Saturday, December 24, 2016

Diary of 1st Sergeant John L. Ransom: November 22, 1863

Belle Island, Richmond, Va. — I was captured near Rogersville, East Tennessee, on the 6th of this month, while acting as Brigade Quarter-Master Sergt. The Brigade was divided, two regiments twenty miles away, while Brigade Head-Quarters with 7th Ohio and 1st Tennessee Mounted Infantry were at Rogersville. The brigade quarter-master had a large quantity of clothing on hand, which we were about to issue to the brigade as soon as possible. The rebel citizens got up a dance at one of the public houses in the village, and invited all the union officers. This was the evening of Nov. 5th. Nearly all the officers attended and were away from the command nearly all eight and many were away all night. We were encamped in a bend of the Holston River. It was a dark rainy night and the river rose rapidly before morning. The dance was a ruse to get our officers away from their command. At break of day the pickets were drove in by rebel cavalry, and orders were immediately received from commanding officer to get wagon train out on the road in ten minutes. The quarter-master had been to the dance and had not returned, consequently it devolved upon me to see to wagon train, which I did, and in probably ten minutes the whole seventy six mule army wagons were in line out on the main road, while the companies were forming into line and getting ready for a fight. Rebels had us completely surrounded and soon began to fire volley after volley into our disorganized ranks. Not one officer in five was present; Gen. commanding and staff as soon as they realized our danger, started for the river, swam across and got away. We had a small company of artillery with us commanded by a lieutenant. The lieutenant in the absence of other officers, assumed command of the two regiments, and right gallantly did he do service. Kept forming his men for the better protection of his wagon train, while the rebels were shifting around from one point to another, and all the time sending volley after volley into our ranks. Our men did well, and had there been plenty of officers and ammunition, we might have gained the day. After ten hours fighting we were obliged to surrender after having lost in killed over a hundred, and three or four times that number in wounded. After surrendering we were drawn up into line, counted off and hurriedly marched away south. By eight o'clock at night had probably marched ten miles, and encamped until morning. We expected that our troops would intercept and release us, but they did not. An hour before daylight we were up and on the march toward Bristol, Va., that being the nearest railroad station. We were cavalrymen, and marching on foot made us very lame, and we could hardly hobble along. Were very well fed on corn bread and bacon. Reached Bristol, Va., Nov. 8th and were soon aboard of cattle cars en-route for the rebel capital. I must here tell how I came into possession of a very nice and large bed spread which is doing good service even now these cold nights. After we were captured everything was taken away from us, blankets, overcoats, and in many cases our boots and shoes. I had on a new pair of boots, which by muddying them over had escaped the rebel eyes thus far, as being a good pair. As our blankets had been taken away from us we suffered considerably from cold. I saw that if I was going to remain a prisoner of war it behooved me to get hold of a blanket. After a few hours march I became so lame walking with my new boots on that the rebels were compelled to put me on an old horse that was being lead along by one of the guard. This guard had the bed spread before spoken of. Told him I was going into prison at the beginning of a long winter, and should need a blanket, and could'nt he give me his. We had considerable talk, and were very good friends. said he rather liked me but wouldn't part with his bed spread. Didn't love me that much, treated me however with apple jack out of his canteen. I kept getting my wits together to arrange some plan to get the article in question. Finally told him I had a large sum of money on my person which I expected would be taken away from me anyway, and as he was a good fellow would rather he would have it than any one else. He was delighted and all attention, wanted me to be careful and not let any of the other rebels see the transfer. I had a lot of Michigan broken down wild cat money, and pulled it out of an inside pocket and handed him the roll. It was green paper and of course he supposed it greenbacks. Was very glad of the gift and wanted to know what he could do for me. My first proposition to him was to let me escape, but he couldn't do that, then I told him to give me the bed spread, as it might save my life. After some further parley, he consented and handed over the spread. He was afraid to look at his money for fear some one would see him, and so did not discover that it was worthless until we had become separated. Guards were changed that night and never saw him any more.

The cars ran very slow, and being crowded for room the journey to Richmond was very tedious. Arrived on the morning of Nov. 13th, seven days after capture, at the south end of the “long bridge,” ordered out of the cars and into line, counted off and started for Belle Isle. Said island is in the James River, probably covers ten or twelve acres, and is right across from Richmond. The river between Richmond and the island is probably a third or half a mile .The "long bridge " is near the lower part of the island. It is a cold, bleak piece of ground and the winter winds have free sweep from up the river. Before noon we were turned into the pen which is merely enclosed by a ditch and the dirt taken from the ditch thrown up on the outside, making a sort of breastwork. The ditch serves as a dead line, and no prisoners must go near the ditch. The prison is in command of a Lieut. Bossieux, a rather young and gallant looking sort of fellow. Is a born Southerner, talking so much like a negro that you would think he was one, if you could hear him talk and not see him. He has two rebel sergeants to act as his assistants, Sergt. Hight and Sergt. Marks. These two men are very cruel, as is also the Lieut, when angered. Outside the prison pen is a bake house, made of boards, the rebel tents for the accommodation of the officers and guard, and a hospital also of tent cloth. Running from the pen is a lane enclosed by high boards going to the water's edge. At night this is closed up by a gate at the pen, and thrown open in the morning. About half of the six thousand prisoners here have tents while the rest sleep and live out of doors. After I had been on this island two or three days, I was standing near the gate eating some rice soup out of an old broken bottle, thoroughly disgusted with the Southern Confederacy, and this prison in particular A young man came up to me whom I immediately recognized as George W. Hendryx, a member of my own company “A” 9th Mich. Cavalry, who had been captured some time before myself. Was feeling so blue, cross and cold that I didn't, care whether it was him or not. He was on his way to the river to get some water. Found I wasn't going to notice him in any way, and so proceeded on his errand. When I say that George Hendryx was one of the most valued friends I had in the regiment, this action on my part will seem strange as indeed it is. Did not want to see him or any one else I had ever seen before. Well, George came back a few moments after, looked at me a short time and says: “I believe you are John L. Ransom, Q. M Sergt. of the same Co with me, although you don't seem to recognize me.” Told him “I was that same person, recognized him and there could be no mistake about it.” Wanted to know why in the old harry 1 didn't speak to him then. After telling him just how it was, freezing to death, half starved and gray backs crawling all over me, &c., we settled down into being glad to see one another.

SOURCE: John L. Ransom, Andersonville Diary, p. 9-12

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