Wayland Fuller Dunaway.

Reminiscences of a Rebel online

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when I characterize them as malodorous,
and blood-sucking. We could expel them
from our bunks, but not from the walls and
the ceiling, from the holes and the cracks of
which they swarmed at night, rendering
sound sleep impossible.

In a few days after having taken involun-
tary quarters in the Old Capitol I read with
surprise and grief an article in the Baltimore
American, headed "Meade versus Lee."
General Lee, misinformed by somebody, had
reported that there had been no battle at
Falling Waters, and that none of his soldiers
had been captured except those who had
straggled during the night or fallen asleep in



barns by the roadside. When he published
that statement he knew that there had been
no engagement of his ordering, but he did
not know that the gallant and accomplished
Pettigrew had been wounded on the field, nor
that some of his men had kept the enemy in
check, while others were thereby afforded the
opportunity of safely crossing the river.
No; the men who were captured with me
were not stragglers: they were taken on the
field of battle, and they were as brave and
dutiful as any that ever wore the gray.
Neither was General Meade's report strictly
correct, but it corresponded more closely with
the facts. He did not capture a brigade, as
he said, but he did take the flags of Brocken-
brough's brigade, and enough men of other
commands to form one.

During the whole term of my imprison-
ment I anxiously longed to be exchanged,
being willing any day to swap incarceration
for the toils and dangers of active military
service. In the early part of the war there
were some partial exchanges, but as it was


prolonged the government at Washington re-
jected all overtures for a cartel. Through-
out the North there were raised loud and
false reports that Federal soldiers in South-
ern prisons were being wantonly maltreated,
while the National Government might have
restored them to freedom and plenty by
agreeing to the exchange of prisoners that
was urged repeatedly by the Confederate
Government. The refusal was an evidence
of the straits to which the Union was pushed,
and an act of injustice and cruelty to the
prisoners of both sides. It was, moreover,
an undesigned but exalted testimony to the
valor of Southern soldiers, for it was as if
Mr. Stanton, the secretary of war, had said
to every man in the Federal armies: "If in
the fortunes of war you should be captured,
you must run the risk of death in a rebel
prison. I will not give a Southern soldier
for you, — you are not worth the exchange."
Gen. Grant said: "Our men must suffer for
the good of those who are contending with
the terrible Lee;" and ignoring the claims



of humanity and the usages of honorable war-
fare, he lowered the question to a cold com-
mercial level when he declared that it was
"cheaper to feed rebel prisoners than to fight


But now we are in prison and likely long to stay,
The Yankees they are guarding us, no hope to get away;
Our rations they are scanty, 'tis cold enough to freeze, —
I wish I was in Georgia, eating goober peas.

Peas, peas, peas, peas,

Eating goober peas;
I wish I was in Georgia, eating goober peas.

— Stanza of a Prison Song.

ONLY about two weeks did we abide in
the Old Capitol, the officers being
transported to Johnson's Island, and
the privates to other prisons. Our route was
by Harrisburg, and as the train was leaving
the city it jumped the track, jolting horribly
on the cross-ties, but inflicting no serious in-

The Sandusky river before it passes
through its narrow mouth into Lake Erie

widens into a beautiful bay about four miles




wide. In this bay is situated Johnson's
Island, low and level, and containing three
hundred acres. It is not in the middle of the
bay, but is on the north side, half a mile from
the main land, while on the other side it is
three or more miles from the city of Sandusky
across the water.

The prison walls enclosed a quadrangular
space of several acres, the southern wall run-
ning along the margin of the bay and facing
Sandusky. They were framed of wooden
beams, on the outer side of which, three feet
from the top, there was a narrow platform on
which the guard kept continual watch.
Thirty feet from the wall all around on the
inside there was driven a row of whitewashed
stobs, beyond which no prisoner was allowed
to go on pain of being shot by the sentinels.
At night the entire space within was illumi-
nated by lamps and reflectors fixed against
the walls.

