THE PRISON EXPERIENCE OF A CONFEDERATE SOLDIER.
Narrative of the Hardships, Sufferings, and Hazards of Six Hundred Officers of the Confederate States Army, who were Prisoners from August 16th, 1864, to March 4th, 1865, and for Six Weeks on Morris Island, by Federal Effort, were Under Fire from Confederate Batteries.
By ABRAM FULKERSON, late Colonel Sixty-third Tennessee Infantry, Army of Northern Virginia.
The writer of the following "unvarnished tale" is a prominent citizen of Virginia, who has honorably served the State in her Councils. There was no more gallant officer in the Confederate Army than he.
With Dr. W. W. Parker, late Major of Artillery, C. S. A., in July last, he served as "Commissioner for Virginia, to locate the positions of Virginia troops at the battle of Chickamauga."
We would not now "set down aught in malice," and in the justice of history, alone, present here these truthful details.
A list of the companions of Colonel Fulkerson, who shared his hardships and his hazards on Morris Island, under the fire of their own comrades in arms, in given in Vol.XVII, Southern Historical Society Papers, pages 34-36, inclusive.
At the request of friends and old comrades I give my recollections of
prison life in some of the Federal prisons, during the late war, prefaced
by a few incidents occurring at, and immediately preceding my capture at
Petersburg, Virginia, on the 17th day of June, 1864. After the battle
The sand battery at the Howlett House was hastily constructed and the
line fortified by throwing up heavy earthworks, and thus, in the language
of General Grant, "Butler was bottled."
About the middle of June General Grant seems to have stolen a march
on General Lee, and suddenly throwing his entire army to the south side
of the James, moved upon Petersburg, which, notwithstanding it was regarded
as the key to Richmond, was wholly unprotected
On the afternoon of June 15th, General Johnson was notified of the threatened
attack upon Petersburg, and he immediately ordered the evacuation of the
line in front of Bermuda hundreds, and marched his little command to Petersburg
to meet the threatened danger, which
We reached Petersburg about sunset, and at once marched out go the line of fortification around the city. Instead of meeting a cavalry raid we suddenly came in contact with the solid columns of Grant's advancing infantry, which had captured the lines of fortifications from the Appomattox River up to Battery 14.
General Hoke's Division of North Carolinians, about 3,000 strong, had also been ordered to Petersburg, and reached there about the same time Johnston did.
A new line was formed, extending from Battery 15 to the Appomattox, and the entire Confederate forces, under the command of General Hoke, under the cover of darkness, made such preparations to meet the enemy as their limited supply of entrenching tools would enable, them, and thus awaited the momentous events of the next day.
Early on the morning of the 16th, a charge in two columns upon our lines was made by the Federals, which, by the splendid service of the reserve artillery, and the steady and well directed fire of our infantry, was repulsed with considerable loss to the enemy.
During the entire day these charges were repeated from time to time, and when night came on we were afforded no rest, as several efforts were made to storm our line, all of which were successfully repelled with great slaughter.
About daylight, on the morning of the 17th, the troops in our front, having been largely reinforced during the night, made charge in three lines on our position, overlapping us on the right, and carying our works by storm. A large portion of Johnson's Brigade was captured, including myself and about half of my regiment.
The prisoners, in charge of an officer and detail of men, were quickly marched through the Federal lines to General Burnside's headquarters, located in a field about half a mile to the rear. The General had dismounted, and was seated on a camp-stool, and was surrounded by a line of negro guards.
The prisoners were halted at the line of guards, and the officer in charge announced to the General that they had captured the colonel of a regiment, many officers and men, three flags, and several pieces of artillery. Rising from his seat, General Burnside approached us, and, addressing me, enquired what regiment I commanded, and being informed that it was a Tennessee regiment, he asked from what part of the State.
From East Tennessee, I replied. With an expression of astonishment,
General Burnside said:
"Take him on, take him on," the General shouted to our guards, and thence we were marched some two or three miles towards City Point, to the headquarters of General Patrick, the Provost-Marshall General of Grnat's army, where we were guarded during the day in a field, without shelter, and under a burning sun. In other respects we were treated with the consideration due prisoners of war by General Patrick, whom we found to be a gentleman.
