Histories > Eau Claire County Historical Accounts >
"History of Eau Claire County Wisconsin, 1914, Past and Present"
Chapter 11 - Eau Claire County in the Civil War
by W. W. Bartlett
(-as transcribed from pages 185 - 192)
EXPERIENCE OF JAMES F. ALLEN.
Narrative of the Prison
Experience of James Fred. Allen,
battle of Cold Harbor, June 3, 1864, we remained inactive until the
That night after we had turned in, we received orders to pack up, fall
in and move out quietly and with as little noise as possible.
of the rank and file didn't understand the meaning of this, unnecessary
caution, but learned later that Wade Hampton's Legion (cavalry) was
of being in our vicinity and would hang on our flanks ready to attack
of our troops they felt able to get away with, hence the cautions which
some of us later found to our sorrow was well timed. We moved
as I remember, about 9 P. M. and after marching about two hours, the
being very dark, we were overtaken by a courier with the information
we, with a portion of the command had somewhere after
the wrong road in the dark and must about face and get back in quick
but with the main command now far in the front. We made a
effort to catch the command, but just before reaching it we got
orders to stop for a breathing spell and a few minutes rest.
was our undoing, for in a moment we were stretched along the side of
road in the woods out of the mud and were sound asleep, as indeed, many
had been for some time while marching in the ranks, and when a little
the order to fall in again was passed, still in whispers, some of us
not missed by our comrades or by the orderly whose business it was to
us into line, until too late. It was broad daylight when we
and when we realized the situation our feelings can better be imagined
pulled ourselves together and made another effort to catch the command;
this however, soon proved futile for we hadn't gone a mile when we were
halted by a command to surrender by a squad of cavalry who stepped into
the road ahead of us, and as they outnumbered us we at once saw the
of their argument and like good soldiers, obeyed orders, but before
could get to and disarm us we had the satisfaction of spoiling the
as well as the beauty of our new Springfield rifles by bringing their
suddenly in contact with near-by trees. This precaution in
of our cause, was however, strongly resented by our captors and had it
not been for some of the older and cooler heads among them it would
have gone hard with us, for at that period of the war the most
capture a reb could make next to a live Yankee, was a new Springfield
as near as I can remember, about seven miles from Richmond to which
we started as soon as they stripped us of everything of value to them
arriving there were immediately put in Libby prison on the third floor,
a hungry and tired lot of boys. We remained here
weeks, being treated fairly well and little dreaming of the horrors in
store for us when the gates of Andersonville closed behind us later.
first of July we were loaded in cattle cars recently used for
of cattle, and after a trip of four days' jolting and bumping over the
worst roads imaginable, and filled with hardships and suffering, we
Andersonville Prison, that horrible hell-hole of the Confederacy in the
interior of Georgia, where in a stockade of thirty acres were confined
as many as 33,000 Union prisoners at one time, packed in so closely
the space equally divided would allow only four square feet to a
Here during the last year of the war were confined about 50,000 of whom
over 13,000 died from starvation, exposure, scurvy and loathsome
No pen can tell what we suffered in the months we were held there till
the close of the war.
the inside of the stockade, twenty feet from its base, ran the dead
and should a person step over the line accidentally or purposely he was
shot by the sentinels on the stockade. Many driven half
the horrors of their daily existence deliberately walked to death by
this dead line.
was the center of the prison and through it flowed a small creek, which
furnished all the water that was to be had for the daily use of the
and in addition it was the sewer for thousands of men crowded together,
who had to drink of its pestilential waters.
us were without shelter from the winter storms or summer heat and the
which we wore did not cover our nakedness. We yearned for the
food in the swill pails of our northern homes.
was made by Wirz, the inhuman rebel monster in charge of the prison, to
lighten our sufferings and make us comfortable, but his every effort
to prolong and intensify our sufferings. Refuse bacon unfit
human being, and unbolted cornmeal was our diet. It could not
was not meant to support life. Men were dying like flies each
feet and ankles rotting off, limbs swollen to thrice their normal
Unable to protect themselves, their food was stolen from them by their
crazed comrades in their desperate fight for life. Although
corn and vegetables could easily have been furnished them, they were
so that scurvy could do its work.
was given to us to wear or soap for washing, nor medical assistance in
sickness. Chills and fever were rife and diarrhea over
while the stench was unspeakable and always with us.
