REEDSVILLE, Ohio — Loren H. Miles, a veteran of the American Civil War, and a survivor of Andersonville, was honored with a grave marking ceremony earlier this month at South Bethel Community Church Cemetery in Reedsville.
Miles was born in Athens County, Ohio in 1842, and enlisted in the Union Army in July 1861. He joined the 30th Ohio Valley Infantry Company C when it was formed in August of the same year. Company C participated in numerous battles, including the Atlanta Campaign, where Miles was captured by Confederate forces. He and fellow prisoners of war were taken to Ft. Sumter, also known as Andersonville, a stockade in Georgia built to hold Union Army prisoners captured by Confederate soldiers. Miles spent the remainder of the war in the camp. With the surrender of the Confederacy in 1865, he was reunited with the Union Army and discharged in June, 1865.
The remarking of Miles’ gravesite came as a result of research done by Brian Ash. While compiling a history of his great great grandfather William Franklin Townsend, who had served with the 30th Ohio Company C, he came across memoirs written by Townsend himself. The memoirs were published in series of articles in “The Leader,” a newspaper published in Pomeroy, Ohio from 1895 to 1918, in a section of the paper called “The Campfire.” The articles are now online at the Ohio University Library in Athens, Ohio.
Through his research, Ash came across a story of his Townsend’s time in Andersville, where he mentions Loren Miles. Townsend recounts their camaraderie and survival in the horrific conditions of the prison, and their assistance from a man Townsend later suggests was an angel, since there were no records that a person bearing his name was ever at the Andersonville stockade.
The story was retold by Ash in a presentation during Miles’ rededication ceremony.
“I have always had an interest in history,” Ash said. “When I began researching my great great grandfather, I found more than I could ever have expected. What I discovered are memories in the form of words.”
He said he was very moved when reading the words, it was as if his great great grandfather was speaking with him.
“It was amazing to find these memories so well documented and preserved. They came from someone’s first hand experience with the Civil War and being a prisoner at Andersonville, words cannot express their importance, not only to me, but to others.”
Ash said they tell a story that only someone who has lived through the experience could do.
The story of Miles and Townsend, written by Brian Ash with information obtained from the Memoirs of William “Billy” Townsend appears here. Ash read the transcript below during Miles’s rededication memorial.
The Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War have set aside this day in order to honor and remember the military service of Loren H. Miles. We are also here to dedicate the marble headstone which was provided by the department of Veteran Affairs. The providential hand of God is evident throughout the course of the American Civil War and during this presentation I will mention three occurrences which directly affected the lives of Loren Miles and fellow POW William “Billy” Townsend.
Loren was born November 13, 1842 in Athens County, Ohio. He enlisted in the Union Army July 25th 1861 and joined the 30th Ohio Infantry Company C when it was formed on August 28th, 1861.
Battles in which company C participated were numerous. The following are the most notable: Carnifex Ferry, VA, South Mountain, Maryland, Antietam, Maryland Vicksburg Mississippi, Missionary Ridge Tennessee, Kennesaw Mountain, Georgia, The Atlanta Campaign, General Sherman’s March to the Sea, and the battle of Bentonville, North Carolina.
On July 22,1864, the battle of Atlanta was fought. Union forces commanded by General William Tecumseh Sherman overwhelmed and defeated Confederate forces defending the city Under General John Bell Hood. The price of this victory came with many casualties. Union Major General James B. McPherson was killed, and Loren Miles was one of the many captured. The prisoners were loaded onto railcars and sent to camp Sumter Georgia, also known as Andersonville.
By the summer of 1864 conditions at the prison were deteriorating rapidly. Exposure, overcrowded conditions, malnutrition, dysentery, scurvy, and the infestation of vermin were taking their toll. The only source of drinking water came from a small stream that ran through the center of the pen. The stagnated water, which filtered down from the hillsides, was polluted and filled with parasites. Prisoners were now dying at a rate of 100 men per day.
