WEST TENNESSEE UNIONISTS IN ANDERSONVILLE PRISON
BY PEGGY SCOTT HOLLEY
The Confederacy established Andersonville, that most infamous of Civil War prisons, in late February, 1864. It built a stockade in west central Georgia to accommodate approximately 10,000 prisoners of war. As the fighting moved ever deeper into the South in the last year of the war, the expanded stockade at one point held nearly 33,000 Union soldiers. The termination by the North of the prisoner of war exchanges which had existed previously and the continually depleting resources of the Confederacy left these prisoners stranded in miserable conditions.
By the end of the war, 13,000 of the total 45,000 prisoners had died. They were buried in shallow trench graves with numbers to identify the dead. The northern states erected large memorial monuments of the site of the prison after the war to honor their citizens who died there. Tennessee also built a monument to commemorate the more than 750 men from Tennessee who died there. The suffering of these men was recognized even though they did not support the decision of the state to join the Confederacy.
About half of the Tennesseans in Andersonville were from East Tennessee. The mountain area of eastern Tennessee had been unsympathetic to the southern case. Mountain people were often unwilling to fight to preserve a plantation economy in which they did not participate. Furthermore, many were also stauchly Unionist. Several Union regiments had been raised in the east including the 2nd Tennessee Infantry, which had 475 of its men captured at Rogersville, Tennessee and sent to Andersonville Prison.
The West Tennessee Unionists in Andersonville, however, were not mountaineers but were farmers from a cotton growing area of small farms and plantations. The largest number of West Tennesseans, about 450, were from the 7th Tennessee Volunteer Cavalry. The entire regiment, except for one group on scout was captured at Union City, Tennessee on March 24, 1864 by a detachment of Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest's regiment under the command of Col. William L. Duckworth. The captured men were mainly from Carroll, Henderson and McNairy Counties with some recruits from Henry, Weakley, Benton, Madison, Gibson, Hardin, and Decatur counties. These men suffered horribly during the time they were prisoners. Two-thirds of them died within a year of the capture. Their high mortality rate can be attibuted both to the prison to which they were sent and to the actions of their captors.
One group within the captors of the 7th Tennessee Cavalry USA was the 7th Tennessee Cavalry CSA. Both groups were primarily West Tennesseans and there was intense ill feeling between them. Some men were neighbors and personally knew each other. For the 7th Tennessee USA, the humiliation was almost total. Colonel Duckworth tricked them into surrender when help was nearby. And, it was the second time that Forrest's men had forced them to surrender. The first time at Trenton in December, 1862, they had been paroled and had spent their time at Camp Chase, Ohio. Some members of the regiment, who were captured at Ripley and Mt. Pinson, Tennesse, had even spent a short time in Richmond, Virginia in 1863 before being parolled once again. By March 1864, however, the Lincoln government had stopped the exchanges. This time there would be no paroles. The men were prisoners of the Confederacy and were destined for Andersonville Prison.
The captors "had a lot of fun" at the expense of their prisoners because of the circumstances of the surrender. They taunted the "Tennessee Yanks" for giving up without a fight. John Milton Hubbard, who was one of the privates among Forrest's men that day, later wrote that the men of the Seventh Tennessee USA "bore up manfully and turned out to be jolly good fellows, molded much after the pattern of the men of our own Seventh Tennessee Confederate." He even called Lt. Colonel Isaac R. Hawkins, a Huntingdon lawyer in command of the regiment,"that most gentlemanly Federal officer."
After sacking and burning the fort and destroying all the regiment's books and papers, the Confederates hurriedly left Union City with their prisoners. The Union enlisted men walked four abreast with the Confederate guard in a single file on each side. Under a light rain, the men marched about sixteen miles to Gardners's Station, where they camped for the night. Two officers, including Colonel Hawkins' son, escaped during the night. Later during the trip south, five more Union Officers escaped. At least some of the officers violated their parole of honor by doing so. This made General Forrest so furious that he made Colonel Hawkins and the other officers walk for a time in ankle deep mud.
