Wartime RemembranceANDERSONVILLE PRISON:
A SHORT CONTRIBUTION TO HISTORY FROM AN AUTHENTIC SOURCE
Big Rapids Pioneer, Vol. 17, No. 35, August 28, 1879
Article and photograph courtesy of Leonard Thomas; documents from Hardy's Compiled Military Service Record, National Archives, courtesy of www.fold3.com.
The heroes who saved the Union from armed Rebellion, though happily with us now in large numbers, are still passing away after the inevitable law that governs the succession of generations. The men who faced the grim mouths of rebel cannon on so many bloody fields, are certainly passing away, and with them must go those who can bear testimony to the fearful atrocities of the prison pen of Andersonville. There are those among us those who sneer at the "bloody shirt," but sneers shall never wash it white. The cry of McBeth, "Out, damned spot!" availed as little to free his hand from book as shall sneers and ridicule to wipe out the memories of the horrors of the Georgian stockade. Already we have seen Southern senators rising in their places with all the sophistries of speech, endeavoring to whitewash the black record of a Wirz and Winder, and to fasten on a too lenient North the stigma of inhumanity to prisoners. Before it is too late, before the heroes whom our hearts worship are all gone, let them record one of their experiences; lest these records be characterized eminently by truth and candor; let them be wellattested, and let them go upon record in countless numbers, and in countless places, that the historian may not want for honest material, nor the future reader be left in the dark concerning the true character of those who tried to stab the Great Republic to the heart, and trail her gorgeous ensign in defiling dust.
Mr. Hiram E. Hardy, of Big Rapids, supervisor of the Second Ward of our city, and well and favorably known to our citizens, has yielded to our repeated importunities and consented to furnish for our columns a condensed sketch, showing some of his experiences at Andersonville, and narrating the manner of his escape. If he were as willing to use the pen as he is able to state by word of mouth in graphic phrase, all he has seen and known of Rebeldom, we would have a book larger than a family bible, every page red-hot with facts that would sear the scroll of Southern history and brand it with a mark deeper than the Almighty fastened on the first murderer - Cain.
We have in our city, and immediate vicinity, a number of men who tasted of Andersonville fare, and they can attest the truthfulness of what Mr. Hardy states. We give the name and address of some we readily remember:
Benjamin Stroup, Green
James Conley, Grass Lake Station
John Fenning, Big Rapids
W. P. Montonye, Evart, formerly of this city
Dr. Fred B. Wood, Big Rapids
M. Brown, Circuit Judge of this Circuit.
Others no doubt there are, who here among us can tell a tale not differing in general features from that which we now proceed to place where he who runs may read.
On the 23rd day of June, 1864, I was captured on the Weldon Railroad, south of Petersburg, Virginia, with about 700 others belonging to the 4th and 11th Vermont Infantry. We had been sent to tear up the track. Capt. Platt was our commander at the time. Troops belonging to Mahone's Division captured us. We went to Petersburg under escort of the 4th Florida. From there we went to Richmond by railroad and were there taken into Pemberton building, a place just opposite Libby Prison, and closely searched. Everything of value was taken from us. A superannuated old man gathered our valuables and trinkets in a large basket. I had a very nice needle book a gift from a friend, which I much wished to retain. No reply was vouchsafed to my request to be allowed to retain it. Of itself it was of trifling worth. As we passed up into the Pemberton building, the name, command and birth-place of each man was taken down by confederate officers at the head of the stairway. It was, in short, a prison muster-roll. When I was interrogated, I answered: "Hiram E. Hardy, Co. C, 4th Vermont Infantry, Volunteers." "This country born?" was the next question, to which I answered "No." "Where then?" said the musket-roll maker, and I answered "In Vermont." This raised a boisterous laugh among the boys, and at the same time it raised the "dander" of the questioner; and in terms more profane and forcible than polite, he gave me the credit of being a first-class fool. As we passed through Richmond, the streets were lined with women and children, who taunted us with everything their devilish ingenuity could think of. It was a very common thing to hear well-dressed and apparently intelligent women calling us "blue bellied Yankees;" and some even indulged in calling us "Yankee