Prison was a way of life for many who served in the Seventh Ohio. Many men suffered and died while being held prisoner of war. The indignities suffered were unspeakable and some men never recovered either mentally or physically from their internment. Several men wrote about their imprisonment and their stories are much more realistic in their own words than I could ever portray. Here are two of them from Lawrence Wilson's book "Itinerary Of The Seventh Regiment, Ohio Volunteer Infantry". They prove to be very compelling reading.
"A Year With The Rebels"
by George W. Shurtleff
Late Brevet Brigadier-General, United States VolunteersAt the outbreak of the Rebellion I was a tutor in Oberlin College and a student in its Theological Seminary. When Sumter was fired on and troops were called for, the young men were ready for the fight. Professor Monroe, who was in the State Senate, came to Oberlin and addressed a mass meeting and called for volunteers. A Company was at once filled and many offered themselves who could not be received. The Seventh Ohio Regiment, to which our company was assigned, had two candidates for the colonelcy, E. B. Tyler and James A. Garfield. Garfield was a prominent member of the State Legislature, and already gave promise of the greatness, which he afterward achieved. Tyler was a man of little prominence, but an active politician. He was also a brigadier-general of the Ohio State Militia, and appeared in camp in military uniform, and this won him the election. Three months after the organization of the regiment, it was surrounded in the mountains of West Virginia and a large portion of it captured. The Oberlin Company held an outpost long enough to allow the main body of the regiment to retreat, but too long for its own safety. Thirty-five of the company were captured and six wounded, two of them mortally. One, a talented member of the freshman class, died the next day in the hands of the enemy. It was my privilege to be at his side during his last hours and receive his dying message.
After two days we started over the mountains for Richmond. The enlisted men were tied together with a rope like a gang of slaves. After marching from daylight until dark, dry flour was issued and two skillets in which to cook supper for more than a hundred men. A few of them built a fire, wet up the flour with water, and without salt, and cooked it. The process was slow and the result so unsatisfactory that most of the men went to sleep supperless. Lieutenant Wilcox and myself, the only commissioned officers among the prisoners, having given our parole of honor not to escape, were permitted to go ahead of the marching column. On the second day we learned where the night was to be passed and hastened on hoping to make some provision to prevent starvation. All we could do was to heat water in a large kettle ready to boil the flour when it came. After four days we reached Jackson River, where we took the cars for Richmond.
We had marched more than one hundred miles, and were so weary and starved that many were scarcely able to stand. Upon arriving at the depot in Richmond, Lieutenant Wilcox and I started to walk into the city, and were arrested by a rebel sergeant and taken to the tobacco warehouse which was used as a military prison at that time. This sergeant proved to be Wirz, afterward so infamous for the cruelty he practiced upon prisoners at Andersonville. The commissioned officers were placed on the first floor and the enlisted men on the second and third.
Our room was about forty by sixty feet, and one-half of this space was occupied by the machinery connected with the factory. There were more than eighty officers. Our food was wheat bread and boiled fresh beef for breakfast and dinner, and bread alone for supper. Those who had money bought other articles-tea at four dollars a pound, coffee at one dollar, butter, sixty cents. Confederate money and greenbacks were at this time on a par in the South. No beds or bedding of any sort were furnished. A few officers bad purchased blankets and mattresses but most of us slept on the bare floor with a block of wood for a pillow. I sold my watch to a rebel officer and used the proceeds to purchase Theirss "Consulate and Empire," two of Thackerays novels, and copies of Livy and Virgil.
Orders prohibiting a near approach to the windows were rigidly enforced. On the floor above us a New York sergeant thoughtlessly stood nearer the window than was pleasing to the guard below and was shot through the head without warning. Roll was called at 9 in the morning by a young rebel, Lieutenant Withers. He was very small, wore a long sword that dragged on the floor, and was a dude generally. He came in one morning and gave the usual order to "fall in for roll-call." We arranged ourselves, according to custom, by standing with our backs to the wall in an irregular line reaching the whole length of the room. I happened to be sitting on the block which I used for a pillow, reading "Pendennis," and when the order to fall in came, I stood up, leaned my back against the wall and kept on reading. The Lieutenant was directly in front of me, and when I responded to my name without lifting my eyes from my book, he asked with an oath of execration why I did not get into line. The question seemed ludicrous and I glanced up and down the room and asked what line he referred to. My fellow prisoners laughed and the Lieutenant was enraged, and left the room in great haste and returned with a corporal and two private soldiers with fixed bayonets, halted them before me, and with his own hands put handcuffs upon my wrists. His triumph, however, was of short duration. The officers of the prison association wrote a note to the commanding officer asking him to come in and investigate. He did so, apologized to me and required Withers to remove the irons.
All the officers were searched immediately after this, and we learned that Withers believed that there was a conspiracy among the prisoners to mutiny, kill the guards, and get away, and that we had in some way obtained pistols.
Early in September an order came to transfer thirty officers to Charleston, South Carolina, to be placed in Castle Pinckney, a dismantled fort in the harbor. Major Potter, one of our number, was well acquainted in Charleston, and represented the fort as a delightful place. We started on the journey with hopes of better quarters. Reaching Petersburg, we had to march through the city from one depot to another. A crowd of citizens followed us, using abusive epithets and appealing to the guards to shoot us. Women shook their fists at us from windows. The trip lasted twenty-four hours and no food was furnished us. Reaching Charleston early in the morning, we were kept waiting for hours, that our march through the city might be witnessed by the people. When we finally moved we were escorted by a brass band, a troop of cavalry in gala attire, and thousands of citizens, men, women, and children. We were paraded through the streets of the city, and when we finally came to a halt, it was not at Castle Pinckney, but in front of the city jail. We filed into the jail, climbed the dark and dirty stairs, and passed along a dingy hall with grated cells on either side. Five of us were thrown into one of these cells. The first sight that caught our eye through the only window was a huge gallows, and I said to Major Potter, "Theres our castle, and it is a veritable castle in the air."