Leaving Gardner's Station at daybreak, the men marched to Trenton, arriving there on the 26th of March. Their captors gave them almost nothing to eat during the trip but they were able to buy biscuits for five dollars per dozen and baked chickens for five dollars each from the people of Trenton. It was fortunate they could spend some of their money. On the next day the Confederate soldiers took them into the courthouse and robbed them. Since the men had recently been paid their back pay, the captors were able to take a sizeable amount of money from them as well as other personal articles. Even Colonel Hawkins lost his saddle bags, extra clothes, and blanket around this time.
Colonel Hawkins protested the robberies to Colonel Duckwork. Duckworth said that Forrest's men were responsible and that he would put his own men on guard to stop them. When the thefts continued, Hawkins again protested to Duckworth and was told that an account was being taken of the money involved and that it would be returned. Both sides sometimes confiscated money from prisoners in order to prevent bribery. The money would then be given back to its owner in small amounts at the prison or in a lump sum when the prisoner was exchanged. In this case, however, the money was taken unofficiallly by the enlisted men and was never returned. In the terms of the capitulation signed by both Hawkins and Duckworth at Union City, it had been agreed that all private property belonging to the men would be respected. Only their horses, horse equipment, and arms were to be taken from them. This breach of the surrender terms by Forrest's men later caused much misery and even death for many of Hawkins's men.
On the 28th of March the group arrived at Humboldt. A citizen there, seeing Colonel Hawkins' predicament, took pity on him and gave him two pairs of socks and a handkerchief. Their next stop was Jackson, where they joined Forrest's main force. Here James McCree, a citizen Unionist, sent a dispatch to the Federal command on the Tennessee River suggesting that Forrest, and his prisoners might be intercepted on their way south after leaving Jackson. Forrest suspected McCree, arrested him, and would have hanged him except for the intervention of certain Jackson citizens, who felt McCree might be innocent. After a few days at Jackson, the prisoners were moved on to near Purdy. The captives hoped that there might be a rescue attempt by Union troops before the group crossed the Tennessee line. General Forrest, anticipationg trouble, gave orders that if an attempt was made, the prisoners were to be shot. No help materialized, however. After crossing the Tennessee line south of Pocahontas, the men entered into northern Mississippi at Ripley, and later were sent on to Ellistown and Tupelo.
About a month after the prisoners had gone through Tupelo, another group of Union sympathizers from the same area of West Tennessee as the prisoners were marched through the town. They were private citizens who had been rounded up in Huntingdon and were being escorted to prison. John A. Crutchfield, a lieutenant in the 20th Tennessee Cavalry CSA, wrote about them in a letter to his wife in Macedonia, Carroll Co:
John Britt was a Huntingdon merchant who had three sons in the 7th Tennessee Cavalry USA. At least one of these sons was with the Union City prisoners. Crutchfield's letter also mentioned that he had heard that Isaac Hawkins' men were safe at Mobile, Alabama. This was indeed where they had been taken.
Presumably the men walked until they intersected the Mobile and Ohio Railroad somewhere near Tupelo, Mississippi. On the way to Mobile, two men died of Pneumonia and a rebel guard accidentally shot one prisoner in the abdomen at Okalona, Mississippi. When they reach Mobile they were placed in a warehouse. Private Isaac Davenport, from Scotts' Hill in Henderson County, later described the place as "a cotton shed where the fleas and body lice sucked some of the very life blood out" of them and where they were much too "numbered" for the space. Ten men died in Mobile. Davenport had to leave his dying brother-in-law, Sam McCollum, when orders came to ship out.
The prisoners left Mobile by steamer about April 17 for Tensaw, Alabama. Leaving Tensaw on the 18th, they left by rail on the Mobile and Great Northern Railroad for Pollard. Camping there for the night, they would then have needed to change to the Alabama and Florida Railroad(Alabama) to ride to Montgomery, where they arrived on the 19th. Leaving Mongomery the next morning, they crossed into Georgia at Columbus, where they once again changed trains. Traveling all night on the South Western Railroad, the men arrived at Andersonville Prison at 8 a.m. on the 21st of April, 1864. The trip from Union City had required just under a month.
