Otsego Republican - January 186

reprinted in the Otsego Journal, Gilbertsville, NY

December 3, 1903

Copied from the Local History Collection at the Gilbertsville Free Library

author - Lewis M. Bryant 2nd NY Heavy Artillery

Butternuts, Otsego County, NY

January 6, 1865

Editor Otsego Republican

Dear Sir: - Having spent over three years in "Dixie," and the last 5 months in the notorious confederate prison on my return many rebel sympathizers ready to charge falsehood upon the published accounts of the horrible sufferings experienced by the wretched inmates of that prison, and being pretty well known myself throughout this community, I beg you publish a short extract of my experience; and if any man knowing me shall doubt the truth of what I say, and wishes proof, I will pay his passage to Andersonville, petition the devil in charge to grant him admission, and if living and converted at the end of five months, I shall pay over to him all that I have received for services while in the army, and recommend him to Jeff David as a copperhead worthy of full fellowship.

I belong to the Second N.Y. Heavy Artillery. I was taken prisoner near Bottoms Bridge, Va. June 13, 1864. We were marched to Richmond, Va., robbed of our money, blankets and most of our clothes, and confined in Libby prison for eight days. Nothing occurred here worthy of note. We were crowded into a large room and lived on corn bread and water. The air being foul and almost suffocating. I, on one occasion, put my face to the grated window for relief, and was fired at by the guard outside, the ball just grazing my ear. I then learned that a breath of air at that window had cost many a poor boy his life.

On the 21st day of June about 8,000 of us were packed in box cars as closely as we could stand, like so many cattle for market, and started for Andersonville. We were seven days on the road - the distance by rail is about one-thousand miles - and we had but two rations of food or water during the passage. On the 28th we arrived at Adnersonville. The prison is a field of twenty-five acres, mostly of wet, marshy ground, surrounded by a fence or stockade as it is called, built up of square timbers, close and tight about twenty feet high. We found in it thirty-thousand prisoners - the addition of our company making thirty-eight thousand. As we entered this place of cruelty, starvation and death, I shall never forget the heart-sickening picture that presented itself as I cast my eyes over the twenty-five acres of filthy, ragged, naked, lousy, sick and starving mass of still living human skeletons. Thousands were without hat or shoe; many without coat, vest or shirt, and others as naked as Adam before the fall. Some were shouting, some praying, some cursing, some crying for food, some weeping, and some whose sufferings had crazed the brain were fighting their comrades and giving orders for battle, under the supposition that they were charging on the rebel army.

I thought of Milton's pandemonium and felt that it must be a paradise compared with this.

As we entered the broad gate and looked upon this horrid scene, a companion of mine, heart-sickened and trembling in every limb, looking up to me with tearful eyes, and voice choking with emotion, asked (in the language of a poem I have since seen) "for God's sake, Bryant, is this hell?" And I thought it no wonder that the poor boy asked , for he had never before seen such a mass of pitiable, suffering objects on earth. But he was not destined to stay for long in son loathsome a place, for a few weeks after, overcome by starvation and disease, he yielded his body to the malice of those barbarous rebels, and his freed, happy spirit soared to the home of the patriot.

We marched into the crowd and the gate closed after us - to thousands the gate of death. We were then left to make the acquaintance of our new associated, listen to their tales of horror, and as appeared to us all, to prepare to die. We were allowed rations once a day, and this consisted of a few ounces of corn meal to each man, and that ground with the cob - about half enough for one meal. This was given to us raw and without salt or other seasoning, with one stick of pine wood about fourteen inches long with which to cook it. This we mixed with water, and some times succeeded in cooking, or rather warming it, and at other times ate it entirely cold and raw. The water we obtained from a slough or swamp in one end of our pen where an old barrel had been sunk to keep out as much as possible the surrounding filth and mire. The filth, manure and mire all about our "springs" or "wells" as well called them, being at all times knee deep and the water that we drank was always and unavoidable filthy and full of worms and maggots. It was not an uncommon thing in the morning, as we went for water, to find some poor fellow dead in this swamp who had made an effort to reach the water and had sunk down in exhaustion, unable to ford the mire.