Besides the duty of receiving prisoners and forwarding them to prison,
it seemed to be General Patrick's duty to receive the stragglers of General
Grant's army and send them to their respective commands, and I feel safe
in making the statement that, during the day we were at his quarters, there
were more stragglers brought in by the cavalry, than the total number of
Confederates opposing the advance of Grant's army upon Petersburg, during
the 16th and 17th of June,
We were next taken to City Point, James River, and from there to Fort Delaware by steamer.
Fort Delaware was one of the regular Federal prisons, situated upon an island in the Delaware River, opposite Delaware City, forty miles below Philadelphia.
At one time there were as many as 2,500 officers, and 8,000 private soldiers confined in that prison.
The quarters provided for the officers were reasonably comfortable. They were at times too much crowded.
The private soldiers were kept in a separate department, and the officers had no communication with them and no opportunity to judge of their treatment, but it is said they were crowded in insufficient quarters and poorly fed. Such of the officers as had friends North were furnished by them with money and clothing, and fared reasonably well. The less fortunate suffered for necessary clothing, and were compelled to live wholly on the prison fare, which was often insufficient to prevent actual hunger.
General Schoepf, a foreigner by birth, was in command at Fort Delaware. He was a humane officer and did all that he dared to alleviate the sufferings of the prisoners and to supply their wants.
He married a Virginia lady who was said to be a Southern sympathizer,
and on this account, possibly, the General's actions were closely watched,
and it is said that Captain Ahl, one of his
aids, was sent there and forced upon him, for the special purpose of spying
upon his actions
Of course, where such large numbers of men, deprived of their liberty, were huddled together, as these men necessarily were, there would be much suffering and complaint, even if the prison officers were disposed to treat them humanely.
After the capture fo the Confederate Forts, Wagner and Gregg, by the Federal forces, under the command of General Q. A. Gilmore, other batteries were constructed on the end of Morris Island, consisting of a mortar battery of two heavy guns, called the Iron Battery, and another called the Swamp Angel. The mortar battery was used to throw shells upon Fort Sumter, which was distant about a quarter of a mile from the end of the island.
The heavy guns of the Iron Battery were used in shelling the city of Charleston, which was four miles distant. Fifteen-inch shells were thrown into the city from the guns of the Iron Battery, which created consternation among the people, and rendered its habitation unsafe. The citizens who were able to leave, fled to the country and other places for safety.
General Sam Jones was at that time in command of the Department of Charleston, including the city, with headquarters in the city. The poorer classes of the people, who were unable to leave, were assembled by the General in a remote part of the town, and General Gilmore was notified of this fact, and requested not to fire upon the helpless people in that quarter of the city. It seems that this request was disregarded by General Gilmore, and that an occasional shell was thrown into that quarter, creating a panic among the people and doing much damage. Thereupon, General Jones selected forty Federal officers from the prison at Andersonville, of rank from general to lieutenant, and placed them in that quarter occupied by the poor of the city. General Gilmore was duly notified of the presence of these Federal officers in the city, and again requested to spare that quarter, and warned that if he did fire upon it, he would endanger the lives of his own people.
General Gilmore at once notified his Government of the action of General Jones, and requested that he be furnished with forty Confederate officers of like rank of the Federal officers confined in Charleston, and that he be authorized to confine them on Morris Island within range of the Confederate batteries on the Charleston side.
In compliance with General Gilmore's request, a requisition was made upon the prison at Fort Delaware for forty Confederate officers. The forty officers selected and sent to General Gilmore included Generals Edward Johnson, Jeff. Thompson and other officers of lower rank. After the arrival of these officers in Charleston harbor they were kept aboard a vessel for several days, and then, instead of lading and placing them under the fire of the Confederate guns, as first proposed, they were, by some agreement between Generals Jones and Gilmore, exchanged for the Federal officers in Charleston.
It was thought after the fortunate termination of this affair, that General Gilmore would desist from shelling that part of the city occupied by its helpless people, but instead of so doing, shells were thrown into that quarter from day to day. In view of the continued cruel and inhuman conduct of General Gilmore, General Jones determined again to try the experiment of placing Federal prisoners among the helpless people of the city for their protection, and with this view he made a requisition upon Andersonville prison for 600 Federal officers of all ranks, from colonel down.
This number of officers were accordingly brought to the city and quartered in the poorer section, and General Gilmore notified and again requested not to fire into that quarter.
On receipt of this information General Gilmore promptly caused requisition to be made upon the prison at Fort Delaware for 600 officers of equal rank of those in Charleston, to be placed on Morris Island, under the fire of the Confederate guns of Fort Moultre, Johnson, Beauregard, &c., situated on the Charleston side of the channel.