sons of bitches." From the Pemberton building we were taken to Belle Island, near Richmond, and kept there one week. We were then forwarded to Lynchburg by rail. From there we were marched to Danville. Our rations were not more than a quarter of what were necessary. The distance was 80 miles, and it was accomplished in four days. The detachment of prisoners numbered 2,500, and we were guarded by about six hundred Confederate soldiers, who were distributed through our ranks on the march, so that about every fifth man was an armed rebel soldier. It was proposed during this march to organize a mutiny, and release ourselves, but so many were afraid to undertake it that no effort was actually made. The plan proposed was to seize and disarm every guard on a given signal, which could have been done easily, had there been unity of purpose and concert of action; and had the men been aware of one quarter of what was in store for them, the requisite concert of purpose and action would not have been wanting. From Danville we went by rail to Andersonville on a continuous trip, stopping only at brief intervals. At Andersonville we were taken to Wirz' headquarters and counted out in detachments of 270; these detachments were sub-divided into three nineties and three thirties. We were then taken into the stockade, which was an area of about eighteen acres, enclosed by logs driven or planted on end in a ditch dug to receive them. The place was filled with stumps of pine trees of the turpentine variety, and was little better than a sand heap. Three acres of the enclosure was a quagmire, made so by the springy nature of the ground, through which a sluggish little brook found its way. This quagmire yielded the fluid which for a time answered us for water. About sixteen feet inside the main wall of the place was established what was known as the "Dead Line." It was made by stakes driven into the ground, with a narrow strip of board nailed to the top of the stakes.
I was in Andersonville from the 11th day of July, 1864, to the 3rd day of November of the same year. When I first entered the prison pen there were about thirty-thousand confined there, mostly from the Army of the Potomac. I claim an inability to tell the worst things I saw at Andersonville. The horrors unnamable I witnessed, in some instances I think, would not be credited by my friends. Our rations for each day were a pice of cornbread four inches long, two inches wide, and one and a half inches thick. This was not always given us; if not, we had a teacup full of meal from which we were obliged to make our own bread. In addition to this bread we had dealt out to us half a teacupful of little black beans, often so buggy that in pouring water over them the rising bugs would hide the beans from sight. The beans were sometimes given to us cooked. Two or three times a week we had a piece of bacon dealt out to us, about an inch square, of that yellow, oily, disagreeable kind that all Union prisoners in the South remember so well. These rations were never supplemented by anything better. For fuel we had two resources. The main one was the stumps and their ramifying roots; these roots were followed out to their very points, almost to the size of a knitting needle. If a man had a root as large as one's arm to work out, it was to him like a gold mine. The other resource was this: when a man died he was carried outside the stockade by his fellow prisoners, under guard, where the corpse was deposited in its appointed place to be carted off with others. The returning bearers were allowed to pick up any sticks, or limbs, or woody trash in their immediate track. Such a thing as a coffee pot was an unpurchasable article; one hundred dollars would not have been an object in the way of price, even in gold. Any article that could be used in cooking was a treasure of really priceless value. Those who had nothing of the kind, and they were numerous enough, would in some instances watch their chances and steal a cup or coffee pot. But the thief could not escape the prying eye of the watchful owner. He was hauled up under the rules, tried, and if found guilty the prosecutor had to apply the punishment himself. If not well laid on, his critical comrades made him take a dose of solid blows to quicken his sense of justice, administered by the culprit who had just undergone punishment. The whip was a rudely improvised cat-o'-nine tales, and it was a tolerably formidable implement. In cooking my miserable rations I would build up from the clay or mud, a little arrangement where my pot could stand, leaving a small opening for the diminutive fire which I would kindle and keep going with little match-like splinters, which I had prepared for the purpose with a knife.
