One of the Immortal Six Hundred

While the 13th regiment was in the Shenandoah Valley, on Sept. 7, 1864, Third Lieutenant Absalom H. Farrar of the Kemper Legion arrived at Morris Island in the harbor opposite Charleston, SC. He was to become one of what the Southern newspapers of the day called “The Immortal Six Hundred.”

They were Confederate officers, prisoners of war, who were held as human shields on the island at the mouth of the harbor, in federal retaliation for 50 Union officers similarly held inside the South Carolina city.

The Union officers were supposed to be proof against Union bombardment of civilians in Charleston, while the “Immortal Six Hundred,” were supposed to block the fire of Rebel artillery in Fort Sumter upon Union positions near Fort Wagner and elsewhere.

Farrar had been captured at Gettysburg. He was left in a field hospital with a severe gunshot wound in his foot when the army retreated. He had enlisted as a private in 1861 and was promoted to first sergeant in 1862. A year later, he was a third lieutenant. He was a 24-year-old single farmer from Gainesville near Grenada when he enlisted, according to independent historian Jess McLean.

Like the other Six Hundred, Farrar had arrived at Morris Island on the federal prison ship Crescent from their POW camp at Fort Delaware. At Morris Island they were guarded by the subsequently-famous 54th Massachusetts (Colored) Regiment, subject of the Hollywood movie Glory.

The daily Morris Island menu for the POWs, according to the postwar memoir The Prison Life of Major Lamar Fontaine, consisted of 4 worm-eaten hardtack crackers for breakfast, a half-pint of watery and sandy pea soup for dinner and “all the ocean air they could inhale” for supper. Later, Fontaine wrote, their fare changed to rotten corn meal and pickle rations.

When their political and military usefulness was done, the Six Hundred were transferred from Morris Island to Savannah, and then to Hilton Head Island, and finally shipped back to Fort Delaware.

Farrar was exchanged in December, 1864, according to federal records, but apparently did not return to the 13th Regiment.  There are several conflicting entries on Google suggesting he may have been in poor health, died in 1865 and was buried in Augusta, Georgia.

About Dick Stanley

Retired Texas daily newspaperman
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