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Abraham Tower Leaves Andersonville Prison

Updated on July 16, 2016
Virginia Allain profile image

In researching my Civil War ancestor, I became fascinated by all aspects of that war. If you're a Civil War buff, check out my topics.

Many Men Never Left Andersonville

Another Indiana soldiers grave in the National Cemetery at Andersonville.
Another Indiana soldiers grave in the National Cemetery at Andersonville. | Source

My Civil War Ancestor Survived Andersonville

I knew that my great-great grandfather survived the notorious Andersonville Civil War prison, but I didn't have many details on that time in his life. In particular, I was curious about his leaving the prison.

The prisoner exchanges had broken down with the North and South unable to agree on the exchange of captured black soldiers. Over 12,000 of Andersonville's prisoners of war were buried in the cemetery near the prison.

My grandfather survived and was paroled from Andersonville in December 1864. How did this happen? Apparently his release was just in time as he was suffering from the many illnesses that killed other prisoners. He weighed a mere 73 pounds at time of release, so was just skin and bones after six months in Andersonville.

Read on to see what I discovered about his release.

(photo by Virginia Allain - I took it in the cemetery at Andersonville Prison. Thank goodness, my great-great grandfather did not die there like many of the men from his regiment did)

What Was Happening in the War That Affected Andersonville - Fall 1864

Sherman's troops occupied Atlanta in early September of that year. Those in charge of Andersonville feared that Union raids on the prison at Andersonville might free the huge number of prisoners, so they started transferring them to other prisons in South Carolina and Georgia.

Only about 1500 prisoners remained by mid-November. My ancestor was one of those still in the prison as far as I can tell. Some accounts by survivors tell of being transported by train to South Carolina but later being returned to Andersonville as troop movements and events of the war unfolded.

There were fewer guards to watch over the reduced prison population. One report that I saw said the sicker prisoners were the ones left behind in the prison. Since the more able prisoners were shipped out, the ones remaining suffered from lack of care that earlier they received from their companions.

Transfers to Andersonville in late December increased the numbers of prisoners once again but only to 5000. The prison was still a putrid hellhole but at least the crowding had been reduced.

I never felt so utterly depressed, cursed, and God-forsaken in all my life before. Pvt Walter Smith

Recommended Reading about Andersonville

William Marvel researched primary source material to compile a detailed account of events at the Andersonville Civil War Prison.

Review of Andersonville: The Last Depot

Andersonville: The Last Depot (Civil War America)
Andersonville: The Last Depot (Civil War America)

This book helped me find perspective on the treatment of the prisoners and the food shortages. It includes extensive material from first-hand accounts like diaries and letters. It also references official reports that show the difficulty in getting supplies and needed food for the overwhelming number of prisoners. The political issues leading to such overcrowding were explored from both sides. (va)


Nov. 14, 1864 New York Times Account of Prisoner Exchange

Abraham Bates Tower was not fortunate enough to be in this exchange. From what I've read, the more ill prisoners remained behind.

December 10, 1864 - Exchange of Prisoners

It is possible that my great-great grandfather was on this steamship, shown below. His parole date was a few days before this newspaper issue came out.

In his pension file, it says he was exchanged at Florence, South Carolina.

Steamer New York

The steamship New York that took released prisoners north.
The steamship New York that took released prisoners north. | Source

Take a look at the link below which takes you to a sketch of the ragged, emaciated prisoners receiving care on the steamship New York. It's a wrenching sight to see their skeletal appearance and the remnants of clothing that barely covered them.

In looking at the sketch, it helps me visualize the condition my ancestor was in at the time of his parole. Besides viewing the sketch in the Harper's Weekly of December 10, 1864, read the newspaper account of the care given the released prisoners on the steamship New York.

The next link for the book The Horrors of Andersonville by John W. Urban is a free read that describes the New York. In the case of Urban, he was so ill after his release from Andersonville that he remained in the hospital for seven months.

Battlefield to Prison Pen - Book by John W. Urban

I Thought He Probably Went to Camp Parole in Maryland - near Annapolis

Civil War hospital mess hall in Washington D.C.
Civil War hospital mess hall in Washington D.C. | Source

I imagine that Camp Parole had a similar place for the recuperating paroled prisoners to eat. I've searched quite a bit and there are very few photos of Camp Parole, Maryland from the Civil War era.

The family story goes that Abraham Tower traveled home to Crawford County, Indiana, only to find that his wife and children were no longer there. He reunited with them in Missouri where they had gone to live with his wife's sister. He was missing and presumed dead after the Battle of Brice's Crossroads.

It turns out (according to his pension file), that he was given a 30 day furlough. I can't imagine how he traveled across a country still at war to reach his family in Missouri.

Here's the description of him when he arrived there, "He was then suffering from a severe pain in his left side and breast and also with a severe cough and also suffered from the effects of scurvy. Physically he was a living skeleton and weak, totally unable to do any manual labor or whatever while home on the furlough. Only weighing about seventy-three lbs. while his average weight being one hundred and thirty-three lbs."

While home on furlough, he continued afflicted as aforesaid and returned to his regiment--sometime in January 1865 and was discharged in August 1865."

Found on the Civil War Forum

Private John Mason Labbree of Pennsylvania was paroled at Charleston, SC from Andersonville on December 6, 1864. He went to a Union Hospital, Camp Parole, on December 17, 1864. He spent six months there recovering, then was released from the hospital. Discharged June 18, 1865.

Video about Andersonville

Abraham Bates Tower Finishes Out His Enlistment

I'm not sure if he was of any use to his regiment in the condition he was in.

