Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Journal of Sgt. John Clark Ely: Beautiful sight for departing 'skin and bones' POWs

Something big is about to happen to Sgt. John Clark Ely. He’s been languishing at Confederates prison camps, including Andersonville, for more than three months, praying for an exchange. Finally, like thousands of other prisoners held by both sides, he gets some important news. Here is this week’s installment of the journal of Ely of Company C, 115th Ohio Infantry, courtesy of Andersonville National Historic Site.

March 18, 1865 (Saturday)
Fine day, cool night, exchange rumors again numerous and men some excited over the news.  Hathaway tried hard to get out on parole by siding with the rebs all right p.m. a thousand men including those at the hospital and officers were taken for exchange twas sad.

March 19, 1865 (Sunday)
Beautiful day but cool night.  I feel quite poorly with diarrhea. The monotony of camp again broken by the Johnnys coming in for men to go out on parole. Carpenters, woodchoppers etc took out nearly or quite 100 men.

March 20, 1865 (Monday)
Fine day, felt very badly all day. Rumor in camp that 3000 are going tomorrow, may it prove true and may Co. C be of the number. Some excitement in regard to it.

Sgt. Ely
March 21, 1865 (Tuesday)
Rain heavy in night. Raining still this morning and continued through day, feeling better today, no prisoners away today.

March 22, 1865 (Wednesday)
Beautiful day again, late p.m. great excitement through camp occasioned by the reb sutler coming in and selling chances to leave in first squad, chances selling from 15 to 30 dollars confederate.

March 23, 1865 (Thursday)
Beautiful day, same excitement as yesterday.

March 24, 1865 (Friday).
Very fine morning, peach and cherry trees all in full bloom outside, for the Co bought our chance to go by the first train.  We gave eighty dollars greenback, 80 confed and my watch valued at 60  dollars, hope the chance will prove a good one.  Late p.m. a train came for us and we bid goodby to Andersonville.  Left at 8 p.m. and arrived at Columbus (Ga.) at daylight.


Emaciated prisoners including Ely were bound for a train headed westward for prisoners exchanges. An eyewitness recalled the scene as the men left Andersonville:

Coming like cattle across an open field were scores of men who were nothing but skin and bones ; some hobbling along as best they could, and others being helped by stronger comrades. Every gaunt face with its staring eyes told the story of the suffering and privation they had gone through, and protruding bones showed through their scanty tattered garments. One might have thought that the grave and the sea had given up their dead.

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