Our water was for a long time unfit for use; and although an article that must be used, however poor, was so bad as to sicken the sight and smell. Some of the rains were intense, and not infrequently cold. One half at least of my fellow prisoners had scurvy. It was horrible to see them in all stages, from those whose teeth were just loosening from the disease, to such as were covered with sores, or whose flesh had rotted away, leaving the skin adhering to the bones, making veritable skeletons of once stalwart soldiers. After the cold rains spoken of above, the poor, shivering, debilitated prisoners, many of them with no protection from their clothing, died like sheep; and often the dead rate was doubled and sometimes trebled the day after one of these heavy cold rains. But one of the heaviest of these rains proved a blessing; as it opened a spring which was, by a little ingenuity, made available; and after that water of a reasonably good quality could be obtained by everybody. The change was so much for the better that it seemed almost like a luxury.
No medicines were ever given to the prisoners in the stockade, although thousands were perishing by inches. I never saw a drop of grain administered to the sufferers who were sick or expiring in the open pen. From thirty to one hundred and fifty died daily while I was there. Shortly before I left I was told by a clerk that some thirteen thousand and odd had already been buried.
To give an idea of the sights that met our eyes on all sides and at all times, I will mention the case of a poor fellow near me, who laid for days on his back just able to breathe. Everyone wondered at his vitality. He did not move, save a slight rising and falling of the chest. The worms were crawling from his nostrils and ears, and indeed his face was alive with them. He died, and was stripped and hustled out to be thrown into a pit with others whose death might have been even more horrible than his own.
A poor soldier, hard up for something to eat, sold his shoes to obtain a morsel to allay his ravenous hunger. His feet, naked and unused to the exposure, were badly burned by the hot sun and terribly blistered; to relieve the torture he walked into the oozy mud of the quagmire. The blisters broke and the mud coming in contact with the raw flesh soon made the poor fellow's feet one frightful sore. When I last saw him he was scraping the maggots from his feet. His fate I never learned.
No one ever visited the stockade in the way of showing any compassion for the prisoners, or any desire to ameliorate their condition. One of old Winder's sons once, after having been a prisoner in the Union lines, visited Andersonville prison. It soon became noised around among the boys who the visitor was. Some soldiers questioned him about his "grub," asking him how he found the quality and quantity among the blue coats. "Oh, I had plenty," answered Winder, "but you fellows must trust in Providence; the South hasn't enough food to go around." "This having faith is well enough," shouted one of the boys, "but Providence is giving us poor grub, and mighty little of it."
There was a class of visitors, however, that came often enough, to peer through the gaps in the stockade. They were ladies, or creatures dressed in female garb. They took evident delight in the sufferings they saw. They were, or seemed to be, especially happy when the dead cart was being driven out, containing often thirty or forty poor emaciated corpses, many of them entirely naked. At this sight I have often seen them waiving their handkerchiefs with unmistakable delight. Davis may well say he never yet saw a reconstructed Southern woman.
The rebel authorities built four barracks inside the prison that would hold about one hundred men each. These were intended as a sort of hospital. I had charge for a time of one side of one these buildings. I ministered to the wants of the poor fellows under my charge as well as I could, but had not means to do much; I could only cut up their food and perform a few simple duties. Every morning the bunks were examined to carry away those who had died in the night. Each bunk held four sick men. The nearest would be asked, "anyone dead in your bunk?" "Don't know!" was the usual reply. Often the whole four would be found dead. If a prisoner had on him any article of apparel that would hang together, he was stripped of it, even though he was left as naked as when he came into the world. Often he was pitched into the dead cart in this state; one of the cartmen would seize the corpse by the feet, another would grasp under its arms, and with a heave, it would go into the ghastly vehicle.
Our poor fellows busied themselves about anything that could make them even for a moment forget their miseries. Plans of escape were imagined and tunnels were dug, some doubtless without the least hope of any result favorable to escape or otherwise. They must be doing something. One man dug a tunnel, and had actually succeeded in running it outside the stockade; but he worked too near the surface and the earth caved in and exposed him. He took to his heels on emerging, but the hounds were sent after him; he was captured and brought back. In such a case, Wirz usually had the fugitive shot, or tied up and left to die of hunger and thirst. In this instance, the man was left unpunished; and not only that, but Wirz gave him several large "hunks" of johnny cake. Wirz would be very clever when he happened to be in a good humor, but such attacks were few and far between.
