Asa B. (Asa Brainerd) Isham.

Prisoners of war and military prisons; personal narratives of experience in the prisons at Richmond, Danville, Macon, Andersonville, Savannah, Millen, Charleston, and Columbia ... with a list of officers who were prisoners of war from January 1, 1864 online

. (page 1 of 40)
Online LibraryAsa B. (Asa Brainerd) IshamPrisoners of war and military prisons; personal narratives of experience in the prisons at Richmond, Danville, Macon, Andersonville, Savannah, Millen, Charleston, and Columbia ... with a list of officers who were prisoners of war from January 1, 1864 → online text (page 1 of 40)
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Prisoners of War






A General Account of Prison Life and Prisons in the South during the
War of the Rebellion, including Statistical Information Pertain-
ing to Prisoners of War; together with a List of Otficers
who were Prisoners of War from January 1, 1864








■ 99 West Fourth Street
1890. ,


Copyright, 1890, by
Asa B. Isham, Henry M. Davidson, and Henry B. Furn]

Electrotyped by

Cincinnati, O.

Printed and bound by


Cincinra*:, C.


During the past ten years, many narratives have been
published, detailing the sufferings of Federal prisoners in
the late War of the Rebellion. They have, for the most
part, been confined to accounts of the personal experience
of the writers in the several prisons in which they were
confined, and many of them exhibit vivid pictures of the
horrible condition to which they were reduced by the
policy of their captors.

The following narratives furnish a more complete ac-
count of prison life than any which have been heretofore
presented to the public, by combining the stories of the
hardships endured by officers and by private soldiers re-
spectively. They were prepared for the press many years
ago, while the incidents related were still fresh in the
memory, and while the unfortunate writers were still
smarting under their terrible experience. The truthful-
ness of these narratives is, however, corroborated by a
cloud of witnesses, whose veracity is unimpeached.

•The General Account of prisons and prisoners in the
South attempts to give a somewhat more extended view
of the subject, and shows that the treatment described by
the narrators was general, and not confined to particular
prisons or special localities. The materials for this part
of the work were drawn from various sources. " The
Report on the Treatment of Prisoners of War," made to
the Forty-fifth Congress, and known as " Shank's Re-
port," has furnished the main supply of documentary evi-
dence. It is referred to as " H. R." in the following pages.


iv Preface.

The narratives of Captain IS^ewsome, Lieutenant A. C.
Roach, and Lieutenant A. 0. Abbott have been freely
consulted ; while the "Andersonville Diary of First Ser-
geant John L. Eansom," and the exceedingly interesting
story, " Life and Death in Rebel Prisons," by Sergeant-
Major Robert H. Kellogg, have been used to verify the
testimony derived from the recited tales of other suff'erers,
who have never told their story to the public. Some
statements have also been drawn from " Marty ria, or An-
dersonville Prison," by Dr. Augustus C. Hamlin, Medical
Inspector U. S. Army, a profound and learned work, seek-
ing from a medical and scientific stand-point to account
for the horrors of that prison. The authors are also
under obligations to General J. D. Cox and Major E. C.
Dawes for valuable advice in the preparation, and to the
latter gentleman and to Captain Robert H. Kellogg for
the free use of their valuable collections of prison liter-
ature. The Authors.
June 9, 1884.



Starting upon a Campaign— Marching into the Wilderness — A Night
Scene and March — Going into Battle — The Uses of Cavalry — Sup-
porting a Battery — Panic in the Lead Horse Caravan — A Horn
Blowing — Sleeping on the Field — Knowledge Respecting the Wilder-
ness 3


On a Raid to Richmond — Malcontents — The Delights of a Cavalry
March — Releasing Captives — Capture of Beaver Dam Station — Gen-
eral Sheridan — Battle of Yellow Tavern 13


The Charge and Capture — A Pure Philanthropist — General J. E. B.
Stuart Mortally Wounded — On the March toward Richmond — Lieu-
tenant Hill's Mare 20


The Provost Guard and the Teamsters — A Sound Sleep — Independent
Jehus — Entrance into Richmond — Libby Prison— The Ration and
its Effect— The Occupants of the Dark Cell— The Outlook from
Libby 26


En Route to Macon, Ga.— Cruelties to Enlisted Men— A Brutal Officer
of the Guard — Colic — Confederate Economy — Native Curiosity —
Arrival at Macon — The Prison Camp — Rations and Barter — Calling
the Hours 37


vi Contents.


