J.D.R. Hawkins

One bullet can make a man a hero… or a casualty.

Archive for the tag “Andersonville”

Sioux Falls and the Civil War

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Last week, my husband and I attended a presentation hosted by the Minnehaha County Historical Society in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. The program was held at the Old Courthouse Museum, and discussed “Civil War Veterans of Minnehaha County.” All of these veterans fought for the Union, and most were from the Midwest. Twenty veterans were highlighted, and most were founding fathers of Sioux Falls.

Bill Hoskins, director of the Siouxland Heritage Museums and a member of the 13th U.S. Infantry Regiment, Company D, was the speaker. According to Mr. Hoskins, there are 347 documented veterans of the Civil War who are buried in 18 cemeteries in the county. Five percent were held as prisoners of war in Andersonville, Georgia, Camp Floyd, Texas, and Libby Prison in Richmond, Virginia. There are only 55 Confederate soldiers who are buried in the Dakotas.

Over the course of the war, the Union army grew from 10,000 soldiers to over one million. Some were mustered out in the summer of 1866 in my hometown of Sioux City, Iowa. After the war, many veterans participated in westward expansion through the Homestead Act. According to Mr. Hoskins, ex-Confederates were not allowed to participate. Many Confederates who were held captive at Rock Island Prison Camp in Illinois stayed in the Dakotas to fight Indians after they took the oath.

Fort Dakota was built on the banks of the Big Sioux River in June, 1865, where Sioux Falls is now. Two hundred and twenty-one men were members of the G.A.R. in Minnehaha County, and seventy percent were farmers. Some had various professions at the same time, such as doctors and fire chiefs. They promoted veterans’ affairs, and many were members of the Mason’s. These men helped shape South Dakota into what it is today.

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Tragedy on the Mississippi

Ill-fated_Sultana,_Helena,_Arkansas,_April_27,_1865

One hundred and fifty years ago today, the worst maritime disaster in U.S. history took place. This little known event happened on the Mississippi River, not long after the Civil War ended. The name of the vessel was the Sultana.

At the close of the war, Union prisoners were released from Southern POW camps. Some of the parolees were transported to Vicksburg, Mississippi, where they awaited their release. Riverboats traveling along the Mississippi River vied for the lucrative opportunity to transport newly released prisoners to their homes in the north, and were paid handsomely by the Federal government. One such vessel, the Sultana, was chosen to transport Andersonville and Alabama prisoners, who were crowded onto the boat, surpassing the 376 person limit.

The boat made its way upriver to Helena, Arkansas, where the above photo was taken. It docked in Memphis, and shortly before 2 a.m., set off for Cairo, Illinois. However, seven miles north of Memphis, the boat suddenly exploded, sending burning prisoners to their deaths or into the icy cold river, which was flooded and swollen with spring thaw. Those who weren’t burned to death or drowned managed to make their way to the riverbanks, and waited for rescue while they watched the unmanned boat spin helplessly in the water, aflame in the night sky. After being rescued, the surviving Union soldiers were taken to hospitals in Memphis. Many succumbed to their wounds, or to their weakened state as POW’s, but some survived. Approximately 1,800 of the 2,427 passengers perished.

Controversy still surrounds the tragedy, including a conspiracy theory that Confederates sabotaged the boat, but this was never proven. It is believed that a faulty boiler actually caused the explosion. Although the riverboat was overloaded, and some people were rumored to have taken bribes, no one was ever held accountable.

Today, there are monuments signifying the event. One is located in Elmwood Cemetery in Memphis. The disaster was overshadowed by President Lincoln’s assassination, as well as the manhunt for his killer, John Wilkes Booth, who was killed the day before in Virginia. The Sultana tragedy was barely reported in newspapers. Americans were tired of war and death, so the horrific event was essentially ignored. It was a terrible ending to a terrible war.

Haunted Civil War Prisons

Since so much death surrounded Civil War prisons, it only makes sense that unsettled spirits still haunt these places. Thousands died, both North and South, from malnutrition, dysentery, and disease. We only have a few old reminders left, but in some places, there are other, more unworldly reminders as well.

One such place is, of course, Andersonville, Georgia, the site of the infamous prison camp. The suffering that took place within the barracks was immeasurable: men virtually starved to death, or died a slow, rotting death brought on by scurvy. They were forced to live in their own filth, eat raw birds and rats if they were lucky enough to catch any, and tolerate weather and overcrowded conditions. After the prison was finally closed, hauntings in the area began. It is said that some of the prison’s former inmates still wander the grounds, as does the ghost of Henry Wirz, Andersonville’s commandant. Some think that Wirz was wrongly accused and executed, so therefore, he still walks the road in search of retribution.

