*SOUTHERN HISTORICAL SOCIETY PAPERS
Vol. VII. Richmond, Va., Jan -Dec , 1879
No.7. July - Pages 324 - 330
|Taken from the Southern Historical Society
By JAMES T. WELLS, Sergeant Company A, Second South Carolina Infantry.
[The following narrative is written by a gentleman of unimpeachable character, and will be read with interest. We propose to add from time to time a few chapters to our discussion of "the prison question."]
At the battle of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, July 2, 1863, I was severely wounded, and, with many others, was unfortunate enough to be captured by the enemy. We remained at the field hospital until about the middle of September, when myself and several others were transferred to the Newton University Hospital, Baltimore, and afterwards to Fort McHenry. While at the hospital we fared very well, as we were all supplied with everything we needed by the kind and noble ladies of Baltimore. God will surely bless them for their kindness to the Confederate prisoners with whom they came in contact. Our treatment was not so good after we left the hospital; however, at the Fort we did not have much to complain of, as we were thrown into a heterogenous mass of Federal and Confederate prisoners - prisoners of war, oath-takers, pick-pockets and cut-throats.
We certainty had some scruples about being placed among criminals, but
we were all treated alike and fared ditto. Our principal pastime at this
delightful retreat consisted in scrambling for our soup and beans - said
pastime being diversified by blows on the head and shins from a hickory
stick in the hands of a huge Yankee sergeant. The blows were only received
by those who were unruly in the "lines", and tried to push others out of
the way. Our quarters were in an old brick house, situated on the bank
of the river, inside of the Fort inclosure. It was divided as follows:
Front room, first floor- Provost-Marshal's office; second room, first floor
- dark hole; third room, first floor - Yankee prisoners of all descriptions.
Second floor, front room - prisoners of State; second and rear room - Confederate
prisoners. We had the liberty of the yard and to go where we pleased, provided
the Yankee prisoners would permit us (and they were masters of the situation,
owing to their superior numbers). In the dark hole, on the first floor,
were confined some of the most villainous cut-throats it has ever been
my misfortune to meet. They were convicted of different crimes and had
Page325 Prison Experience.
terms to serve. All of them wore balls and chains, and they made night
hideous with their curses, screams, and the rattling of the chains. An
instance will suffice to show what manner of men they were. One day, a
terrible fight was in progress amongst them. The sentry approached the
door, which was an aperture about 4x4, and commanded them to desist. A
blow on the head with a brick was the answer he received. An officer came
in with a guard of three or four men, and as he came in front of the opening
he also was felled by a blow on the head. He ordered his men to fire. They
did so, when the most horrid groans and screams, interspersed with frightful
oaths, issued from the opening. The firing checked the fight, and the result
was observable. A few moments afterwards one dead and several wounded were
brought out. It may be well to remark that the Confederates who were thrown
together here formed attachments for each other which lasted until the
end of their imprisonment. It was nothing more than natural - situated,
as we were, in a strange land, amongst strangers and enemies. It was while
we were here (Fort McHenry) that the South Carolina prisoners were notified
that they could either take the oath or submit to the drawing of lots.
Some weak minded ones yielded, but the majority remained firm. We were
told after the drawing was over that it was for hostages to be retained
by the United States Government for the safe return of three negroes, who,
they affirmed, had been captured by the Confederate authorities in Charleston
harbor. The unfortunate men selected by this drawing were Williams, McDowell
and Cline, of the Second South Carolina cavalry, who were then confined
in the old Carroll Prison, at Washington, District of Columbia. The writer
did not know what disposition was made of them, but learned afterwards
that they were retained in close confinement during the war, which impaired
their health to such a degree that two of them died soon after they came
home. From our quarters at Fort McHenry we had a delightful view of the
city of Baltimore and suburbs; also of Fort Marshall, situated across the
bay. The gallows, upon which the gallant but unfortunate Layfole was hung,
was also in full view of our window - left standing long after the event
apparently to remind us of his fate. The famous New York Seventh regiment
was stationed here awhile, and was ofter taken by new comers for Confederate
soldiers. The dress parade of the garrison, with their fine music, was
eagerly anticipated every evening. But I am consuming too much time with
Fort McHenry, and must bid it good
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bye, with the hope that I amy, at some future time, renew the acquaintance under more auspicious surroundings.
