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Jones, Benjamin I.


Posted By: mjv (email)
Date: 6/30/2021 at 11:25:49

Benjamin I. Jones, of Washington, Iowa, is of Welsh descent, and was born in London, England, May 27, 1842. He is the son of Benjamin I. and Mary Jones, who emigrated to this country in 1845, locating in Des Moines County, Iowa, being among the pioneers of that county. His father died in 1846, leaving a widow and two children: Mrs. Ann Thomas of this county, and Benjamin I. His mother subsequently married John Jacob. Both parents were members of the Methodist Episcopal Church.

Benjamin I. Jones, the subject of this sketch, was reared upon a farm, and received but little schooling, what little he did obtain being acquired by going two miles and a half through the timber to school. He studied much at home when a boy and since reaching manhood, and can be called a self-educated man. Although living some distance from his countrymen, he can talk, read and write the Welsh language.

In 1862 Mr. Jones enlisted to defend his country’s flag, but on account of sickness was not mustered into the service. Being determined to serve his country he again enlisted, becoming a member of Co. M, 8th Iowa Vol. Inf., on the 12th of August, 1863. He was mustered in at Davenport, and in October was sent with the regiment to Louisville, Ky., and thence to Nashville, Tenn. His regiment was a part of Croxton’s Brigade; was with the regiment in every engagement, in the campaign of 1864, up to the time of what is known as Stoneman’s Raid. He was then taken prisoner with the regiment, being sent to Andersonville Prison, and for some time endured the horrors of that loathsome place. After being paroled he received a furlough of thirty days, which was afterward extended to sixty on account of not being capable for duty after suffering in rebel prisons. He then reported at Camp Chase, Columbus, Ohio. He rejoined his regiment at Macon, Ga., and was mustered out Aug. 13, 1865.

After being discharged Mr. Jones returned to Des Moines County, where he lived on a farm until the spring of 1883, when he came to Washington, where he has since continued to reside. On the 17th of December, 1885, he was united in marriage with Miss Mary E. Bare, a native of Augusta County, Va., born Feb. 13, 1845. He is a member of the Presbyterian Church, of which body his wife is also a member. In politics he is a Republican. He is also a member of the G. A. R. coming to this county and to Iowa before its admission as a State, he has been an eye-witness and a participant in all things tending to advance the interests of his adopted State. Socially, he is respected by all.

At a soldier’s banquet held in Washington, in 1885, Mr. Jones read the following account of his life in Andersonville Prison:

Three days after we were captured we arrived at Andersonville, in Sumter County, Ga., sixty-one miles south of Macon. Here we were searched the third time. Capt. Wirz ordered every man to take off his clothing, giving orders to the guard to shoot the first man who refused to give up anything of value he might have in his possession. They took from us everything that was any account to them, even our blankets and what few cooking utensils we had. They intended to keep us on very light diet so we had but little use for anything to cook with. I had a little money with me, and was thoughtful enough to cut the inside seam of the bosom of my shirt and stick my money in there. They did not succeed in finding my hidden treasure, so I was better off than many. The reason I suppose, that they dealt with us more severely than thousands of others, was because we were captured on a raid and were called the Brownlow raiders. Jim Brownlow, son of the Parson, was then Colonel of the 1st Tennessee Cavalry, which was captured with us. The Colonel made his escape, and I was informed that when he crossed the Chattahoochie River he had nothing but his underclothing.

"After taking from us all that they desired, and while marching us to the stockade Capt. Wirz said to us 'I'll make you think you are in hell before you come out of there,' and I think he fulfilled his promise as nearly as a man possibly could. He was a small man, with a cruel countenance, very pale, and when he came into camp he always rode a white horse; many of the boys called him ' Death on the White Horse.’ He had a desperate temper, and would strike or kick a prisoner who was not as strong as himself. I saw him stamp one of our sick comrades in the face because he was not able to move as fast as he desired. If any of the prisoners made their escape and were recaptured, they were punished most severely. While I was there one of our men was strapped to a cannon forty-eight hours, without food or water, for the crime of trying to escape. Andersonville Prison was built of large pine logs, hewed and set in the ground four feet and fourteen feet above ground. It contained about twenty acres. Around it, and about twenty feet from the stockade, was the 'dead line;' if any- one went inside of this, or even touched it, he was immediately shot by the guards. I saw one poor comrade who had lost his reason, and who said he was going home to see his mother, cross the line, and try to climb the stockade; he was shot down like a dog. Through the prison flowed a small stream, with a swamp on each side. Above was the rebel camp, cook-house, stables, etc. Into this stream was thrown the filth from the camp and cook-houses above, so that the water was unfit for a brute to drink; all we could say of it was, that it was wet. I saw several of our men shot by the guards who were getting water under the dead line. Wells were dug in different parts of the camp by our men; ropes were made of pieces of clothing to haul up the dirt, and half canteens were used instead of spades. But a few shallow wells were not sufficient to supply 33,000 men with good drinking water. Hundreds prayed daily for water, and about the 1st of September a beautiful spring broke out directly under the dead line. The only act of kindness that I ever heard of Capt. Wirz doing was to permit us to sink a barrel and a lead trough to carry the water outside the dead line. Some say that there was a spring there years before, and that it broke out again; be that as it may, I believe it was a direct answer from God to the thousands of suffering men ; that it was as much a miracle as the healing of Naaman, the Syrian. In the early dawn and until dark, hundreds could be seen at times waiting their turn to get water from ' Providence Spring.' Many would wait patiently for a long while, then stoop down and place their poor bony hands together in order to make a cup to contain water enough to wet their fevered lips. .Some would have tin cups, canteens, little buckets that they had made with their pocket-knives, and old boot legs with wooden bottoms. Oh! how thankful our dying comrades were when they received a little cold water to quench their thirst or cool their burning brows, even if it was carried to them in a boot leg. In the last day it will be said to many of them, ' Inasmuch as ye did it to one of these, ye did it unto me.'

