Andersonville - The Knox County Connection
by Terry Hogan
Most of us have heard of Andersonville. Most of us would probably recognize it as the name of a Southern prisoner of war camp during the Civil War. Many would likely recall that it had a reputation for the deaths of thousands of Northern troops. But how about the Knox County connection to Andersonville? Would you guess that any Knox County soldiers died in Andersonville? If yes, would you guess one, or three, or five, or ten? More than ten?
In Andersonville's relatively short existence, it became the point of captivity and depravity for 45,000 Union prisoners. Of this number, nearly 13,000 died at Andersonville. Andersonville had the highest mortality rate of any prisoner of war camp during the Civil War. Probably many others prisoners died later from causes attributable to Andersonville. Among those 13,000 soldiers who died while in terrible conditions at Andersonville, were men who would never see Galesburg, Knoxville, Victoria, Oneida, St. Augustine, and Lynn and Walnut Grove Townships again. I honestly don't know the total number of Knox County men who are buried at Andersonville, but I have found the names of 13 who died and were buried there.
Andersonville prison camp didn't begin to exist until late in the Civil War. In January 1864, trees were cut to begin the construction of 15 foot-high timber walls of the camp. The Georgia silent forest with its pristine soil and fresh air began the degradation. Trees would become walls. A 16.5-acre stockade designed and constructed to hold 6,000 enlisted "Yankees" would be loaded, overloaded, and then overloaded again. By June, the design capacity of 6,000 was already a memory. No less than 25,000 northern troops were confined in a space with too little food, too little water, no shelter, and no concept of sanitation. The site was expanded, but it was still overloaded. The newly captured would be shoved in the gate, and the newly dead would be carried out. The soil, the water, and even the air became foul with the filth and stench of captive, sick, and starved men.
The dead of Andersonville read like a road map of the North. Disease from overcrowding, insufficient nourishment, contaminated drinking water, and ad hoc sanitation cared took the rich and poor and the educated and uneducated. Farm boys from Iowa and Illinois died along side boys from Chicago and New York. By mid-summer of 1864, scurvy, diarrhea, dysentery, and gangrene were prevalent within the prison. Latrines were everywhere on the slopes, and human wastes washed down into the small stream that functioned as the prisoners water supply. Teeth loosened or fell out. Small cuts and scratches became ulcerated or gangrenous. On a diet of ground meal, cut with ground corncobs, prisoners that didnt die of disease or infection, wasted away to skin and bones.
But because the Civil War units from the North were not made up of random soldiers, but rather were units put together from local areas, it is likely that some areas were hit harder by the cruelty of Andersonville than others.
Looking through Knox County unit histories, I noticed that the 89th Illinois Infantry had an unusually large number of its soldiers lost as prisoners of war, dying in Andersonville. The 89th Illinois Infantry was known as the "Railroad Regiment". In August 1862, it was organized by the railroad companies of Illinois, in Chicago. The summary of the unit's history, reads as if someone who was not with the unit wrote it. Phrases such as " fought with noble heroism, and who dared to 'do and die' in defense of the 'old flag'" do not sound like the words of a veteran.
Knox County contributed many of its young men to the 89th Illinois Infantry. Of the 171 men from Knox County who went off to war with the 89th, 17 were killed, 6 were wounded, 28 were discharged, and 15 were taken prisoners. The prisoners undoubtedly had a terrible price to pay for their role in the war, given the grievous conditions found in Andersonville. Nearly all died there, leaving relatives at home to grieve.
At least ten of Knox County's men from the 89th Illinois Infantry ended up in Andersonville. At least another three soldiers from other Knox County units ended up in Andersonville. The end of their war can be summarized (all were privates):
89th Illinois Infantry POWs in Andersonville
Robert Armstrong, Knoxville, enlisted Aug. 13, 1862. Co. A. Died at Andersonville Aug. 20, 1864. Grave No. 7339.
