- 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
On June 4, 1861, at the age of seventeen, Charles Ferren Hopkins enlisted in Company I, First New Jersey Volunteers. He was badly wounded at the Battle of Games’ Mill, Virginia, and again at the Battle of the Wilderness, where he was captured and sent to the notorious prison camp, Andersonville, in Georgia. Many years afterward, he wrote a vivid account of his experiences. This article has been adapted from his original document, which runs to over one hundred and thirty typewritten pages, and which was given to us by his grandson, Gerald Hopkins. Contemporary historians are inclined to believe that the Southern prison camps were no worse than their Northern counterparts. But it is Andersonville, under the supervision of Henry Wirz, that lives on with a horror of particular resonance. Judging from Hopkins’s account—and it is one among many—there is good reason for this.
On June 4, 1861, at the age of seventeen, Charles Ferren Hopkins enlisted in Company I, First New Jersey Volunteers. He was badly wounded at the Battle of Games’ Mill, Virginia, and again at the Battle of the Wilderness, where he was captured and sent to the notorious prison camp, Andersonville, in Georgia. Many years afterward, he wrote a vivid account of his experiences. This article has been adapted from his original document, which runs to over one hundred and thirty typewritten pages, and which was given to us by his grandson, Gerald Hopkins.
Contemporary historians are inclined to believe that the Southern prison camps were no worse than their Northern counterparts. But it is Andersonville, under the supervision of Henry Wirz, that lives on with a horror of particular resonance. Judging from Hopkins’s account—and it is one among many—there is good reason for this.
With more patriotic ardor than good sense, on the third of May, 1861, without due parental notice and sanction, I startled the family at the breakfast table with, “Ellen, I want a clean shirt, I am going away!” Ellen, who was my stepmother, and a good one, and her two daughters, who to me were as my sisters, were the only persons present—the one whom I did not wish to consult on the question, my father, was absent; I had chosen this auspicious time, in order to avoid a collision that might prove all my nicely laid plans abortive. To my good stepmother’s question, “Charlie, where are you going?” I promptly replied, “To war!” And I imagine there may have been some bombast in the tone, for I was chuck full of enthusiasm. …
Hopkins had some basic training at Camp Trenton in Washington, D.C., and fought in the Peninsula Campaign through Virginia.
Our regiment reached the Village of Mechanicsville, from where the church steeples of the much coveted city of Richmond could be seen, “The bonny bunch of Roses” that McClellan would have liked to obtain. A charge came suddenly, out of the northwest—the flying columns of Stonewall Jackson, in an attempt to flank our right wing, compelling us to fall back to Gaines’ Mill and later to Gaines’ Hills, near the house of Dr. William Gaines, where on June 27, 1862, the unlucky Friday, so called, we engaged the enemy in a hotly contested fight, in which the writer was twice fleshwounded, and while falling back found Sgt. Richard A. Donnelly of my company, and my close friend, badly wounded with a shattered leg. He wanted to be taken from the field of carnage, then raging like a holocaust of Hell, and the chances were as one in a thousand that both of us would reach cover. I would not refuse my friend Dick in such a case, and under a terrific, galling cross-fire carried him to a supposed place of safety into the hands of comrades of our company—though he was made prisoner later on—and after recovering from the temporary blindness and exhaustion due to a 1200-yard dash with a load of no mean proportions, as my comrade was over six feet and I was only five foot nine, I again took to fighting and after about twenty minutes was shot in the left side of the head. To all appearances, my comrades said, I must be dead, and they passed on in that belief, and reported me “dead upon the field of battle.” I slowly came back to the world as, during the shock, I had passed into strange places as well as having a vivid panorama of my whole past life in that short time of not over ten minutes, and while it was not all virtue, I had not much to deeply blush for, perhaps because I had not lived very long and was country bred. A ball and two buckshot were removed from the wounded head and neck. They placed the “ball and buck” in my pocket and then returned me to the shelter of the tree to die from bleeding or be saved by Nature’s choice.
Hopkins was captured and returned, days later, with the other “walking wounded” to the Union doctors. He recovered sufficiently to rejoin his regiment in June 1862, but his health was shaky. He campaigned in Virginia during the next year, was again hospitalized, and his life despaired of. But he lived to fight again.
The campaign opened with Lee. We met him at the Wilderness, May 5 and 6,1864. On the march from our winter quarters at Hazel Run to the Wilderness we were joined by some raw Pennsylvania troops. They were supplied with all kinds of wearing gear and everything that a soldier in a permanent camp could wish for—from cap to shoe—and much more “tailored” than the men in front had, or could use. This march tried them as never before. Loaded like “jackmules”—and being placed in line between regiments of hardened veterans—they soon displayed their weakness in hard and grueling marching. To make matters more unpleasant, the old vets would laugh and jeer at them for carrying so much while the knapsack and blanket roll of the vet was like a wallet the day after the circus was in town.