His pension file says: "I had no medical treatment until I was paroled and sent to Columbus, Ohio about the 12 June 1865. There a surgen of the post attended on me after that at Mobile, the surgeon of the post 2nd Regt. attended on me. I do not know his name. Then in June 1865, the surgeon of the 26th Regt. of Indiana gave me treatment. The Civil War mostly ended with General Lee's surrender of his army on April 9, 1865. The last fighting of the war was in June of 1865, then Confederate General Stand Watie surrendered his troops on June 23, 1865."

Read more about Abraham Bates Tower's life after the Civil War.

Places Mentioned in This Page - Click on the flags to read the description of each

show route and directions
A markerAndersonville Prison -
andersonville GA
get directions

B markerWhere the steamships picked up the paroled soldiers from the Confederates -
Charleston SC
get directions

C markerCamp Parole where the Andersonville survivors were held until their parole ended -
parole MD
get directions

D markerLinn County, Missouri where Abraham Tower found his family -
Laclede, Missouri
get directions

Abraham Bates Tower with His Wife Nancy Angeline after the Civil War

I don't have any photos of Abraham before the war to compare his appearance. This photo is undated so how soon was it after his release from Andersonville? The family story is that the child shown is a grandchild. For more about that, check below.
I don't have any photos of Abraham before the war to compare his appearance. This photo is undated so how soon was it after his release from Andersonville? The family story is that the child shown is a grandchild. For more about that, check below. | Source

Clues to Date the Photo

The identity of Abraham Tower is not in question here. This photo is similar to later well-identified photos of him.

The family say the infant is a grandchild, but no one know which one. Here are some possibilities.

What if it isn't a grandchild, but their own child, daughter Mary Louisa Tower? She was born in 1866.

The dress worn by Abraham's wife, Nancy Angeline, could be from that time or even into the 1880s which is when their first grandchildren were born. Below are some possible grandchildren but we can't know which one is actually in the photo.

1886 John Herman Newton

1887 Rhoda Taylor

1887 Martha A. Tower

1888 Minnie Mae Newton

1897 Sarah Angeline Fiscus

1893 Myrtle May Tower

1895 Clarence Oliver McGhee

© 2011 Virginia Allain

Have You Researched a Civil War Ancestor?

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    • profile image

      Georgene main 3 months ago

      Last name Gray in civil war

    • profile image

      Nancy Bryan 4 months ago

      Great Great grandfather dies a prisoner in the Andersonville prison.

      David Olinger

    • Virginia Allain profile image

      Virginia Allain 5 months ago from Central Florida

      I read an article somewhere that a period of starvation could actually lead to extending life. Maybe, it is just that if you are tough enough to get through that, you will survive other things for a long life.

    • profile image

      lynn brownlee 5 months ago

      My Great Great Grandfather was a prisoner at Andersonville When he returned home, his own father did not immediately recognize him, due to his emaciated state. He survived into fairly old age, however.

    • Virginia Allain profile image

      Virginia Allain 5 years ago from Central Florida

      @anonymous: It seems logical that they traveled as a group and probably recuperated in the same hospital. Check out my page about Andersonville timeline where I gathered information from various diaries. It gives you some insight into the time your ancestor was there.

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      I just discovered that my Gr. (x3) Grandfather (1st VT Cavalry) was paroled from Andersonville the same day - Dec. 6, 1864. Thanks to your research, I think he, too, must have been part of the prisoner exchange. Thanks for sharing your work!

    • Virginia Allain profile image

      Virginia Allain 5 years ago from Central Florida

      @OhMe: I wonder if your Civil War ancestor was in the prison camp in Ohio. There's been quite a bit written about that one.

    • OhMe profile image

      Nancy Tate Hellams 5 years ago from Pendleton, SC

      I remember reading about Andersonville when I was in Elementary School and the thoughts of it gives me chills. My ancestors fought for the south. They were farmers and not slave owners and were conscripted into the confederate army. One of my ancestors was a prisoner of war and survived.

    • Virginia Allain profile image

      Virginia Allain 5 years ago from Central Florida

      @Terrie_Schultz: Thanks, Terrie, I have about 33 lenses related to my great-great grandfather. Still more research to do though.

    • profile image

      Terrie_Schultz 5 years ago

      I've been working on my genealogy, and I think I have some relatives that were in the Civil War. Need to do more digging. Fascinating lens!

    • Virginia Allain profile image

      Virginia Allain 6 years ago from Central Florida

      @evelynsaenz1: Evelyn - give me the name and I'll check it in the Andersonville database for you. It's possible that our ancestors suffered in the same place.

    • evelynsaenz1 profile image

      Evelyn Saenz 6 years ago from Royalton

      Yes, My Great, great-grandfather was also a prisoner of war. They had a funereal for him here in Vermont but after the war, he came home and lived to be 94 years old. He too was quite emaciated when he left the prison. I am not sure what prison he was in.

      Blessed by a SquidAngel!

    • WindyWintersHubs profile image

      WindyWintersHubs 6 years ago from Vancouver Island, BC

      I did extensive research on my paternal great-grandmother's family tree for nine long years before Squidoo. Her grandfather and great-grandfather (as well other ancestors) served in the Civil War. I have a genealogy cousin that completed the Civil War research on the two...and it was fascinating to read some of the records. I thought about making a few hubs years ago but it has been on the backburner since Squidoo. Thanks for sharing your info, Virginia. :)

    • profile image

      Joan4 6 years ago

      My sisters do more genealogy research than I do, but I do know that we have Civil War ancestors. Looking at your map, I can just imagine the hardships of all those long trips in that day.

    • profile image

      AlleyCatLane 6 years ago

      Yes, I lived and breathed genealogy for about three straight years a number of years ago. It was fascinating. I may have to pull out my journals and do a few Squidoo lenses myself on my ancestors. You have inspired me.