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THE ANDERSONVILLE DEATH ROLLS


TO THE SURVIVING RELATIVES OF THE MARTYRED "DEAD" AT ANDERSONVILLE, GEORGIA

Photo of Dorence Atwater August 1865

This record was originally copied for you because I feared that neither you nor the Government of the United States would ever otherwise learned of the fate of your loved ones whom I saw daily dying before me. I could do nothing for them, but I resolved that I would at least try to let you sometime know when and how they died. This at least I am able to do now.
So many conflicting rumors have been in circulation in regard to these rolls and myself, that I deem it prudent to give a brief statement of my entire connection with this Death Register, and to show how and why it has been so long withheld from you.


On the seventh of July, 1863, I was taken prisoner near Hagerstown, Maryland., and taken to Belle Island, Richmond Virginia, via Staunton, where I remained five months. I then went to Smith`s Tobacco Factory, Richmond, where I kept the account of supplies received from our Government, and issued to Federal prisoners of war. In the latter part of February 1864, I was sent to Andersonville with a squad of four hundred other prisoners from Belle Isle, arriving there the first day of March. I remained inside the stockade until the middle of May, when I was sent to the hospital. On the 15`th of June I was paroled and detailed as a clerk in Surgeon J.H. White`s office, to keep the daily record of deaths of all Federal prisoners of war. I also made monthly and quarterly abstracts of the deaths, the latter one was said to be for the Federal Government, which I have since learned was never received.
The appalling mortality was such that I suspected that it was the design of the Rebel Government to kill and maim our prisoners by exposure and starvation so that they would forever be totally unfit for military service, and that they withheld these facts. Accordingly, in the latter part of August, 1864, I began to secretly copy the entire list of our dead, which I succeeded in doing, and brought safely through the lines with me in March, 1865. Arriving at camp Parole, at Annapolis , Maryland.., I learned that I could not get a furlough on account of my term of service having expired some seven months before. I immediately wrote to the Secretary of War, asking for a furlough of thirty days, for the purpose of having my Death Register published for the relief of many thousands anxious in regard to the fate of their dead. Before an answer could have returned, I received a furlough from the Commandant of the camp. I then went to my home in Terryville, Connecticut, where I was taken sick the next day after my arrival, which confined me for three weeks. On the twelfth of April, I received a telegram from the War Department, requesting me to come immediately to Washington and bring my rolls, and if found acceptable, I should be suitably rewarded. I started the next day for Washington. Arriving there, I went to the War Department, and learned that the person ( Col. Breck) with whom I was to make arrangements was absent at the Fort Sumpter celebration. I left my rolls with the chief clerk for safe keeping. In a day or two Colonel Breck returned, and he informed me that the Secretary of War had authorized him to pay me three hundred dollars ($300) for the rolls. I told him I did not wish to sell the rolls, that they ought to be published for the benefit of the friends of the dead, for whom chiefly they had been copied. He told me if I wish to publish them, the Government would confiscate them, that I would have until 9 o`clock the next morning to decide whether I would take the three hundred dollars or not. The rolls were then in his possession. I told him if I could have a clerkship in the department which he had described to me, three hundred dollars, and the rolls back again as soon as copied, I should consider it satisfactory. To this he agreed. He then informed me that it would be necessary for me to enlist in the General service in order to get the clerkship. To this I objected but in no other way was it available, and I accepted. I was to muster out of my original enlistment, and given permission to visit home, and return for the duty by the first of June. While in New York in the latter part of May, I telegraphed to Colonel Breck, asking if my rolls were copied, to which I received a reply , "NOT YET ".
Soon after my arrival in Washington in June, I called on Colonel Breck, and asked the privilege of taking sheets of my rolls out after business hours, to copy and return them the next morning. He said he would have to ask General Townsend. I then wrote to Colonel Breck, asking if he did or did not intend to return my rolls, that I had promised that the rolls should be published for the benefit of the friends of the deceased. He returned my letter endorsed as follows: " I have fully explained the matter to General Townsend, and he says the rolls shall not be copied for any traffic whatever." I had never spoken of any trafficking in them; I only wished to give them to people for whom I had copied them at some personal risk. Nothing was more said in regard to the rolls until after my return from Andersonville in August.
