A Diary of Prison Life:
Andersonville and Florence, SC
Private Samuel Elliot
7th Pennsylvania Reserves
Private Samuel Elliot
©NOTE. —Samuel Elliot, of Carlisle, a private in Company A, kept a Diary of his prison life, and after his release published it in a neat pamphlet of seventy-five pages. The following extracts in confirmation of the statements in the text, and as illustrative of life, or rather death at Andersonville, are here given:
Sunday, May 22.-Arrived at Andersonville, sixty miles from Macon. Here we were drawn into line and counted off into nineties, which constituted a detachment. After we were counted off a rebel officer said,"if there is any man among you who can write his name let him step two paces to the front;"the whole ninety, with one or two exceptions, stepped to the front; he then called for a Sergeant who could write his name; after getting one, placed us in his charge; our names were taken and we were marched into a prison containing about thirteen acres of ground, surrounded by a high stockade built of heavy pine logs and closely guarded by numerous sentinels who stood on elevated boxes overlooking the camp.
About eight feet from the stockade was a low, rough built railing called the "dead line," to lay a hand on or pass which was death from a guard's musket. The camp contains about fifteen thousand men, most of-whom have been prisoners from eight to ten months, and were once strong, able bodied men, but are now nothing more than walking skeletons, covered with filth and vermin, and can hardly be recognized as white men. The horrible sights are almost enough to make us give up in dispair-the ground is covered with filth, and, vermin can be seen crawling in the sand. In the centre of the camp is a stream of dirty water so warm and greasy we can scarcely drink it. The sights I saw on this, my first day in Andersonville, so filled me with horror that I can give but a poor idea of this prison den.
Monday 23.-Twenty-three years old to-day-a miserable place to celebrate one's birth day.
Thursday 26.-Rained all night, and as our shelter leaked we were completely soaked, besides being cold and hungry. Wirz has a squad of his men digging a deep trench inside the "dead line"so as to prevent further tunneling.
Sunday, June 12.-Drew half a pint of mouldy rice and a small piece of pork for a day's ration.
Wednesday 15.-A poor cripple shot for stepping inside the " dead line;" he said he was so miserable he wished to die, and took this means of having his wish gratified.
Thursday 16.-The small rations, of such poor quality, with the rainy weather, is killing the nen off at a terrible rate-there are now over one hundred bodies at the gate to be carried to the "dead house."
Friday 2.-The majority of the camp drew fresh meat which the rebel Quartermaster calls beef, but he can't fool "old soldiers" with his mule and horse flesh. It might have been pretty good had they brought it in within a week after its death, or had given us a large enough piece to allow for the maggots; we were too hungry to consider long about eating it also drew "'chicken feed," and a small piece of wormy pork-quite a variety for one day; went out for wood: the first time I have been outside the stockade since here. What a relief it is to see the outside world and get a breath of fresh air.
Monday 27.-For a long time the camp has been in a great state of excitement caused by a band of wretches who term themselves "Mosby's raiders." They watch every squad of prisoners brought in and take from them everything of any value. Several men have been killed by them and others badly wounded.
Sunday, July 10.-The "six raiders" found guilty of murder to be hanged to-morrow.
Wednesday 27.-More prisoners from Grant's and Sherman's armies, among them a number of one hundred day men, whose term of service has almost expired. They say the rebels should release them on that account.
Thursday 28.-The rebels fired a solid shot over the camp for the purpose, I suppose, of;showing us they had ammunition on hand. They are very much afraid of us making a break when the gates are opened to pass prisoners through. When the shot was fired a loud cheer was given, and cries of " lay down,'" " stand to your guns," &c., could be heard in all parts of the camp.
Wednesday, August 3 —On different battle fields I have witnessed many horrible sights, but none to compare with what I saw to-day-a man lying on the bank of the stream being eaten to death by maggots. They. could be seen issuing from his eyes and mouth, and his body was eaten completely raw in several places. We could do nothing with him but let him alone to die a miserable death.
Wednesday 10. —This evening we were called upon to witness the death of another of our eomrades, Van B. Eby. He bore his prison life bravely, but has at last fallen a victim to illtreatment and starvation. He was loved by all who knew him, and his loss is mourned by many friends.
Saturday 20.-Heard the glorious news that the " Dutch captain," Wirz, is dangerously ill, and has been sent to Macon. Many thousand wishes have this day been made that he may never recover.
Thursday 25.-Charles Jarimer, a recruit of our company, and a bunk-mate of mine, died to-day, after a long and painful illness; helped to carry his body to the "dead house"-a house built in the rear of the hospital, outside the stockade. There were about twenty-five other bodies, most of which had been stripped of all their clothing, and were so black and swollen they could not be recognized. While I was there I saw them piling the bodies one on top of the other, into the wagon, to be hauled to their graves or ditches. I passed through the hospital on my way back, and the sights I saw there were enough to make one sick: the tents were filled with what could once have been called men, but were now nothing but mere skeletons. The short time I was there I saw several die. A man is never admitted to the hospital until there is no hope of his recovery, and when once there it is seldom, if ever, he returns.
Sunday, September 4.-Attended the funeral services of a member of company F, who died during the night. It is terrible to see how our regiment is thinning out; every day brings the sad news of the death of one or more of our comrades. Death! nothing but death! throughout the prison. Rations small-almost starved.
Monday 12.-No transportation ready for us; had to lay at the gate all night, where we were almost eaten up by musquitoes, fleas and lice. At seven o'clock the gates were opened and we once more breathed the pure, fresh air. I have often heard of the slave traders packing the slaves in rows in vessels, but never had any idea of what it was until we were packed into the cars at the depot: one man sits down with his knees up, and another would sit with his back to him, so as to fit closely, and so on until the car was full. After a very uncomfortable ride we arrived at Macon, where we were allowed to stand up and stretch our limbs, which gave us a great deal of pain, after sitting so long in one position. Each car was supplied with a slim allowance of corn bread. Left Macon at four o'clock in the afternoon.
