June 7, 1865
(translated by Joseph R. Reinhart)
Report of the Soldier Otto Kunze of the New Hecker Regiment About His
Two Years as a Prisoner
in the South
The Suffering on Belle Island, in Andersonville, etc., etc.
I was captured on July 1, 1863 during the Battle of Gettysburg. I had to remain lying without food in the rear of the Rebel army until July 4. When the Rebel army formed up to retreat on July 4th, I had to go to Richmond. I had to march to Stanton [Staunton?]; I arrived there on the 18th and on the 20th went to Richmond by railroad, arriving there on the 21st. I was placed in the Pemberton building, then taken to Belle Island that is accurately called Hell Island. Now bad times began! In the mornings our rations consisted of a little piece of bread (in the first two months white, then corn bread) and a morsel of beef or pork; and then in the evenings we received nothing more than bean or pea soup and a little bread. This soup was the sort that you considered good, if you got one bean out of two portions. Further, it was seasoned with bugs. We received barely enough food to stay alive. When I stand up I stagger like a drunk. When I slept I dreamt of food in front of me. When I awakened however I found myself terribly deceived and had nothing but a hungry stomach. I suffered for six weeks from red dysentery and believed I would die, because a prisoner in Secessia can only have medical care if he is half dead.
The torment of the cold came with the beginning of the winter. Many poor prisoners froze. Hunger and hypersensitivity to the cold killed many. The Rebels robbed us of our blankets when we were captured. That which had any value to me was taken and even the pictures of my dears.
In January 1864 I received the clothing our government sent for us. We really needed it: a large coat, a blanket, a pair of pants, shoes and a cap.
On February 17, 1864, I was sent to the to the “Pemberton Building” with a group of other prisoners. On February 18 we were sent away from Richmond without knowing our destination. We learned our destination on the 25th when we arrived 700 strong at Andersonville, Ga. On the journey several of us were hurt when the train derailed.
The stockade was not yet finished, however, it was soon made sufficient to hold us. A number of bloodhounds were used there and such a beasts is as effective in the surveillance of prisoners in Rebeldom as a company of soldiers. After the stockade was completed prisoners were sent from all points to Andersonville and the place for prisoners inside the stockade was soon full.
Because there were many bad persons among the prisoner—stealing, looting and murders became the order of the day. Of course the New York scoundrels were so bad that a man with money in his pocket was no longer safe. This lasted until a company of “Regulators” was organized and armed themselves with clubs to arrest these mobs; however, much confusion emerged in the camp through this. We saw shoving and hitting left and right. Finally with the help of Capt. Werths [Wirz], who had command over us, a large number of these mobs were collected and locked up outside of the stockade.
A trial was held and six of them were found guilty of murder. They were sentenced to death. On the 11th of July a gallows was erected inside of the stockade and in the presence of all the prisoners the six murderers were hanged. That led to calmness and order in the camp.
The camp comprised about 25 acres among which were several acres of swampy ground. Inside the stockade and 20 feet from it was a fence made from 3-foot high poles with rails nailed on it. We named this fence the deadline because if a prisoner stepped over it he would be shot down. During the summer of 1864 no prisoner dared to cross the line or to lean over it with any part of his body. Many innocent men were shot down. Some men who were half crazy because of their mistreatment crossed over the line and were shot. Others had the same fate even though they did not cross the line. Take out 3 to 4 acres of mire and the 20 feet within the stockade around the camp’s dead line, and you can easily calculate how much of the 25 acres of the entire camp remained for the prisoners, who numbered approximately 35,000 in the hot months of July and August. A large number of us had no shelter from the sun’s heat, no protection from the chilly night dew. The food was scant and miserable. We ate it raw because there was nothing to cook with and no wood for a fire. Others who were sick could not enjoy such food and they could get nothing better. It consisted of raw cornmeal, in which the corncob and all were ground in it and a little pork. Sometimes we received a few black beans. A healthy person could barely live with such nourishment, much less a sick one. The sick in Andersonville received medical care only when they were half dead. The main illnesses were: the red dysentery and scurvy; although the latter, if one acts in time, can be easily cured; but we received none of the food to counter against it.
Many, very many died of starvation. Others entirely lost their courage and fell into a state of despondency or mental disturbance. I was luckier than many others. We made a shelter with blankets. It granted to us some degree protection against the sun’s heat, rain and night dew.
I am not in a position to give an account of all the suffering at Andersonville. And could I depict it, no one would believe the dreadfulness. Only one who has experienced it could know.
In September 1864, when Sherman appeared to be moving toward Macon, the Rebels considered it time to remove us from Andersonville. I was with the group that on 7th September was sent to Savannah where we arrived the next day. We were somewhat better treated there and remained there for over a month. The change of places was good for most of us.
On 11th of October we were sent back to Camp Lawton near Millen, 80 to 90 miles from Savannah. It now began to get cold and a few who thought they would die if they remained prisoners over the winter entered the Rebel army.
Some of our sick were sent into the Federal lines by Millen and I still hoped this good fortune would come to all of us. But it was not so! Sherman had begun his new campaign from Atlanta to Savannah. Therefore on 21st November they took us from Millen to Savannah. And from there they transported us on the Golf [Gulf] Railroad farther south and indeed to Blackshire, 90 miles from Savannah. We arrived there on 24th November and camped in the woods. On 1st December they brought us back to Savannah and it was said we are supposed to be exchanged. The truth was they were taking us to South Carolina. However, the “wild Yankees” (the name the Rebels used for armed Union soldiers) had cut off the route to South Carolina, so we had to return to Blackshire.
On the 5th December they brought us from there to the hundred mile distant Thomasville where we arrived on the 6th. We camped in the woods. We had to leave Thomasville on the 19th in order to be transported to Andersonville.
We had to march 56 miles until we reached another railroad. The Rebels exhibited their greatest cruelty on this march.
We had to march through knee-deep mud and water that could have been easily avoided. Their cruelty did not allow them to treat us humanely—not once toward our sick. Apparently it was their aim to get rid of us without shooting us.
On 25th December we entered Andersonville again. Yes, a sad Christmas for us who have been abandoned. I was now resigned to it. I tried to forget the world and everything that was important to me. So I lived until March when the news of an impending exchange breathed life into me. Finally on 5th April 1865, we were sent away from Andersonville in order to be exchanged at Jacksonville, Florida. However, we had to halt in Albany to await orders. On 11th April we were sent back to Andersonville. On the 17th the Rebels hurried, out of anxiety over the “wild Yankees,” to take us away from Andersonville. The next day they took us to Macon, from there back to Albany. Then we had to march to Thomasville. We were put on a train there and went to Florida, the lines of the Federal troops. On the 28th of April we were sent out of the Rebel lines and on the 29th we entered the Union lines. It was my happiest day of my life. I was finally out of the hands of the cruelest barbarians and among the living again.