- Historic Sites
Hell And The Survivor
A Union soldier had a better statistical chance of living through the Battle of Gettysburg than of surviving the prisoner-of-war camp called Andersonville. But Charles Hopkins did it and left this never-before-published record.
October/november 1982 | Volume 33, Issue 6
What a sharpener of memory was this incident, not the first. But the question, mentally, was, “What next?” We moved on but a few yards when we reached a road and were bound each to a horse, rather saddle, by a tether rope. We were waiting for something, I judged, and rested while I could, during which time kept up an “awful” thinking. Why were we made fast to the horses? I thought of everything from hanging to being dragged to death—and this seemed the most suggestive from the preparation. Buckalew and I conversed with each other without notice from our captors—this seemed ominous to us, and we concluded to ask the privilege of being shot like a soldier. We discussed the matter as if we were not to be the victims. Why we were waiting was soon answered when a party came up the road, and with them was our comrade who had gone south but did quite as well as we had. He was broken down with his tiresome march, exposure, fright, and disappointment. We were soon to know why we were bound to the horses! I to the one on the left, Buckalew to the right, the returned comrade, who was giving way, in the middle, being bound by the wrist at right and left to the rope attached to the saddle, and to each other in the same way.
The horses moved on briskly and the pace was almost too much for Buckalew and me, as the pull on our wrists by the lagging body of our comrade made it very painful. The pulling of the muscles, tension on our frames, this became torture to us. What must it have been to the comrade between us? A halt came, which was merciful. The middle comrade sank to the ground and begged to be shot, as the pace and pain of pulling at arm’s length was torture to him and was killing his comrades. Our wrists and hands were swollen by the sidewise pull that the helpless victim in the middle was giving us. Argument availed not, though all three of us were suffering so that our eyes almost popped out of our heads. We moved on; our broken comrade fainted and sank to the ground, but the horseman only laughed and ordered him to his feet. He was unable to do so, but we dragged him to his knees, they spurred on their horses, and he was dragged at length over the sandy road and the little so-called bridges, composed of two or three poles so the water could percolate through—the poles were rough and knotty. Not a sound from the fallen hero, and we two straining every nerve to keep up and drag his weight, which though not much was likely to kill us by that sidewise drag which made travel very difficult, even to a strong man. Again we halted, after dragging his limp body nearly a mile—it seemed a thousand—the skin was ground from knees to toe-tips of our dying comrade. He could scarcely speak to be heard, but he turned bloodshot eyes to his tormentors and gasped, “Shoot me! Do please shoot me!” He was untied from us and we two were lashed together with a good-bye to our comrade so soon to find release. We moved on slowly. A few moments passed; the horseman rode up; we knew that “unknown” had passed out of life and was free from torture. We gladly, devoutly, said, “Amen.”
Being near dusk, and our salvation, we were taken into a plantation house, in the charge of two soldiers. There were five or six children and as many “civilians. ” We were not dead, not wet, not quite alive, but the human-hearted woman gave us milk and bread with some “powk,” i.e., some part of the swine. We lived rapidly then, in the course of two hours. We ate twice-and slept once. Sweet potatoes were baked in the ashes of the old-fashioned open-hearth fireplace. After we had finished our second nap we were given a chance to wash and change our “raiment,” so very scant and dirty and brief at both ends that we blushed when in the presence of the lady, but the blush may not have been noticed through the accumulations of the past thirty-six hours. After the wash, which was delightful, having had real soap to use, and a good rubbing given us by a colored friend, some “nigger” clothes, as they termed them, were handed us so that we might be presentable to the “lady folks.” The costume was of some coarse cotton goods and some better than those we had shed, much cleaner and “immune” from those friends that had annoyed us and stuck close to us through our mudbath and all other adversities. The “Ladies Circle” was now augmented by the newcomers, and they sat up late with us; baked sweets and urged us to eat all we wanted; talked and ate with us; wanted to know of the fashions and prices at the “Nawth.”
Of course, neither of us knew the slightest about such matters as hats and women’s wear, etc., but dear me, didn’t my comrade pride himself on a full knowledge of such matters beyond the Mason and Dixon Line. I was thinking of graver things, he taxing his imagination to be able to reply to the many questions on the many subjects that he was an entire stranger to.