On the 15th of September we embarked on the steamer John J. Tracy for Point Lookout - an extreme point of land, distant about seventy-five miles, and situated between the Chesapeake bay and the Potomac river, just opposite the Eastern shore of Maryland. Our number was about one hundred and sixty; consequently we were not much crowded, and the steamer was quite comfortable and clean, being one of the bay boats, and not a Government transport. One of our number, a Tennessean, died on the passage, and was buried in the bay. Weights were attached to his body, which was placed upon a plank, one end of which was raised, and the Confederate passed away. The solemn spectacle was witnessed by our men with much emotion. He had some friends, no doubt, who informed his command of his death. That night we lay upon the upper deck of the steamer, many of us thinking of the death of the stranger. Accustomed as we had become to death on the battlefield and in hospital, it had lost much of its dread; but this mode of burial was something new, and made a lasting impression upon us. I was somewhat surprised, next morning, to find myself addressed by one of the guard (Twenty-fifth New York artillery). He proved to be an old schoolmate of mine and a near neighbor, who had been induced to take the oath on account of the drawing previously referred to. He remained North during the war, but not as a soldier, having been detected in some smuggling correspondence and thrown into prison. He visited his home at the close of the war, but soon enlisted in the United States army, and is now stationed in the far West. Upon arriving at Point Lookout, he gave me what money he had, and promised to aid me whenever he could; but he did not have an opportunity afterwards.
This camp had been but recently established, and there was not many
prisoners here. They yelled to us to "grab your pocketbooks," as we came
in sight. This referred to the strict search to to which all new comers
were subjected, in which everything, even to a few Confederate dollars,
was taken from you. It was labelled and put away, to be returned to you
when you were leaving; but the valuables were never returned, as they could
not be found. We were now regularly initiated as prisoners of war, and
began to feel all the rigors and severities of such. We were divided into
companies of one hundred men each, and were allowed for some time to draw
and cook our own rations, each company sergeant being supplied with the
necessary utensils. Soon, however, large numbers
Page327 Prison Experience.
of prisoners began to arrive, most of them from Fort Delaware. They
were in a most destitute and deplorable condition - many of them not having
sufficient clothing to clothe them, and all were without blankets. The
severity of a winter on this barren place can only be imagined by those
who have been there, and our prospects were now gloomy indeed. Our camp
had formerly been a corn-field, and consisted of about fifty acres. The
Federal authorities conceived the plan of fencing in the camp, and erecting
cookhouses, a commissary, &c., and for this purpose secured the services
of several good carpenters. They employed about two hundred prisoners to
assist, paying them in extra rations and tobacco. When these were erected
the camp was thoroughly reorganized. The men were divided into divisions
of one thousand men each - each under a Yankee sergeant - and the division
into companies of one hundred mean each, under a Confederate sergeant.
We were compelled to keep the camp clean, well drained, &c., and for
this purpose carts and barrows were furnished. Each company street was
well drained, and made as hard and firm as pebble and sand could make it.
