A Baby Born in Hell
The prison was nothing more than acres of open ground surrounded by a stockade fence and earthworks barricades. The destitute prisoners sheltered themselves as best they could, some with makeshift tents, others in shallow holes dug in the dirt, lined with pine needles, and covered with whatever scrap of fabric the men hada tarp, a blanket, maybe a tattered coat. The prison was so crowded that each man had just enough room to lie down.
As dusk gave way to night, the guard looked out on thousands of prone, wretched bodiessome of them nearly skeletons from dysentery and malnourishmentand he thought of Andersonville as a massive graveyard where the corpses were still breathing and graves were yet to be covered.
He leaned on his rifle and surveyed the dead line, a simple waist-high fence inside the prison that ran parallel to the stockade walls. The fence, made up of posts set in the ground connected by a single line of horizontal planks, had been constructed to keep prisoners away from the walls. The area between the dead line and the stockade walls was kept vacant to prevent prisoners from trying to tear down the walls or tunnel underneath them. Crossing the dead line without permission was strictly forbidden. Captain Henry Wirz, who was in command of the stockade, ordered his guards to shoot any man caught on the wrong side of it.
He scanned the terrain of bodies and squinted through the gloom. A baby in this hell hole? he thought. The Lord could never be so cruel.
But then he spotted a figure crawling out of a ragtag tent. When the figure stood up, the guard noticed that the person was wearing skirts. The silhouette swayed back and forth in place, like a forlorn dancer without a partner, and she seemed to be holding something in her arms, holding it close. The guard strained to pick out landmarks on the prison grounds, the larger tents of the bullies and raiders, trying to gauge the exact location of the silhouette. It was hard to be certain in this light, but he thought she was standing in the area where the newlyweds had pitched their tent about a year ago, Captain and Mrs. Harry Hunt. And she wasnt the only woman inside the prison walls. There was another somewhere on the field, a faithful wife who would not leave her husbands side.
But a baby? he thought. It just couldnt be. Andersonville was where people died.
He heard a series of high-pitched, plaintive wails that carried over the din, and now there was no doubt in his mind that there was a child down there. The silhouette in skirts swayed faster, bouncing the bundle on her shoulder. The guard didnt like this development at all. He feared for their safety. A horrible thought passed through his mindthe emaciated prisoners falling upon this child for food. His heart was thumping hard. He had to tell someone about this immediately.