Clara Barton's Testimony

The following was transcribed from The Reports of the Committees of the House of Representatives, 39th Congress, First Session, 1865-1866:


WASHINGTON, D.C., February 21, 1866.

Miss Clara Barton sworn and examined.

By Mr. Howard:

Question. Of what State are you a native?

Answer. I am a native of Massachusetts.

Question. Were you raised and educated there?

Answer. I was ; in Worcester county, Massachusetts.

Question. What has been your employment during the last year?

Answer. I have been searching for the missing men of the Union army.

Question. Where have you been engaged in that business?

Answer. I have been engaged in it here in Washington.

Question. Where else?

Answer. Nowhere else in that business. That business has led to other matters which have called me away.

Question. State where else you have been, and in what you have been engaged.

Answer. I commenced to search in the spring of 1865. In the latter part of June, 1865, I formed the acquaintance of a young man who had been a prisoner at Andersonville, and who had brought away the death record of that prison. He requested an interview, and, on giving it, I learned from him how the dead were buried in Andersonville, and I became satisfied that it was possible to identify them. I carried the question before General Hoffman, who, with the assistance, I think, of the Assistant Secretary of War, laid before the Secretary, Mr. Stanton, who sent for me to come to him the next day. I did so, and stated to him my impressions, requesting that parties be sent out to identify the graves at Andersonville, and mark to them. He declared his gratitude even at the suggestion, all having thought it impossible; stated that an expedition should be started immediately, and that he would select some officer for the purpose, and he invited me to accompany it. We were ready in a week, and on the 8th of July we left Washington. I requested that the young man should also go with the party to identify the graves. We reached Andersonville, Georgia, on the 25th of July, and very soon the colored people there commenced to gather around me.

Question. What did you discover in relation to the colored people?

Answer. I discovered that they were in a state of ignorance, generally, at that time of their own condition as freedmen. Some of them knew it. They all, of course, mistrusted it. They had all heard it from one another. A few knew it from their masters, and only a few ; and what they did hear they had very little confidence to believe. Hearing that a party of Yankees, and especially a Yankee lady, was there, and they commenced to gather around me for the facts, asking me their little questions in their own way, which was to the effect, if they were free, and if Abraham Lincoln was really dead. They had been told that he was dead ; that he had been killed ; but at the same time they had been informed that, now that he was dead, they were no longer free, but would be all slaves again ; and with that had come the suspicion, on their part, that he was not dead, but that it was a hoax to hold them in slavery. They would travel twenty miles in the night, after their day's work was done, and I would find them standing in front of my tent in the morning to hear me say whether it was true that Abraham Lincoln was dead, and that they were free. I told them Abraham Lincoln was dead ; that I saw him dead ; that I was near him when he died ; and that they were free as I was. The next question was, what they should do. There were questions between the negro and his master in regard to labor and in regard to pay. I saw or discovered that the masters were inclined to get their labor without pay. Of course I had no way of proving that, but I inferred it. They were at work. Most of them offered to work until Christmas time, and to take a part of the profits. General Saxton, I should think, made some regulation specifying just what portion of each crop the negroes should have. They were all very anxious to hear the rules read. The commandant of each post had issued certain rules and regulations. These they had never heard read, and they came to me to know what the paper said. The rules were published daily in the Macon papers. They said they had been told that General Wilson's orders said that they should work six days in the week hard, and half a day on Sunday. They wanted to know if it was so. My course with them was to read General Wilson's paper, as they called it. I have read it through sometimes forty times a day. They stood around my tent in great numbers on a Sunday ; more than a hundred, men, women, and children, and every day more or less. Perhaps there were very few hours that I was not engaged in advising them, and attempting to decide some causes for them.

Question. Did General Wilson's order contain such a thing as that?