Wednesday 14.-Passed through Charleston at day-light, but had no opportunity of seeing the city, Arrived at Florence, South Carolina; distance travelled last night and this morning two hundred and fifty-nine miles.
Thursday 15.-Have had nothing to eat for two days; am so weak I can scarcely walk, and hungry enough to eat anything. Some talk of another prison at this place. Taken into a large woods where we remained until three o'clock, when we were again placed on cars and taken about two miles from the town, where we went into a large field to encamp. On our way here each man of our *bunk" took a railfrom the fence, which helped considerablyin building our shelter, besides furnishing us with fire wood. The camp is strongly guarded by boys from ten to fourteen years of age, old men and blood hounds. No rations; tired and almost starved.
Sunday, October 9.-A large squad of prisoners brought in from Charleston, who report General Sherman in possession of Macon, and that he re-captured about two thousand of our sick.
Tuesday 11. —A large supply of clothing from the Sanitary Commission arrived for our sick, but instead of giving it to them, the rebels picked out the best for themselves, and gave the balance to the Irish "Regulators." This is a body of men who have formed themselves into a band to preserve order throughout the camp, and they treat the poor weak prisoners a great deal worse than the rebels do. I have seen several of our men taken to the swamp and whipped until they were not able to stand. If one of the Regulators wants a tin cup or pan, all he has to do is to pick one out and go to the Judge (one of their number) and claim it; the man,who is the rightful owner is obliged to give it up, and if he says a word about it he is taken to the whipping post to receive ten or twenty lashes.
Tuesday 18&-Cold, disagreeable day; a lot of sanitary blankets were brought in camp to be distributed among the men who were entirely destitute of shelter. Six blankets were to be drawn by lot, by each one hundred men, but before drawing, the following oath was administered:I believe there has been enough blankets sent for all the men who are without shelter, and that the rebels have kept as many as they wished for their own use. Drew meal and fresh beef; cold rain in the evening."You do solemnly swear that you are entirely destitute of shelter, that you do not possess a blanket, or do not bunk with any one who does."
Monday 31.-While at Andersonville I did not suppose the rebels had a worse prison in the South, but I have now found out that they have. This den is ten times worse than that at Andersonville. Our rations are smaller and of poorer quality, wood more scarce, lice plentier, shelters worn out, and cold weather coming on. I have stood my prison life wonderfully, but now I am commencing to feel it more sensibly, and am getting too weak to move about. To add to my misery I have the scurvy in the gums.
Thursday, November 3.-Passed a miserable night; was obliged to lie down in the water, and this morning I am so stiff and sore that I am scarcely able to stand. I am soaking wet and my cold is much worse. We have a little wood, but it is so wet we cannot cook with it. Drew nothing but meal.
Tuesday 8.-Great excitement over an election held in camp for Lincoln and M'Clelan, and if the votes had only been counted they would have given Lincoln a nice little help. The election was held as follows: Two bags of beans, one of white and one of black, were placed inside the dead line; an empty bag was nailed to the stockade, and as the men marched by they took their bean and deposited it in the empty bag. Ten thousand votes were cast, and when counted they gave a majority of over two thousand for Lincoln. Men were out electioneering, and there was quite as much excitement as there would have been over an election at home, only the whisky and fighting were dispensed with.
Wednesday 23.-Rained all night, and we were obliged to take turns staying up to bail the water out of our cellar, which came in almost as fast as we could dip it out. We were obliged to huddle together to keep warm, but it was a hard matter, as we were obliged to lay in about six inches of water. This morning I am cold and wet, and I can truly say I never felt so miserable in all my life. We have not had a bite to eat for seventy hours, consequently I am almost famished. Drew a pint of meal.
Friday, December 2.-We are all so weak from starvation that we have been obliged to suspend work upon our shanty.
Wednesday 7.-Cold, rainy, windy morning; called out before day-light with the glorious news to fall into line to be examined for parole. Can it be possible that the day of deliverance has at last arrived?.
While our hundred were marching inside the dead line I trembled with fear lest I should not be taken, but my fears were allayed when the surgeon pressed upon my arm and told me to go. I cannot say how I felt When he told me this-I trembled, not with fear, but joy. Eleven hundred and eighty of us were marched outside the stockade, where we signed the parole papers, and stood around small smoky fires until late in the afternoon.
Sunday 11.-Rained nearly all night; could not sleep on account of the cold and lice. It seems as if for every one we burned two came in its place Still raining this morning. Fell into line at one o'clock and were again marched to the rebel truce boat and steamed into the harbor.
Passed Fort Sumpter (now nothing but a mass of ruins) and Moultrie, when we met our boats. It would be impossible to describe the feelings of the men when our dear old flag came into view; tears of joy filled many eyes, and cheer after cheer rent the air. After we were marched on our boats we each had a pound of boiled pork, nine hard tack and a quart of coffee issued to us. It was an amusing sight to see us devour these rations-any person would have thought we had not had a bite of anything to eat for a week.
Monday 26.-Arrived at Harrisburg some time in the night and took lodgings at the "White Hall." After breakfast I went to the depot and met my brother, who passed me without knowing me. It is not necessary for me to tell of the joy it gave me to meet my friends, or of the joy it gave them to see me, after so long an absence.
Source: Bates, Samuel P. History of the Pennsylvania Volunteers, 1861-1865 , Harrisburg, 1868-1871.
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