Looking Back: Veteran who survived Andersonville Prison dies

Andersonville Prison Camp in Georgia was known for the poor conditions that existed there.

When William Lowery died in Corriganville on April 30, 1923, most people thought the county had lost a friendly farmer.

Yes, he was a Civil War veteran, but Lowery wasn’t the first one to die, nor would he be the last. However, he was a survivor of the most-notorious prison camp of the war.

Lowery enlisted as a 21-year-old in the 18th Pennsylvania Cavalry on Oct. 29, 1862, when the regiment was organized, and served in Company K where he was eventually promoted to sergeant. He fought in skirmishes at Chantilly, Virginia, and the Battle of Gettysburg, among others.

During a Confederate attack on their regimental camp at Germania Ford, Virginia, Southern soldiers captured Lowery on Nov. 18, 1863. He was held prisoner at Libby Prison and Danville Prison, both in Virginia, before he was sent to Andersonville, Georgia.

The prison camp there was officially named Camp Sumter in honor of the county where it was located. Over the years, it had come to be known as Andersonville Prison Camp and was known for the poor conditions that existed there.

It was overcrowded with four times as many prisoners as it was supposed to hold and water supply and food rations were inadequate for the number of prisoners there.

The overcrowding led to unsanitary conditions that allowed diseases like scurvy, diarrhea and dysentery to run rampant.

The camp began at 16.5 acres but was enlarged to 26.5 acres. A 15-foot-tall wooden stockade wall enclosed the prison and ran around a 1,620 long and 779 wide area.

“Approximately 19 feet inside of the stockade wall was the ‘deadline,’ which the prisoners were not allowed to cross. If a prisoner stepped over the ‘deadline,’ the guards in the ‘pigeon roosts,’ which were roughly 30 yards apart, were allowed to shoot them,” according to the National Park Service website for the camp.

Lowery spent time in the prison hospital with scorbutus, or scurvy. He was lucky. Scorbutus was listed as the cause of many deaths in Andersonville.

He also survived other challenges of the camp.

“He had been rarely ill during his 84 years, his worst physical ailment having been at Andersonville from lack of proper food. When he was released, he was about dead and could barely raise his body on his hands and knees,” the Cumberland Evening Times reported years later.

He was released from prison on April 6, 1865, and discharged from the army on June 19.

Of the 45,000 prisoners held at Andersonville during its 14 months of operation, nearly 13,000 died. Of the 17 members of Company K who were sent to Andersonville, only three survived. Conditions at the camp were so bad that the camp commander, Capt. Henry Wirz was executed for war crimes after the war ended.

Following the war, Lowery returned to Allegany County. He worked for the Cumberland and Pennsylvania Railroad shops in Mount Savage. Despite his health issues, he was noted for his endurance and strength.

“He could lift with ease heavy objects which others could hardly budge,” the newspaper reported.

Despite this, he filed a disability claim based on his time in the prison camp in 1879. It was settled three years later with him receiving $4 a month.

His family moved to Duquesne, Pennsylvania, at the turn of the century and lived there for 15 years before returning to Corriganville in 1917.

When he died in Allegany Hospital on April 30, 1923, he was survived by his wife of 54 years, Virginia, and five sons. However, his wife was bedbound with rheumatism and had been for seven years. She died a short time later.

His funeral was held in the family home in Corriganville. Charles W. Lanham, pastor of the Methodist Episcopal Church in Corriganville, officiated. Lowery is buried in Greenmount Cemetery in Cumberland.

Contact James Rada at jimrada@yahoo.com or 410-698-3571.

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