The following is a graphic description of Andersonville Prison given by my Great-Great Grand-father, Jasper Standford Harris.
Jasper was a Corporal in the 16th Connecticut Infantry. He was captured at Plymouth, NC and is a survivor of Andersonville Prison.
Jasper Harris of Holyoke, a resident of Ludlow for some years before the Civil War, gave an even more graphic description of the horrors
of Andersonville Prison in a letter which he wrote to Reverend Alfred Noon in 1975. The following account is in Harris’ own words:
…I first enlisted in the 3rd Regiment of Connecticut Volunteers for three months and after serving out the term reenlisted in the 16th Connecticut Volunteers. The whole Brigade was captured
April 23, 1864 at Plymouth, North Carolina and taken en route for Andersonville, Georgia, where our rebel guard told us, was a splendid shady camp with plenty of new barracks for shelter.
We arrived at the Andersonville station at dark on the evening of the 9th of May. The next morning we were marched towards the stockade a ¼ of a mile away. Just before arriving at the main
gate we came on a rise of ground where we could see the whole stockade and also most of the inside of it. I shall never forget the gloomy, depressed feeling with which I looked on the horrible
sight. The high log stockade was composed of straight young pines cut 16 feet long, hewn on two sides, the bark peeled off, then sunk in a trench 6 feet deep, on end close together, leaving
10 feet at least above ground on the inside. Cross pieces [were] spiked to each timber horizontally, making a fence strong enough to hold cattle instead of men – in fact it was called the
“Bull Pen” by the rebels – as well as our own men. Inside were no barracks and three straight pines almost branchless and limbless were all the shade trees to be seen. The inclosure
consisted of about eight acres divided into two gradual slopes in the center of which was the swamp of nearly two acres, with a small brook running through it. This was our drinking water
after it had been through three rebel camps getting all the sewerage of the camps and the cookhouse. The gate was opened and the Plymouth Brigade were turned to take care of ourselves as
best we might.
Five thousand prisoners from Belles Island had been put in a month or so before we came, and their wretched little huts covered the whole surface except the swamp. The rebels furnished nothing for shelter, and the man that was fortunate enough to have a blanket, could by putting little sticks or poles in the ground, spread his blanket over them and make him a shelter which would keep off the sun or rain. I never saw before such a hard looking set of men as these Belle Island prisoners were. Many of them were almost naked; nearly all were barefoot and a decently dressed clean looking man could not be found among them. Rations were issued daily, being drawn into the stockade by a mule team and when divided and subdivided each man received a pint and ½ of cob meal and from two to four ozs. of bacon. For a few days we received two common sized sticks of cordwood to be divided among 90 men. Each man would receive a piece about as big as a policeman’s billy, with which we were supposed to cook our meal.
Grant’s campaigns had now commenced and soon more prisoners began to come in and in June we heard from the rebels that there had been a big fight and part of our army captured
or destroyed in a few days. The Ludlow boys came in with a part of their Regt. and Brigade. The first man I met was Mr. Perry
or rather Sgt. Perry, looking every inch a soldier, and in excellent health. The next was Flavius Putnam, a new recruit, captured
in his first battle. I was well acquainted with him as we had worked together a good deal on the farm of Mr. David Atchinson. I always knew him as being a thoroughly good man when
I lived in Ludlow and exceedingly strong and quick in farm work, and always cheerfull and in the best of spirits. We had our huts on opposite sides of the stockade, and the next day
he came over to see me, and to talk the prospects over for exchange or parole. He seemed very much depressed, so much so that I was surprised, and I told him that I thought our only
hope was to trust in Providence, and do all we could to keep ourselves clean and neat in person, attend to our health as well as we could to avoid scurvy (the Belle Island men were
beginning to die rapidly from that and diarrhea) and above all to keep our courage up, and not allow our thoughts to dwell too much on home or friends which would bring on homesickness.
The next day I visited the huts of the Ludlow men. Except Perrry and Putnam I was not intimately acquainted with those I men in the prison though I knew all by name and sight.
Days passed, more prisoners came in. The stockade had to be enlarged by four more acres to our end; our rations were reduced in quantity and quality; no signs of exchange and in July
there were over 30,000 men in the stockade and the deaths were increasing fearfully. One day in July, 120 died and in July and August the deaths averaged a hundred men a day. It sometimes
made the stoutest heart among us quail to think what would be the fate of all those men if relief did not come. Our rations were the same day after day and scurvy was making rapid progress among us, and still the rebels would not give us any vegetables or any
anti-scorbutic to arrest the disease. Perry and I used to visit often, we were both mutually agreed on one point viz. ---- the necessity of as much exercise as we could give ourselves by walking about the camp in the cool of the day and to keep as busy as
possible when under shelter in amusing games, stories, etc. to keep our minds off from the horrors around us. A great many laid down most of the time and moaned continuously of their hard lot and soon fell victims.
About the last of July I had an attack of dysentery come on early one morning. As Dr.’s medicine was almost impossible to get I at once began to hunt around the tents or huts for some white oak sticks or poles. In one hut I found a little pole which
supported the owner’s blanket – He kindly allowed me to scrape off some of the bark which I boiled down to a strong tea. I then sold my day’s ration for a small red pepper to one of the men who had been trading with a Johnny, -- this I steeped in with my oak
bark making about a pint. Occasional sips of this tea was the only nourishment I took that day and night and although a good deal of blood passed by bowels I was up the next day and well – well enough to eat a little more cob meal. That was the only sick day
I had in eight months captivity. It was about this time that Putnam was taken out to the hospital and died there I heard. Perry kept in good health. The other, Ludlow men I did not see much of – My conrades belonging to my company were dying off rapidly and
the well ones were kept busy taking care of the sick and in keeping them and ourselves clear of the vermin which swarmed over us in droves. So thickly settled had the stockade become and so many sick, with no one to take care of them, that the lice bred
fearfully fast, and we could see them crawling on the ground.
September arrived and Sherman was marching in such close proximity to Andersonville that the Prison Authorities determined to remove all who were able to travel, telling us however, that we were going to be exchanged. I forget whether the detachment that
the Ludlow men were in went out before I did or not. The detachment I was in went out [of] Andersonville the 10th of September, 1864 and taken to Charleston, S.C. and kept three weeks in the Trotting Park and then taken to a new stockade in Florence, S.C., 100 miles north of Charleston where I staid until Dec. 17, 1864. I did not see any of the Ludlow men after leaving Andersonville as they were taken to another prison and as your call for information was chiefly on their account I will now close.
If I should attempt to write down a complete description of Andersonville, its horrors, of Wirtz*, his guards and his bloodhounds and all the sights and incidents which came under my own eyes there and other prisons during my 8 months stay, of the murderers
and robbers amongst our own men, of the hanging of six of them by a court of our own men – it would fill the pages of a large book, a part of it would be so monstrous in cruelty, and so shocking to sensitive minds, and so great a contrast to the realities of life
here at home in the north, that I am afraid it would not be believed if written…..
*Captain Henry Wirtz (or Wirz), a German citizen and commandant of Andersonville Prison, was tried and hung for his cruel treatment of Union prisoners – the only war criminal executed after the Union Victory.