Longest Held Prisoner at Andersonville?

A correspondent in California has presented me with the claim that her great great-great-grandfather, Sidney Palen, of the 12th New York Cavalry holds the distinction of being the longest held Union prisoner at Andersonville, Georgia. In support of this claim she has provided me with the following information that is a quote from a local newspaper in Marshalltown, Iowa August 19, 1931:


Andersonville Vet Celebrates 84th Birthday

Sid Palen, one of the few men living who experienced the horrors of Andersonville, civil war confederate prison, celebrated his eighty-fourth birthday anniversary at the soldiers home.

Palen spent more time in Andersonville than any other man alive. He endured its tortures for 1 year and 10 days. The prison was in existence only thirteen months.

The home member was on the rolls of Company A, Twelfth New York Cavalry, during the civil war, enlisting in 1862 when he was 18 years old. He was captured along with 2300 others at Plymouth, N.C. and was sent to Andersonville. He entered the prison weighing 160 pounds and came out weighing only 80 pounds.


His descendant tells me that she has copies of both the military and pension files for Sidney Palen. She has said in a recent message to me, "He was captured April 20, 1864 and taken to Andersonville Prison. On December 2, 1864 he was taken to the hospital where he stayed until January 10, 1865. This part confuses me, but it says he was turned over to Col. O'Neil on February 28, 1865 and returned to Andersonville. I believe he escaped April 30th, as he rejoined Company A on May 9, 1865 at Goldsboro, N.C."

His entry from the AGO muster roll reads as follows:


PALEN, SIDNEY. ó Age, 18 years. Enlisted, August 17, 1862, at Fulton; mustered in as private, Co. A, November 19, 1862, to serve three years; missing in action, April 20, 1864, at Plymouth, N.C.; escaped and rejoined his company at Goldsboro, N.C., date not recorded; mustered out with company, July 19, 1865, at Raleigh, N.C.



To add a little perspective to the Palen claim with its confusion about dates tht make it seem questionable that he was there longer than anyone else, I am including an email received from Peggy Scott Holley on June 21, 2008:
I'm sure someone has answered you about the NY soldier who claimed to be held longer than any other prisoner at Andersonville. (1 year 10 days) Andersonville Prison opened in late February 1864. The last group left on April 28 1865. That is about 14 months, not 13. Also, the prison was emptied out of all but the desperately ill men when Sherman's troops were thought to threaten the camp. Men were taken to Savannah, Charleston, Florence, Blackshear, etc. When Sherman bypassed the camp some of the men were returned. Sid Palen would have had to have been extremely ill not to have been moved. The record does mention his being in the hospital December 1864.
The most telling thing in the obit, however, is that Palen was turned over to Col. O'Neil on Feb 28, 1865. Col. O'Neil was a Confederate recruiter. There were 121 men who joined the Confederate Army on Feb 28, 1865 to get out of prison. Many of them were able to escape and return to Union lines. Looks like Palen did exactly that--served in the Confederate Army until he could escape. Anyway--April 20 to Feb 28 is not a year and 10 days.
It is difficult to determine who was ill enough to stay at Andersonville when most were removed but surely there were those who came in earlier and did not join the Confederate Army in Feb. I'm sure being there must have seemed like a year, even if it was only 10 months.
Lots of men claim to have been in Andersonville a year or more. (1890 vets census) PSH

Please e-mail me if you have any comment or related information.

It is interesting to note that there is a discrepancy between the newspaper article and the AGO record with regard to his age. It seems that young Palen may very well have enlisted just as he was turning fifteen.

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© copyright Kenneth Jennings Wooster
File created: December 22, 1997.
File modified: December 26, 2002; June 22, 2008.