A Union Soldier Who Starved to Death at Salisbury, N. C.
Printed in the Wellsboro Agitator January 27, 1885
The following extract from the diary of Augustus Lyon, a member of Company A, 149th Pennsylvania Volunteers, kept during his imprisonment in rebel prisons, will give the reader a vivid idea of the horrors to which our brave boys were subjected at Belle Island, Salisbury and Andersonville. The keeper of this diary was a son of Mr. Joseph E. Lyon, of Niles Valley. After much suffering he died in Salisbury, January 15, 1865—twenty years ago the present month. He was taken prisoner on the Weldon railroad, August 21, 1864 and was taken to Belle Island, near Richmond, where the sad story begins. His brother John Lyon, was captured at the same time. The first entry after they reached Richmond is as follows:
August 24.—We slept on the ground, no shelter.
25—This is an awful place. We get only half enough to eat. It is horrible.
26—Rained hard last night. All driven out and counted.
27—More rain last night. We got a tent today.
28—A lonesome day. Very hot, and only half rations.
30—Very cold last night. O, how long shall we have to stay here!
31—We are hungry, only half enough to eat.
September 1.—We got our little corn bread and meat, and have nothing to do but cry "bread!"
3—They gave us a new place to go to the water. We can hardly get enough to drink. It is awful.
4—I keep the Sabbath by reading my Testament. Am as patient as possible, but so hungry.
5—Nothing to do but be hungry. We all cry for bread.
6—A reb Lieutenant struck one of our men and bent his sword.
7—The old cry for bread.
8—We drew soft bread today.
10—Drew wheat bread and a little pork. Only half enough to eat.
12—Starvation rules. Only half enough to eat.
13—Let tent down to keep warm.
14—Heard heavy firing towards Petersburg.
15—We got a gill of wormy beans and a small piece of bread.
16—There is a great cry for something to eat.
19—We are driven out and counted every day. O Hunger, when will you depart!
20—Got fresh beef. Bought two ears of corn and boiled them.
21—Got fresh beef today.
22—Nothing to do and not much to eat.
25—Very cold. We are all hungry, but patient as we can be.
26—Worked at rings some. Got nothing to eat until afternoon.
29—Saw two men who dug out to escape, but failed.
October 1.—Cold rain and a wet place to sleep.
2—We get a piece of corn bread, about two inches square, twice a day and a morsel of meat.
3—More prisoners came in. I found a knife and worked at rings a little.
4—Eleven hundred prisoners went south. We shall all be sent off soon.
6—Drew rations and started on the cars to Danville, packed very close.
7—Rode all night. Changed cars at Danville, went to Greensboro, and camped out in a field. Drew a pint of flour for two.
8—Baked our flour on the coals. Went on to Salisbury, and were driven into that cursed pen. There we got half a loaf of bread. Nights cool and wood scarce.
10—Stood by the fire all night to keep warm. We get half rations. A horrible place.
12—Slept in an old house. Got a little bread and no blankets.
13—We get a small loaf of bread to two men. John and I draw together. We have rice soup once a day and a little meat once in a great while. Of some 800 men here seven die daily.
16—Captain Davis was shot today by a guard. Oh how I want to get away!
[For several following days he notes half rations and suffering from cold. On the 27th he notes the arrival of 600 Yankees. On the 28th and 29th they had no bread. His brother John was taken sick on the 29th and continued hard up to November 10th. There was no change in the rations—a pint of meal for two per day and sometimes a little rice soup]
November 12—O Lord! Help us out of this horrible place.
15—Nothing especially going on bur misery and death.
17—John is very sick.
18—John is worse—out of his mind. He says he is going to die soon and leave me in prison.
19—John is worse. Got him in the hospital on the straw.
20—John died this morning about three o’clock. I could only go to the gate with him. Oh, this is an awful thing.
21—Poor John is gone.
23—I am with the 45th boys and glad to get with them. Have only one quarter loaf of bread. We shall starve here, I guess.
25—Half a ration. There was a break out, 12 killed and 20 wounded.
