To the people of the United States of America;
REPORT OF AN EXPEDITION TO ANDERSONVILLE, GEORGIA, JULY, 1865, FOR THE PURPOSE OF IDENTIFYING THE GRAVES AND ENCLOSING THE GROUNDS OF A CEMETERY CREATED THERE DURING THE OCCUPATION OF THAT PLACE AS A PRISON FOR UNION SOLDIERS IN REBEL HANDS
Having, by official invitation, been placed upon an expedition to Andersonville, for the purpose of identifying and marking the grounds of the dead contained in those noted prison grounds, it is perhaps not improper that I make some report of the circumstances which induced the sending of such an expedition, its work, and the appearance, condition, and surroundings of that interesting spot, hallowed alike by the sufferings of the martyred dead, and the tears and prayers of those who mourn them.During a search for the missing men of the United States Army, commenced in March, 1865, under the sanction of our late President Lincoln, I informed the acquaintance of Dorence Atwater of Connecticut, a member of the 2nd New York Cavalry, who had been a prisoner at Belle Isle and Andersonville 22 months, and charged by the rebel authorities with the duty of keeping the Death Register of the Union prisoners who died and the nameless cruelties of the last-named prison.
By minute inquiry, I learned from Mr. Atwater the method adopted in the burial of the dead; and by carefully comparing his account with a draft which he made of the grounds appropriated for this purpose, by the prison authorities, I became convinced of the possibility of identifying the graves, simply by comparing the numbered post or board marking each man`s position in the trench in which he is buried, with the corrosponding number standing against his name upon the register kept by Mr. Atwater, which he informed me was then in possession of the War Department. Assured by the intelligence and frankness of my informant of the entire truthfulness of his statements, I decided to impart to the officers of the government the information I had gained, and accordingly brought the subject to the attention of General Hoffman,Commissary General of Prisoners, asking that a party or expedition be at once sent to Andersonville for the purpose of identifying and marking the graves, and enclosing the grounds; and that Dorence Atwater, with his register, accompany the same as the proper person to designate and identify. The subject appeared to have been not only unheard, but unthought of: and from the generally prevailing impression that no care had been taken in the burial of prisoners, the idea seemed at first difficult to be entertained. But the same facts which had been served to convince me, presented themselves favorably to the good understanding and kind heart of General Hoffman, who took immediate steps to lay the matter before Hon. Secretary of War, upon whom, at his request, I called the following day, and learned from him that he had heard and approved my proposition, and decided to order an expedition, consisting of materials and men, under the charge of some government officer, for the accomplishment of the objects set forth in my request, and invited me to accompany the expedition in person, which invitation I accept.
Accordingly, on the 8th of July, the propeller Virginia, having on board fencing material, head-boards, the prison records, forty workmen, clerks and letterers, under command of Capt. James M. Moore,A.Q.M.,Dorence Atwater and myself, left Washington for Andersonville, via Savannah, Georgia, arriving at the latter place July 12th. Having waited at Savannah seven days, and then resumed the journey by way of Augusta, Atlanta, and Macon, the entire party reached its destination in safety about noon on the 25th of July.
We found the prison grounds, stockade, hospital sheds, and the various minor structures, almost in the same condition in which they had been evacuated; and care is taken to leave these historic monuments undisturbed, so long as the elements will spare them.
There is not, and never was, any town or village at the place except what grew out of its military occupation. Anderson Station, on the railroad from Macon to Eufala, was selected as a depot for the prisoners, probably on account of its remoteness and possible security, and the prison itself, with the buildings which sprang up around it, constituted all there was of Andersonville.
The land around is broken and undulating, and at the time of the occupation was covered with forests, mostly of the long-leafed pine, common to the uplands of the South. The bases of the hills are lined with oozy springs, which unite to form little rivulets, one of which winds sluggishly through each of the intervening marshy valleys.