Thursday, May 5, we crossed the Rappahannock at Germania Ford and by afternoon were in line of battle and under fire in the Wilderness. It was a spot on the face of Nature well named, but if anyone was lost they were soon found by the “Confeds” of [Generals] Gordon or Early. Such a battle as waged there for two days, of the three, seemed like Hades broken loose. Six thousand men, lost to Grant, were killed, wounded, and missing—no one will ever know exactly, as many of the badly wounded met a terrible death in their helpless condition; they were burned to an unrecognizable crisp; some in their last struggle to get away from the fire had partly pulled themselves to their knees by clinging to the trees and were tortured by burning in that position. Numbers were literally a mass of crisp, like burned leather—the woods and underbrush had taken fire, and the pine trees of all heights flamed like giant torches, shooting to the skies. Horrible sights in the shadows of the “Wilderness” for three days and nights—scenes that harrowed the soul and gave rise to gloomy thoughts, and sleep unknown, only to those who could stand vigil no longer. Friday, May 6, still found us in the “Wilderness,” hoping for a Moses to lead us out. Grant was the man but he was not my “Moses,” for about 5 P.M. our right wing under General Seymour, with his “Black Brigade” of Negroes who had proven themselves fighters at Olustee, was turned by Gen. J. B. Gordon with his “all Georgia” Brigade. The end of that day gave us to the enemy as prisoners of war…
Now comes the beginning of a life that seemed the realization of that place which, as a child, we imagined the abode of the wicked. No doubt some of us were, yet each supposed of course that it was the other fellow—though I never posed as an angel. Later on we came to think that those of our comrades who so awfully suffered in those “Hells” on earth should be allowed to pass the “Gates ajar,” unquestioned by the good Saint Peter.
The Confederate officer, a captain, in charge of the troops serving as guard to our lot of unfortunate captives, was a Georgian, by name of Fletcher, and he was unfit for officer of any rank—neither a gentleman, scholar, nor soldier, as proven by his language and bearing, but was the personification of a brute, idiot, and coward—he made our dusty, sultry march of twenty-eight miles to Orange Courthouse a march of indignation, misery, and death. Men who were wounded and unable to march farther were speedily furnished with a quick remedy for all the ills of life, brutally murdered and left by the roadside to become the prey of the razorback hogs, and dogs—their bones left to bleach in the enemy’s lines, never to be identified or have their fate known—while loving ones at home waited for some tidings of them. It is a fact that hundreds, aye, thousands, of such cases were reported as “missing in action” or were reported as deserters—their fond parents, widows, and orphans were compelled to mourn in silence and shame for such a record, for while in their hearts they could not believe it to be true, they had no proof to the contrary.
A grueling train ride, with the men “packed in freight cars like sardines,” brought Hopkins to Andersonville on May 22, 1864. The site of this prison had been chosen by a group headed by Capt. W. S. Winder. It was prepared by his cousin, Gen. Richard B. Winder, who commanded until relieved by Henry Wirz. The first prisoners arrived on February 27.
For a God-forsaken place Andersonville tallied with the description most perfectly. Woods—from the tall and stately pine down to the starved-tp-death scrub oak and bunch pine. Woods, woods, all about us; to the east we got a glimpse of some tents of the troops that guarded the world’s greatest “Charnel House”; a winding road through sand led to the “home of the Hopeless”; a thin thread of a stream that had found its way from a loathsome-looking swamp of dead pine and cone led past the rear of the camp. This miserable, puny thread of dirty water entered the stockade with barely depth of water enough to cover a foot half buried in the sandy bottom; yet it must serve that abode of misery, starvation, and death, where thirty-five thousand human beings were crowded at one time—the only water, for all purposes, freighted as it was from the sinks of the Confederate Camp. The silence of death fell upon us who were waiting to enter where so many thousands had and would enter, and so few returned. Stronghearted, brave men who had almost gleefully faced the cannon’s mouth … here sank almost in helpless despair—some actually did, and died—yet the thought was “where others can live, we will not die!”
The counting process over, we were assigned to the Twenty-seventh Detachment. Each detachment was composed of 270; each mess was again divided by three, and I was in the lower third mess. Our guards here were bold and sneering, none of them having smelled the battle’s smoke, being raw levies of old men and boys that could hardly carry the arms they had, but were backed up by the Florida Artillery. They much enjoyed our despondency and chagrin and mental suffering, and delighted in tormenting us with that saying of that fiend Winder [Gen. R.B.], that “they would kill more Yanks here than Lee would at the front.” We could not, nor would not, then harbor the thought of this truth, which was indelibly impressed upon us so soon thereafter as an actual fact. That which we thought impossible in any civilized nation, even in a barbarous one, was absolutely possible here. Barbarians would disfigure and torture starved, sick, and wounded men and thus cause death in their anger; but that human beings could coldly calculate and compass the destruction of human life by slowly starving, killing piecemeal as a result of such calculation, was beyond conception by any but those who knew from its contact. The huge gates became more and more distinct as we solemnly marched—as it seemed to our own funeral—and to many thousands it was literally true. We reached the “stockade.” It was here that we had our first introduction to the infamous wretch, Henry Wirz, who was to be the arbiter of our fate. One would think, from the thousands he had received, he would be glutted with satisfaction; but not so, he was just as joyful as though we were the first toy he had owned in his boyhood, intolerant, boastful, and profoundly abusive to the “damn Yanks”—“they [would] not bother Lee again after [he was] through with them!”