Answer. Oh, no, sir ; General Wilson's order was protective of them in its character. The order was good, and the best of it was that they could understand it. When it was read to them they never failed to comprehend the most important parts of it. It was well drawn. I found that, if it had been read to them properly by their owners or masters, they would have understood it ; for, as I read along to them, I would ask if they understood that ; "Oh, yes," they would say, "we understand that." Then I would read another passage, and ask them if they understood that ; "Oh, yes." "What do you understand by it?" They would put it in their own terms, and I saw that they understood it.

Question. Did they pretend to you that their old masters had given that peculiar version of General Wilson's order-that they should work six days in the week hard and half a day a Sunday?

Answer. In many instances they gave me that impression. They told me that in so may words, and said that they had been told so by the men for whom they worked. Some of them were not with their old masters, but were hired out, as they called it, to other parties ; but that was the impression they were under. Of course they became relieved when they heard the order and understood it. Sometimes they came with complaints of cruelty. I never found myself, perhaps, fully drawn out, excepting in one instance of fearful cruelty. They came with a great many little complaints. I could understand how that state of things would naturally create jealousy on the part of the owners, and perhaps make the negro more or less unmanageable, and perhaps impudent. Of these little things I took no notice, for I thought them natural. I simply advised them always to go back, for their own interest, and to work faithfully until Christmas, and take their part of the crop, as I could see there was no money for them. I think they never failed to follow my advice. I know of no instance where a negro went away whom I advised to return. On the 7th of August I was awoke in the morning by our colored cook coming to my tent and saying that a man wished to see me. Immediately opposite my tent there was a colored man-a good-looking man , intelligent and bright faced ; a yellow man, about a mulatto, I should think. He told me is name was Arnold Cater ; that he had been born and raised as a house servant with Governor William Rabon, of Georgia ; that he had been a few years ago sold to pay the debts of the family ; that he was then (at the time I saw him) forty-five years old ; that when he was sold he was separated from his wife and five children ; and that he was purchased by speculators and taken to southwestern Georgia. Perhaps I ought to state how the negroes came into southwestern Georgia. It is a poor section of the country, and the people there have been poor. They have been emphatically "poor whites." They were not wealthy enough to own slaves. They did their own work. But when the border States found it politic to sell their slaves, they sold them at a lesser price to speculators, who found it to their interest to purchase them and to run them into southwestern Georgia, and put them at a price at which these poor people could buy them, so that every poor man bought one or two slaves, as he could afford it, just as he would buy an ox or a cow. They kept them in their families and worked them like cattle. The slaves had no respect for their masters. The slaves have no respect for a poor man who owns them. They all seemed to apologize when they were asked where they came from. They would say, "We were not raised here." They all dated back to better days. They had been all raised in wealthy families in Virginia or South Carolina. This man that I have been speaking of had been taken away from his wife and five children, taken to southwestern Georgia, and sold to one Nick Wylie. Nick Wylie had a large number of slaves. During the years of the war he had not been on his own plantation, but some two hundred miles away, perhaps in the service ; I do not know. He had an overseer by the name of Jim Bird, who must have been the personification of cruelty. This negro told me that some two years before, he married, after their style of marrying, a young women about eighteen years old, who was a slave on the Wylie plantation. They had one child, who was then a little over one year old. This man was a blacksmith. While he was at work, a few days before, his wife had proved unable to do the task of spinning which was given her. She was again within two months of her confinement, and was unable to do her task. She complained that she could not do it, and failed by a knot or two, as their term was, of completing it. When he came home at night from his day's work he found her lying in her hut. She had been bucked and gagged.

Question. Describe the process.

