Corporal August Hammel
Fifth Iowa Volunteer Cavalry
During the War Between the States, many soldiers had the misfortunate of falling into their enemy's hands. Corporal August Hammel experienced a second strike of that lightening, being captured by the Confederates on two different occasions. On May 5, 1862, he was one of a large group of Union troopers who fell into rebel hands at Lockridge's Mill, Tennessee. He was returned to the regiment a month later, reenlisting for the duration of the war in 1864. He was promoted to the rank of Eighth Corporal on March 1, 1864.
It was during his second enlistment that Hammel was taken prisoner a second time. On July 31, 1864, he was captured during an engagement on the Chattahoochee River, Georgia. Unfortunately, his second imprisonment was not to be as brief as his first. The following passage from The History of Dubuque County includes notes about Hammel's service. It is followed by some of Hammel's personal recollections, as preserved by his descendants from a speech he delivered in Dubuque.
When the Government was plunged into war and all patriotic men were urged to come forward and maintain the union of the States, the stirring call of his adopted country met with a responsive answer from young Hammel. In August, 1861, he enlisted in the Fifth Iowa Cavalry and shortly thereafter became a corporal. His first important engagement was at Fort Donelson when he carried dispatches from Fort Henry to Fort Donelson during the engagement and where General Grant became famous for his demand upon General Buckner for "immediate and unconditional surrender." Mr Hammel served all through the Civil war with great credit. On the 5th of May, 1862, while on a scouting expedition with about 120 men, Major Schaffer commanding, the party was surprised by the enemy under Major-General Cleburne. Mr. Hammel had barely time to mount his horse and in the confusion rider and horse were thrown off a bridge, whereupon he was taken prisoner by a young rebel. An older rebel coming along declared with an oath he would shoot him…
This speech was give by August Hammel in Dubuque, the précised date and location of the speech are unknown.
Comrades and ladies, I am no public speaker, but I have taken a few notes of my experience on the famous McCook raid and my introduction at Andersonville. My service was with Company E, Fifth Iowa Cavalry Volunteers, from 1861 to 1865.
After returning from a successful raid through Alabama under Gen. Rosseau, we were ordered to participate in the desperate and famous McCook raid from Atlanta to Noonan, Georgia, on the afternoon of July 23rd, 1864, An order was read to the regiment, ordering all able bodied men and horses to get ready to participate in the contemplated McCook Raid. Out of our Company E of 80 strong at that time, there were only 22 able to answer to the call and to obey the order for this stern and desperate duty. Towards evening of the 23rd, the regiment left the camp and about midnight we struck the enemy's wagon train, which we burned and captured the men and mules belonging to the train, then in further advancing we meet the enemy in force. After desperate fighting we drove the rebels back and destroyed many miles of railroad, then advancing towards Noonan we encountered the enemy in such a strong force that we were compelled to halt and accept an engagement offered by the rebels, being virtually surrounded. After a consultation of our commanding officers, whether our command should surrender or cut our way through the enemy's ranks, it was finally decided to cut our way through the enemy's ranks, which we did with the loss of a great many good and true men, particularly one which I call to memory is David Conzett; he was just in the act of mounting when he was shot through the head and fell. I asked him, Dave, what is the matter; he never answered. Poor Dave had answered the last roll call.
After cutting our way through the ranks that lead to the Chatahouchee River, part of our command crossed during the night on flat boats. Early in the morning, the enemy who were in hot pursuit, drove our horses into the River, but they would not or could not swim, but stayed in a solid mass. I made a desperate jump quite a distance into the last flat boat, and got safely across. The enemy opened fire on us and killed and wounded quite a number of our men in crossing. I tried my best to make my escape, pulled off my boots and carried them, being dismounted, when Ed Pottser, one of my Company, volunteered to carry the boots for me, and all this while the enemy were in hot pursuit of us with the aid of bloodhounds. We separated, Ed going to the right, while I went to the left. Ed sold my boots which were valued at $100.00 to a Negro miller for some tobacco. I was encountered next day by four old gray headed rebels and four bloodhounds. I had secured myself back of a large tree with 16 shots, ready to fire, with Spencer carbine and revolver. They commanded me to surrender… About July 27th, 1864, we were taken to Andersonville, where we were ordered to form in two open ranks, when Capt. Wertz [sic] commanded us to strip off our clothing, and took all our little trinkets and valuables, which we prized very much, such as pocket knives, postage-stamps, green backs and a gold watch, I had the watch secreted in my cavalry trousers, which are made double, and I had it sewed in such a manner that I thought they could never find it. When the Captain came upon it, I pleaded with him to let me keep it, but he only pointed a revolver at my head, threatening to blow out my brains, if I said another word. There was one soldier of Company F who was a little more fortunate than I. He had hid his watch in a piece of pork, by cutting a hole in the pork, then smoothing-it over;in this manner he saved the watch. We were then ordered to march to the prison, and as we entered the gate a terrible sight met our eyes here where 3O,OOO men in 17-1/2 acres of ground, partly swamp, and on all sides lay…
The drinking water was nothing more than a cesspool when. we entered, but in September 1864, a large spring broke out on the elevated ground, and I think it was a God send to the starving, for when we had nothing to eat, we at least got water to drink. Our rations were very small, a pint of corn meal, corn cobs and all, and for a change, we had beans with flies in for seasoning.
In the fall of 1864, the time of Presidential election, they ordered a vote in the prison, the candidates for president being A. Lincoln and McClellan. When we elected Abe Lincoln with a large majority, the result was we did not get any rations until the next day,
The news was then spread that we were to be exchanged, and we were divided into lots of 5000 men in a squad, but to our disappointment, we were only sent to another prison. I was one of the last 5000 taken out of the prison; we were sent to Mellon, Georgia, from Mellon to Savannah, and from Savannah, Georgia loaded on flat cars, with a great storm raging, and taken to Blackshear. From Blackshear to Thomasville back to the old hell-hole of Andersonville, landing there on the 25th day of December, with one ear of corn for three days' ration, the weather being partly raining and snowing with no shelter whatever to crawl into. Here I remained until the 20th of April, 1865 having been a. prisoner for 9 long months, weighing, when released, 85 lbs. They took us then within 20 miles of Jacksonville, Florida, into God's country and told us to get. Here we were met by our men, and here we saw again, the dear old flag. Our men were so overcome with grief with what they saw, that they could not do enough for us.
We were now marched to an island where we were fed during the night, also because we did not bear inspection as our clothing were torn to shreds, here we received soaps, towels and clothing. The old clothing were piled in heaps and burned and after we were washed, sheared, combed and dressed, one hardly knew the others from there. We were sent to Davenport to be mustered out about June 15th, 1865. Then I came back home to Dubuque. I was under Dr. Finley and Sprag's care for over one year before I was able to do any kind of work.
We are also pleased to have a postwar photograph of this veteran and some of his companions from Company E.
We are deeply grateful to Corporal Hammel's great-grandson, William Hammel, for both this biography, and the aforementioned photograph.