This personable first hand account of the American Civil War was written by William Tyler of the 9th Illinois Cavalry of the Union Army. It is an eye-witness narrative where the good nature of the author shines through the text and, as a consequence, as well as being a first rate source work of the horse soldiers in blue it is also a story full of humour, adventure and anecdote. The first part of the narrative deals with the business of war from the perspective of a trooper in the Union Cavalry, but Tyler’s role was soon to change due to his singular success in the carrying of an important dispatch. As often happens, especially in military life, having demonstrated some talent Tyler became the ‘expert on hand’ and was given further dispatches to carry through perilous, enemy occupied country on a regular basis. He gives the impression that he relished the independence of action and the adventures that came his way. Discharged after a wound, Tyler re-enlisted, not to return to his old unit but in the 95th Illinois Infantry because he wished to be close to his brother who had joined that regiment. In a battle near Guntown, Mississippi, against Forrest’s Confederates, Tyler was captured and sent to the notorious Andersonville prisoner of war jail. In the final part of his book he describes the appalling conditions and brutality suffered by the Union men in Andersonville which makes for revealing if harrowing reading.
Leonaur editions are newly typeset and are not facsimiles; each title is available in softcover and hardback with dustjacket.
As I said before the Johnnies brought in our mush in barrels. After it was distributed the prisoners would tip the barrels over and go in head first trying to get what was not scraped out. They fought like cats and dogs about who would get in first. All sense of manhood had left them. Starvation had made them little better than brutes. I had often tried to keep my mind off of anything to eat but it was impossible. I would dream at night that I was sitting up to a table loaded with good things, but would always wake up before I got them.<br>
About this time there was a band formed, probably the off-scourings of the city of New York. They called themselves the New York Bummers. They made up their minds to live, even if all the rest died of starvation. They were armed with clubs, and would take the mush away from the weaker ones. If the unfortunate ones were strong enough to resist they knocked them down at once; and even went so far as to kill several that refused to give up to them. We were unable to stand by and permit such outrages, for to a man who lost one ration there, it meant almost certain death. So the western prisoners pitched into these “New York Bummers” and had a regular free fight, the former coming out ahead.<br>
We then took six of the leaders, and, holding a drumhead court-martial, sentenced them to be hanged. We first sent a report through to General Sherman, explaining the matter. He sent back word to string them up. The rebels furnished the necessary timber, we built a scaffold and hanged them. From that time on every man ate his own rations.<br>
There was one very large man, who was the only fat man in the pen, among the six who were to be hanged. When they were swung off the big man broke his rope, and then you should have seen him jump to his feet, strike out right and left with his fists, and lay out fifteen or twenty men, and finally fight his way through the crowd to the creek, but the poor fellow got mired in the mud, and was captured and brought back. He looked up and saw the five swinging to and fro, and said, “I will soon be with you.”<br>
Then they adjusted the rope around his neck and swung him off.<br>
Oh, how sad it makes me feel when I get to thinking of the poor fellows that had to die in that horrible slaughter pen. I speak that which I know and testify to that which I have seen and nothing more.<br>
I have seen men go to the privy and pick up beans after they had passed through a man, and eat them. I have seen men lying on the ground calling for mothers, sisters, and brothers. No one to soothe the aching brow or whisper words of comfort, but had to die alone in that dirt and filth.
Captain Wirz got it into his head that we had arms, and were going to make a break for liberty, and on the other hand we heard that the rebels intended to take some of us out to shoot, for the Yankees had been shooting the rebel prisoners, and the rebels were going to retaliate; so one day a rebel sergeant came in and commanded about one hundred of us to fall in to go for wood. You may depend we were not long in doing so, for if there was a happy time at Andersonville it was when we were let out to get wood.<br>
Why, dear readers, I cannot describe to you the happiness which I felt to get out of that prison pen for just one hour. We formed a line and marched out. After they had marched us about half a mile from the pen they formed us in a line, with one Reb in front of each Yank, then old Wirz gave the command to ready, aim. You may be sure my heart came up into my mouth, and for a fact I thought the rebels were going to retaliate; but instead of shooting they searched us, to see if we had any arms concealed. Finding nothing of the kind, they put us back into the prison.<br>
The next day the same sergeant came in and inquired for men by the names of Root and Tyler. Tyler being my name I knew it was me he was after, but having the retaliation in my head you may be sure I kept still; but one of our own men pointed me out. The Johnnie came up to me and said, “You are wanted outside;” and looking around he found Root, and told us both to follow him. Our comrades, supposing we were to be shot, escorted us to the gate and bade us goodbye for the last time, as they thought.<br>