|Union Prison Camp LOC|
This will be the last in a series of articles about the captivity of Captain John E. Michener of the 85th Pennsylvania regiment. It covers his life from his capture on White Marsh Island near Savannah, Georgia in 1864 to his release later that year in Charleston Harbor. This segment focuses on his time in prison at Camp Oglethorpe near Macon, Georgia. Later in his confinement, he was part of an escape attempt which was chronicled here.
In this part of "Prison Life," the postwar story of Michener's incarceration as related by author T.J. Simpson in 1867, Michener focuses on the privations of prison life: lack of food being his main topic of interest.
In 1864, Fort Oglethorpe was being used by the Confederacy as a prison pen for Union officers. More information about Camp Oglethorpe can be found here.
From "Prison Life--"
Captain Michener and other Union officers were marched to Camp Oglethorpe where they were confined within a high stockade fence and guarded by two regiments of Georgia troops. Here they met some eight hundred Union officers who had just arrived from Libby and Saulsbury prisons where they had been reduced to the last extremity of suffering and, almost naked, and fearfully emaciated, were brought here to die. Before entering the gates of the stockade, Captain Michener and his companions were carefully searched by Captain W.E. Tabb, commander of the prison.
Having no blankets and there being but two old frame buildings within the stockade, and they used only for the accommodation of the sick and convalescent, Captain Michener and his friends experienced more exposure and suffering during the first month of their confinement here than while in Charleston jail, having to lie on the bare ground with no shelter whatever, exposed to the heavy dews, frequent rains, and violent storms.
It was truly an affecting sight to see these ragged and half-starved prisoners gathering around and with the most haggard and imploring looks, piteously but anxiously watching the commissary as he measure out their ration of meal in a tin cup, and to see how eagerly they seized it. Sometimes, from long fasting, and the irresistible carvings of hunger, their appetites were so ravenous that they would seize the rations and devour them on the spot, without cooking. Officers of all ranks were here placed upon an equality without respect of persons, having to draw and cook their own rations, wash their own clothes, and perform all other menial services and, in addition to attend two roll calls each day. Some had been fortunate enough to conceal and thereby retain their money about their persons, at the time of their capture, and this money could be accordingly exchanged for confederate money, with which they could purchase a few vegetables and other articles of food and hence they could command a reasonable support while their money lasted. But a much largest number of prisoners had no money, it all having been taken from them at the time they were taken prisoners and hence they would exchange with the rebel guards fingerings, breast-pins, watches, knives, combs and whatever little precious keepsake they still possessed and even their few rags of clothing in some instances for something to eat.
Among this large number of prisoners were men of all classes and occupations -- lawyers, doctors, preachers merchants and mechanics -- many of whom were very wealthy , noble and generous at home, but here in prison, reduced to beggary and starvation.
Strange as it may seem, under these trying circumstances, a cold indifferent spirit of selfishness predominated and it was only in a very few instances that a prisoner could be induced to divide his little stock of money with a suffering fellow-prisoner. In some instances when offices of the same regiment would happen to meet, a more liberal spirit prevailed and under the excitement of the moment they seemed to return to their former selves and forgetting the extremity of their circumstances were readt to divide their last cent. Sometimes from four to five and even eight or ten of these starving men would form a mess to cook and sleep together and in every such instances, if anyone or more of the number were fortunate enough to have any money, it was freely and cheerfully divided among them until the last cent was gone. There were many instances also in which officers of superior rank who had no money, would cook and wash and do all kinds of menial service for those of inferior rank in order to get a share of the provisions purchased with their money. A major of a New York regiment, a brave and talented man, destitute of money and reduced to the last extremity of suffering and starvation, gladly embraced the opportunity to act the part of a servant for two lieutenants, relieving them from any menial service whatever, simply because they were fortunate enough to have money, while had had none; showing that in this instances at least, money was the standard of merit and that 'all that a man has will he give for his life.' The prisoners were also but poorly furnished with cooking utensils with which to prepare to meagre rations they received. All that were allowed for the men was a camp-kettle and skillet and hundreds were not even supplied with them; hence borrowing become the order of the day and when this could not be done, the use of cooking utensils had to be dispensed with and the rations devoured as nature prepared them without any artificial help.
|Union Officers in Prison LOC|