The original enclosure of nineteen acres was made in the unbroken woods; and the timber was only removed as it was wanted for the necessities of the prison. The enclosure was made in January, 1864, and enlarged, during the summer, to 25 and 3/4 acres-being a quad-rangle of 1,295 by 865 feet. The greatest length is from north to south, the ground rising from the middle towards each end in rather a steep, rounded hill-the northern one being at once the highest and of the greatest extent. A small stream, rising from springs a little to the eastward, slows across it through a narrow valley filled with a compost washed down by the rains. The enclosing stockade is formed of pine logs, twenty feet in length, and about eight inches in diameter, sunk five feet in the ground, and placed close together. This is again surrounded by two successive, and precisely similar, palisades-a portion of the last of which is gone. It seems never to have been completed. The two inner walls remain entire. Within the interior space, as the distance of about seventeen feet from the stockade, runs the famous dead-line, marked by small posts set in the ground, and a slight strip of pine board nailed on the tops of them. The gates, of which there are two, situated on the west side, were continuations of the stockade, enclosing spaces of thirty feet square, more or less, with massive doors at either end. They were arranged and worked on the principle of canal locks. Upon the inner stockade were fifty-two sentry boxes, raised above the tops of the palisades, and accessible to the guard by ladders. In these stood fifty-two guards, with loaded arms, so near that they could converse with each other. In addition to the these, seven forts mounted with field artillery, commanded the fatal space and its masses of perishing men.
Under the most favorable circumstances, and best possible management, the supply of water would have been insufficient for half the number of persons who had to use it. The existing arrangements must have aggravated the evil to the utmost extent. The sole establishments for cooking and baking were placed on the bank of the stream immediately above, and between the two inner lines of palisades. The grease and refuse from them were found adhering to the banks at the time of our visit. The guards, to the number of about 3,600, were principally encamped on the upper part of the stream, and when the heavy rains washed down the hill sides, covered with 30,000 human beings, and the outlet below failed to discharge the flood which backed and filled the valley, the water must have become so foul and loathsome, that every statement I have seen of its offensiveness must be considered as falling short of the reality. And yet, within rifle-shot of the prison, there flowed a stream fifteen feet wide and three feet deep, of pure, delicious water. Had the prison been placed so as to include a section of the "Sweet Water Creek" the inmates might have drank and bathed to their hearts' content.
During the occupation, an beautiful spring broke out like the waters of Meribah from the solid ground, near the foot of the northern slope, just under the western dead-line. It is still there-cool and clear-the only pleasing object in this horrid place.
The scarcity of water, the want of occupation, and perhaps the desire to escape by tunneling, empelled the prisoners to dig wells. Forty of these, finished and unfinished, remain. Those on the highest ground being sunk in the hard soil to the depth of eighty feet. The work was done with knives, spoons, sticks, and other tools but little better. The diggers brought up the earth in their pockets and blouses, and sprinkled it about in the grounds to conceal in quantity. In some wells, excellent water was reached, and in others, horizontal galleries were attempted, for escape. In at least one instance, a tunnel was carved entirely through the hill, and a few prisioners are said to have got through.
The steep face of the northern hill is burrowed throughout its whole extent. The little caves are scooped out of and arched in the form of ovens, floored, ceiled, and strengthened so far as the owners had means, with sticks and pieces of boards, and some of them are provided with fire-places and chimneys. It would seem that there were cases, during long rains, where the house would become the grave of its owner, by falling in upon him in the night. In these burrows are still found remnants of the wretched food, and rude utensils of the occupants-drinking cups made of sections of horns, platters and spoons wrought from parts of old canteens, kettles and pans made, without souder, from stray pieces of old tin or sheet iron. I brought away a considerable number of these articles, which may one day be of interest to the curious.
Five sheds stand on the top of the northern hill, erected in the early part of the occupation, and five more on the opposite height, built a short time before the evacuation.
Like nearly all the southern land, the soil is liable to be washed away by the rains;and on the slopes of the hills, ravines are now formed, gullied to the depth of twelve feet. It seems impossible that men could have kept their footing on these hill-sides, when slippery with rain.