"But to go back a little, when we marched into Andersonville, we heard the boys yell 'Fresh fish1 Fresh fish! ' meaning that fresh prisoners were coming in. Thousands crowded around us to hear the latest news from the front, others to see if there were some in the crowd they knew, or some from a regiment of their own State, among the unfortunates. I felt very sad to see so many dirty, ragged and sickly comrades at first, but there we were, and we also would be in the same condition soon, if not exchanged. At night my bunk-mate and I lay down to sleep with an old gum blanket under us, and a horse blanket over us. When we woke up in the morning, we had any amount of gray- backs on our persons, and thousands of maggots around us and under our blankets. Gray backs could be seen on the ground evey day, and felt every night on our bodies. When the sun warmed the ground the maggots would disappear until the next night. It was the same in all parts of the camp. The next day we selected a spot to stretch our blankets, bought four small sticks nearly as large as broom handles, for seventy-five cents, stuck them in the ground and tied the four corners of our blanket to them to keep the sun off. At night we spread our blanket over us, tucked it under, and placed the sticks between us lest someone would steal them before morning. The next day I bought an old quart cup for seventy-five cents and a case knife for fifty cents. The cup and half canteen were all we had for cooking our meals; these we kept between us at night for the same reason we did the sticks.

" Before we entered the prison we were arranged in squads of ninety, and three of these, 270, into a detachment. A rebel Sergeant was in charge of each detachment in order to call the roll and issue rations to the Sergeant of each ninety. The Sergeant who had charge of us would compel us to stand in line for hours in order that each one on the roll would answer to his name. If any one was reported sick he would have to go and see, lest some one had made their escape, or some had died. If the right person could not be found there were plenty of others sick who would be pointed out as the person whose name was on the roll. They soon got tired of coming to call the roll, but counted the men. Strange as it may ap- pear, the Sergeant's detachment was always full. He might call the name of John Smith; some one would answer 'here' although John Smith might be sick or gone to the Spirit land weeks before, yet some one was always ready to answer to his name in order that we might get more rations. One-half of the camp drew cooked rations for two weeks, and the other uncooked. When we drew our rations cooked it would be a little over a pint of mush to the man and almost always sour. At first we got a small piece of meat about an inch square every other day; soon they thought that was too much, so they gave us none. The cooked beans were about half beans, and the balance bugs and sand. Why sand was put in, I don't know, unless done by the commissary before cooking to make them weigh in order that he might speculate a little. Whatever the rebels said about us, they couldn't say that we hadn’t any 'sand in our craw.' If we undertook to skim the bugs or weevil out of our soup we would have to skim it all away before we came to the last bug. I had not been raised on that kind of diet, consequently it did not agree with me; but I did not complain so much about the quality as the quantity. When our rations were issued to us uncooked, they consisted of a little rice or coarse corn meal. This we would make mush out of in our tin cups, or bake in half canteens and cat it greedily, without anything, not even salt. When we made it into mush we put a good deal of water in it, in order to make as much filling as possible. The same kind of rations were issued to all alike, whether sick or well.

