MERZOUGA -OCTOBER 01: Tourist group on Camels in Merzouga desert, In Merzouga, Morocco October 1. 2013.

10 Incredible Survival Stories From The 19th Century

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Travel and exploration in the 19th century was far more dangerous than it is today. It was easy to get lost without GPS or even proper maps, and stranded adventurers had no way to call for help. Instead, survival often required incredible strength, will, and cunning.

10. Sergeant James Landon

Andersonville Prison

Camp Sumter, commonly known as Andersonville, was a military prison operated by the Confederacy during the US Civil War. Even by the low standards of prisons at the time, Andersonville was notoriously horrible. The prison was overcrowded, and prisoners were forced to sleep in the open in disgusting, unsanitary conditions. During the Civil War, 13,000 prisoners died in Andersonville. Following the war, Captain Henry Wirz, the camp’s commander, was tried and hanged for war crimes.

Sergeant James Landon, a Union soldier from Iowa, was one of the unlucky ones who ended up in Andersonville. During a skirmish, Landon was shot in the thigh. He pried the bullet out using his knife and ran on foot from Confederate forces for five days before being captured. He was then forced to march for another four days to Andersonville. As a wounded soldier entering Andersonville’s unsanitary conditions, Landon didn’t stand much of a chance.

Amazingly, Landon survived. He was held for six weeks at Andersonville before being transferred to another prison camp. He was released from there after two months, as the Confederacy was crumbling and could no longer afford to hold prisoners. Even more amazingly, Landon didn’t receive proper medical treatment until he arrived back in the North. He lived until age 83 and was reportedly healthy and athletic throughout his life.

9. Judah Paddock And The Crew Of The Oswego


When British or American sailors were shipwrecked off the Barbary Coast, their best chance of survival was to make it to Morocco, which was friendly to both governments. However, if they were captured by any of the nomadic Arab tribes of the Saharan desert, survival would be much more difficult.

Judah Paddock was captain of the Oswego, a merchant ship that ran aground in 1800. The crew was forced to abandon ship and set out on land, but when a schism developed among the crew, Paddock set off on his own with just three other crew members, one of whom was a useless drunkard. The survivors were captured by Arabs, who turned them into slaves.

The new slaves were treated badly. They were flogged, starved, and forced to sleep outside on a regular basis. As slaves, they were the most valuable as commodities and were often traded or sold from one tribe to another. Paddock believed that this was the only reason they weren’t killed on the spot (although this didn’t save some of the Oswego’s other survivors, who ended up murdered).

Paddock came to be owned by a man named Ahamed, whom Paddock convinced to take him to Morocco to be ransomed. But even that required a difficult journey, as well as careful negotiation, and Paddock was not able to save his entire crew.

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