Roll Call of Heaven

The poem below was written by a survivor of Andersonville, Abel Wade Payne. He wrote it sometime between 1886 and 1923. Payne arrived at the infamous prison in Georgia when he was 22 and had already lost an eye to battle.


-by Abel Wade Payne

Through four long years of cruel war
We fought for freedom's right,
The sun of chattle slavery
Went down in endless night,
And many thousand soldier boys
They fell but not in vain:
For they called the roll of Heaven
And they answered to their names.

And there's our martyred President,
Honest Abraham;
He died on freedom's altar
For the sacred rights of men.
And never will we see his like
Upon this earth again;
For they called the roll of Heaven
And he answered to his name.

And there's our noble Farragut,
Way down in Mobile bay;
He led his fleets against the forts,
We know he gained the day.
A braver man we will never see
On the quarter-deck again;
For they called the roll of Heaven,
And he answered to his name.

And there is Meade and Hancock
And old Pap Thomas, too,
Have received their final order
To join the grand review.
And never will Kilpatrick hear
That bugle call again,
For they called the roll of Heaven
And they answered to their names.

And there is George A. Custer, too,
Michigan's favorite son,
He wore the rank of General,
So proudly he had won.
But at the little Big-Horn river,
Upon that battle plain,
They called the roll of Heaven,
And he answered to his name.

There's fighting Josie Hooker,
His heart is cold and still;
He led the Union army
O're disastrous Chancellorsville.
But above the clouds at Lookout,
He won immortal fame;
But they called the roll of Heaven,
And he answered to his name.

And there's our noble Garfield,
We'll remember him for years,
For there beside his bedside
Stood a nation bowed in tears.
For eighty days he lingered,
Through all that fearful pain,
Then they called the roll of Heaven,
And he answered to his name.

And there is Grant, that silent man,
Lies slumbering in the grave.
He did all that any man could do,
Our Union for to save.
But up at Mount McGregor,
Near Saratoga's plain,
They called the roll of Heaven,
And he answered to his name.

And there is John A. Logan,
Illinois' bravest son,
Who was all crowned o'er with glory
For the victories he had won.
Our brave commander's gone, boys,
We'll n'er see him again,
For they called the roll of Heaven,
And he answered to his name.

And now, my dear old soldier friends,
My song to you is done;
The boys in blue are passing off
Daily one by one.
And when we're camped beneath our flag
upon that judgment plain,
They will call the roll of Heaven,
And we'll answer to our names.

The author, Abel Wade Payne, was a Civil War veteran from Danville, Vermilion Co., Illinois. In April 1861, when he was about 20, he and his cousin (Asa Payne) enlisted into C Company, 12th Infantry, Illinois. Abel mustered out of that company on August 1, 1861, and within two weeks he was enrolled in Co. K, 37th Illinois Volunteers. In April 1862, he was discharged at Rolla, Missouri, because of a disability.

After ten months of healing, he enrolled again, and in April 1863 he was mustered into Co. L, 16th Illinois Cavalry. That unit served as the body guard for Major General John Alexander McClernand.

As a 22-year-old corporal in January 1964, Abel was captured in action at Jonesville, Virginia. He was confined in Richmond, Virginia. A month later, he was sent to Andersonville prison in Georgia. At some point, he was transferred to the POW prison in Salisbury, North Carolina. He escaped from Salisbury on April 13, 1865. He found his way back to Ohio where, on May 4, 1865, he reported at Camp Chase, Ohio. He was mustered out of service in June 1965 at Columbus, Ohio.

Abel's name is found in the Andersonville Prisoner data base as "Wat Payne." Most of his life, he went by his middle name, "Wade." However, it was pronounced like "wad," like a "wad of paper." The "t" and "d" sound are close enough that some would have heard "watt" and spelled it with a "t." His code number in the data base is 41424. He is noted as a corporal in Illinois Calvalry Regiment 16, Company L. The January 1864 battle of Jonesville resulted in 12 dead Union soldiers, 48 wounded Union soldiers, and 300 missing or captured Union soldiers, at an expense of 4 dead Confederate soldiers and 12 wounded Confederate soldiers.

From the Adjutant General's Report's report: "... one Battalion, under Maj. Beers, was sent up Powell’s Valley in the direction of Jonesville, Va. On the 3d of January 1864, this Battalion was attacked by three Brigades of Longstreet’s command, and after maintaining its ground for ten hours, against five times its own number, and losing heavily in killed and wounded, its ammunition having become exhausted, it was compelled to surrender. The loss of the Regiment upon this occasion was 356 men and 56 officers. Long afterward the Rebels exchanged less than one-third of these prisoners, sent them back in the most wretched condition from the horrors of the prison pen at Andersonville."

Stories told by grandchildren of Abel's sister Permelia include one worth checking:

"While Abel was in Andersonville, there was a Presbyterian minister and three other men, one of them Abel. They sat in a corner of the stockade for four days and three nights and prayed that God would send them fresh water. On the evening of the fourth day a tiny spring of water pushed up out of the ground at their feet. They all yelled. Men came to get the fresh water. They named the spring Providence, and it is still there."

Abel returned to Vermilion Co., Illinois, where he worked in coal mines near Danville for a while. He became Justice of the Peace in Newell Township, Vermilion Co., Illinois. In 1889, at age 48, two days after his first marriage ended in divorce, he married the 44-year-old widow of his brother who had died 10 months before.

Abel's pension certificate number is 166463. Another PAYNE descendant and genealogist has reviewed many of Abel's pension records. Her review of that information is found here:
Marla Hembree's Abel W. Payne page

born Jun 1841, Vermilion Co., IL
died 8-March-1923, Vermilion Co., IL
buried National Cemetery, Danville, Vermilion Co., IL
NOTE: His name is sometimes found spelled "Able." His military gravestone says "Abel."

John Payne, Jr., 1815-1863
.....mortally wounded in a riot over the Civil War
Virletta O'Neal, 1819-1847
.....died in childbirth

#1: Harriet Geneva Balsir, married 10-Nov-1865; divorced 2 days before 2nd marriage; one child by this marriage.
Elizabeth Ann Oliver, his brother William's widow; married 16-Oct-1889; no children by this marriage, but the marriage meant that Abel became the step-father of his brother's two children by this woman.

Thomas L. Payne, 1872-aft 1898

William O'Neal Payne, 1837-1888
.....149th IL Infantry, Co. E
.....1st m. Emma Green [sister of Rhoda]
.....2nd m.
Elizabeth Ann Oliver
.....[Wm. & Eliz.'s dau. m. son of
Tom Doyle/Frank Reed & his 2nd wife]
Alonzo Grimes Payne, 1838-1905
.....5th IL Cavalry, Co. C & Co. D
.....enlisted 14-Sep-1861 as private; mustered out 27-Oct-1865 as a Captain
.....m. Rhoda Green [sister of Emma]
Malinda Payne, 1840-bef 1911
Permelia Ann Payne, 1843-1935
.....1st m.
Tom Doyle [born Frank Reed]
.....2nd union w/ Joseph Malcom
Addison C. Payne, 1844-1909
.....1st m. Sarah E. GUYMAN
.....2nd m. Lizzie A. [last name unknown]
George Payne, stillborn 1847

To read about the military units these men served in, make note of the unit and whether Infantry or Cavalry, and click here: Illinois Units during the Civil War


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