27—I am not very well. I cannot describe the sufferings of this place.
29—I feel very weak.
30—Miller and I drew a beef’s head with meat on it. Feel better.
December 2.—Feel bad, but better.
5—Starvation and horror and no prospect of getting away.
6—Three hundred of our men came in. Some enlisted for the rebs.
12—I have got better again.
17—Albert Bryant died today.
18—It is dreadful, some thirty or forty die everyday.
20—Hunger still prevails. Horror is with us and death.
23—Nothing going on but misery and death.
24—Death and misery rule the camp at Salisbury.
29—The men die very fast.
31—Here I am a prisoner of war at Salisbury, N.C.
[This is the last entry. Fifteen days later starvation had done its work and Augustus Lyon was numbered with the victims of a cruelty unparallel out of Dahomey].
|Wellsboro Agitator, September
7, 1921, p.3
Prison Life During Civil War
The Prison Experience of Andrew Klock, Co. F, 11th Regt., PA Cavalry, as Written by Himself at Eighty-one Years of Age
Reprinted on Tri-Counties Site 30 July 2010
I was captured at Reams Station, Virginia, June 29th, 1864, after a cavalry raid of nine days and nights, during which time we were in a fight of some kind almost every day of the trip, our business being to destroy the south Side railroad, and all public property that we could. Before we got back to Reams Station we had waked up the whole of Lee's army, and about thirty or forty thousand were sent to dispute out entrance into our lines. We had been on the go day and night, had marched all night the 28th, and when the Rebels opened on us we were tired out, horses worn out and the men hungry and out of provisions. With a gang of Negro slaves hanging on, and with all manner of conveyances, our train must have been over a mile long.
After holding the Rebels in check for several hours, the mounted men all left the field, leaving the dismounted men, artillery, ambulances full of wounded, wagon train, Negroes, etc., to the tender mercies of the Rebel army. So they gathered us in. I had charge of the carbines of our company. My horse was captured. I had little to eat, a couple of crackers being my whole sustenance on the 29th. That evening we were taken into Petersburg, a distance of ten or twelve miles, and in the morning we were each given a quart of raw corn meal with no way to cook it. Some Rebel soldiers came in and offered to cook it for one-half. We let them have the meal. In about half an hour an order came for us to go to the depot and take the train for Richmond. We went to the depot, where we waited an hour or two, but never saw our corn bread. So, that was another day with nothing to ear. We got into Richmond some time that day, but still with nothing to ear.
Before putting us in Libby prison they made us strip to our shirts and took everything of value from us, money and everything else. I had a testament, however, they apparently had no use for. We had food dealt out to us once a day, an amount that would be hardly sufficient for one meal, and that had to last us the whole day. We were in Libby seventeen days, at the end of which time our ration was so small that, though we were all "husky" men, when we got ready to start for Andersonville we were a hungry looking lot, indeed. As we left Libby each one of us was given a loaf of wheat bread, a very small loaf, and by the time we got to the cars the bread was all eaten up and we had nothing more that day.
Our trip to Andersonville took nearly a week, during which time we received but little to ear and at irregular intervals. When the train stopped we were allowed to get down from the flat cars and pick up the corn that we found along the railroad. The whole trip was a nightmare to most of us. Two or three times during the nights I had mind to attempt to escape, but my knowledge of the country we were passing through was so limited that I would not have known where to go to avoid detection and obtain food.
Finally, after being nearly starved, we arrived at Andersonville, about the 17th day of July, as near as I can remember it. At this time the prison had been opened a little over four months. Originally built to care for 10,000 prisoners, just before we got there it had been increased from an area of seventeen acres to twenty-seven acres. The enclosure was some longer than it was wide. The dead line took up the first twenty feet in width all along the stockade. There was an acre and a half along the creek at the side that was covered with from three to six inches of filth, literally alive with maggots, not a shade tree or shelter of any kind and all the protection we had from sun or rain was such as our ingenuity could provide. Most of us being cavalry raiders, and having been stripped of everything of value, with no overcoats, no blankets nor tents, we were in dire straits, indeed. It was very hot weather, and though we were all young and hopeful, after a look about at our surroundings, we certainly were discouraged. The death rate had, at that time, mounted to two thousand men each month, and each succeeding month worse in this regard than the previous one. Three of us went to work, and in three or four days had a little tent made of bags, a water bucket and a few other things to make it possible to exist.
