Dancing Along the Deadline: the Andersonville Memoir of a Prisoner of the Confederacy, by Ezra Hoyt Ripple,edited by Mark Snell, Presidio Press, Novato, Calif., 1996, $19.95.
Anyone with more than a passing interest in the Civil War knows that wartime prisons were the pits–sometimes literally. Northor South, a soldier incarcerated as a prisoner of war usually suffered in ways he could never have imagined, which often madePOWs wish for the relative comfort of a pitched battle or even death.
Deserved or not, Andersonville prison, in southern Georgia, is the best-known and most infamous Civil War prison. Dozens ofbooks, pamphlets and articles have been written about Andersonville, so that now the mere name evokes images of starved,half-naked prisoners. This memoir does nothing to dispel that image.
Ezra Ripple wrote his memoirs in 1896 for a lecture series he delivered to YMCAs, Grand Army of the Republic meetings,and other civic and public organizations. He had copies bound for each of his children, with instructions that the book was notto be published in his lifetime. Since then, portions of the memoirs have been published by Bruce Catton in an article forAmerican Heritage in 1964, and an article in Civil War Times Illustrated in 1974.
While there are more complete and definite works on Andersonville, Ripple’s book is notable for three reasons. First is theinclusion of 55 sketches by noted Civil War artist James E. Taylor. Commissioned by Ripple to accompany his lecture seriesas a “magic lantern” show, these sketches were the focus of Catton’s article. The second is Ripple’s account of hisincarceration in a Florence, S.C., prison. Since he was one of the original prisoners transferred from Andersonville toFlorence, we get a firsthand account of the prison from its inception. The third reason is Ripple’s writing. He tells his story well,with a sometimes humorous touch. And if his impression of the treatment for Southern POWs in comparison to him and hiscomrades is slightly skewed, he does give credit to friendly guards where due.
The memoirs are enhanced by the foreword and editing of Mark A. Snell, who has done an admirable job of researching themany individuals mentioned by Ripple. All in all, Dancing Along the Deadline is worth a read for anyone who wants to knowmore about the hellholes that were the prisons of the Civil War.
B. Keith Toney