After some delay those big gates yawned before us like the cavernous mouth of some great monster; and we were “lockstepped” in, fifty and sixty at a time, or all the “lock” would hold; the gates in our rear would close and a similar pair of gates would open in our front. Our gaze was riveted to the inside. Moving thousands, all who got near us as we passed in, crowded that single street—if you can so term it—to a “pack” twenty or more deep, each watcher intent to discover some comrade, brother, father, or acquaintance among the incoming “fresh fish,” as the prisoners before us termed us. Oh, what misery was there depicted upon so many of those gaunt, hopeless faces, filthy and black from pine smoke; ragged and almost nude with the vermin plainly seen upon the poor apology for clothing! Some begged to know the fate of friends, others to learn of the death or capture of someone close to them by some tie or relationship; some met a brother as unfortunate as themselves, and bemoaned their fate.
Indeed, this picture in its great Stockade frame was a rival to Dante’s picture of Hell. The stories of those who had tasted the bitter realities of this place were enough to chill the swift, warm stream that made the hearts of heroes beat so rapidly till now. A beautiful May day, and Sabbath, yet we could not rejoice while marching into “Hades” with those gates creaking a requiem behind us, and to so many, forever. Well may the legend “He that enters here leaves hope behind” have been placed over the entrance, for truly it was so.
The prison was a parallelogram of about two to one as to its length and breadth, about eighteen acres at this time—it was enlarged July 1st to about twenty-seven acres—and one-third of this not habitable, being a swamp of liquid filth. This was enclosed by wooden walls of hewn pine logs, from eight to ten inches square, four feet buried in the ground, eighteen feet above, braced on the outside, cross-barred to make one log sustain the other, and a small platform making comfortable standing room for the guards, every one hundred feet, with above waist-high space below the top of stockade, reached by a ladder. A sloping roof to protect the guards from the sun and rain had been placed over them. Later in 1864 the second line of stockade was built and a third was partly built for protection if attacked by Federal troops, it was said, but we knew it was to discourage us from “tunneling”—the distance being too great. The Florida Artillery had cannon stationed at each corner of the stockade, thus commanding a range from any direction; four guns were so placed near the south gate and over the depressed section of stockade at which point the little stream entered the enclosure.
The “dead line” so much talked of and feared was a line of pine, four-inch boards on posts about three feet high. This line was seventeen feet from the stockade walls, thus leaving the distance all around the enclosure an open space, and incidentally reducing the acreage inside and giving the guards a clear view all about the stockade or “bull pen,” the name given it by its inventor—the infamous General Winder. He was the friend of Jefferson Davis, who named him as a “Christian gentleman,” and he was the architect and builder of this wooden Hell. The Richmond Enquirer , known as the organ of the Confederacy, said of Winder, when he was removed from command of other prisons to make his headquarters in Georgia and in command of all prisons, “Thank God that General Winder has been sent from Richmond; but God help those who fall under his care.” That was a strong recommendation of Da vis’s “Christian gentleman,” and by a bitter upholder of Davis and the “Cause”! To intrude inside this dead line was instant death, or wounds that would cause death, by the rifle of a watchful, ready, willing, murderous guard.
Inside the camp death stalked on every hand. Death at the hand of the guards, though murder in cold blood, was merciful beside the systematic, studied, absolute murder inside, by slow death, inch by inch! As before stated, one-third of the original enclosure was swampy—a mud of liquid filth, voidings from the thousands, seething with maggots in full activity. This daily increased by the necessities of the inmates, being the only place accessible for the purpose. Through this mass of pollution passed the only water that found its way through the Bull Pen. It came to us between the two sources of pollution, the Confederate camp and the cook house; first, the seepage of sinks; second, the dirt and filth emptied by the cook house; then was our turn to use it. I have known over three thousand men to wait in line to get water, and the line was added to as fast as reduced, from daylight to dark, yes, even into the night; men taking turns of duty with men of their mess, in order to hold their place in line, as no one man could stand it alone, even if in the “pink” of physical condition; the heat of the sun, blistering him, or the drenching rains soaking him, not a breath of fresh air, and we had no covering but Heaven’s canopy. The air was loaded with unbearable, fever-laden stench from that poison sink of putrid mud and water, continually in motion by the activity of the germs of death. We could not get away from the stink—we ate it, drank it and slept in it (when exhaustion compelled sleep).
What wonder that men died, or were so miserable as to prefer instant death to that which they had seen hourly taking place, and so preferring, deliberately stepping within the dead line and looking their willing murderer in the eye, while a shot was sent crashing into a brain that was yet clear.
The month of June gave us twenty-seven days of rain—not consecutively, but so frequently that no one was dry in all that time. Everything was soaked—even the sandy soil. Still, this watery month was a blessing in disguise as it gave water, plenty of which was pure to drink. The boast of Winder was that the selection of this spot for his Bull Pen was the place where disease and death would come more quickly by “natural causes,” when a removal of two hundred feet east would have placed us upon a living, pure, deep and clear stream of water, properly named “Sweetwater Creek,” which had we been allowed to utilize would have saved thousands of lives—but no, that was not the intent of its inventor. To kill by “natural causes” was made more possible by this location.