Within the walls there were eleven large
wooden buildings of uniform size, two stories
high. The first four were partitioned into


small rooms, and were sheathed; the re-
maining seven had two rooms on each floor,
and they afforded no protection against
the weather except the undressed clapboards
that covered them. In each house the upper
story was reached by an outside flight of
steps. In the larger rooms some sixty or
seventy men were huddled together. Around
the sides bunks were framed on pieces of
scantling that extended from floor to ceiling,
arranged in three tiers, so that a floor space
of six feet by four sufficed for six men. My
cotton tick was never refilled, and after doing
service for many months it became flat and
hard. Our quarters and accommodations
were such as the Yankees thought good
enough for rebels and traitors, but in summer
we were uncomfortably and unhealthily
crowded, and in winter we suffered from the
cold, because one stove could not warm so
large and windy an apartment. Many a
winter night, instead of undressing, I put an
old worn overcoat over the clothes I had
worn during the day.


At first I "put up" in block No. 9, after-
ward in No. 8, and toward the end of my im-
prisonment in No. 3, which was much more

In summer, water was obtained from a
shallow well, but in winter, when the bay was
frozen, a few men from each mess were per-
mitted to go out of the gate in the afternoon
and dip uo better water from holes cut
through the ice. On these occasions a strong
guard extended around the prisoners from
one side of the gate to the other.

From the time of my capture until the fall
of the year the rations were fairly good and
sufficient, but then they were mercilessly re-
duced, upon the pretext of retaliation for the
improper treatment of Union prisoners in the
South. The bread and meat rations were di-
minished by a half, while coffee, sugar,
candles, and other things were no longer sup-
plied. We did our own cooking, the men
of each mess taking it by turns, but the bread
was baked in ovens outside and was brought
in a wagon every morning. A pan of four


loaves was the daily allowance for sixteen
men. When I got my fourth of a loaf in the
morning I usually divided it into three slices,
of which one was immediately eaten and the
others reserved for dinner and supper; but
when the time came for the closing meal I
had no bread, for hunger had previously
claimed it all. But for some clothes, provi-
sions, and money that were sent to me by kind
friends residing in Kentucky and Maryland
I think that I could not have lived to wit-
ness the end of the war. There was not
enough nutriment in the daily ration to sup-
port vigorous health, and it was barely suffi-
cient to sustain life. I believe that a few of
the prisoners succumbed to disease and died
because they had an insufficiency of nourish-
ing food. Bones were picked from ditches,
if perchance there might be upon them a
morsel of meat. I was begged for bread,
when I was hungry for the want of it. All
the rats were eaten that could be caught in
traps ingeniously contrived. When prejudice
is overcome by gnawing hunger, a fat rat


makes good eating, as I know from actual
and enjoyable mastication.

For a time we were permitted to obtain the
news of the outside world through the New
York World and the Baltimore Gazette, but
these were suppressed; and then we had to
depend upon a little Sandusky sheet and the
Baltimore American, which vilified the
South and claimed for every battle a Union

How did we while the time away? Well,
we organized a minstrel band, singing clubs,
and debating societies; we had occasional lec-
tures and exchanged books in a so-called
reading room; we had two rival base-ball
teams, and we played the indoor games of
chess, checkers, cards, and dominoes. I
spent much time in reading the Bible, besides
some of Scott's novels and the charming story
of Picciola.

On Sunday there were Bible classes, and
sometimes sermons by men who had gone
from the pulpit into the army. Among them
were a Methodist colonel from Missouri, a


Baptist colonel from Mississippi, and a Bap-
tist captain from Virginia. At one time
evangelistic services were held in a lower
room of block No. 5, and a number of con-
verts confessed Jesus Christ as Lord and
Saviour, and declared their denominational
preference. Those who decided to be Bap-
tists were permitted, under guard, to go out
to the shore and were baptized in the bay by
Captain Littleberry Allen, of Caroline county,
Virginia; the rest could find within the walls
as much water as they considered necessary
for the ordinance.

