650 Buried Here

Camp Lawton, a Confederate prison for Union soldiers near Millen, Georgia, Oct.-Nov. 1864. Watercolor by Robert Sneden.

Camp Lawton, a Confederate prison for Union soldiers near Millen, Georgia, Oct.-Nov. 1864. Watercolor by Robert Sneden.

Robert Knox Sneden, 40th NY Volunteer Infantry, mapmaker & artist

Robert Knox Sneden, 40th NY Volunteer Infantry, mapmaker & artist

When Sherman’s 17th Army Corps arrived at Camp Lawton in early December 1864, eager to liberate Union prisoners, they discovered Camp Lawton abandoned. In a long trench, they found a wood plank with the inscription “650 Buried Here.” Sherman’s order to burn the railroad station and government buildings in Millen was reportedly in retaliation at this news.

From the diary of Edwin Lybarger, a lieutenant and quartermaster of the 43rd Ohio Veteran Volunteer Infantry regiment in Mower’s Brigade, 17th Army Corps, Army of the Tennessee on Sherman’s March to the Sea:

Dec. 1, 1864: On the march; the 1st and 4th divisions of the 17th A.C. [Army Corps] tearing up railroad; camped on Jones’ plantation, said to be one of the finest in the state.
Dec. 2: On the march; camped at Millen, Ga., where we had a slight skirmish. The railroad and all government property destroyed.
Dec. 3: Marched to a station numbered 7. Encamped for the night. Forage plenty, soil sandy, affording abundance of sweet potatoes; we didn’t take any, no, not any.

Col. Oscar L. Jackson, 63rd Ohio Volunteer Infantry

Col. Oscar L. Jackson, 63rd Ohio Volunteer Infantry

From THE COLONEL’S DIARY, by Col. Oscar Jackson, 63rd OVVI:

Dec. 1, 1864: Move east at the usual hour. We are tearing up the Georgia Central Railroad. Our division today destroyed from the 95th to the 91st mile post from Savannah and went into camp on Judge Cook’s plantation, seven miles from the camp of last night.

Dec. 2:  My company on forage duty today. Getting to the head of the column before it reached the town of Millen, Georgia, I asked permission to enter in advance of the troops to see what I could find, which condition was granted by the General in command on condition that I would keep my company well together and be cautious as I was told that the enemy had been there a few hours previous and it was not yet known that they were gone…While I was occupying the town, the enemy ran a train down near town and raised a little excitement for us…Millen is one of the noted pens the rebels have been keeping our prisoners in. The stockade is north of the town where, it is said, they did have twenty thousand. They have been removed to Savannah, the last train load only being got off this forenoon before I got into town. The railroad from Augusta intersects the Georgia Central here and there are find depot buildings, but the town, I should think never had over two thousand inhabitants, and it was completely sacked after our troops occupied it.

Dec. 3: Our corps is burning the depot, destroying the railroad, etc. General Sherman is around watching how it is done. He is a very plain, unassuming man and today is in undress uniform but has that big shirt collar on as usual. His order to General Blair this morning was to make the destruction “tenfold more devilish” that he had ever dreamed of, as this is one of the places they have been starving our prisoners. Reach camp this evening near station number 7, Scarborough, some eight miles from Millen.

from Sherman’s March by Burke Davis, Vintage Books (1988):     

Camp Lawton, from THE EYE OF THE STORM: A Civil War Odyssey, featuring the drawings of Robert Knox Sneden.

Camp Lawton, from THE EYE OF THE STORM: A Civil War Odyssey, featuring the drawings of Robert Knox Sneden.

“[Division cavalry commander Hugh J.] Kilpatrick turned to his assignment to rescue Federal prisoners in the filthy pens at the crossroads settlement of Millen–where many survivors of the now abandoned Andersonville prison had been taken. The cavalry was too late As his riders on the banks of the Ogeechee, Kilpatrick saw the last of the prisoners being herded into boxcars by Confederates on the opposite side of the stream…

Chaplain Bradley climbed to one of the guard posts and looked down on the huts and holes where prisoners had lived: ‘It made my heart ache . . . such miserable hovels, hardly fit for swine to live in.’     He saw the shed where prisoners had been punished with stocks for seven men, ‘and they appeared to be well worn.’ Bradley heard men cursing Davis and the rebels as they left the place…

Captain Storrs of the 20th Connecticut, who drank some of the ‘very bad-tasting water’ from the stream, thought the rebels had chosen the swampy site to hasten the deaths of prisoners from malaria: ‘I am afraid if the soldiers generally could visit this pen there would be no quarter given beyond here.’

John Potter of the 101st Illinois wandered over the ground in a vain search for souvenirs: ‘It was the barest spot I ever saw. The trees and stumps and roots to the smallest fiber had been dug out for fuel, not a rag or a button or even a chip could be found.’

Alex Downing, almost sickened by the sight of the pen, was one who helped to destroy it: ‘We burned everything here a match would ignite.’ Not long afterward, some of Slocum’s men burned most of the village of Millen, including the hotel, depot and other buildings. They also burned a plantation house on the outskirts, and shot a pack of bloodhounds they found there.”

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