Elisha Lloyd POW
In Rebel Prisons
What One Man Suffered For the Union
Experiences of Elisha Emmons Lloyd
Published in Kendall County Record, March 6, 1895
Edited by Elmer Dickson
The death of Captain Lloyd in Chicago last week calls to mind the story of his experience in Confederate prisons printed in the History of the Thirty-sixth Regiment Illinois Volunteers, During the War of the Rebellion, Bennett, Lyman G. & William M. Haigh, Aurora, IL: Knickerbocker & Hodder Printers and Binders, 1876. This was more than thirty years ago, and a new generation, knowing nothing personally of what men suffered in the days of the rebellion, have taken the places of their fathers, and to them this article may be a revelation.
FOURTEEN MONTHS IN REBEL PRISONS
Elisha E. Lloyd, of Company E, 36th Illinois Volunteers, soon after getting into line at the battle of Chickamauga, and in the midst of the rebel charge which swept our ranks with disaster, was stunned by a musket ball striking his belt-plate, felling him to the ground. When he awoke it was to the unpleasant consciousness of being a prisoner of war. He was taken to the rear and confined with others in a pen until the following day, when he was marched to Tunnel Hill. From thence by rail to Atlanta. A ration and a half of bean meal bread, and a pint of cornmeal obtained at Petersburg, VA, was the sum total of food furnished him by the great and magnanimous Confederacy until his incarceration in Libby prison.
In October following he was removed from Libby to Castle Thunder. On being searched, an old pass that came into his possession at Murfreesboro was found in his boots. For so grave an offense he was immured three days in a dungeon, without food or water. From thence he was taken to the Royster House, which for once did not want for guests. Here the prisoners were subjected to insults and barbarities absolutely fiendish. The prolific source of suffering, overshadowing all others, was the want of food.
The following incident illustrates the nearly starved-to-death condition of the "guests" at this famine-haunted hotel. The person whose duty it was to call the roll, one morning was accompanied by a dog. A little familiarity and patting of Towser kept him quiet until his master had left, when he was killed, cooked and eaten inside of thirty minutes. Lloyd asserts that it was the most toothsome meal he ate within the Confederacy.
By some strange intuition, a certain indefinable something which draws people towards each other, Lloyd became satisfied that one of the guards was a Union man. Hunger made him desperate, and as opportunity offered, he broached the subject of escape. By solemnly promising not to expose his confederate in case of recapture, he was allowed to pass out unchallenged and unnoticed. In a short time, he was recaptured and returned to his former quarters. For refusing to divulge the name of his accomplice, he was not allowed food for four days.
On the 23rd of November, many of the prisoners were moved to Danville, VA, and placed in No. 5 prison. From all accounts given of Major Muffett, the officer in charge, he must have been liberally endowed with many of the fiendish attributes of the devil himself. To inflict and witness human suffering was to him the height of enjoyment.
At length four of the prisoners endeavored to effect an escape. At ten o'clock at night, while Lloyd was knocking down the guard, his three comrades rushed the gate and got away. The brief struggle and outcry in disarming the guard was fatal to Lloyd's hopes of escape. The gleam of muskets athwart his path was sufficient inducement for him to change his mind. By running back and mingling with the crowd he was not recognized. For awhile the excitement was great. The Major was furious, and endeavored in vain to discover the instigators of the escapade. In the tumult he lost his revolver. Lloyd picked it up and secreted it about his person. The prisoners were threatened with starvation unless the revolver was given up. Knowing the Major's ability and perfect willingness to execute his threat, the revolver was surrendered. For his part in the matter, Lloyd was bucked and gagged and deprived of food for two days.
In addition to brutal treatment and the gnawing of hunger, the small pox broke out among the prisoners. Two hundred and fifty men were down with the loathsome disease at one time. To fill the cup of human misery, a general vaccination was ordered. This resulted in the death of all that were thus treated. The arms of many rotted off, and one in particular whose arm and back rotted away before death came to his relief. Thus the long winter passed, and April's sun appeared. When the few than remained alive were loaded into cattle cars and taken to Andersonville.
