- 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
My reverie was soon over! There stood his satanic highness in the flesh before me. I saluted and said, “Colonel Wirz (they like to be exalted in rank), I am brought to you for an attempt to escape, not by a stealthy tunnel route, but I boldly walked out of the gate and have thus far given you no trouble as the tunnelers do. I deem it my privilege, as long as not under parole, to make my escape, whenever-possible.” “You do, eh, you damn Yankee, valk out, eh? Veil, you von’t valk out again soon, for I fix you so you von’t vant to valk soon!” He raved and cursed like a madman. In fact, he was mad all the way through. He said many uncomplimentary things that I took no heed of, for my thoughts were much “inward” and “northward.” After a quick retrospect of the past, I came to the conviction that my time was short at best and. so long as the end was quick and as painless as possible, shooting was my choice if well done.
I had given up hope and became as cool as one could while looking the Grim Reaper in the face, but I did begrudge this fiend incarnate the privilege and satisfaction of pointing me the way to Eternity. Really, I had no fear of it and felt so unusually calm about the matter that I wondered at it. He finally turned to me with, “Vot shall I do mit you, you damn Yank? You Yanks makes me troubles all the time! Shall I hang you, shoot you, or kill you?!” As he had left me little choice, I replied calmly, and was just as cool as though it were not a choice of the kind of a death. “Colonel Wirz, put yourself in my place and let me ask you your question, and as you would decide, so will I. Now, to hang or shoot you mean to kill me—if you don’t make a mistake, and if you intend to kill, do so by placing your pistol to my temple and you will have my thanks. Now, Colonel, your question, ‘What shall I do with you,’ leaves room for a doubt in your mind as to what you will do, and leads me to believe—(what a whopper) that you want me to suggest something. I prefer to live and if you will be kind enough to permit my wish to be gratified, we can agree quite readily, I am sure!!” This was a long speech for me, and I wondered at myself. “You are too smart a Yankee and can talk just like a Yankee lawyer. Anyway, I was going to hang or shoot you, but you must be some punished for you make example for others to run away, and I make example of you!” I tried to argue this point of punishment, for I had some slight idea of what his methods were, or thought I had, but now his “Dutch” was up and argument was in vain. What I had heard of his stretching methods made me shudder, but I was to know what the “stand-up collar” was, in reality.
To describe the appliance, imagine two posts set firmly in the ground, of sufficient height to accommodate the loftiest Yankee; at about four and half feet from the ground, holes were bored in a winding course through the posts, that a pin could be put in at about every inch. Over these posts were slipped two planks with holes at ends to take the posts; the plank at bottom was about twelve inches wide and two inches thick. In this there were two holes about a foot apart, near the center of the plank, large enough to put the Yankee foot in, with a movable piece to close up about the ankle and pin it to that position in order to hold the feet of the victim securely. The upper plank was wider and cut in the middle to pass the neck of the victim from one side to the hole in the middle and a similar sliding device to close up on the neck, as well as to strengthen the plank at the point of its weakness, by the hole and cut to get in. Now all is ready. The victim steps into the shambles below, is locked fast, his neck passed into the collar, the sliding pieces closed and pinned fast. The corners that came in contact with the flesh were not rounded off—in this beautiful device of torture, I suppose it was overlooked. Had it been more comfortable and the “collar” worn with the more grace, or if it had been padded some, the victim would have felt more grateful. Now comes the real punishment. Hands are bound out full length of arm, useless to aid as support in any way, the upper plank is now raised at each end, inch by inch until the large toe can scarcely touch the ground. When the body relaxes the least, by the stretched neck or all parts of the body, the “pinning-up” process is continued until both planks are sprung almost to breaking—either the neck of the poor devil in the toils or the plank.
It was a perfect contrivance invented by a demon, which inflicted the most horrible pain and torture. After hanging at both ends in the boiling hot sun, pouring its blistering rays upon the bare head and face for about an hour or less, although it seemed like eternity, the victim was relaxed, examined and, if living and your body had allowed you to stand on a toe, you were elevated another inch, though the previous “stretch” seemed all the poor anatomy could stand. I now realized what Wirz meant by hanging—indeed, it was most “exquisite” punishment, and my thought was, “Why did I not beg to be instantly killed.” (But at present writing I am not quarreling with myself for not asking that boon.) Hanging would end sometime—this seemed to last a lifetime and will for me.