Outside of the enclosure, and nearly parallel with its south end, is the hospital stockade-800 feet by 350. It contains twenty-two sheds, for the most part without sides, erected about three months before the place was abandoned. The old hospital, occupied up to that time, in which so many brave men died, consisted only of tents enclosed by a board fence, and surrounded by a guard. Confused heaps of rubbish alone mark the place it occupied.
About half a mile from the main prison, and near Anderson Station, is a officers' stockade-a small enclosure, in which were never imprisoned more than 250 officers-and it was chiefly used for the confinement of rebel offenders.
The cemetery, around which the chief interest must gather, is distant about 300 yards from the stockade in a northwesterly direction. The graves, placed side by side in close continuous rows, cover nine acres, divided into three unequal lots by two roads which intersect each other nearly at right angles. The fourth space is still unoccupied, except by a few graves of "Confederate" soldiers.
No human bodies were found exposed, and none were removed. The place was found in much better condition than had been anticipated, owing to the excellent measure taken by Major-General Wilson, commanding at Macon, and a humane public-spirited citizen of Fort Valley, Georgia-a Mr. Griffin, who, in passing on the railroad, was informed by one of the ever-faithful negroes, that the bodies were becoming exposed, and were rooted up by animals. Having verified this statement, he collected a few negroes, sank the exposed bodies, and covered them to the proper depth. He then reported the facts to General Wilson, and requested authority to take steps for protecting the grounds. The patriotic officer visited Andersonville in person, appointed Mr. Griffin temporary Superintendent, and gave him such limited facilities as could be furnished in that destitute country. It was determined to enclose a square of fifty acres; and at the time of our arrival, the fence was nearly one-third built-from old lumber found about the place. He had also erected a brick kiln, and was manufacturing brick and drains to conduct the water away from the graves, and protect and strengthen the soil against the action of heavy rains. We found Mr. Griffin, with a force of about twenty negroes and a few mules, at work on the grounds. I have understood that that gentleman furnished the labor at his own cost, while General Wilson issued the necessary rations.
The part performed by our party was to take up and carry forward the work so well commenced. Additional force was obtained from the military commandant at Macon for completing the enclosure and erecting the head-boards. It seems that the dead had been buried by Union prisoners, paroled from the stockade and hospital for that purpose. Successive trenches, capable of containing from 100 to 150 bodies each, thickly set with little posts or boards, with numbers in regular order carved upon them, told to the astonished and tear-dimmed eye the sad story of buried treasures. It was only necessary to compare the number upon each post or board with that which stand opposite the name on the register, and replace the whole with a more substantial, uniform and comely tablet, bearing not only the original number, but the name, company and regiment, and date of death of the soldier who slept beneath.
I have been repeatedly assured by prisioners that great care was taken at the time by the men to whom fell the sad task of originally marking this astonishing number of graves, to perform the work with faithfulness and accuracy. If it shall prove that the work performed by those who followed, under circumstances so much more favorable, was executed with less faithfulness and accuracy than the former, it will be a subject of much regret-but fortunately not yet beyond the possibility of correction. The number of graves marked is 12,920. The original records, captured by General Wilson, furnished about 10,500; but as one book of the record had not been secured, over 2,000 names were supplied from a copy (of his own record) made by Mr. Atwater in the Andersonville prison and brought by him to Annapolis on his return with the paroled prisoners.
Interspersed throughout this Death Register were 400 numbers against which stood only the dark work "unknown". So, scattered among the thickly designated graves, stand 400 tablets, bearing only the number and the touching incription "Unknown Union Soldier".
Substantially, nothing was attempted beyond enclosing the grounds, identifying and marking the graves, placing some appropriate mottoes at the gates and along the spaces designed for walks, and erecting flagstaff in the center of the cemetery. The work was completed on the 17th of August, and the party took the route homeward by way of Chattanooga, Nashville, and Cincinnati, arriving at Washington on the morning of August 24th.