There was not a tree or bush in the whole field to shade us from the scorching sun or shelter us from the storm. The fence or stockade might have afforded a shade in the middle of the day to a few, but if a poor fellow thought he were sick and dying, approached ti within twenty feet of it, he was, without notice or warning, shot by the inhuman guard, who were constantly watching such opportunities from their stations on the stockade. Many provided themselves with shelter from the sun and cold night winds by digging with their hands holes in the ground, something like a grave, large enough to receive them. I had the good fortune to be the owner of about one-half of an old blanket that fell to me on the death of a friend - Smith Cook of New Berlin, Chenengo county. I was considered a wealthy man on receipt of this, and was greatly envied by many of my companions. I turned this to be the best account possible. As it would partially cover three persons. I each night invited two companions to sleep with me. We then selected as dry a spot of ground as we could find unoccupied, lay together "spoon-fashion." our much coveted blanket over us, and slid off into dreams of home, feather-beds and mother's mince pies. But my blanket was finally stolen from me, and I then knew what it was to be poor.

Our first business in the morning after breakfast, (if any had a breakfast to eat. I always ate my twenty-four hours ration for supper and fasted through the day,) was to carry out on a board for burial those of our companions who had died during the night. The number of deaths during the five month that I was there averaged one hundred and twenty per day. I counted them for one month. Some days there were as many as one hundred and fifty; and these all died, I know from exposure and starvation, for when they entered that hell of rebellion they were as hale and hearty a set of fellows as I ever saw together. When any of our company died, their clothing, if they had any, was taken to cover the living who were destitute. IN comparison with many others I was well dressed, and was considered quite a dandy, yet I should hardly be willing to appear in church at home in my Andersonville toilet. For five months I had neither hat, shoes, stockings, coat, vest or shirt, but I had a part of a pair of pants, which hung in strings, loose and airy, and the back of an old blouse, the front and sleeves having previously been honorably discharged the service. Negroes were kept constantly at work digging trenches in which to bury our dead. After we had deposited them in piles outside the gate, they were thrown by the rebels and Negroes into a large six-mule wagon, carted by loads to the trenches, thrown in amid the scoffs and jeers of the rebels, without regard even to decency, and left to sleep till the great day of final accounts. As I have said before, all the men were filthy, ragged or naked, and swarmed with vermin. The limbs of many were palsied and stiff with scurvy. Some of them were swollen by dropsy almost to bursting. Thousands were seen whose bones pierced through the tightly drawn flesh - reduced by starvation - and sores formed at the hips, shoulder blades, etc. were filled with slimy maggots, whose every motion was untold agony to the unhappy sufferers who had not the strength to remove them. No care was taken of these martyrs, no medicine given, not attempt made to relieve them. They died by hundreds, to be buried like brutes. And all because they loved their country and fought for their flag. It is believed by the prisoners and sometimes admitted by our guard to be the policy of the rebels, to starve in prisons those that they cannot kill upon the field - that such as do not die in their hands shall be so utterly broken down as not be able again to lift their muskets against them. And it will never be better until the southern confederacy experiences religion, or our government adopt the system of retaliation - two things not likely to occur. But I am making my letter too long.

On the 25th day of November, about seven thousand of the sick and those hearest starved to death, were paroled and taken to Savannah to be send on board of our vessels, hundreds of whom died on the way. But when we came in sight of the glorious stars and stripes, there went up to heaven three as hearty cheers as were ever heard. Such as were too far gone to speak loud, whispered "hurrah!" and "thank God."

I am not an educated man nor skilled with the pen, but if I were, and understood all languages, I could not half express the sufferings of the prisoners in Georgia. And if the devil does not have the authors on their misery, I really cannot see the use of having any devil at all.
Very Truly yours,
Lewis M. Bryant

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