Andersonville Ordeal Leaves Grandfather Fighting Gangrene

Man survives the Civil War and ordeal of Andersonville only to die at a young age.

Content Tools

This biography is printed on the back of my great-grandfather's photograph taken after his recovery from gangrene. Doctors said he died young (58) because of his ordeal in Andersonville Prison.

"In the fall of 1862, the 14th Ill. Cavalry organized in Peoria, and I enlisted in Company B; served until captured on Stoneman's Raid in July 1864, upon retreat from Macon. I was taken by six Rebel soldiers to Andersonville and there kept until the fall of Atlanta made it necessary for us to be removed to prevent our falling in the hands of the Union forces.

"I was taken to Charleston, S.C., with others and placed by the enemy under fire of our soldiers and gunboats; remained here 10 days and on or about February 15, I was stricken down by an attack of ‘swamp fever.’

"For three weeks I remained in a delirious condition; the fever abated and reason returned. I soon learned from the surgeon, after a hasty examination, that I was a victim of scurvy and gangrene and was removed to the gangrene hospital.

"My feet and ankles, five inches above the joints, presented a livid, lifeless appearance, and soon the flesh began to slough off, and the surgeon with a brutal oath said I would soon die. But I was determined to live and begged him to cut my feet off, telling him if he would that I could live. He still refused; and believing that my life depended on the removal of my feet, I secured an old pocket knife (I have it now in my possession) and cut through the diseased flesh and severed the tendons. The feet were unjointed, leaving the bones protruding without a covering of flesh of five inches.

"At the close of the War, I was taken by the Rebels to our lines in Wilmington, N.C., in April 1865, and when I was weighed learned that I had been reduced from 165 pounds (my weight when captured) to 45 pounds! Every one of the Union surgeons who saw me then said I could not live; but contrary to this belief, I did and improved. Six weeks after release, while on a boat en route to New York, the bones of my right limb broke off at the end of the flesh. Six weeks later, while in the hospital on David's Island, those of my left had become necrosid and broke off similarly.

"One year after my release, I was just able to sit up in bed and was discharged. Twelve years after my release my limbs had healed over, and strange to relate, no amputation had ever been performed upon them, save the one I had performed in prison. There is no record of any case in the world similar to mine.

Yours, John Wales January"

Mrs. Betty Curtis
Pawnee City, Nebraska

Back in 1955 a call went out from the editors of the then CAPPER’s Weekly asking for readers to send in articles on true pioneers. Hundreds of letters came pouring in from early settlers and their children, many now in their 80s and 90s, and from grandchildren of settlers, all with tales to tell. So many articles were received that a decision was made to create a book, and in 1956, the first My Folks title – My Folks Came in a Covered Wagon – hit the shelves. Nine other books have since been published in the My Folks series, all filled to the brim with true tales from CAPPER’s readers, and we are proud to make those stories available to our growing online community.