Sunday, May 5, 2013

The Fate of the Andersonville Raiders

The gate of Andersonville, as drawn by artist T. Miller sometime in 1864. Library of Congress.
For most posts about Sergeant John L. Hoster's journey, from Cold Harbor to Andersonville, click here.

Sergeant John L. Hoster arrived at Camp Sumter Military Prison in Andersonville, Georgia in the midst of a terrible rain storm on the afternoon of Sunday, June 19th. For nearly three months, until September 8th, 1864, Hoster was confined within the stockade walls of this hellish camp. Originally designed to hold 10,000 prisoners when it opened in February of 1864, by August this 26.5 acre site held over 32,000 Union soldiers. Hoster's diary provides us with a look at the horrifying nature of the suffering that took place here, while also showcasing the remarkable resilience of the Union soldiers held here.
 Friday, June 24th
Sultry. I have been scouting around, to see the boys, reading the testament, etcetera today. The heat during the day is most intense! I was down on Broadway, a street running from the main gate. There I saw articles of different rinds for sale. Small potatoes $1.00 per doz., onions large size $1.00 each, those that just commenced their growth $.10 each, meal biscuits and flour biscuits small size $.25 each, eggs three for $1.00, cucumbers large size $.30 each. A kind of beer made with meal and water $.05 for a teacupful. Pancakes $.10 each, common size hoecake $1.00, peanuts $.25 per cup, beans and peas - old - $.25 per pint, meal from $.10 to $.13 per quart.
Throughout the summer, rumors circulated about the potential of being exchanged. Time and again the rumors proved false, only adding mental torture to go along with the physical suffering at the camp. After a while, many of the prisoners undoubtedly learned to distrust everything they heard.
Monday, June 27th
Sultry. We were favored with a refreshing breeze this afternoon. The mush we drew last night was not cooked at all. We made a sort of gruel of the remainder this morning. I boiled some mush with an old pork bone that I had left in my haversack for my dinner. The bread we drew this evening was but half baked and sour at that. I ate the whole of it for supper to prevent its getting worse, although it nearly gagged me. Rumors still continue to circulate that we are to be paroled or exchanged in July. God grant that it may be true. Tom Pringle overheard one of the rebel sergts. say that a detail was wanted to build seats to convey our sick and wounded to Savannah and bring the rebel prisoners from there to here.
An image of Andersonville taken on August 17, 1864. Library of Congress.
The desperation of the camp created terrible scenes. A gang of Union soldiers, known as the Raiders, armed themselves with clubs and knifes and victimized other soldiers, particularly newly arrived prisoners loaded down with rations and other valuable commodities. Many in the camp however, would not be intimidated, and organized to fight back against these villians. Hoster's diary details many of the actions of the Raiders, and their ultimate fate.
Tuesday, June 28th
Sultry.... A squad of raiders visited the tent near ours last night and attempted to relieve a fellow of some money. He gave the alarm and our little neighborhood was out with clubs in short order and the raiders made good their escape. The intended victim recognized one of the squad as being one of his regt. These villains make a practice of robbing new prisoners of watches, money, blankets, haversacks, or whatever valuables they may possess. They are generally punished by shaving their heads or something equally as bad.
On the afternoon of Wednesday, June 29th, Captain Henry Wirz, commander of the prison addressed the camp about the problem of the raiders from the dead line.
He said it was no more that right if 26,000 men allowed a band of 50 to run them. Complaints were entered along the line and finally the old Dutch Capt. swore that no more rations should be issued until the raiders were delivered and he would punish them severely. A man that was stabbed by them on the other side of the creek obtained permission to go out and see the Capt. A guard soon came in and the raiders were betrayed and served up to the number of 84. 14 ringleaders were retained by the Capt. and he brought the remainder to the gate and told the boys to do with them as they pleased. A line was formed on either side of the path and each and every raider was compelled to run the gauntlet, getting a beautiful pelting with clubs. The boys were greatly pleased to see them taken out by the guard, giving vent to their feeling by furious yells. The excitement in the meantime was intense.
On the 30th, the excitement continued, as the raiders' shebangs were searched.
The regulators, as they call themselves, are headed by a stout fellow whom they call Lumber Jim. He is an artillery Sergt., wears a fancy red shirt, a sailor cap and has a lurid red stripe on his pants. The raiders were taken outside and tried by a court martial. A band of colored troops, I understand tries them, and the jury consists of boys from the camp. The report tonight is that some of them are to be hung, and the remainder sent to our lines with ball and chain, at the first exchange, to let our Government punish them as they please.
On July 11th, the six ringleaders of the raiders (Willie Collins, John Sarsfield, Charles Curtis, W.R. Riekson, Patrick Delaney, and A. Munn) met their fate. Sergeant Hoster described the scene in detail:
