Sufferings in the Stockade -
of the Prisoners -
Line"- The Flight and Escape, &c.
The following very interesting narrative of the experiences of a
Union soldier - a volunteer from the Green Mountain State - in the prisons
of the confederacy, is furnished us by the soldier himself, who escaped
from . . . the stockade at Andersonville, Georgia.
AND FIRST IMPRISONMENT
In October 1863, the narrator, Mr. Alphonso Barows, was serving
in a Vermont cavalry regiment, under General Kilpatrick, and participated
in the action at Brandy station [near Culpepper, Virginia], fought
on the 11th of October.
Of Mr. Barows' squadron a captain, lieutenant and eight men were
captured by the rebel General Fitzhugh Lee’s command, and from that spot
marched to Culpepper, three miles distant. Here they remained all night.
Next morning a muster of prisoners was called, which showed three hundred
men, belonging to various commands, the majority being cavalry and members
of the One Hundred and Twentieth New York infantry. Here they were put
on the cars and hurried to Richmond receiving not the slightest sustenance
or nourishment on the way. On the same day: (the 12th October) they reached
Richmond, and the whole party was at once marched to Libby prison . . .
At Richmond they were first confined in the Libby prison, to the
vile dungeons of which they were led in the dark of the autumn evening.
Whatever improvement or amelioration of their condition [that] hope, with
the morning light, might have promised them was sadly dispelled when the
full realization of their situation burst upon them on the following morning.
The infernal Libby was then more than full, and the first sufferings
of Mr. Barows and his fellow captives of Brandy station were intolerable
from mere contact with their fellow Union prisoners of an earlier date.
The vermin swarmed upon everything, and the mere appearance of the unfortunates,
who were emaciated with suffering, foretold privations and tortures that
the newcomers dreaded to contemplate, so fearfully prophetic was everything
around them of their own coming fate.
From Libby prison numbers of the latter captives were removed to
Pemberton tobacco warehouse, and from thence to another tobacco prison,
which had just been vacated by the prisoners captured at the battle of
Chickamauga. After being some time confined here they were removed to Belle
Isle, where the sufferings of some ten thousand men throughout the winter
were intense from cold and hunger - not the slightest attempt, nor the
faintest provision, being made to lessen or assuage their sufferings.
It was only during the day the poor sufferers would seek such repose
as the bare earth afforded, the night cold driving all sleep from their
eyes, and compelling them to lie in the holes which they had dug in the
ground, and in which they kindled the little fires they were permitted
to burn. Here our informant remained throughout the winter, up to the month
of March, when some seven or eight hundred were put on the cars, destined
for Andersonville, Ga.
THE TRAIN TO ANDERSONVILLE.
Through some falsely excited hopes the ill-fated men fancied they
were on their way to be exchanged, and an effort at merriment, melancholy
to witness in some of the more debilitated, was the result. But, as the
journey lengthened out, and when, to repeated inquiries as to their destination,
they were informed they were on their way to Georgia, all hope seemed to
die out of the most courageous and sanguine amongst them, and from the
third to the eighth and concluding day of the journey it was a train of
death. Despair seized upon the strongest. The men were packed sixty to
a car, standing as closely as was possible, every means of ventilation
closed except at the door, where sentries standing outside left so much
open as to enable them to watch their prisoners inside. A horrible heat,
as our informant states, generating a sweat that did not break out on face
or hands or limbs, but oozed out through our jackets, and parched our mouths
and throats, causing the greatest agony. I only survived, I think, "says
he, crouching down on the floor of the car and cutting a hole in the bottom,
to which I held my head for minutes at a time to inhale breath. "This was
the only resource - the only alleviation of their agony the men had.
At last they reached Andersonville, several having died on the way
in the cars during the seven terrible days of the journey. And here a circumstance
may be stated with respect to the relative feelings of the soldiers of
the confederacy towards those of the Union army whom the fortunes of war
subject to their mercy. Mr. Barows states that himself and fellow prisoners
received a great deal more consideration and experienced much more humanity
from the South Carolina Guards, who formed as part of the same. There was
in consequence a higher regard felt among their less kind and less chivalrous
comrades of Virginia. The Georgia soldiers, too, were very anxious to trade
with the Yankees, exchanging biscuits for the jacket buttons of the latter.
The brass buttons sell at a dollar a piece, the possession of a half dozen
buttons being eagerly sought and highly prized. Andersonville was at last
reached - Andersonville, now so notorious, and hereafter to be a word of
greater reproach and of greater stigma than the Libby or Castle Thunder,
or even Belle Isle itself. Here the prisoners, sick and well, were handled
out of the cars, and the terrible stockade stood before them. Up to this
point for miles the cars ran through a densely pine wooded country, and
even here, with the exception of the ground cleared for the stockade, all
was lofty pinewood on every side, gloomy, impenetrable, and as sickening
to the heart as the despairing thoughts could make it - thoughts too suggestive
of the posted lines over the entrance to his inferior: - "All ye that enter
here leave hope behind."Andersonville, before the war wasknown only to
the travelers on the railroad by name, marked by a log house, the only
break on the vast continuity of shade.