The rebel officers in charge of us knew that we had been twenty-four hours without food and yet several hours more passed before anything was brought us, and when it came consisted of raw coffee in the kernel, sea biscuit, and salt pork full of maggots. Our cell had a small open grate and our cooking utensils consisted of a single skillet. We succeeded in borrowing from the guard a kettle to cook our raw coffee in, and boiled it unground and unburned, fried our bacon over the coals, and had our dinner at 2 oclock. And so we settled down to life in cells for four months. Some features of our life here are too shocking to relate.
The ration issued to us was this same maggoty pork and sea biscuit. No coffee, ground or unground, after the first day. We resorted to various methods of serving up sea biscuit, One day we boiled it until soft and served it with fat as a dressing. This we called lobscouse. The next day we softened it in hot water and fried it in fat. This we called dunderfunk. Occasionally we took up a collection and sent out for sweet potatoes and white bread. The rebel officers told us we were only temporarily in jail, until Castle Pinckney could be put in order. After about a month we were sent to Castle Pinckney. At first this seemed a great improvement.
We had a large court-yard for outdoor exercise. We soon found, however, that our rooms were so damp as to make them exceedingly unwholesome. The fort was built on the shore of an island in the midst of the bay which constitutes Charleston Harbor. When the tide was out the island was bare, but when the tide was in it was covered with five or six feet of water. The outside walls of the fort were solid masonry and we occupied the casemates, which are nothing more than great recesses in the walls, arched at the top and opening into the central court. Bunks had been built up on the walls and blankets were furnished us. But this solid masonry was full of water that had been gathering for generations, and we soon began to have coughs and rheumatism and fevers-and after a few days were glad to be moved back to the stifling cells of the jail. In the early part of the winter there came an exciting episode to break- the monotony of our prison life. This was the great Charleston fire, which swept away one-half of the entire city. It commenced in the night at a point quite distant from us, burned all the next day, and kept coming steadily toward us. It seemed as if the whole city was doomed. We learned from one of the guards who was friendly to us that it was the purpose of the officers in charge to leave us locked in our cells if the jail burned.
We managed to smuggle an ax into our cell, through the aid of a guard, determined to make at least a vigorous effort before surrendering ourselves to the flames. During that terrible night all the buildings in the neighborhood of the jail burned. Our cell was brilliantly lighted, so that one could read without difficulty, and for some hours the gratings of the windows were so hot as to burn the hands that touched them. Great fire-brands were driven against the windows, but the jail escaped.
Soon after this fire we were removed from Charleston to Columbia, and placed in the city jail, the officers in a large room and the enlisted men in barracks adjacent. Our quarters were better than we had had before. Each officer had a bed, consisting of a plain pine bedstead with straw mattress, and our Government sent us warm clothing and army blankets.
Among the enlisted men were several members of a New York company which was made up of skilled engravers. Every night they manufactured Confederate money sufficient to furnish all our tables comfortably the next day. I have sometimes feared when I have related this circumstance that I should be regarded as drawing on my imagination, but it is, nevertheless, true.
One of the methods for passing time was to make trinkets from bones. The rebels were surprised at our skill, and eagerly purchased every article made. These engravers managed to buy necessary tools on the pretext of needing them for working in bone. Some that they could not get they made themselves. The officer in command of this prison, Captain Shriver, was a Christian gentleman, and treated us as honorable prisoners of war, which cannot be said of the officers of any other prison in which I was confined.
The rector of the Episcopal Church came in one Sabbath, and invited all who would like to attend divine service to go into an adjoining room. Some forty or fifty officers and soldiers went. Everything moved pleasantly until he reached the prayer for the President, which he had changed to a prayer for the "President of the Confederate States." The moment those words were uttered, we all jumped to our feet and shouted in confusion: "We are not Confederates!" "We are not traitors!" "We are not praying for Jeff Davis!" The poor rector seemed frightened, and slipped out at the side door and gave us up as a hopeless lot.
Before winter was fairly over an order came to parole all the prisoners at Columbia and send them to Richmond to be exchanged. We were wild with excitement and delight, too happy to sleep. Most of the night before starting was spent in an extemporized banquet, with toasts and speeches.
Reaching Richmond, we were told there was an interruption in the negotiations for exchange. We took quarters in Libby Prison and had full opportunity to experience that deferring of hope that maketh the heart sick. We stayed about three months in this famous prison, in many respects the most trying period of my prison life. Libby Prison had been occupied by a wholesale ship chandler and grocer. It was three stories high with three rooms on each floor, extending from one street to another. The officers occupied the middle room on the first floor. The whole room was about forty by one hundred feet, of which nearly one-third was partitioned off from the front as quarters for the guard. The only light and air came from the windows at one end. In this space, perhaps forty by seventy feet, there were at this time about one hundred and fifty officers. The air was extremely foul, and the room filthy and infested with vermin.
Our windows looked out upon James River and sloping fields beyond, and as spring advanced the water and the green fields were made beautiful by the bright southern sun, and presented a marked contrast with the filth, the squalor, and the stifling air of our prison.
Occasionally we could hear the distant boom of our cannon. We learned from the Richmond papers and from the arrival of new prisoners that McClellans army was approaching Richmond.