Answer. The person is seated upon the ground, the knees drawn up, the hands put under the knees, and a stick run through over the arms and under the knees, the hands being tied in front; that makes them utterly immovable ; then there is a gag put in the mouth and tied at the back of the head-this woman had been treated in that way-then the overseer had come behind her, kicked her on the back, and thrown her over. She had been stripped in the mean time, for they never whip the negro with the clothes on ; she was thrown on her face, and lashed on her back, so that, when her husband found her, he said she was a gore of blood, and she must have been ; she had been untied, and was lying there as she had been left. He did not tell me that he remonstrated very much ; I suppose he dared not. Next day the woman was ordered again to her task ; she was utterly unable to do it, and scarcely able to stand ; she bought all the yarn she could to try and make up the eight knots that she had to turn in ; she failed to get quite enough, failing by a knot, or half a knot. The overseer sent to her the next night, when her task was counted, and she had failed again, ordering her to come to him the next morning at seven o'clock, as he was going to whip her ; that he had not whipped her yet, but should do so the next morning. Arnold then had no way but to gather up his wife, walking as well as she could ; and, after night time, they started for Americus, twelve miles below Andersonville. They were some twenty miles in the country from Americus ; they dared not take the direct road, for they knew the overseer would mistrust that had gone to Americus, and would overtake them ; they, therefore, went around, travelling some thirty or forty miles. After two days they reached Americus by a circuitous route. The overseer had been there, and had warned the military authorities that he had two runaway slaves, a man and a woman, who were coming there, and he wanted them returned. I think he stated he had punished them. They went into Americus without going direct to the military authorities ; but the people saw them, and saw that she was lame and hurt, and took her in somewhere. He went to work for people there at blacksmithing at a dollar a day. He heard of me at Andersonville, and he thought to reach me there ; he heard there was a settlement of Yankees forming at Andersonville ; he started with his wife, for, after being a week there, she had got a little better. He had been paid for his work in confederate money, and, when he found himself on the train, the conductor would not take that money, and put them both off. He left the wife at Americus, came to me at Andersonville, and told his story. I wrote immediately to the commandant at Americus, stating the case to him, and asking him to send a sergeant and wagon, or team of some kind, with that man back to Nick Wylie's to get whatever he had left-(he spoke of having left chickens, furniture, bed, and bedding, and the baby which he had been obliged to leave)-and send them to me. He took the note to the commandant at Americus, and it was done as I requested. Two days after, the whole assemblage drove up in front of my tent-Cater, his wife and the baby, the chickens, and the bed and bedding. I took his wife into my tent and examined her back ; she was a young, bright-colored woman, a little darker than he, with a fair, patient face, with nothing sulky in her look ; I found across her back twelve lashes or gashes, partly healed and partly not, some of them cut into the bone. She must have been whipped with a lash half as large as my little finger-it may have been larger ; any of these gashes was from eight to ten inches in length ; the flesh had been cut completely out most of the way. It had been a curling whip ; it had curled around her arms , cut out inside the arm, over the back, and the same on the other side. There were twelve of those long lashes, partly healed and partly not ; she could not bear her clothing on her at that time, except thrown loosely over her shoulders ; she had got strong enough so as to be able to walk, but she was feeble, and must have been unable to work before that occurred ; she was in no condition to work.

Question. She was in a state of pregnancy, then?

Answer. Yes, sir ; that was the difficulty. She was one who, from her face, would never have rebelled against labor that she could have done ; of that I am satisfied.

Question. Do you know what became of her?

Answer. I referred them to Colonel Griffin, then in charge at Andersonville. The colonel put Cater to work at his trade as a blacksmith, and gave them a house to live in. I would have taken them away with me if I could ; but it was impossible, and I left them there working for Colonel Griffin, he at his trade and she as a waiting girl.

Question. From your intercourse with the people there did you learn that treatment similar to that was of frequent occurrence among the slaveholders?

Answer. I should judge that it was not an uncommon thing. That was all that I observed myself. How far they would be inclined to exaggerate I cannot say. They might magnify their wrongs ; but they told me a great deal of them. I believed what I saw. I knew what I saw.

Question. When did you leave that part of the country to come back?

Answer. I left on the 25th of August, I think, and came back to Washington through Chattanooga and the west.

Question. What did you discover to be the feeling among the whites in Georgia, where you visited, toward the government of the United States and toward the loyal people of the United States?