Shortly after we went into the Bull Pen there was a gang of ruffians—Union men—who set to robbing anyone whom they could of any kind of valuable from a tin cup to a watch or money, if the victim was so lucky as to have any cash. Myself and four friends had preempted a spot that gave just room for us to get to Mother Earth and not crowd our neighbor. Near us, on the south side, was a party of old prisoners having been taken at Chickamauga in October before, and they had a covering made like a shed roof, thatched with pine tops while green, and this kept the sun off until late in the afternoon—though not rainproof by any means. These men informed us to be ready at all times to resist “raiders,” who would not stop at murder to obtain any object of value a man might have. Only two hundred feet east of us, and near the clump of trees in the southeast corner, was a coterie of men known as the Raiders, composed of some of the worst element the army had in it, bounty-jumpers, men who took a bounty payment when enlisted but, soon as enrolled, would desert to some other recruiting station and repeat the operation again and again until caught, getting large sums of money to squander at gambling and worse methods of parting with their ill-gotten gains. This crowd was not the only lot of “bad men.” One gang was led by one Collins, nicknamed Mosby—of Confederate guerrilla fame—with less honor and manhood, however, for Mosby attacked his sworn enemy while the Raiders robbed and murdered their own army comrades. Another gang was formed and headed by a man called Slim Jim, who had been the right hand of Collins in the raids of the camp, and they fell out about the “swag,” as most thieves do. The Mosby gang attacked us one night after our warning, but we put up such a hot fight that they veered away and some other poor devils were the victims.
About this time, June, there was a feeling among the “respectable and honor-loving class” that something must be done to protect life and preserve order. Meetings were secretly called and held. No one was permitted to join the movement except those known to be loyal to their comrades’ welfare. The genius of a detective was needed and was found in many unexpected men. One Sergeant Keyes was made the leader, and so strong a formation was founded that it became very dangerous to raid. This resulted in a change of front on the part of Slim Jim—Ellis was his name—who from fear of being made a victim of Keyes’s new law-and-order crowd, called Regulators, joined them in order to get square with Mosby’s gang, who still did some business because of its numbers and had attempted to rob Slim Jim. Mosby Collins was deadly, and he and Slim Jim each wanted the worthless life of the other and both deserved the gallows. The Regulators grew strong because of the determination of its members to make this home or abode of the wretched safe against robbery and murder.
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!”
The nights of July, after sundown, steadily cooled so that before morning it became quite cold for most of us, minus clothes and no covering. In August and September—to the thirteenth—we found ourselves getting up on all fours, gradually stretching out to the rays of the sun, to nearly normal height. Any day now you could see numbers of men wading from knee to waist deep in the liquid, fetid filth of the swampy level—groping with the hope of finding some roots to dry or wood to cook over the half-cooked stuff sent in—such was the scarcity of wood inside, with acres and acres of wood about us, only to look at. Woe to him that had the slightest sore or abrasion of the skin which might come in contact with that polluted mass—gangrenous sores resulted and low fevers. The horrible sores the contact produced seem incredible to tell of, but the facts were undeniable. Cancer-like, they ate into the little flesh that the victims had, bared the sinews and bone—the poor fellows rotted by inches. Starvation, polluted water, exposure to sun and rain and cold nights, and many of them of a truly sleepless night, brought on fevers that were almost surely fatal—causing delirium of several types.
At all times the cases of insanity were numerous. Men strong in mentality, heart, and hope were in a few short months, yes, often in a few weeks, reduced to imbeciles and maniacs. Today they know you and look upon you as friends and comrades; tomorrow they are peevish, whining, childish creatures, or raving maniacs. Some would beg for something to eat; others asked for wife, mother, children, or other relatives; some in their delirium were home talking to their friends, enjoying the good eating that Mother set before them—they seemed happy, many forever talking of hunger, and a goodly number were furiously wild, and had they been strong they would have been dangerous, not knowing their closest friend, trusting no one, raving and cursing in fearful language. Happily, may I say it, all such died soon, worn out and exhausted by this emotion.
The average deaths per day for seven and a half months were 85. But during the months of July, August, September, and October the average was 100 per day. One day in August, following the great freshet, I counted 235 corpses lying at the south gate and about. Many of those had been smothered in their “burrows” made in the side hill in which they crawled to shield themselves from sun and storm; the soil, being sandy, became rain-soaked and settled down upon the occupant and became his grave instead of a protection. Others, who had no shelter, in whom life was barely existing, were rain-soaked, chilling blood and marrow, and life flitted easily away, and left but little to return to clay. These holes or burrows in both the flats and up the north slope were counted by thousands; no doubt there were some that never gave up their dead, the men buried in their self-made sepulcher. No effort was made to search unless the man was missed by a friend.