Rebel troops were daily passing our window on their way to the front. To get out of prison and get to work became an absorbing passion. Lieutenant, Wilcox of my own regiment, Lieutenant Kent of the Regular Army, and myself made an elaborate plan for escape. We managed to exchange our army clothing for citizens dress, procured a pocket compass, and made from the mainspring of an old fashioned watch a steel saw with which to cut the bars of a window. The plan involved cutting a hole through the floor, then through the brick partition beneath so as to pass from our room to the basement of the adjoining room. That room was occupied by loyal Southern men, and had a window that opened to a side street which was not guarded. The floor had to be cut with an ordinary pocket knife. It was hard oak plank two inches thick and thoroughly seasoned. We worked on that hole in the floor two hundred and twenty hours. It was cut under the head of my iron bedstead, and the work had to be done lying flat on the floor face down. After we had taken out some pieces of the plank, I was lying there one day at work when a rebel officer came into this unused basement directly under me. I could have reached down and taken his hat from his head. I held my breath during the few minutes he stood there, but fortunately he did not look up, and went out without seeing me.
The opening through the brick wall was made much more speedily. I think we did the whole work on the wall in three days. Now we were ready to move. But the night before we were to start some loyal Southern men on the upper floor cut a hole through the roof and let themselves down by a rope to the street into which we were to escape. A guard was immediately placed in this street; and thus all our plans came to naught.
Whenever any one was sent North we sent a large secret mail with him. On the 21st of May a large number of private soldiers were sent from Salisbury. One of them brought North a half dozen letters for me. Most of them were put between the lining and the outside of the bootleg.
One letter I sent by writing on tissue paper, taking the cap from a brass button of the New York State Militia, wadding my letter into it, adjusting the cap again upon its base, and sewing the button on the coat. When the militia-man reached New York he cut the button off and sent it to its destination. There was nothing important in these letters, but there was diversion in the effort to get them through. . We were permitted to send short letters of six lines, through the mail, but they were all read by a rebel officer.
One of the hardest things we had to endure in Richmond prison was the great number of visitors who came to see the "Yankees," and their unvarying assumption of superiority. After the disaster at Balls Bluff, Howell Cobb came in, and with the greatest gusto told how many "Yankees" had been killed and captured, and with cool nonchalance assured us that one Southerner could whip ten "Yankees." The absurdity was only equaled by the meanness of the spirit which could prompt such insults to prisoners of war.
A Presbyterian minister of Richmond, with the most insolent and overbearing tone, descanted upon the chivalry of the South and the fanaticism of the North. There were some Southerners who treated us with kindness and courtesy. I have already spoken of Captain Shriver of Columbia. Archbishop Hughes, of the Catholic Church, called several times at our quarters while we were in Charleston, and though he indorsed the doctrine of secession, he always manifested a genuine Christian spirit and kindly disposition.
Early in May we were sent to Salisbury, North Carolina, where there were already several thousand prisoners, and among them were the members of my company who had been sent from New Orleans before that city was captured by General Butler. The prison at Salisbury consisted of a brick factory, perhaps forty by one hundred feet, four stories high, together with several small frame houses that had been used as residences by those who ran the factory. A stockade ten feet high had been built, enclosing these buildings and four acres of ground. The dead line was ten feet inside this stockade, and a line of sentinels with loaded muskets and fixed bayonets traversed this line day and night, The officers occupied the frame houses and had free use of the yard. This was a great improvement upon previous quarters. After the close confinement in filthy and stifling pens for nine months, the privilege of moving about in the free air and sunshine was an unspeakable blessing, and it apparently came just in time to save the lives of some of our members. We organized various kinds of outdoor sports. Baseball had come into vogue in Oberlin two years prior to the war, and I had played it. Many of the soldiers from New York were expert players. We formed an association- and played every day. About the first of June a staff officer of Jeff.Davis came to our quarters with an order to select two captains, place them in confinement, feeding them on bread and water only, and treating them in every way like criminals condemned to death, thus to be held as hostages and to be immediately hanged in case our Government should hang a rebel captain who had been condemned. as a spy. There were ten of us with the rank of captain. The method of selection was left to us. We numbered ten slips of paper with the numbers from one to ten, dropped them into a hat, shook them thoroughly, placed the hat in the hands of Chaplain Eddy (one of the prisoners), and agreed that we would one by one draw out the numbers, and that the two who should draw numbers nine and ten should be elected. The whole process did not occupy more than twenty minutes and two of our number were placed in a dungeon, with every prospect of speedy execution. Our Government decided not to hang the rebel captain, and after two weeks our friends were returned to us, a little paler from the confinement and the starvation, but no less loyal or determined.
There were about one hundred Southern loyalists in close confinement in a small stockade within our prison-yard. They were held simply because they were loyal. They planned an escape, digging a tunnel under the interior stockade and beyond the guard line which surrounded it. They had provided themselves with rope ladders with which to climb the outside stockade. To reach this they had to cross an open field of about two hundred yards. We all knew they were to make the effort at midnight and we were on the watch to see how it would come out. We had not much confidence in the success of the effort, as we were more than two hundred miles from the Union lines. At the hour agreed upon there was a terrific thunder storm in progress. The night was utterly dark, except as it was lighted up by flashes of lightning.
There was a rebel regiment encamped within the yard, but without experience or discipline. Promptly at 12 oclock these loyal men rose up out of the ground, at the end of their tunnel, in the darkness, and started across the field. The sentinels nearest yelled "Halt!" the long roll was beaten at regimental quarters, and the soldiers of the regiment became an uncontrollable rabble. They evidently supposed there was a general insurrection of prisoners. Our Union friends ran across the yard, the guards continuing to shout "Halt, halt!" and pursuing them, but apparently forgetting, to fire at them. It was a novel scene as the flashes of lightning revealed it to us at frequent intervals. Every man succeeded in getting out of the enclosure and escaping into the woods. The rebel regiment succeeded in getting a line formed about three-quarters of an hour after the prisoners had escaped. Within a. few days the escaped prisoners were all brought back, some of them mangled by hounds.
