Author: John McElroy

Chapter Xxxvl


I may not have made it wholly clear to the reader why we did not have the active assistance of the whole prison in the struggle with the Raiders. There were many reasons for this. First, the great bulk of the prisoners were new comers, having been, at the farthest, but three or four weeks in the Stockade. They did not comprehend the situation of affairs as we older prisoners did. They did not understand that all the outrages—or very nearly all—were the work of—a relatively small crowd of graduates from the metropolitan school of vice. The activity and audacity of the Raiders gave them the impression that at least half the able-bodied men in the Stockade were engaged in these depredations. This is always the case. A half dozen burglars or other active criminals in a town will produce the impression that a large portion of the population are law breakers. We never estimated that the raiding N’Yaarkers, with their spies and other accomplices, exceeded five hundred, but it would have been difficult to convince a new prisoner that there were not thousands of them. Secondly, the prisoners were made up of small squads from every regiment at the front along the whole line from the Mississippi to the Atlantic. These were strangers to and distrustful of all out side their own little circles. The Eastern men were especially so. The Pennsylvanians and New Yorkers each formed groups, and did not fraternize readily with those outside their State lines. The New Jerseyans held aloof from all the rest, while the Massachusetts soldiers had very little in Common with anybody—even their fellow New Englanders. The Michigan men were modified New Englanders. They had the same tricks of speech; they said "I be" for "I am," and "haag" for "hog;" "Let me look at your knife half a second," or "Give me just a sup of that water," where we said simply "Lend me your knife," or "hand me a drink." They were less reserved than the true Yankees, more disposed to be social, and, with all their eccentricities, were as manly, honorable a set of fellows as it was my fortune to meet with in the army. I could ask no better comrades than the boys of the Third Michigan Infantry, who belonged to the same "Ninety" with me. The boys from Minnesota and Wisconsin were very much like those from Michigan. Those from Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Iowa and Kansas all seemed cut off the same piece. To all intents and purposes they might have come from the same County. They spoke the same dialect, read the same newspapers, had studied McGuffey’s Readers, Mitchell’s Geography, and Ray’s Arithmetics at school, admired the same great men, and held generally the same opinions on any given subject. It was never difficult to get them to act in unison—they did it spontaneously; while it required an effort to bring about harmony of action with those from other sections. Had the Western boys in prison been thoroughly advised of the nature of our enterprise, we could, doubtless, have commanded their cordial assistance, but they were not, and there was no way in which it could be done readily, until after the decisive blow was struck.

The work of arresting the leading Raiders went on actively all day on the Fourth of July. They made occasional shows of fierce resistance, but the events of the day before had destroyed their prestige, broken their confidence, and driven away from their, support very many who followed their lead when they were considered all-powerful. They scattered from their, former haunts, and mingled with the crowds in other parts of the prison, but were recognized, and reported to Key, who sent parties to arrest them. Several times they managed to collect enough adherents to drive off the squads sent after them, but this only gave them a short respite, for the squad would return reinforced, and make short work of them. Besides, the prisoners generally were beginning to understand and approve of the Regulators’ movement, and were disposed to give all the assistance needed.

Myself and "Egypt," my taciturn Lieutenant of the sinewy left arm, were sent with our company to arrest Pete Donnelly, a notorious character, and leader of, a bad crowd. He was more "knocker" than Raider, however. He was an old Pemberton building acquaintance, and as we marched up to where he was standing at the head of his gathering clan, he recognized me and said:

"Hello, Illinoy," (the name by which I was generally known in prison) "what do you want here?"

I replied, "Pete, Key has sent me for you. I want you to go to headquarters."

"What the ---- does Key want with me?"

"I don’t know, I’m sure; he only said to bring you."

"But I haven’t had anything to do with them other snoozers you have been a-having trouble with."

"I don’t know anything about that; you can talk to Key as to that. I only know that we are sent for you."

"Well, you don’t think you can take me unless I choose to go? You haint got anybody in that crowd big enough to make it worth while for him to waste his time trying it."

I replied diffidently that one never knew what—he could do till he tried; that while none of us were very big, we were as willing a lot of little fellows as he ever saw, and if it were all the same to him, we would undertake to waste a little time getting him to headquarters.

The conversation seemed unnecessarily long to "Egypt," who stood by my side; about a half step in advance. Pete was becoming angrier and more defiant every minute. His followers were crowding up to us, club in hand. Finally Pete thrust his fist in my face, and roared out:

"By ---, I ain’t a going with ye, and ye can’t take me, you ---- ---- ---- "

This was " Egypt’s" cue. His long left arm uncoupled like the loosening of the weight of a pile-driver. It caught Mr. Donnelly under the chin, fairly lifted him from his feet, and dropped him on his back among his followers. It seemed to me that the predominating expression in his face as he went, over was that of profound wonder as to where that blow could have come from, and why he did not see it in time to dodge or ward it off.

As Pete dropped, the rest of us stepped forward with our clubs, to engage his followers, while "Egypt" and one or two others tied his hands and otherwise secured him. But his henchmen made no effort to rescue him, and we carried him over to headquarters without molestation.