About the last of August or first of September, a project was set on foot, which, if carried out, as it might have been but for the treachery of one man, would have redounded to the reputation of the American soldier for hazardous enterprise and lion-like courage. It was no less a plan than to tunnel from a point near the Dead Line to the inside of the rebel fort, whose guns commanded the stockade. The strongest and ablest men among the prisoners were at a given moment to appear inside the fort, seize the rebels who held it, put themselves in the entire possession of the place, organize Union prisoners in companies, regiments, etc., drill them, and at the proper time start for Atlanta, prepared for the offensive and defensive warfare. The details of this plan are too lengthy for anything short of a volume. Suffice it to say that brave and able men were engaged in it and believed it feasible. The tunnel, large enough for the purpose, had actually been dug for the most part. A tent properly devised had been built over the mouth of the tunnel; the dirt removed in its construction was at first emptied into some old and useless wells. Afterwords, it was brought to the mouth of the tunnel in the day and disposed of in the darkness of night. Men were lying over the mouth in the day time. It was a glorious design, well-planned, and sure to have been executed but for the treachery of one degraded man who sold the secret for a plug of tobacco.
He was taken, when his treachery was discovered, the letter "T" was painted on his forehead, and he was led around the camp and permission given to everyone to kick him to their heart's content. He was in bad shape when released. The rebel authorities called for the two men who did the leading and the painting. They gave themselves up on the announcement that no rations would be issued to any within the walls of the prison until these two men were forthcoming. Their fate may be surmised. Their comrades never saw them again. The traitor met his death in Savannah.
The prisoners from the Army of the Potomac were stripped of all articles of value, or indeed of use. They were turned into the prison pen empty-handed, with scarcely anything to cover their nakedness. Later on, some of the soldiers captured from Sherman's army were put into the stockade with blankets and some articles of prime use, and some of them had money. The demoralization was so great that thieving and robbery among the prisoners themselves were not infrequent. Blood was often shed, and some frightful atrocities were committed, as no army was ever without its desperate and fiendish characters.
The few such in Andersonville belonged to that class who joined the army for purposes of plunder and the gratification of brutal lusts. Adept in gambling and every vice, they soon created a social disorganization wherever their presence was felt. To illustrate the character of some of the horrors to which these fiends in human shape contributed, I will speak of an instance I remember with distinctness. Among the prisoners were some Indians belonging to a Wisconsin Regiment. One of these Indians had a watch and some money. A robber jumped upon his back as he was lying in his place, and threatened to cut his throat unless he gave up his valuables. The Indian said he could not give them up unless his captor would release him a little. The robber eased up a trifle, the Indian suddenly seized a long knife he had hidden, and with one lunge disemboweled his tormentor. This sort of thing led to jury trial among the prisoners themselves. A rude court was improvised, and offenders were tried and punished as the verdict demanded. At the commencement of this domestic regulation of affairs, six of the most desperate characters were tried, convicted and sentenced to be hung. Materials for a gallows were furnished by the prison authorities, the structure was put up, and the six condemned wretches were hanged on the 11th of July. After that, milder punishments were sufficient, and the sympathies of the honest and honorable were allowed to have full play.
The logs of which the stockade was made were about twenty feet high. In little coops on top of the stockade were about forty guards, stationed at equal distances apart. At every hour of the night the guards would begin calling "Guard number one! All right! Guard number 2! All right!" and so on through the whole forty. These guards were always ready with their bullets for any prisoner who, for any reason whatever, ventured across the Dead Line. The shooting of men for even putting a hand over it was of frequent occurrence; not over two days in a week elapsed without the shooting, often of several. A bullet was sent to the trespasser; if it missed and killed one or more for whom it was not intended, it seemed to be a matter of no consequence to those who fired the shot.