Each drain ran into the main drain, which ran through the centre of the
camp, and from which all the refuse water was thrown into the bay. Our
tents were miserable affairs, being full of holes, and very rotten. They
were of the "Sibley pattern," and into each one of these sixteen men were
crowded. In order to lay down at night, the men were compelled to lay so
close together as to exclude sleep. The winter of 1863 was now approaching,
and gloom, privation and starvation were staring us in the face. On the
9th of November, snow fell and there was not a stick of wood in camp. The
day was bitter cold, most of us were but poorly clad, and very few of us
had shoes of any description. We were compelled to stand in our damp tents,
and "mark time" to keep from freezing. This scarcely seems possible, yet
it can be attested by hundreds who were there. Previous to this time -
November, 1863 - we had no reason to complain of our rations, but now we
began to feel the pangs of hunger. Shortly after the cook houses were finished,
a detail of ten or twelve men, under a sergeant, was assigned to each house,
whose duty it was to cook the rations and issue them. Each house was furnished
with three huge boilers - holding, perhaps, forty gallons apiece - thus
enabling them to feed about five hundred men at once. Our rations were
now reduced as follows: for breakfast, half-pint, coffee, or, regather,
slop water; for dinner, half-pint greasy water (called soup for etiquette),
also a small piece of meat, perhaps three or four ounces. For bread
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we were allowed eight ounces per day; this you could press together in your hand and take at a mouthful. Our water was of such a character that we could scarcely use it, being so highly tinctured with sulphur and iron as to render it almost unbearable. Clothes which were washed in it were turned black and yellow. To our suffering from the cold and the want of pure water was now added that of hunger. To those who have never suffered in this respect, it is almost impossible to describe the sensations. The writer has known large, stout men to lay in their tents at night and cry like little babies from hunger and cold. We were not allowed to walk about, but were compelled to retire to our tents at "taps," which were sounded quite early. Even the poor privilege of keeping ourselves warm by walking up and down in front of our tents was denied us, and we were compelled to lay in the cold. The supply of blankets was very scant, and "bunks" were unknown. The cold ground was our bed, and pillows we had none. To add to our discomforts, the tide from the bay occasionally backed into the camp, and compelled those whose tents had been flooded to stand all night. Midwinter was now upon us, and the intense cold we suffered may be judged when it is stated that the Chesapeake bay was frozen hard full twenty feet from the bank.
Point Lookout is situated in Saint Mary's county, Maryland. The Department
was commanded by General Barnes, United States army. Major Patterson was
provost-marshal and had charge of the prisoners. The Second, Fifth and
Twelfth New Hampshire constituted the guard, with two batteries of artillery
and a squadron of cavalry. These troops were housed in comfortable tents,
and as we saw the smoke rising from the innumerable stove-pipes projecting
from their tents, we could not but indulge in bitter thoughts of their
cruelty. If this man Patterson still lives his conscience must burn him.
He was the impersonation of cruel malignity hatred and revenge, and he
never let an opportunity pass in which he could show his disposition in
this respect. Of the guards we could not complain, as they acted under
orders and were not responsible for any of the cruelties to which we were
subjected. As might be inferred, our Christmas was a dull one, and we passed
the day in thinking of "Dixie" and the loved ones at home. About the 10th
of January, our suffering had grown so intense that a party formed a plan
to escape. It was a bold one in conception, and required men of determination
and courage to undertake it. Sergeant Shears, a man of about sixty years
of age and a member of a Virginia cavalry regiment, was placed in command.
Page329 Prison Experience.
nel was to be dug from the rear of Company A, first division, to the fence, a distance of about twenty feet, and was commenced in a small tent. This work was extremely dangerous, and had to be carried on with great caution. It was large enough for a man to crawl through. It was worked by detail, and as the dirt was dug out of it, it was drawn to the mouth of the tunnel in an old haversack, and distributed over the botton of the tent. At last it was completed, and the party was divided into squads of ten each. The squads were to make their exit on separate nights. After getting beyond the inclosure, each party was to choose its own mode of proceeding. The first party made the attempt. They were betrayed by a sentinal, whom some of them had most foolishly bribed, as there was no necessity for it. The alarm was given, and the prisoners who had succeeded in getting out had taken refuge behind the protecting banks of sand on the beach. As soon as the officers reached the spot, they called upon the prisoners to surrender, saying they would not be harmed. Major Patterson (the Provost-Marshal) stood at the gate, and as each prisoner came up, he deliberately shot at him. One was shot in the head, from which he never recovered, and the last account we had of him he was in a lunatic asylum. Another was shot in the shoulder, and another in the abdomen, from the effects of which he died. The remaining seven managed to get into the camp again, without being hurt, for which they could thank the darkens of the night. The tunnel was fired into several times, but no one was in it. The next day it was filled up, and the men in whose tent the opening had been made were confined in the guard house, on bread and water, for ten days. The shooting of these men was without any excuse whatever, as they had expressed a willingness to surrender, and were proceeding to do so; besides, it is a recognized principle that a prisoners of war has a right to escape if he can, and the capturing party has no right to punish, but simply to remand to proper custody. This event stopped all idea of escape for awhile, and we became resigned to our fate.
