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Johnny Ransom's Imagination William Marvel In 188 1, when John Ransom released the first edition ofwhat he claimed was his diary ofprisonlifeintheConfederacy, heinsisted thathehadbeen"induced" to do so, both by his friends and by his own impulse. He devoted two of the four paragraphs in his introduction to assurances of the book's truthfulness, while a third paragraph explained that the original volumes of his journal had been consumed in a fire after the war: he had previously serialized the diary in his hometown newspaper, he told his readers, and through that extraordinary good fortune he was able to present his daily entries with "little change."1 About the time that Ransom would have started putting his manuscript together, John McElroy's memoir ofprison Ufe had begun to find an enthusiastic and lucrative market, and McElroy's success may have been what caused Ransom's friends to advise the publication ofhis own book, if, indeed, any such friends so advised him. At least one historian and one bibliographer have deduced that Ransom's own motive may have been to aid the cause of former prisoners who sought pensions for their suffering—a fairly simple deduction, considering that the first edition ofhis book carried the text of a congressional bill intended to provide pensions for ex-prisoners. What no one seems to have recognized is that such altruism may have had a more mercenary touch. Ransom produced the book in the middle of his own search for a pension, which dragged along without resolution for an unusual twenty-nine months: he filed his claim in the autumn of 1879 and published his book himself in the summer of 1881. Only in March of 1882—after both his and McElroy's books had rekindled public sympathy for the survivors of Andersonville—did the commissioner ofpensions grant Ransom a certificate, largely because he was losing his teeth.2 1 John L. Ransom,AndersonvilleDiary, Escape, andListofthe Dead, withName, Co., Regiment, Date ofDeath, andNo. ofGrave in Cemetery (Auburn, N.Y, 1881), 7. 2 Ibid., 303-4; John McElroy, Andersonville, A Story ofRebel Military Prisons (Toledo: D. R. Locke, 1879); Ovid L. Futch, History ofAndersonville Prison (Gainesville: Univ. ofFlorida Press, 1968). 137; Allan Nevins, James I. Robertson, Jr., and Bell I. Wiley, eds., Civil War Books: A Critical Bibliography, 2 vols. (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State Univ. Press, 1967), 1:200; original application and pension certificate #203948, John L. Ransom pension file, RG 15, National Civil War History, Vol. xu. No. 3 O 1995 by The Kent State University Press l82CIVIL WAR HISTORY The surgeon who examined the former Michigan cavalryman on February 8, 1882, attributed the loss of Ransom's six upper teeth to scurvy, which the applicant had suffered seventeen years before. Despite one doctor's observation that Ransom's health had suffered so that he was beyond hope of full recovery, the missing teeth formed the foundation ofhis claim; as his other teeth fell out, or were pulled out, he applied for increases to his pension, which were all granted on the same assumption that scurvy still affected him. Felicitously, Ransom's published diary offers much confirmation of his bout with the disease , starting with his first recognition ofthe symptoms on April 14, 1864.3 At that point Ransom had been a prisoner for five months. It was physically possible that he suffered early signs ofscurvy, but ifhe did so he was one ofthe first prisoners at Andersonville to come down with it, not to mention one of the first to diagnose the disease correctly. Even among the longest-held prisoners, scurvy did not begin to take firm hold until July, yet Ransom complained of swollen legs and sore gums as early as May 29, and he mentioned the worsening symptoms frequently thereafter.4 It is difficult to ignore the suspicion that he doctored his diary entries to satisfy the demands of the pension department, especially in light ofthe diary's other inconsistencies. Notwithstanding the author's protests of his own veracity and his assertion that the published diary closely paralleled the alleged original, the verifiable elements of Ransom's book demonstrate that it was not the product of an 1864 journal at...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1533-6271
Print ISSN
0009-8078
Pages
pp. 181-189
Launched on MUSE
2012-01-04
Open Access
No
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