Brigadier-Generals — General Heckman — Scrambling for Garbage — A
Rare Biped — Fourth of July at Macon — Speeches ; Songs — The Stars
and Stripes Displayed— Affecting and Exciting Scenes—" God's
Flag." 44


'"The Council of Five Hundred "—The Oath of Initiation— Bold Plans
of Escape — Betrayed by the Chief Officers of the Organization.. 52


Departure from Macon — Nearly Recaptured — Ventilating the Cars —
Prison Camp at Savannah — Rations— Tunnels and Tunneling — The
" Crank " Lieutenant 60


Charleston, S. C. — The Jail Yard — Colored Soldiers, Deserters, and
Thieves — Under Fire of Union Batteries — Robbing a Sutler —
AVrecking a Tent 67


Columbia, S. C. — Camp Sorghum — Rations — Killing a Hog — Meat De-
privation—Confederate Money Obtained — Sutler's Prices — Building
Quarters— A Foul Place— Hundred Days' Men— Escapes 74


Murder of Prisoners — Offers of Work — The Test of Prison Life — Captain
Dygert — General Stoneman — Relief for the Mind — Sources of Com-
fort 82


Prisoners in Columbia Jail — A Loyal Lady^Building a Bridge — One too
Many — Misrepresentations — Endeavors to Inflame Prisoners against
the Government— The Food Question — Retaliation — The facts in
Reference to Exchange of Prisoners— Balloting for Presidential
Candidates 89

Contents. vii


Sympathy of Southern People and Troops for Prisoners — Abiding
Guests — Gray Backs ; Travelers— Clothing— Ptepairs and Washing-
Cooking and Cooking Utensils — Diseases— Homesickness — Sanitary
Regulations — Distribution of Rations — Diversions — Music—" Sher-
man's March to the Sea." , 97


Enrolment of Sick and Wounded for Exchange — Departure from Co-
lumbia — BranchviUe — A Desperate South Carolinian — Charleston —
Devastation and Desolation — Confederate Flag-of-Truce Boat— On
Board "God's Vessel " — Enlisted Men From Andersonville — Horri-
ble Condition— Fearful Mortality on Shipboard — Admiral Porter's
Fleet— The Old Flag Supreme and Memorial 108


Contrast between the Officers and Enlisted Men— Condition of Enlisted
Men at Andersonville — Known Deaths among Union Officers — In-
accuracy of the Rebel Returns of Deaths — General Mortality -of
Union and Confederate Officers — Union Officers KiUed by Guards —
Interment of Union Officers 116


What was furnished to Rebel Prisoners — Clothing — Account of Treat-
ment by a Confederate Officer — Testimony of a Confederate Sur-
geon — Circular Orders of the Commissary-General of Prison-
ers 134


Chickamauga Battle — Hospital — In the Enemy's Hands — The Wounded
— Paroling Hospital Attendants — Want of AVater — Bandages and
Medicines— The Field — Seven Days after the Battle — Arrival of
United States Ambulances with Supplies for the Wounded — Parol-
ing the Wounded 149

viii Contents.


