Oct 21, 1903
Tells of Cruelties of Yankee Soldiers
George C. Tanner, in
To the Editor of the Chronicle – The Daughters of
the Confederacy at Waynesboro came in possession of some of the facts of my two
escapes from Yankee durance, and after reading the paper the narrative was
published in the True Citizen.
I have never thought it worth
giving to the public, but since it has appeared, I beg space in your valuable
columns to give the true details as they are retained in my memory after a
lapse of forty years.
I was born 12th of
March, 1847, hence at the breaking out of the war I was not yet 15 years
old. Yet I was fired by all that intense
ardor that pervaded the South, and by a tight squeeze I managed to wriggle into
Capt. Sam Crump’s company, the Walker Light infantry, which was soon after
incorporated into the First Regiment Georgia volunteers.
It is the opinion of many that this
was the finest regiment in the Confederate service. If true it was the finest in any
service. It was composed mostly of old
perfectly drilled and well-equipped companies scattered throughout the State
when the war broke out. Many of the best
families in the State belonged to it, and a firmer body of men could not be
I cannot forget the vigorous
protest my mention of enlistment made in the company, and at my home, and how I
had to be attired in a uniform much too big for me because “they had none for
babies,” and how on a march I was chucked away in a wagon or astride of a
cannon, my gun and equipment weighing nearly as much as I did. My reply to all this biting criticism was
that “I could shoot strong as any of them” proved true, and I was nearly always
where the shooting was going on, and believe I did my share of it.
The experience of the First Georgia
in the one-year from which we enlisted was terrific in the extreme, and was
just about as much as the human anatomy could endure. After that one year when we were assembled at
Petersburg to be mustered out of service, we had lost our former selves, and
were all changed as human beings never were before. But we were full of the fiery ardor for the
cause we had espoused, and suffering was not considered when compared with
it. Every man of us deemed it our duty
to re-enlist and we did so almost to a man.
Having three brothers in Cobb’s
Legion and that being cavalry, and having enough of “footing it” I lost no time
in joining that regiment.
General Wade Hampton on all
occasions never for one moment hesitated to say that “Cobb’s Legion was the
best regiment of cavalry that ever entered any service.” I have heard him say that any number of
times. To have belonged to two such
regiments in a matter of great pride to me.
I was captured at Gettysburg on the last day of the
As I was being conducted back to
the rear a squad of nine prisoners appeared and I was “turned over” to that
Three out of nine prisoners were
badly and one slightly wounded. I was
astonished that these men should not have been put in ambulances and sent to
We were, however, all marching
forward and reaching a bend in the road, came full and direct under a fire from
our own lines. Two of our wounded were
killed outright by this fire and two others wounded. It was terrific in the extreme and might have
We were conducted to an old stable
in the rear of Gettysburg, where we found many more prisoners awaiting us, and
there were squads constantly arriving all containing wounded men, as was the
case with the squad I came with. I was
accosted by a fellow prisoner who was remarkably striking in his handsome
appearance and fine physique. His name
was Worthington and he was from Baltimore.
He stood nearly seven feet and his appearance would have remarked in any
assemblage of men.
“I can’t understand,” said he, “how
it is these wounded men of ours are placed in with the ordinary prisoners. Why are they not sent to the hospital?”
“That same question had occurred to
“It looks to me as if all the
Yankee hospitals are full of Yankee wounded,” said a lank fellow, with his head
bandaged, and a bloody face, evidently from North Carolina.
“But common humanity would at least
give these men’s place to lie down and be quiet. They are forced to march.”
“I saw one man who besought someone
to shoot him to relieve him of his sufferings,” said another.
No one understood the
situation. I had been paroled on the
field by the parties who captured me and was told I would be sent out for
exchange. The exchange of prisoners had
gone on uninterruptedly up to this time and everybody thought it would
My parole was torn to a thousand
pieces by the Yankee officer, who came around to examine us and there was a
severity of demeanor and a rigidity of discipline we had never seen before and
could not understand. For the least
offense a prisoner was bucked and gagged, or tied to the limb of a tree, so
that his toes would just barely touch the ground, and the prison was made
hideous by the yells of those poor fellows.
“I have never seen such monsters as
these guards are,” said Worthington.
“They are mostly German regulars
and we are in rough hands,” said Lindsey, another prisoner.
It was evident there would be no
humanity in the case.
All that night prisoners continued
to arrive until the stable yard and every crevice was packed. Above the din and cry of the wounded was the
yell of the German guard. The curse of
the Irish was followed frequently by the dull thug of a lick from a musket
dealt by the fiery tempered guard.
Sleep was out of the question. Worthington, Lindsey and myself made
ourselves as little conspicuous as possible by huddling up in a corner to
escape the barbarity that seemed to reign around.
About 6 a. m. a line was formed;
even the wounded gladly falling in to escape the horrors of the stable, hoping
vaguely that things would be better.
