*SOUTHERN HISTORICAL SOCIETY PAPERS
Vol. XVIII , Richmond, Va., Jan - Dec. 1890.
Pages 114 - 120
Address before Pickett Camp Confederate Veterans, October 10, 1890.
BY PAST COMMANDER CHARLES T. LOEHR.
[Richmond (Va.) Times, October 11, 1890.]
George E. Pickett Camp Confederate
Veterans held a meeting which was largely attended last night. Past Commander
Charles T. Loehr
Following is the address in full:
"If it were not for Hope, how could we live in a place like this?-
-Point Look Out, June 3, 1865."
On a fly-leaf of a small New Testament appears these words, as well as the sketch of a cross and anchor, also the date, June 3d, 1865, and the place, Point Lookout, to all of which I acknowledge myself as the author.
In turning back to those dark
days of our country's history, I do so simply to present facts and incidents
in which I was a participant. I
General Lee surrendered about 26,000 men, of whom only 7,892 were armed. A greater part of them were men that were on detail duty, or held some position which kept them safely in the rear. It is a fact that few, very few, indeed, of Ewell's and Pickett's men escaped from those that stood in battle line doing their duty on the evening of April 6, 1865, at the bloody ridge of Sailor's Creek; the men left there as a forlorn hope to do the fighting, with few exceptions, were captured or killed; and I assert without fear of contradiction that there were more fighting men at the close of the war in Point Lookout Prison alone, not to mention Fort Delaware, Hart's Island, Johnson's Island, Newport's News, and other questionable places of amusement, than there were in Lee's whole army at the surrender. I make the remarks necessary in justice to the Confederate soldiers who suffered and starved in the fearful prison-pens of the North, but did not "surrender at Appomattox."
BATTLE OF FIVE FORKS.
To begin, on April 1, 1865,
the battle of Five Forks was fought. Our
Hearing someone behind me, I looked around, and there was my friend and comrade, Sergeant J. H. Kepler. On my remarking "Halloo Kep; they have got you, too," he replied, nearly breathless, "Yes; confound them, they have got me again." He had just come back to us from prison, having been captured at Gettysburg. That night we remained on the battle field of Dinwiddie Courthouse, where the dead of the 31st of March were still lying unburied around. There were, perhaps, two thousand of us gathered together, captured in the day's battle. The next morning our march commenced towards Petersburg, and after a march of three days we reached City Point on the 4th, having nothing to eat until the night of the 3d. When near Petersburg we received a small amount of crackers and meat.
At City Point several transport steamers were lying, and we were ordered on board of them, each boat being packed with human freight to its full capacity.
Some of the boats landed their unwilling passengers at Newport's News, while most of them, and the one I was on, reached Point Lookout on the morning of the 5th. Landing at the wharf, we were formed in open line for inspection; that is, we had to empty our pockets and lay our baggage on the ground before us, while the Federal sergeants amused themselves by kicking overcoats, blankets, oilcloths, canteens, and everything that had a U. S. on it, into the bay. This left us in a sad condition, for there was very little in our possession that had not been the property of the United States, at one time or another, and became ours by the many victories and captures we had helped to gain.
After putting us in light marching order, we were marched into the prison-pen, or "bull-pen," as it was called. The prison consisted of a space of about twenty acres, surrounded by a high board fence, on the outside of which there was near the top, a platform for the guard to walk upon. The guards consisted of negroes of the worst sort. Inside of the grounds, about fifteen feet in front of the fence, was a ditch called the "dead line." The sentry fired upon any one who crossed it. The camp was laid in regular rows of small tents, each double row being a division, of which there were ten. These were again sub-divided into ten companies of about two hundred men each. Through these streets or rows there ran small ditches; but the land being very shallow, the drainage was very imperfect--Point Lookout being a tongue of land where the Potomac joins the Chesapeake Bay, barely over five feet high at its highest point; and herein was the worst feature of the prison. There was no good drinking water to be had; the water was impregnated with copperas, and tasted quite brackish. To this source was a great deal of the fearful mortality that occurred there traceable.