I believe my two companions are still alive, at least they were two years ago, and this is rather out of the ordinary, for at least one in every squad died in from three weeks to six months. Of the three in our squad, one was a prisoner four months, another five months, and the other until the close of the war. The suffering of the boys was terrible. A constant diet of corn bread was the principal item of food and that was not fit for a hog to eat, unsifted meal, half cooked and no salt, and once in a while a little meat of molasses, no vegetables at all -- not a green thing to keep off the scurvy that was all over the camp, men in all stages of the disease. Very few of our soldiers died of typhoid fever or pneumonia, the most of the trouble came from the rations which were at best unfit to eat and with no variation, and from the filth that covered the swamp in the middle of the stockade, the stench from which was terrible. The seeds of disease were thus planted in nearly every man who was unfortunate enough to stop in Andersonville from two to eight months.
When I left that prison for another I had a good dose of scurvy, but otherwise was feeling fairly well. It is a dangerous disease and gives no warning; it is nature revolting against a lack of vegetable food. A potato, onion, a little vinegar, some green corn, cabbage of greens of any kind, would have stopped that terrible loss of life among our young men, all in good health when taken there. Andersonville was in the vicinity of a farming country and those things could have easily been included in our rations. Capt. Wooly and General Winber would not allow them brought inside the prison enclosure, and when remonstrated with, the General made his brags that he was killing more Yankees than any 20 regiments of Lee's army could. General Winber was in command of all Rebel prisons. He died at Florence after he came there the last time in 1865. Before he died, however,he reduced the prisoner's rations and stopped some of them. Certainly he was the most inhuman wretch that Jeff Davis could have picked out in the entire South, to have charge of the prisons, and Davis well knew it.
It could not have been mere chance that such a lot of devils should have charge of us. It commenced at Libby and Belle Isle. All these men were much alike and all seemed to be thoroughly bad. And what good did it do them, this practice of barbarism? It did not help the cause of the miserable Confederacy, nor prolong its life one day. There is no doubt in my mind that fully 40,000 of our boys were destroyed by the treatment they received at the hands of the Rebels, 30,00 of whom would have lived had they been accorded even reasonably decent treatment. All the stockades were in the country districts, where land was cheap and covered with timber. But, when I got to Andersonville in July not a root of stump could be found in the whole 27 acres, that the year before had been all woods. The prisoners had to cook their rations the best way they could. They could only get wood by carrying out the dead and bringing back the fuel. As I said before, there was no shelter of any kind in the stockade. It was surrounded by woods and our boys would have been more than glad of an opportunity to go into these wood and procure some sort of timber of brush with which to make a shelter to protect them from the terrible heat of the sun's rays and the heavy rains. This lack of shelter was the cause of a great loss of life during the hot months.
Everything was done by the Rebels to induce our men to desert. A few of them did, but not many. Most of them stuck by their country and refused to even believe a word when the Rebels tried to convince us that our government had declined to exchange prisoners. Who was to blame, Wovy or some one higher up? Wovy got what was coming to him. Let us see about General Lee. He took six or seven thousand prisoners away from Gettysburg, knowing all about the treatment they would receive. Had he possessed one spark or the milk of human kindness, or even a desire to be reasonably fair, as was claimed for him, why did he not parole these prisoners and send them home: They could not crush our spirit on the battle field, but they could pen us up in a stockade and starve us to death, and then have the unmitigated gall to say they did the best they could by us. How could men here in the North believe any such claim?