Answer. I should suppose that in no instance was I able to get at their real feelings. They would be less likely to show their real feelings to me than to almost any other person. That was shortly after the arrest of Wirz, and the impression was general when I went there that I went to make observations with reference to further arrests. The women, supposing that I, a woman, had come to look after the women in particular, commenced to call upon me the first day of my arrival. I speak of the white women who had lived in the neighborhood during the time of its occupation as a prison. They appeared to associate together in threes or fours, and came to call upon me very neighborly, very bland, all taking the utmost pains to assure me that they had no part nor lot in the treatment of our prisoners, but throwing it back upon Winder, who was dead and in his grave. They all appeared willing enough to save Wirz. They, of course, would all have done better, and they did not think that Captain Wirz was bad at heart, but that he was ordered to do all those things by Winder. They wanted to screen Wirz, because if they could get the matter to stop inside of him, that was the last would be heard of it-there was no going over that ; but if it went over him, there was no knowing how far it would go. So they screened everybody but Winder, and themselves they made immaculate. They were all willing to admit the greatest atrocities had been committed on the prisoners, and that they had been shocked at the sight. They were ready to admit everything that we had ever thought of. They did not think, however, that Mr. Davis knew anything about it ; but you would have supposed, to have heard them talk, that old General Winder was answerable for every crime and inhumanity ever committed in the confederacy ; and he, fortunately, was dead, and no harm could be done to him. They centred everything there. There was every reason why none of them should tell me the truth, and there was strong personal reason why they should falsify to me, and I took it so. They were, as I saw, "making friends of the mammon of unrighteousness." I read at once what their standing was, and what their fears were. So I have no idea that I got any truthful expressions from white people there.

Question. Did you examine the prison ground at Andersonville?

Answer. I did very thoroughly, every inch of ground used.

Question. Of course you found it difficult to discover any trace of the barbarities practiced there?

Answer. Of course there were no prisoners there then : but the appearance of the whole ground was sufficient evidence, considering the number of prisoners who had been there. All spoke of inhumanity. It was impossible that that number of men could be kept within the enclosure without the most intense suffering.

Question. Was the enclosure standing when you were there?

Answer. Yes, sir. It is a stockade formed of pine trees twenty feet long, and from a foot to a foot and a half through, set five or six feet in the ground, close together, and pointed at the top.

Question. What was the area of the enclosure?

Answer. From twenty-five to twenty-seven acres, more or less. It had been much less at one time. It was originally only eleven acres. They had got some thirty thousand men within that eleven acres. But they found it impossible, as prisoners were constantly sent there, to keep them in that space, and the stockade was increased to the size that they called twenty-seven acres. I had it measured while I was there, and I made it some twenty-five or twenty-six acres.

Question. Do you know how many prisoners they had there at any one time during the war?

Answer. From thirty to thirty-four thousand.

Question. How was the enclosure provided with water?

Answer. A slow, small, sluggish stream runs through nearly the centre of it. The ground was unbroken woods when they commenced to enclose it. Two round hills are close together, and between them runs a little brook formed of springs, for the whole land there is springy, and wherever two hills meet anywhere in that country a brook runs between them. A little stream like that ran between these two hills. As I saw it in the summer, one could have almost walked through it with common high shoes without wetting the feet. Still with a rain it rose very rapidly. This stream ran through from west to east, and at the head of it, just outside the stockade, they placed the cook-house and bake-house for the prisoners, for the guards, and for all. Every impurity from both these houses that was thrown out washed directly into the stream and went immediately into the stockade, and that was all the water the prisoners had to use. I saw grease and refuse matter still adhering to the roots of the coarse grass which grew upon the banks, which had run down and lodged there at the time. This was some months after, and I can judge from that what it must have been.

Question. You say the current was sluggish-slow?

Answer. Very slow.

Question. Was the ground along the immediate banks of that stream muddy and loose, or hard?