The announcement in the prison at Fort Delaware, that a requisition had bee made for 600 officers, to be sent to Morris Island, created the wildest excitement, as it was confidently believed by all harbor, and every one was anxious to go.
The cartel for the exchange of prisoners on James River, the regular place of exchange, was not in force at that time, and it was given out, and generally believed, that this was an easy and effective method, devised by Generals Jones and Gilmore, to evade the restrictions upon the exchange of prisoners.
The 600 who were to compose the retaliatory expedition to Morris Island were selected by the commander of the Fort, and the roll of their names was called in the prison pen, several days before the expedition embarked for Morris Island.
When it became known in the prison who the supposed fortunate 600 were, another scene of wild excitement was witnessed.
Every one who failed to draw a lucky number, wanted to exchange places with some one whose name had been called to go, and many exchanges were made, some giving money, some watches and other articles for the privilege of going. In one case as much as $250 was paid for the privilege, and in some instances exchanges were made from motives and humanity. The officers purchasing these supposed privileges, assumed and answered to the names of their vendors when the final roll was called on leaving the prison, and while quite a number of these exchanges were made, none of them were detected by the Federal officers in charge.
I was one of the 600 selected, and felt very happy at the thought of an early exchange, and refused positively to barter my chance or to exchange with any one.
Poor, deluded fellows, little did they dream of the troubles and hardships in store for them.
About the middle of August, probably the 16th day, notice was given
to prepare for the voyage. Everything in the prison was bustle and confusion,
but preparation was easily made, as the officers had but little clothing
other than that on their person. Everything being in readiness, the 600
passed out of the gate of the prison pen and were formed in two ranks on
They were treated with much consideration and accorded unusual privileges whilst on the island; among others, they were allowed to occupy a room in the fort. After they donned the blue, the fort was unquestionably a safer place for them than the prison pen. This pair of colonels was provided with state room, and took their meals with the officers of the vessel, we were informed. One of them was a Virginian and the other a North Carolinian. Why they were included in the 600 and taken on the expedition, we never knew. Some thought they were spies and others thought they would be exchanged on reaching Charleston harbor, but they were not. They were kept with us throughout the entire retaliatory expedition, and returned with the survivors to Fort Delaware. At Morris Island, Fort Pulaski, and on the return vessel, they were kept separate from the common herd, and furnished with comfortable quarters with extra rations.
Another colonel, but a gallant soldier and true man, Woolfolk by name, was allowed to occupy a state-room, but why he was granted this privilege, I cannot recall.
The Crescent was a side-wheel steamer which plied between New Orleans and Galveston before the war, and many of its crew were with the vessel then. They were sympathizers with the South, and when they could escape the vigilance of the guards and sentinels, they would extend the prisoners such little favors as they were able. In the condition above described, the Crescent steamed out into the Delaware and put to sea.
As a further safeguard against the escape of these helpless prisoners
whilst the Crescent was coasting around to Charleston harbor, from fifty
a hundred miles from land, the Government considerately furnished two gun-boats
The water-closet used by the prisoners was in the wheel-house, to reach which it was necessary to go up the ladder, through the hatch and over the deck. But one prisoner was allowed to go to the closet at a time, and of course there was a great effort made to get a position to avoid delay, and to this end, every morning, nearly all of the 600 would line themselves around the vessel in two ranks. This was in August, and the animal heat, which was greatly augmented by the heat from the smoke-stack, became so intolerable, and the smell of the place so offensive, that it was considered a great privilege to go to the water-closet for a few minutes, where one could get a breath of fresh air and enjoy the spray thrown upon one's body by the paddlewheel. Of course every man remained there until he was driven out by the sentinel, regardless of the suffering and clamor of his comrades in the hold. By this cruel arrangement it required hours to accommodate the prisoners. Many of them were not able to stand up in ranks till their turn came, owing to their enfeebled condition caused by sea-sickness, which was aggravated by the heated and fetid air which they were compelled to breathe. It frequently happened that men were not able to stand in line till their turn, and were compelled to fall out and rest, when the ranks would immediately close up, and this necessitated their going to the foot of the line, if they still desired the privilege of going on deck.
In many instances these people were not able to control themselves, and were compelled to leave ranks and use one end of the hold for their purpose.