Since then it has been chosen on account of the remoteness from
the contending lines - being in the centre of Georgia – as a prison, or
Golgotha, for Union prisoners. Here a clearing in the deep pine wood was
made, first of fifteen acres, and afterwards as the number of prisoners
increased, extended to ten acres more. The stockade is a rough, but strong
construction of pine wood, oblong in shape, and having inside its outer
limits - that is, within the twenty feet of the outer surrounding fence
(fifteen feet high) - another open fence or palisading. The twenty feet
space between is the dead one - a name too sadly recited every day by the
slaughter of Union soldiers - in the immolation of those unconscious of
the prohibition and the penalty and often in the fate of many who accept
the doom of disobedience as a relief from the slow agony of a living death.
Into this stockade, within a space of about eighteen acres, were penned
together, when our informant escaped from it - the 6th of August last -
from thirty-five thousand to forty thousand, without a hut or tent or shred
to shield them from the harming sun or shelter them from the pitiless storm.
Thousands of these victims are semi-naked and half starved, and such torture
effects haste their accumulated sufferings had aged them that many hundreds
have become bereft of reason. Mr. Barows says: - "I cannot give you even
a faint plea of the appearance of these men sitting or standing their heads
are always bowed upon their breasts, their hair matted, their fingers crooked,
their bare arms, hands and feet emaciated. Their manner of moving about,
and the unnatural silence which most of them maintain, have left them but
a semblance of humanity." The sad condition into which these unfortunates
have fallen - and many of them were remembered as the most cheerful and
daring men in camp and field - has a terribly depressing effect upon all
the others. The deaths, on an average, amount to seventy-five or eighty
a day, the imbecile furnishing a large quota, the principal disease to
which almost all succumb being dysentery. This is brought on from the coarse
corn flour which is doled out to them, great numbers having to eat the
dough made from this flour and the sickening water which runs through the
centre of the camp, raw, the facilities for making bread in the bakehouse
being barely sufficient to supply the small allowance to two thirds of
the camp a day. Salt is also very sparingly and capriciously served out,
almost every third day the few grains permitted being withheld from them.
The water is a fruitful source of their suffering. A small brook runs through
the centre of the camp, broad margins of swamp lying on either side. Into
this brook all the water from the bakehouse or cookhouse is thrown; the
rebels was clothes in it, and much of the refuse of the camp finds it way
to it, infecting the waters with disease and death. The dead are not every
day brought from the camp.
Sometimes two days are permitted to elapse before removal, and the
sight of so many brave fellows, who sought honorable deaths on the battle
fields of the Union, being thus ignominiously thrown into wagons by slaves,
to be consigned to unknown grave pits, after such lingering torments, Mr.
Barows says, is the most harrowing of their gloomy days to the survivors.
The camp is guarded by four regiments of conscripts and one skeleton Georgia
regiment (the Fifty-fifth), the whole under the command of a German officer,
a Captain Waurtz, who is represented as cruel in the extreme. Besides this
force within, there is a Georgia battery of sixteen guns outside, planted
so as to command the interior. A precaution is taken to prevent the poor
victims inside meditating an escape en masse by overpowering by a rush
and force of numbers their guards. This is by driving posts at short distances
into the ground all through the camp, so that it would be impossible for
any entire body of men to keep together close enough to make a dash effective.
The conscript troops are far more cruel and relentless than the regular
The line known as the line-marks a limit prescribed to the prisoners
within. On the camp side of this limit is the palisading before referred
to, on which at distances of about ten rods are small platforms or stands
for sentries who guard against all encroachment on the space between these
palisades and the outer work or stockade, with strict orders to shoot down
all who invade it. Many of the prisoners of late arrivals, anxious to get
breathing room from amid the stifling wedge of humanity around, elbow their
way outside, and, seeing this free space, make for it. Well, should it
be a conscript sentinel who is at that point, he gives no warning, but
waits till the poor captive is within the men from advancing, and it is
only in the cases of the poor maniac, or the hopeless man seeking death,
the one unconsciously remaining and the other refusing to retire, that
he makes it the dead line of the stockade. Mr. Barows saw men shot in the
dead line while he was there, who went in defiantly and with taunts, so
as to be released by the inevitable bullet of the conscript from further
Mr. Barows, who is quite a young man, and who evidently enjoyed
a very strong constitution, but who, nevertheless, still boars the traces
of his sufferings, was fortunate enough to be selected by the rebel officers
as one of the detail of prisoners to out and bring wood to the camp. He
improved his opportunity so well that except at night he was permanently
employed outside, and had frequent access to the bakehouse. One of his
companions in this kind of work was John Wolcott, of the Fifth Michigan,
whom Mr. Barows describes as a brave, determined man, prepared to meet
all risks in pursuit of his freedom. The bloodhounds, nine of them, with
their mounted keepers, who patrol the circle of the camp outside, did not,
therefore, deter Wolcott from projecting an escape, and Barows joined him
in the attempt. It is proper to state here that many attempts are made
to escape from the inside by undermining, but these inevitably fell through
the watchfulness of the patrol and their terrible associate bloodhounds.