Colonel Hawkins and about ten commissioned officers were separated from the privates and non-commissioned officers at this time and put on a train for Macon, Georgia. Their arrival at the prison in Macon brought the number of officers there to a total of fifty. All of the commissioned officers of the 7th Tennessee Cavalry survived their imprisonment except for Captain M. Wesley Derryberry of Co. H. Two lieutenants, William W. Murray of Co. I and John J Wallace of Co. K, even managed to escape and both safely reached Union lines. Colonel Hawkins remained in southern prisons for only five months before being exchanged. The enlisted men who survived Andersonville averaged eight to thirteen months before their releases.
Camp Sumter, the official name for Andersonville, had opened a little over two months before the 7th Tennessee arrived. At the time of their arrival the stockade held about 15,000 prisoners or about 50 percent more than it had been designed to hold. Private Isaac Davenport described his first impression. He thought it a "despert looking place" and "very gloomy." Robert Kellogg, a Connecticut soldier speaking for some 2000 soldiers who arrived about twelve days later, said that the sight froze their blood with horror, and made their hearts fail within them. Sergeant Henry M. Davidson of the 1st Ohio Light Artillery, who was an inmate at the prison, remembered the arrival of Hawkins' Regiment and wrote the following in his memoirs:
"Some five hundred Tennesseans, who had been captured by Forrest---arrived among us; the most of who were hatless, bootless, and shoeless, without coats, pants and blankets...They were wholly destitute of cups, plates, spoons, and dishes of every kind as well as of all means of purchasing them; they having been stripped of these things by their captors. In their destitute condition they were turned into the stockage and left to shift for themselves in the best manner they could. To borrow cups of the fellow-prisoners was in impossibility, for no one could be expected to lend what, if it were not returned, would insure his own destruction, particularly when the borrower was an utter stranger; there was nothing left for them but to bake their raw meal and bacon upon stones and chips, eat it without moisture, and afterward to go to the brook like beasts to quench their thirst."
The men also lived with little protection from the elements since no tents were issued. Sergeant Davidson said that the 7th Tennessee "scooped out shallow places in the earth with their hands, and lying down side by side in these, with their bare heads and naked feet resting upon the surface of the ground, and their unprotected bodies wet with dews and storms, the wretched men trembled and shivered till morning. Members of the regiment later confirmed this in their answers to a Civil War questionnaire. Private William Douglas wrote that they "slept on the ground, nothing under us or over...we didn't have any cloth." Private William T. Woods said "we suffered greatly from exposure." Private Isaac Davenport said in his memoir that their "beds was only the sandy hills...we slept exposed"
Even allowing for a certain amount of exaggeration, the men of the 7th Tennessee arrived at a distinct disadvantage since they had no money to bargain with their fellow prisoners or with the Confederate guards or to buy from the prison sutler. Also, as noted above, their blankets, cooking utensils, and clothing either had been taken from them by their captors or had been thrown away because of the burden of the long forced marches. They did not even have enough cloth to make crude tents to protect themselves from the elements. However, some Confederate soldiers respected the private property of their captives. For example, the Union regiments captured at Plymouth, North Carolina retained their money and their private property. Robert Kellogg, a member of the Plymouth captives, said that they were allowed to retain their blankets, overcoats, and all they had with them except their arms and equipment. He reported only one robbery, and that by an intoxicated officer. He praised the 35th North Carolina as a gentlemanly set of guards. When these captives reached Andersonville, about twelve days after the 7th Tennessee had arrived, Sergeant Davidson could not help noticing the contrast between the appearances of the two sets of prisoners. Nearly every one of the Plymouth captives had an overcoat, extra pants, shirts, drawers, blankets, and money with which to negotiate.
Money to buy food from the sutler would have been expecially helpful since the food supplied in the prison camp was never adequate. James Taylor of Buena Vista in Carroll County said that the food supply for twenty-four hours was about half what a man ordinarily had for one meal. William Douglas, son of a Henderson County planter, must have referred only to the vegetable ration when he said he ate "1 spoonful Bow peas a day." William Wood from Darden in Henderson County said he suffered "starvation." Joseph McCracken, son of the major of Huntingdon, weighed 150 pounds when he arrived at Andersonville and only 75 pounds at his release. Isaac Davenport wrote "our flesh bein reducd we were nothin but skelingtons." Southern apologists have made much of the fact that the rations were the same as were being supplied to the Confederate army and to the guards at the prison. They overlook, however, the opportunities that free men have to supplement their rations.
