Soon after the 1st of September we learned, from some of the prisoners brought in, that Sherman had captured Atlanta; and it was evident from the actions of our guard that they were growing uneasy. Reports were circulated with increasing vigor that we were soon to be exchanged by way of Savannah. Many believed it; others did not. Sometime after the middle of September, one day everything was bustle and confusion, as one detachment after another was marched outside the stockade, and again loaded into box-cars,—as always, sixty in a car,—and each car provided with rations that we were informed were all we should get for three days. The rations were of the old style, simply coarse corn-bread, and I could easily have disposed of my own in one day without satisfying my hunger or injuring my digestion.
My detachment was one of the first, if not the first, to leave the stockade, and occupied, with several others, the first train that left for Savannah. The anxiety to be the first to leave was displayed in many ways, as it was the general impression that those who did leave were to be exchanged. I did not share this anxiety, perhaps because I chanced to belong to one of the first detachments taken out, but I think more because I did not believe we were going to be exchanged. It was quite apparent to Dick Williams and myself, as we discussed the question in all its bearings, that Sherman was getting too near our sylvan re-treat to make it at all pleasant for the authorities that held us, and that they, fearing for their ability to hold us there any longer, determined to remove us to safer quarters.
We left the stockade, however, very willingly, knowing that no worse place could be in store for us. Many were foolish enough to leave behind what few possessions they had, such as tattered blankets, shelter poles, cooking tins, etc.; but the good sense of the level-headed ones among us prevented this suicidal business to any great extent, and with the majority my mess of three took with us all we possessed.
I crept out of that filthy sore spot on God's earth for the first time in four months, with but little ambition to speculate upon where next, but with the determination to make a desperate attempt to escape from my guard whenever the slightest opportunity offered. I left behind me the greater number of all my immediate acquaintances, more than half of them among the thirteen thousand dead in the cemetery I never saw. Thirteen thousand dead in a period of a little over four months!
About every third man who entered Andersonville was dead in four months. As many more were rendered physical wrecks forever after. There were a few over forty thousand different men who entered Andersonville. Not quite one-third of that number were alive twenty years after.
Our train moved towards Macon, and after, leaving there kept the road towards Savannah. Only one of the slide doors to each box-car was allowed to remain open to give us air, and within that were posted two sentinels. It was but natural that every prisoner within the car should desire to obtain a place near the open door. Of course the most persistent and enterprising obtained the places that could only be occupied by four or five at most. Sometime, while about midway between Macon and Savannah, I succeeded in grasping the long-sought and persistently worked-for place at the open door; and the sentinels had so relaxed their discipline as to allow about four of us at a time to sit upon the edge or floor of the car with our feet dangling out. This was the situation I had been striving for during the last hundred miles of our travel, and so completely had my attention been occupied with that idea that I had noticed but little of the country through which we were traveling.
About nine o'clock in the evening we came to a stop at a place where the train passed within the station, which was dimly lighted. On another track stood a regular passenger train, well filled with passengers, and among them better-dressed people than I had seen for four months.
I wondered if I should ever be one of a civilized community again, traveling as I pleased and where I pleased? The thought quickened the action of the brain, and I whispered to the comrade by me that I should jump from the train as soon as it had left the depot and be-fore it had got fully under way; that leaving the lighted depot and moving out into the dark night would blind the sentinels for a time, so that we could not be seen. I urged him to jump with me, but he could not be induced to take the risk.
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