As the Fourth of July approached we determined to have an old-fashioned celebration. The commanding officer consented on condition that we would not abuse the Confederate Government or say anything about the war. In the afternoon we read the Declaration of Independence, sang "My Country, Its of Thee," and had some spirited, patriotic addresses. The afternoon was given up to games, among which were the greased pig, the sack race, wheel barrow race, and some burlesque games, ending with a grand match of baseball. We had a crowd of spectators from the town. The players on both sides had been practicing for a month. After playing two hours the score stood five to six in favor of my club. We had had our last chance at the bat and two were out on the other side, while two men were on bases. My position was right field; the ball was batted directly over my head and across the dead line. The game depended upon catching the ball on the fly or getting it in time to prevent a tally. Of course I ran across the dead line, caught the ball, and saved the game. The guard cried "Halt!" but did not shoot, and after what I had seen a few nights before, upon the occasion of the escape of our Union friends, I did not believe he would shoot.
The better treatment in Salisbury, of which I have spoken, did not include the private soldiers. They were kept in close confinement in the great factory, when they might just as well have had the use of the yard. Sickness was very prevalent among them and there was no proper provision for their care. The percentage of mortality
among these private soldiers was enormous. The dead house was near my quarters. Several dead bodies were brought there every morning. Sometimes as many as a dozen. About 10 oclock a cart drawn by a mule was backed up to the door and the dead were tumbled into it with no show of feeling, hauled off to the woods, and thrown indiscriminately into a ditch and covered up. During the war the bodies of 12,000 soldiers were thus carted from this dead house, and less than one hundred of them have any sign to mark the spot where they lie.
Early in August the order came to send all Union prisoners in Salisbury to Richmond for exchange. Most of the private Soldiers had already been sent North. There were several in the hospital who had been unable to move, but they were all sufficiently recovered now to go with the rest, except one.
I had been visiting the hospital daily for more than a month, leading in religious exercises, and giving such attention to the sick as I could. Our chaplain, Hiram Eddy, and all the physicians among the prisoners had been exchanged. As soon as this order came I went to the hospital to aid the sick ones in getting ready to leave. One boy, barely seventeen years of age, had typhoid fever and was not fit to make the trip, but he insisted that he must go. His entreaties were so earnest and so touching that Capt. Thomas Cox, of Cincinnati, and myself, made the effort to take him along. We carried him on a rude stretcher to the depot. There the officer in charge refused to take him aboard unless he could stand, as every foot of room was occupied. A crowd gathered about us and our poor sick boy fainted. The disappointment of finding that he could not go had completely overcome him.
A lady came forward, and with the quiet dignity of one who has authority made her way through the throng and asked the crowd to stand back and give him air; sent a boy for cold water, and tenderly lifted his head and bathed his brow and nursed him back to consciousness. The train was about to start. I said to Captain Cox: "What shall we do? He must not be left here alone," and the Captain answered: "We must stay"-and so the train pulled out; the train that was headed toward the North! toward the Stars and Stripes ; toward home and friends and the stirring activity that was so attractive to us; and we were left alone with this poor dying comrade in the very center of rebellion and treason.
On this good womans invitation we took the lad to her home, bathed his fevered body, exchanged his hard and ragged clothing for clean, soft linen, furnished by Mrs. Johnson, and laid him in a comfortable bed. (Mrs. Johnson was warned by the rebel Major in command that manifestation of such interest in a "Yankee" would bring her into suspicion of being a Union woman, but this did not turn her from the path of duty.) Tenderly she cared for that stranger boy, and when he died the next day she wept over him as if he had been her own child. Captain Cox and I were not allowed to remain in her home during the night, but had to go back to our prison. The next day we obtained permission to go to the house and found that he was dead. Mrs. Johnson went to the city authorities and asked permission to bury him in her own lot in the public cemetery, but this was indignantly refused, with another coarse warning against the interest she was manifesting in a "Yankee." She said to us: "He shall not be buried in the brutal way of other prisoners." We placed him in a plain pine box, Captain Cox and I dug the grave, and reverently laid him beneath the sod in the garden of this Christian woman.
When our cavalry captured Salisbury near the end of the war, Mrs. Johnson was still there, an object of hatred and persecution. Our soldiers learned the story of her loyalty and love, furnished her money with which to go North and erected a monument over that grave and inscribed upon it not only the name of the soldier, but the heroic deed of this good Samaritan woman who soothed and comforted his last hours and gave him Christian burial. Captain Cox and I were allowed to start at once for Richmond, having given our parole that we would not attempt to escape. We found that our friends had not yet gone North, having again been delayed by negotiations in the business of exchanging. And so our staying with the dying soldier did not in the end delay us in the matter of our exchange.
While we were in Libby Prison a Federal officer was brought in who had secreted on his person a small battle flag. We hid it and made daily pilgrimages to it and secretly feasted our eyes and comforted our hearts by looking on its Stars and Stripes undimmed and untarnished. For eight months we had not seen the national colors, had heard only of defeat of our arms, and had been in the power of those who expressed contempt for our Government and our flag. Despondency and gloom had been slowly taking possession of us. These officers, fresh from the battlefield, brought us tidings of the rallying thousands of the North and the deep determination to defend the flag; and there in the midst of the gloom and filth of Libby Prison we laid our right hands upon the emblem of national authority, and each for himself swore a solemn oath that he would use all his powers and shed his last drop of blood in defense of the national supremacy.
