Saturday, April 12, 2008

Confederate 'human shields' were whittled away by starvation at hands of Union captors

By Terry Shulman

"The Immortal 600," now whittled down to 560 from malnutrition and disease, were disabused of any notions that they were about to be freed as they were led into their new surroundings: an open, half-acre pen placed squarely in the line of fire between the Union batteries on Morris Island and those defending the besieged city of Charleston.
There, just as Union Gen. John G. Foster had arranged it, they would be made to suffer in direct proportion to the sufferings of their Union counterparts at Andersonville prison. It was also hoped that their exposed position might give the Rebel gunners pause before they fired their cannons in the direction of Battery Gregg.
As in so many of the war's most thankless situations, Augusta County was there. Lieut. Samuel F. Carson of Spottswood had been captured during a skirmish at Morton's Ford in February 1864 and remanded to Ft. Delaware prison, where he remained for six months before being transferred to the open air stockade on Morris Island.
Though no personal accounts of his experiences appear to exist, his ordeal was undoubtedly similar to those of the other prisoners. As it turned out the Confederate batteries did not cease their shelling of Battery Gregg, though the battery commanders in Charleston were made aware of the captured officers' presence. The prisoners therefore would spend the next 45 days dodging shrapnel from friendly fire. Eighteen shells exploded directly over the stockade, but amazingly no one was killed.
What did kill the men was the size and quantity of their rations, doled out in minuscule portions to approximate those of Andersonville. During the Confederate shelling three men died of starvation.
By late October, Gen. Foster had tired of his experiment and requested the captive officers now be exchanged. Washington refused, transferring them instead to Fort Pulaski, Ga., where they were crowded into cold, damp casements. A month later, 197 of the men were split off from the original group and re-imprisoned at Hilton Head, South Carolina. There each man was given ten ounces of moldy cornbread and soured onion pickles to last the next 42 days. During that period another 18 officers starved to death.
Still more prisoners died from exposure and malnutrition in the winter of 1864-65. According to historian Mauriel Phillips Joslyn, by March less than 300 of the original 600 were still alive. The war was over a month later, but even this didn't guarantee them their freedom. In March they had been sent back to Fort Delaware, presumably to be fattened up to hide what the Federals done to them. It was not until July, some three months after Lee's surrender, that their appearances were deemed acceptable enough to permit their release.
Free at last, Samuel Carson wandered back to Spottswood where he would live out the remainder of his life. Despite the physical damage done to him during his brutal incarceration, Carson lived a longer than average life-span for his time, dying in 1893 at the age of 62.
Officers were used in bid to keep Confederate artillery from firing on battery .

No comments: