HON. A. M. KEILEY'S NARRATIVE

 

HON. A. M. KEILEY'S NARRATIVE. 

In 1866 Hon. A. M. Keiley, (then of Petersburg, but for some years past the scholarly and popular Mayor of Richmond), published a volume on his prison life at Point Lookout and Elmira, which we would be glad to see read by all who really wish to know the truth concerning those prisons. We make the following extracts concerning Point Lookout: 

The routine of prison-life at Point Lookout was as follows: Between dawn and sunrise a "reveille" horn summoned us into line by companies, ten of which constituted each division - of which I have before spoken - and here the roll was called. This performance was hurried over with much as haste as is ascribed to certain marital ceremonies in a poem that it would be obviously improper to make a more particular allusion to; and those whose love of a nap predominates over fear of the Yankees, usually tumble in for another snooze. 

About eight o'clock the breakfasting began. This operation consisted in the forming of the companies again into line, and introducing them under lead of their sergeants into the mess-rooms, where a slice of bread and a piece of pork or beef - lean in the former and fat in the latter being contraband of war - were placed at intervals of about twenty inches apart. The meat was usually about four or five ounces in weight. These we seized upon, no one being allowed to touch a piece, however, until the whole company entered, and each man was in position opposite his ration (universally pronounced ration, among our enemies, as it is almost as general called with the "a" short among ourselves, symbolical, you observe, of the shortness of provant in Dixie). This over, a detail of four or five men from each company - made at morning roll-call - formed themselves into squads for the cleansing of the camp; an operation which the Yankees everywhere attend to with more diligence than ourselves. 

The men then busied themselves with the numberless occupations which the fertility of American genius suggests, of which I will have something to say hereafter, until dinner-time, when they were again carried to the mess-houses, where another slice of bread, and rather over a half-pint of watery slop, by courtesy called "soup," greeted the eyes of such ostrich-stomached animals as could find comfort in that substitute for nourishment. 

About sunset, at the winding of another horn, the roll was again called, to be sure that no one had "flanked out," and, about an hour after, came "taps;" after which all were required to remain in their quarters and keep silent. 

The Sanitary Commission, a benevolent association of exempts in aid of the Hospital Department of the Yankee army, published in July, 1865, a "Narrative of Sufferings of United States Officers and Soldiers, Prisoners of War," in which a parallel is drawn between the treatment of prisoners on both sides, greatly to the disadvantage, of course, of "Dixie." 

An air of truthfulness is given to this production by a number of affidavits of Confederate prisoners, which made many a Confederate stare and laugh to read. 

They were generally the statements of "galvanized" rebels, "so called;" that is, prisoners who had applied for permission to take the oath, or of prisoners who had little offices in the various pens, which they would lose on the whisper of any thing disagreeable, and their testimony is entitled to the general credit of depositions taken "under duress." 

But among these documentary statements, in glorification of the humanity of the Great Republic, is one on page 89, from Miss Dix, the grand female dry-nurse of Yankee Doodle (who, by the by, gave, I understand, unpardonable offence to the pulchritude of Yankeedom, by persistently refusing to employ any but ugly women as nurses - the vampire) - which affirms that the prisoners at Point Lookout "were supplied with vegetables, with the best of wheat bread, and fresh and salt meat three times daily in abundant measure." 

Common gallantry forbids the characterization of this remarkable extract in harsher terms than to say that it is untrue in every particular. 

It is quite likely that some Yankee official at Point Lookout made this statement to the benevolent itinerant, and her only fault may be in suppressing the fact that she "was informed," etc., etc. But it is altogether inexcusable in the sanitary Commission to attempt to palm such a falsehood upon the world, knowing its falsity, as they must have done. For my part, I never saw any one get enough of any thing to eat at Point Lookout, except the soup, and a teaspoonful of that was too much for ordinary digestion. 

These digestive discomforts were greatly enhanced by the villainous character of the water, which is so impregnated with some mineral as to offend every nose, and induce diarrhea in almost every alimentary canal. It colors every thing black in which it is allowed to rest, and a scum rises on the top of a vessel if it is left standing during the night, which reflects the prismatic colors as distinctly as the surface of a stagnant pool. Several examinations of this water have been made by chemical analysis, as I was told by a Federal surgeon in the prison, and they have uniformly resulted in its condemnation by scientific men; but the advantages of the position to the Yankees, as a prison camp until the end of the war, especially as there are wells outside of "the Pen," which are not liable to these charges, the water of which is indeed perfectly pure and whole- some, so that the Yanks suffer no damage there from. 