Before the vessel reached Cape Hatteras the floor of our department was a loblolly of vomit, ambier, &c.
We were provided with no means for cleaning the vessel, and the Federal officers in charge gave it no attention whatever. When the vessel encountered the rougher waters off Cape Hatteras, its rolling and pitching would dash and splatter this horrid combination of filth from one end of the hold to the other.
For eighteen days we were kept in this miserable place, which, notwithstanding the filth necessarily accumulating each day, was never cleaned; still we lived and were cheerful, buoyed by the hope of an early exchange and the thought of the loving greeting of the dear ones as home. But, alas!
Off Cape Romain light-house the Crescent lost her convoys in fog and ran in near land and grounded on a bar. Great confusion at once ensued among the prisoners and also among the Federal officers. We held a hasty council of war, and determined to make a demand on the captain for the surrender of the vessel. It was a desperate undertaking, as it would have been almost certain destruction if we had attempted to reach the deck under the concentrated fire of one hundred muskets. Still, we made the resolve, and placed in the lead Van H. Manning, the brave and dashing Colonel of the Third Arkansas Infantry. Through him we made the demand upon the captain for surrender, and, to the surprise of some of us, he agreed to surrender the vessel on condition, as I remember, that we would have the officers, crew, and soldiers exchanged at Charleston. My recollection is that we had determined to make a landing in the life-boats at or near Cape Romain light-house. While the preliminaries of surrender were being arranged, a signal gun was fired from one of the escorts, and she quickly came in sight and steamed directly toward our vessel. This untoward event terminated all furnisher negotiations for surrender.
While the vessel was aground, Colonel Woolfolk, who occupied a state-room, fastening one end on the inside, to make the impression on the officers and guards of the boat that he had lowered himself into the water and escaped. The ruse was successful, as all on board were impressed with the belief that the Colonel had gone into the have made the shore by swimming, on account of the distance and the intervening breakers. We afterwards learned that in the confusion on board the vessel, a woman had concealed him in the linen room, of which she had charge and exclusive control, and fed and successfully concealed him until the vessel returned from Charleston to New York, whence he made good his escape to Nassay, thence to his home in Kentucky, as we were afterwards informed.
Without further incident or delay, we reached Charleston harbor in due time, and the Crescent anchored inside the bar, close to the Federal blockading fleet and in sight of the city of Charleston.
Our anxiety was intense, as we fondly hoped and believed we were on the eve of exchange, and we fully expected that the preliminaries would be arranged without unreasonable delay.
Being surrounded by the Federal fleet, with the monitors anchored between us and Charleston, we thought it reasonable and expected to be allowed to go upon deck, but this privilege was denied us, and we were forced to remain in our place in the hold. All the information we could get as to what was taking place in the harbor was what we could see in going to and from the wheel-house, and, for the purpose of observation, we kept a line of prisoners from the hold to the wheel-house all the time.
It was the day after our arrival, I think, that our hearts were gladdened by a report from deck, that a truce boat from Charleston and another from the Federal fleet were approaching each other, and in a very short time another report was brought from a faithful runner that the truce boats had met, later on, that they had separated, and that the Confederate vessel was steaming, back to Charleston, and the other returning to the fleet, then expectation did not reach us that day. The next day the truce boats met again, and then we thought surely terms of exchange would be agreed upon, but no. Again they met on the third day, but accomplished nothing. I do not know whether they were negotiating for our exchange, but we thought so, and this thought revived our drooping spirits and caused us to forget, for the time, the horrible hell in the hold.
The next day the Crescent weighed anchor and steamed out to sea, for what purpose we never knew. After a short run, the steamer put in at Hilton Head, which is at the mouth of Broad River, and there anchored. After remaining two or three days, the prisoners being still confined to the hold, the vessel returned to Charleston harbor and anchored near her former position, and we were kept aboard two or three days longer, during which time the truce boats met often as before, but terms of exchange were not agreed upon, if that was the purpose of their meeting, and on the 18th day after embarking at Fort Delaware, we were landed at the wharf on Morris Island, about four miles from the point nearest Fort Sumter. We were then marched up the beach to the point of the Island, and there we found, prepared for our reception, a stockade pen, about fifteen feet high, constructed of poles set in the sand. The stockade was about midway between Forts Wagner and Gregg, Wagner being in rear of the pen and Gregg in front or next to Fort Sumter, and immediately on the beach not more than thirty or forty yards from the water. To the left of Fort Gregg was the Mortar Battery, next the Iron Battery, and further to the left, Swamp Angel. On the left of the pen, and in close range, a battery of field guns was trained upon it. Lying off the right, in the harbor, were two monitors, whose frowning guns bore upon the pen. The guns on the front of Wagner and those on the rear of Gregg were so arranged as to rake the pen fore and aft, in case of an emergency. The pen was guarded by a Massachusetts negro regiment. A platform was constructed around the stockade, outside, and about four feet from the top, and upon this platform a line of negro sentinels was posted, at intervals of about six paces. The pen enclosed an area of about two acres of sand, and on the inside, about twelve feet from the stockade, a rope, two inches in diameter, was stretched around the interior, supported on pickets four feet high driven in the sand. This was called the been provided for our accommodation, and pitched in rows in the space enclosed by the "Dead Line."