The prisoners themselves found one opportunity to supplement their diet. They reportedly ate a dog that had wandered into the stockade. Several versions of the story exist and continue to be told by West Tennessee descendants at present. It is even said that a bone of that dog was brought back to Carroll County by Daniel J. Meals of Co.A. The bone is thought to still be retained by a family member.
Only eight days after their arrival, inadequate food, overcrowding, and exposure, both on the trip South and after their arrival at the camp, had begun to take their toll on the West Tennesseans. The first deaths at Andersonville occurred on April 29 when twenty-eight year old Private Jacson J. Hays of Henderson County died of chronic diarrhea and twenty year old Sergeant George Pickens of McNairy County died of Dysentery. The regiment's first full month in prison resulted in six more deaths, three of which were from pneumonia. By the end of the second month, sixteen more had died. Fourteen of these died from diarrhea. Both rebel administrators and northern inmates thought that one cause of diarrhea in the camp was that the northern digestive system was unaccustomed to corn meal. The West Tennesseans, however, were accustomed to eating corn meal and were hit very had. Diarrhea was the number one killer among the 7th Tennessee during their captivity. It was listed as the cause of death for ninety men.
The first two months were also difficult because of the "Raiders," a lawless group among the prisoners who prayed on the other inmates, and because of the increased population in the prison. By the end of June the number of men being retained was approximately 23,000. This was over twice the number which the stockade had been built to accomodate.
July, however, began on a hopeful note. An addition to the stockade helped alleviate the overcrowded conditions and a combined force of prison authorities and inmates captured the Raiders and hanged their leaders. An internal police force was then formed among the prisoners to keep order. Also there were rumors that an exchange had been arranged for the 7th of July. There was no exchange, however, and more prisoners arrived to overcrowd the prison once again. The temperature and the death rate began to soar. By the end of the month the 7th Tennessee had lost twenty-six more men. This brought the total number of deaths since capture to about sixty-three or approximately one out of seven.
Near the end of July, the increasing number of deaths, and overall prison conditions led to the circulation of a petition to the United States Government. The petitioner begged President Lincoln to take some action to effect either parole or exchange for the men at Andersonville. The petition was signed by more than one-hundred sergeants who were in charge of detachments and who had presumably polled their men. From the 7th Tennessee, Sergeants John M. Rhodes of Co. A and Rufus G. Barker of Co. H signed. The Confederate authorities released a delegation of prisoners to take the petition to Washington. Though it gained much sympathy for the prisoners among the Northern press and citizenry, the government never acted on it.
August began with terrible rainstorms which drenched the unprotected prisoners. Two pleasant side effects, however, were that the downpours washed some of the filth from the camp and one especially hard rain revealed a spring of fresh water which had been covered up in the building of the stockade. This spring was especially welcome since the one sluggish stream flowing through the camp was by this time extremely polluted. The spring would afterward be called "Providence Spring" and would be remembered fondly by the men from West Tennessee. This "miracle" was considered by many men to be the answer to prayer and is thought to be the beginning of a fifty year preaching career for twenty year old John B. Hayes of Decatur County.
By the end of August 1864, the camp held about 32,000 men. New prisoners arrived almost continuously from General Sherman's army after Sherman had entered Georgia. They brought the good news that the Union was winning battles in Tennessee and northern Georgia. The camp, however, was experiencing its most disasterous month. Nearly 3000 men died, or an average of almost 100 per day. By the end of the month the 7th Tennessee had lost forty-four more men. This brought their losses since capture to nearly 24 percent, or almost one out of every four.
In order to cope with seeing so many of his regiment sick and dying, Private Davenport met together with some of his Henderson County neighbors who were also prisoners. They helped each other as much as they could with what little they had. They brought water to the sick, attempted to keep the flies off of them, and tried to encourage them. They talked about home and friends and how they would like to be back home. They sang, told jokes, and walked around the camp to exercise and to see what was happening.
On the 6th of September several detachments were told to be ready for departure on the 7th. The explanation given was that they were to be exchanged. The real reason for removal, however, was that Sherman had captured Atlanta and it was feared that the Union Army would attempt to liberate Andersonville. Departures from the camp continued through October. The men soon realized that the trains only moved them to smaller prisons in Charleston, Florence, and Columbia, South Carolina and Savannah, Blacksheare, Millen, and Thomasville, Georgia. Conditions were somewhat better in these prisons or at least they were not as crowded. Also there were more chances for escape enroute to these prisons and several of the West Tennesseans took advantage of their opportunities.
