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A View From The Attic

02 March 2009


by Evelyn Birkby



How many Civil War veterans lie in our southwest Iowa cemeteries? How many stories are buried with them? How many were imprisoned and lived to tell the tale?

How anyone survives any war prison is beyond comprehension. The most famous of the Confederate prisons is Andersonville, GA, where thousands of men were kept in a 10- to 13- acre enclosure without shelter, with their only source of water a creek that ran through the middle of the camp. For food they had two-thirds of a cup cornmeal a day that was ground with cobs and all. “So many men were imprisoned the prison had the crowded appearance of stockyards,” one observer wrote.

A Fremont County citizen, Lona Lewis, had a great uncle who survived Andersonville. After her uncle was freed, he found passage on the Sultana. The boat was built with room for 373 travelers. Historical records report that thousands wanted to go home and that Sultana’s owner hurriedly patched a boiler so the boat could sail. Lona’s uncle became one of 2400 passengers crowded onto the boat. Tragically, the broiler blew up April 25, 1865 a few miles from Memphis at 2:00 a.m. The veterans, weaken from Andersonville, could not swim to safety. The result: 1800 of the 2400 passengers died.

“ I know that my relative was on his way home to Kansas. Who knows how many others from the Midwest were on that boat.” Lona reports. “ The great irony was that he lived through the horrors of the prison only to drown on his way to freedom.”

Lynn Benson, another Fremont County resident, had a relative who survived Andersonville. Lynn’s great grandfather, John Fraser, was only 18 when he joined the Taylor’s Battery, 1st Illinois Division, on August 29,1861. He fought in many battles including the battle of Shiloh alongside Fremont County soldiers before he was captured at the battle of Peach Tree Run and sent to Andersonville. His diary says, “I suffered the tortures of hunger and thirst for 60 days. Then I was among a number of prisoners exchanged for southern soldiers. I rode all the way from Andersonville in southern GA to Louisville, KY, on top of a stock car after I was discharged Sept. 23, 1964 at the age of 21."

In the Sidney cemetery is a tombstone with the lettering: Henry J. Carter 1840-1893 CWV (Civil War Veteran)--1861-1865. We know from Henry’s military records that he fought with Sherman, was captured at Blackville, SC, Jan. 28, 1865, confined at Andersonville and paroled out in June of 1865. H received a medical discharge due to typhoid fever. No doubt his illness came from the polluted water that ran through the prison.

Near the conclusion of the Civil War, large numbers of Civil War veterans arrived in Fremont Country. Among them was Henry Carter, along with several other members of his family. A number of his descendants still live here--including his great grandson, Robert Birkby.

(Many other stories should be shared and preserved about the brave Fremont County citizens who went off to war. If you have a story about an area soldier you think should be preserved, contact Evelyn via evelynbirkby@mac.com  )