THE TREATMENT OF PRISONERS


 A Northern view of the Prison Question*

*SOUTHERN HISTORICAL SOCIETY PAPERS
Vol. X, Richmond, Va., July, 1882
No.7.  -   Pages 334- 335


 
 
A Northern view of the Prison Question

Colonel John F. Mines, a well-known journalist, delivered a lecture in Utica
on "Life in a Richmond Prison," in the course of which he said: "Heretofore a large portion of the Radical orator's method of firing the northern heart, lay in the plea of so-called barbarities on the part of the Confederates to their prisoners of war. Whenever a southern congressman rises in his seat to speak in behalf of his constituents, the cry of "rebel brigadier" is raised, and when a street fight occurs in Vicksburg or New Orleans, there is a cry of "barbarities," and an echo of "Andersonville." That one word "Andersonville," has been as effective as was the sweet word, "Mesopotamia," when it fell from the lips of Whitfield the preacher. 

The key to Confederate treatment of the Federal prisoners was found in the fact that they had very little for themselves, and gave the best they had to their prisoners. While the northern officer in the Richmond prison had his baker's bread three times a day, and his meat twice a day, the Confederate sentinel had only his corn cake and molasses, varied by a little meat occasionally. If  the northern officer in his quarters felt the rude blasts of winter, his sentinel, clad in thin homespun, shivered like a leaf as the keen wind swept through his slight rags, and held out skeleton hands to the fire. Their blankets were taken from their beds at home, worn by use, and some of the officers carried a little roll of carpet in lieu of other covering. This was the spirit of the south. 

The officer of our guard, a Georgian, once exhibited to the speaker, with pardonable pride, a sword he had put together from a scythe-blade, with sheepskin scabbard, and handle of southern oak. The men were terribly in earnest and ready to make any and all sacrifices. They expected their prisoners to do the same, and thought it no wrong that a prisoner should go without the dainties they could not afford. The hospital service was reasonably well performed. Quinine and some other medicines were worth their weight in gold at times, and surgeons had to work as best they could. The mortality was never greater in the prisoners' hospital than in those of the service. This I know from frequent visits to the hospitals. Such visits were frequently allowed by the Confederates, and in one case permission was given to attend a funeral of one of the more distinguished of the Federal prisoners. 

Colonel John F. Mines


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