It was just at sunset of a bright Sabbath day in August that we stepped from rebel soil upon the flag of truce boat on the James River and saw the Stars and Stripes waving over our heads. We gathered beneath that flag, reverently uncovered our heads, and sang "Praise God from whom all blessings flow."
by E. W. Morey of Company C
On the 26th day of August 1861, at Cross Lanes, near Carnifax Ferry, West Virginia, the Seventh Regiment O. V. I. met the enemy for the first time. As a result of the engagement which followed, two commissioned officers Captain Shurtleff and Lieutenant Wilcox and 115 enlisted men were taken prisoners, besides 13 wounded men who were left in the hospital at Carnifax Ferry, but were afterward recaptured by Rosecrans when he drove Floyd back across the Gauley River.
This was one of the exigencies of war which few, if any of us, had counted on. Most of us had realized that we were liable to be sick, wounded or killed, but had not dreamed of the possibility of being captured; but here we were at the very beginning of our term of service in the hands of the rebels, deprived of arms, accouterments, and liberty itself. We were gathered together near Floyd's camp at Carnifax Ferry, hustled into a rail pen, surrounded by a guard and most of the time by a motley crowd of civilians and soldiers, eager to see and talk with the "blamed Yankees!" The guards treated us like men, and soldiers, but some of those in camp took every opportunity to show their contempt of us, by taunting, insulting, and cursing us indiscriminately.
"What you'uns all come down here to fight weuns for?" was a question so often repeated all along our route that it became a by-word with us. The oft-repeated statement that "one Southerner could whip a dozen Yanks" showed the estimate they placed upon our fighting ability.
We were furnished with some beef, flour, a little coffee, and two little skillets to cook our rations in. At night we lay on the ground in a circle round the fire, and slept as best we could, without covering of any kind.
Wednesday afternoon, August 28, we were arranged in four ranks, counted and recounted, to make sure we were all there, our elbows tied with ropes behind our backs, and took up our march-"on to Richmond."
After crossing the Gauley River, a few of us were allowed to go into the hospital for a few minutes to see our wounded comrades. It seemed hard to leave them there in the hands of the enemy, with no friends to smooth their pillows or alleviate their sufferings, but such is war. A feeling of sadness seemed to brood over us all, as we bade them adieu and started on our long weary tramp to prison.
Our escort consisted of a company of infantry deployed as skirmishers on each flank, and a company of cavalry in front and another in our rear. We halted for the first night about three miles from the river, and were again put into a rail pen with a little straw on the ground; but as it rained incessantly nearly all night, we stood around the fire most of the time, trying to dry one side while the other was getting wet.
About midnight supper was announced, which consisted of a small portion of flour and water, baked without any salt or soda, and a piece of mutton about the size of an egg. Here we were searched, and pocketknives and all other dangerous weapons were taken away from us, and appropriated by the Confederates as "contraband of war."
The next day we had a hard march of twenty-seven miles. It rained most of the time, and the mud was nearly knee-deep, so that our army shoes were full of mud and water, and our clothing soaked, so that we were verily "in heavy marching order." Halted about sunset and took up our quarters for the night in an old barn, with a haymow for a bed, but were so wet and cold that we could sleep but little.
August 30, marched twenty-one miles-halted about six o'clock. Had plenty to eat for the first time since we were captured. Captain Shurtleff and Lieutenant Wilcox had taken a parole not to attempt to escape, and were allowed to go on ahead of us, and finding out where we were to stop for the night, secured a large kettle and had water hot ready to cook our rations, so that we had our supper earlier. After this men were detailed to cook all night, so that we could have our breakfast and get started early in the morning.
August 31st passed over a spur of the Allegheny Mountains and through Lewisburg-were in the midst of grand and beautiful scenery all day, which revived our spirits and relieved the tedium of the march. Made twenty-three miles and camped on the bank of Greenbrier River. Here we had an opportunity to bathe and cleanse ourselves, and many of us improved it.
Sunday, September 1st, passed through White Sulfur Springs, the noted Southern pleasure resort- a place we probably would never have seen but for the courtesy of our Confederate friends and the "fortunes of war." A great crowd came out to greet us and bid us Godspeed on our way to Richmond. Among the rest was a Georgia regiment, many of whom were the most insolent of any soldiers we had yet met. Marched about twenty miles and found comfortable quarters for the night in a log house.
Monday, September 2nd, passed through Covington and arrived at Jacksonville, the terminus of the Virginia Central R. R., at 1 P. M. There was great rejoicing when we came in sight of the "iron horse." Many of the boys were nearly played out after marching over a hundred miles within the last four and one-half days; with our arms pinioned behind us, with very little sleep, with less than half rations of food, much of which was absolutely indigestible, many of us suffering with diarrhea, brought on by such diet and exposure, it was, no wonder that we hailed anything for a change.
But every cloud has its silver lining. There were some incidents in this weary march that reminded us that some of our enemies had a soft spot in their hearts that could be touched by our unfortunate condition.
During the second day's march Comrade Seymour Gill, a fifer (who, by the way, had exchanged his fife for a musket at Cross Lanes so as to take part in the fight instead of seeking safety in the rear with Colonel Tyler), marched beside a guard all day and became quite well acquainted with him. On passing an orchard the guard left his post and foraged some apples for Gill. That night he called Gill out about 9 o'clock to eat roast pig and pot-pie with him, and the next morning invited him to breakfast. It can be readily imagined that such kindness, under such circumstances, was highly appreciated.
