Friday, May 20, 2011

Georgia man recalls stories from his father, a guard at Confederate prison camp

Henry V. Booth is 92. He is the son of sharecroppers and is a retired car dealer. He’s lost two wives, two children, and has three grandchildren. He lives in Elberton, Ga., owns a push mower and -- most days-- has oatmeal, bananas and hot chocolate for breakfast.

Booth also is a rarity. He is the son of a Confederate soldier. It is believed he is one of only two in Georgia.

When people learn that fact, they say, “Wow. What about that?” Booth told the Picket in a phone interview this morning.

Booth’s dad, Isham Johnson Booth, was 16 when he arrived for duty in 1864 at Camp Sumter, the official name for Andersonville military prison.

Pvt. Isham Booth of the 1st Georgia Reserves witnessed the horrors of the camp, where 45,000 Union soldiers passed through its gates. Almost 13,000 died and were buried in the nearby cemetery. About 226 Confederate guards, not immune to disease and meager food supplies, died over 14 months.

“He said it was the awfulest place he ever saw,” the younger Booth said. “People were dying like flies.”

The former Confederate private also mentioned the scarcity of clean water when he talked of his war days.

Isham got sick at Andersonville, and rode a mule back to Elberton to convalesce. After he became well, in 1865, he started walking back toward middle Georgia.

When Isham passed a store, someone said, “Where are you going, soldier?”

They told him that the war was over.

More than 145 years later, at the end of April this year, Henry Booth (right, click to enlarge) toured Andersonville National Historic Site and also spoke to a local camp of the Sons of Confederate Veterans.

It was his third visit to Andersonville.

“With all those dead people, it puts a funny feeling over you,” said Booth.

Isham Booth was just shy of 72 when Henry, his 12th and last child, was born on Dec. 28, 1918. Isham’s second wife, Miranda Lue, was 38. She died in 1968.

The elder Booth usually spoke about his guard experiences only in the presence of adults, but Henry occasionally heard stories.

Growing up, Henry lived with his family in one-story home with four or five rooms. They raised cotton, vegetables and hogs at the Elbert County homestead, which is long gone and is now covered by pine trees.

“We made enough to eat. That was hard work,” Henry said.

Henry said his father returned to see Andersonville a couple years before he died, when a friend took him in a 1931 Chevrolet. “That was a big deal to him.”

Isham Johnson Booth died in February 1934, age 86. His son was 15.

Though his father’s Civil War experience is usually the conversation starter, Henry had his own experience with war.

During World War II, he was assigned to a Navy LST, a vehicle landing craft. Campaigns in the Pacific Ocean included ones at Iwo Jima, Saipan, Guam and Okinawa.

Booth doesn’t like war. He doesn’t generally visit Civil War battlefields.

“I saw Tokyo after the war” and its devastation, Booth said.

Booth returned to Elbert County and got into business. His parents were sharecroppers, but Booth moved away from the farm to work at a Ford dealership, which he later bought. The Ford dealership eventually closed “under tough times.” One of his sons worked in the granite industry.

Booth is now retired from a lengthy stint as a night manager for a senior citizens complex. He enjoys lunch at the senior citizen center with friends and has seen a lot of changes in the years since his father passed away.

Elberton’s population has grown to nearly 5,000. Walking trails have replaced a lake near his home in northeast Georgia. Booth likes them.

“It’s the best part of the world to live in,” he said. “Life’s been good to me.”

Although he may be best known as the son of a Civil War soldier, Booth said that fact is “just a little of who I am.”

Photographs: NPS/Andersonville National Historic Site. Top photo is Henry V. Booth at about age 3 with his father. Second photo is an interview being videotaped in late April at Andersonville National Historic Site

More about Booth's recent visit to Andersonville


  1. Just amazing that there are still over 100 actual sons and daughters of Civil War vets still alive. Many older veterans married young girls/women in the early 20th century so that the women could get the pensions...thus many children were born late in the veteran's lives..a few even having children in their 70's and early 80's...hence a few direct links to the Civil War still walk amongst us today. It is definately on my 'bucket list' to meet such a link soon before we lose them altogether.
    ANother great blog entry sir!

  2. Thanks for the fabulous story. We were privileged to see Andersonville lit with candles, each one to commemorate the death of an incarcerated POW. The rain extinguished the candles way too soon. It was a haunting and beautiful sight.