These precautions had evidently been taken by the Federal authorities in anticipation of an outbreak when the Confederate batteries should be provoked to return the fire of the Federal batteries on Morris Island.
After marching into the pen and being assigned to our tents, we were called out and formed into line, and the rules prescribed for the government of the prisoners were read to us by Colonel Molyneaux, the officer in command. One rule provided that any prisoner who sentinels on the platform above. On account of this rule the prisoners rarely approached nearer than five or six feet of the "Dead Line," and this space between the line and the stockade materially diminished the small area available for our use. Another rule provided that if more than ten prisoners assembled together, the sentinel should order them to disperse, and if the order was not instantly obeyed, he should fire into the crowd. In our crowded condition it was almost impossible to comply with this rule, and we were kept in constant fear of being shot by the negro sentinels, and the command, "'sparse dat crowd," became quite common. On one occasion, I remember, a sentinel bellowed out "'sparse dat crowd damn you, the bullet in de bottom of my gun is just meltin' to get into you now." Another rule was that if a light was struck in any tent after taps, the sentinel was to fire into the tent without notice. The blankets furnished the prisoners at Fort Delaware were taken away from them before they left the Crescent, and returned to the quartermaster at the fort, the officer stating to us that other blankets would be furnished us on the island.
This promise was not complied with. The prisoners who had private blankets were permitted to keep them, and these were hardly sufficient to cover the sand in the tents, for which purpose it was necessary to use them, and on these we slept without covering. There was however, no suffering on this account, as the weather was warm. The rations issued us on the island were insufficient in quantity, but in quality fairly good, consisting generally of hard-tack and salt beef or pork, with coffee once a day, soup occasionally, but no vegetables.
The first effort of the Federals to draw the fire of the Confederate guns upon us was made about sunrise on the morning after our arrival. To that end every battery on the island and the guns on the monitors were, at a given signal, opened upon the Confederate forts, to which the Confederate batteries promptly replied, and a regular artillery duel ensued, lasting for an hour or more. Forts Johnson, Beauregard, Moultrie, and a battery on james Island participated. Shells from the Confederate batteries were thrown with great precision into Fort Wagner, passing immediately over our pen, and others exploded to our left and front so uncomfortably close to the pen that we, at first, thought our friends were not upon the island. This storm of shot and shell created some consternation upon the prisoners, and at first caused something like a panic, but we soon became satisfied that the Confederates knew what they were doing, and that there was no real danger. The negro sentinels on top of the stockades were greatly frightened as the Confederate shells thrown into Fort Wagner, and shells from the guns in that fort passed immediately over them. The Confederates seemed to have the exact range of every point on the island within the reach of their guns.
We were kept on the island about six weeks, and these artillery duels occurred frequently during our stay, but the Confederates fired with such precision that not a single shot or shell fell within our stockade, and but one shell exploded immediately over us, and whilst several pieces fell in the pen, no one was injured. If the purpose of the Federal authorities in placing these prisoners on the island was to have them shot by their own people, six weeks must have convinced them that the experiment was a failure. However this may be, at the end of that time we were is situated on an island in the mouth of the Savannah river. This fort was of brick and built upon piles. We were confined in a portion of the casemates of the fort; the other casemates were used as quarters for the garrison.