The situation was perilous. Realizing only God could help them, believers formed a group and prayed day and night for rain. One afternoon during the second week of August, God answered their prayers. Dark clouds filled the sky and soon bands of torrential rain began to fall. The rain lasted for hours. A flashflood occurred and washed out a section of the stockade wall. Gunshots were fired from the guard’s lookout towers warning the prisoners that any attempt at escape would be met with a sure death.
When the rain stopped and the flood water receded a spring of fresh water emerged. Prisoner accounts tell of lightning hitting the ground at the exact spot just outside the prison walls.
After the fall of Atlanta, General Sherman and his troops were now moving closer to Andersonville with the goal of rescuing the captives. The rebels responded quickly and began loading the prisoners onto railcars while telling them that they were being moved for a prisoner exchange.
By this time, Loren Miles and his friend Billy Townsend had formed a bond to survive a place where men were treated worse than animals. When the train reached Florence South Carolina during the first week of October 1864, the POWs were hurried off but were not met with a prisoner exchange. Instead, they were moved into a newly constructed stockade that was nothing more than a mini copy of Andersonville, with an even more cruel and brutal commandant.
Realizing if they were going to survive the coming winter, some sort of shelter must be built. The two men began the scrabble for sticks and pine boughs. They formed a dugout and used mud in the construction of a crude shelter.
God’s Word tells us that we are to show hospitality to strangers because we could be in the presence of angels and not even be aware of it. One night during the winter of 1864, a stranger seeking shelter showed up at the hut of Loren and Billy. He introduced himself as Willis Burrell of the 3rd Ohio Valley Infantry. Willis informed them he was sent up from the Charleston South Carolina prison and given the task of patrolling the grounds and sending those in worst condition to the makeshift prison hospital.
Billy states in his memoirs, “We gave him a place.”
As time went on, the health of Loren and Billy deteriorated. Weekend by malnutrition, their joints swollen by the ravages of scurvy, both men were now in serious condition. While on patrol one morning, their friend Willis stopped by to visit. Union his arrival he found both men very will with one being unable to walk. Using the help of others nearby, the men were carried to the prison hospital. With the aid of increased rations, tea made from herbs, and now resting in a bed, their condition improved. Billy Townsend credits Willis for saving their lives.
There is something interesting I want to point out about Willis Burrell. While searching the roster of the 3rd Ohio Valley Infantry, his name does not appear. I have considered the circumstances and have had confirmation concerning this. I am convinced that Willis Burrell of the 3rd Ohio Infantry was an angel.
Just weeks before the fall of the Confederacy and the surrender of Robert E. Lee, the prisons of the Florence stockade were loaded once again on rail cars and transferred to Goldsboro North Carolina. The men were informed as they disembarked the train that they would now be paroled. The guards were removed.
They were advised however not to escape. Parole records were to be signed before the men could be returned to the Union army. It would take several days for this to be completed. Loren and Billy took liberty to walk into the nearby countryside to search for some better clothing since they were now wearing was threadbare and ragged.
During their search, Billy tells us in his memoirs, “We met some black people who gave us cotton garments and a cows horn full of softsoap. They fed us corn dodgers and meat. They showed us a brook where we could bathe. We used the soft soap and sand to remove the layers of dirt from out skin. We borrowed a pair of shears from the black people and cut our hair closely. We put on the clean cotton garments given to us and went back to camp feeling like new beings.”
After spending eight more days in Goldsboro, the parole records were completed. Loren and Billy were sent to Wilmington, North Carolina to be reunited with the Union army. Soon they were put on a ship that took them to Annapolis, Maryland. From there they traveled by train to Todd Barracks in Columbus Ohio on April 5th, 1865.
Loren Miles was discharged from the Union army on June 15th 1865 and Billy Townsend on June 20th, 1865.
Lorna Hart is a freelance writer for Ohio Valley Publishing.