The intense cold weather at this season induced the authorities to give
us some wood, and for this purpose a detail of four men from each one hundred
was allowed to go, under a guard, to a point about a quarter of a mile
above the camp for it. An idea can thus be obtained of the quantity of
wood each company obtained - as much as four men could carry a quarter
of a mile. This, too, was for three rations.
no 8 august -
By JAMES T. WELLS, Sergeant Company A, Second South Carolina Infantry.
About this time (January, 1864) General B. F. Butler was made Commissary
of Prisoners, and in the discharge of his duty he paid us a visit. He was
welcomed in such a manner as a parcel of defiant "Rebels" could welcome
him, with hisses, curses and groans; notwithstanding which, he made us
some good promises. Among others, that we should be better treated, have
more wood, more food and plenty of clothes. As we knew this to be so many
idle words, it produced no effect upon us. He did not seem to have formed
a favorable impression of the Confederate authorities. One of his first
acts towards better treatment was to relieve one of the white regiments
as a guard, and place in its stead the Thirty-sixth North Carolina colored
regiment. This was a severe blow to us. On the 25th of February they arrived,
accoutred in their military glory. They were quite a curiosity to many,
as they had never, previous to this time, seen any colored troops. The
first day they came on guard will long be remembered by every prisoner
in the camp. At the usual hour, they marched in with knapsack, haversack
and canteen, equipped as for a march. They proceeded with military precision
to unsling their knapsacks, and place them upon the ground, to mark the
ends of their beats. The main street, along which they were stationed,
was crowed with prisoners, all anxious to see the "monkey show." We knew
their intense hatred to us, and we were well aware that the slightest demonstration
on our part would be used as a pretext for firing into us. Notwithstanding
this, some fellow, on mischief bent, deliberately crossed the line, and
stole one of their knapsacks, which he tossed into the road, and the dismay
and chagrin evinced by this ebony son of Mars can be imagined better than
described. After calling in the officer of the guard, he related his story
in the following pathetic style: "For God, if I bin here six months, I
never thief anything from dese buckram. I wouldn't care, if dye give me
back dat garytype. Dat's all I wants." These are, as near as can be remembered,
the exact words he used on the occasion. He never recovered his knapsack,
nor his "garytype," for it was seen, long afterwards, in the possession
of a prisoner, who used all kinds of expedients to keep it concealed, for
had he been discovered his life
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would have paid the forfeit. At guard of negroes was sent through the camp to search for it, and the manner in which they performed that duty was observable in the number of bleeding heads among the prisoners. They had beat them over the head in order to compel them to tell who did it. For this conduct, their officers praised them, and told them to shoot whenever they felt like doing so, and right well did they obey this order, as will be shown hereafter. Matters were thus proceeding from bad to worse. The shooting of a prisoner was looked upon as an every day affair, especially when said shooting was done by a negro. The colored troops came on guard only once in three days, and the day of their coming was always dreaded by the prisoners. In accordance with General Butler's promise, to give us more rations, our meager supply of coffee was cut off. This was not so much of a deprivation to us as might be supposed, for the coffee was "slop water" in every respect. Some of the prisoners went so far as to say that the Commissary actually shook a small bag of coffee at each kettle (about forty gallons of water). This was a grim joke, but it had much the appearance of truth. Shortly after cutting off the coffee supply, our rations were reduced in other respects. Bread was issued in the afternoon. The men would eat it as soon as they received it. It does not take much time to consume eight ounces of soft bread. They would then, of course, be without bread until the following afternoon. About two or three ounces of meat was given for breakfast, and a cup of greasy water for dinner. Hitherto the sulter had been allowed to sell provisions in limited quantities to those who had the money with which to purchase. This privilege was also abolished, and we were compelled to rely upon the Government rations. As the United States officers used every means to induce the prisoners to take the oath, it is fair to presume that the "best Government the sun ever shone upon" was now reduced to the policy of starving men into allegiance to it. There was much work to be done on the outside of the pen, and the prisoners were induced to do it by promise of extra rations and tobacco, and the privilege of getting out every day. There were several of the details, each numbering about thirty men. One was sent to the wharf for the purpose of loading boats, another to the quartermaster's warehouse, &c. The Government never made anything by employing these "rebels," as they invariably "flanked" more than they received as pay. They were very useful to the men in camp, as by their aid many little comforts and articles of necessity were brought