Fort Pulaski formed a portion of General Gilmore's department, but was
under the immediate command of Colonel Brown, of
New York, and was garrisoned by his regiment of infantry, which
had seen service in the field. Colonel Brown was not only an accomplished
and humane officer, but was a kind and courteous gentleman. Soon after
our arrival he visited the fort and made a personal inspection of our quarters,
and told us that he intended to make that prison the best one in the United
States, that some of his regiment had been prisoners, in the South and
were treated with kindness, and that others, including himself, might be
captured, and, in that event, he would expect them to receive the consideration
at the hands of the Confederates that he intended to show us. He ordered
full army rations to be issued, made requisition on the department quartermaster
for blankets for the prisoners, and not only permitted, but urged the prisoners
to write to their friends in the North for money and closing, the latter
especially. Colonel Brown's kindness was highly appreciated by us, and
the prisoners became cheerful and contented, or as well contented as prisoners
of war could well be. But, to our great disappointment, and to the regret
of Colonel Brown himself, we were allowed to enjoy his hospitality and
kindness but a short time. Some escaped prisoners from the Confederate
prison at Andersonville came through the lines into General Gilmore's department,
and reported to him that, for more than a month before they escaped, the
prisoners at Andersonville had nothing issued to them but corn meal and
sorghum, which had caused much suffering and sickness among the prisoners.
The unfortunate 600, having been selected and sent to General Gilmore for
retaliatory purpose, an order was issued to place them upon like rations,
and the privilege of receiving money, clothing, or provisions from Northern
sympathizers be withdrawn. After this sweeping order was put in force we
understood that the blankets ordered by Colonel Brown, and quantities of
clothing and other articles for the prisoners were received at the fort,
but were never delivered, and we were compelled to pass the winter in the
damp and cold, brick-floored and bricklined casemates, with no bed-clothing
except the private blankets before mentioned, and without clothing except
the scanty supply brought with us, Colonel Brown explained the situation
to us, and expressed regret that the order was peremptory, and that he
was powerless and without authority to modify it. The allowance of corn
meal was ten ounces to the man per day, and as sorghum could not be obtained
within the Federal lines, it was suggested, in some
This suggestion was adopted, so that our rations consisted of ten ounces of corn meal, with acid, blood-thinning pickle. The effect of the pickle was to thin the blood, and its use was quickly abandoned by the prisoners; still it was issued to us, day by day, in kegs, which were not opened. The corn meal was furnished us in barrels, delivered in the casemates. The barrel heads showed the place and date of manufacture of the meal, and were marked thus: "Corn meal, kiln dried, 1861, from ----- Mills," &c. Thus, the meal upon which we were forced to subsist was four years old, kiln dried, and full of worms. To understand the insufficiency of ten ounces of wormy meal to sustain life and health, it is only necessary to state that the regular army ration issued to soldiers consists of one pound and a quarter of meal, or one pound of flour, three-fourths of a pound of bacom, or one pound and a quarter fo fresh beef, with coffee and vegetables. As might have been expected, and doubtless was intended, great suffering among the prisoners ensued. One of the effects of insufficient and unhealthy food was scurvy, with which large numbers became diseased, and many died, and I am satisfied that quite a number died from actual starvation.
The prisoners cooked their own bread, and for this purpose, tin pans,
of the size of the ordinary pie pan, were furnished, and a cooking stove
to every alternate casemate. Each casemate furnished a detail of cooks.
I remember, on one occasion, an inspecting physician, from some other post
in the department, was brought into the prison by some of the officers
of the fort, and observing the pans of bread upon the stove, remarked to
the officers accompanying him:
One day a prisoner picked from his ration a dozen or more of the larger sized worms, and was in the act of throwing them through a port-hole into the moat, when he was stopped by a friend, in passing, who remarked: "My friend, if you take the worms out it has no nutriment in it;" he immediately raked the worms back into his meal. The fort was garrisoned from the beginning of the war by different detachments of troops. The prisoners' quarters were separate from the casemates occupied by the soldiers of the garrison had a great number of cats; indeed, every soldier seemed to have his pet. The cats had free access to our quarters through the iron grating, and being gentle and friendly disposed, they were given a warm reception by the prisoners.
Not a great while after we were put on retaliation rations some enterprising of half-starved prisoner conceived the happy idea of testing cat flesh as an article of food. The experiment proved a success, and thereafter the cats rapidly disappeared. The cats were generally captured, killed and dressed during the night. The soldiers were at a loss to know what had become of their pets, but they soon discovered the skins floating in the moat, and this led to the discovery that the prisoners were killing them for food. Some complaint was made to Colonel Brown, but to no purpose. The Colonel himself had a fine pet,which he prized very highly, and when he heard of the havoc among the garrison cats, he came into the prison one day and made a special request that his cat be spared. Of course his request was respected by every one of the prisoners, and thereafter his pet had the liberty of the prison, day and night, without even the fear of molestation.
