Prison stands as a monument to America's prisoners of war. Veterans of all wars
visit this place and all but the strongest are moved to tears by what they hear
and see. This was a place, in South Georgia, where Union prisoners suffering
from hunger and sickness turned into animals and preyed upon their fellow man.
They died by the hundreds, then by the thousands at this place. The dead were
placed, front to back, in long rows. The last man who died at Andersonville was
Knud Hanson of the 1st Wisconsin Cavalry. He was placed in grave number 12,848.
Civil War prisons on both the Union and Confederate side were terrible places.
John L. Ramsom of the Ninth Michigan Cavalry was only 20 years
old when he was a prisoner at Andersonville. His diary has been made into a
book. He wrote:
In April one in every sixteen died.
In May one in every twenty-six died.
In June one in every twenty-two died.
In July one in every eighteen died.
In August one in eleven died.
In September one in every three died.
In October one in every two died.
In November one in every three died.
Thanks to careful recording of the names by Confederate
soldiers, a list of the dead survived the war. After the war, a little known
battlefield nurse by the name of Clara Barton came to this place and saw to it
that each man received his own headstone with reference to his name and
The 15th Wisconsin at Andersonville
Hans Gundersen Haugen from Hjartdal was
captured during the Battle of New Hope Church in Georgia in May of 1864. He was
sent to Andersonville prison and by October he was dead. He was one of 43 of his
regiment that died there. However, it is from the survivors of Andersonville
that we learn of the horrors experienced there. Ole Steensland of Moscow, Iowa
County, Wisconsin survived to tell his story. The author wishes to thank his
ancestor Edith Lea of Milan, Minnesota for providing materials for this article.
Ole Steensland of Company E and Osmund Johnson of Company K of
the 15th were both over eleven months in Andersonville, and were according to
reports, two who remained the longest, alive. Years later, on August 29, 1900,
Ole Steensland spoke at the Regiment's reunion in Chicago. He reflected on that
day at the battle of Chickamauga when Ole Milesten was killed on his right and
Christian Thompson on his left. He took a bullet through the cap and was
captured. "Sometimes, when I was a prisoner of war, I wished I had died that
day, so that I did not have to suffer and rot to death in the South's prisons. I
will say to you who did not see the horrors of that hell, Andersonville, cannot
imagine the terrible sights and all the misery there was there. The Southerners
would gather up the dead and place them in rows between the stockade and the
deadline. There they dug a ditch 6 feet wide, so they could put them down side
by side. They hauled the dead to the graveyard in wagonloads, as the farmers
haul fence posts. Robberies and disorder were commonplace. When new prisoners
came in that the Rebels had not stripped, then our men stripped them, so we
could hear screams of murder and hold-ups every night. It was complete anarchy
that reigned. At last, the better element organized themselves and called
themselves 'regulators'. The regulators asserted control and six of the
prisoners were found guilty of murder and robbery and were doomed to be hanged
on July 11, 1864. The first thing that happened was that one of the guilty men
tried to escape, but they found him in the swamp and brought him back. So they
were taken up the scaffold and shown Eternity...all except one...a big Irishman
for whom the noose broke and he came down all right. You can be sure he cried
for mercy, but there was no mercy for him. One man named Limber Jim said, 'you
robbed me of $80 when I came in here, and now you shall, by God, hang'. And
hanged he was."
After the war, when asked how it was that so many Norwegians
were taken prisoner, one old veteran replied, "We didn't know enough to beat it
when we had the opportunity - when the others ran". "We thought we could make
out a little longer; then it was too late to escape - they took us". "Some were
left lying on the ground because they waited too long".
Osmund Johnson, the long-term survivor of Andersonville was
described as being very skinny and unable to stand due to the effects of scurvy.
He is one of the very few 15th soldiers who survived such a long stay in
Andersonville. As a result of his experience as a prisoner, it is said he
believed virtually everything was edible and for the remainder of his life could
not tolerate hearing complaints about food.
The author is Gene Estensen and his ancestors were pioneers from Tinn,
Telemark, Norway. He was born at Morris, Stevens County, Minnesota but now
resides at Marietta, Georgia. He is a Civil War history buff and lives on the
battlefield at Kennesaw Mountain.