Block No. 6 was set apart for a hospital,
into which a prisoner might go in case of sick-
ness. It was superintended by a Federal
surgeon, but a large part of the prescribing
was done by Confederate officers who had
been practicing physicians. The nursing
was performed by the patients' more intimate
friends, who took it by turns day and night.
I have a sorrowful recollection of sitting up
one night to wait on Captain Scates of West-
moreland county, and to administer the med-


icines prescribed by the doctors. The ward
was silent save for occasional groans, the
lights were burning dimly, and there was no
companion watching with me. About mid-
night the emaciated sufferer died, passing
away as quietly as when one falls into healthy
slumbers. I closed his eyes and remained
near the body until the grateful dawn of
morning. Guarded by soldiers we went to
the cemetery without the walls, and commit-
ted the body to the ground, far away from his
family and native land.

Nearly all the men confined on Johnson's
Island were officers, of every rank from lieu-
tenant to major-general, and numbering about
twenty-six hundred. They represented all
parts of the South and nearly every occupa-
tion, whether manual or professional. They
were men of refinement, — ingenious, daring;
and they were enclosed in this prison because
it was secured no less by an armed guard than
by the surrounding water.

Every man was trying to devise some
method of escape, but only a few succeeded,


not only because the difficulty was great, but
also because there were spies among us.
Three men tunneled out from Block No. 1,
only to find themselves surrounded by Yan-
kee soldiers. Captain Cole, a portly man,
became jammed in the passage, and was some-
what like Abe Lincoln's ox that was caught
and held on a fence, unable to kick one way
or gore the other. The incident furnished
the theme of another minstrel song, with the
chorus, "If you belong to Gideon's band."

I had a secret agreement with Captain John
Stakes, of the 40th Virginia, that if either
saw a way of escape he would let the other
know. Many a time with longing eyes we
looked upon a sloop that used to tie up for
the night at a wharf near the island. If we
only could get to it! And so we began a
tunnel under block No. 9, but finding that
our labors were discovered by a spy, we were
constrained to desist.

Two men filed saw teeth on the backs of
case knives, and on a rainy, dark, and windy
night they crawled down a ditch to the wall


on the bay shore, and cut their way out; but
they were captured and brought back.

There were a few successful escapes. One
man, smarter than the rest of us, when we
went to a vessel to fill our ticks with straw
concealed himself under what remained in
the hold and was carried back to Sandusky,
whence he wended his stealthy flight. Colonel
B. L. Farinholt, of Virginia, got away in a
very artful manner, an account of which has
been published. In January, 1865, when the
thermometer registered 15 below zero and
an arctic northwest wind was blowing furi-
ously Captain Stakes took me aside and told
me in whispers that he and five others were
going out that night, and that they had agreed
that I might go with them. I answered that
if the Yankees were to throw open all the
gates and grant permission, I would not in
my feeble health and with clothes so insufii-
cient, depart in such bitter weather. When
the hour came those six men rushed to the
wall, and setting up against it a bench, on
which rungs had been nailed, climbed over.


They were not shot at, perhaps because the
sentries, not expecting such an attempt, had
taken refuge from the cold in their boxes.
On the thick ice that begirt the island they
crossed over on the north side and gained the
mainland. Captain Robinson, of Westmore-
land, and three others with him, hiding in
the daytime and traveling at night, after
enduring many hardships arrived in Canada,
where they were clothed and fed and supplied
with money. Taking shipping at Halifax,
they ran the blockade and landed in Wilming-
ton, North Carolina. One of the six men
was recaptured by a detective on a train in
New York. My friend Stakes was over-
taken the next morning and brought back so
badly frostbitten that it became necessary to
amputate parts of some of his fingers.

By some means, I know not how, informa-
tion was received in the prison that certain
agents of the Confederate government in
Canada would come to the island in steam-
boats captured on Lake Erie to release the
prisoners. It was agreed that when they ap-


proached and blew a horn the prisoners
would storm the walls and overpower the
guards. We, therefore, organized ourselves
into companies and regiments and waited
anxiously for the sight of the boats and the
sound of the horn. Though we had no arms,
except such as the rage of the moment might
supply, and did not doubt that some of us
would be killed, we were ready to fulfil our
part of the desperate contract; and we felt no
doubt of success, for the Hoffman Battalion
that composed our guard had never been in
battle nor heard the rebel yell. The expected
rescuers never came. There must have been
some real foundation for the proposed move-
ment, for very soon the guard was reinforced
by a veteran brigade, and the gunboat Michi-
gan came and anchored near the island and
showed her threatening portholes.