Another haunted prison is the Old Brick Capitol Prison. The prison was torn down in the 1920’s, and the U.S. Supreme Court building was erected on the site. But the ghosts still remain, although they were more prevalent when the Old Brick Capitol still stood. Ghosts that haunted the place included Henry Wirz, who was executed there, as was Mary Surratt, who some believe was innocent of conspiring in Lincoln’s assassination. She has appeared on the anniversary of her hanging. Moaning, weeping, and sighing echoed within its walls, as well as screams, cries, and phantom footsteps. Laughter and the sound of cell doors slamming, although the doors had been removed, also permeated the building.

Just outside of St. Louis in Alton, Illinois, strange sights and sounds occur where a Confederate penitentiary once stood. As in many prisons of the time, a small pox epidemic spread through the camp, killing thousands. A small portion of the prison’s wall amazingly still remains, as does an old building known as the “Blaske building.” Reportedly, strange things have occurred there, from apparitions appearing to doors slamming to things moving on their own inside the building. An eerie essence surrounds the area. Residual impressions have been seen by locals that resemble tattered Confederate prisoners.

Point Lookout, Maryland is also a famous prison that is said to be haunted. By the end of the war, over 4,000 prisoners had died there. Although the location is now a welcoming state park and recreation area, several buildings that housed the prison remain, and ghosts of Confederate soldiers still frequent it. Many visitors to the park have witnessed apparitions, as have the park rangers. Sounds of ghostly footsteps, slamming doors, and even snoring have been heard. Creepy voices have been recorded within the park, and it is a favorite place for seances and ghost hunters, because strange phenomena happens so frequently. Remarkably, the rangers keep a record of all the bizarre happenings that take place in the park, and hold a ghost tour every October.

Haunted Civil War

Halloween is one of my favorite holidays. While my kids were growing up, I enjoyed wearing costumes and going trick-or-treating as much as they did. My house was decked out in black and orange (my high school colors, BTW), rivaling Christmas in the decorations I displayed. For some reason, I’ve always been fascinated with the macabre, mysterious, and melancholy. Maybe that’s why I’m a Civil War author!

During the next few weeks, in honor of the month of October and Halloween, I’m dedicating my blog to unexplained, ghostly incidents in relation to the War Between the States. From Gettysburg to Andersonville and Chickamauga to Shiloh, tales of Civil War ghosts who never found their way home abound. Not only do these apparitions still walk the battlefields where they fell, but also dwell in their previous residences and “haunts,” so to speak.

I believe you’ll find these spectral sightings to be nothing less than spellbinding. Although many claim ghosts don’t exist, it’s hard to deny their presence, since many (living) people have witnessed sightings over the years. Reports of ghostly appearances started soon after the bloody battles ended, and still happen to this day. So enter the haunted dwellings of the Civil War soldiers, civilians, and casualties. (Feel free to tell us about your experiences as well!)

The Sultana

A special exhibit is on display in Marion, Arkansas through March 25. It tells the story of the Sultana, which was America’s greatest maritime tragedy. The riverboat exploded and burned on the Mississippi River just north of Memphis early on the morning of April 27, 1865. Over laden with paroled Union soldiers released from Andersonville and Cahaba prisons, the steamship was designed to carry only 376 passengers, but over 2400 were loaded on. About 1800 perished, which was 200 more than the number of souls who were lost in the sinking of the Titanic. 

 

Marion is the closest in proximity to where the Sultana now lies, several feet below the surface in a local farmer’s field. Mound City was the last place the Sultana stopped before it headed northward, but the town doesn’t exist any longer. Local citizens went out on boats and pulled as many survivors out of the cold, rushing waters of Old Man River as they could, but after twelve hours, no more survivors were found, including the ship’s captain, J.C. Mason.

 

The exhibit sheds light on the tragedy, displays artifacts that survived, and features a short film telling the story of that fateful night. Many paintings depicting the tragedy are on display as well. It is the hope that if the exhibit attracts enough people, the town of Marion will invest in a permanent museum. On Sunday, several reeanctors and historians were on hand to discuss the Sultana.

Haunted Civil War Prisons

Since so much death surrounded Civil War prisons, it only makes sense that unsettled spirits still haunt these places. Thousands died, both North and South, from malnutrition, dysentery, and disease. We only have a few old reminders left, but in some places, there are other, more unworldly reminders as well.

One such place is, of course, Andersonville, Georgia, the site of the infamous prison camp. The suffering that took place within the barracks was immeasurable: men virtually starved to death, or died a slow, rotting death brought on by scurvy. They were forced to live in their own filth, eat raw birds and rats if they were lucky enough to catch any, and tolerate weather and overcrowded conditions. After the prison was finally closed, hauntings in the area began. It is said that some of the prison’s former inmates still wander the grounds, as does the ghost of Henry Wirz, Andersonville’s commandant. Some think that Wirz was wrongly accused and executed, so therefore, he still walks the road in search of retribution.