Monday, July 11th
Sultry. Intense excitement prevailed in camp today on account of the execution of six raiders named respectively Charles Curtis, 5th R.I. Artillery, Pat Delaney, B. 83rd Penn., John Champlain, Co. 140 N.Y., Terry Sullivan, 76 N.Y. These were ringleaders of a large band of raiders that began murdering and plundering at Belle Island and went on unmolested until lately. They were the terror of the camp, so bold had they become that it was a common thing for them to knock a man down and rifle his pockets in broad daylight. On the 29th of June as Capt. Wirtz, camp commandant, was passing round the dead line, some of the boys complained to him of the depredations committed by these raiders. He remarked that it was no more than right that we should suffer if we allowed 50 men to rule 26,000. Before leaving camp he declared that no more rations should be issued to the camp until the raiders were delievered, that he would "fix" them. Accordingly, in the P.M. a committee was formed styling themselves The Regulators, under the command of Lumber Jim, a sergt. of artillery. A guard was sent in to back them and shebangs were searched and raiders upwards of 80 were taken out. A court martial was convened a day or two after, a Union officer from Macon being present and the jury and witnesses consisted of men from this camp. .The sentences, I understand, were signed by all our officers at Macon. Several were convicted and six sentenced to be hung and the remaineder are to be kept in irons till a parole or exchange is effected. Today at 5 P.M. is the time set for the execution. During the day the scaffold was erected. It consisted of 2 uprights 4 inch scaffolding and two pieces of the same formed a beam to which the uprights were mortised. The drop was centered in the middle and supported on each side by a heavy standard. About 4 o'clock the ropes were put up and a curious crowd began to assemble. The hoods, or rather meal sacks, were then placed upon the scaffold and everything was in readiness for the prisoners. Lumber Jim, who is foreman of the affair, soaked the ropes well in order to make them work easily. Then the scoundrels were brought in under a heavy guard accompanied by a Catholic priest and Capt. Wirtz himself. Capt. Wirtz was mounted on a gray horse and as soon as the prisoners were halted he called the crowd to order and remarked, "That you have tried these men and sentenced them to be hung. I have taken them and kept them for you and I now return them in as good condition as I received them. Do with them as you think right and may God be with them and you too." The regulators formed a strong guard around the scaffold then took charge of the prisoners and the Capt. marched his guard out. The priest then went through with the ceremony and the prisoners hands were tied behind them. During this operation Curtis, the ringleader, made a break through the crowd and tried to escape. He succeeded in getting across the creek, but was there surrounded and brought back. He also made several attempts to escape on his return to the scaffold. When retaken the blood was running out of his ear on account of the knocks received from the regulators. He threw his hands in the air and remarked that he would die there sooner than be taken on the other side and hung. As he made the break the crowd began to rush from the scaffold, thinking an attempt would be made to rescue the prisoners. During the excitement, one man fell into a well and remained there during the execution despite his yells. The rebels outside that had assembled to witness the scene ran back from in front of the artillery. When Curtis came back the other five were standing on the scaffold with a rope around their necks. Curtis was soon in his place. He confessed that he was easily led astray, but he never thought it would come to this. He requested some of his friends to come forward as he wished to see them but his friends, if he had any, did not make their appearance. He then requested his watch be left with his friends or with Father Martin, N.Y.C. At precisely 5 P.M. the drop fell, Mosby's rope broke and he fell to the ground. Curtis fell farther than the rest and died very soon. Mosby when he fell begged for some of his friends to come forward and rescue him. He offered Lumber Jim $1000 to save his life. Lumber Jim replied, "You followed me for my money, I'm now following you for your life." He then took him up on the scaffold adjusted the rope and hood - then jerked the scaffold from under him. After they had hung till they were dead, dead, dead they were cut down and the crowd began to dispense. I learned that one of them had a dagger in his pocket in hopes that an attempt would be made to rescue him. Lumber Jim, however, had a large knife in his hand all the while during the execution.
The execution of these ringleaders removed the fear of raiders from the day-to-day routine of life at Andersonville. It did nothing to relieve the squalor, disease and starvation that John and more than 30,000 other prisoners continued to suffer in the midst of Georgia's mid-summer heat.

A note on sources: The primary source materials in this post come from Collection 345 in the Special Collections of the New York State Historical Association Library in Cooperstown, New York: The Sergeant John L. Hoster Collection, 1862-1865.

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