When I left our landing at McConnelsville some twelve months ago, accompanied by a gallant band of veterans, to rejoin the army of the South-West, I but little dreamed of all the vicissitudes through which I was to pass before I should have the pleasure of seeing the faces of my friends again. It is true, from an experience of nearly three years in the field, I was not insensible of the dangers from shot and shell.
I had thought, too, of the diseases of a sickly Southern clime; but the idea of becoming a captive in the hands of the enemy was a matter which had not for a moment engaged my attention. But that Unseen Power that directs the affairs of men as well as of nations seemed to decree that I should experience the realities of war in all its variety.
On the 19th day of July the Seventeenth Army Corps, after a wearisome march through a portion of Tennessee, Northern Alabama, and across the Sandy mountains of Georgia, a distance of over three hundred miles, driving the enemy before us, we arrived within a few miles of Atlanta, where the rebel General Hood had made a stand. On the morning of the 22d we were attacked on the left flank, and in our rear, by General Hardee's Corps, that had moved out the night before, while the remaining portion of the rebel army confronted our right. We were soon apprised of the attack by General Leggett, who rode along our line in person, as well as by the rattle of the enemy's musketry, and frequent visits of the iron messengers sent from the rebel "howitzers." The conflict soon became terrible, and in the early part of the engagement our brave and gallant commander, Major-General McPherson, fell, which caused for a time great consternation among our troops. But our brave boys of the West were not disposed to let the rebels achieve a victory. They fought with desperation.
The Seventy-Eighth, under command of Colonel Wiles, was occupying a line of breastworks from which we had driven the rebels the day before. These works we were ordered by General Leggett to hold. Inspired with confidence in our gallant Colonel, nearly every man in the regiment seemed determined to see the order carried out or die, and during the struggle several of our brave boys fell, some of them to rise no more. We nevertheless held the entrenchment all day, but were compelled to change front several times during the day, repulsing the enemy in several heavy charges. About half an hour before sun-down, the rebels, who had driven the Thirteenth and Eleventh Iowa regiments, and got possession of the left end of our line of works, opened a heavy artillery fire, raking us with grape and canister.
At this time Colonel Wiles was in command of the Brigade, in consequence of the capture of Colonel Scott, which had taken place during the day. Major Rainey was therefore placed in command of the regiment. Pursuant to orders, we at once vacated the entrenchments and moved out into an open field on our right. Here a Brigade of the rebels, of General Clairborne's Division, was concealed in a dense thicket of woods near by, and opened a terrific fire upon us. We had nothing to protect us, and the rebels being in close range, protected by the woods, had every advantage. I saw some five or six of the boys of my company shot dead, one of whom was in touching distance of me. The regiment commenced to fall back, when the rebels poured out of the woods as thick as blackbirds, and commenced making prisoners of the wounded. Seeing the regiment receding, I gave orders to my company to fall back with the balance of the regiment, and stepped back a few paces to what had now become our rear, to look after some of the boys who were but slightly wounded, and whom I had hoped to extricate from the danger of being captured by the rebels, by getting them to fall back with the company. Unfortunately, however, I attracted the notice of the rebels, who rallied upon me with furious oaths, the Captain of their gang giving orders to "shoot the d----d Yankee rascal," the Captain himself rushing upon me with a nine-inch navy revolver pointing to my breast, and demanding my surrender. By this time some six muskets were pointing toward me, the holders of them awaiting an answer which I was a little show in giving, for, to say I would not surrender, I knew was instant death, and to acknowledge a surrender was one of the most painful events of my life. On a little deliberation I concluded my life might yet be of service to somebody, and thinking it the "better part of valor," I surrendered with a "mental reservation." My sword was then demanded by the rebel Captain, who took hold of the belt. I stepped back and commenced to quibble with him about his rank, as he had no insignia of office, and remembering an admonition of my brother the day of leaving Camp Gilbert, never to "dishonor my sword." I refused to comply with his demand until I became further satisfied that he was an officer of equal rank. By this time Colonel Wiles had arranged our Brigade in a position to repel any further advance of the rebels, and instantly a heavy volley of musketry and artillery came from our line, which frightened my captors no little, and taking advantage of their scare, I threw my sword as far as I could send it in the direction of our own line, where it would have been unhealthy for the rebels to undertake to get it. As the rebel line was now falling back in great haste, they commenced to hurry me, together with four of my men whom they had also captured, off the field.