in, when they were not overhauled and stopped. Our spirits were very much revived, about the 1st of March, by seeing several paragraphs in the papers relative to the exchange of prisoners, which had been broken up at the battle of Gettysburg by the United States officers, who flagrantly violated the terms of the cartel. This was a most interesting subject to us, especially the Gettysburg prisoners, who had been told that they were retained as "nest eggs," and that they would have no more fighting to do. On the 3d of March, the First division left for Dixie, and the 10th, the Ninth division, and on the 17th, five companies of the Second division left. We now began to regard an early return to the sunny South with some certainty, and many were plans laid out for amusement and fun upon our arrival at home. These were all, however, doomed to bitter disappointment, as the next week brought us the news that Butler's plan of "swapping man for man" would not work. We now began to look forward to the termination of the war as the only end to our captivity. On the 23d and 30th of April, two boat loads of sick were taken off. Shortly after this our situation began to get worse. Warm weather was approaching, the camp was crowded, and hospital accommodations were very poor. The water, which could be used in the winter in moderate quantities only, was now in such a condition as to be totally unfit for use. In May, large numbers of the wounded from Grant's army were brought to the hospitals, situated on the point outside. This water was used to wash their wounds, and gangrene made its appearance. They were compelled to send to Baltimore for water, and it was brought in casks which had formerly contained vinegar, liquors of all description, and even oil. Our number now had increased to about 15,000 men, and we had a city of tents. The health of the men began to fail rapidly, and soon the prisoners' hospital was crowded. Fever in every shape abounded, and smallpox was epidemic. Nearly every tent contained one or two cases of this loathsome disease. It had become so common, that prisoners did not fear it. The hospital could not accommodate all the sick, and they were left in their tents, many of them with a blanket only to protect them from the damp ground, and entirely destitute of proper nourishment. Men who were seen in the morning, apparently in health, were taken to the "Dead House" in the afternoon, and some have been known to drop in the street, and die before they could be carried to the tents. Notwithstanding the enforcement of the most rigid sanitary measures, diseases of all kinds continued to
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spread with an alarming rapidity. Add to this the short rations which were meted out to us, together with their miserable quality and the cruel treatment which we received at the hands of the negro soldiers, and you have but a faint idea of the suffering to which we were now subjected. Fears of death, either by disease or the hands of the negroes, forced many true Southern soldiers to think of taking the oath. This could readily be done, by application to the proper authorities, and released obtained - only, however, to be drafted in the United States army. An opportunity to take the oath, and go into the United States army, was now freely extended to all the prisoners, as the officials gave notice that a "drawing for hostages in retaliation for the Fort Pillow massacre" was to take place at some early day. Preparations were accordingly made, and finally the 20th of May was announced as the day upon which to determine the fate of many men. The ruse took remarkably well, and some hundred or so flocked to the gate, to swear fealty to "Uncle Sam." After this furor oath-taking was not so prevalent. Later in the summer, it again made its appearance, and this time the prisoners determined to take action to prevent it. This, however, had to be done with great secrecy, as the participators in it, if known, would have been severely punished. Meetings were held in the tents of the most prominent men in camp, and various schemes devised to prevent the depletion of our ranks in this manner. None of them had any effect, however, and more vigorous measures had to be adopted. Whenever it was known that a prisoner intended taking the oath (and it was very difficult to conceal the matter from his tent mates), a party would proceed to his tent the night previous, call him out and administer a severe flogging. They even went so far as to clip off the ears of one. Of course the parties who did this work were completely disguised. Thus it will be seen that Kuklux existed at Point Lookout before it did in South Carolina. The enforcement of these harsh measures decreased the number of oath-takers very materially, and the United States were compelled to seek elsewhere for recruits. Summer was now fairly upon us, and we began to feel its effects most severely. There was not a shade tree in the camp, and the only shelter we had from the scorching rays of the sun was our dilapidated tents. The glare of the sun upon the white ground and tents soon produced what is known as "moon blindness." This is a disease which affects one only at night. Then one-half of the camp, at least, were totally blind, and had to be led
Page397 Prison Experience.