Let the imagination for a moment dwell upon the sight of armed men, firing deliberately at a poor, thirsty, emaciated sufferer, without arms, and seeking only to quench his burning thirst at a place little better than a mud-hole! Senator Hill of Georgia may forget all this; there are men whose memories are longer. While more than thirty-thousand Union soldiers were suffering all the time, either cold after the Autumnal rains, or heat during the glare of midsummer's sun, or rotting away piece-meal with the scurvy, or burning with fever, one relief was always offered this number of Andersonville prisoners. This relief was to join the Confederate service, swear to support it, and fight against the stars and stripes. At any and at all times, there was this one refuge from sickness, starvation and unutterable woes; but I did not know a single Union soldier who every entertained the idea of going back on his colors.
Compiled Military Service Record Had not the most plausible lies been told us about our prospects of exchange, we should not have been handled as easily as we were. Misrepresentations were always made when any transfer of prisoners was determined on. I learned to believe nothing of the kind that was said to me. A time came when I was to leave Andersonville forever. The usual stories were retailed to us, or such of us as were to be removed to Millen. It was the third or fourth of November, 1864, that I, with a detachment of other prisoners, left the stockade, packed in box cars, seventy men in a car; half of us could not sit down. Myself and three others, formed the design of escaping by cutting a hole in the bottom of the car. We took turns at the work, which was tedious in the extreme, we having only an old case knife to whittle away the hard pitch pine plank. We did our work in the daytime, in the middle of a crowd, of course, pulling the shavings up into the car that no one might see the work we were at from the falling chips. The names of the three men who were engaged in this work with me, were George Kneidler of Penn., William Knapp, of the same state, and a soldier named Lee; John, I think, was his first name. He was from Michigan; Sixth Cavalry, I think. We were half a day cutting a smallish hole we thought large enough to let us through. We finished our job just about nightfall. It was raining hard, and darkness soon came on; luckily of the blackest kind. The train stopped for something when only a few miles from Millen, when we four dropped out as quietly as we could and lay still beside the track until the train went on. The track was guarded. Our car had stopped between two big fires, near which guards were stationed. We saw three others get out of the car about the same time we did, but they did not join us.
After the train went on, we arose and saw a man coming along with a lantern. We clambered on the bank, about three feet high, until he passed. We started right away from the fires, desiring to get away from them as far and as fast as possible. We soon, in the intense darkness, ran against a log house; a small dog set up a yelping. Lee had one peculiarity. He would yell like a loon if he was surprised, or came annoy obstacle suddenly. When this little dog barked, Lee made more noise than the dog, but luckily no one disturbed us. Soon after that we ran into a flock of sheep Lee yelled again. The rest of us threatened, with curses loud and deep, that if he made any more noise we would leave him. He was of an intensely pious turn, and said if we would only not swear at him we might leave him if we would. We soon found we were in the pine woods - the turpentine region - where few houses are seen; and those widely apart, and of the poorest kind, such as were occupied by the native crackers. When we left the cars we had nothing to eat, and we got nothing for two days, when we came across a solitary pumpkin which we devoured, "guts, seeds, and all." This pumpkin was a windfall indeed. It was near a corn field from which the corn had all been taken and the pumpkins with it. The one we found seemed to have fallen off a load. We had, at this period, become desperate with hunger, and were on the point of going boldly into the first house we should sight, and doing terrible things, rather than fail getting something to eat. We traveled nights and lay snugly hid during the day time. We found and ate this pumpkin early Saturday morning; and with our minds turned in the direction of food, at all events, we soon came upon a field where some hundred or so negroes at work picking cotton, or gathering corn. The field was long and narrow with woods on each side. One old negro nearest us espied us and took in the situation at once. He said, "Hello, gemlen! good morning dar." He appeared to be about sixty years old and had close by him his wife and two small boys. We afterward found his name was George Grant. Turning to the little fellows he said, "If I hear of you little niggers tellin' of seein' white folks I'll gib you a hundred lashes," then turning to us he added, "De ole woman is alright. If you come wid me I'll show you war day couldn't fine you in forty years." He took us to a place surrounded by a swamp. It was only four or five rods square and had three or four pine trees on it. After he got us there he said, "Gemlen, I suppose you're hungry." I told him we were a "little gaunt." The negro went off the plantation, and brought all we wanted to eat of greens, bacon and sweet potatoes. He left us there through the day, and came that night and brought us more to eat.
