- 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
One day a new levy of “fresh fish” came in, among them a man who seemed a well-behaved character, of German descent. He had some money and a watch about his person and, not knowing the danger, he displayed both, not purposely. This was noted by the sneaking spies of Mosby whose job it was to locate the swag and the spot where the “prey” settled. This man, Urban, located near the south gate. Suddenly there was an uproar and shouting, and clubs were in play. It was all over in a few minutes and no one knew but those in close proximity that a man had been almost beaten to death. After some time he recovered minus all he had had of value, which we learned was a gold watch and some two hundred dollars in money. He was badly bruised about the head but able to tell his story to Wirz, who entered the gates at Urban’s request in German language. The result was that Wirz sent guards inside under charge of an officer and with Urban to recognize any of his assailants, if possible. He did—one of them in particular; and so strong was his statement, his recognition so clear, that it brought about his arrest, and six others. The one so surely recognized was known as Philadelphia Jack, who wore a red cap—the fact that helped spot him. The seven were taken outside, placed under guard, and each in turn was taken before Wirz for “catechism” and punishment, if the “third degree” did not elicit information needed. All stood the test but this “Red Cap” who, cowardly cur that he was, turned what we call “state’s evidence” and saved his neck and only received the ball and chain, and fixed upon the other six the crimes that none suspected, though many others were known. Theft was common, murder was suspected but not actually known outside of the sworn gang of cut-throats. The six were tried by a jury of their comrades through Sergeant Keyes. The trial was conducted as though a real constituted court was in session. Attorneys were aplenty in that Bull Pen, capable of taking almost any case to court. Judges, jury, and the whole machinery complete was chosen from the “ranks” of Yanks.
Good, capable attorneys were assigned to culprits. The pleadings of a Bull Pen lawyer were quite as eloquent as any heard elsewhere. While the attorneys of the rascals knew full well they ought be adjudged guilty, their argument was truly eloquent as to their innocence, but the evidence was too strong and convincing, and the “State” won. Those six miserable men had woven a halter for their own necks—two of them guilty as accessory to the crimes, the others guilty in fact.
The most exciting day in Andersonville was July 11, 1864, long to be remembered by those who saw the simultaneous hanging of six men, and they Union soldiers, though bad ones, and turned into Eternity by their own comrades. Mosby, or Collins, the leader of the gang, a slim, redheaded, sandyfeatured, ill-looking specimen of mankind, was nearest the gate—the gallows were continuous—and next in line was a small man named Muer, a sailor captured in Albemarle Sound, from the Water Witch ; then, Champlin; then Patrick Delaney, the only manly one of the six and not guilty of murder, but admitted he was willing and ready to do murder, were it necessary to their success. He made no plea for his life, but declared his innocence of the actual crime of murder. Next in order was Sarsfield; then Curtis, who, aided by some of his friends, was released at the moment that he was to get on the board on barrels, which constituted the “drop,” and by some means obtained a knife; brandishing this, he rushed in the direction of the sinks, and wading and plunging through this horrible mass of filth, to the north side of camp, hoping to avoid his well-earned doom, but alas for such hopes, it could not be—he found a sturdy little Regulator at hand, ready to meet him, and he was compelled to surrender or die in his tracks. While this was going on and he was being brought back to the scaffold, the other five were sent on their journey to meet their Maker and atone for their wrongs, but Mosby, as light as he was, broke the rope as he was “dropped” and lingered awhile as company for Curtis; but respite was short, for as soon as Mosby came back to the world, he recognized his bitter enemy and his nemesis at his side—Slim Jim. To him he pleaded and begged, even pledged a cool one thousand dollars, if Jim would spare his life, but nothing would move his old lieutenant in crime. They were separated for all time—on earth—and Jim’s reply to all pleadings was most characteristic of such “thugs,” once they are at odds, “No, damn you, you were after me for my money at one time. Now I am after you for your life!”