The health of the party during the expedition was remarkably good, when the season of the year, the fatigue, and the want of customary accommodations are taken into consideration. Cases of slight chills and fevers were not unfrequent; but, during the entire time, we had only one case of severe illness, and that, to our grief, terminated fatally. Edward Watts, of Georgetown, D.C., a clerk in the Q. M. Department in this city, sickened of typhoid fever during the passage up the Savannah River, and died on the 16th day of August. His remains were taken home to his friends. Mr. Watts was a young man of education and refinement, and of the highest type of moral and religious character; he suffered patiently, and died nobly and well. I have thought that he might be regarded as the last martyr of Andersonville.
The future of this historic spot cannot fall to constitute a subject of deep and abiding interest to the people of this entire country, and it would seem fitting that it should be preserved as one of the sanctuaries of the nation, and be in due time decorated with appropriate honors. Its susceptibility of internal improvement is very great. Water can be had for irrigation, and the climate will produce nearly all the flora of the temperate zones. Both national gratitude and personal affection will suggest the erection of a suitable monument within the cemetery, where, if desirable, may be perserved in durable form the names of the martyrs who sleep around. And as the land on which all these interesting associations are clustered, is still the property of private individuals, never having passed from the hands of the original owners, it would seem desirable that the cemetery at least, and its immediate surroundings, become the property of the nation. A mile square will embrace all points of general and historic interest.
There are numerous smaller burial-places in the State of Georgia which, from their seeming lesser importance, will scarely be kept up as national cemeteries, and in reference to which, without venturing to suggest, I would merely remark, that the fifty acres enclosed at Andersonville would afford ample space for all whom it might ever be deemed advisable to remove to that point.
During the occupation of Andersonville as a prison, it was a punishable offense for a colored man or woman to feed, shelter, aid, or even converse with the prisoners on parole. To others they had no access. I have been informed that they were not allowed about the prison grounds; and so great was their superstitious horror of the cruelties perpetrated upon the prisoners that only a comparatively small number had ever found the courage to visit the cemetery up to the time of our arrival. But the presence of so many northern people on such an errand, and specially a landy, entirely overcame their fears, and they visited the cemetery and myself by scores, men, women, and children, sometimes a hundred in a day. It was no uncommon occurrence, upon opening my tent in the morning , to find a group standing in front of it, who had walked fifteen or twenty miles to see the "Yankee lady", and ask her "if it were true that Abraham Linclon was dead, and they were free", and "how Massa Lincoln's great paper read", and "what they ought to do", and tell her how the "poor Yankee Prisoners" ran before the dogs, "like us", and they could not save them-starved, and they could not feed them-died, and they could not see them.
Remember, mothers, that the pitying tear of the old-time slave, whom your son helped to freedom, is the only tear that falls upon his distant grave today.
I have endeavored to point out to you, as faithfully as I am able, the various objects of interest, painful or otherwise, which presented themselves to my observation during the time occupied in the work of the expedition; and while I would not dwell upon the terribleness of the sufferings imposed upon our prisoners, nor stir the hearts already sunk in grief to deeper woe, still we owe it alike to the living and the dead, that a proper knowledge and realization wont to attribute their chief suffering to insufficiency of food, and while this is probably just, still, to the mind of the one who has looked over the scanty, shelterless, pitiful spot of earth to which they were confined, and taken into consideration the numberless trials which must have grown out of the privation of space and the necessary conveniences of life, the conviction will force itself that these latter woes fell but little short of the former. It is to be remembered that during thirteen long months, they knew neither shelter nor protection from the changeable skies above, nor the pitiless, unfeeling earth beneath.
