Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Journal of POW Sgt. John C. Ely: Watching desperate comrades switch sides

Union prisoners galvanizing at Florence Stockade (Library of Congress)

The journal of Sgt. John Clark Ely of Company C, 115th Ohio Infantry, mentions comrades at Camp Sumter “entering in the CS service.”

Stephanie Steinhorst of Andersonville National Historic Site said 192 prisoners took the oath of the allegiance to the Confederacy in January. Another 138 “galvanized” in March.

It’s well known that several thousand Confederates joined the Union army. The National Park Service has disputed the myth that Federal prisoners did not switch sides, too.

“During the conflict, both Union and Confederate forces turned to the imprisoned enemy as a potential recruitment pool, offering enlistment as an escape from the hardships of captivity.”

Some desperate Union soldiers held at Andersonville, Camp Lawton, Ga., and Florence, S.C., toward the end of the war became “Galvanized Yankees” to flee the horrors of prison life.

Did they see combat?

The timing is so late that they either hang to the rear of things or attempt it as means to escape,” Steinhorst told the Picket. “There is a possibility that they did, but (there's) not a solid story about it. Union men who galvanized at earlier parts of the war did, with a number of them being caught and imprisoned and some dying in United States prisons.”

Andersonville’s “A Story in Stone” video series tells the story of Joel Eaton, an Illinois soldier captured in Mississippi in 1864. In February 1865, he went to the Camp Sumter hospital with chronic diarrhea.

Eaton, knowing that most prisoners died at the prison hospital, decided to enlist with the CSA’s 10th Tennessee Infantry on Feb. 28, 1865. He was then treated as a Confederate soldier at an army hospital in Macon, Ga., but died March 17, 1865.

“He served and suffered as a United States soldier but died as a Confederate. His decision to try and save his own life failed and had permanent consequences,” the video states.

His survivors did not receive a pension because of his switching sides and he was buried in a Macon cemetery, with other Confederates.

Those who “galvanized” generally were treated with contempt by former comrades after the war.

John Clark Ely did not switch sides. His journal entries, which the Picket is publishing once a week, are courtesy of Andersonville National Historic Site. Feb. 24, 1865, marked the one-year anniversary of the first prisoners arriving at Camp Sumter.

Feb. 25, 1865 (Saturday)
Very cloudy, rain in night, showery all day, heavy thunder and some lightning. Rain very heavy p.m. Rumors still of exchange and that Charlestown has been evacuated, a severe blow to the Johnnys I think.

Feb. 26, 1865 (Sunday)
Cleared up this morning.

Feb. 27, 1865 (Monday)
Beautiful day, nothing new yesterday.  I felt badly such pain in back and hips, quite unwell all day.

Feb. 28, 1865 (Tuesday)
Last day of winter, rain in night and still this a.m. Some excitement in camp, some entering in the C S service, good many. Received note from Lt. (), seems to feel very hopefull. C S papers give news of the fall of the city of Charleston and Columbia So. Carolina and of Sherman’s rapid movement, capturing large numbers of cars and provisions. They admit a great loss to them, tis also rumored that Lee has evacuated Richmond and Petersburgh. May this prove true is my prayer for his army will soon be like herds completely broken up and used up. Sherman is winning himself a () place in the hearts of the American people. Feeling badly all day.

March 1, 1865 (Wednesday)
Heavy rain in night and very cloudy this morning and all day.  Wrote note to Eadie.

March 2, 1865 (Thursday)
Still cloudy, rainy and misty a.m., p.m. cleared up.  Rumors of exchange continue, late p.m. 100 new prisoners brought in from So. Car. from Sherman, give good account of old Billy.

March 3, 1865 (Friday).
Feeling some better this morning, foggy this a.m.

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