Answer. It is the red clay which is so changeable in its nature. It was very hard in dry weather, almost as a rock, but still the least rain softened it ; it became soft, slippery, deep, and washed and gullied to almost any depth.

Question. Was that the character of the soil in all the lot?

Answer. Yes, sir.

Question. What contrivances had there been for the protection of the prisoners from the rain, the sun, and the storms?

Answer. There were a few sheds, with simply a covering over the tops, but no sides, on the top of either hill ; but I have been told by prisoners that at first there were none of them, and that the last five sheds (five on one end and five on the other) were only erected a few weeks before the stockade was abandoned. I may almost say that there was no protection. Some of the men had blankets and some of them had the little shelter tent. They put these together as well as they could and gathered under them ; there was no other protection.

Question. Were there no other means of procuring water for the prisoners except from those springs?

Answer. Yes, sir ; Sweet Water creek, which is fifteen feet wide and three feet deep, runs within pistol shot of what was the old hospital.

Question. How near to the enclosure?

Answer. The old hospital was just outside of the enclosure, at the south end of the stockade.

Question. Did you understand whether the prisoners were or were not allowed to procure fresh water from Sweet Water creek?

Answer. Oh, they could not have procured it.

Question. Do you know whether they were permitted?

Answer. They were not permitted to go outside of the stockade.

Question. Why did not their keepers allow them to procure fresh water on Sweet Water creek?

Answer. That is a matter about which I am not informed. I can only speak of the probabilities. It is probable that the old hospital may have had such an arrangement ; but the prisoners within the stockade, I should think, could not have.

Question. Were the prisoners in any way, either by themselves or keepers, supplied with water from Sweet Water creek, or from any other source?

Answer. That is a question that I cannot answer, and must not attempt ; but I can send you to a person who does know, who was a prisoner all the time, and who can answer the question.

Question. Did they bury any of the dead within the enclosure?

Answer. There was one grave marked, one spot of earth against which there was a board which showed that a man was buried there. That was all that I saw.

Question. Where were the dead buried?

Answer. They were buried from three to four hundred yards from the stockade, in a piece of ground which had formerly been an old church-yard in olden times ; that is the present cemetery.

Question. Describe as well as you can the mode of their burial.

Answer. They were buried in trenches, from 100 to 150 feet in length.

Question. How deep were the trenches?

Answer. We could not see, as no trench was opened while we were there ; but I suppose they were sufficiently deep for the comfort and safety of the persons who were about there, for there were three thousand rebel guards. I presume the bodies were buried sufficiently deep for practical purposes.

Question. Can you state, from credible information, what was probably the number of prisoners who died there and were buried?

Answer. There are 12,920, as near as I can estimate it, whose graves were marked in some way, and we know of no others ; we have no trace of any more ; they lack a few of 13,000, and we have no knowledge of there being any more there.

Question. Was the monster Winder there during the whole time until the stockade was taken possession of by the Union troops?

Answer. I cannot say at what time he left ; they pointed out quarters to me which they said had been his residence.

Question. Were the dead buried in any other place except this old church-yard?

Answer. Only such as died of small-pox. Half a mile from there they had a small-pox hospital and burying-ground.

Question. Part of your mission there was to identify the dead?

Answer. Yes.

Question. How did you identify them?

Answer. There was a numbered board placed at the heads of the men as they lay in the trenches.

Question. Simply numbered?

Answer. Yes, sir ; the trench was dug continuously, and as the men were carried out from the hospital a paper was pinned on the breast of each, specifying his name, company, and regiment. Space was only allowed for the body, the arms being laid over it. As the body was laid in, the paper was taken off and placed in the hands of a man whose business it was to receive it and keep it carefully, putting it in its regular order after the one that came before, never changing its position, and so on till all were laid in for the day and covered up. Then he went with the papers to the young man who kept the death register and laid them down, face downwards, in which order they were registered in the book and numbered. Then the board was numbered corresponding with those numbers, and they were placed in regular order in the cemetery.