Andersonville, Florence and several other prisons were in use only from February 1864 to April 1865, yet in that short time they brought horrible death to more men than were killed in the field. When the war ended we had here in the North nearly 200,000 Rebel prisoners, all fit to be put in the field at once, while our men held as prisoners were starved, emaciated, wholly unfit for service. The South wanted our government to exchange all their men, that they give men for and parole the rest of their men, who were in excellent condition, and then they would have been fighting us again in a week, regardless of parole. Grant paroled 28,000 at Vicksburg, and two weeks he had to fight these same men again. They had no regard whatever for the terms of parole. We were not fighting an honorable enemy, but a rebellion. When they captured us they tripped us of everything of value. Even the food and clothing sent us by our government, which the Rebels had promised to deliver to us, were taken and converted to their uses, and we were left to suffer.
The Sanitary Commission sent a great deal to Andersonville, no part of which ever got inside the stockade, but the Rebels, we noticed, had clean shirts for a time at least.
Our transfer from one prison to another was caused by the movement of our armies; in order to get the boys to be orderly, the old story of exchange was told, but after a time that became worn out.
The rations we received were dealt out by Winder's orders, with full knowledge of what the inevitable result would be, and with the deliberate intention of bringing about that result. The doctor in charge asked for better food, but Winder seemed to be on the watch to make certain that we got that deadly dose of corn meal made into bread that was entirely unfit for human consumption and that would hasten the three deadly diseases -- scurvy, diarrhea and hospital gangrene, which caused so many deaths in the Southern prisons.
So far as the climate was concerned, our men seemed to have become fairly acclimated, and if given half a chance otherwise, the loss of life would have been comparatively small. A means of shelter, decent food and fuel would have saved a great deal, if not all, of the suffering incident to that dreadful scurvy, a disease that is caused by a lack of what was most abundant in the vicinity, viz., green vegetables. There is no comparison in all history to equal this, thirty to forth thousand of the best manhood of out country sent to untimely graves wholly and entirely through a lack of vegetables, a food that is abundantly supplied by nature, even without the help of man. It seemed, too, that the largest, and apparently strongest, men died soonest, not being able, evidently to stand the strain. If a man became discouraged and got the "blues," he would not last a month, no matter how robust he may have been, but those among us who made up their minds to live and get back to God's country, could not be killed in this way. I was one of such men. Never for a moment did I lose hope of my ultimate return to friends and freedom, though at times it looked extremely dubious. Our only news of the war came through the prisoners being brought in.
Andersonville was built with the deliberate intention of making it unhealthy and dangerous to human life. I will describe it the best I can, so you may see it was not an accident, but the deliberate intention to have it so. General Winder's son made his boast that he had built a prison where more men would be killed than at the front, though he had little idea then that the bottom would drop out of the Confederacy in a little over one year after the first prisoners were put in Andersonville, March, 1864.
The corn-bread given us was made from unsifted corn meal. Surgeon General Jones, of the Confederate army, says that was the greatest cause of bowel trouble, that being the beginning of all the other disorders. After scurvy set in then hospital gangrene would put in its deadly work. A sick man could not eat the coarse corn bread, and so, he starved to death. The only change we had came, for a short time, when we were transferred to another prison; then, sometimes we would get a little better fare for a few days, because General Winder could not, personally, dominate all the places at the same time.
Orders were very strict to the Confederate soldiers not to have anything to do with our "greenbacks,' but, nevertheless, they would give from five to ten dollars of the Confederate script for one dollar in greenbacks, and were always ready for a trade. The only difficulty was to find the greenbacks. One time, while I was in Andersonville, 2,000 of our boys were brought in who had re-enlisted, been paid off and were about ready to go home on furlough when captured. One condition of the surrender was that the men were to keep all their private property, so they came into the prison wearing good clothes and with all their money. But think of it! Andersonville instead of home! Very many of them are there today. The disappointment was so great, some died within a month. During my five months of prison life I never saw but one loaf of wheat bread and very few crackers -- that was too nourishing for us to have. When all has been said there is absolutely no excuse for the inhuman, savage treatment and no benefit accrued to the Confederacy thereby -- it only hastened its fall.
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