by those who were more fortunate. Their fear that this might terminate in total and permanent blindness was a source of extreme anxiety to most of the men, and began to tell most fearfully upon their heath and spirits. Nothing was done by the authorities (if, indeed, anything could have been done) except the issuing of green shades for the eyes, and planting some small spots with oats, rye, &c., so that the eye might have a green spot to look upon. The health of the camp began to grow worse, and deaths were very numerous. Very little has been said so far as to the treatment which we received, and a few words on that subject would not be amiss. As a general rule, the treatment by the white soldiers was not so bad, and it would have been much better, no doubt, had it not been for the cruel policy of the United States Government, and the stringent orders to have that policy carried out. Our guards were relieved every morning, and fresh ones were mounted. A patrol of ten or twelve men was placed in the camp, whose duty it was to see that the prisoners retired to their tents at the proper hour and extinguished their lights. Their orders were to allow no one to walk about after "taps" were sounded, nor to allow any unnecessary noise or conversation in camp. The colored troops were very harsh in their treatment of us, and they were no doubt urged to do this by their officers, who were certainly the meanest set of white men that could be found anywhere. The negroes never let an opportunity pass to show their animosity and hatred towards us, and the man who shot a Rebel was regarded as a good soldier. They carried their authority to the extreme, and would shoot upon the slightest provocation. If a prisoner happened to violate even one of the simplest regulations, he was sure to be shot at, and should he be so unfortunate as to turn over in his sleep, groan or make any noise, which some were apt to do while sleeping, the tent in which he lay would be fired into. For instance, one night in Company G, Fourth division, some one happened to groan in his sleep. The negro patrol was near, heard it, and fired into the tent, killing two and wounding several others. These were killed while sleeping and were unconscious of having committed any offence whatever. None of the patrols were punished, but were praised for vigilance. Scores of incidents, similar in character and result, might be given, but it would only be consuming time. Suffice it to say that a man's life was in more danger than upon a picket line, for he was completely at the mercy of the cruel and malignant negro soldiery. Even the white troops were incensed against them,
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and often "rocked" them while walking their posts - an act for which the prisoners were blamed, and for which they were fired into on more than one occasion. Shooting into the tents of prisoners became so common that the officers of the white regiments protested at last against their (the colored troops) being allowed in camp, and accordingly they were withdrawn at night, and white patrols substituted.
Desertions among the guard were of a frequent occurrence, and they often
carried prisoners with them. One night, a sharp firing was heard on the
bay shore, and next morning the bodies of several Confederates and Yankees
were seen lying upon the beach. One boat had made good their escape, but
this was detected and fired into. The prison pen was so closely guarded
that it was almost impossible to escape. In addition to the strong guard
maintained around the pen, a block house, with a barricade, extended across
the point about a mile from our quarters. Gunboats were constantly patrolling
the bay and river. To go up the point was impossible, as the barricade
was strongly guarded, and the Virginia shore was twelve miles from us,
while the eastern shore of Maryland was twenty miles distant. Notwithstanding
these disadvantages some few managed to get away.
Page399 Editorial Paragraphs.
n 10 -o ctober --october
By JAMES T. WELLS, Sergeant Company A, Second South Carolina Infantry.
No. 3 - Concluded.