Such were Winder’s “natural causes”!! These were murders committed by most “unnatural causes” and methods—systematic causes! Orders were issued that all should be vaccinated, and yet in all that den of filth, dirt, starvation, polluted water, vermin, flies, reeking with the filth of the open sinks, and polluted swamp mosquitoes ever at hand, smallpox cut no figure whatever, to October at least. Squads of ninety were ordered up to the gate for their possible death warrant, vaccination. Some were fortunate enough not to “take”; others, the moment they were treated and could turn aside, wiped the vaccine off and cleansed the spot by sucking the blood from it in order that no vaccine virus be left to work its destruction; some evaded by tricks and lies. The writer did his own “scratching” and covered the wound with mucous from his mouth—which may have been as dangerous had it been left to work its “scurvy” destiny—and bared his arm for inspection, which was no trouble, as my shirt was armless. The inspector passed me as “done.” By this deception we perhaps escaped a death that hundreds found at the hands of those who had used impure vaccine matter.
The famous Providence Spring, so much read of, was made possible by the great storm and freshet of August 9, 1864. It broke in the stockade near the south gate, inside the dead line, and swept to the lower side and broke through there also. Near the north gate, some fifty to sixty feet south on the slope, the heavy downpour of rain rushed down the slope inside the dead line and under the strata of sand, found a clay bottom, and struck a small thread of pure water, and food-famished prisoners feasted their eyes on it for days. It grew a little larger and promised hope to those who might be able to drink of its purity. Being out of reach, all sorts of devices were invented to get some of it. The coy little life-giving stream persistently wriggled its way inside the dead line, though we were glad to welcome it to our side of death’s border. Small it was but to that camp would have been like drinking diamonds—so precious were its drops to the minds of those that knew not pure water for months.
Wirz, the helpmate of the devil, concluded that even those precious drops of nature’s nectar, so hardly and dangerously earned, were entirely too good for the “damned Yankees,” and would in a measure defeat his “natural causes” system of death, and right here is where Providence Spring comes to our rescue. Wirz sent a force of Negroes into camp to stop the flow of water of this Providence Spring. Their efforts were in vain—fruitless, but oh! how fruitful to us poor wretches as the stream of life resented the brutal interference of Wirz, and in its wrath burst forth a torrent compared to its original flow. All the curses and demoniacal ravings of Wirz availed him nothing—he could not stop it or turn it away, being located so that it reached us eventually. We now could get water from near the dead line—pure as crystal. Wirz went so far as to lead it out of reach, yet its flow of pure water into the former reekings and seepings of the Rebel sinks was still a vast improvement, for it purified the stream and increased the flow.
This condition of things stood for a few weeks when a committee of seven was appointed to meet the “Devil” at the south gate to bid him “good day” and induce him to allow the water of Providence Spring to be led into camp by the method of sinking several rice tierces or barrels at intervals with a trough from each to the other, also from each of them inside the dead line to one inside the camp, so that the long single line of waiting men could be cut into several lines, thus preventing waste of water and the long, tedious wait to get it. By appointment Wirz met the committee. The committee was so arranged that four were chosen to speak. When halted and formed in front of his “Satanic Majesty,” the speaker nearest him when the halt came was to open negotiations for the water supply. When ranged in front, it fell to my lot, being directly in front, face to face, to make known our request, and we thought it a reasonable one under the circumstances; but you can imagine our surprise as well as my colleagues’ when Wirz ripped out a sulphurous oath, accompanied by “reinforcements”—a brace of navy revolvers, aiming them at us, we mean both singular and plural—for we imagined that we could see the points of each bullet in both guns, though they were aimed in different directions. Then followed this most exquisite language: “No, the water of the creek is good enough for you God-damned Yankee sons of—. Go back, or I will blow your damn brains out and send you to Hell!!” Think of it—he send us to Hell!! We were there now!!
Hapkins had made one ill-fated attempt to escape by disguising himself as a Rebel soldier and now, pessimistic about the chances of a tunnel succeeding, resolves to try again.
At that time Wirz thought it a real joke for a Yank to imagine that he could get away from him. Tunnels by the score were dug and started—a few only were successful in the matter of escape, and fewer still made good an escape after digging out.
After some time in camp, I felt in my system that which indicated illness ere long, having contracted scurvy and other camp diseases that waste the strength and flesh rapidly, aided by the slow stages of starvation, for lack of nutritious food in quantity and quality. I felt that I could not expect to survive what men who were as rugged or more so than I had ever been had succumbed to. In this desperate mood, with yet a clear brain, I thought I could not wait the slow progress of our tunnel, then under way, and once more I togged up in borrowed plumes, and determined to walk out and die if discovered. To stay was death—to die in the effort to escape was possibly a quicker death. I chose the north gate this time, with the hope of reaching the woods near the cemetery, and then the good services of some black friend would come to my aid—the Negro was, without question, our friend when possible to avoid detection.
I reached the outer wicket and, when about to step away, an officer bent a little to get a view of “my phiz,” as I may have been more bashful than on first trial, and he may have been more careful than other officers. He peered under my hat. I boldly faced him and coldly looked him in the eye—he knew I was no Reb and said, “You are a Yankee!” I stiffly replied, “I am, why!” I had started, knowing discovery might mean death, and would, had it been known by Wirz that I had been out before in the same bold way. The reply of the officer, though I was prepared for the worst, as I thought, chilled me to the marrow. “I must take you to Captain Wirz!” I replied, “You may as well let me inside, I have met the captain and need no introduction!” Suiting my action to my wish, I moved to step inside of the wicket, but he stopped me. I thought to flatter him and said, “Colonel, I shall be better satisfied, and thank you for your kindness.” (He was not a colonel nor had he any kindness.) “No, you must go and see the old captain!”