The next day, Sunday, he came and brought with him three or four more trusty darkies. He brought along a book, the life of Washington; he wanted us to read it to him. Kneidler read all day to the negroes. Old Grant's master had another plantation seven miles distant, worked by a negro foreman. The old fellow took us Sunday night up to that place, and left us in an old gin house filled with corn stalks. They killed a pig that night, and next day fixed us up three or four days' rations. During that Monday the owner of the plantation came up to the place and ordered the corn stalks to be removed from the gin house. I laid where I could look through the cracks and see the negro and his master talking together. When the negro heard his master tell him to move the stalks, I saw a cloud go over his face, black as it was. He told his master that the teams were very busy and they would have more time to move them the next day. The master said, "all right," and turned away. We were in the gin house all Monday until dark. Monday night the negroes went with us about three miles, and put us on a road that crossed five streams in our going thirty-five miles. I suppose these streams to have been branches of the Ogeechee.
The negro who hid us on the island, before bidding us good-bye, gave us some small onions, very rank, with long small tops; these he told us to rub over ourselves if pursued by dogs. Money night we had no trouble. Tuesday we lay in the bush. Tuesday night we met a rebel soldier in the road about twelve o'clock at night. He was mounted. He sidled off. I said, "Good evening, sir!" He answered, "Good evening, sir!" He was badly scared. He walked his horse off for a little time, and then made him put in "heavy licks." Soon after we crossed the last stream we heard pursuers with dogs. We rubbed ourselves all over with the little onions, and they made us smell like so many skunks. We scampered on as fast as we could, and the barking of the hounds ceased when they came up to about the place where we had used the onions. We were not come up with, and found a good place to hide until Wednesday night, when we started on, again. Soon after starting we met a negro who said, "God Almighty, gemlen! Ye wanter git out of dis country! De hull country is up and after ye." We went on traveling fast all night. Thursday morning we stopped without anything to eat. We had nothing to eat all that day. We always kept close while hidden, never went ten feet from our hiding place. Thursday night we came along by a field of corn and got all that we wanted. We travelled then two or three days without trouble or any incident of note. Our jaws were very tired eating corn. We ran across one good thing, a persimmon tree, with about a bushel of persimmons on it, dead ripe. We disposed of these without difficulty.
At length, we met two negroes, one very light, the other black as midnight. We saluted them with "Good morning!" They were offish and very shy. One had an axe hid down his back to cut down possum trees with. We told them who we were, but they seemed dubious and said little or nothing. At last we showed them some pictures we had of Lincoln, McClellan and other wellknown Union men. The mulatto was a smart fellow, hired his time and could read. After reading Lincoln's name he said, "Why dat's de man de who folks hate so ‘round here!" He altered his manner, excused himself for his shyness, and produced a small flask or bottle of whiskey. He asked if we drank. We drank all around, excepting Lee, who was as temperate as he was pious. We swallowed the whole of the whiskey, which was none of the best. He then said, "Gentlemen, excuse me for mentioning it, but how much do you suppose that whiskey cost me?" We couldn't guess. "Well," he said, "that cost me eighty dollars, but I would be glad to give you a barrel of it." He then told us why he had been so shy. Men had been around disguised as Union soldiers, fugitives from rebel prisons and received aid from sympathizing black men. After getting the colored fellows committed, they turned out to be Confederates, playing a game, and the poor negroes got a few hundred lashes apiece for their loyalty to the Union.