When we came there the prison
was already full, and the small tents were totally insufficient to accommodate
us. Many were without shelter of any kind, and exposed to the bad weather
which prevailed for the greater part of our stay. We had but few blankets,
and most of us had
It is wonderful how much a human
being can stand. I myself,
Great as the sufferings of the men were from want of sufficient food and medicines, they were much increased from want of clothing. Some were nearly naked, only one ragged shirt to wear, and this covered with vermin. On an occasion of Major A. G. Brady's (the provost marshal) visit to the camp, which happened on an unusually bright day, the men were seated in the ditch in front of their tents, busy hunting for their tormenters, having their only garment off, using it for the field to hunt in. He smilingly remarked to some who through modesty attempted to hide, "Don't stop, I like to see you all busy." Talking of Major Brady, no one can say that he was not always polite, and he appeared to be very friendly towards the prisoners, yet it is said he made more than $1,000,000, outside of his pay, from his position. Having charge of all the sutler establishments, and all the money, boxes, letters, and presents passing through or in his hands, his position must have made him a rich man.
Next our guards. As already stated, they were negroes who took particular delight in showing their former masters that "the bottom rail was on top." On one occasion one of the North Carolina men, who have a habit, which is shared by our Virginia country cousins, in whittling every wooden object they come across, was enjoying this sport on the prison gate, when one of the colored soldiers shot him down, nearly blowing his head off. This created some little excitement, but what the result was I never learned. During the day we had access to the sink built on piles in the bay, but at night the gates were closed, and boxes were placed in the lower part of the camp, to which the men were allowed to go at all hours of the night. There were hundreds of sick in camp, cases of violent diarrhoea, reducing the men to skeletons. As these men were compelled to frequent these boxes, the negroes would often compel them at the point of the bayonet to march around in double quick time, to carry them on their backs, to kneel and pray for Abe Lincoln, and forced them to submit to a variety of their brutal jokes, some of which decency would not permit me to mention.
The white sergeants in charge were hardly of a better class than their colored brother. They belonged to that class of mean cowards who dare not face the foe on the battle field, whose bravery consisted in insulting and maltreating a defenseless prisoner. Often I have seen them kick a poor, sick, broken-down prisoner, because he was physically unable to take his place in line at roll-call as quickly as the sergeant demanded. Prisoners were sometimes punished by them too horribly to relate. Men were tied, hand and feet, and had to stand on a barrel for hours; others were bound and dipped head foremost in a urine barrel--all this for some trifling offence, such as getting water from a prohibited well, stealing perhaps something eatable, or some other small affair.
But most things, whether good
or bad, will come to an end. More
WENT TO THE PEN.
Having thus been properly whitewashed,
we were sent to the pen
ARRIVAL IN RICHMOND.
Could a picture have been taken of the men who arrived in Richmond from the prison-pens during those days, it would not be believed that the men who walked from the boat in Rocketts in June, 1865, were the proud soldier boys that left here in April, 1861. Silent, friendless, and sorrowful each one went his way. No welcome, no cheer awaited their return to this city and to their homes. Oh how few could boast of having homes! Nothing but ruins everywhere; but the man who was a good soldier generally proved himself to be a good citizen. The ruins are gone, war and desolation have passed--may it never return.
I close with the following interesting statistics: The report of Mr. Stanton, as Secretary of War, on the 19th of July, 1866, contains the following facts:
He states that the number of
Federals in Confederate prisons was two hundred and seventy thousand, of
which twenty-two thousand five hundred and seventy-six died; while the
number of Confederate prisoners in Federal prisons is put down as two hundred
and twenty thousand, of which number twenty-six thousand four hundred and
thirty-six died. According to these figures the percentage of Federal prisoners
who died in Southern prisons was under nine, while that of the Confederates
in Northern prisons was over twelve. These figures tell their own story.
We of the South did what we could for the prisoners that fell into our
hands. Our poverty and the destruction of our means of supplies plead our
cause of not being able to offer better accommodation to them. We, the
soldiers of the Confederacy, fared no better; but the Federal Government--it
can only offer expediency as an excuse.
Return to Main
Return to Gazette
Return to Treatment of Prisoners