just before Sherman started on his march to the sea, and doubtless in
of his attempt to liberate us, we were hurriedly put in cattle cars and
run to Savannah, Ga., and put into a temporary stockade, pending the
of the stockade at Millen, Ga., and after a short stay in Savannah were
taken to the new one at Millen. This was a vast improvement
Andersonville in many ways, not the least of which was our escape from
the monster Wirz, which, however, was only temporary, for those of us
survived until fall were destined to have more experience with that
in human shape. Our stay in Millen prison was about two
in November, on the day of the general elections in the north, and at
instigation of the rebel authorities themselves, we held a mock
the result of which was very disappointing to the rebels as we elected
Lincoln over McClellan two to one, which showed them plainly the war
be prosecuted to the end without compromise and that the loyal people
the country were in the majority. Some time in the first part
December when Sherman was nearing Millen, we were again loaded on box
and sent back to Savannah and from there without changing cars on to
a station on the coast railroad near Thomasville. We were
in the woods with a heavy guard around us and kept here a few days and
then on to Thomasville, Ga., where we stayed two weeks when, Sherman
gone to Savannah, we started on a four days' march across the country
Albany, Ga., sixty miles, taking the cars again at this point and on
Day 1864, were back in Andersonville again. At this time our numbers
been greatly reduced by death, exchange and transfer to other prisons,
so we did not number more than three or four hundred. We
greatly from the cold and many died from cold and exposure who
might have pulled through. But all things have an end and so
our days in this hell on earth. And when on the 28th of
we were ordered to the depot to take cars for our lines at
Fla., our joy knew no bounds. It came so sudden and with such
that to say, some of us acted like lunatics in our great joy over the
of deliverance, would be putting it very mildly. But we got
and after a ride of two or three days in our old friends -- the cattle
cars, without much to vary the monotony we reached Baldwin, Fla.,
miles from Jacksonville; the track being torn up between two places, we
were escorted for a short distance by a rebel guard and then without
ceremony were turned loose and it was then every man for himself and a
great strife to be the first to reach God's country, our friends, and
Stars and Stripes, which I had not seen for about eleven months.
in Jacksonville long enough to gain strength to stand the trip north,
was about two weeks, for we were taken in hand at once by the doctors,
who put us on a strict diet to keep us from killing ourselves by
First of all we were led to the St. John's river, and after casting our
rags in a common pile and being furnished with soap and towels, were
into the water for a general cleaning after which each was given a new
uniform, a welcome exchange for the rags we had been wearing so long,
which we proudly donned.
a river steamer about the first of May for Fernandina, where we
to an ocean transport for parole camp at Annapolis, Md. I
attempt to describe our passage north, further than to say that of the
six hundred on board probably seventy-five percent were very seasick,
in many cases lasted during the trip, and when it is considered that we
were all confined below decks, it will not require a very vivid
to realize the condition we were in when reaching our destination, and
that our joy on reaching port was only second to that when being
a few days in Annapolis, received our commutation of ration money,
in my case amounted to $72.00 at twenty-five cents per day, and were
to the distribution camp for western men at St. Louis and a few days
we Wisconsin men were sent to Madison and home.
Nolan and John Cunningham from my company were captured at the same
Of the others taken at the same time from the regiment were two from
I, Bogley and Parsons. They both died in
Parsons dead at my side one morning.
I did not
attempt to escape by tunnelling under the stockade, as many did, for
of the three locations I had was near enough the dead line to warrant
Many got out, but few succeeded in getting away and when caught were
to horrible and inhuman torture by buck and gagging, being strung up by
the thumbs and starving. I did escape for a time however,
others, when lying in the woods at Albany, Ga., waiting for a train to
take us back to Andersonville. Although a line of guards was
us we succeeded in eluding them one dark night and slipped
We made a clean getaway for the time being, but when it became light
to see we found we had traveled in a circle and were back to the point
of starting. We started again and reached the home of a
We were nearly famished and decided to attempt to get food from the
negro slaves, who as a rule were friendly to the Yankees and would do
they could to help escaping prisoners. We cautiously
cabin furthest from the plantation house, but unfortunately someone saw
us and reported to the planter who, with revolvers in his belt and a
of vicious dogs at his heels, came down to interview us.
