Discussion "I Got in and out of the Army by telling Whoppers"

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John Hartwell

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John R. Sherwin, of Company B, 7th New Hampshire Volunteers, enlisted September 24, 1861, was captured at Olustee, Fla., February 20, 1864, and was released December 30, 1864. He was discharged April 17, 1865. Some thirty years later, he wrote the following sccount of his captivity for the information of Lt. Henry F. Little, who was then compiling the Regimental History:


Fall River, Mass., July 21, 1895.
My Dear Comrade:

Your letter asking me to give a sketch of my prison experience, from capture to discharge, I received. But I hardly know what to say, as it was about the same as that of others. I was captured, with some twenty-five others of our regiment the morning after the battle at Olustee, and sent to Lake City. While there I tried my hand in making my escape; in fact, I think I was the first one of the regiment to try and escape, but it was no go at that time. I received a ball and chain attached to my left leg for my pains. Comrades Frank Cass, of Company B, and William Ramsey, of Company G, were served the same.

I do not think that any of the boys ever complained of ill treatment of the rebels that captured us; that was to come after, although I think I was fortunate in a number of cases. I was one of four cooks, while we were waiting for Andersonville to be built. In that way I got double rations, such as it was. We arrived at Andersonville about March 14; at that time there were only a few prisoners. A description of Andersonville is not required, as it is a well known place. I helped clean out the stream and plank over a small place, so we could wash; at that time, too, I received double rations. You see I was always looking out for something to eat.

About the last of August or the first of September, I, with others, was sent to Savannah, and then to Charleston, S. C, where we were confined a short time on the race course. We were under fire of the guns of Morris Island. I never thought when we helped build the fort there that I was ever to be shot at by them. But no one was ever hit while I was there. I think I was there two or three weeks, when we left for Florence, S. C.; but the prison there was not completed. When I again tried my luck in escaping I was successful, but only to be recaptured in three days. I remember the date I was recaptured very well; it was the 25th of September, just three years to the day that I enlisted. I made my escape by crawling on my hands and knees by the guards, and was recaptured by an old man with dogs and a double barrel shot gun; he said he would get thirty dollars a piece — there were three of us — a good morning's work for him.

After I was back in prison, I began to think of something to eat, and how to get more than was allowed, and found that by belonging to two different squads I could draw two rations. I kept it up as long as I dared to; but I saw a number of men tied up by the thumbs until they fainted for doing so, and made up my mind to go hungry awhile longer. In December they began to parole all sick, and those that had been in prison the longest. When the rebel doctor asked me when I was captured, I told him it was at the charge of Fort Wagner. I think it was the only time telling a lie ever did me any good. I had told the recruiting officer when I enlisted, I was eighteen years old, but was only sixteen, so you see I got in and out of the army by telling whoppers. Now, comrade, you can enlarge on this as much as you wish; surely there is material enough. Hoping you can make use of it, I will close. I should be pleased to have a short account of the meeting at reunion. My health remains about the same.

I was paroled at Charleston, December 17, discharged at Concord, April 19, having served three years, seven months, on one enlistment.

Yours, in True Comradeship.
John R. Sherwin

(courtesy, Sanbornton Public Library)​
 
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