The ground was enclosed at Point Lookout for a prison in July, 1863, and the first installment of prisoners arrived there on the 25th of that month from the Old Capitol, Fort Delaware and Fort McHenry, some of the Gettysburg captures.   One hundred and thirty-six arrived on the 31st of the same month from Washington, and on the 10th of August another batch came from Baltimore, having been captured at Falling Waters. Every few weeks the number was increased, until they began to count by thousands. 

During the scorching summer, whose severity during the day is as great on that sand-barren as anywhere in the Union north of the Gulf, and through the hard winter, which is more severe at that point than anywhere in the country south of Boston, these poor fellows were confined here in open tents, on the naked ground, without a plank or a handful of straw between them and the heat or frost of the earth. 

And when, in the winter, a high tide and an easterly gale would flood the whole surface of the pen, and freeze as it flooded, the sufferings of the half-clad wretches, many accustomed to the almost vernal warmth of the Gulf, may easily be imagined. Many died outright, and many more will go to their graves crippled and racked with rheumatisms, which they date from the winter of 1863-4. Even the well-clad sentinels, although relieved every thirty minutes (instead of every two hours, as is the army rule), perished in some instances, and in others lost their feet and hands, through the terrible cold of that season. 

During all this season the ration of wood allowed to each man was an arm-full for five days, and this had to cook for him as well as warm him, for at that time there were no public cook-houses and mess-rooms. 

An additional refinement of cruelty was the regulation which always obtained at Point Lookout, and which I believe was peculiar to the prison, under which the Yanks stole from us any bed-clothing we might possess, beyond one blanket! This petty larceny was effected through an instrumentality they called inspections. Once in every ten days an inspection was ordered when all the prisoners turned out in their respective divisions and companies in marching order. They ranged themselves in long lines between the rows of tents, with their blankets and haversacks - those being the only articles considered orthodox possessions of a rebel. A Yankee inspected each man, taking away his extra blanket, if he had one, and appropriating any other superfluity he might chance to possess; and this accomplished, he visited the tents and seized every thing therein that under the convenient nomenclature of the Federals was catalogued as "contraband" - blankets, boots, hats, any thing. The only way to avoid this was by a judicious use of greenbacks - and a trifle would suffice - it being true, with honorable exceptions, of course, that Yankee soldiers are very much like ships: to move them, you must "slush the ways." 

In the matter of clothing, the management at Point Lookout was simply infamous. You could receive nothing in the way of clothing without giving up the corresponding article which you might chance to possess; and so rigid was this regulation, that men who came there barefooted have been compelled to beg or buy a pair of worn-out shoes to carry to the office in lieu of a pair sent them by their friends, before they could receive the latter. To what end this plundering was committed I could never ascertain, nor was I ever able to hear any better, or indeed any other reason advanced for it, than the possession of extra clothing would enable the prisoners to bribe their guards! Leave help the virtue that a pair of second-hand Confederate breeches could seduce! 

As I have mentioned the guards, and as this is a mosaic chapter, I may as well speak here as elsewhere of the method by which order was kept in camp. 

During the day, the platform around the pen was constantly paced by sentinels, chiefly of the Invalid (or, as it is now called, the Veteran Reserve) Corps, whose duty it was to see that the prisoners were orderly, and particularly, that no one crossed "the dead-line." This is a shallow ditch traced around within the inclosure, about fifteen feet from the fence. The penalty for stepping over this is death, and although the sentinels are probably instructed to warn any one who may be violating the rule, the order does not seem to be imperative, and the negroes, when on duty, rarely troubled themselves with this superfluous formality. Their warning was the click of the lock, sometimes the discharge of their muskets. These were on duty during my stay at the Point every third day, and their insolence and brutality were intolerable. 

Besides this detail of day-guard, which of course was preserved during the night, a patrol made the rounds constantly from "taps," the last horn at night, to "reveille." These were usually armed with pistols for greater convenience, and as they are shielded from scrutiny by the darkness, the indignities and cruelties they often-times inflicted on prisoners, who for any cause might be out of their tents between those hours, especially when the patrol were black, were outrageous. Many of these were of a character which could not be any periphrase be decently expressed - they were, however, precisely the acts which a set of vulgar brutes, suddenly invested with irresponsible authority, might be expected to take delight in; and, as it was of course impossible to recognize the perpetrators, redress was unattainable, even of one could brook the sneer and insult which would inevitably follow complaint. Indeed, most of the Yankees did not disguise their delight at the insolence of these Congoes. 

