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April, 1864 – Prison for the Duration

April of 1864 troops were on the move across the country. Men of the 20th, 39th and 100th were all moved to new positions in preparation for the battles to come. The ranks had been thinned, but new recruits had stepped up to take the place of the killed, wounded and captured.

It was the captured comrades that weighed most heavily on the minds and hearts of the men. That weight doubled when on April 17 General Grant announced that there would be no more prisoner exchanges. Grant felt that it was only prolonging the war, as each rebel released would be back at the front within days.

Those who had the misfortune to be in a prison camp faced a bleak future. Those at the front now knew, the only way to see their captured comrades again was to win the war.

Col. Bartleson of the 100th, recuperating in Joliet, was one of the lucky ones. His time in Libby Prison was short, and he was soon exchanged. Not so lucky was Rufus Bolton, of Plainfield, who was captured alongside him at Chickamauga. Bolton was only an enlisted man, so his fate was to be sent to Andersonville.

It wasn’t until December of 1864 that his family knew of his passing. They received a letter from his blanket mate at the hospital who survived. It read in part, “I am sorry that it becomes my painful duty to inform you of the sad death of your son Rufus, who died in the 13th ward of the hospital at Andersonville prison, in Georgia.”

“Poor Rufus suffered long and badly, yet bore all with Christian patience and fortitude.”

“Our shelter was very poor, an old condemned tent that let the rain in upon us whenever it came on. Our raiment was poor and getting worse every day. We had between us two old blankets which helped to keep us from freezing at night for the nights in Georgia especially in the fall and winter seasons are very cold. Many a time we had to huddle together as close as possible, pulled the blankets over our heads, and puff our breath beneath to keep us warm.”

“Our rations too were truly miserable. We received every morning less than a half pint of stuff which went by the name of rice soup, and at noon about three mouthfuls of corn bread, (the cob being ground with the kernel) and, now and then two small biscuits, about a mouthful in each, so sour and ill-baked, that it was more hurt than good to use them. In the evening we got about half a pint of very badly cooked rice.”

“Rufus at length began to grow weaker, and though his face seemed full, yet his body and limbs were reduced very much, and as he began to grow worse, he ate less, till hour by hour, he seemed to be passing away. At length he grew so sick and weak, that he was unable to stand or hardly sit up, and the doctor ordered him with others in his position to be sent to the 13th ward known as the sick ward.”

Barton Smith Walters of Channahon, from the 39th was sent to Andersonville as well. He lived to be released and taken to Annapolis where he died two weeks later from the effects of his imprisonment. Thomas DeLine from the 39th and also from Channahon was luckier. He was paroled in January of 1865 but only lived another two years from the effects of his starvation. Warren S. and Henry C. Noble, brothers from Wilmington, who were also captured at Chickamauga along with Bartleson, arrived at Andersonville after being held at two other prisons just after Grant stopped the prisoner exchanges. Warren was paroled at the end of 1864, Henry never left.

Back at the home front Lincoln had put out another call for 20,000 men to enlist for 100 days. These new men would take the place of seasoned veterans at posts such as desk jobs and guard duty at prison camps in the North.

Col. Goodwin, formerly major of the 20th served his country once again by raising a company of 75 men to serve in the 100 day regiment from Will County.

Battle lines were being drawn as April drew to a close. The men of Will County faced their fourth summer of the War Between the States.