“As we entered the place, a spectacle met our eyes that almost froze our blood with horror, and made our hearts fail within us. ‘Can this be hell?’”
This was the recorded impression of a Union soldier upon entering the infamous Andersonville Prison, a Confederate prisoner of war camp for captured Union soldiers. Of the 45,000 men held there, over 13,000 died, mainly from scurvy, diarrhea, and dysentery. A member of our family was one who survived.
John W. Ward enlisted in the Twenty-First Illinois Volunteer Infantry in 1861 and fought in a number of battles. In September of 1863 at Chickamauga, the second bloodiest battle of the Civil War (behind Gettysburg), he was captured by the Confederates. He was then force marched and spent time in a number of camps: the Libby prison at Richmond Va; then at Danville; at Andersonville; at Charleston; and at Goldsboro.
In February of 1865, Ward became part of a prisoner exchange, effecting his release. It could have been sooner but the prisoner exchange agreement that had been a standard practice since 1862 was suspended by Abraham Lincoln in July of 1863 (two months before Ward’s capture). It was suspended because Confederate forces were refusing to release black prisoners, classifying them as slaves to be returned to their owners instead of soldiers to be released back north. The exchange program didn’t officially resume until January of 1865. Ward was released a month later.
Ward went on to marry Lucinda Larimore in 1866, started farming in the Crooked Creek township in Illinois, and raised five children. He was the step-son of the 3rd great-grand aunt of my niece’s husband. He died in 1933 at the age of 91.
Michael Ondrasik and Home Video Studio specialize in the preservation of family memories through the digitalization of film, videotape, audio recordings, photos, negatives, and slides. For more information, call 352-735-8550 or visit our website.