Members of the 7th Tennessee were both among those moved to the smaller prisons and among those who remained at Andersonville. The number of inmates at Andersonville was reduced from about 33,000 in August to about 2,000 in November. Those left behind were usually too sick to move. This accounts for the continuing high number of deaths at Andersonville. In September the 7th Tennessee lost fifty-two men at Andersonville and seven more in the smaller prisons. This total of fifty-nine deaths in one month made September the most disasterous single month for the regiment. August, and October were next with forty-four deaths each. In October, thirty-six of the deaths were at Andersonville and eight in the smaller prisons. By the end of October, the death rate since capture had reached 48 percent, or nearly one out of every two men.
During the period from November through January 1865, sixteen more died in the smaller camps and sixteen more died in Andersonville. Twelve of the latter sixteen were listed as having died of scorbutus, a disease presently called scurvy and caused by poor diet. Seventy-four men had it listed as the cause of death making it the second highest killer among the 7th Tennessee. Diarrhea and scorbutus together were blamed for about 56 percent of the total deaths. Cause of death was not given for 19 percent of the men. The other 25 percent was divided among dysentery, typhus, stroke, pneumonia, and edena, etc. Two men at Andersonville died of gunshot wounds-perhaps they had ventured too close to the stockade wall and were shot by the Confederate guards.
The year 1865 began for the 7th Tennessee with four more deaths in January and eleven more in February. One of the eleven people who died in February was Riley Powers of Henderson County, the fourth member of the Middleburg Powers family to die at Andersonville. His brother, Joe, and his cousin Henry M. had died in October and his cousin, Willis, brother to Henry, had died in June. A fifth member, John, died on his way home. Since Civil War companies were ofter composed of relatives and neighbors, many families and communities were eventually devastated after a company had been captured. The 16th district of Henderson County, which had only eighty-three households in 1850, lost at least twenty-two men at Andersonville and the smaller prisons.
The beginning of 1865 also brought an increase in the number of prisoners at Andersonville. Cavalry raids in the vicinity of the Thomasville, Georgia prison caused the Confederate authorities to move about 3500 men back to Andersonville. Private Davenport, who was a member of this group, later said that the men were told that they were about to be released. The marched happily on foot about forty miles from Thomasville to Albany, Georgia where they were put on a train. To their horror in a few hours they found themselves back in Andersonville Prison.
Perhaps it was the discouragement among the Thomasville returnees that caused seventeen members of the 7th Tennessee to take the oath of allegiance to the Confederacy. They left the prison with the rebel recruiter, a Colonel O'Neill, on February 28 to join the Confederate Army. There were also 121 others recruited among the prison inmates at this time. The recruits were attached to rebel troops who were attempting to defend southwest Georgia from Union troops threatening from Florida and Alabama. Recruiting was a regular feature in the stockade but only three men from the 7th Tennessee are known to have gone over to the enemy in the previous ten months of imprisonment.
Southern Union soldiers must have been a prime target for the rebel recruiters since it would have seemed easier for them to change their allegiance to the Confederacy than for northerners. None of the "Galvanized Yanks," as the new recruits were called, could really be trusted, however. Many joined only for a chance to escape. At least three of the seventeen February recruits "deserted" the rebels and eventuallly reached Union lines where they "rejoined" the Union Army.
It would also be expected that southern Unionist prisoners who held to their convictions would be especially resented by their guards. Warren Goss, a Massachusetts soldier at Andersonville and later Florence, mentioned in his memoir that Colonel Iverson, who was in charge of the Florence prison, was very vindictive and harsh to southern Union men. He often called them"d--d traitors" and asked them why they were fighting against "their country." Iverson, however, was considered by northern prisoners to be one of the kindest of the prison commanders.