The mulatto cautioned the black about talking of having met us. This was on Saturday night. The mulatto took us to town, and went up between twelve and one o'clock at night, to his house, and waked up his wife, who was almost white. She gave us a "Fourth of July" supper of baked sweet potatoes, bacon, etc. After eating we were taken to a hiding place some distance from the village. Next day, Sunday, the mulatto brought several of his friends, good looking, quite welldressed fellows, and such as hired their own time. They spent the entire day with us. We gave an account of the North, and they posted us up on the condition of the South, as well as they could. They gave us about one hundred and forty dollars worth of provisions, and about thirty dollars in Confederate currency and some old pieces of carpet to use as blankets, for the nights were getting quite cold. They also stole for us a township map of the State of Georgia. I asked if they were not afraid of getting caught stealing the map. One of them answered, "No it will be thought the children had taken it and lost it." Our colored friends went with us several miles to get us across a long covered bridge; two went ahead to see all clear. They left us after seeing us across the river.
We went on then without incident of note until reaching a point where we wished to cross a river, and we desired to get information as to the best manner of doing so. We heard, at no great distance, a darkey hallooing to his dogs. He was after possums. We found him, and he proved to be an old fellow, badly crippled. He told us it was lucky that we did not attempt to cross the bridge, as it was guarded, and that eight men, fugitives like ourselves, had lately been taken there. He said he could find us a place to cross where a boat was kept for the accommodation of negroes going back and forth in their nocturnal visits. The old fellow said he could wake up the boatman who slept on the other side of the river from where we were. We followed the poor old cripple slowly to the bank. He yelled and hooted for a long time without getting any reply. He then told us to go back some distance and hide in some tall grass, and to stay there the rest of the night and all next day, when he would come down and see us across. He came on horseback early the next night with a good lot of provisions for us. He then called for the boatman until he came over to our side. A short time before this, another negro boatman had got into trouble by ferrying over a fugitive Unionist. He had told his wife of the incident and she had, willingly or otherwise, exposed him and for which he got the usual heavy dose of the lash. As soon as this boatman saw the situation and who we were, he stepped back into the boat badly scared and was going to shove it from the shore. I grabbed him and said, "Look here! If you want a stone around your neck and to be pitched into the river, it'll be what you'll get if you don't take us across. We are going across, and if you don't want a few hundred lashes, don't tell you wife what you've been doing." He took us over, although fearfully frightened. We feared he would tell of us, and asked him some questions to mislead him; and after getting him to put us on the road leading to a fordable branch of the river, we left him, soon taking the opposite direction.
We then turned and went northwest for a couple of nights and crossed the stream on a log. We saw a fire in the woods, and not knowing who might be around it, held a council of war to see what course we should pursue. We might find rebels, wandering negroes, or men like ourselves trying to escape. I proposed to go ahead and reconnoiter; if caught, the others would have a chance to make their escape. I wriggled along up toward the fire, and soon made out to see a couple of darkies close together, busy about something that looked to me like plucking fowls or picking feathers off game. Another person close by was apparently asleep on his back, with his hands put up. From the light I saw his hands were white inside. I suspected him to be a white man, but concluded to rise and approach, believing that there was nothing very dangerous in the crowd. As I went nearer I found the two darkies were playing Seven Up. Seeing me, they "skedaddled" on the double quick, and the sleepy fellow jumped up to follow, but I seized him and said, "Here! I want to talk with you a little before you leave." The darkey seemed brisk in recognizing my probable character, and whistling for his fleeing companions they returned, and after a few explanations, I got my comrades up and we asked for something to eat, which was furnished us in the shape of raw sweet potatoes. We baked some, and after a while the negroes claimed to know that the Yankees were as near as a place called Social Circle, and would be at Madison before long. They said the white folks were badly frightened. The leading darkey belonged to a plantation run by a negro foreman, and he said after he had finished his game of Seven Up he would conduct us to his "boss." One of the fellows had a twenty-dollar Confederate bill, the other a ten. They played until each had fifteen dollars. I then proposed, as the bills were not worth much, that they play to see who had both. The game was played and the spokesman of the party won.
In due course of time the "boss" from the plantation appeared. He confirmed the statement of the rapid approach of the Yankees. He said people were hiding stock and valuables. He had come down to find out our exact whereabouts, and afterwards, brought us some breakfast enough for fifteen men. He said he would return to Madison and tell the "old woman" he would find a place to conceal the hogs and cattle belonging to the plantation, and then would see us again and bring our dinner.