'Mid pleasures and palaces though we may roam,
Be it ever so humble, there's no place like home;
A charm from the skies seems to hallow us there,
Which seek through the world, is ne'er met with elsewhere.

— Payne.

IF one longs for home while roaming
amidst pleasures and palaces, how much
more intense, suppose you, must be the
nostalgia of the soldier confined in a far dis-
tant prison?

March 14, 1865, was one of the happiest
days of my life. After a captivity of twenty
months, I was led out of the prison with the
three hundred others, conducted to a steam-
boat, and homeward bound transported to
Sandusky. The thick ice that for three
months had covered the bay was floating in
broken pieces on the surface, through which
the boat struggled with so much difficulty that
I feared it would be necessary to put back to



the island; but the trip was made at the ex-
pense of some broken paddles. Why we were
selected rather than our less fortunate com-
patriots I cannot guess, unless it was to save
the annoyance and the expense of burial, for
some of our party had been wounded, others
as well as myself, had recently recovered from
serious sickness, and all were adjudged to be
unfit for military service; or perhaps there
was the same number in Southern prisons that
for special reasons the Federal War Office de-
sired to have exchanged.

The train that was to convey us southward
was made up of box-cars, upon the floors of
which there was a thin covering of straw.
We were so crowded that we all could not lie
down at the same time. The sleepers lay with
their heads at the sides of the cars, while their
legs interlaced in the middle. We took the
situation in good humor, and slept by turns,
those who could not find room standing
amidst entangled legs and feet. Thus we
traveled several days and nights, our train be-
ing frequently switched for the passage of


regular trains. Our route was by Bellaire to
Baltimore, or rather to Locust Point, where
we took passage on a steamboat for James
river. Having landed the next day, we
walked across a neck of land formed by a bend
of the river to the wharf where a boat from
Richmond was expected to meet us. A com-
pany of negroes made a show of conducting
us across the neck, though a company of chil-
dren armed with cornstalks would have been
equally efficient.

We had not long to wait until the smoke-
stack of the Confederate steamboat could be
seen winding along as she tracked the serpen-
tine course of the river. As she neared the
wharf the band on board struck up that sweet-
est of tunes, — "Home, Sweet Home." Some
of my companions laughed, some threw their
caps into the air, others hurrahed, while my
own emotions were expressed only by tears of
joy that coursed down my cheeks. When,
however, the music glided into the exhilarat-
ing notes of "Dixie" I joined in the cheering
that mingled with the strain.


We arrived in Richmond on the 22d of
March, the eighth day after we had started.
I was pained to notice in the city so many
signs of delapidation and poverty, and to learn
that Confederate money had depreciated to
the point of sixty for one. The captain's
salary that the government owed me for two
years was worth only about fifty dollars in
specie, which a friend in the treasury depart-
ment advised me to collect at once, inasmuch
as he thought that the capital would be soon
evacuated. I took him for a timorous
prophet, and told him I would wait until I
rejoined the army, when I should need it. I
did not know, as he did, the impoverished and
critical condition of the Confederacy.

I was not exchanged, but "paroled for
thirty days unless sooner exchanged.'' I set
out for the Northern Neck in company with
Lieutenant Purcell, of Richmond county, and
Captain Stakes, of Northumberland. We
rode on a train as far as Hanover and then
struck out afoot across the country. Not-
withstanding the fact that one of my compan-


ions limped on a leg that had been wounded
at Gettysburg and the other was a little lame
from frosted toes, it taxed all my powers to
keep up with them. If I had rejoiced to see
the James, I was happier still to set foot once
more upon the bank of the Rappahannock.
When we had crossed over we went to the
home of Lieutenant Purcell, where we spent
the night, and the next day, Monday, March
27, I arrived at home. I supposed that I
should take them by surprise, but somehow
they had received intelligence of my coming;
and as I approached the house I found them
all lined up in the yard, white and black.
"And they began to be merry."