The severest punishment is inflicted upon the detected. They are all chained
together, no matter how many there may be at atime, by the neck, waist
and ankles, besides which each man has a heavy chain and ball from one
leg. The sufferings of these poor fellows, with their galled necks and
excoriated flesh, are enough to deter the bravest in incurring the risk
of flight. But Barows and Wolcott, working outside, had a more hopeful
chance, and they set about preparing for their flight. They purchased empty
bags - the material being in every respect as good for pants as that worn
by the rebels - they concealed a quantity of biscuits, and by the assistance
of some negroes they provided themselves with some onions and turpentine
to apply to their feet, so as to destroy the scent of the bloodhounds as
they fled. Besides the latter precaution the essence bag of a skunk was
also provided for the purpose.
Everything being prepared, the friends, on the fifth of August,
being outside bringing in wood, watched their opportunity, and succeeded
in getting out of the sight of the guards. They immediately broke into
a fast run, got to the spot where their treasures were concealed (among
which was a pocket compass), secured them, and again started off. But at
the very outset their hopes were almost dashed to the ground as they encountered
a patrol of conscripts. Wolcott presence of mind, however, saved them,
and, representing themselves as belonging to the regulars - the Fifty-fifth
Georgia - they were allowed to pass on. With the aid of their compass they
struck a line for Atlanta, allowing for a divergence that would enable
them to flank the city. With two hundred miles before them, they never
faltered, but held on all that night and the whole of the next day, and
so on day and night, through canebrakes and swamps and over rivers, and
through thick woods, for eight days and nights, resting but two hours at
a time through each twenty-four of fatiguing flight. But the distance gradually
lessening between them and freedom gave them energy and strength to persevere
to the triumphant and, on the seventh day they crossed the Chattahoochee,
forty miles below Atlanta. The next evening (the 14th) they approached
the Union lines about dusk but for a time feared to show themselves to
their friends, their hearts beating all the while with hope and joy restored,
as from their hiding places they beheld the sentinels of Sherman, their
companions in arms, keeping vigilant watch and ward on the picket ground.
The poor fugitives at last gave vent to their emotions in proclaiming themselves
friends. Three hastily raised deadly muskets were lowered again, after
a moment survey of the worn and emaciated forms, which proclaimed them
at once to be escaped Unionists; and all the sympathy and encouragement
and welcome of brave men was once more extended to them, and once more
they felt themselves men and free.
WITH GENERAL KILPATRICK
Here they remained with the army for a few days, General Kilpatrick
visiting them and hearing from them the history of their capture that day
at Brandy station, and the terrible scenes they had gone through since.
He showed them every kindness, and intended to have rehabilitated them,
but he had work before him, and the next day they ascertained he had started
on a road, but Mr. Barows expressed the highest esteem for the young chief,
whose banner he had so often followed on the banks of the Potomac.
REBEL SOLDIERS ON THE NORTHERN ELECTIONS
Mr. Barows, while working outside the stockade, had frequent conversations
with rebel officers, as well as with the soldiers, on the probabilities
of peace, and the one prevailing belief among all is that at the next election
in the North democrats will elect a President that will help us. "This
belief or feeling is universal, and beyond that the result is never canvassed.
The probability of the North not doing anything of the sort, but putting
a war democrat at the head of the nation or the next four years seems so
unlikely an event to them that its discussion will not be tolerated. The
conscript troops are composed entirely of boys and old men, and the fatality
among them is very great.
Mr. Barows furnished the foregoing statement of facts in regards
the condition of so many thousands of the bravest men in the land - in
the horrible Aceldama of Andersonville, Ga., in the hope that through him
his fellow sufferers will receive the prompt consideration of its government
before it is altogether too late.
of the above narrative, from the 18 September 1864 edition of The New York
Herald, appears to be the 21-year-old Alphonzo BARROWS listed in the 1860
census living in Burlington, Chittenden County, VT. He's found in the household
of George BARROWS, 55, a Burlington merchant, and his wife Harriet, 39,
and is listed as a clerk. The order in which the children are listed makes
it appear Alphonzo is not a son, though he is obviously a relative.
Civil War records show Alphonzo and his brother William
H. enlisted at Highgate, VT, 23 September 1861 in Company B, 1st Vermont
Cavalry Regiment. Alphonzo was taken prisoner in early 1863 at Broad Run,
VA, and paroled six days later, only to be taken prisoner again 11 October
1863 at Brandy Station, VA. The brothers were mustered out in November
and William H. BARROWS appear by the 1850 census to be the sons of an Augustus
H. BARROWS, 39, living in Danby, Rutland, VT (wife not listed). I imagine
Augustus and the George BARROWS with whom Alphonzo was living 10 years
later were brothers, because one of George's sons was named Augustus. However,
I could not find a family tree to substantiate that guess.]