The diary of Connecticut POW Robert Kellogg indicates that it was raining the day my great-great-grandfather, William Davies, arrived at Andersonville Prison.
Kellogg had already been there for a month, enduring the Georgia heat of mid- to late May of 1864 in the open-air stockade. His only protection from the weather was a shelter he and ten comrades had constructed:
For the small sum of two dollars in [Federal] greenbacks we purchased eight small saplings…These we bent and made fast in the ground and covering them with our blankets, made a tent with an oval roof, about 13 feet long.
They had to lie on the bare ground, with no other covering, but they felt the shelter from weather was more important.
On June 1, it began to rain and continued for three weeks, Kellogg wrote.
As I stood in the holding pen between the outer and inner doors of the prison’s reconstructed North Gate, I tried to imagine how Davies felt as he stood in the rain on June 21, 1864, crushed against the other Union soldiers, waiting for his first sight of the inside of the camp.
Had rumors about Andersonville reached him? Did he know what to expect? Certainly he could hear the shouts of arguing men and the moans of the dying. He could smell the reek of the “sinks”, or latrine, which backed up into the swamp that bordered the prison’s only water source at the time, a three-foot-wide stream.
Kellogg described what he saw when the inner doors swung open: men who were “mere walking skeletons, covered with filth and vermin.” One of his friends wondered, “Can this be Hell?”
I walked through the gate and out onto the treeless hillside, covered with brown grass on this February morning. The land sloped gently down to the stream that crossed the camp from west to east, its banks no longer swampy due to extensive drainage ditches. Another hillside rose from the other side of the stream to the white markers that traced the outline of the former stockade.
Several photos were taken of the camp in 1864 by A. J. Riddle, who was documenting prisons for the Confederate government. I tried to superimpose those pictures over the bleak, blank landscape before me. I imagined the land teeming with men, over 1000 inhabitants per acre, some men with shelters and some without.
The shelters reconstructed in a corner of the prison site are disturbing to look at. Most of them are lean-to’s or crude tents, narrow and low to the ground, barely big enough to cover a man lying down with his legs curled up.
I hope Davies did not have to rely on such a structure for shelter. Perhaps, like Kellogg, he lived with a group of friends.
In spring of 1863, his diary mentioned “the Welsh Squad,” a group from Company A, consisting of “T. Humphrey, myself, John Jones, S. Gales and Evan Evans,” all of them Welsh immigrants. Jones died of pneumonia that fall. Davies, Gales, and Evans, along with Ohio native Wakeman Bell, shared a tent at a camp outside of Memphis in the spring of 1864. All four of these men are listed in the database of Andersonville prisoners at the POW museum.
None of the 19 captives from Company A perished in the prison. It helped that they were only imprisoned for three months, unlike men who were transferred to Andersonville from other prisons. But maybe the comradeship of the Welsh Squad helped them survive.
To be continued–