Vintage Vineland: POW ReleasePosted:
By Vince Farinaccio
A Columnist for the Grapevine Newspaper
Jared Gage, Civil War POW for seven months, lived for three years after and was buried at Siloam Cemetery.
Vinelander Jared Gage’s October 1864 incarceration at the Confederate prison in Andersonville, Georgia, would last seven months. He is listed as “survivor” on the Andersonville website, but the damage inflicted on his health during those months is not reflected in that description. His father writes that Jared nearly starved to death and the camp’s conditions would take their toll in less than three years. But how had the Andersonville facility become the death trap it is known as?
It seems that, from the start, poor planning and execution were to blame. According to Ovid L. Futch’s History of Andersonville Prison, the Confederate P.O.W camp primarily used during the first several years of the Civil War was a Richmond, Virginia facility, but it required additional supplies to be sent from deeper in the South using Confederate transportation systems that could better serve the war effort. The Virginia location placed the prisoners in jeopardy in the event of an attack in that area and, as the war dragged on and more soldiers were needed in the field of battle, there were fewer guards at the prison to oversee the inmates.
The need for another facility became paramount, and one Georgia location was selected and then abandoned after nearby residents protested the choice. In November 1863, another location in the middle of farmland known for its cotton and corn was selected for the new prison. But the planners failed to realize that the remote location would make it difficult to obtain needed supplies, including food, lumber, nails and tents. In fact, there was a shortage of bacon on the day prisoners first arrived in February 1864. The facility’s future had already been foreshadowed.
Originally, the camp covered 16.5 acres, with guards totaling 1,193, with 303 on duty each day. In June the facility was enlarged to 26.5 acres and, as the summer wore on, it was obvious that a concern had arisen about maintaining control of the growing number of prisoners. Having overseen about 7,000 prisoners in April, the guards were facing 12,000 in May and nearly 24,000 by late June. By the end of August, numbers had risen to 31, 693.
The guards were aided by what was known as a dead line, a space in the stockade 19 feet from the wall that prevented the prisoners from getting close to the walls. Anyone attempting to enter this space was shot without warning.
With conditions drastically out of control and scurvy and dysentery running amok, the Confederacy, according to online sources, offered conditional release of prisoners if the Union would send transportation for them. The Union did not follow through and refused to establish a prisoner exchange, dooming many of their soldiers in Andersonville. On November 11, inmates well enough to travel were transferred to a better facility in Millen, Georgia, and this included Gage and his regiment, indicating that the Vinelander was still healthy enough to travel. Because the Millen camp offered improved conditions, it could have saved Gage from an early death if not for the fact that Union General William Tecumseh Sherman’s March to the Sea, which began in December, forced the evacuation of the prisoners back to Andersonville. It is reported that, upon their return, some improvements had been made.
Union forces captured Andersonville Prison in May 1865. By then, 13,000 out of 45,000 prisoners had died. That November, the commander of the camp, Captain Henry Wirz, was found guilty on charges of conspiracy and murder and hanged.
Jared Gage was freed in May 1865 and joined his family in Vineland. The town’s climate had proven a cure for many veterans who settled here after the war, but Jared’s condition seems to have been much worse. He remained in Vineland for over two-and-a-half-years but on January 12, 1868, he died.
The oldest of John and Portia Gage’s sons was laid to rest in Siloam Cemetery. His gravesite can be found across from that of town founder Charles K. Landis and directly behind the marker for Landis’ secretary Marcus Fry. Gage’s tombstone, currently dislodged from and leaning against its base, contains only his name, date of death, age at the time of death and an inscription that serves as a reminder: “One of the victims of Andersonville.”
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