March to Chickamauga Station — Tunnel Hill — Dalton— Kingston— Re-
saca and Fortifications — Pies and Cakes — Marietta — Scenery —
Arrival at Atlanta — Trip to Augusta— Savannah River— Branch-
ville — Kingsville — Columbia — Charlotte — Raleigh, via Salisbury
and Greensboro — Goldsboro, Weldon, and Petersburg — Rich-
mond 164


Smith Prison — Pemberton Prison — Scott Prison — Libby Prison — Prison
Fare — Newspaper Gossip — Roll Call — Crowded State of the Prison —
Insect Pests — Effects of Starvation— Debating Clubs — Exchange-
Spoils — Small-pox — Removal to Danville 176


Danville — Prisons Nos. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 — Writing Letters Home — Occupa-
tion of Time — Small-pox — Receipt of Rations and Clothing by Flag
of Truce — How Appropriated and Issued — Hospital— Express Boxes
— Tunneling — Handicraft — Incidents — Newspaper Reports — Ex-
change — Removal to Georgia 191


Andersonville Prison— Admitted— Appearance of the Prisoners and the
Pen— The First Night— The Morning— Search for Water— Roll Call-
Rations — Cooking Utensils — Wood and Axes — Belle Isle — Prisoners
from Cahaba and Plymouth 219


Enlargement of the Stockade — The Camp at Daylight — Shelters— Cook-
ing— Appearance of the Prisoners — Roll Call — Sick Call — Market —
The Sutler — Smugglers — Manufacturers — Gamblers— Water — Forti-
fying — " Raiders " — Six Men Hung — Police — Petitions — Writing
Letters — Receiving Express Boxes — Incidents — A Storm and Break
in the Stockade 238

Contents. ix


Rations— Cook Houses — Escapes — Blood-hounds— Punishment — Stand-
ing Stocks — Ball and Chain — Lying Down Stocks — Iron Collars-
Removal of Hospital — Sick Calls — Hospitals— The Dead— Burial —
General Winder— Captain Wirz ! 270


Atlanta Taken by Sherman — Order of General Winder for Exchange of
20,000 Prisoners — Escape of the Author with Two Comrades —
Avoiding the Dogs — Encounter Hood's Scouts — Hair-breadth Es-
capes — In the Midst of Hood's Army — Surrounded and Recapt-
ured 307


Rebel Head-quarters — Opelika, Columbus, and Fort Valley — Plan of
Escape Detected — Andersonville Again — Savannah — Special Ex-
change of 10,000 Sick — Removed to Millen— The Prison Pen— Re-
cruiting Among the Prisoners — Free 348


Paroled — Rebel Truce Boats — On Board Ship — Homeward Bound —
Northern Soil — Furloughed — View^s of the Prisoners — Tables — Con-
clusion 370


General Account 401

I. Treatment at time of Capture 408

II. Treatment on Arrival at Prison 410

III. Location and Description of Prisons — Libby — Belle Isle —

Danville — Salisbury — Florence — Cahaba — Camp Ford 413

IV. Food, W^ater, and Fuel 426

V. Knowledge Possessed by the Rebel Authoritfes 436

X Contents.