Question. So that the identification would depend upon the accuracy of the correspondence between the number given to the clerk and the number on the board at the head of the dead body?

Answer. Yes, sir.

Question. Thus leaving it very liable to mistake?

Answer. Oh, yes, sir ; there would be liabilities to mistakes. Still the matter was in the hands of our own men. The dead were all buried by our own men, and they have assured me that they always took the utmost pains to be correct. It was the young man who kept the register from whom I gathered this information. He assured me that he believed the utmost pains were always taken, and that, so far as he was concerned, he knew that he had been free from mistakes. He had been faithful, and he believed that the others had been so, for it had always in their minds to keep the thing correct. The dead had been their own comrades.

Question. Did you make any stay in South Carolina?

Answer. No, sir ; we passed up the Savannah river.

Question. Are you able to speak of the condition of things in South Carolina?

Answer. I am not prepared to.

Question. So far you have been able to collect information, and so far as you believe, what is the state of feeling on the part of secessionists in Georgia towards the government of the United States.

Answer. I think they have no respect for it.

Question. How do they feel towards the freed negroes?

Answer. I think far less kindly than when they owned them themselves.

Questions. Would they, or would they not, if they had the power, reduce them again to slavery?

Answer. That I cannot say ; but I should not want to take the chances of being a slave there, were it in their power.

Question. Is there any other fact that you wish to state?

Answer. I am not aware of any ; I think not.

Question. How did you find the feeling of the blacks towards the government of the United States, and towards the loyal people?

Answer. The very best of feeling-friendly, full of confidence in the United States government, loving the northern people.

Question. Did you meet with any blacks during your journey who were friendly to the rebel cause?

Answer. I cannot say that I did meet one ; I heard no black person express himself or herself in that way.

Question. How did the blacks tell you they had conducted themselves during the war?

Answer. They said they had been "mity fraid."

Question. Did they seem to understand what was the object of the war, or what was to be its final result as to them?

Answer. They began to comprehend it. I think they understood it. I think, so far as their intelligence will permit, they understand it as clearly to-day as we do ; they now grasp it distinctly.

Question. Have you any reason to suppose that there were secret associations among the negroes during the war, or before the war, by which intelligence was communicated from one locality to another?

Answer. If I may believe what they say, it was so ; I have been repeatedly told so. They have, in their crude way, attempted to describe to me their evening meetings, as they stole away from one plantation to another, previous to the war and during the war.

Question. You have had a good deal of intercourse with the blacks ; what is your idea about their capacity to acquire knowledge? Do they possess a capacity equal to that of the whites, generally speaking?

Answer. In their present condition they can hardly be compared with the whites ; still, to a certain extent they learn as easily, as readily. I do not think that their reasoning powers have been educated up to a standard that enables them to grasp subjects which whites can grasp, but their imitation leads them to acquire many things as readily as white people do.

Question. What can you say in regard to their general truthfulness? How, in that respect, do they compare with white people in a similar condition of life, if it were possible to suppose such a similarity?

Answer. They have been, in a great measure, taught to speak falsely and to act falsely.

Question. Taught by whom?

Answer. Their very condition has taught them that ; the condition of slavery teaches false hood. But there is a principal of religious character in their nature which holds them above white people of as low a grade. They are more religious, but the nature of their condition has not made them more moral.

Question. Are they waiting in truthfulness in their communications with one another?

Answer. To a certain extent I think they are ; but not more so, probably, than white people under similar circumstances - if it were possible to imagine them. But that I mean that I do not think they are untruthful because they were created negroes, but from the condition and station in which they have been placed. Naturally, I think the negro not less moral, not less religious, not less truthful than any other race, only as his condition has made him so.


Return to Clara Barton Chronology 1861 - 1869

Transcribed by Volunteer James Finta.

Last updated: April 10, 2015

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