We were marched to General Hardee's headquarters, where we were placed under a detachment of Wheeler's cavalry, and together with about a hundred others of my own Division, were marched into Atlanta by a circuitous route of about fifteen miles, although the place of our capture was only two and a half miles from the city.
In Atlanta many of the prisoners were robbed of their watches, hats, haversacks and rubber blankets by the rebel officers. But as my clothes were old and threadbare, and my appearance rather shabby, they concluded I was not worth robbing, and did not disturb me there. On the morning of the 21st we were taken to East Point, a station on the railroad seven miles south of the city, and ushered into a stockade, with about two thousand other prisoners that had been captured on the 19th, 20th and 22d. Of this number some three hundred were officers, among whom were Colonel Shedd, of the Thirtieth Illinois, Colonel R. K. Scott, of the Sixty-Eighth Ohio, (my Brigade commander) Lieutenant- Colonel C. W. Clancy, of the Fifty-Second Ohio, Lieutenant- Colonel Saunders, of the Sixteenth Iowa, Captain Gillespie of my own regiment, and many others of my acquaintance. We were kept in this pen until the 25th, when we were ordered to Macon, a distance of ninety-six miles south. Although the cars were running through from Atlanta to Macon, the rebel officer informed us we would have to march twenty miles of the way, as the cars on that end of the road were all used in conveying their wounded to the rear, and transporting supplies. Feeling disinclined to do any marching for rebels, I told the rebel officer if he wished me to go to Macon they would have to carry me there, as I was unable to march. He sent Captain Gillespie (who also became indisposed) and myself to the surgeon, who excused us from marching. The balance of them were marched off in the morning, and we remained for the coming train. We spent the day with Major Deacon, the commander of the post, who treated us very courteously, and invited us to dine with him at his quarters. One of the rebel guards informed me that when I would reach Macon I would probably be searched for money before entering the prison. In the evening we were placed upon the cars under a strong guard and started for Macon. I had one hundred and seven dollars in greenbacks, and two dollars and fifty cents of rebel currency in my pocket; and what to do with it become to me a vexed question, as I did not want to lose it, but rather than let it fall into the rebels' hands I would have torn it up. I at length concluded to try and conceal it, as none of them had yet suspected me of having any. So when darkness set in, and the guards became a little careless and sleepy, I took a ball of yarn which I carried in my haversack for darning my socks, and wrapped it neatly around the folded bills and placed it back again along with my pins, needles, etc. And true enough when we arrived at Macon the first thing on the program was to search us for greenbacks. They turned every pocket, stripped us to the shirt and examined us from head to foot. They then took my haversack and ransacked it. As the officer took the ball of yarn into his hand, I assure you I began to feel a little "weak kneed." But fortunately he did not mistrust there was any money it, and replaced it in my haversack.
Finding nothing that was attracting about us we were next introduced to the fair ground, which they had arranged for a prisoner's camp. The ground was enclosed by two lines of fence, the outer one about twelve feet high, and around the top of which the guards were posted at proper intervals, and the inner one, a paling fence about ten feet from the outer one, was the dead line, which it was a death penalty to touch or approach.
On entering the inclosure the cry of "fresh fish! fresh fish!" went up from all parts of the camp, and a general rush was made by about twelve hundred officers of "Libby" notoriety, who gathered around us as though we had come from another world, each trying to catch a word of news. Every now and then the cry would go up from those who could not get up to us, "Louder, old pudding-head!" "O, don't crowd 'em!" To these ejaculations I at first felt provoked, thinking they were making sport of us, but I soon learned that it was only their mode of initiating new comers. Here I met Lieutenant Paul of Morgan county, Captains Reed and Ross, of Zanesville, Captain Poe, of the Sixty-Eighth Ohio, and "Coon-Skin," of General Force's staff; together with many others of my acquaintance.