Well, I thought, I did not want to, for in my former experience about the water question, it had not been very pleasant. What could this be—now, that he was mad whenever he heard of an attempt to escape and this attempt so open and bold, and the first to be tried in this way up to that time! You may guess how I felt—my memory was again sharpened. I felt as though I were already condemned and on my way to a quick death. I was also busy in thought of the nice diplomatic things I might say to him, that my life be not taken on the spot. How nicely particular I was when starting out—that if death must come that it be quick. Was I now quibbling over a “nicety”? No, not so much as to a quick death as to the one who was to do the job.
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.
To describe the pain that racked body and brain is beyond my power of expression. Within the first half hour, I was wishing that I might be killed at once, twisting the head continuously from one position to another to rest the spot most pressed upon by the hard and not smooth edges of the “collar” until at last the neck was girdled, raw, bleeding, feeling like a hot band of iron about the neck, and jaws and chin in the same condition. What more could I hope but to die soon—that punishment lasted eight long hours; but after the first hour a semiconsciousness in a measure gave relief. Why my brains were not cooked or destroyed is a wonder—in that emaciated condition by starvation. How I suffered that day and for weeks to follow. I cursed myself for thanking Wirz for my life at the outset. Had I known that which I was to experience, nothing would have daunted me from exasperating Wirz to the point of killing me at once.
After getting over the effects of that torture, my mind was still on liberty, regardless of what might follow, realizing I was fast breaking in strength and preferred to die alone in a swamp of anywhere but in Andersonville Bull Pen, even if home and friends be not reached and final resting place be “unknown.” Hope of ever seeing home and friends again had about died within me, but escape I would, dead or alive!
The tunnel that I had been party to digging, when I had strength, was nearing completion, though much more of a job than the “failure,” having to project one hundred feet farther to be beyond the second stockade, which was built to prevent or discourage tunneling, as well as a barrier against attack from Sherman’s raiders, in an effort to release the prisoners. With August came death, dealing heavy strokes daily. Nearly three thousand of the flower of the youth of the North were silent—they had answered to the call of the Reaper, and passed from torture and misery. The projected tunnel was located some seventy feet from the north gate.
On a foggy night acceptable to our party, between twelve midnight and two in the morning, fifteen men crawled through the long, stuffy hole—like rats—to the end and opening. Now the greatest caution must be observed and it required the stoutest hearts to face it. All could not go at once. Each man must move like a snake and as silent—none to follow until the preceding man was at fairly safe distance in matter of time. They were to have five in each party as near as possible for mutual comfort and protection. Crawl, crawl through dirt, weeds, and briars, until the brook was reached, then the crawl was a horror—through mud and filth to the railroad, under that to the site of an old sawmill up the flume, or the remains of it, slimy and dank, to the intake, and lastly into the water, covered with frog spawn, briars, and rushes—simply a nasty, shallow mudhole backed by a swamp reeking with the seepings through dead vegetation of generations. Wading, crawling, and striving in all ways to place as much distance between us and the Hell behind us, before the daylight gave our trail to the Rebs, and to find some safe place where the tired, starved, almost bloodless frames could rest. Blood was oozing from countless wounds from briars crawled through and the dead pine and gum branches that met us at every move in the dark. Among our five were two that needed help and received it from the rest of us in every way possible—not caring alone for ourselves. Though pressed by them to make good our own escape, they felt the time had come for them to give way and starve in the swamp. Their plea fell upon deaf ears. Chilly, smothered with mud, weeds, dead pine needles that had been rotting for years, feeling our way, breaking a path or trail for the weaker ones, stepping into holes deeper than the general surface, plunging neck-deep into the slimy mess, even head first into some of them, praying for daylight—at least a little, that we could see our surroundings!
Daylight came and found us yet in a swamp—not knowing whether we were nearer or farther from the Bull Pen. We had been unable to guide by the stars, as none shone, and as the fog did not lift during our leave-taking. Exhausted now from lack of food, pressing labor of escape, the condition of body, the rags upon us, wet, clammy, and cold—we had used some water in our mode of transportation—we were not clean. The month of August, in a southern clime, and yet we shivered, though not from fear. We found a little piece of rising ground, carefully surveyed it, painfully dragged ourselves to the high point and lay down to rest—or die—either was welcome. We had placed, as we thought, at least five or six miles between a cruel death and liberty—as we were the first five to leave the tunnel. While resting in this uncertain prospect of success, our thoughts reverted to those behind us, hoping they had succeeded, at least as well as our party, though it was certain they had not made the breach very wide, for the progress was slow, nerve-wracking crawling to liberty, not knowing at what moment detection would come. Our little party rested and slept as circumstances would permit—the sleep of exhaustion. Two of our party should not have made the attempt. One we felt sure could not last long in this struggle; but he was determined not to go back alive. The other was so much of a cripple that he was helped when one could hardly help oneself, yet, true to each other in peril, willing to do all that could be done to assist one so determined to live or die—at liberty. A third one was not strong by any means. The night struggle had told very much on his nerves, as he feared recapture and its possible results. Each tried to cheer the other by some funny story, but the eye never lied, though the lips spoke encouragement.