Another haunted prison is the Old Brick Capitol Prison. The prison was torn down in the 1920’s, and the U.S. Supreme Court building was erected on the site. But the ghosts still remain, although they were more prevalent when the Old Brick Capitol still stood. Ghosts that haunted the place included Henry Wirz, who was executed there, as was Mary Surratt, who some believe was innocent of conspiring in Lincoln’s assassination. She has appeared on the anniversary of her hanging. Moaning, weeping, and sighing echoed within its walls, as well as screams, cries, and phantom footsteps. Laughter and the sound of cell doors slamming, although the doors had been removed, also permeated the building.

Just outside of St. Louis in Alton, Illinois, strange sights and sounds occur where a Confederate penitentiary once stood. As in many prisons of the time, a small pox epidemic spread through the camp, killing thousands. A small portion of the prison’s wall amazingly still remains, as does an old building known as the “Blaske building.” Reportedly, strange things have occurred there, from apparitions appearing to doors slamming to things moving on their own inside the building. An eerie essence surrounds the area. Residual impressions have been seen by locals that resemble tattered Confederate prisoners.

Point Lookout, Maryland is also a famous prison that is said to be haunted. By the end of the war, over 4,000 prisoners had died there. Although the location is now a welcoming state park and recreation area, several buildings that housed the prison remain, and ghosts of Confederate soldiers still frequent it. Many visitors to the park have witnessed apparitions, as have the park rangers. Sounds of ghostly footsteps, slamming doors, and even snoring have been heard. Creepy voices have been recorded within the park, and it is a favorite place for seances and ghost hunters, because strange phenomena happens so frequently. Remarkably, the rangers keep a record of all the bizarre happenings that take place in the park, and hold a ghost tour every October.

Haunted Civil War

Halloween is one of my favorite holidays. While my kids were growing up, I enjoyed wearing costumes and going trick-or-treating as much as they did. My house was decked out in black and orange (my high school colors, BTW), rivaling Christmas in the decorations I displayed. For some reason, I’ve always been fascinated with the macabre, mysterious, and melancholy. Maybe that’s why I’m a Civil War author!

During the next few weeks, in honor of the month of October and Halloween, I’m dedicating my blog to unexplained, ghostly incidents in relation to the War Between the States. From Gettysburg to Andersonville and Chickamauga to Shiloh, tales of Civil War ghosts who never found their way home abound. Not only do these apparitions still walk the battlefields where they fell, but also dwell in their previous residences and “haunts,” so to speak.

I believe you’ll find these spectral sightings to be nothing less than spellbinding. Although many claim ghosts don’t exist, it’s hard to deny their presence, since many (living) people have witnessed sightings over the years. Reports of ghostly appearances started soon after the bloody battles ended, and still happen to this day. So enter the haunted dwellings of the Civil War soldiers, civilians, and casualties. (Feel free to tell us about your experiences as well!)

Andersonville Living History Weekend

This weekend, a living history re-enactment will take place at the Andersonville National Historic Site in Georgia. The event will feature prisoners, guards, and the grim living conditions that took place at what was originally known as “Camp Sumter.” Two authors are also slated to attend. A candlelight tour of the cemetery is planned for Saturday evening. There is no admission fee, but reservations are recommended. More information is available at www.andersonvillegeorgia.com.

Andersonville has acquired the most notorious reputation of all Civil War POW camps, although such atrocious camps existed in the north as well. Prisons on both sides combined totaled three dozen, ranging from Texas to New York. Andersonville was built to hold 6,000 men, but swelled to over 45,000. Prisoners had to endure rancid conditions in all kinds of weather. The prison was plagued with disease, vermin, contaminated water, and attacks by fellow inmates who called themselves “Raiders.” Over 13,000 perished, and during the summer of 1864, 100 prisoners died every day. Andersonville’s commandant, Captain Henry Wirz, was the only Confederate to be tried and hanged for war crimes on November 10, 1865. 

The site is located on Georgia Highway 49, approximately 10 miles northeast of Americus and 10 miles south of Oglethorpe. Andersonville National Historic Site is a unit of the National Park System. It includes a reconstructed section of the prison, many monuments, (among trees with cavities dug at their roots by POW’s for water or escape) and a museum which houses artifacts and is sectioned off to display and honor POW’s from other American wars. Andersonville is not an easy place to visit, but is a standing reminder of the horrible conditions that prisoners of war were forced to endure.

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