The Statue of Our Lady of Consolation at St. Augustine's Church in Leopold: A Narrative
I was 24 years old when I said goodbye to my family in Leopold, Indiana and mustered with Indiana's 93rd infantry regiment in Madison, Indiana in September of 1862. I fought in the great war between the states for nearly two years when we faced the confederate Calvary master Nathan Bedford Forrest at the Battle of Brice's Crossroads at Gun Town, Mississippi on June 10, 1864.
We outnumbered our rebel enemy: we were 8,000 strong to their 3,500. Even so, the Confederate forces vigorously attacked us. Exhausted by a rapid march and hot weather, our Federal forces were forced into retreat. Unable to cross the bridge because it had been blocked, a most dismal outcome befell us. 223 Federal soldiers were killed while only 96 Rebel forces were lost. We had 394 men wounded; 396 Rebels lay wounded. 1,623 of our stalwart northern soldiers were either missing or taken capture. I saw 13 of my own Hoosier regiment killed; another 56 of us wounded, and 184 taken prisoner...4 of whom were from Leopold. And I was one of those 4 men.
We were all taken to Andersonville Prison in Georgia. How we survived the horrors of that confinement, only God will know. I shall relate to you the experience of my 11 months as a prisoner of war in the hopes that you will understand just how important is the statue you see before you here at St. Augustine.
By the time I was brought to the stockade in June of 1864, the prison already housed more than 23,000 prisoners. It had been built to hold no more that 10,000. It was overseen by one of the cruelest men ever to have been born, Captain Henry Wirz. My diary recalls those days quite clearly: "It has rained every day so far this month. A portion of the camp is a mud hole, and the men are obliged to lay down in it. It is now as hot and sultry as it was ever my lot to witness. The cloudy weather and recent rains make everything damp and sticky. We don't any of us sweat though, particularly, as we are pretty well dried up. Laying on the ground so much has made sores on nearly every one here, and in many cases gangrene sets in...I have many sores on my body, but am careful to keep away the poison. Today I saw a man with a bullet hole in his head over an inch deep, and you could look down in it and see maggots squirming around at the bottom. Such things are terrible, but of common occurrence. Andersonville seems to be headquarters for all the little pests that ever originated--flies by the thousand millions. I can do nothing but take as good care of myself as possible, which I do. One fellow has scrubbed his hands sore, using sand for soap.
To tell the truth, we are so near death and see so much of it, that it is not dreaded as much as a person would suppose. We stay here day after day, week after week, and month after month, seemingly forgotten by all our friends at the North, and then our sufferings are such that death is a relief in the view of great many, and not dreaded to any extent. By four o'clock each day the row of dead at the gate would scare the life out of me before coming here, while now it is nothing at all, but the same thing over and over.
I am sick: just able to drag around. My teeth are loose, mouth sore, with gums grown down in some places lower than the teeth and bloody...my legs are swollen with dropsy. The ground is now covered with maggots yet we are forced to lie down upon it. Lice by the fourteen hundred thousand and million infest Andersonville. A favorite game among the boys is to play at odd or even, by putting their hand inside some part of their clothing, pull out what they can conveniently get hold of and say "odd or even?" and then count up to see who beats. Some of the men claim to have pet lice which they have trained.
It seems plain to me that we all will die here. Old prisoners have stood it as long as they can, and are dropping off fast, while the new ones go anyhow. Someone stole my cap during the night. A dead neighbor furnished me with another, however. Fast as the men die they are stripped of their clothing so that those alive can be covered.
We are not what you may call hungry. I have actually felt the pangs of hunger more when I was a boy going home from school to dinner. But we are sick and faint and all broken down, and feverish. It is starvation and disease and exposure that is doing it. The water we are given to drink is poison and there is no shelter. Our stomachs have been so abused by the stuff called bread and soups that they are diseased. The bread is coarse and musty. I have had no meat now for ten days; nothing but one-third loaf of corn bread and half a pint of cow peas for each man, each day. There have been two deliveries of meat in two months. All supplies are rationed. My pants are the worse for wear from repeated washings, my shirt sleeveless and feet stockingless; I have a red cap without any front piece; my shoes by some hocus-pocus are not mates, one considerably larger than the other. Wonder what they would think if I should suddenly appear on the streets at home in this garb? I believe that half in the camp would die now if given rich food to eat.
It seems to me as if three times as many as ever before are now going off, still I am told that about 130 die per day. I can see the dead wagon loaded up with twenty or thirty bodies at a time, two lengths, just like four-foot wood is loaded onto a wagon, and away they go to the grave yard on a trot. Perhaps one or two will fall off and get run over. No attention paid to that. Eventually they are buried without coffins, side by side, in trenches four feet deep. In June one in every 22 died. In August one in eleven died. In September one in every three died. In October one in every two died. Was ever before in this world anything so terrible happening?
Captain Wirz punishes very hard now; so much worse that a few months ago. He has numerous instruments of torture just outside the gate. He is a thoroughly bad man, without an atom of humanity about him. There are a great many of us here who would consider it a Christian duty to rid the earth of his presence."
A total of 49,485 prisoners were detained at Andersonville between February 1864 and April 1865. As many as 30,000 men were confined there at one time. More than 13,700 prisoners died in confinement. As a result of the inadequacies at the prison, constant exposure to the elements, together with inadequate food, impure water, congestion, and filth, Major Henry Wirz, superintendent of the prison, was tried by a U.S. military court, convicted of murder and hanged. After 11 months of imprisonment, Isidore Naviaux was released from Andersonville Prison. True to the vow Naviaux and his fellow Perry county prisoners of war had made during their incarceration, the men had a replica of Our Lady of Consolation made and placed in St. Augustine's Church in Leopold in 1867 where they were members. The statue stands today as a reminder of what brave men have sacrificed for their country. Isidore Naviaux died on January 10, 1932 at the age of 92. He is buried next to his wife Mary at the St. Augustine Cemetery. The inscription on his tombstone reads..."an old soldier."
Information for this piece was provided by Laura Schaeffer who is the great granddaughter of Isidore Naviaux and by a book entitled, John Ransom's Andersonville Diary by John Ransom. If you would like to read more about Andersonville prison, we suggest not only the diary, but also Andersonville, the Last Depot by William Marvel, This Was Andersonville by John McElroy, and the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel Andersonville by MacKinlay Kantor.