I found John in the stable, having been
ridden home by my faithful man, Charles
Wesley, who supposed that he had left me
dead at Falling Waters.

On the 14th of April, Good Friday, when
I was thinking of returning to Richmond to
inquire whether I had been exchanged and
was still hoping for the independence of the
Southern Confederacy, I attended religious


services at a church in the neighborhood.
When these had been concluded and the con-
gregation were talking as usual in the yard
a messenger arrived with a newspaper, which
the Yankees had sent ashore from one of their
gunboats, and which contained the details of
General Lee's surrender of his army five
days previously at Appomattox. My heart
sank within me. My fondest hopes were
crushed. The cause for which I had so often
exposed my life, and for which so many of my
friends had died, had sunk into the gloomy
night of defeat.

I was thankful that out of the horrid con-
flict I had escaped with my life, a gray coat,
and a silver quarter of a dollar. Although
I had participated in all the battles that were
fought by the Army of Northern Virginia, I
was never seriously hurt. At Manassas one
bullet struck my leg, and another forcibly
wrenched my sword from my hand. At
Chancellorsville a bomb exploded just in front
of me, making a hole in the ground and cov-
ering me with dirt, the pieces flying away with


discordant noises. Countless balls whizzed
by my ears, and men fell all around me, some
of them while touching my side. Am I not
justified in appropriating the words of David
addressed to Jehovah, "Thou hast covered my
head in the day of battle?"

Withdrawal from the Union was the right
of the Southern States, as appears from the
history of the making and adoption of the
federal constitution; and great was the provo-
cation to use it. It is not, however, always
wise, — either for persons or communities, —
to exercise their rights. Secession in the year
i860 was a hot headed and stupendous political
blunder, — a blunder recognized by the major-
ity of the people of Virginia, who refused to
follow the example of her southern sisters un-
til there was forced upon her the cruel alterna-
tive of waging war either against them or
against the States of the North.

Though secession was a grevious error,
nevertheless the war that was waged by the
Federal Government was a crime against the
constitution, humanity, and God. But now,


as we view the present and retrospect the
past, who may say that all has not turned out
for the best? We find consolation in the be-
lief that the Lord's hand has shaped our
destiny, and we meekly submit to his overrul-
ing providence.

"If it were done, when 'tis done, then 'twere well
It were done quickly."

But the war, like Duncan's murder, was not
done after it was done. There supervened
the unnecessary, vindictive, and malignant re-
construction acts of the Federal Congress.

On the 14th of April, only nine days after
Lee had surrendered, a great calamity befell
the South in the foolish and infamous assas-
sination of President Lincoln, who was the
only man who could have restrained the rage
of such men as Sumner in the Senate and
Stephens in the House of Representatives.
The hatred of the Northern politicians was
intensified by the supposition that his death
was instigated by Southern men, and it did
not abate even after they were convinced that
the supposition was unfounded.


It is a singular fact that while the war was
in progress the acts of secession were consid-
ered null and void, and the Southern States
were declared to be parts of an indissoluble
union, but when the war had ended they were
dealt with as alien commonwealths and con-
quered territories. For four years Virginia
was not a co-equal State in the Union but
"Military District No. 1," governed by a
Federal general, who appointed the local
officers in the several counties. The affairs of
the State were managed by carpetbaggers in
close agreement with despicable scalawags
and ignorant negroes. The elective franchise
was granted to the emancipated slaves regard-
less of character or intelligence, while it was
denied to many white men. In Lancaster
county the negroes had a registered majority
of a hundred voters; it was represented in a
constitutional convention by a carpetbagger,
and after the adoption of the constitution it
was represented in the Legislature by a negro.
To injury were added hatred and insult.
It was not enough that the South was con-


quered, it must be humiliated by African

The Southern people did not go to war —

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Online LibraryWayland Fuller DunawayReminiscences of a Rebel → online text (page 5 of 6)