The story of Andersonville, with all the sickening horrors, can never be told. With here and there exceptions, its victims lie moldering in the silent villages of the dead. Language is feeble to express the sad, sad story. We will let Lloyd tell his bitter experience in his own words. We only regret that the prescribed limits of our work will not permit us to produce the whole.
Andersonville prison comprised eighteen acres of land. Enclosed with a stockade of pine logs, thirty feet in length, fifteen feet of which were in the ground. Fifteen feet within (the stockade wall) posts were set, to which boards were nailed, to indicate the "dead line." The penalty for getting beyond this line was to be shot down like dogs. We were told to divide into messes and then we could draw our rations. This was quickly done, and we told them to "bring on their grub." It came at last, a quantity of black "Nigger beans," a half-pint to each, and this was to last 24 hours. April passed and May came, with no change for the better. To such desperate straights were we reduced that stealing food and clothing from each other was a common occurrence. Men were even murdered for a meal of victuals.
In May, a company of about 100 men was formed, for mutual benefit and support. It was called Company E, of the 36th Illinois Volunteers, and I was placed in command. All were solemnly pledged to obey me, or any other officer in command, in all things consistent with each other's welfare.
A project for excavating under and beyond the stockade was entered into with the greatest enthusiasm. Permission was obtained to dig a well, and a shaft was sunken 110 feet, but failed, as was expected, to reach water. A tunnel was then commenced in the side of the well, 35 feet below the surface. The dirt was hauled up at night and carried to the stream, whence large quantities were washed outside of the stockade. This excited the suspicion of the Confederate guards. Yet the tunnel would not have been discovered were it not for the treachery of one of our own number who revealed the whole project for a loaf of bread.
Company E, was then formed in line and informed that not one should have a morsel of food until the ringleader was pointed out. Not one faltered or betrayed an intention of being false to his promise. At last I thought if better for one to suffer, than so many noble fellows should starve. Calling the officer, I told him I was the leader and had instigated the plot. The remainder of the company was dismissed, while I was held in custody and sentenced to be shot. Being informed that the sentence would be executed that night, I obtain permission to write to friends. I changed my mind and told the guard it would make no difference to them, as they already thought me dead. I would not now add a fresh pang to their sorrow. They said I should not be let off so easily. Instead of mercifully putting an end to my suffering, they fastened a 50-pound ball to my leg. I was not relieved of this until June 26th, when it is needless to say; my ankle was cut to the bone.
At that time there were thirty-two thousand prisoners of war confined within the prison pen. Deaths from starvation and scurvy averaged 120 per day. The brook running through the enclosure was fed by a spring on the west side between the dead line and stockade. All the filth within the prison pen accumulated along this stream. We strained the water between our teeth to keep the maggots out. The spring was pure and wholesome, but whenever a person presumed to reach after a drink, his hands and arms were shot, and many killed.
I have seen 50 men at a time lying in the filth bordering the steam, with their feet in the water to cool them. Their limbs swollen and bursting open to their knees with dropsy and scurvy. At the same time filled with maggots. I have seen men's eyes, ears, and mouths filled with maggots, and still possessed of life. I have seen men sitting in filth, picking from thence-undigested beans and eating them the second time. All caused by shear starvation. These things hardly seem possible, and I should scarcely venture to make the statements were I alone and not supported by witnesses who saw and shared these sufferings with me.
On the 11th of July, six of our men were hung for murdering fellow prisoners. Oh! How hunger inflames and intensifies the brutal passions of men. While enduring its excruciating pangs they look and act more like fiends than human beings.
I was taken sick with scurvy and dropsy. I was unable to take a part in plans for an escape. I could not walk; my teeth were loose, my gums decayed, and I began to think my days were numbered. My messmates, ten in number, one after another died, until only John Cotton, of Plainfield, Illinois, remained. One afternoon he said, "Well, Lloyd, who of us goes next?" I told him I thought the Rebs could not kill me. He replied that he wished he could think so; "And do you really think you will get out of this alive?" On my answering in the affirmative, he said, "When you get home, please send these things to my wife and children," and saying this he handed me a small box containing a heart and three crosses. "These are the last and only gifts I can send to my dear ones at home. Take them, Elisha, and tell them the fate of their father, and that his last moments of prayer were for them." The reader can imagine what my feelings were at separating with the last of my messmates. The next day the poor fellow faintly called to me, saying, "Well, I am now going! May God bless my wife, my little ones at home! Goodbye!" And then he breathed his last, and I was alone.
