The sight of Yankee shells bursting over the fort miles away was beautiful to behold, and the music was joyful to our ears.
We were ordered aboard the ferry and taken across the river, as they informed us that the place of exchange had been transferred to Richmond. On landing at Wilmington proper, we were met by sympathetic ladies with baskets on their arms filled with eatables, which they began giving to the prisoners. Soon the officers ordered them to desist, and directed the guards not to allow them to approach with fifteen feet of us.
One woman, more determined than the others, broke her bread into pieces and threw it over the heads of the guards, whereupon Lieutenant Mosby ran inside the guard line, took the bread from the prisoner who was eating it, gave him a kick and threw it away, and at the same time ordered the guard to shoot any one throwing bread to the damned Yankee S.O.B.'s
As we were passing along the dock, one of the prisoners fell from exhaustion, and did not have strength to get up. The captain ordered him to get up and go along, but he lacked strength; and then the captain grew impatient and, after kicking him several times in the head, went his way leaving the victim bleeding from the nose and mouth. This captain was a one-armed man.
I could not learn his name.
We were taken out back of the city to the sand hills, and there awaited rations, which were brought to us about nine in the evening. The wind was blowing off the coast, damp and cold, and so the suffering was intense. Before morning we were put aboard a train and taken north as far as Tarboro, when our guards said they had received a message ordering us back to Wilmington, as the point for exchange had been changed again. I told one of the guards I thought that countermand was given by Yankee cavalry raiders. He cocked his musket and ordered me to shut up, which order I promptly obeyed. We stopped two days in Wilmington, camped on high ground back of the city, and watched shells burst in the air at night, which gave us some encouragement. Then they announced that the flag of truce was in sight. We were ordered to fall in to go to the boat to meet the said flag.
We had gotten about half way to the dock when a train of flat cars backed up and we were ordered on board double quick. The boys were moving too slowly to suit the officers so our guards were ordered to fix bayonets and charge, which they did very promptly. Six o'clock the next morning found us in Goldsboro, North Carolina. It was a very cold night, and my feet were so tender that they were frozen again. Two men on the same car with me were chilled to death. We were then taken to a near-by swamp and put upon a little knoll, where we remained four days. We were able to gather dead limbs and refuse on the ground, and so made ourselves as comfortable as was possible under the circumstances.
We found many kind and sympathetic people in Goldsboro who were disposed to help us, but the officers refused to let them. One old lady (God bless her for she saved many lives!) was bolder than the rest. She came down and passed through the lines with her pail of milk and some bread and sweet potatoes, and, selecting out the sick and weak ones, gave them the nourishing food, ignoring the threats of the officers and guards to kill her. The next time she came with a negro woman, who bore a little tub on her head, carrying a pail in one hand and leading a mule and cart with the other. The officers then got desperate and refused to let her come near us or to give succor even to the dying. One morning she came again and we could see determination in her face and firmness in her step, but they kept her back by forming a line of fixed bayonets. She then appealed to the captain to allow her to pass inside to give something to the sick and starving; yet all to no avail. The captain said if she had anything to give, to give it to their own men, not to the Yankees who had come down there to kill their friends and to destroy their property.
He declared that all he desired to do was to keep the breath of life in the Yankees long enough to get strong, healthy men in exchange for them; that he could not keep us a great while longer and intended to fix us so that we would never be of any use when he got done with us.
She told him the Yankees were human beings as well as other men, and that she would care for them as long as she could. She called him a brute, without any feeling of manhood about him. He kept her from coming inside the lines, yet she threw her bread in spite of his orders. One of the prisoners had a little talk with her and she told him they would have to release us soon, as communications were cut to the north of there and that our army had taken Wilmington; so they would be obliged to give us up. He then thanked her for her kindness and asked her what we could ever do to repay her for being so good to us. She said, "When you get into your lines, drink all the good old Yankee coffee you can, and think of a poor old woman who has not had a taste of it for nigh unto four years." That is the last we heard of our kind friend. I have wished many times I had her name.