It would hardly be expected that the rules of hospitaly would be observed among a lot of half-starved prisoners, situated as we were, and it rarely happened that invitations to dinner were sent out to particular friends by the members of a mess which had been fortunate enough to capture a cat the night before. These invitations were highly appreciated and the dish highly enjoyed. I was favored with more that one invitation. The flesh of the cat is white, and as tender as spring chicken, and to us it was delicious.
The order by which this cruel punishment was inflicted was continued for nearly two months, after which rations were increased and we were permitted to go out on the island, under guard, and cut a kind of swamp grass that grew there for bedding. This added much to the comfort for the prisoners who, as stated before, were not furnished blankets. The winter at Fort Fulaski was mild, as compared with that of Virginia, but still it was unpleasant. There was no snow during the winter, and I observed sleet only once. But the weather was generally damp and chilly, and we suffered almost continuously from the want of proper clothing for the person and for the bed.
It is proper to state that Colonel Brown and his command were ordered to the front before the retaliatory order was rescinded, and I have no doubt that the Colonel preferred to encounter the dangers and hardships of service in the field to the ease and comforts for the position of commander of a post, coupled with the duty of inflicting unnecessary and cruel punishment upon a lot of helpless prisoners.
The prisoners were divided in January, 1865, I think, one portion remaining in the fort, the other being taken to Hilton Head, but for what purpose we were not informed.
The retaliatory expedition south terminated on the 4th day of March, 1865. On that day we were taken aboard steamer Illinois, which had been used as an emigrant ship before the war. Our treatment on the return ship was quite in contrast with the voyage down. The prisoners were furnished with rooms, and were allowed the privilege of the vessel, so to speak. We were guarded, of course, but by soldiers, not "100 day" men. The Illinois touched at Hilton Head and took aboard the prisoners confined there. We were told that the Federal authorities considered that we had been punished enough, and that orders had been issued for our exchange at Charleston, S. C. On reaching the harbor we were informed that General Hardee, who had been in command at Charleston for some time, had just evacuated the city and was retreating before the advancing army of General Sherman. It was then said we would be exchanged at Wilmington, N. C. When we reached there, General Butler's army on transports, with a fleet of war vessels, were making preparations to storm Fort Fisher, and we were again disappointed. The Illinois was then ordered to Fort Monroe, with orders, we were told, to proceed up James River to the regular place of exchange, and to exchange us there. On arriving at Fort Monroe, our vessel steamed on up to Norfolk, and anchored off the city about the middle of an afternoon, and remained there until the next morning. The people of Norfolk heard that the prisoners were aboard a vessel in the river, and not having seen a Confederate soldier since the capture of that city by the Federals, thousands of the citizens came down to the wharfs to see us. We were not allowed to go ashore, nor were we in speaking distance, and all that we could do was to give each other friendly greeting by the waving of hats and handkerchiefs. We arose early the next morning with light hearts and joyous expectation of being exchanged on the James, and of lading in dear old Richmond that day, but, instead, we were on the very eve of our most distressing and heart-breaking disappointment.
About ten o'clock the Illinois weighed anchor, and with every one on
deck, steamed down the river, and it was not long before we came in sight
of the mouth of the James. It soon became obvious that the vessel was not
steering for the James., at least we thought it was not, and all eyes were
upon the prow, and the gravest apprehensions were excited in our minds.
Lieutenant Maury, of the old United States Marine Service, was one of our
number, and was, prior to the war, familiar with the approaches to the
river. An explanation from him as to the strange course the vessel seemed
to be taking was anxiously sought. He allayed the fears of the prisoners
for awhile by saying that the vessel was not taking the proper course,
as he had known it, but it was possible that sand bars had formed in the
old channel, and that the boat was rounding them.
We were landed at fort Delaware in due time. The prisoners at the fort had largely increased in numbers during our absence. They were in comparatively good health, and the contrast between their appearance and that of the emaciated, haggard and ragged survivors of the 600 was most marked. The photographs of sick soldiers, after their return from Confederate prisons, taken by the United States Sanitary Commission, and industriously and widely distributed for the purpose for firing the Northern heart, would have brought the blush of shame to the Northern cheek, if they could have seen a photograph of the group of Confederate prisoners, taken on their return to Fort Delaware.