VI. Ability of the Confederate Authorities to Relieve the Suffer-
ings of the Prisoners • 450

VII. Agents of the Rebel Government— J. A. Seddon— Robert
Ould— J. H. Winder— W. S. Winder— Wirz— Gee— Bar-
rett 459

VIII. Results of Imprisonment— Mortality — Disability of the Sur-
vivors 470


1. Evening at Andersonville Frontispiece.

2. Battle of Yellow Tavern (full page) 18

3. Castle Thunder 30

4. Libby Prison, front view 31

5. Libby Prison, side view 32

6. Libby Prison, interior view 35

7. Camp Oglethorpe, Macon, Ga. (full page) 44

8. Tunneling at Macon G3

9. Charleston Jail and Work-house G8

10. Camp Sorghum, Columbia, S. C. (full page) 74

11. Killing a Hog 75

12. Arrival of " Fresh Fish " 79

13. Shooting a Prisoner 83

14. Washing Clothes 100

15. Squelching a Fire Eater 110

16. Johnson's Island (full page) 135

17. Bathing at Johnson's Island 137

18. Andersonville, view from main entrance (full page) 149-

19. Snodgrass Hospital 152

20. Battle of Chickamauga (full page) •• 155-

21. Leather Pies 167

22. Robbing prisoners 1 74

23. Smith and Pemberton Prisons. 177

24. Meditating Escape 190

25. Turning Water into Soup 202

26. Birds-eye View of Andersonville (full page) 219

27. North-west View of Andersonville (full page) 228

28. Distributing Rations 229

29. Plymouth Prisoners 235

30. Diagram of Andersonville (folder) 238

31. Burrows at Andersonville 242

32. Going for Water at Andersonville 245

33. South-east View of Andersonville (full page) 247

34. Insane Prisoners 248


xii Partial List of Illustrations,

35. Smuggling 254

36. South-west View of Anderson ville (full page) 257

37. Raiders 259

38. South End View of Andersonville (full page) 270

39. Blood-hounds 274

40. Chain-gang 279

41. " Spread Eagle " 280

42. Shooting a Prisoner 298

43. Mode of Interment at Andersonville (full page) 302

44. Kicking a Prisoner to Death 305

45. A Strange Voice 317

4(). Grapevine Bridge 333

47. Hanging by the Thumbs 359

48. Prison Pen at Millen, Ga. (full page) 362

49. Life or Death 368

50. Prison for Rebels at Elmira, N. Y. (full page) 379

51. Belle Isle (full page) 401

52. Pearl River Bridge 407

53. Robbing Prisoners , 409

54. General John H. Winder 414

55. Salisbury, N. C. (full page ) 420

56. Salisbury Hospital Interior 422

57. Camp Ford, Tex. (full page) 426

58. Florence, S. C. (full page) 442








Starting upon a Campaign — Marching into the Wildkr-
NEss — A Night Scene and March — Going into Battle
— The Uses of Cavalry — Supporting a Battery —
Panic in the Lead Horse Caravan — A Horn Blow-
ing — Sleeping on the Field — Knowledge Respecting
the Wilderness.

HE Army of the Potomac never set out upon
a campaign in lighter marching order than
that of 1864, when it took up the march
toward Richmond. For the cavalry arm of
the service, one wagon to a regiment and
two lead horses to each company constituted the trans-
portation equipment. It was generally realized by the
troops that their powers of endurance were likely to be
tested as never before. Hence, every man put as little
burden upon himself and horse as possible, carrying
nothing that he could do without. If one had a prefer-
ence for a blanket, he left behind his overcoat; or, if the
overcoat was thought indispensable, the blanket was
thrown out. Cooking utensils were commonly reduced to
a pint tin cup and a half of a canteen, which latter served
for a frying and stewing pan, with a stick split at one end
for a handle. Yet some, who were likely to mourn for
the '* flesh pots of Egypt " in the Wilderness, clung fondly
to a light skillet and a coffee pot.

On the 4th of May, 1864, the camps around Culpepper
Court-house were broken, and the columns were set in
motion for the Rapidan. Quietly the march was con-
ducted. Conversation was not indulged in to any great
extent, every one being apparently occupied by his own
reflections. The soil moved over had been the scene of
many a light, to which recollection recurred, and a fresh

• (3)

Prisoners of War.

encounter was momentarily looked for where the foe had
been so often met. Bivouacking for the night at Stony
Mountain, the march was resumed at 3 o'clock upon the
morning of the 5th, crossing the Rapidan at Ely's ford.

