Sunday, October 2, 2011

Life and Death In Rebel Prisons by Robert H. Kellogg

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Originally published in 1865, this book is not one you would pick up at your corner bookstore. It's not even one you'd come across in a general book search. It was recommended to me as a "must have" for my recent research on the topic of prisoners of war.

I found this copy through Abebooks.com, one of the best websites for locating obscure books. When I purchased it, I had the option of buying a newer reprint. However, I chose to spend my dollars on an original printing although it is in terrible shape (and was sold to me as such). To hold something from that time period in your hands is quite something, and for it to be a book so meaningful to its author makes it more sobering.

Robert H. Kellogg was Sergeant-Major in the 16th Regiment of the Connecticut Volunteers when he was captured by Confederate forces during the American Civil War and taken prisoner of war to the stockade in Andersonville, Georgia. As General Sherman approached the area in his march through Georgia, he was moved through Charleston to another stockade in Florence, South Carolina. (The Andersonville camp was emptied at this time and all prisoners were sent to other areas.)

It was through determination and faith that he survived his experience when so many did not. This book details his experiences and the suffering of all those who found themselves in his shoes.

You cannot read a book like this without a great deal of thought. It is a weighty subject. From the opening lines of the book:

"No chapter in this history of our unhappy civil war, is so well calculated to enlist the sympathies of the people, as the one enumerating the sorrows of our brave soldiers who have been so unfortunate as to fall into the hands of the enemy, as prisoners of war."

To his statement at the end:

"As we conclude the sad story of suffering in which our youthful soldiers have borne so conspicuous a part, we are compelled to pause and admire their noble endurance, ther cheerful sacrifices, and patriotic devotion to country amid want and hardship. They deserve a rich and lasting tribute..."

you really get a feel for the author's heart. He wanted everyone to know and no one to forget. It is sobering to realize that at the war's very end, he already felt this way. You would think that four years of civil war, a war that affected every household, would have driven it into their thinking permanently.

The language of the book is a bit flowery, as it tends to be during that time period. However, it is also truthful. The author tells of the great deprivations the captured soldiers were forced to suffer. One cannot realize, given our mentality of today, what is like to have nothing, barely even clothing to wear. The captured soldiers were given no housing. Rain, cold, sun, it all fell on them equally - nothing was provided as shelter. They were given a small stipend of food - most of the time this was cornbread made from corn cobs, sometimes rice. It was always uncooked. They were required to find their own fuel and light their own fire. They were given no fresh water and though they could buy soap, there was no where to wash. On rare occasions, they'd have beans, which were usually full of bugs, and even rarer, meat. They were never given vegetables.

As a result, scurvy was rampant. Other diseases also took their toll - dysentery and malaria were common. Gangrene was another problem. Robert Kellogg himself almost lost his hand to it. He had developed a sore on it which became infected. At one point, the surgeons decided to amputate (that being the only alternative to sure death) and he was taken in before his surgery and left to watch another man have his arm removed. Kellogg was wide awake at the time. In the end, the surgeons decided to give him another chance and he survived his experiences with his hand.

There was very little medical care. In the map of both prisons, an area is labeled "hospital," but this was not at all what we think of in this day. The author very plainly states that most went into the hospital to die. There wasn't any more shelter there than anywhere else, nor more food, nor more clothing. You laid on the ground, and if it rained you got wet. If you couldn't walk, you laid in the wet. Due to Union blockades, medicines were hard to come by, and prisoners were on the bottom of the list to receive any. As a result of the lack of knowledge of that day and the lack of supplies, many men died. Kellogg states it became easier to die than it was to live.

It must be stated that of all the prison camps, Andersonville is by far listed as the worst. Many refer to it as America's holocaust. Robert Kellogg became convinced in his stay there that their deplorable treatment was a deliberate act on the part of the Confederate government to "destroy them." This has been much debated since then, but I submit we should stop and listen to the words of a man who was actually there.

Half of the author's captured regiment died in Andersonville within seven months. He speculates the death figures from Confederate camps across the south to be some 74,000 men. That figure is staggering to me! He also comments on how local women would come to visit the Confederate soldiers only to stand and stare and laugh. Outside help was strictly forbidden.

Now, I do not expect people to run out and buy this book. It is not light, easy reading. But how could I not with my words honor the author and all those he watched suffer and die.

I'd like to end with his own words.

A leaf of a geranium, withered and faded, lay upon the table as I sat musing upon these things, and the fragile thing, broken from its stem, suggest points of contrast between itself and that living, breathing plant of human society, which had been torn from the place where it had been wont to grow, and made to droop and die in consequence. A fragrance, rich and sweet, came from the crushed and bruised leaf, more diffusive by reason of pressure, and it raised the inquiry, whether there might not be, after all, holier and more blessed influences attending the hidden properties which a mighty power had wrung out of the heart of the nation, that would have been apparent if it had never been subjected to such a process?

The delicate juices which conveyed such odor to my grateful senses, were as a voice that told how the country had been enriched by what had been evolved in the struggle to which it was called, and how individuals had been blessed, because the springs had been touched which opened the cells where the most precious incense was stored.

Altogether, it whispered of the power and blessedness of sacrifice, for it made manifest the value of those costly offerings which have been laid upon the nation's altar, and which so many have thought to be in vain. It invested the sighs, tears and groans that have been involved, with a peculiar sacredness, for they have no unimportant mission to perform in creating the more fragrant atmosphere which is to surround the people of coming time."

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Suzanne
Suzanne Williams Photography
Florida, USA

Suzanne Williams is a native Floridian, wife, and mother, with a penchant for spelling anything, who happens to love photography.

2 comments:

Sarah said...

Hi Suzanne, Robert Hale Kellogg was my grandmother's nephew!Her name was Lucy Hale Kellogg, her brother was Dr. Silas Root Kellogg. The letters written from Andersonville by RH Kellogg to his father went to Ohio. I have a copy of a letter Silas wrote to Lucy during his son's imprisonment.The original letter now belongs to the Gt. Barrington, MA Historical Society. The Kellogg's were from Sheffield, MA, just south of Gt. B. You've more media nerve than I do. Glad you liked this book. I write today because I believe it is part of my genetic makeup. Sarah Kate Wheeler Chapman in MN

Anonymous said...

Dear Miss Wheeler and Miss Williams, my name is John Roarty from New York. I just stumbled upon your blog while doing a Robert Kellogg search on Google. Enjoyed your article and posts immensely. I had just purchased a copy of the 1865 book by Mr. Kellogg. The hard cover has been through the mill but the pages are all in tact and in great condition for a book printed 100 years before I was born. I purchased mine on Ebay auctions. A steal at $55. I am not interested in it's antiquity value but it's historic value. Like you, I marvel to hold something so old in my hands and read about the accountings there in. I am a civil war reenactor (Yankee-NY) and have plunged into anything Andersonville related. A heavy subject but very sobering. Mr. Kellogg's is the second accounting I am reading. First being from John. L. Ransom's experience on audio book and a printed copy from 1963. Also purchased on Ebay. Waiting in the wings to read is another book printed in 1875 by John McElroy, another Andersonville Survivor. His book also purchased on Ebay at $57. Beautiful pieces of history sold for so little but to me worth their weight in gold. I have begun a twitter account > @John_L_Ransom < to post the accountings of all three soldiers while in Andersonville. Something creative as far as writing with my own fictional gestures inserted but keeping the original wording of the soldiers in tact from their diary entries. Have a great day!

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