Civil War POW: Jared Gage Was a Long Way from Vineland When He Entered a Georgia PrisonPosted:
By Vince Farinaccio
A Columnist for the Grapevine Newspaper
When Vinelander Jared Gage entered Georgia’s Andersonville Prison in 1864, he was one of approximately 31,000 Union soldiers in a facility incapable of accommodating that number of inmates. For Gage, the experience would haunt his health and lead to an early tragic death. One prisoner wrote about Andersonville, “None will ever realize the suffering here but those who live to endure and live through it,” but we’ll attempt to examine what had occurred prior to Gage’s incarceration there.
According to History of Andersonville Prison by Ovid L. Futch, the conditions at the prison, which opened in February 1864, were due to the Confederates’ lack of provisions, the facility’s inadequate size to accommodate the large number of prisoners and certain inmates’ disregard for maintaining sanitary conditions. Ration limitations led certain prisoners to pay or barter for food while those who couldn’t afford to buy meals usually had to settle for cornbread, bacon and a lack of nutrition. As one inmate reported, “Men actually starve to death here for want of food.”
An expansion of the prison camp was undertaken, using inmates as workers. A 10-acre addition on the north side was completed by June 1864, but the unending influx of new prisoners meant that the new portion was overcrowded once it was opened.
According to Futch, “as early as the latter part of March, Michigan cavalryman John L. Ransom noted that the prison was becoming filthy and considered the prisoners themselves ‘somewhat to blame for it.’ Before April was half-gone, he complained, ‘There is so much filth about the camp that it is terrible trying to live here.’ Some attempted to keep clean and to avoid contamination, and on occasion they ducked and scrubbed some of the dirtiest of their comrades, but many became discouraged in these efforts.”
Water soon became scarce and soap non-existent so that lice and other vermin settled into the uncut and matted hair of the prisoners. History of Andersonville Prison describes the stockade as having “reeked with an overpowering stench” from human waste, rotting bodies waiting to be transported to the cemetery by paroled prisoners where they would be buried in trenches.” The prisoners’ clothing, usually tattered beyond repair, was still a commodity among inmates and unguarded pants and shirts were subject to theft. The Confederates were unable to provide their own soldiers with new uniforms, so any chances of new clothing for their charges was out of the question.
Futch tells us that the results of such conditions revealed themselves through the inmates’ attitude and psychology. “The nonchalance with which many regarded death and the unfeeling eagerness with which they stripped dead or dying men of their valuables and clothing were shocking to newcomers in the stockade.”
In July, a group of prisoners decided to petition the Federal government for their release. Their efforts proved controversial when some of their fellow inmates saw it as shirking the duty of their military obligation. Nonetheless, sergeants of 107 divisions signed the petition and six of them were allowed to deliver it personally to the Federal Government. But, according to Futch, “nothing came of it.”
“As week after week passed,” Futch writes, “the prisoners’ situation grew ever more desperate as their number steadily increased and the death rate mounted. So crowded was the stockade that the average amount of space per man of the month of June was only 33.2 square feet. Enlargement of the stockade increased this figure to 40.5 for July, but the constant influx of prisoners reduced it again to 35.7 for August. This was less than four square yards per man, including the uninhabitable swamp. The average number of prisoners during the month of June was 22,291; July 29,030; and August 32,899. During the month of June, 1,203 died; in July 1,742; and in August 2,993. The largest number of deaths on any one day was 127 on August 23. Perhaps it is impossible, as so many ex-inmates maintained, to grasp or convey an accurate picture of the horrors of Andersonville Prison or the suffering endured by the men confined there during that awful summer of 1864.”
These are the conditions Jared Gage encountered when he entered Andersonville that October.
Next Week: The System
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