At Staunton we stayed over night in a new freight depot. Here we were happily surprised about 9 o'clock by a warm supper of fried bacon, shortcake and coffee brought in to us by a delegation from a Virginia regiment which was stationed there, and who seemed to have a friendly feeling for us. While waiting on the platform here a crowd gathered around as usual, and a little old man piped out, "I guess you'uns would like to see your mammas about this time." "Oh, we were weaned some time ago," quickly responded one of our men. Then a big, lordly appearing Georgia major, who had been watching us, came forward with his thumbs in his waistcoat and said: "You are a prisoner and a Yankee. You want to understand that. We've had enough of your damned insolence. Shut up and behave yourself as a prisoner should, or I'll rope you. I have the authority and I'll do it." Some one asked how a prisoner ought to behave. "If I teach you it will not be at all to your liking," he replied, and then went off to pick a quarrel with Captain Shurtleff.
From Jacksonville we went by rail, via Staunton, Charlottesville and Gordonsville, passing over the Blue Ridge Mountains, to Richmond, where we arrived about 5 P. m., September 2nd. After dark we were conducted to a tobacco factory near the James River, which was to be our abiding place for the time being-how long, no one knew. We were shown to our quarters on the lower floor of the building, the other three being already occupied by Yankee prisoners captured at Manassas. Nearly opposite was Libby Prison, which was also full of prisoners,
Our room was about forty by sixty feet, and was occupied by about one hundred men. Its furniture consisted of tobacco presses and machinery, a hydrant and tank. We slept on the bare floor, with a block of wood or a brick for a pillow no blankets. The room was filled with tobacco smoke most of the day, and by bedtime the floor was well saturated with saliva. Only two were allowed to go to the rear at a time, and we were obliged to form in line and wait our turn, sometimes an hour or two. The cooking was done by prisoners who volunteered to do it, and it was well done.
Our breakfast consisted of about six ounces of bread, a small piece of meat, with water for drink. Our supper of bread and a half-pint of soup. The dishes consisted of a dozen tin plates and two dozen cups for a hundred men. We could manage the bread and meat very well, but when it came to soup it was rather difficult for each one to get his proper ration. Some of the men suffered terribly from hunger. Lice soon -made their appearance and stuck by us as long as we were prisoners, in spite of every effort to get rid of them. We were not allowed to write, or receive letters or papers, but managed to smuggle in a daily paper occasionally, and to send letters home by some men who were sent North.
Books were very scarce, but Captain Shurtleff came in one day, before he was sent to Charleston, S. C., and gave some of the Company C boys some money with which they bought a French and German text-book, and a copy of Shakespeare, which helped to pass away the time.
Sergeant Wirz, who had charge of the prisoners in our building, was a heartless tyrant, who seemed to think that the "damned Yankees" were beasts to be driven, and treated us accordingly. He put one man in irons because he refused to go out and make barrels for the Confederacy. Several were shot by his order for looking out of the windows.
Saturday, September 21st, the Sergeant called out eighty of the Seventh Regiment and told them to be ready to leave for New Orleans at noon. A detachment of about 250 took the train of open cars, about 4 o'clock, and reached Petersburg soon after dark, where we were transferred to another train. Our route to New Orleans was via Weldon, Goldsborough, and Atlanta to Montgomery, by rail; from Montgomery to Mobile by steamboat; from Mobile by rail via Jackson to New Orleans, where we arrived about 10 A. M., September 30th.
Most of the time we rode in open cars, sometimes in boxcars, with no windows except such as the boys made with their jack-knives. Our rations during this trip consisted in general of hardtack and maggoty bacon, and was very meager in quantity. At every important station we were met by a crowd of men, women, and children, eager to see the Yankee prisoners. At one place a man in the crowd was heard to say that he had come a hundred miles to see a live Yankee.
At Montgomery, Alabama, a man who had formerly lived in Cleveland, Ohio, brought in a basketful of pipes, tobacco, wine, etc., which he distributed among the prisoners. He also gave some of the boys money with which to buy necessaries for the sick and needy. The engineer of the steamer, R. B. Taney, on which we went down the Alabama River, was also from Cleveland, and treated the boys to a warm supper. The captain was a Maine man.
Some of the prisoners concocted a scheme to throw the guards overboard, run past Mobile in the night, and out to our fleet. But the next day a company of cavalry came on board and nothing more was heard of it.
On our arrival at New Orleans we were placed in charge of General Palfrey, who was in command of the Confederate forces there. Being the first Yankee prisoners seen in the city, our arrival caused quite a sensation. All the available space about the depot was packed with people; the streets were so full that it was difficult to make way for us to pass. All the military and police force of the city turned out to escort us through the principal streets and around Jackson Square to Parish Prison, which was to be our abiding place while there. We were a hard-looking set of men when we reached New Orleans. Our clothing was badly worn, some being almost destitute, and many barefooted.
Parish Prison is a massive stone structure, three stories high, built by the French before Louisiana was ceded to the United States, and used as a penitentiary in which criminals of all classes were confined. A part of this building had been vacated for our accommodation. Our quarters were in cells arranged in rows along one side of the jail- yard or court, which was an open space about forty by eighty feet, with a stone pavement or, floor. The walls of the building formed three sides of this yard-the fourth was a stone wall about twenty feet high. The large cells were twelve by twenty feet, and these were made to accommodate twenty-five men. The smaller ones, nine by twelve feet, were occupied by sixteen men each. There was just room for us to lie down on the floor on our sides, "spoon-fashion," and when we wanted to change our position some one would give the order "Flop," and we would all turn at once.
The furniture consisted of a stick to hang our meat on to boil, a bucket to get our soup in, a brick and broom with which to clean the floors, and a water-closet in the shape of a tub, set in the middle of the floor, for use during the night. When the door was closed all the light and air we had found its way in through a grating about twelve by eighteen inches in diameter and a little ventilator over the door.
