For July, I thought something quintessentially American was called for, and as this is the sesquicentennial of the start of the Civil War, John Ransom’s diary of his 14 months as a P.O.W. in the Confederate prison system seemed a natural choice.
Ransom was born in 1843, and joined the Union army in 1862. He held the rank of sergeant and was the Quartermaster for Company A of the 9th Michigan Volunteer Cavalry. He was captured in Tennessee in 1863 and, after spending some time at Belle Isle prison in Virginia was sent to what is perhaps the most infamous prison camp in that brutal war – Andersonville in Georgia.
Ironically, Ransom “flanked out” (i.e. he jumped the line) to get out of Belle Isle, where he was first imprisoned, figuring any other place had to be better – was he ever wrong. In his first year at Andersonville, he writes, the combination of lack of food, poor conditions and a brutal administration result in the death of about half the prisoners at the camp.
For example, one of the “dead lines” that prisoners are not supposed to get near is along the only source of fresh water in the camp, with the result that prisoners suffering extreme dehydration risk reaching beyond the line to get some fresh water, and are shot for their troubles.