A great article of trade, crochet needles, was turned out by lathes
made for that purpose; so also were pen handles, bodkins, &c. In fact,
every little article needed could be made in our canvass city, even to
the ingeniously constructed tools with which the men worked. There were
the tailors, shoemakers, wash-men, barbers, &c. We also had eating
houses with very little to eat in them; but you could get a good cup of
coffee and a piece of fried rat for twenty-five cents. This may seem a
joke, but rats were eaten and with much gusto. The first engine made in
camp excited much curiosity and wonder among the prisoners, and was visited
by a large number of them. It was indeed a curiosity, and a description
of it may not be out of place. The boiler was made from an old camp kettle,
the mouth of which was plugged up with wood. The pistons and connecting
rods were mae of wood, and the valves and heads were contrived from old
mustard boxes. It does not seem possible that this could be done, yet it
was, and the machines were of sufficient power to drive turning lathes,
from which pen handles, bodkins, &c., were turned out. The first of
these wonderful machines was made by a Georgian, who could neither read
nor write. In a short while there were seven of them in different parts
of the camp, and as they would whistle every morning previous to commencing
work, it reminded one of the machine shops in large cities. Another remarkable
curiosity was a clock, the works of which were made completely of bone.
When it was completed, it was placed inside of a Confederate canteen, and
was exhibited to any one who wished to see it for a cracker. It would be
an endless task to enumerate the many little curious and ingenious articles
which could be seen about the camp; but it must be remembered that among
fourteen thousand of fifteen thousand men there must necessarily be some
of ability and ingenuity. Many of them were good writers, and the daily
bulletins posted in different parts of the camp attested the fact that
they had been accustomed to writing for the public. There were portrait
and landscape painters, and many fine pictures were produced there. One,
"The Prisoner's Dream of Home," was greatly admired and coveted by many,
but money could not purchase it from the owner. The
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officers would frequently purchase articles from the prisoners, but
they could not pay them in money. They would give pass-books to the sutler,
upon which you were credited to the amount agreed upon. As you could not
purchase eatables from the sutler, this mode of trading did not suit the
prisoners; and here the "Detailers" from the camp were of great value to
us. They would take out rings, chains, &c., and dispose of them for
greenbacks to the runners on the boats plying between Point Lookout and
Washington and Baltimore. These runners were great speculators in these
little trinkets, which were readily bought by the citizens of the two cities,
who sympathized with the South. There was quite a manufactory of wooden-ware,
such as tubs, buckets, piggins and pails, carried on in the camp. These
were made of cracker-boxes. The Yankees often wondered at the ingenuity
and fertility of the prisoners, for they did not imagine that there was
much of it among a parcel of Southern soldiers. Many a prisoner learned
to read and write, for we had a fine school here, under the immediate control
of South Carolinian. About six hundred scholars attended, and books were
furnished liberally by the Christian Commission and ladies in Baltimore.
Of course, in order to get through with so many, different hours were set
apart for different recitations. There were ten or twelve teachers, whose
names cannot be remembered now. All the primary branches were taught, as
well as those of an advanced character. An old dilapidated cook-house was
set apart as a school-room during the week, and as a place of workship
on Sundays. The Sunday-school was large and flourishing. We had divine
worship nearly every Sunday, conducted either by the prisoners, or by some
preachers from Baltimore. The music at the Sunday-school was always a subject
of comment and praise, and it was really of a fine quality, for there were
some fine teachers of vocal music attached to the school, and they had
large classes. The prayer meetings in different parts of the camp was quite
a feature also. There was a large class engaged in the study of photography,
and many of them, no doubt, made good reporters, as they were quite proficient
at the time they left. While these good features were very prominent, there
were also many bad ones. Gambling houses were very numerous,and the beach
during the day presented a strange appearance, as the gambling booths were
arranged in perfect order and were always crowded. They were generally
decorated by a small, fancy-colored streamer flying from the top, and under
them games of every kind were always in progress.
Page489 Prison Experience.
