Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Journal of POW Sgt. John C. Ely: Rumors of possible exchange are rampant

Thomas O'Dea drawing of rumor exchange (ANHS)

By mid-March 1865, rumors of exchange are rife for the 5,700 prisoners still held at Andersonville prison in central Georgia.

They’ve endured a lot of rain and privation. About nine of their comrades die each day. The prisoners, of course, don’t know that the war’s end is only weeks away.

But they do have hope. And the fact that 2,411 prisoners are sent in March to Vicksburg, Ms., for future exchange raises freedom expectations for remaining Federal soldiers held at the camp, including Sgt. John Clark Ely.

Camp Fisk near Vicksburg was an exchange site that resulted from the efforts of Confederate Lt. Col. Howard Henderson and Union Col. A.C. Fisk.

“Rumors are a difficult thing to interpret,” says Stephanie Steinhorst of Andersonville National Historic Site.

“At best we convey the sense of confusion and that nothing is certain until you see it and touch it. Certainty of existence is something that is taken from a prisoner of war -- it is one of the intangible things lost upon capture,” Steinhorst tells the Picket. “Rumors are part of every prisoner's existence because they are attempting to piece together tidbits of information based on what they see, what they hear and what they hope for.”

The park this weekend is having a living history weekend.

“When we have folks out portraying prisoners, we encourage them to disagree about what they think is happening "outside,’” says Steinhorst.

Here is this week’s installment of the journal of Ely of Company C, 115th Ohio Infantry. Entries are courtesy of Andersonville National Historic Site.

March 11, 1865 (Saturday)
Fine morning, little frost, a recruiting officer in again yesterday and today. Renewed rumors of leaving.

March 12, 1865 (Sunday)
Beautiful morning, frost again this morning, feeling pretty bad.  Big rumors of exchange..

March 13, 1865 (Monday)
Very fine day, feeling better than yesterday.  Hope many exchange rumors may prove some of them true.

March 14, 1865 (Tuesday)
Cloudy morning, looks like rain, exchange rumors seem to have played out.  Hathaway says first on Friday, then Sunday and all along show paper was sent in to take the name Co. () of the men.

March 15, 1865 (Wednesday)
Rain nearly all night, lowery the a.m., exchange rumors still plenty.

March 16, 1865 (Thursday)
Rain in night and p.m. yesterday cloudy and wind with rain this morning cleared off p.m. cool.

March 17, 1865 (Friday).
Fine day, frost this morning. Heard that David McGrath, Co. G was dead, am sorry.  Borrowed money of Garrison and paid the Co. what I owe them.

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