Though it was unknown to the prisoners who were not involved, paroles and prisoners exchanges had commenced again about two months after the removal of the majority of the men from Andersonville to the smaller prisons. The first group exchanged left by steamer from Savannah, Georgia in mid-November, 1864. Another group left from Charleston, South Carolina about the middle of December, another from Wilmington, North Carolina at the beginning of March. One group went west to Vicksburg, Mississippi during late March and April. The last group was released to Jacksonville, Florida on April 28, 1865, nineteen days after Lee surrendered at Appomattox. The sharp decline in the number of deaths during this period reflects not only that fewer men were being held but also that complete records do not exist for the smaller prisons.
Since the men had been told that they were being exchanged each time they were moved to another prison, most were skeptical when their paroles were announced. Almost all the prison memoirs says that the men cried when they finally saw "Old Glory" and knew that the exchange was real.
The first thing the former prisoners asked for was food. They had had so little to eat in the last year, however, that eating was dangerous. Elias Goff of Co.K, a citizen of Scotts Hill in Henderson County, died suddenly after his release from Millen Prison when sympathetic citizens gave him a big meal. The U.S. military authorities tried to prevent overeating by issuing small amounts of food to the men several times a day.
A bath and an issue of clean clothes was their next request. The condition of the men's clothes, as well as the presence of vermin, necessitated that the clothes be burned or thrown out to sea. The assertion of Lieutenant Asa B. Isham of the 7th Michigan Cavalry that the ocean turned grey with lice is rather unbelievable. However, picking the lice from clothing seems to have been a regular morning ritual in all the prison camps.
After their release, the former prisoners who were freed on the east coast were generally sent by steamer to an army hospital in Annapolis, Maryland. Some were too ill to survive the voyage and died on the boat. Nineteen year-old Isaac Reed of Co. A died on the transportNorthern Lights and was buried at sea the same day.
Some of the men who were released from Andersonville went by train to Jackson, Mississippi and then over to Vicksburg. There they boarded steamers which took them up the Mississippi River to Jefferson Barracks, Missouri or to Camp Chase, Ohio. Ten members of the 7th Tennessee were unfortunate to be aboard the ill-fate steamer Sultana. When the ship exploded just above Memphis, eight were killed and the other two rescued only after a terrifying night clinging to debris in the water.
Many of the men remained in hospitals for months. Eight died in the hospital at Annapolis. Those well enough to be discharged from the hospital were given thirty days leave. Three died on leave, one on a train on his way home. Most were given individual discharges. Those few who eventually returned to the regiment were mustered out at Nashville, Tennessee on August 9, 1865.
About 66 percent of the enlisted men, or two out of every three who had been captured at Union City that day in March of 1864, never made it home. Two hundred and seven died at Andersonville, sixteen at Millen, twelve at Savannah, ten at Mobile, seven at Florence, eight on the Sultana, four at Charleston, seventeen in northern hospitals, seven enroute to and from various prisons or hospitals, two on furlough, and one at an unknown place. This total of 291 includes only those for whom we have records. It does not include those who died from prison related illnesses after their discharges. Also, many more men were partially disabled for the rest of their lives.
According to Regimental Losses in the American Civil War, 1861-65, the 7th Tennessee Cavalry USA was one of the four regiments in the Union army with the largest number of prison deaths. Only two New York regiments and the 2nd Tennessee Infantry, the other large group of Tennesseans in Andersonville, had a higher prison mortality rate.
The end of the war did not erase the bitterness caused by the 7th Tennessee's experiences. Thiry years after the war when one of Forrest's men was called to be minister of the Bethel Baptist Church in Carroll County, one of the former prisoners at Andersonville protested. He was admonished to forgive as Jesus did. Alfred D. Bennet of Huntingdon replied "the Lord was just crucified, he never had to go to Andersonoville Prison". Fifty years after the war, Don Hampton of Carroll County told his grandchildren that he had grown up grandfatherless because the "Democrats" came and took his grandfather to prison. Well over one hundred years after the Civil War, the area from which the 7th Tennessee was recruited remains a Republican stronghold where nearly every family can tell at least one Andersonville story.
The above account was printed in the West Tennessee Historical Society Papers and was written by Peggy Scott Holley, a history instructor at Austin Community College. The complete article with source references and deaths listed among the 7th Tennessee Cavalry after their capture can be found in the 1988 issue of the West Tenn Historical Society Papers, Vol XLII.
The Building of Andersonville
Sinking of the Sultana
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