Upon reaching the high ground in the vicinity of Chan-
cellorsville, we moved " On right, into line," to present
sabers to General Grant and his staff, who rode by to
head-quarters' tents, pitched a short distance to the right,
while a salute was fired by a section of artillery. It was
evident to all that there was no immediate danger of an
engagement, and a lighter feeling pervaded the ranks.
Here a number of colored regiments were overtaken, the

first ever seen by the Army
of the Potomac. They had
tents pitched, arms stacked,
and were disporting them-
selves in their bare feet.
Their pedal extremities and
the army brogan did not
seem to be exactly natural
afiinitieg. Their union pro-
duced a most uncomfortable
chafing of protuberances, so
that, while the colored brother cherished his shoe leather
and sufiered the pains of martyrdom with it upon show
occasions, he much preferred to carry it upon his back
during the steady plodding of a campaign. To judge
from expressions, these fellows meant business. "Whar
is de enemy; has you all saw him anywhar?" '^ We des
want to kotch dem Johnny Rebs once; we make 'em hol-
ler, suah." "Dey is done clean gone, and we can't find
'em." " Guess dey hyar we was a comin'. Yah ! yah !
yah I" " "We're gwine fer to git 'em yit." " Wliy can't
you all head 'em off wiv your boss critters, and den we mash
'em all to pieces." A compliance with the last suggestion
was promised, to their evident delight, and they were left
in the rear. The poor fellows found the ''Johnny Rebs"
many times, often to their sorrow, before the campaign

Prisoners of War. 5

was over; and upon some occasions, too, they found that
they turned up when they were not being hunted for.

A halt was made in the evening near the slope of the
high plateau overlooking the Wilderness, not a great dis-
tance in advance of General Grant's head-quarters. At 2
o'clock on the morning of the 6th, we were again in the
saddle and pressing toward the front b}' way of the Fur-
nace road. In the descent from the upper level, a scene
long to he remembered was presented to the vision.
Fires had been lighted up by the sides of the roads, which
revealed by their glare long lines of cavalry, infantry, and
artillery, filling up the tortuous ways in all directions, in
wavy motion, like the undulations of some vast serpent.
Then a blast furnace, with its accumulated stores of fuel,
broke out in grand conflagration, illuminating a vast ex-
tent of country by its lurid light. The black, impenetra-
ble forest spread out in all directions, the central mass of
flame, the winding streaks of fire diverging therefrom,
and here and there disclosing moving, writhing, sinuous,
slender, long-extended forms — all combined to impress
upon the mind a preternatural idea of the spectacle, as
though the demon of destruction was floundering and
belching out tongues and volumes of flame in the murky
depths below. ^N'ow and then our advance guard would
press too hastily upon the retiring rear guard of the
enemy, when the far-oflT rattle of musketry and subdued
shouts would be borne to the ear, and the undulations in
the columns would become more marked. But soon we
were threading the mazes of the Wilderness, circling
about the hosts of rebellion, which the darkness and the
woods shut out from sight. Lively fusilades of musketry,
not far removed, halts in readiness for action, were of fre-
quent occurrence ; but with these exceptions, this night's
march w^as not dissimilar to other night marches through
a forest growth. All such marches are attended with
such mishaps as falling into " chug holes," stumbling over
obstructions, getting caught in the snares of log bridges
and rough pieces of corduroy, and running foul of over-
hanging branches, with results usually more annoying

6 Prisoners of War.

than grave, though sometimes serious for horse or rider,
or both. The moral nature received a terrible wrench,
when from a half-sleeping, dreaming state, one is suddenly
precipitated into a mud hole, hung upon a limb, or made
to practice a grand balancing feat by a tumble over some
obstacle in the way. While doubtless the cavalry con-
tained many " souls made perfect,'" these accidents seemed
only to befall the wholly unregenerate, if the expressions
uttered upon such occasions may be taken in evidence.
But such incidents banished sleepiness by the lively sallies
interchano:ed between the ones who had " fallen into the
pit" and his comrades, enlivened the spirits, and made re-
freshing breaks — to all but the victim — in the monotony
of the dull, plodding hours.

