It has been charged that hatred of the South is the animus of this work. Nothing can be farther from the truth. No one has a deeper love for every part of our common country than I, and no one to-day will make more efforts and sacrifices to bring the South to the same plane of social and material development with the rest of the Nation than I will. If I could see that the sufferings at Andersonville and elsewhere contributed in any considerable degree to that end, and I should not regret that they had been.
Blood and tears mark every, step in the progress of the race, and human misery seems unavoidable in securing human advancement. But I am naturally embittered by the fruitlessness, as well as the uselessness of the misery of Andersonville. There was never the least military or other reason for inflicting all that wretchedness upon men, and, as far as mortal eye can discern, no earthly good resulted from the martyrdom of those tens of thousands. I wish I could see some hope that their wantonly shed blood has sown seeds that will one day blossom, and bear a rich fruitage of benefit to mankind, but it saddens me beyond expression that I can not.
The years were a season of desperate battles, but in that time many more Union soldiers were slain behind the Rebel armies, by starvation and exposure, than were killed in front of them by cannon and rifle. The country has heard much of the heroism and sacrifices of those loyal youths who fell on the field of battle; but it has heard little of the still greater number who died in prison pen. It knows full well how grandly her sons met death in front of the serried ranks of treason, and but little of the sublime firmness with which they endured unto the death, all that the ingenious cruelty of their foes could inflict upon them while in captivity.
It is to help supply this deficiency that this book is written.
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It is a mite contributed to the better remembrance by their countrymen of those who in this way endured and died that the Nation might live. It is an offering of testimony to future generations of the measureless cost of the expiation of a national sin, and of the preservation of our national unity. This is all. I know I speak for all those still living comrades who went with me through the scenes that I have attempted to describe, when I say that we have no revenges to satisfy, no hatreds to appease.
We do not ask that anyone shall be punished.
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We only desire that the Nation shall recognize and remember the grand fidelity of our dead comrades, and take abundant care that they shall not have died in vain. For the great mass of Southern people we have only the kindliest feeling. We but hate a vicious social system, the lingering shadow of a darker age, to which they yield, and which, by elevating bad men to power, has proved their own and their country's bane.
The following story does not claim to be in any sense a history of Southern prisons. It is simply a record of the experience of one individual--one boy--who staid all the time with his comrades inside the prison, and had no better opportunities for gaining information than any other of his 60, companions.
The majority of the illustrations in this work are from the skilled pencil of Captain O. Hopkins, of Toledo, who served through the war in the ranks of the Forty-second Ohio. His army experience has been of peculiar value to the work, as it has enabled him to furnish a series of illustrations whose life-like fidelity of action, pose and detail are admirable. Some thirty of the pictures, including the frontispiece, and the allegorical illustrations of War and Peace, are from the atelier of Mr. Reich, Cincinnati, O. A word as to the spelling: Having always been an ardent believer in the reformation of our present preposterous system--or rather, no system--of orthography, I am anxious to do whatever lies in my power to promote it.
In the following pages the spelling is simplified to the last degree allowed by Webster. I hope that the time is near when even that advanced spelling reformer will be left far in the rear by the progress of a people thoroughly weary of longer slavery to the orthographical absurdities handed down to us from a remote and grossly unlearned ancestry. A low, square, plainly-hewn stone, set near the summit of the eastern approach to the formidable natural fortress of Cumberland Gap, indicates the boundaries of--the three great States of Virginia, Kentucky and Tennessee.
It is such a place as, remembering the old Greek and Roman myths and superstitions, one would recognize as fitting to mark the confines of the territories of great masses of strong, aggressive, and frequently conflicting peoples. There the god Terminus should have had one of his chief temples, where his shrine would be shadowed by barriers rising above the clouds, and his sacred solitude guarded from the rude invasion of armed hosts by range on range of battlemented rocks, crowning almost inaccessible mountains, interposed across every approach from the usual haunts of men.
Roundabout the land is full of strangeness and mystery.
The throes of some great convulsion of Nature are written on the face of the four thousand square miles of territory, of which Cumberland Gap is the central point. Miles of granite mountains are thrust up like giant walls, hundreds of feet high, and as smooth and regular as the side of a monument.
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Huge, fantastically-shaped rocks abound everywhere--sometimes rising into pinnacles on lofty summits--sometimes hanging over the verge of beetling cliffs, as if placed there in waiting for a time when they could be hurled down upon the path of an advancing army, and sweep it away. Large streams of water burst out in the most unexpected planes, frequently far up mountain sides, and fall in silver veils upon stones beaten round by the ceaseless dash for ages.
Caves, rich in quaintly formed stalactites and stalagmites, and their recesses filled with metallic salts of the most powerful and diverse natures; break the mountain sides at frequent intervals. Everywhere one is met by surprises and anomalies. Even the rank vegetation is eccentric, and as prone to develop into bizarre forms as are the rocks and mountains. The dreaded panther ranges through the primeval, rarely trodden forests; every crevice in the rocks has for tenants rattlesnakes or stealthy copperheads, while long, wonderfully swift "blue racers" haunt the edges of the woods, and linger around the fields to chill his blood who catches a glimpse of their upreared heads, with their great, balefully bright eyes, and "white-collar" encircled throats.