But alas! A few “hard tacks” were handed to us, and the
guards were ordered to load their guns by a beardless boy with lieutenant’s
uniform on and mounted on a fine horse.
Soon the command was given, “Forward, march!” and we started forth. The roads were in an indescribable and
inunderstandible condition of mud.
Artillery and the army wagon had ground them deep so that every step we
were up to our knees.
The little fellow on the horse
never turned his head, and seemed to me utterly indifferent to everything but
his own fine self.
It was difficult for the guard to
keep at the pace his horse was going and for our wounded! God in Heaven, what heartless cruelty was
shown by the guard!
A German guard knocked one of these
wounded men down with the butt of his gun and was stamping him in the face with
his foot when Lindsey could stand it no longer, and in a fit of uncontrollable
rage gave him a lick in the pit of the stomach that drew him double. This would have cost him dearly but for the
presence of mind of Worthington, who disguised Lindsey so in a second he could
not be detected.
“There is another one of them I’ll
fix this very night.” Said Lindsey. This was a German sergeant who had been very
“Don’t do it Lindsey,” urged
Worthington and I in one breath.
We talked to him and depicted the
terrible fate that awaited any attempt at revenge. We urged him to wait until we were exchanged
and we would report the treatment to our government, but in spite of all our
persuasive powers we could see a wicked light in Lindsey’s eyes. That night a German sergeant was killed with
a stone, by whom no one knew – except Worthington, Lindsey and myself.
“Tanner,” said Worthington to me,
“It is dangerous for us to be with that fellow Lindsey. He will be detected in this sort of thing and
we will come in for our share of blame by being his intimates.”
“Yes, Worthington, I thought of
that too, but I like the fellow for his grit, and would take any risk to be
with such a man.”
“So would I, but there is trouble
ahead for him and us. They will detect him
in this affair. Some one must have seen
him do it, and those fellows would tell on him just to curry favor with the
guard, and a large reward will be offered to find the man who did it. I think we had better shake him.”
“No, Worthington, let’s stand by
him to the last, and do the best for him we can, and we can do much if we will
“What, for example can we do?”
“We can say be was asleep with us,
and establish an alibi.”
“Heavens!” said Worthington, “but suppose it is found
“It is worth the risk for such a
fellow. Let’s stand by him.”
And so we did. In spite of the greatest possible efforts to
find out who killed “the Dutch sergeant” it was all unavailing. To our utter dismay when we had a quiet talk
with Lindsey and remonstrated with him and tried to point out the risk to all
of us of his conduct, he almost paralyzed us with the same gleam in the eyes
and the quiet announcement that he meant to kill the little lieutenant in
charge of the guard and the Irish third lieutenant under him.
“These men are monsters.” He said with a shake of his fist, and a
hideous gleam in his eyes. “They beat
our wounded and they are as cruel as fiends.”
No persuasion could have the
slightest effect upon him and Worthington and I had another quiet conference.
It resulted as before. “We were to stand by Lindsey, come what
would, and do the best we could for him, but we were to talk to him once more
and try to dissuade him.
That evening, after a killing day’s
march, at least a dozen of our men were swung up by their thumbs, and their
cries were heartrending. We were asleep
when the camp was suddenly turned topsy-turvy by shots and the whiz and hiss of
the minnie balls flying around us.
“It’s Lindsey,” said Worthington;
“be perfectly quiet. Don’t get up,
you’ll be shot; lie down,” said he, tugging at me as I was trying to get up.
“Where is he? I want to help him. Where is he?”
I asked still half asleep. The
hiss of the minnie balls commingled with the cry of the wounded and the beating
of drums and a general alarm, the commands of the officers and the terror of
some of the prisoners made up a wild and weird scene. Confusion reigned supreme.
Finally order sufficient was
established for the prisoners to be formed, the guards were even more brutal
and the prisoners were in terror. Such a
Lieutenant Kelly had been assaulted
by a Federal soldier, who had attempted also to assassinate the lieutenant of
the guard. Failing in that he had
mounted the horse of the commandant and had fled.
This was what Worthington and I
could gleam from one of the guards who was a little more civil than his
“Was it one of your own men, then?”
queried Worthington of the guard.
“He was dressed in our uniform and
it is supposed so,” was the reply.
We walked apart and each asked at
the same time: “Where’s Lindsey?” That was the question, and to Worthington and
myself a very important one.
“He did it,” Worthington said close
in my ear; “do you think they’ll catch him?”
“He has a good horse and my get
“I hope so.” And so I did, and to this day I do not know
if Lindsey was ever captured. How he got
the Yankee uniform or how he ever carried out his plan to kill Lieutenant Kelly
I do not know. There was any amount of
carefully suppressed satisfaction at the death of that monster among the
prisoners; and the guards themselves shed no tears for him. There was one very strong circumstantial
incident which invited our suspicion to Lindsey apart from his telling
Worthington and me of his determination to kill these two officers. I overheard one of the prisoners tell another
that he had exchanged “a brand new Yankee overcoat to one of our men for a
Confederate coat and got a good rubber blanket to boot and a plug of
tobacco.” Lindsey had a rubber blanket
and a Confederate coat.