Cards, monte, roulette, keno, faro, chuck-a-luck, and in fact, every game of change known, was freely indulged in. Greenbacks and Confederate money were both legal, and passed at the regular rates of exchange. It is strange that the authorities allowed this, yet they did. Various kinds of currency were in circulation, the principal of which was "hard tack" and tobacco. With a hard tack you could purchase a chew of tobacco, or vice versa. Some men followed this business regularly. Whenever any one wanted a chew of tobacco, he could cry out, "Here's your hard tack for your tobacco." Immediately some one would answer, "Here's your tobacco," and this would apply to anything which might be wanted. It was only necessary to cry out the fact, and the article required could generally be obtained. It would have amused any one, not accustomed to it, to have heard this. The Chesapeake bay afforded a fine opportunity for bathing, and we were allowed to enjoy this privilege two evenings in each week. The distance to which we were allowed to go was marked by boys, but the filthy condition of the bay often precluded many from enjoying this sport. A negro sentry, while watching the men bathing one hot afternoon, fell off the parapet and broke his neck.
The carelessness of the negroes in handling their arms was notorious.
One of them, in looking at the prisoners one day while bathing, placed
his chin upon the muzzle of his musket, and rested his foot upon the guard.
His foot slipped, the gun was discharged, and blew off the front part of
his face. They would often endeavor to show their dexterity and skill with
the musket before the prisoners, and, on one occasion, one was hot and
killed. The summer had now passed away and we were still on this desolate
More "Exchange News" became rife, and our spirits became buoyant again,
but only to sink again, for only one boat load was taken off. We saw that
we were doomed to spend another winter in prison, and with our experience
of the previous one we began to make preparation to meet it. We made brick
as well as we could, and dried them in the sun, and put our tents in a
more comfortable condition. Some were enabled to purchase empty cracker-boxes
from the commissary and build themselves little huts. But these were limited
in capacity, and rendered somewhat uncomfortable by the restrictions placed
upon them. The authorities would occasionally tear them down to see that
nothing contraband was in them. Our treatment had not improved; on the
contrary, it grew more severe, and the cruelty of the United States officials
Page490 Southern Historical Society Papers.
us seemed to know no bounds. Every day or two fresh orders were issued
forbidding some privileges and abridging others. It would be a very difficult
matter to describe our sufferings and privations during this terrible winter.
Hunger and cold again forced many to forswear allegiance to the "stars
and bars" and enlist under the flag of the enemy. All who did so were formed
in a regiment of cavalry and sent to the Western frontier, and very many
of them, as soon as an opportunity presented itself, deserted and returned
to their native land. Nothing of importance occurred this winter. In the
month of January, another boat load was taken from camp and sent to Dixie.
This had occurred so often that it did not affect us much. About this time
our suffering grew so intense from hunger and cold, that it did not seem
possible for us to endure it. But the hope of seeing our dear old Dixie
cheered us up, and the meeting with the loved ones at home was uppermost
in every man's thoughts. On the 8th of February an unusual commotion was
observed near the main entrance into the camp, and shortly after an order
was posted on the bulletin board bidding the Gettysburg prisoners to hold
themselves in readiness. With fear and trepidation we proceeded to obey
the order, for we did not know what disposition was to be made of us. We
were taken into a pen adjacent to the one we had occupied for the past
eighteen months, and there we received the joyful intelligence that we
were to be paroled. Several days were consumed in the process, and the
night of the 11th, at 2 o'clock A. M., we were marched on board the steamer
"City Point." At daybreak on the 12th we were well underway, and the place
of our long and cruel captivity was fast receding form view. At noon, at
that day, we passed Rip Raps, a barren rock where some of our gallant boys
had been sent for some imaginary offence. A severe gale delayed our progress
very materially, and the ice in James river was another obstacle. We had
passed the grim walls of Fortress Monroe, and began to realize familiar
scenes and places. About noon, on the 15th, we arrived at Varina Ferry,
and were immediately transferred to our own boats, under the command of
that courteous officer and gentleman, Captain Hatch. The officers of the
boat had some difficulty in keeping the men in their proper places, for
the river was full of torpedoes, and the boats had to be piloted very carefully.
At 4 P. M. we landed at Richmond - dear old Richmond - and a happy day
it was for us. The merchants near the wharf opened boxes of tobacco for
us, and gave us bountifully of it. It would be difficult
Page491 Official Diary of First Corps.