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Prison Life at Andersonville
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PRISON LIFE AT ANDERSONVILLE Ovid Futch Andersonville prisoners faced an acute problem in the sharp limitation of available means for satisfaction of the innate urge to activity. Absence of facilities for recreation and exercise forced them to use their own resourcefulness in seeking diversion.1 After roll call each morning, prison authorities permitted the inmates to do as they pleased, so long as they offered no threat of escape. The issuance of rations was time-consuming for prisoners charged with this duty, but not particularly so for others. A police detail engaged fifty men each day, and a few were detailed for outside work such as cooking, baking, burying the dead, cutting wood, clerking, and nursing in the hospital. But the vast majority had to find ways of occupying themselves. This task was made easier by the lack of necessities and conveniences, which compelled the prisoners to exert themselves to compensate for deficiencies of all sorts. One of the first tasks facing new arrivals—if they were to have any protection from the elements—was construction of huts or "shebangs." These abodes required constant repairs, and not infrequently prisoners tore down their shelters and rebuilt them in improved style. Shortage of clothing led to consumption of a great deal of time in making and mending clothes. Keeping clean was especially time-consuming , since usually no soap was available. Deficiencies in quality and quantity of water made well-digging necessary, and scarcity of proper tools made the task more laborious.2 Dr. Futch received his Ph.D. degree from Emory University in 1959, taught two years at Morehouse College, and is now on the history staff at the University of South Florida. His doctoral dissertation, from which this article was gleaned, was a study of Andersonville Prison, based largely on soldiers' letters and diaries. 1 For a description of the Andersonville stockade and of conditions prevailing there, see Ovid Futch, "Andersonville Raiders," Civil War History, II ( 1956), 47-48. 2 Ransom A. Chadwick, "A Diary Kept in Andersonville Prison as a Member of the 85th New York Regiment," manuscript, Minnesota Historical Society Library, entries of June 27, July 2, 12, 1864 (hereafter cited as Chadwick, "Diary"); E. Merton Coulter (ed.), "From Spotsylvania Courthouse to Andersonville: A Diary of Darius Starr," Georgia Historical Quarterly. XLI (1957), 10 (hereafter cited as 121 122OVID FUTCH Preparation of food consumed much time, owing to the shortage of cooking utensils. Lack of axes and saws made the procurement of wood for cooking and heating a toilsome task. The high mortality rate made necessary an occasional reorganization of the prison. This meant taking men from higher-numbered detachments to fill up the ranks of lowernumbered ones which had been depleted by the grim reaper. This "squadding over," as the prisoners called it, took all day and was much dreaded by the men because they had to remain in ranks until it was completed. But when they had done all that their captors required of them, and all they could do to satisfy their basic physical requirements, many waking hours remained to be filled, and prisoners complained, understandably, of time resting heavily on their hands. If one may judge from their diaries, the things which interested Andersonville prisoners most were the prospects of exchange or parole, rations , the weather, and health. These were the subjects of many conversations while the men lolled about the stockade. New arrivals often busied themselves hatching plans for escape; in most cases, however, hope of eluding the guards soon waned. When the prison was first established the Confederates considered it insecure. Hoping to deter any outbreak, they told their captives that exchange was imminent. This was an old story to prisoners coming from Belle Isle; while they did not believe it, their hopes, nevertheless, remained alive. When new prisoners arrived, inmates swarmed around them to hear the latest news of exchange or parole, as well as to learn about progress of the war and to look for relatives or acquaintances. But the Confederates labored diligently at strengthening the stockade. In early May, 1864, a prisoner who had arrived at Andersonville before the stockade was completed, and who had noted the continued efforts to...