February 25th we took another of our usual paroles, went aboard the cars that night and arrived inside our lines about sundown, February 26th, on the north branch of the Cape Fear River, a very happy crowd. As to our condition, the troops who were stationed there can tell. It is said that the civilization of a nation is measured by the way it treats its prisoners. If that to be so, the so-called Confederate state of America must sink pretty low down in the scale. In justice to those who resorted to the extreme measures of "galvanizing," as the only means of saving their lives, yet had no intentions of helping the enemy, but only to gain their freedom, let me say this:
They were no sooner out and fed until they began planning for an escape. They were taken to Savannah and put to work to confront Sherman's army, but, as they were about to make the attempt to cut through and fight for their freedom, some cowardly traitor came in and gave the plot away, when the battalion found themselves surrounded by a superior force and were disarmed and put under arrest. The eight sergeants were shot and the privates and corporals returned to the stockade. One of these sergeants was the man who had been lashed for refusing to turn a hand spring. When they were to be executed the eight were placed in a row in the presence of the disarmed battalion. Seven were blindfolded, but the eighth refused to be, saying he desired to be launched into eternity with the faces of those cruel men branded on his brow. Thus he would know the fiends who would thus starve men, and then shoot them for trying to obtain their freedom. Then, standing erect with arms folded, he gave the command to fire, as he was ready. He fell pierced through the heart, a victim of Jeff Davis' damnable policy to establish a Confederacy. This was related to me by those who were eye witnesses to the tragedy.
Great grandfather Dave, as one cousin put it so profoundly, was a survivor. In his journal, he failed to give much detail on his actual moment of liberation. His fellow prisoners and himself were technically left in a small ravine adjacent to the, now deserted, train. One of Sherman's Union regiments came upon the group and were horrified at what they saw. The actual Company that was first to approach them saw emaciated skeletons, all who were too weak to stand of their own accord. Just in the first night of their freedom alone, eighteen of his comrades breathed their last.
The Company that had found them was directed around southern towns for the next several weeks for fear there would be retaliation for the deplorable condition of their fellow comrades at the hands of their southern guards.
David Goodrich James weighed less than 70 pounds. His liberators transported him and his fellow prisoners of the two death camps to Charleston where they were put aboard an ocean steamer. To add more "salt to their wounds", they rode out early Spring storms on the high sea for nearly a month's time before arriving at Annapolis Maryland. In addition of having nearly been starved to death, he found himself "seasick" as well. From Annapolis he was transferred to a military facility in St. Louis where his physical condition was further evaluated. There they felt his condition severe enough to send him home "so his last days could be surrounded by the people he loved most".
George and Lois James wasted no time in finding a "guardian" for him to stay by his side day and night for the next several months in preventing him from gorging himself to death. Their efforts weren't in vain as he did regain his health in time to rejoin his regiment and march in the Grand Review in Washington D.C. His military record indicates he was mustered out of the army on July 22, 1865.
In 1867, his former commanding officer of the 16th Wisconsin Volunteer Infantry petitioned the Governor of Wisconsin to brevet him as a Captain dating back to October 3, 1862 "for meritous service at the Battle of Corinth and Battle of Atlanta". His bravery in the rifle pit at Bald Hill that day, July 22, 1864 was remembered.
His duty to Country didn't stop with the closure of the Civil War. D. G. James took an active role in the G. A. R. (Grand Army of the Republic) and served as G. A. R. State Commander. He served as historian for the 16th Wisconsin at Shiloh and Vicksburg and served on two commissions appointed by the Governor of his state to procure monuments commemorating Wisconsin servicemen at the Battle of Shiloh and who were incarcerated at Andersonville prison. He was elected to several posts in community government and later became a State Senator for his congressional district in southwestern Wisconsin. Although he only stood a little over 5 feet in his stocking feet, to his family and friends and to all his descendants, he was much taller then that.
by Fred G. Cook (12:42 pm Sunday, March 3, 1996)
Wisconsin State Historical Society Archieve Room - Ada James files; Madison WI
Wisconsin Veterans Museum - Individual Service Records of D. G. James; Madison WI
Wisconsin at Shiloh; Report of the Commission - Compiled by Capt. F. H. Magdeburg and issued by the Wisconsin Shiloh Monument Commission 1909 (The Sixteenth Wisconsin Infantry at Shiloh, Tenn., April 6, and 7, 1862 by D. G. James p.33-52) Personal Library of Fred G. Cook; Poynette WI
Report of the Wisconsin Monument Commission -Compiled by D. G. James 1911 (Chapter IV, Personal Reminiscences of the Writer, D. G. James p.63-90) Personal Library of Fred G. Cook; Poynette WI
Kennesaw Mountain and the Atlanta Campaign, A Tour Guide by Dennis Kelly - Copyrighted 1990 by Kennesaw Mountain Historical Association, Inc. Marietta GA (various pages and map study)
The Campaign for Atlanta by William R. Scaife - Copyrighted 1993 by William R. Scaife Atlanta GA (various pages and map study)