At 5 O'clock- P. M. we were shut in our cells, and the doors were bolted until 9 o'clock, when the guard came on, and the doors were opened until 4 o'clock the next morning. No one dared step over the threshold for fear of being shot. The guard left at 4 and the doors were shut until 7 or 8, after which we had the liberty of the yard until 5 P. M. In this yard was a hydrant and tank which afforded plenty of water for drinking, washing, and bathing. A strong beam overhead, with a rope attached, indicated where the scaffold was built when an execution took place. Our daily rations consisted of a small loaf of baker's bread, a cup of herb tea, a piece of tough beef, and a cup of soup, made from the water in which the beef was boiled, with a little rice added. Once a week we got a teaspoonful of salt, about the same of vinegar, and a little piece of soap.
A Spaniard, Dominique O'Mea, who was serving a life sentence for killing a Catholic priest (who had insulted O'Mea's wife), acted as cook, turnkey, and overseer; and although a criminal in the eyes of the law, the boys had much more respect for him than they did for Sergeant Wirz, of the C. S. A., who had charge of us in Richmond.
The beef bones, which formed the major part of the meat ration, proved to be quite a source of revenue to some of the prisoners. The "bone jewelry" made by the Yankees was a great curiosity, and found a ready sale among the citizens and soldiers. Several hundred dollars' worth of these articles were exchanged for Confederate scrip. Ladies from the city would send in orders by the guards, or leave them with Dominique, for rings, charms, etc., with their initials cut in them. Besides jewelry, some made pen- holders, stilettos, crochet hooks, napkin rings, etc. This helped to pass away the time, and enabled them to get a good many extras.
Every morning after breakfast we took turns in scrubbing the floors with sand and a brick, then sweeping them, so that they were kept quite clean. Another duty which we were obliged to perform daily was to examine our clothes (what we had left) and kill off the "gray-backs;" and woe betide the one who neglected this important duty, for he would have no peace day nor night. Among the prisoners were a number of theological students from Oberlin College, and they organized a prayer meeting and Bible class which met two or three times a week. In some cells they had religious exercises twice a day for a while. Mr. Moore, a Presbyterian minister, came in and preached to us nearly every Sabbath, and seemed to be greatly interested in us.
Colonel Donovan of the Confederate Army gave us a good many religious books, Bibles and tracts. An Episcopal minister came in and preached to us one day, but be felt it duty bound to stick to his altered ritual, and when he began to pray for the blessing of God upon Jeff Davis and the Confederacy, most of his audience left him and he returned no more. An old gray-haired sugar-planter came in one day, who said that he had been a prisoner himself, and offered to furnish us all the molasses, tobacco, and rice we wanted. He sent in fourteen barrels of molasses, a cask of tobacco, and some rice; but he was published in the papers as a "sympathizer," and was not allowed to do anything more for us. Molasses was a great luxury and Comrade Rogers of Company C, and N. K. Hubbard of Company D, used to send out and buy a barrel at a time, and sell it out by the pint or quart to the boys who were fortunate enough to have the price.
One of the men had a sister in the city, whose husband was a prominent business man. At first she was allowed to come in, with an officer, to see her brother, but she was soon deprived of that privilege.
We were not allowed to have any papers at all, but we managed to smuggle one in quite often. Sometimes we would get the criminals, who were confined, in the cells adjoining ours, on the opposite side of the building, to poke one in through the ventilator. Sometimes the cooks would brink them in; sometimes the boys in the hospital would get one from the surgeon, so that we knew something of what was going on outside. Me watched with intense interest any intimation of our release, and every new report would be construed in the most favorable light. There was great excitement among the prisoners (as well as outside) when our fleet entered the Mississippi River and had some skirmishing with the enemy below Fort Jackson.
A lyceum was organized, which met once a week. The exercises consisted of declamations, discussions, and the reading of a paper called the "New Orleans Stars and Stripes," the editor being chosen from among the members once a month. All were invited to contribute to its columns. These meetings were sustained with a good deal of interest, and did much to relieve the monotony of prison life. After our release, Comrade Bates of Boston, Massachusetts, had the papers published under the title "The Stars and Stripes in Rebeldom," and many of the members obtained copies of it, which they highly prize.
A great deal of time was spent in playing cards, chess, checkers, backgammon, etc. Some tried to study French, German, etc., but it was uphill business in such a crowd, there being about five hundred who had the privilege of the yard in the daytime.
Christmas and New Year's were celebrated with patriotic songs and processions. Those who could afford it procured an extra loaf of bread and a pint of molasses, and had a Christmas dinner. About the middle of January 1862, we received a bountiful supply of clothing, which the U. S. Government had sent, and was distributed under the supervision of General Palfrey. Every one got a full suit of army blue, and underclothing, so that we were in a better condition to stay, or go North.
Some of the Confederate officers tried to get hold of as much as possible of this clothing for the use of their own men. They authorized the guards and criminals to buy of the prisoners all they could. When this scheme was found out a meeting was called, and a committee was appointed, of which Sergeant Bohm of the Seventh was a member, to report to our Government any one who should sell clothing to the enemy.
With the new clothing the men began to be inspired with the military spirit once more, and organized the "First Regiment, Louisiana Volunteers." The company organizations were completed, with the full quota of officers; and such drill as the limited space would admit of was practiced daily. This was called the advance guard of the Union Army in New Orleans.
The sanitary arrangements of the prison were very unsatisfactory. Close confinement in the dark and crowded cells for sixteen hours out of the twenty-four, with scant ventilation, added to a constant diet of bread and beef, with very little chance for exercise, soon told on the physical condition of the men. Scurvy soon made its appearance, and by the advice of the surgeon, in charge, we were given a small portion of raw potatoes and cabbage with a little salt and vinegar occasionally, and some sour oranges were distributed as a preventative; so that we did not suffer very much from this pest while in New Orleans.