circumstances we would have thrown up our hands and given up in despair
after taking in the situation, but we had been up against similar
many times and were by this time seasoned veterans and decided to make
the best of it, and to this end our spokesman, a comrade by the name of
McKinley from a Pennsylvania regiment who was one of us, in a few well
chosen words (he was good at that) told him that we were escaped
were nearly famished and that we had come out for something to
Mr. Mercer, for that was his name, looked us over and, probably under
influence of Mack's eloquence changed his aggressive look, dropped his
hand from his revolver and in a friendly voice told us to come up to
house. Arriving there he ordered his cook to get us something
eat, others to make a big fire in the yard and still others to bring
chairs for us to sit on, and then he himself brought a large black
with glasses, and being his guests and knowing the custom of the
and the sensitiveness of the people in such matters, we laid aside for
the moment any conscientious scruples we might have had and helped
This put us in fine condition to do justice to the breakfast which soon
followed, and which we ate still in the yard. To say that we
it but feebly expresses the intense satisfaction of being filled up
after our long fast on half rations. After finishing
Mercer again sent his servants for meal, sweet potatoes, etc., for us
take with us. Then he made us a little speech in which he
was not a soldier, but it was his duty to take us back to camp; that he
deplored the war and wished it was over; that he sympathized with us in
our troubles and hoped we would finally reach home safely, etc., and
if we were ready he would take us to the provost marshal in Albany,
he did, and that night we were placed in the guard house and next
turned in with the rest of the prisoners. This happened many
ago, but it seems but yesterday, so vividly was it impressed on my
It was the only bright spot in my prison experience and I shall never
always thought Mr. Mercer was a union man at heart and whether or not,
he certainly was a man in the truest sense and stands out in violent
to all others with whom we came in contact while in the
I heard of him after we moved to Florida through a widow who came here
from Albany. She always spoke very highly of him and that he
one of the solid men of that section.
way home from Andersonville the Government gave us stationery for
home and instructed us to write on the envelope "Paroled Prisoner's
This would allow the letter to go through the mails without postage
paid in advance, but it would be collected at its
my letter written from St. Louis reached home the postmaster J. W.
called Myron Briggs' attention to it and said that it must be from
Mr. Briggs promptly paid the postage and took the letter to mother.
to this an exchanged prisoner had reported that he knew me in
had divided his last morsel with me and saw me die. A funeral
was preached in Eau Claire by reason of that report to which all gave
I reached home a few days after the Free Press announced (May 25, 1865) that I was still alive.
SOME NEWSPAPER NOTES DURING THE CLOSING MONTHS OF THE WAR.
The Free Press of June 30, 1864, records that return of Company C, Capt. Victor Wolf, and the survivors of the Eagle company. There were but fifty-six left, and of that number thirty re-enlisted for the remainder of the war.
Nearly every issue records the death of one or more soldiers who went out from this county.
In the summer
of 1864 an attempt was made to recruit Chippewa Indians for service in
the war, but the plan proved a failure.
In the Free Press of September 22, 1864, is recorded the return of Capt. (later Major) John R. Wheeler, of the Sixteenth Wisconsin, severely wounded in both legs.
In the Free Press of November 10, 1864, complimentary mention is made of Capt. A. M. Sherman, of the Second Cavalry, who had just resigned his commission and returned to Eau Claire.
In the Free Press of February 16 is recorded the promotion of Capt. John R. Wheeler of the Sixteenth Wisconsin to major of the regiment, and a very complimentary mention of the man.
The Free Press of March 9, 1865, records the departure of Lieut. (later Captain) H. M. Stocking with his company for Milwaukee to join the Forty-eighth Wisconsin Infantry.
The Free Press of April 20, 1865, appears with heavy black lines, and the announcement of the assassination of President Lincoln.
A CLOSING WORD.
In the preparation of this Civil War chapter my only aim has been to give a true and unbiased presentation of the part taken by Eau Claire county in the Civil War. The extracts from Civil War letters, newspapers and records have been given as found, and these records and the pictures furnished will be allowed to speak for themselves. It is for the reader to judge whether or not our county measured up to its full duty during those trying years from sixty-one to sixty-five.
William W. Bartlett
to search this site:
The WIGenWeb Project logo was designed and provided by Debbie Barrett.
DISCLAIMER: No claim is made to the copyrights of the individual submitters. The contents of this entire website may be used for personal use only by individuals researching their ancestry. Commercial use of this information for profit is strictly prohibited without prior permission of the owners. Other genealogical websites may link to this website; however, permission is not granted to duplicate any of the contents. Anyone contributing material for posting does so in recognition of its free, non-commercial distribution, as well as the responsibility to assure that no copyright is violated by the submission. This website and its coordinator are not responsible for donations of copyrighted material where explicit written permission has not been granted for use.
Copyright © 1998 - 2012 wigenwebcc
All Rights Reserved
This website was first established on 28 Jan 1998