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Hoosiers at Andersonville

 
 

 The first Hoosier to die at Andersonville was Pvt. John Melton of Knox County, who was serving with Co. C, 80th Indiana Regiment. Melton died on February 20, 1864, just five days after the prison opened.  Just a few weeks later, Pvt. William Smiley of Gibson County died.  During the period of February, 1864 to April, 1865, there were almost 600 Indiana soldiers who died and were buried at the Andersonville graveyard.  In additional 100 Hoosiers were also buried there after dying in surrounding prisons or in small battles in central Georgia.  The last known Indiana soldier to die in the prison was Pvt. G. W. Staley of the 72nd Indiana, who died of diarrhea and dysentery on March 24, 1865, just two weeks before the prison was closed.

Several Hoosiers died as a result of their wounds.  These were Sgt. Charles Dick, 53rd Regiment, of Spencer County;  Pvt. Robert Smith, 38th Regiment, of Monroe County;  and Pvt. Robert Green, 72nd Regiment, of Boone County.  Pvt. Charles Weibel of Company F, 13th Indiana Infantry, a friend of Lessel Long, suffered a severe head wound and then died at Andersonville because of lack of proper medical attention.


On July 19, 1864, the greatest number of deaths occurred among the Indiana prisoners.  Pvt. Michael Dougherty, a Medal of Honor winner from Pennsylvania, recorded the event in his small diary:

     July 20.  "One hundred and thirty prisoners died yesterday, it is so hot we are almost roasted.  There were 127 of my regiment captured the day I was, and of that number eighty-one have since died and the rest are more dead than alive;  exposure and long confinement is doing its work among us.  There are 37,000 men crowded into a space of twenty-six acres."


In August, 1864, one of the most famous events at Andersonville took place.  Several thousand prisoner's started a day and night prayer vigil for rain to provide much needed water.  A large thunderstorm struck and the heavy rain opened an old spring that had been clogged for years.  The spring was immediately named "Providence Spring" by the grateful prisoners.  Lessel Long gives this account:

     "I often stood in line for one hour to get a chance at the spring.  After the spring was an assured fact, the rebels caused boxes to be made about fourteen inches wide and about the same depth, and fourteen feet long, which they placed at the spring, commencing at the branch, placing the first one with just sufficient fall to carry off the water.  The end of the second one was placed on the end of the first, the other end extending up the hill, and son on until six or eight of these boxes were so placed and afforded plenty of water for the entire stockade and of a good quality.  The spring is still running to this day.  After this we had no more trouble for water.  You can call this a miracle, or what you please."

On July 22, 1864, six leaders of the "Raiders" were hung by a group of prisoners called the "Regulators."  The Raiders were a group of prisoners who became prison gangsters, robbing and murdering their fellow captives.  The Regulators arrested the six leaders and hanged them for their crimes.  Many Hoosiers served in the Regulators and helped put an end to the reign of terror of the Raiders.


 By April, 1865, the camp had been emptied of its prisoners when the South transferred the Andersonville contingent to other camps.  In July, 1865, an inspection group headed by Clara Barton arrived.  Their purpose was to locate and properly mark the several thousand graves there.  By using hospital records kept by a prisoner, the group was able to mark with correct names all but 400 of the 13,000 graves.

Captain Wirz went on trial charged with "conspiracy to kill and weaken Union soldiers" in August, 1865.  President of the military court trying Wirz was Major General Lew Wallace of Indiana.  Wirz was sentenced to be hanged and was duly executed at Washington's Old Capital Prison on November 10, 1865.

After the prison closed, the site was returned to private ownership with the exception of the graveyard which became a national cemetery.  In 1890, the G. A. R. purchased the old prison site and then turned it over to the federal government, which combined it with the national cemetery.  Today, over 150,000 tourists visit each year this hallowed plot of American history.

In 1908, the state of Indiana erected a large monument honoring her sons who lie buried at Andersonville.  The monument has an inscription on its south side that attests to the great sacrifice her sons made during their stay at the terrible prison.  The tribute to the Hoosier soldiers is as follows:  

 "Indiana mourns for her fallen heroes,

who for the cause they loved, gave up

their lives at Andersonville Prison

from February, 1864 to April, 1865.

Death did not affright them,

Nor fear subdue them,

Nor could famine breach their

incorruptible Spirit."

Source:  Tales of Our Hoosier Heritage by Arville L. Funk 

Madison County Historical Society|15 West 11th Street, P. O. Box 696, Anderson, Indiana 46015-0696|(765) 683-0052|madisonchs@sbcglobal.net

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