Our party greatly enjoyed the superior accommodations and privileges of the Delaware prison, and rapidly improved in health.
The prisoners occupied their time in a variety of ways, many of them at cards. Debating societies were organized, moot courts instituted, for there were many lawyers among us, &c. The inventive genius of the prisoners was developed to a high degree. One man constructed a still, and actually made whiskey without being detected. The product of his still was not of superior quality, but was always in demand at high figures.
Quite a number engaged in making trinkets of bone and guttapercha. A miniature steam saw-mill was built, a camp-kettle being used for the boiler. This was used in sawing bone and other material for the trinket manufacturers. The rings, bracelets, watch-chains, &c., were sold to the visitors of the prison, and a considerable amount of money was realized. A captain of my regiment brought out of prison, on his final release, over six hundred dollars made in this way. He is now a prosperous and wealthy citizen of Knoxville, Tenn. For the purpose of amusement as well as profit, a first-class negro minstrel company was organized, and permitted by General Schoepf to give exhibitions in the mess hall. These performances were well attended by the prisoners and the Federal officers of the fort. The admission fee of fifty cents was cheerfully paid by the prisoners who were supplied with money by friends at the North, and complimentary tickets were generally given to those without means. The receipts often amounted to two or three hundred dollars a night in money and tobacco, tobacco being legal tender in the prison.
The boxes of clothing and provisions, sent to the prisoners by Northern friends, were opened and inspected before they were delivered, and it often happened that the contents were appropriated by the inspectors, and old clothes and army rations sometimes substituted. Of course, these petty peculations greatly annoyed the prisoners, and they protested vigorously to Captain Ahl, and it was believed that if he had laid the complaint before General Schoepf, the pernicious practice would have been checked.
The farce of opening the boxes outside the prison, the daily box call on the platform overlooking the pen, and the amusing scenes that occurred inside the pen when the recipients opened their boxes and found old clothes and prison rations in place of the fine things sent them, were reproduced on the stage by the minstrel company, to the delight of the prisoners and the chagrin of the Federal officers present. It was a splendid take off, and must have been productive of good results. A portion for these exhibitions were used in supplying the sick in the hospitals with delicacies and things necessary to their comfort, and in aiding officers in the pen who had no friends North to send them money or clothing, and the balance was divided among the members of the troupe. This organization was, in fact, a charitable institution, for, besides affording pleasure and amusement to the prison public, in my opinion it was the means of saving many lives.
Lieutenant Peter Akers, of Lynchburg, Va., was the star of the company, and his ceaseless flow of spirit, his wit, himor, and inexhaustible fund of anecdotes added immensely to the character and enjoyment of the exhibitions, and he did more, probably, to give life, spirit, and success to the laudable enterprise than any main the prison, and for his noble efforts in this behalf, Pete has and deserves the gratitude of his fellow sufferers.
Notwithstanding the war terminated in April, 1865, the prisoners were
held for many months thereafter. The private soldiers and company officers
were released in May and June, 1865. The field officers were not released
until June 25th. But after the release of the other prisoners, they were
paroled by General Schoepf, and given the privilege of the island, and
a building outside of the prison pen which had been occupied by the officers
of the garrison, was assigned to us as quarters. In addition to the rations
furnished us, we were allowed to purchase supplies. We appointed Major
McDonald, of North Carolina, commissary. He was allowed to go over
the river to New Castle, Del., every day, to purchase supplies. Money and
clothing, in abundance, was sent us from Baltimore and New York, and our
citizen friends were permitted to land on the island and visit our quarters.
We spent our time in fishing, bathing, eating, drinking, sleeping, &c.,
&c., and we were as pleasantly situated as possible under the circumstances.
General Schoepf threw off all restraint and became very sociable, visiting
our quarters every day, and
Released on the 25th day of July, I reached my family at Abingdon, Va., on the 2d day of August, 1865.
This narrative, written from memory, more than twenty-seven years after the occurrence of the incidents mentioned, is not intended to revive or keep alive the animosities engendered by the Sections; on the contrary, it is written in the interest of history, and when all the facts connected with the imprisonment of the 600 on Morris Island and at Fort Pulaski are made public, they will constitute, it is believed, the blackest page in the prison history of the United States.
Bristol, Va., April 18, 1892.