Today’s Sufferable Yet Truly Morbid Fact!
Between February, 1864 and April, 1865 it is estimated that 45,000 Union prisoners were confined in the Confederate stockade, Camp Sumter, near Anderson Station, Georgia, forever to be remembered as Andersonville. Of that number, approximately 25,000 men survived their prison experience and returned home to tell their tale of suffering. It is unknown how many survivors, with their health and lives shattered, died as a direct result of their captivity after returning to civilian life. Close to 13,000 Union soldiers did “give up the ghost” at Andersonville, and it was the ghost of Andersonville that haunted the survivors for the rest of their lives.
The following is an excerpt from the account of Harry A. Harmen, Troop A, 12th New York Cavalry, who was captured at Plymouth, N.C. on April 20, 1864.
Scattered among the crowd, and stretched out on the ground (not only here but all over the camp) were men in the last stages of disease, generally that of bowels and other kindred complaints. As the coarse food that was issued to the prisoners only aggravated complaints of this kind, which were the most prevalent, the prisoners died by the hundreds. It was such a common occurrence to see men dying in all manner of places and conditions that it was looked upon with indifference and caused no remark; it was part and parcel of the place, and we had become so accustomed to it that we thought nothing of it.
Down by the branch at any time of the day or night men by the score could be found dead or dying. They would crawl as near to the water as they could get, and then, being too weak to get over the filth that bordered and blocked the stream, would give up in despair, after trying in vain to reach the water, being too exhausted to go back where they started from they would, after terrible suffering, give up the ghost.
The dead were picked up every morning, carried to the gate and laid out in a row, ready for the dead-wagon to draw them out. Very few bodies would be left with any clothing on them; it would be in the majority of cases be stripped from them before the breath had left the body.
Many were the fights for dead mens’ rags. It was pitiable to view the naked dead as they were pitched like cord-wood into the wagon preparatory to their ride to the deadhouse or cemetery. They were thrown indiscriminately. It was horrible to see the heads, arms and legs as they swung back and forth with the jolting motion of the wagon. This wagon was made to do double duty, for it not only carried the dead out in the morning, but it brought in our rations of bread in the afternoon, not as much as being swept out. As an appetizer I think this was a success, especially after noting the condition of the load in the morning, which certainly could be classed as perishable freight.
Legend Du Jour!
It’s time to step into the Supernatural World for another creepy olde legend, as culled from the Time-Life book The Enchanted World – Ghosts.
In Brittany, Death was a man known as the Ankou. Some said he was none other than the fratricide Cain, eldest son of Adam, who was doomed to roam the earth forever as a collector of human carrion. Others thought that he was the ghost of the last man to die each year, coming back to fill new graves before yielding place to his successor. Most people simply accepted him as Death.
All agreed, however, about his appearance. Tall and gaunt, often wearing a wide-brimmed hat, and sometimes manifest as a whitened skeleton swathed in a ragged shroud, the Ankou was a night-stalker, emerging when prudent folk were safely indoors. He walked the lanes of the province with a peculiar, awkward gait, his head turning stiffly from side to side with each step, scenting the air, for his eye sockets were empty. The Ankou was blind. Sometimes he carried a club or a sword, sometimes he went about with a scythe slung over his shoulder. Always he was accompanied by a cart drawn by horses or oxen, which he used to carry away those he had come to claim. This betrayed his presence. Living folk in their houses could hear through the shutters the creaking of the cart wheels and the heavy footfalls of the death bringer.
Once, it was said, the Ankou could see, an eerie flame flickered in the eye sockets. But that light was snuffed out by a being more powerful than the Ankou himself.
It happened, the story goes, that Saint Peter descended to earth and fell into step beside the Ankou and his cart. The two powerful beings walked in silence down a dirt lane bordered by hayfields. There, in the late dusk, a farmer and his servant still labored. At the sound of the cart’s creaking axle, the birds ceased their singing and the farmer dropped to the ground, attempting to make himself invisible. He motioned his servant to do the same.
The servant was a simple man, however. Like most Bretons, he had a fine musical voice, and he continued to scythe the hay, singing a gay and lilting song as loudly as he could to keep up his courage.
The Ankou brought the cart to a half, and the gaunt face turned toward the singer. ‘You will be dead in eight days,’ he said dully. But the servant only sang louder. At this challenge, the green fire blazed in the Ankou’s eyes, and he turned to his companion, ready to prove his power.
But Saint Peter defended the servant and berated the Ankou for wishing capricious death on an honest man engaged in honest labor. He wished the servant an extra measure of years. And as for the Ankou, Saint Peter struck the creature blind, putting out the light in the deathly eyes.