Gardner Fuller, Galesburg, enlisted Aug. 12, 1862. Co. A. Died at Andersonville September 21, 1864. (No grave number provided in reference).
George H. Berry*, Walnut Grove, Co. G. Died at Andersonville August 6 1864. Grave No. 4855.
*It seems that Walnut Grove suffered greatly at the hands of Andersonville. But I also observed in going through the records that a Corporal Thomas Berry of Walnut Grove and also in Co. G of the 89th Illinois Infantry died near Dallas, Georgia on May 27, 1864. It seems likely that Cpl. Berry was a relative of the George Berry, listed above.
Jasper C. Codding, Victoria, Co. G. Died at Andersonville December 27, 1864. Grave No. 12,348.
Nelson Chimberg, Walnut Grove. Co. G. Died at Andersonville September 28, 1864. Grave No. 9,935.
Henry Goddard, Lynn, Co. G. Died at Andersonville December 1, 1864. Grave No. 10,307.
John L. Hall, Lynn, Co. G. Died at Andersonville December 4, 1864. Grave No. 12,223.
W. L. Higgins, Lynn. Co. G. Died at Andersonville November 11, 1864 (no grave number provided in reference).
J. R. Mitchell, Walnut Grove, Co. G. Died at Andersonville October 28, 1863 (sic)* Grave No. 11,617. *(Date has to be incorrect as Andersonville was not created until February 1864, therefore it is likely "1864" not "1863" as listed in reference.)
T. F. Whitney, Knoxville, Co. G. Died at Andersonville August 17, 1864. Grave No. 5,998.
Knox County Prisoners at Andersonville, from Other Illinois Regiments
Alfred B. Ramsey, Knoxville enlisted Sept. 23, 1861. Company K, 45th Illinois Infantry. Died at Andersonville. (No date of death given in reference). Grave No. 1765.
Henry Jackson, Knoxville, enlisted Sept. 27, 1861. Company C, 51st Illinois Infantry. Died at Andersonville June 26, 1864; Grave No. 2,658.
Robert H. Avery.* Galesburg, enlisted August 15, 1862. Prisoner of Andersonville (survived). Mustered out June 9, 1865.
* There was an R. H. Avery who became quite notable in Galesburg after the war, working with his brother in the manufacturing business. This may be the same Avery.
So what does all this mean? It is another example of the great impact that the Civil War had on our ancestors. The death, injury and cruelty we imposed upon one another has not been exceeded in the United States history. Of course, Andersonville is the worst example of prisoner of war camps during the Civil War. It was the worst for two reasons - highest mortality, and because the South lost.
But I should not leave you with too great an outrage at what the South did. I should mention Elmira, New York; Camp Douglas in Chicago; Rock Island, Illinois; and Camp Morton in Indianapolis. Elmira New York had a prisoner of war mortality rate of 24%. Camp Douglas had a mortality rate of 15%, but that represented the death of over 4,500 southern POWs. Nearby Rock Island had a 16% mortality rate, having nearly 2,000 southern prisoners die. Camp Morton, located near downtown Indianapolis had a 15% mortality rate, with nearly 1,800 POWs dying. It was a bloody time. It was often an unforgiving time. Many men were needlessly deprived of the opportunity to return home to their loved ones.
It was, more often than not, a very Un-Civil War. Both the North and the South paid dearly for the neglect of prisoners of war. Families in Galesburg, Knoxville, Walnut Grove, Lynn, and Victoria paid the price by the Andersonville connection.
Anon. 2000. "Andersonville, The Story Behind The Scenery" KC Publications, Inc.
Chapman, Chas. 1878. "History of Knox County, Illinois". Chicago. Blakely, Brown & Marsh, Printers.
Hicken, Victor. 1991. "Illinois in the Civil War". Univ. of Ill. Press. 2nd Ed.
National Park Service. Undated. "Andersonville Official Map and Guide."