Miss Clara Barton, of Washington D.C. upon learning the condition of the cemetery at Andersonville, and that the graves could be identified, had reported the facts to the Secretary of War, who ordered the necessary arrangements to be made for the marking of the graves. A party charged with this duty left Washington on the eighth day of July, consisting of Miss Clara Barton, Captain J.M. Moore, myself and forty two letterers, painters, and clerks, arriving at Andersonville on the 25`th of July.
Before leaving Washington it was found that the original register. captured by General Wilson, was deficient in one book containing about twenty-four hundred names, and my rolls were sent to supply this deficiency. The original was also found in many places blurred and imperfect, through want of care, and my rolls were frequently needed to aid this defect. They were therefore publicly and consistently in the hands of all who had the occasion to consult them, and so came into my hands in the course of duty. They had been copied at Washington, according to my agreement with colonel Breck, and were mine, and lawfully in my possession. I proposed to retain and give them to you as soon as I could. I did not propose to injure anyone, to do anything unlawful or improper with them, much less traffic or speculate on the information they contained, but I did retain them. When the originals were needed in the Wirz trial at Washington, they and my copy were in my tent when the messenger arrived in Andersonville. He took the original and left my copy. When we started home I placed these rolls, with my other property, in my trunk, and brought them to Washington. Upon my arrival I reported to Colonel Breck, at the War Department. He asked if I knew where my rolls were. I said " I have them; will you allow me to keep them, now that you have them copied here?"
He told me " We might as well come to an understanding about these rolls. This is the last conversation you and I will have about them; if you pay back the three hundred dollars you can keep the rolls other wise you must return them." I asked him" If he did not agree to give them back when copied;" he said " Yes, but you were going to set yourself up in business by publishing them, and we do not consider ourselves held to our agreement". I told him " I had a right to publishing them ( if he called that setting myself up for business), and it was my duty to do so." I then turned to leave, intending to see Secretary Stanton. He said, " I infer that you do not intend to give up the rolls." I said " Not Yet: I must go farther to see about them." He said, " You will go to the `Old Capitol' if you do not give them up," and then sent for a guard to have me arrested. My room and trunk were searched, but the rolls could not be found. I was then out in the guard house for two days, and then transferred to the "Old Capitol Prison," and tried by court martial on the following charges and specifications:
Charge I. Conduct prejudicial to good military discipline. II. Larceny. Specifications in this that private Dorence Atwater, of the General Services of the United States Army, did seize and unlawfully take from the tent or quarters of Captain J.M. Moore, assistant quartermaster U.S. Army, certain property of the United States then and there in the proper charge and custody of the said Captain J.M. Moore, to wit: a certain document, consisting of a list written upon about 21 sheets of paper, of Federal prisoners of war who died at Andersonville, Georgia, the same having been prepared by said Atwater, while a prisoner of war at said Andersonville, and sold and disposed by him, to the United States , for the sum and price of three hundred dollars, and did appropriate and retain the said property to his own use. This at Andersonville, Georgia, on or about this 16`th day of august, 1865.
I was convicted, and sentenced as follows: "To be dishonorably discharged from the United States Service, with the loss of all pay and allowances now due; to pay a fine of three hundred dollars; to be confined at hard labor for the period of eighteen months, at such place the Secretary of War may direct; to furnish to the War Department the property specified in the second specification as the property stolen from Captain J.M. Moore, and stand committed at hard labor until the said fine is paid, and the said stolen property is furnished to the War Department."
On the 26`th day of September I arrived at Auburn State Prison, New York, where I remained over two months at hard labor, when I was released under general pardon of the President of the United States.
I reached New Haven, CT. on the following day, and learned that the record had not yet been furnished you. I immediately set about preparing it for publication, and have arranged to have it printed and placed within your reach at the cost of the labor of printing and material, having no means by which to defray these expenses myself. I regret that you have waited so long for information of so much interest to you.<><><> Dorrence Atwater

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