The human events happening here have been in harmony with the natural ones. It has always been a land of conflict. In years ago-- De Soto, in that energetic but fruitless search for gold which occupied his later years, penetrated to this region, and found it the fastness of the Xualans, a bold, aggressive race, continually warring with its neighbors. When next the white man reached the country--a century and a half later--he found the Xualans had been swept away by the conquering Cherokees, and he witnessed there the most sanguinary contest between Indians of which our annals give any account--a pitched battle two days in duration, between the invading Shawnees, who lorded it over what is now Kentucky, Ohio and Indiana--and the Cherokees, who dominated the country the southeast of the Cumberland range.
Again the Cherokees were victorious, and the discomfited Shawnees retired north of the Gap. Then the white man delivered battle for the possession the land, and bought it with the lives of many gallant adventurers. Half a century later Boone and his hardy companion followed, and forced their way into Kentucky. Another half century saw the Gap the favorite haunt of the greatest of American bandits--the noted John A.
Murrell--and his gang. They infested the country for years, now waylaying the trader or drover threading his toilsome way over the lone mountains, now descending upon some little town, to plunder its stores and houses. At length Murrell and his band were driven out, and sought a new field of operations on the Lower Mississippi.
They left germs behind them, however, that developed into horse thieve counterfeiters, and later into guerrillas and bushwhackers. When the Rebellion broke out the region at once became the theater of military operations. Twice Cumberland Gap was seized by the Rebels, and twice was it wrested away from them.
In it was the point whence Zollicoffer launched out with his legions to "liberate Kentucky," and it was whither they fled, beaten and shattered, after the disasters of Wild Cat and Mill Springs. In Kirby Smith led his army through the Gap on his way to overrun Kentucky and invade the North. Three months later his beaten forces sought refuge from their pursuers behind its impregnable fortifications. Another year saw Burnside burst through the Gap with a conquering force and redeem loyal East Tennessee from its Rebel oppressors.
Had the South ever been able to separate from the North the boundary would have been established along this line.
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Between the main ridge upon which Cumberland Gap is situated, and the next range on the southeast which runs parallel with it, is a narrow, long, very fruitful valley, walled in on either side for a hundred miles by tall mountains as a City street is by high buildings.
It is called Powell's Valley. In it dwell a simple, primitive people, shut out from the world almost as much as if they lived in New Zealand, and with the speech, manners and ideas that their fathers brought into the Valley when they settled it a century ago. There has been but little change since then.
The young men who have annually driven cattle to the distant markets in Kentucky, Tennessee and Virginia, have brought back occasional stray bits of finery for the "women folks," and the latest improved fire- arms for themselves, but this is about all the innovations the progress of the world has been allowed to make.
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Wheeled vehicles are almost unknown; men and women travel on horseback as they did a century ago, the clothing is the product of the farm and the busy looms of the women, and life is as rural and Arcadian as any ever described in a pastoral. The people are rich in cattle, hogs, horses, sheep and the products of the field.
The fat soil brings forth the substantials of life in opulent plenty. Having this there seems to be little care for more.
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Ambition nor avarice, nor yet craving after luxury, disturb their contented souls or drag them away from the non-progressive round of simple life bequeathed them by their fathers. As the Autumn of advanced towards Winter the difficulty of supplying the forces concentrated around Cumberland Gap--as well as the rest of Burnside's army in East Tennessee--became greater and greater. The base of supplies was at Camp Nelson, near Lexington, Ky. All the country to our possession had been drained of its stock of whatever would contribute to the support of man or beast.
That portion of Powell's Valley extending from the Gap into Virginia was still in the hands of the Rebels; its stock of products was as yet almost exempt from military contributions. Consequently a raid was projected to reduce the Valley to our possession, and secure its much needed stores. It was guarded by the Sixty-fourth Virginia, a mounted regiment, made up of the young men of the locality, who had then been in the service about two years. Beer's third Battalion, Sixteenth Illinois Cavalry--four companies, each about 75 strong--was sent on the errand of driving out the Rebels and opening up the Valley for our foraging teams.
The writer was invited to attend the excursion. As he held the honorable, but not very lucrative position of "high, private" in Company L, of the Battalion, and the invitation came from his Captain, he did not feel at liberty to decline. He went, as private soldiers have been in the habit of doing ever since the days of the old Centurion, who said with the characteristic boastfulness of one of the lower grades of commissioned officers when he happens to be a snob:.
For I am also a man set under authority, having under me soldiers, and I say unto one, Go; and he goeth; and to another, Come, and he cometh; and to my servant, Do this, and he doeth it. Three hundred of us responded to the signal of "boots and saddles," buckled on three hundred more or less trusty sabers and revolvers, saddled three hundred more or less gallant steeds, came into line "as companies" with the automatic listlessness of the old soldiers, "counted off by fours" in that queer gamut-running style that makes a company of men "counting off"--each shouting a number in a different voice from his neighbor--sound like running the scales on some great organ badly out of tune; something like this:.
Then, as the bugle sounded "Right forward! Whither we were going we knew not, nor cared. Such matters had long since ceased to excite any interest. A cavalryman soon recognizes as the least astonishing thing in his existence the signal to "Fall in! He feels that he is the "Poor Joe" of the Army--under perpetual orders to "move on.