To our dismay the guards were
reinforced and the barbarity and cruelty went on. We after two days of terror, reached
Frederick, Maryland, where we were to take the cars for Baltimore.
Worthington was well known in Baltimore
and stood in great dread of his people (who sympathized with the Yankees)
seeing him in his woeful plight.
We were being marched along the
street when a scream from a female voice pierced the air and looking we saw a
beautiful young woman endeavoring to make her way through the throng of idle
gazers. She seemed to come straight
toward Worthington and myself.
Looking at Worthington I saw a
tremendous change in his face. He was as
white as chalk and seemed puzzled what to do.
When the young lady came to the
guard he leveled his bayonet at her in order perhaps to stop her progress, but
in a moment Worthington sprang upon him, wrenched his gun from his grasp and
would have annihilated him with his own weapon but for a rush of the police who
seized both parties. The young lady was
abruptly hastened away by the police and poor Worthington was taken.
Three minutes would have covered
this entire transaction. I was inert and
stunned at what had happened. As
Worthington was marched away my first thought was: “Oh, for Lindsey.” I had a vague idea of what even he could do
in such a case, but I would have rejoiced to have had him on had at that time.
I was only a boy and though I would
have freely made any sacrifice for Worthington, seeing the noble part he had
acted and how deeply wronged he was yet my wits were dull and I did not know
what to do.
But I was resolved to make some
effort. At this moment a Yankee officer
on horseback rode up and I placed myself with my hand up to my cap in military
salute directly in front of his horse, so that he could not proceed without
riding over me.
“General,” I said, “let me as a
human being say one word to you.”
“What do you want, sir?” he snapped
out. In a moment a crowd was packed
around on the outside of the pavement eagerly trying to catch what was going
“I want to speak in behalf of the
man who was just hand-cuffed and marched off to be severely dealt with for
doing nothing more than a man with the slightest spark of manhood would have
“What do you know, sir, and how do
you know this?” said he, in a very austere voice.
“Know it!” I exclaimed; “I saw everything that has just
happened to my friend!”
“Who is the man you speak of, and
where is he?”
“He is Worthington, a prisoner who
has been handcuffed and marched away because he tried to defend a young lady
from the barbarity of your men.”
There were murmurs of approval at
what I had said by the throng packed like sardines around.
“I know nothing of this matter,”
said General Patrick, for it was the general, and he commanded the provost
Then continuing, he said “These are
sever words of yours, young man, and must be verified.”
Then turning to the guard he
commanded them to take charge of me and report with Worthington at his
headquarters within and hour. He rode
Whatever effect my course had had
on General Patrick, the greater part of the crowd in the streets of Baltimore
was unquestionably almost solid for Worthington, and I believe things could
have been wrought up in an ugly mood for the guard if the same tyranny had been
shown there that we had endured on the march.
When we were brought to General
Patrick’s headquarters Worthington, without hand-cuffs, was there, and as we
entered we saw a young lady to our right seated near General Patrick. Worthington exchanged glances with her and
seemed embarrassed. I was not in
speaking distance of Worthington. Soon a
tall, commanding figure entered and was admitted to a place near the general,
and they soon engaged in a whispered conversation, which lasted about twenty
minutes. Then the tall gentleman
beckoned to Worthington and he advanced to a corner of the room and had a very
earnest conversation. I could see a
resemblance between this man and Worthington, and guessed it might be his
Worthington turned so that I could
see his face, and he looked pale and troubled.
Soon he returned to me and the tall gentleman, pale, trembling and much
agitated, returned to General Patrick and said something to him and then the
general, in an excited manner, rose and commanded the guard “take these two
rebels back to the guard and turn them over with the other prisoners.”
Here was a puzzling situation. Worthington, when he was marched out, soon
made it clear by taking my arm and saying; “Tanner, that gentleman you saw
there is my father. He wanted me to
renounce the Southern cause, take the oath of allegiance and be free, and
threatened me that unless I did he would no longer own or recognize me as a son. Of course, I refused. The young lady – the only woman I have ever
loved, or can or will ever love – whom you saw, came on the same mission; and I
have given up father, mother, sister, brothers, every earthly thing for the
“What noble words these are,
Worthington. When we succeed you will be
rewarded for all this,” I said, seeing what a great sacrifice he had made. Noble fellow, how I worship that man.
His family saved Worthington from
the most severe punishment by the guards.
Had it only been any of the rest of us we would have perhaps been ball
and chained until the war ended.
That march from Gettysburg to
Fredericksburg, Md., was a memorable one marked by all the savage ferocity and
barbarity of man’s nature.
Things would have been serious for
me but for Worthington’s family influence.
This caused the whole affair to be dropped.
Washington, D. C.