The old prisoners were quite shabby looking, many of them destitute of shoes and other clothing. Some of them had no trowsers, and were going about in drawers. Some of the most destitute ones would steal the meal sacks which the rations of meal was delivered in, and make them up into trowsers. These sacks were all branded in large black letters, "Tax in kind," as each planter was taxed a certain portion of his products for the support of the army, which was required by their laws to be thus marked. The particular locality of the brand after the sacks were converted into trowsers, was commonly in the rear, a place hard to conceal without a coat, which but few of them had, hence it led to their detection, and rebel officers threatened to cut us short in rations if we used any more of their meal bags for such purposes. As our rations only consisted of a pint of meal per day, a half pint of rice for five days, and a few ounces of bacon, we concluded it would be better to go naked than starve.
The rebel officers here were very tyrannical. On one occasion an officer of the Forty-Fifth New York was shot while returning from the spring where he had been bathing, without any provocation whatever, and no explanation was ever made by the rebel authorities, nor even an investigation of the conduct of the General who committed this willful and deliberate murder.
We had not been long at Macon until one day we heard the booming of cannon, and could see that there was a great commotion among the rebels. We could see them (the citizens) on the tops of the houses looking across the river, and the guards around us were doubled in number. It was Stoneman's approach, and we were now in high hopes of a speedy deliverance, as we felt assured if Stoneman should enter the town, that we could disarm the guards and join them. But our hopes soon fell to the ground by seeing the next day, Stoneman and a number of his party join us as prisoners of war. This was a hard stroke on the Major- General, but as prison life is a great leveler of rank, he soon eased down and became a common prisoner with the rest of us.
Soon after Stoneman's capture we were hurried off to Charleston, where it was thought we would be more out of the way of Sherman. On our arrival there, Captain Reed and others escaped and succeeded in reaching our lines. At Charleston we received much better treatment in the way of rations, etc., than we had received at Macon. Although we were under the fire of our own guns, we did not feel much alarmed, as it annoyed the guard more than it did us, and it afforded us a little amusement to see the guards dodging the shells.
Here I received my first letter from home. It was the first time for nine or ten weeks that I had heard one word of information about the fate of my company, or whether my family knew anything of my whereabouts or what had become of me. My mind was relieved of a heavy load of anxiety, but still I was a prisoner. About the middle of September I had a severe attack of intermittent fever, as did also my messmate, Colonel Clancy. We were both sick at the same time. I was taken to a hospital in the city, where, in justice to the rebel surgeon, I feel bound to say I received good medical attention. I only remained here a week, when my chills being checked, I was conveyed to a convalescent hospital three miles from the city, where my medical attention was also good. This hospital was in charge of G. R. C. Todd, a brother-in-law of President Lincoln. The doctor was an ardent rebel, and one incident occurred there which I shall not soon forget. A colored prisoner, belonging to a Massachusetts regiment, who had been taken at Fort Wagner, was accused by the guard of spitting from the portico of the building down into the yard, and without any investigation whatever, the doctor caused him to be stripped and tied, and receive thirty lashes on his naked back. The indignation of our sick prisoners was intense at this brutal treatment inflicted by the hand of a man far inferior to the negro, for the latter could read and write, while the other could do neither and could scarcely tell his name. The negro was a prisoner of war, born and educated in a free State, and he was entitled to the same protection and treatment that we were, and doctor could assign no other reason for his violation of the rules of warfare, than that the boy was a "d----d n-----." But perhaps the doctor will apply for pardon now.
I only remained at this convalescent hospital about ten days when I was sent back to the prison. In the early part of October the yellow fever began to spread extensively through the city, and they decided to send us to Columbia; not so much for our safety as for their own, for Sherman was facing toward the coast, and beside our removal was regarded as a sanitary measure for the city. As several exchanges had taken place during our stay at Charleston, our number was now reduced to about twelve hundred, and the most of us regretted to leave, as our quarters here were more comfortable than we expected to get by going to Columbia. But soon the order come, and we were packed into cattle cars and off for Columbia, a distance of 134 miles north of Charleston. We arrived at Columbia on the 5th of October, and from thence conveyed three miles west of the city, where we were placed in an open piece of ground without any inclosure, and simply a camp guard thrown around us. All rations of meat were ordered to be cut off from us and sorghum molasses given in lieu thereof. Hence we called this "Camp Sorghum." At this camp we annoyed the rebel officers very much by frequent escapes and demoralizing the guard. Two more of our number were shot here without any provocation, while inside the dead-line, and the guards who committed these outrages, we were informed by some of the other guards, received promotions for their villainy. A large majority of the guards were Georgians, and well disposed toward us. The rebel officers could not always watch them, and hence escapes were frequent. At this camp many an amusing incident occurred, one or two of which I propose to introduce in this epistle.