Before he came back with our dinner, a bit of an incident occurred. A shot was heard near our hiding place, which disturbed and frightened us somewhat. It was fired by a white lad about fifteen years of age, who was hunting squirrels, and who was within five or six rods of us. We feared he might pass so near as to discover us, and held a whispered consultation as to the best course to pursue in case of discovery. It was decided that, should he get his eyes upon us, the trusty old knife that let us through the bottom of the car must sever his jugular veins. This may seem revolting to many at this late day, but it should be remembered that it was a case where our personal safety demanded harsh remedies. But fortunately for the lad, the shot was heard by a colored man who knew of our being hid in that piece of woods, and he came hurrying down to tell the boy of a flock of ducks he had seen in a pond some distance away. He went off after the ducks and we saw no more of him.
That night we saw red, white and blue rockets fired into the air, which our colored protectors said, were in the direction of Madison, seven miles distant. Our "boss" darkey, who had been to town that day, told us the place was full of "Linkum's sogers;" and when he described them as wearing blue clothes with brass buttons, and "all on hossback," and how frightened the inhabitants were, we concluded that it must be the mounted advance of the Union forces. Next morning, our trusted colored friend piloted us across the fields to the main road to the village, and for the first time since our escape we ventured to travel in the highway in broad daylight. A couple of hours brisk walk brought us to the village; and the stars and stripes and blue uniforms of the Union troops never looked more fascinating or attractive to human eyes than they did to ours. Slocum's corps, the 20th, proved to be the part of Sherman's army we had jointed. It was two days out of Atlanta. It was the 19th of November. Sixteen days had elapsed since we had escaped from the train, during which time we had traveled a distance of 250 miles, in a straight line - probably 300, the way we had come. We were nearly naked, all four of us not having clothing enough to make a decent mop. But the Union boys didn't let us suffer long for want of apparel. Our rags and emaciated condition at once attracted a crowd of hundreds about us, and no sooner was it known that we were fugitives from Andersonville than clothing enough to supply half a regiment was offered us. In this and numerous other ways, the Union boys showed they felt that they couldn't do too much for us. About the only thing we brought through were the onions given us by the first negro that befriended us. These we had preserved with religious care, for use in case of emergency, not venturing to eat them when almost starved. But we had occasion to use them only once, and use them that time probably saved us from capture. Before being taken prisoner, my usual weight was about 180 lbs. When I reached the Union lines, I weighed about 112; four weeks later, I weighed 125, and in three months I tipped the beam at 193, which shows that Sherman's army, in its glorious march to the sea, lived tolerably well. We fell in with the 143rd New York, I think, and with that regiment went through to the Atlantic ocean.
I cannot close this narrative without expressing my gratitude to the colored people who rendered us such valuable assistance, often at the peril of their lives. Without their help, our escape would have been simply impossible; and may my tongue cleaves to the roof of my mouth, and my right hand ceases to do its bidding, if I ever attempt to say that the humblest kind of colored Union man is not the immeasurable superior of the most exalted white rebel.
Such is a condensed account of Mr. Hardy's imprisonment and his heroic escape. If he could write a book, as he might, he could fill it with details that would excite the most indifferent reader.
There is soon to be put to press a volume that the public will be glad to see, giving a fuller account than has yet appeared of all that pertains to Andersonville and its attendant horrors. Let it not be forgotten that testimony at Wirz' trial showed that Davis and his Cabinet had their attention called to the fearful state of things existing at Andersonville by a rebel officer, who recommended that a different and better man be put in charge of the prisoners. This rebel officer was degraded from his position, and Winder, the head man at Andersonville, was promoted to the charge of the management of all the rebel prisons. This settles the question of Davis' responsibility for the unparalleled atrocities committed on Union soldiers in the prison pens of the South.
It now looks as if Davis would be returned to the Senate of the United States by an admiring constituency. We understand he has but to say the word. Comment is unnecessary. We can only hope that his chair will be not be cushioned with roses.
Hiram Eugene Hardy
August 28, 1879
Big Rapids, Michigan