“Let us see for a moment what amount of food other nations allow soldiers: 'Prussia gives hers 50 ounces of food per day; Turkey, 42; England, 45; America,50. The amount allowed our men captured by Great Britain in the War of 1812 was 32 ounces, besides what our Government supplied. At Andersonville the food allowed, according to evidence of prisoners and others, varied from 6 to 16 ounces of solid food per man, the average being less than 10 ounces. So ravenous had we become by starvation that many would eat their rations half-cooked; this would soon cause sickness, and the poor, emaciated comrades would lie in the hot sun with no shelter whatever, no blankets or warm clothing in which to keep warm at night, no medicine to relieve their sufferings: thus they would lie for days, and sometimes would beg their comrades to kill them. If they had any clothing on that was worth anything when they died, it was taken off by those who hadn't any scarcely. A small strip of paper was pinned to their shirts with name, company, regiment and date of death written upon it. They were then carried in blankets to the south gate by some of their comrades and there left. I have frequently counted from 70 to 80 dead bodies in a row, remaining there until morning. On the 23rd day of August 127 died, or one man every 11 minutes. There were in that month over 30,000 prisoners confined there, and death claimed 99 daily, and in September 90. Through the cruelty of Gen. John H. Winder, who was then Commissary General of prisoners of war, and Capt. Henri Wirz, 13,714 of our comrades died there. If all were placed side by side, allowing 20 inches to the man, it would make a row of dead four and one-third miles long, or nearly three rows from the north part of our city limits to the south part. Thousands of those who died might be living to-day if they had only taken the oath of allegiance to the Southern Confederacy; but no! rather than the Union be dissolved, rather than turn traitor and desert the old flag under which they had fought so bravely on many a battle-field, they chose to stay there and die. While I was in Millan Prison the rebel officers would frequently come in and urge us to take the oath of allegiance and enlist in their army, telling us that our Government refused to exchange prisoners, etc. A soldier from some Ohio regiment jumped upon a stump and said, 'No! before we will enlist in your army or desert our country's flag we will see your Southern Confederacy so deep in the bottom- less pit of hell that it will take a search warrant from Almighty God to find it.'

“This was very strong, forcible language to use, but it was our sentiment, although death was staring us in the face. The coarse food we got, without any vegetables, caused many to have the scurvy in its worst form. The gums would become raw, the teeth loose, the arms and limbs swollen to twice their natural size; they would turn as black as coal, and after a few days of intense suffering would pass away. The last and only act of kindness one comrade could do for another was to give him a little cold water. This was most faithfully done by those who were able. The strongest and hardiest of prisoners were soon reduced to mere skeletons; some would die before they were there three weeks. The thought of home and friends, the craving for food all day, the suffering that was all around, the torturing dreams by night, caused many to become insane. In my dreams at night I would imagine that dainty dishes, everything that a person could desire to eat, were before me. I would wake up to find myself cold and half starving, and could only get relief by crying like a child. Of all the starvation, torture and suffering that prisoners of war ever received from the hands of their enemies, history cannot produce a darker record than that of Andersonville.

"How well Gen. John H. Winder fulfilled his promise when he said, ' I am going to build a pen here that will kill more Yankees than can be destroyed in the front,' those 13,714 marble slabs, placed at the heads of our noble dead by our Government since the war, will testify. On the 25th day of November we were told that 1,000 sick would be paroled. I told my companion that I was going to get out if I could. I was very weak and could not endure prison life much longer, and thought it no disgrace to get away from there in any way except taking the oath of allegiance; that I would never do if I had to leave my body in Southern soil. Although so reduced in flesh that I could hardly walk, having been reduced from 150 pounds to 85 in four months, yet I succeeded in getting to the examining surgeon, who asked me what was the matter with me. I told him that I had the scurvy, and that my time was out; it was a falsehood, but I thought it time to be out of there. He told me to go on. I didn't stop to ask which way he wanted me to go, but I went with the crowd that I thought was going to 'God's country.' That night we gave our names, company, regiment and State, and took an oath not to take up arms against the Confederacy until duly exchanged. The next day we steamed down the Savannah River and were taken on board a steamer. Oh! how glad we were when once more under the folds of the old flag. Some cursed the rebels and called them all kinds of names until completely exhausted; others cheered and shouted, wept and prayed, and rejoiced in every way, because we were again free, and would soon see ' home and friends once more.' When we landed at Annapolis the ladies presented each of us with a towel, fine comb, paper, envelope and pencil. It was not long till I wrote something like this: ' Dear Mother: I am still alive, will be home soon.' My strength failed me; I signed my name and gave it to the ladies. This was a very short letter, but it was long enough to cause my mother's heart to rejoice at the thought of seeing her only son once more, who, she thought, was numbered with the dead. Twenty-four years have passed since then, yet those horrible prison scenes are still in my memory. You may ask us to forget and forgive the past. God knows we forgive them, but we cannot forget. When reason is dethroned, or this hand has not the strength to grasp that of a comrade, when this heart ceases to beat — then we will forget, but not till then.”

Source: Portrait and Biographical Album of Washington County, Iowa (1887). Excerpt from Biographical Sketch of Benjamin I. Jones, pages 320-323.


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