During the last part of our stay nearly all of the rations issued consisted of "cow peas" stewed to a mush; often large masses of them were half issued without salt. These rations were brought in large dry-goods boxes drawn into the pen by four-mule teams. Each team was driven by a negro who always rode upon the nigh wheel-mule, and each wagon received a guard of four to six men as it entered the stockade. The guard evidently sought the opportunity thus to enter the stockade for the sake of a chance to trade, in a small way, with the prisoners, generally for the brass buttons off our coats, needles, jack-knives, knickknacks, and very slyly for greenbacks.
When the guard were thus occupied by anything but their business, some of the more enterprising of our number would crawl under the dry-goods boxes, as they were emptied and loaded back upon the wagon, and ride safely out of the stockade. The fact that the guard left the teams at the stockade, and that the teams had to go nearly half a mile to reach the cook-house, away from the immediate neighborhood of all the guards, gave those who rode out an excellent chance to come from under the boxes at their leisure.
There were also about two hundred of our men paroled out of the prison-pen who were acting as cooks, waiters for the Confederate officers, etc., so that the enterprising prisoner, as he emerged from his hiding-place, could stroll around during the day and with a little shrewdness not be distinguished from the paroled men. This trick was played very freely for several days, until too many men began to be missed at roll-call, and several were finally caught in the act. Many escapes were also made through the tunnels, and by straggling from the squads sent out after wood. Over one hundred men went out one night through a single tunnel, but within ten days they were all brought back, killed or badly torn by the hounds—a pack of eight or ten bloodhounds being kept by one or two experienced negro-hunters in the vicinity of the prison. No doubt a very few did finally make their escape good to the Union lines, but I have never been able to learn of one well-authenticated case from Andersonville.
There was one tunnel which was the innocent cause of much fear and alarm to our guard. I knew nothing about the tunnel being under way till the following accident betrayed it not only to ourselves, but also to the guard.
Sometime in August one of those sudden and terrible thunder-storms so common in hot countries occurred, and it so swelled the small brook running through the stockade that its outlet, hewn between a few of the timbers set in the bed of the brook, would not allow the immense volume of water to pass; consequently the stockade acted as a dam, so that the water rose within an hour nearly to the top of the timbers, completely flooding the four acres of swamp. Some fifty yards along this part of the stockade, each side of the brook, the soil was more sandy than the common red clay of the remainder of the prison, and the tunnel in question was in this vicinity. The water soon found it, and undermined the stockade, so that in a few moments a large breach was made, and with a rush the flood immediately passed through.
This frightened the guards so that they jumped from their posts and left the stockade, to collect about their two batteries. Within five minutes several shots from the cannon were fired over the prison, and warning shouted to us that if there were any signs of a crowd collecting any-where within the prison they would pour into that crowd grape and canister. It was at first supposed by both prisoners and guards that the stockade had been purposely undermined.
At the time of the flood which caused the break in the stockade the lightning, which was almost incessant, seemed to strike in several places within the stockade, at one spot killing several of our number. It struck, or seemed to strike, at one place about fifty yards from my own shelter and just within the dead-line. I noticed that several were prostrated by the stroke, and I immediately walked over to the spot, with many others, to see what damage was done. I found an ugly-looking rent in the ground, out of which was flowing a clear, copious stream of water between the dead-line and the stockade, perhaps three feet within the dead-line, on the east side of the inclosure and fifty or sixty yards above the spot where the brook entered.
The general belief among all the prisoners in that vicinity was that the spring was opened by the lightning, and the fact that it was so opened was not questioned till years afterwards. It looked as though the electric fluid had found vent at this place from the overcharged earth. Be that as it may, this spring gave us pure, sweet water, and in sufficient quantity, from this time out so long as the place was occupied as a prison; and I have been told that it was still a living spring twenty years afterwards. The prison authorities fixed a wooden trough to conduct the water over the dead-line within our reach—about the only act I ever knew them to perform spontaneously that had the slightest leaning towards mitigating our wretched condition.
We knew that a league was just being formed, termed the "Union League," composed of the ablest men, mentally and physically, within the prison, but it had not become sufficiently organized for work, or even to take advantage of the breach after it occurred. But the incident opened our eyes to the possibilities with such a league in working order and properly officered, so we exerted ourselves to perfect it; but it was not long before the authorities seemed to have become aware that such a league was forming or had already formed, and strict orders were circulated within the prison forbidding the prisoners to collect in any crowd, under penalty of being fired into from the batteries, except under the orders of the prison authorities for the purpose of roll-call. Further to check this league formation they sent in spies, disguised as prisoners, with the new batches that were brought in. These spies were so shrewd as to become members of the league, and, with the information they gave, completely broke it up.
visits since 02/21/2004.
Page updated 05/25/2006