Toward morning, 6th of May, a position was taken
up at the intersection of the Brock pike and the Furnace
road, upon the extreme left of the Union line of battle,
joining on to the 2d (Hancock's) Corps. Morning had
not long dawned, when the ball opened by the driving in
of the pickets established upon the pike. The thunder
of artillery and the continuous, vibrating roll of heavy
musketry heard upon the right told that the infantry was
already hard at work. Very soon all was activity along
our own front. Passing out from the woods into an
open, we were brought up " Front into line," in order to
arrest the progress of a regiment which was falling back
in great confusion before an onslaught of the enemy, the
officers' efforts and shouts of " Rally I Rally I Halt !" and
*' Right about, wheel !" being of no effect. ^' Turn back,
boys, and at 'em ;" " You have nothing to fear, for we're
right here;" "You are charging your friends now, the
enemy is in the other direction ;" were some of the excla-
mations which greeted them as they halted before our
line. "Oh, you be blanked," responded the fugitives, as
soon as they regained composure. " Our alignment was'nt
right, and we just fell back to re-form, so as to get a good
swing at them." Re-form they did, in short order, too ;
and back they went, right gallantly, in splendid form,
pushing the enemy before them.

Prisoners of War. ^ 7

The battle ground was a clearing over a surface slightly
rolling, including an area of perhaps forty acres, and sur-
rounded by woods upon all sides. On the Confederate
side of the field were two batteries of light artillery, which
were opposed by eight pieces of artillery upon our side.
The action of that day, so far as it pertained to the 1st
Cavalry Division (Torbert's) and the enemy in its front,
consisted of an artillery duel, charges and countercharges
of mounted cavalry across the field, and fighting dis-
mounted in the woods. Evening found us masters of the
field, the enemy, under Fitz Hugh Lee, having been forced
to retire with heavy loss, leaving his dead and wounded
and many prisoners in our hands.

It is the popular idea that the cavalry is held in reserve
until the supreme moment for action arrives, when it is
hurled in compact, irresistible mass against the infantry
battalions of the enemy, dashing them to atoms and decid-
ing the contest. The fact is that the cavalry forms the
guard and feelers for an army. In a forward movement, it
pushes in advance ; on a retreat, covers the rear, resisting
the enemy's advance ; in a general engagement, it is posted
upon both flanks, to protect against flank movements and
furnish information of the disposition of the opposing
forces ; while, when the army is at rest, it constitutes the
outposts, always maintaining a hold upon the skirts of an
enemy, so that there can be no decided activity upon the
one part that is not immediately discovered by the other
and a corresponding activity induced. Hence, from the
character of its service, and the surface variations of the
soil, its natural and artificial obstructions, the cavalry must
nearly as often fight upon foot, like infantry, as upon
horseback. A genuine cavalryman has no great fondness
for dismounted fighting ; he feels that he has lost the half
of himself when separated from his horse. Yet he would
rather engage in battle in any capacity than to be placed
mounted in support of a battery of artillery. There is
every thing in action to uphold a soldier's courage. In
mass movement he forgets his individuality. In the asso-
ciation and excitement of active participation, the idea of

8 Prisoners of War.

personal hazard does not occur to him. But behind a bat-
tery, in plain sight of the enemy's guns, whose every flash
he sees, he soon begins to imagine himself the direct target
for every shot. His consciousness of individuality be-
comes intense. The shrieking shells he can not resist
dodging as they strike in front of the battery and rico-
chet, seem only to have missed his head by the eighth
part of an inch. He is sure that the next one will play
sad havoc with his anatomy. He notes the casualties, and
the blanched faces of the wounded, as they are borne to
the rear past him, make him heart-sick. He reproaches
himself for ever having been such an idiot as to think

Online LibraryAsa B. (Asa Brainerd) IshamPrisoners of war and military prisons; personal narratives of experience in the prisons at Richmond, Danville, Macon, Andersonville, Savannah, Millen, Charleston, and Columbia ... with a list of officers who were prisoners of war from January 1, 1864 → online text (page 1 of 40)