On one occasion, while so many were escaping, the rebel authorities procured the services of a celebrated negro hunter, who kept a pair of blood-hounds that he had trained for hunting down runaway negroes, for the purpose of trailing our escaped prisoners. As the "dogs" were trotting around the guard lines one morning, some of the prisoners called them into their quarters and cut their throats, and then buried them in an old well which was caved in. About 10 o'clock the dogs were missing, and a detachments of guards sent to search for them. The guards tracked the blood to the old well, and dug them out with their bayonets and reported to the officers, who ordered them to be dragged out of the guard lines, where an inquest was held over them by about two thousand reels. Their first conclusion was that the dogs were dead -- the second that some "d----d Yank" had killed them -- and the third, woe be unto the men who destroyed the "purps." Of course none of us knew who committed the murder, hence investigation was unnecessary. But what was death for the rebs was fun for us.
On another occasion, as we were getting no rations of meat, and had not had any for fourth months, and some of the more carnivorous had become exceedingly hungry for some, an old black boar came up to the guard lines one day and the guard scared him inside the dead-line. This was no sooner done than the war commenced. About a hundred United States officers of every rank, armed with bludgeons and boulders, attacked his majesty, and in five minutes' time he was divested of his sable robe and divided and subdivided until every ounce was apportioned out to the hungry raiders, thus affording nourishment to those fortunate enough to come in for a share, and by no means a delightful odor to the hundreds who were less fortunate.
Our rations here were not as good as those furnished to the enlisted men at Andersonville, but as some of us were fortunate enough to have money, we could buy light bread at one dollar and fifty cents per load, the loaf being about the size of a common saucer. We could also buy onions at one dollar each, butter at twenty-four dollars per pound, lard twenty-four dollars per pound, eggs fifteen dollars per dozen, milk, watered to suit the purchaser, at two dollars per quart. I one time thought that something worse than water was in the milk. As one of my messmates and myself were indulging in our "little old pot of mush" and some sky- blue milk, we both became sick at the same time and dropped our spoons, and running to one side vomited profusely. I never was more deathly sick in my life; I thought everything inside of me would come up.
As the rebel officers could not control us very well in "Sorghum," they removed us to the asylum grounds in the city. These grounds were enclosed by a brick wall about twelve feet high. From this place our only channel of escape was through tunnels, and we had one nearly completed when Sherman frustrated our work by advancing too rapidly upon the city. We were hastened away in great fright to Charlotte, in North Carolina, where we were all paroled for exchange and sent to Raleigh; thence to Goldsboro, thence to Rocky Point, ten miles from Wilmington, where we passed through our lines on the 1st of March, 1865.
Our reception by General Schofield's army was grand imposing. A magnificently decorated arch of evergreens was erected over the road. On either side the old flag with its stars and stripes was unfurled to the breeze, and as we passed through in four ranks, led by a famous brass band, nearly every heart was ready to burst with joy; and when once through, you would have laughed and cried too, as some of us did, to hear the loud huzzas and seen the old blankets, hats, tin pans and tattered coats, sailing in the air from our liberated prisoners, some of whom had been captives over two years.
We set sail for Annapolis the next day, and on arriving there we immediately divested ourselves of our rags and "creeping things," putting them in one common pile for conflagration. The next day we had to take the second look to recognize each other, as we were all alike disguised with new suits of clothes.
During my sojourn in rebel prisons, I met with a large number of honest, simple-hearted people, well disposed, and who had no heart in the rebellion. Many also who were extremely ignorant of the cases of the rebellion, or anything connected therewith. I also found, even among the intelligent, some well disposed and gentlemanly officers and citizens; indeed I might safely say that these two classes constituted a majority of those with whom I became acquainted. But among the ringer-leaders and those high in authority, as also some of the "roughs," I found many who well deserve the rope.
In all my experience, I have never met with a treacherous negro. That there are some, I have not a doubt, but all I met with I found trusty, and many of them more intelligent than the poor whites. The field-hands, however, on the cotton plantations, are very ignorant and debased.
Note: by Captain W. W. McCarty.