In the prison hospital there was lack of room, lack of nurses, and lack of medicine. Six men of the Seventh Regiment died while there. Briggs and Parmenter of Company C, James M. Butler of Company E, Alexander Dodge of Company D, Adolphus Kohlman, Company K, and another man, name not known.
Some of the prisoners, who did not understand the position of the Government in regard to exchanging prisoners, would sometimes get impatient at the long delay and would curse the President, the Administration, and the Congress indiscriminately; but the general sentiment was that the Government would have us released as soon as it could consistently, and that we would patiently bide our time. At one time a petition was gotten up to forward to the Secretary of War, asking for our release, but it was so unpopular that the idea was abandoned.
On the first of February General Palfrey came in, got the prisoners together in the yard, and told us that we would leave for the North in a few days and advised us to get rid of our "shin-plasters" (Confederate scrip). This announcement was greeted with such a roar of applause as was never heard before in Parish Prison. For the next few days the excitement was intense. The demand for bread and molasses was unprecedented. Haversacks, canteens, and pockets were filled to their utmost capacity. Nothing else could be thought of but preparation for our journey to the "Promised Land."
February 6, we emerged from Parish Prison and saw old Mother Earth for the first time in four months- breathed the pure air of Heaven and bathed in the sunlight. Our trip to Salisbury, North Carolina, was by the same route we passed over before, as far as Kingsville, South Carolina, thence via Columbia and Charlotte, reaching Salisbury about midnight, February 14.
Our accommodations were even worse than on our previous trip. We were crowded into hog and cattle-cars, so that rest or sleep was out of the question. We suffered from the cold, but had the satisfaction of seeing our escorts suffer still more, as they were not as well provided with clothing as we were. We had provided extra rations for our journey, so that we fared very well in that respect. The ration of rotten fat pork which was dealt out to us was used for fuel instead of fodder, as it was much better fitted for that purpose.
We noticed a great change in our reception along the route. Very few came out to see us, and they had little to say, did not seem inclined to discuss the prospects of the war. Their respect for the Yankee had developed wonderfully. We heard none of that bragging and nagging which greeted us on our way South.
Salisbury was a little village in the western part of North Carolina, in a very retired spot, entirely removed from water communication, and well adapted for use as a depot for prisoners of war. The main building had been used as a cotton factory, and was made to accommodate about a thousand men, while-several other smaller buildings in the same yard contained as many more. Our quarters here were an improvement on those of New Orleans and Richmond. We had bunks with straw ticks to sleep on, and were not so crowded. A part of the time we had the privilege of the yard to exercise in. We had plenty of light and could see some of the outside world from the windows.
At the first the food was more plentiful and of better quality, but the supply was soon exhausted, and what we did get was so miserably poor that it was unfit to eat. During the first month there we were constantly in a fever of excitement about going home, so that nothing else could be thought of; but finally, when it became evident that we were to stay for some time, various ways of whiling away the time were devised. Among these were theatricals.
On each of the three floors of the main building, containing about two hundred and fifty prisoners each, a stage was erected, with curtains, footlights, etc. Carpenters and decorators were in great demand, and, the "corps dramatique" astonished the natives with their performances of "high tragedy" and "low comedy," interspersed with songs and dances. The rebel officers used to come in to see the plays, and seemed to be highly entertained. The officers who occupied some of the smaller buildings and had the privilege of the yard for exercise, organized a baseball team, and had some lively games.
The sanitary conditions here were worse than in Parish Prison. The rooms were cold and damp, with no fires, and the floors were filthy, and no means provided for cleaning them. The surgeon (or butcher, as the boys called him) was a blockhead, and the only reason why he did not kill more of us was that he had no medicine. Most of the men were afflicted with rheumatism, and many of them with scurvy. Every day several corpses were taken to the dead house, which was near Captain Shurtleff's quarters. About 10 o'clock in the morning a cart drawn by a mule was backed up to the door, the bodies tumbled in and hauled off to the woods, dumped into a ditch, and covered with dirt. It is said that during the war 12,000 Union soldiers were carted away from this dead-house and disposed of in that way.
On the 17th day of May we began to sign paroles. We signed three separate paroles before they got one that was satisfactory. We would have signed fifty rather than stay there another week. It was finally arranged that we should go in squads of two hundred, each day by rail to Tarboro, down the Tar River, under flag of 'truce, on scows, to Little Washington, North Carolina, where we were delivered up to officers of Burnside's command, May 29. When we came in sight of the Federal gunboat and saw Old Glory floating from its flagstaff the long-repressed enthusiasm of the prisoners burst forth. Several small editions of the "Stars and Stripes," which had been carefully preserved during our nine months' imprisonment, suddenly made their appearance among us, and cheer upon cheer arose from hundreds of loyal throats, and were answered by our fellow-soldiers and sailors on the gunboat and on shore. Our rebel escort looked astonished and chagrined, but hung their heads and said not a word. This was our adieu to rebel rule and rebeldom.
We were immediately transferred to a transport and taken to Newbern, where we were welcomed by General Burnside who was in command of the Union forces there. The next day we proceeded on our way to New York, where we arrived June 1st. Here we separated, and hastened to our homes in different parts of the country. Quite a number of the prisoners were examined by a surgeon in New York, and were discharged for disability. Some were discharged later on, and the remainder was declared exchanged and returned to the regiment at Dumfries in March 1863.
An article by Leroy Warren to be added at a later date.
Created and Maintained by Larry Hardman- 1999, Rights Reserved; For Inquires or Information Contact: mailto:LHARDMAN1@neo.rr.com