While in this condition a member of my own regiment, also a prisoner, found me, stating that he had been trading with the Johnny's, and was in possession of a stock of onions, potatoes, etc. That if I would give him my note of hand for five dollars he would give me value received in vegetables. The note was accordingly drawn and signed. I came into possession of two onions and two potatoes. However meager the supply, the investment was a good one, for from that time I began to improve.
A sick companion near me grew worse. It was evident he must soon die. He was in possession of a good pair of boots, which he told me I might have after he was dead. He grew gradually worse. When he ceased to breathe, I went for the boots, but got only one, another fellow getting the other. I told him he must give me that boot. He replied that if I was able to whip him, I could have it but not without. Well, at it we went. I beat him out of the boot. It was not much of a fight, as neither of us could stand at the time. Subsequently, I sold the boots for $250 Confederate money, a part of which I gave to the party with whom I contended. With the money arising from the sale of the boots, I purchased potatoes and onions, and was thereby kept from starvation.
We were frequently deluded into the belief that an exchange of prisoners would soon be affected. No one can imagine the happiness derived from such a hope. Then would come news of failure of efforts for our release, and sorrow and depression would take the place of former joy. Many were the prayers that went up from that prison pen that the gates of hell would open and swallow up Old Wurtz, Jeff Davis, and the Southern Confederacy. I believe there was one time I prayed myself.
About the first of October, exchanges were made. The well and health being taken and the sick ones left. I was removed to what was called the hospital. A rudely constructed shed that served as a shelter from the fiery rays of the sun.
About the middle of November, a comrade who could walk informed me that a list was being taken of all who could walk a mile and a half, for the purpose of exchange. Being forewarned was to be forearmed. When they came to me and said, "Well Yank, how far can you walk?" I replied about two miles. My name was taken, and the next morning, when called upon to go outside, I could not walk and did not know what to do. Kind comrades helped me, and I succeeded in reaching the gate. The prison officer spoke harshly to me for deceiving him, but finally I was put into a wagon, taken to the railroad and loaded into a cattle car. After many vicissitudes by rail, we arrived at Savannah. While passing the gashouse, men and women crowded its roof and showered bread and cake upon us. They were arrested by the Rebel authorities for so doing. One man in the act of giving me bread was knocked down with the butt of a gun. May heaven bless the noble men and women of Savannah. Their kindness will never be forgotten. It was the only ray of sunshine that broke through the somber clouds and cast a benignant gleam during all the dark days of captivity.
We reached the exchange boats November 20, 1864. We were once more under the protecting folds of the Stars and Stripes. To us, the transformation was as from hell to heaven. No words can express our joy at the change. Once in the hands of friends, our clothing was renewed, coffee and nourishing food (at first in small quantities) were given us. Then we steamed out upon the ocean to Annapolis. Many a poor fellow died before reaching the friendly shore.
We were carried out, and to the hospital on stretchers. Great crowds of anxious men, women and children were at the landing, looking for fathers, brothers, husbands and friends. Many were the heartbroken cries of sorrow on failing to recognize the ones for whom they sought. At the hospital we were the recipients of every care and attention that loving hearts and willing hands could bestow. The women nurses connected with the sanitary commission fulfilled all my preconceived ideas of angels in heaven.
There was nothing to cloud our happiness now except the thought of the suffering ones left behind and of those who died of starvation and inhuman treatment. More than sixteen thousand were murdered by old Captain Wurtz and Jeff Davis. The former has met his deserts, while the latter finds plenty of toadies that would go many miles to hear him speak. I would not go an inch except to see him hanged. While patriotism remains, I implore the American people not to forget the nameless graves of their sainted dead at Andersonville.