The work of arresting increased in interest and excitement until it developed into the furore of a hunt, with thousands eagerly engaged in it. The Raiders’ tents were torn down and pillaged. Blankets, tent poles, and cooking utensils were carried off as spoils, and the ground was dug over for secreted property. A large quantity of watches, chains, knives, rings, gold pens, etc., etc.—the booty of many a raid—was found, and helped to give impetus to the hunt. Even the Rebel Quartermaster, with the characteristic keen scent of the Rebels for spoils, smelled from the outside the opportunity for gaining plunder, and came in with a squad of Rebels equipped with spades, to dig for buried treasures. How successful he was I know not, as I took no part m any of the operations of that nature.

It was claimed that several skeletons of victims of the Raiders were found buried beneath the tent. I cannot speak with any certainty as to this, though my impression is that at least one was found.

By evening Key had perhaps one hundred and twenty-five of the most noted Raiders in his hands. Wirz had allowed him the use of the small stockade forming the entrance to the North Gate to confine them in.

The next thing was the judgment and punishment of the arrested ones. For this purpose Key organized a court martial composed of thirteen Sergeants, chosen from the, latest arrivals of prisoners, that they might have no prejudice against the Raiders. I believe that a man named Dick McCullough, belonging to the Third Missouri Cavalry, was the President of the Court. The trial was carefully conducted, with all the formality of a legal procedure that the Court and those managing the matter could remember as applicable to the crimes with which the accused were charged. Each of these confronted by the witnesses who testified against him, and allowed to cross-examine them to any extent he desired. The defense was managed by one of their crowd, the foul-tongued Tombs shyster, Pete Bradley, of whom I have before spoken. Such was the fear of the vengeance of the Raiders and their friends that many who had been badly abused dared not testify against them, dreading midnight assassination if they did. Others would not go before the Court except at night. But for all this there was no lack of evidence; there were thousands who had been robbed and maltreated, or who had seen these outrages committed on others, and the boldness of the leaders in their bight of power rendered their identification a matter of no difficulty whatever.

The trial lasted several days, and concluded with sentencing quite a large number to run the gauntlet, a smaller number to wear balls and chains, and the following six to be hanged:

John Sarsfield, One Hundred and Forty-Fourth New York. William Collins, alias "Mosby," Company D, Eighty-Eighth Pennsylvania, Charles Curtis, Company A, Fifth Rhode Island Artillery. Patrick Delaney, Company E, Eighty-Third Pennsylvania. A. Muir, United States Navy. Terence Sullivan, Seventy-Second New York.

These names and regiments are of little consequence, however, as I believe all the rascals were professional bounty-jumpers, and did not belong to any regiment longer than they could find an opportunity to desert and join another.

Those sentenced to ball-and-chain were brought in immediately, and had the irons fitted to them that had been worn by some of our men as a punishment for trying to escape.

It was not yet determined how punishment should be meted out to the remainder, but circumstances themselves decided the matter. Wirz became tired of guarding so large a number as Key had arrested, and he informed Key that he should turn them back into the Stockade immediately. Key begged for little farther time to consider the disposition of the cases, but Wirz refused it, and ordered the Officer of the Guard to return all arrested, save those sentenced to death, to the Stockade. In the meantime the news had spread through the prison that the Raiders were to be sent in again unpunished, and an angry mob, numbering some thousands, and mostly composed of men who had suffered injuries at the hands of the marauders, gathered at the South Gate, clubs in hand, to get such satisfaction as they could out of the rascals. They formed in two long, parallel lines, facing inward, and grimly awaited the incoming of the objects of their vengeance.

The Officer of the Guard opened the wicket in the gate, and began forcing the Raiders through it—one at a time—at the point of the bayonet, and each as he entered was told what he already realized well—that he must run for his life. They did this with all the energy that they possessed, and as they ran blows rained on their heads, arms and backs. If they could succeed in breaking through the line at any place they were generally let go without any further punishment. Three of the number were beaten to death. I saw one of these killed. I had no liking for the gauntlet performance, and refused to have anything to do with it, as did most, if not all, of my crowd. While the gauntlet was in operation, I was standing by my tent at the head of a little street, about two hundred feet from the line, watching what was being done. A sailor was let in. He had a large bowie knife concealed about his person somewhere, which he drew, and struck savagely with at his tormentors on either side. They fell back from before him, but closed in behind and pounded him terribly. He broke through the line, and ran up the street towards me. About midway of the distance stood a boy who had helped carry a dead man out during the day, and while out had secured a large pine rail which he had brought in with him. He was holding this straight up in the air, as if at a "present arms." He seemed to have known from the first that the Raider would run that way. Just as he came squarely under it, the boy dropped the rail like the bar of a toll gate. It struck the Raider across the head, felled him as if by a shot, and his pursuers then beat him to death.


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Chicago: John McElroy, "Chapter Xxxvl," Andersonville, ed. Jameson, J. Franklin (John Franklin), 1859-1937 in Andersonville Original Sources, accessed July 20, 2024,

MLA: McElroy, John. "Chapter Xxxvl." Andersonville, edited by Jameson, J. Franklin (John Franklin), 1859-1937, in Andersonville, Original Sources. 20 Jul. 2024.

Harvard: McElroy, J, 'Chapter Xxxvl' in Andersonville, ed. . cited in , Andersonville. Original Sources, retrieved 20 July 2024, from