The treacherous nature of the soil, parching to seams in the sun, and gullying and sliding under their feet with every shower, must have augmented their ills almost beyond conception. I watched the effect of a heavy fall of rain upon the enclosed grounds, and in thirty minutes the entire hill-sides, which had constituted their sole abiding-place, were one rolling mass of slippery mud, and this the effect of mere summer shower. What of the continued rains of autumn? Think of thirty thousand men penned by close stockade upon twenty-six acres of ground, from which every tree and shrub had been uprooted for fuel to cook their scanty food, huddled like cattle, without shelter or blanket, half-clad and hungry, with the dreary night setting in, after a day of autumn rain. The hill-tops would not hold them all, the valley was filled with the swollen brook; seventeen feet from the stockade ran the fatal dead-line, beyond which no man might step and live. What did they do? I need not ask where did they go, for on the face of the whole green earth there was no place but this for them; but where did they place themselves? How did they live? Ay! How did they die? But this is only one feature of their suffering ; and perhaps the lightest. Of the long dazzling months when gaunt famine stalked at noon-day, and pestilence walked by night; and upon the seamed and parching earth the cooling rains fell not, I will not rust me to speak. I scarce dare think. If my heart were strong enough to draw the picture, there are thousands upon thousands all through our land too crushed and sore to look upon it. But after this, whenever any man who has lain a prisoner within the stockade of Andersonville, would tell you of his sufferings, how he fainted, scorched, drenched, hungered, sickened, was scoffled, scorged, hunted and persecuted, though the tale be long and twice told, as you would have your own wrongs appreciated, your own woes pitied, your own cries for mercy heard, I charge you, listen and believe him. However definitely he may have spoken, know that he has not told you all. However strongly he may have outlined, or deeply he may have colored his picture, know that the reality calls for a better light, and a nearer view than your clouded, distant gaze will ever get. And your sympathies need not be confined to Andersonville, while similar horrors glared in the sunny light, and spotted the flower-girt garden fields of that whole desperate, misguided, and bewildered people. Wherever stretched the form of the Union prisoner, there rose the signal for cruelty and the cry of agony, and there, day by day, grew the skeleton graves of the nameless dead.
But, braving and enduring all this, some thousands have returned to you. And you will bear with me, and these noble men will pardon me, while, in conclusion, I speak one word of them.
The unparalleled severities of our four years'campaign have told upon the constitutional strength even of the fortunate soldier, who alone marched to the music of the Union, and slept only beneath the folds of the flag for which he fought. But they whom fickle fortune left to crouch at the foot of the shadowless palmetto, and listen to the hissing of the serpent, drank still deeper of the unhealthful draught. These men bear with them the seeds of disease and death, sown in that fatal slime, and ripening for an early harvest. With occasional exceptions, they will prove to be short-lived and enfeebled men, and whether they ask it or not, will deserve at your hands no ordinary share of kindly consideration. The survivor of a rebel prison has endured and suffered what you never can, and what I pray God, your children never may. With less of strength, and more of sad and bitter memories, he is with you now, to earn the food so long denied him. If he ask "leave to toil", give it him before it is too late; if he need kindness and encouragement, bestow them freely, while you may; if he seek charity at your hands, remember that "the poor you have always with you", but him you have not always, and withhold it not. If hereafter you find them making organized effort to provide for the widow and orphan of the Union prisoner, remember that it grows out of the heart sympathy which clusters around the memories of the comrades who perished at their side, and a well-grounded apprehension for the future of their own, and aid them.
In conclusion, tremulously, least I assume too much, let me hasten to commend to the greateful consideration of this noble, generous people, alike the soldier who has given his strength, the prisoner who has sacrificed his health, the window who has offered up her husband, the orphan that knows only that its father went out to battle and comes no more forever, and the lonely, distant grave of the martyr, who sleeps alone in a stranger soil, that freedom and peace might come to ours.
One word of explanation, in conclusion, and I have done. You have long and justly felt that some report of this expedition, embracing a record of the graves identified and reclaimed, was due you. And three thousand letters addressed to me upon the subject, have revealed only too plainly and painfully the bitter anxiety with which you have watched and waited.
A mere report, unaccompanied by the "record", seemed but a hollow mockery, which I would not impose upon you, and this is my first opportunity for such accompaniment. For the record of your dead, you are indebted to the forethought, courage, and perseverance of Dorence Atwater, a young man not yet twenty-one years of age; an orphan, four years a soldier; one-tenth part of his whole life a prisoner, with broken health and ruined hopes, he seeks to present to your acceptance the sad gift he has in store for you; and, grateful for the opportunitity, I hasten to place beside it this humble report, whose only merit is its truthfulness, and beg you to accept it in the spirit of kindness in which it is offered<><><><><>Clara Barton
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