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Published on 07/05/06 in the Fostoria Focus
Fostorian possibly the first prisoner at Andersonville

By LEONARD SKONECKI
Focus Correspondent

Andersonville. After over 140 years, the word reins a vivid reminder of the horrors of the War Between the States.
A Fostoria man may well have been the first prisoner of the camp whose name still represents a grisly chapter in the history of the Civil War.
William B. Rollins enlisted in Fostoria on April 14, 1861 ,with Company H, 21st Ohio Volunteer Infantry and was given the rank of corporal.
The war was nothing like Rollins expected. He had signed for a three month hitch.
Most people in the North believed the war would be won that quickly. Everyone, including Rollins, soon found themselves in for a much longer haul.
His three months up, Rollins re-enlisted Aug. 15, 1861, this time as a private in Co. H of the 49th OVI.
According to Hardesty’s Military History of Seneca County (1884), he fought in over a dozen battles, including Shiloh, Ripley, Scary Creek, Pittsburg Landing, Corinth and LaGrange.
Shiloh, April 6-7, 1862, was one of the war’s bloodiest battles, when 40,000 Confederates attacked Ulysses S. Grant’s Union Army.
On the first day, the Rebels drove the Yanks back, but Union reinforcements arrived during the night. On April 7, Grant counterattacked.
The Confederates fought for eight hours, but Gen. Pierre Beauregard finally ordered his men to withdraw. Each side lost 10,000 men, killed or wounded.
Corinth, Miss. was a railroad center. The Confederates abandoned it following Shiloh. But on Oct. 3-4, 1862, a Confederate army under Gens. Earl Van Dorn and Sterling Price attempted to retake it.
The Union Army, commanded by Gen. William Rosecrans, beat back the Rebel assault, but 6,000 men lost their lives.
On Sept. 20, 1863, Rollins was fighting in the Battle of Chickamauga. He was wounded and taken prisoner.
His first prison camp was Libby Prison in Richmond where he was stricken with small pox.
Construction of the Andersonville prison began in December 1863. Officially named Camp Sumter, it was called Andersonville, after the southern Georgia village located nearby.
The first prisoners arrived the last week of February 1864. According to a Fostoria Democrat article of Nov. 5, 1891, a column of prisoners was marched through the gates.
Rollins, it said, marched at the head of the column.
Initially, conditions at Andersonville were good, but soon the number of inmates overwhelmed the camp. Eventually, 26,000 men were interned there.
Andersonville’s commander was Henry Wirz. He established a “dead line,” a wood railing 25 feet inside the camp boundary. Wirz ordered that any prisoner who crossed the dead line was to be shot immediately.
Prisoner Edward Kellog testified after the war that a new prisoner who didn’t know about the dead line, crossed it to get a drink of water from the brook that ran through the camp.
Two guards fired and the man fell dead in the brook. Wirz was tried after the war and found guilty of cruelty to Union prisoners. He was hanged Nov. 10, 1865.
Rollins was a husky man, weighing nearly 200 pounds. When he left Andersonville, he weighed 120.
According to the “Roster of Ohio Soldiers, 1861-1866,” Rollins was freed via a prisoner exchange on Jan. 13, 1865. He had to be carried from the prison on a stretcher.
He almost didn’t get out because the name on his release was mistakenly put down as Robbins, not Rollins.
He was first taken to Pittsburgh where he enjoyed his first full meal in over a year. He was discharged Jan. 21, 1865 in Columbus.
A Fostoria Daily Review article published six months after his death said no Fostorian taken prisoner during the war had a more arduous ordeal.
After the war, Rollins joined Fostoria’s Norris Post 27 of the Grand Army of the Republic when it was formed in the 1880s.
Rollins was born near West Millgrove June 11, 1844, to Almon and Mary Rollins. He married Louisa Lewis Dec. 23, 1869.
James Lewis, Louisa’s father, was Fostoria’s town marshal. Rollins served as a deputy under him.
Rollins’ parents died when he was 6 years old. According to his obituary, he lived with a nearby farmer, George Ketchum, until he enlisted.
After several years as a deputy, Rollins went to work for Guy Morgan. Morgan had a grocery store and Rollins was his produce agent. Rollins traveled extensively in the area in his job and was well known, especially to area farmers.
Rollins belonged to the Methodist Church and served on Fostoria’s Board of Public Service.
Louisa died in 1906. Rollins suffered from Bright’s disease, a condition characterized by high blood pressure.
On March 12, 1908, Rollins was downtown conducting his normal business affairs. The Bright’s disease was bothering him, but he told a friend he felt especially good that day.
He returned to his home at 617 S. Main St. He was having dinner with druggist Charles Wise, Wise’s wife Mamie and their son. The Wises had lived with Rollins since Louisa’s death.
Rollins started to share a bit of humor with the Wises’ little boy. In mid-sentence, he suddenly couldn’t breathe. Then his head jerked back.
Wise leaped to his aid, but Rollins was unconscious. A doctor was sent for immediately.
Wise carried Rollins to a couch, but there was nothing anyone could do. The man who perhaps had been Andersonville’s first prisoner and survived the ordeal had died.

 

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