After a short delay we started with the hope of getting farther on in the swamp to avoid being hunted out by bloodhounds. We knew if we had been discovered that the alarm would soon be given and the manhunt would soon follow. We had made only a hundred yards perhaps when we were stopped by the sudden breakdown of one of the party. He urged us on—to leave him and save ourselves, but we could not and our progress was slow now, and very laborious on all. Suddenly we heard the bay of hounds some distance away. They had found our trail! We did not know which party they were following, and hoped not ours—which was somewhat selfish, but natural. The sound grew nearer and nearer and hope died within us. We realized it was our trail they were on. Either by the sense of smell of the hounds or intuition as to the direction we had taken, at all events we were being closely hunted. We lifted our comrade to his feet and again started with the desperation that small hope of escape engendered—the savage baying of the hounds seemed to nerve up all of us. We reached a strip of swamp and entered but a short distance when the weak comrade sank helplessly down and died, while we waited, hoping to be missed by the hounds.
After making sure that our comrade was dead, we left him sorrowfully, while each of us really hoped that our turn would come before recapture and we would be left among the “unknown,” as none of us knew the full name of the comrades, except two of us, and that was someone from Company B of my regiment by the name of Buckalew, of Trenton, New Jersey. We hurried along through the brush, briars, and cone of pines, now stopping to listen intently for that dreadful bay of the hounds, so near that it seemed our death warrant. The sound stopped and we were encouraged and for several hours felt safe—night would help us, we parleyed in stifled voices, as to direction. I had made observation before day and felt that we were going northwest and must soon strike a road leading from Oglethorpe; others argued that I was wrong. Three of us parted with the most obstinate one, he going south and would not be convinced of the fact that we three were moving northwest. Along toward sundown, hearing no sounds of hounds, we thought that we were safe and halted to reconnoiter our position before resting for the night march intended.
A few moments later came an awful surprise—the baying of hounds and on our track! We moved to a rising ground and not a moment too soon. We took to some small trees in the opening—two of us were fortunate in having strength enough to swing up clear of the ground and the teeth of the savage brutes at our feet, but the sight that met our gaze when we had recovered from the fright of being hamstrung by the dogs was one that time could never efface from memory. Frightful dreams we have had, but this was no dream. The other poor emaciated comrade, who had exhausted all his strength to keep up with us thus far toward home and liberty, had no power to lift himself out of reach of those hellish brutes. They tore him, limb, muscle, and flesh- such as there was—so that he prayed his captors to shoot him. He could not stand or move himself from his position, and they did a merciful act, unintentionally—shot him to death; so another “unknown” rested while some fond mother or other loved one would wait in vain for him or record of his death. Buckalew and I were ordered to come down from our roost. We came down, of course, when convinced that we were not to be dog meat, otherwise we preferred the death just witnessed and did not hesitate to say so.
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.
The hours waned. We were left alone in the care of the guards. While the conversation was going on and the eating ditto, we noticed that we were hiding a goodly quantity of the toothsome sweets. Left to ourselves we found in a short time that there was danger in eating our fill—the potatoes were eaten without salt, salt being scarce, and were very dry eating, and we drank much water, as the water was good, the result being a fullness quite a stranger to us for several months, so much fullness that it caused pain, and for the rest of the night we both gulped and retched in misery and severe pains. After a while we became worn out and actually slept, and morning came all too soon for us. Our relief from pain, with sleep to follow, was due to the kindness of a colored lady who concocted a dose of hot water and wood ashes mixed, not so palatable but gave comfort in an hour. She knew her business on home remedies. When we awoke, the first topic of conversation was, “What will be done with us when we reach camp?” My last experience was not pleasant to think of and we preferred death in some other way. We were ordered out after our host had given us a square meal of the “inevitable” salt pork and corn pone, but which was delicious to us. At the door was a wagon and team, to our surprise. We wondered if this was for us. The team was typical Georgia style, two very aged and sleepy mules, looking as of stone, and quite immovable, but they were alive as they moved when the whip cracked and from the cavernous throat of the driver was something smoky, and the sound lifted, lifted the long, drooping ears to near perpendicular—of course the team understood while we did not. The dogs and extra men had gone into camp or elsewhere, we did not care—which left two guards and the driver to look after us; but that was enough in our condition and no arms. We rode all the way “home” in the wagon with some sweet potatoes and a few onions; beside them were two small sacks of potatoes. We wondered why they were separate from the general lot and it worried us, we could not study it out, but when camp was reached we learned to our surprise that they were the “compliments” of the hostess of the night. God bless her—while we enjoyed her hospitality, we did suffer from excess of sweets! The gifts, no doubt, were for the very accurate information that my comrade had so freely given on things he knew as little of as he knew of Heaven.
