Detailed Account of an 1864 Train Derailment involving Andersonville Prisoners

Gary Morgan

First Sergeant
Forum Host
Joined
Aug 2, 2019
I've been researching transportation accidents involving Andersonville Prisoners - there were three that I can find, all in September of 1864. The middle one, on September 13th, I knew of only through a single article on @DaveBrt's website on Confederate railroads. I knew that prisoner Samuel Melvin had been on board this train, but that was about it, until someone pointed me toward Reverend J. B. Vaughter's Andersonville Memoir, Prison Life in Dixie; Giving a short history of the inhumane and barbarous treatment of our soldiers by Rebel Authorities." It looks like the author may have originally used the nom de plume "Sgt Oats," and I also find his last name spelled "Vawter." Since he was apparently a minister, his attitude toward his cousin at the end seems particularly un-Christian (especially since the cousin had been trying to provide him with food for his escape).

Since it is unusually vivid, I'm sharing it with the rest of you. Enjoy!



The September 13th​ train wreck – J. B. Vaughter from Prison Life in Dixie

Early in September the rebs began to move prisoners away from Andersonville. They told us that they were taking us to Charleston to exchange us. They had told us so may lies of that kind that most of the prisoners did not believe them. They took out two or three train-loads per week.

Four of five train-loads had already gone, when one day Jess M____ (a kinsman of mine) came to me and said that his “ninety” was ordered to be ready to go out that afternoon; and that I could go out with him, on a dead ma’s name, if I wanted to.

I did not believe the exchange talk; but I did not suppose another pen would be any worse than the one we were in, and a Jess was my only accessible relative, and I loved him as if he were my brother, I decided to go with him.

About four o’clock P,M., a heavy guard marched down to the south gate and called for the detachments that had been notified that morning. Nine hundred and sixty men were taken out and marched to the depot. There we waited until sundown, when our train backed in. We were put in twelve box care – eighty men to a car! We could not sit or lie – Think of that! And excuse it who can. Such cruelty is worthy of the period of slave ships, or the men who sailed them.

Two day’s rations of corn bread and bacon were put in each car; three companies of guards were distributed over the train, most of them on top of the cars. The officers that were detailed to go took the caboose., and the train started out just as twilight deepened into night.

Where were we going?

It was too dark to see to divide our rations, so we had to let two or three men keep them until morning. We didn’t like to, but couldn’t help it.

We ran six or seven miles, were running down grade to a cut, when, suddenly, the car seemed to be lifted several feet high, and dropped. It came down with a crash. Part of the timbers of the floor broke upward into the middle of the car, hurling its mass of living freight toward the ends. At the same time two corners were crushed in and two burst outward. For a few seconds there was a loud crashing of timber; then groans, shrieks and wails and the noise of escaping steam, were the only sounds.

As quick as I could I think what had happened, I found myself on top of the squirming, writhing mass of men. A few struggles placed me at an opening made by the outward-bursted corner. I stuck my feet out first, crowded, through, and dropped to the ground. I think I was the first man out of our car. The engine lay in the ditch, with its head buried in the bank. The first three cars lay over against the bank just behind it, and were not much damaged. The fourth car (the one I was in) lay with one end against the rear of these, and the other end on the track; it having stopped the momentum of the train in that position was what crushed it in the peculiar manner described. The fifth was the worst wreck of all, the sixth having telescoped it from end to end. The forward end of the sixth was crushed in; the rest stood on the track undamaged.

As soon as I felt solid ground beneath my feet and realized that I was not seriously hurt – the guard were all in confusion and out of place – the thought came to me like an inspiration, “Now is the time to escape! Run for life!”

I started on the impulse, almost without thinking. I rushed past the engine into the darkness. I must have run one hundred yards. I knew I was outside the guard. The moans of the dying and shrieks of the wounded sounded a good distance off.

Then came the thought, “You are leaving Jess. He may be killed or cripples in the wreck.” I hesitated – stopped short. I was not willing to go on without Jess, or at least a knowledge of his fate. I ran back. Men were getting out of all the cars. I reached ours and called out. He answered from under the car and came out.

“Jess, are you hurt?”

“No.”

“I whispered in his ear, “Let’s run off.”

He answered, “We couldn’t get away. They would catch us.”

“Yes we can. There isn’t a guard on duty.”

“Well,” said he, “they will bring out the hounds in the morning, and track us up.”

“Nevermind the hounds!”

I will say for the general reader, that soldiers usually pronounced “never mind” as a word of one syllable, accented all the way through.

I was excited, nervous, vexed, impatient. I felt like every minute was worth a lifetime. Jess was trying to get hold of the meat that had not been divided. That was what he was doing under the car when I came up. He seemed so indifferent that I said to him:

“If you won’t go, then I will go alone!”

“All right,” said he; “wait a minute and I’ll get you’re a piece of meat.

He went under the car and soon returned with a good piece of bacon. I took it and started. But alas! While I dallied with Jess, the guard recovered from its panic and had formed a line around the wreck. Just below the engine I was halted and ordered back.

My disappointment was hard to bear. Oh, how I wished that I had kept on when I was free, and had left Jess to his fate!

I went back to the wreck, and went to work with all my might to rescue the maimed and dead from the debris. We took out ninety-eight Yanks and twenty-six Rebs who were badly wounded, and twenty-six Yanks and eight Rebs, dead; a total of thirty-four killed and one hundred and twenty-two badly hurt.

Such a disaster, in time of peace, would fill with horror the whole country; and yet I doubt if a score of our vast army of readers ever heard of this accident before. I am of the opinion that this is the first time the history of that wreck has ever been in print.
 

Gary Morgan

First Sergeant
Forum Host
Joined
Aug 2, 2019
I would think because of the very poor physical condition of the prisoners that they probably were unable to get very far.
I think Vauter was a relatively late arrival at Andersonville. I skipped over him when I was writing the raiders book because he wasn't there yet when they were hanged, and that was July 11, 1864. He was probably slightly better off than the guys who arrived in the spring.
 
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