Experience of 90th Ohio Boys in Southern Prisons
CO. B, 90th O. V. I.
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We were captured at the battle of Chickamauga, Ga., September 20th, 1863, and were sent to Richmond, Va. When we got to Atlanta, Ga., we were marched from the railroad through the streets of the city to the stockade and kept there over night. As we were being marched through the streets, we were treated with contempt and insult by some of the citizens. In retalliation, we commenced singing: "Old John Brown," with the chorus: "and we will hang Jeff. Davis on a sour apple tree, as we go marching along." This enraged the Rebs so, that they threatened to shoot us, if we did not stop our singing. So we were compelled to be silent.
As we passed into the stockade we were relieved of our blankets, canteens and such other articles as the Confederate officers saw fit to take. We were taken out of the stockade the next day and sent on to Richmond, Va. We arrived at Richmond about the 1st of October, and were put in Libby prison, where we remained until the latter part of November, when we were sent to Danville, Va., where we were kept in tobacco warehouses.
While we were in Richmond, we learned that there was a quantity of flour, sugar and salt stored in the basement story of the building we occupied, and as our rations were short, we concluded to get some of these articles. We cut a hole through the floor, and helped ourselves to the sugar and salt. The flour we could not use. There was a notice of this in the Richmond papers, and they stated that we had taken between 7,000 and 8,000 pounds of sugar before the "Yankees" were detected. For our surprise we were not punished for this "sweetnees."
We remained at Danville, Ga., until about the middle of May, 1864, and were then sent to Andersonville, Ga. During the winter at Danville, we had no fire in the building to keep us comfortable, and we suffered very much from the effects of the cold. Our blankets had been taken from us, and the bare floor was our bed.
During the month of December, our government sent us blankets and clothing, which we received the latter part of the month, and this added greatly to our comfort.
During the month of February, 1864, the small-pox broke out amongst us, and quite a number of our boys were carried off by this loathsome disease.
During this month, some of us decided to try to make our escape by tunneling out. We got into a small cellar on the east side of the building in which we were confined, and sunk a hole down about three feet, and then started our tunnel, using a butcher-knife and a bayonet with which to dig, and a half of a canteen for a shovel. We had a small box to use in taking the dirt out of the tunnel and depositing it in the cellar. We had been working about six weeks on our tunnel, and had it almost completed, when, by some means we were detected in our work, and our plans were thwarted, and then we were more closely guarded than we had been heretofore.
We arrived at Andersonville, Ga., about the 20th of May, and found, to our sorrow, that we had come from "bad to worse." The prison was an open stockade, without any shelter, or provision made for our comfort. Language fails us, to properly describe the wretchedness and suffering of that horrible prison pen. Starvation, suffering and death were the ruling features of Andersonville prison.
We had some hard characters among us who went to robbing their fellow prisoners of whatever valuables they might possess. A vigilance committee was organized, and a number of arrests were made, and those arrested were tried by a jury of 12 of our own men. Six of the men who had been arrested were found guilty of grave offenses, and were sentenced to ball and chain. The rebel authorities refused to keep them separate from the rest of the prisoners, and gave the committee their choice, to either execute them, or to have them turned loose amongst us. The committee decided to execute them, and on the 11th day of July, 1864, they were hanged inside of the stockade. When the drop fell, one of the ropes broke, and the man fell to the ground, but he was immediately taken back upon the scaffold, the rope readjusted and he was swung off. This man had assumed the name of "Mosby," and was a hard character. After this execution, robbing was seldom heard of among the prisoners. It was about this time in July that the famous "Providence Spring" broke out in the prison pen, and it was certainly a God send to us, and added greatly to our comfort. On the 3rd of July, three of us organized a prayer meeting in the stockade. Sergt. James M. McCollem, of Newcomerstown, Tuscarawas Co. O.; Corp. W. C. Rose, of Granville, O., and the writer of this, were the three who organized this meeting, and it was kept up daily as long as we remained there. And many hearts were comforted by these devotional services. There were about 35,000 of us confined in Andersonville prison at one time.
During the month of August the death rate was fearful, and among the number that died were two of the boys of Co. B, of the 90th O. V. I., namely: Mark Tinley and Joseph Wyatt. Both died from the effects of scurvy.
About the 1st of September they commenced sending the prisoners away from Andersonville, and on the 9th of September, 1864, we were taken out of Andersonville and sent to Charleston, S.C., and at this place we received better treatment than any place we had been. We remained here but a few days, and were then taken to Florence, S.C., and imprisoned in a stockade there. This was a small prison, only about 10,000 of us there, but our treatment was the worst that we had met with any place we had been. It was an open stockade, and our rations were issued to us in a raw state, and they failed to furnish us with any cooking utensils with which to cook what little they gave us to eat. They gave us only one cord of wood to every 1,000 men per day, with which to do our cooking, and it is needless to say that it was necessary for us to use the wood very economically. We had to get our wood, and carry it to the prison gate. When the men were taken out to get wood, they were required to make oath that they would not attempt to escape while they were out. As it was a relief to get outside the stockade, we went out to get wood, and were put in charge of 100 wood carriers. There were five wood squads, but some of them contained considerably less than 100 men. One day two of our men decided to leave, and as we did not report that they had left, the Rebel authorities took those in charge of the different wood squads, and put them in the dungeon, where we were kept two days and two nights. The dungeon was wet and cold, and we suffered very much while we were there. When we were taken out of the dungeon, we were turned back into the stockade.
After this exposure, the writer's health began to decline, and finally we became helpless, and for some six or seven days were unconscious most of the time. Finally we rallied, and before we were able to walk alone we were brought to our lines at Wilmington, S.C., at which place we arrived on the 2nd day of March, 1865, and on the 10th of March we arrived at Annapolis, Md., and were taken into the hospital on the Naval Academy grounds, a mere skeleton, with but three articles of clothing-a blouse, pants and shoes. We gradually recovered, and are still among the living at this date, February 5, 1902.
After we returned home, we learned that the captain of our company had ordered our name to be entered on the company roll with the remark-"reduced to ranks," and gave as a reason for doing so, that he did not consider it fair for another man to perform the duty of a 1st Sergeant, and the man in prison receive the pay. We reported the matter to the authorities at Washington, D.C. An investigation was made, and the result was, that we received pay as 1st Sergeant for the entire time, and now hold a certificate, with the statement, that "this man's rank is 1st Sergeant."
J. G. MILLER,
CO. B, 90th O. V. I.