We bid our coachman good-bye, sending our heartfelt thanks to our hostess for her kindness; but the coachman’s tip was not extended, for the most obvious reason that we were “short of change. ” Waiting under guard, we thought, “What, oh what, will be done to us this time?” as I would surely be recognized. I had no use for the “necklace” I had worn once—and still have the scars on my neck and jaws. To be instantly killed would be charity and mercy rather than again endure that suffering which I felt must end all for us. Sure, swift death was preferable to the slim hope of surviving once more from that awful torture—we certainly could not look for any mitigation of the same at the hands of Wirz when recognized. This soliloquy ended abruptly. “Hyer, you Yanks, who you-uns as been run away, git up in line! We will take you-uns to see Captain Wirz!” Great God, how that name was burned into my brain!
I had told my comrade of that torture and how both of us were facing that—or worse, if possible. My comrade said, “I will follow your lead, wherever it may be.” I replied, “I have only one life to sacrifice and do not want yours to account for.” He said, “Never mind, I will go with you.” We slowly picked up the little sack of potatoes—I don’t know why, I suppose it was mechanical—it seemed just then that I should never want for more of anything in this world, for I was convinced that I was on the last lap of life, if Wirz was to pass on my punishment. Just at this time there were some new prisoners at the south gate in line to march in, and had just commenced to move. We were close both to gate and the moving line, there was some confusion among the guards, and I saw at a glance our only hope. I softly spoke to my comrade, “Step in line and I will follow a file or two back.” He hesitated and wanted me to go first. I looked him in the eye and signed for him to be quick; he did so reluctantly. I flanked in a few files back and passed to the other side, moved up to his file, . and beckoned him to come with me. We passed well up to the front before the gate closed and the inner gate opened, both of us now free to move as fast as we could. We pushed along until inside the dead line, aided by those new men to whom I quietly told in a hurried manner why we were so anxious to get in front before discovered, and two of them did crowd us up front i» a jiffy. Once past the dead line we were safe to move anywhere and hurried to our old “home.”
We had not been missed by the guards until we had made good our escape “inward” this time. Reaching our old place we found it preempted by others, but we were given a hearty welcome by those who knew us before we had taken our French leave. We made close inquiry as to the return of those who had also started. It was then that we got the full information that fifteen had left by that tunnel and thus far eleven had been returned. We could account for all but one—where was he? What an ending for all that hard fight for life and liberty! This was not the only case, for tunnels were prevalent in camp. Our welcome to this place was cordial in the sense that we were alive, and you can imagine how grateful I was to escape the guards and evade a parley with that human devil, Wirz! An attempt was made to ferret us out, and take us outside, but my name was not “Hopkins” now, and the sergeant that knew me was sent to Macon for duty. And I hoped he would never return, for the thought of that “collar” made me shudder. Some time before we took leave the Raiders had been very open in their work, but after the hangings became very secretive—but they were yet in business. A comrade of my regiment, by name of Samuel J. Nixon, had a watch and wanted me to trade it for something better to eat. I took it and was “dogged” daily and shadowed at all times by some one of those cut-throats—being unsuccessful in making a trade, handed it back to him—glad indeed, for the silent shadowing ceased. Two nights after, Nixon was awakened by the cold touch of a knife at his throat and a command, “Shut up, or your life will pay the forfeit!” Of course he handed the murderers his watch to save his life.
Several men of my regiment died in this Bull Pen in a short time, and just now I was on the wane and had been almost ready to let go the lifeline in despair, but I still insisted that where others could live, I ought to try to do so. One day I saw a strong, sturdy man come into camp—I think from Sherman’s forces—and in a dazed manner make his way to the north side. Listlessly he looked about him—no place to go, he asked no questions, nor would he answer any, always with that same faraway look in his eyes; hopeless, speechless, horror-stricken at what he saw. He sat down on the ground, drew his knees up, arms across his knees and head resting on his arms and never to our knowledge, by word or act, did he recognize anyone. I peered under his arms, raised his head; his eyes were wide open but they saw nothing. When appealed to have a drink of water, no effort was made to accept it, though sitting in the broiling sun at 95 to 100 degrees, no shade here, all day, all night in cold dew, for four days from time of entrance. We discovered him dead as he sat, no change of position.
Hopkins’s resolve to live was successful He was transferred to the prison camp at Florence, South Carolina, exchanged and, after rudimentary treatment, finally discharged. He was, of course, in terrible shape. He had gone from 226 pounds to 123, and his feet were too swollen for shoes. He looked at himself in his first civilian suit and concluded “that I might, with strong talk, convince my friends it was I.” His family had been informed that he died in prison, and his own letter, from Camp Parole, arrived three days before the funeral service that had been planned for him. “A couple of days’ rest was good for me, and in those two days had passed the soul of America’s greatest martyr, Abraham Lincoln.”
Physicians “of prominence” came to New Jersey to look at the famous survivor of Andersonville and told him that his legs must be amputated. He answered, “Gentlemen, I am the sole owner and no one to leave behind to care for, and I say no!” Time proved “that eminent physicians sometimes err in their decisions; otherwise I would have been legless, or dead, or both, while now I quite enjoy the use of fairly good limbs and feet.”
In 1927, sixty-five years after the event, Hopkins was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor for his gallantry at the battle of Games’ Mill. He died in 1936 at the age of ninety-two.