Under date of Thursday, June 16th, he writes: 

Saw to-day, for the first time, the chief provost-marshal, Major H. G. O. Weymouth. He is a handsome official, with ruddy face, a rather frank countenance, and a cork-leg. He conducts this establishment on the "laissez faire" principle - in short, he lets it alone severely. Whatever the abuses or complaints, or reforms, the only way to reach him is by communications through official channels, said channels being usually the authors of the abuses! 

It may be easily computed how many documents of this description would be likely to meet his eye. 

Two or three times a week he rides into camp with a sturdy knave behind him, at a respectful distance - makes the run of one or two streets, and is gone, and I presume sits down over a glass of brandy and water, and indites a most satisfactory report of the condition of the "rebs," for the perusal of his superior officers, or plies some credulous, spinster with specious fictions about the comfort, abundance, and general desirableness of Yankee prisons. The Major bears a bad reputation here, in the matter of money; all of which, I presume, arises from the unreasonableness of the "rebs," who are not aware that they have no rights which Yankees are bound the respect. 

Friday, June 17th.- A salute of thirteen guns heralded this morning the arrival of General Augur, who commands the department of Washington. About twelve M., the general, with a few other officials, made the tour of camp, performing, in the prevailing perfunctory manner, the official duty of inspection. 

Nothing on earth can possibly be more ridiculous and absurd than the great majority of official inspections, of all sorts; but this "banged Bannagher." General Augur did not speak to a prisoner, enter a tent, peep into a mess-room, or, so far as I saw, take a single step to inform himself how the pen was managed. 

Weymouth probably fixed up a satisfactory report, however, when the general's brief exhibition of his new uniform to the appalled "rebs" was over. 

Visited all my comrades to-day, and, with one exception, found them all suffering like myself from exhausting diarrhoea, induced by the poisonous water. 

In his narrative of prison life at Elmira, after speaking in high terms of the kindly feeling towards the prisoners shown by Major Colt, the commandant of the prison, Mr. Keiley writes as follows: 

In the executive duties of his office, Major Colt was assisted by fifteen or twenty officers, and as many non-commissioned officers, chiefly of the militia or the veteran reserves. Among them were some characters which are worth a paragraph. 

There was a long-nosed, long-faced, long-jawed, long-bearded, long-bodied, long-legged, endless-footed, and long-skirted curiosity, yclept Captain Peck, ostensibly engaged in taking charge of certain companies of "rebs," but really employed in turning a penny by huckstering the various products of prisoners' skill - an occupation very profitable to Peck, but generally unsatisfactory, in a pecuniary way, to the "rebs." Many of them have told me of the impossibility of getting their just dues from the prying, round-shouldered captain, who had a snarl and an oath for every one out of whom he was not, at that instant, making money. 

Another rarity of the pen was Lieutenant John McC., a braw chiel frae the land o'cakes, who was a queer compound of good nature and brutality. To some of us he was uniformly polite, but he had his pistol out on any occasion when dealing with the majority of the "Johnnies," and would fly into a passion over the merest nothing, that would have been exceedingly amusing, but for a wicked habit he had of laying about him with a stick, a tent pole - any thing that fell into his hands. He was opening a trench one day, through the camp, when, for the crime of stepping across it, he forced a poor, sick boy, who was on his way to the dispensary for medicine, to leap backwards and forwards over it till, he fell from exhaustion amid the voluble oaths of the valiant lieutenant. One Lieutenant R. kept McC. in countenance by following closely his example. He is a little compound of fice and weasel, and having charge of the cleaning up of the camp, has abundant opportunities to bully and insult, but being, fortunately, very far short of grenadier size, he does not use his boot or fist as freely as his great exemplar. No one, however, was safe from either of them, who, however, accidentally and innocently, fell in their way, physically or metaphorically. 

Of the same block Captain Bowden was a chip; a fair-haired, light-moustached, Saxon-faced "Yank" - far the worst type of man, let me tell you, yet discovered - whose whole intercourse with the prisoners was the essence of brutality. An illustration will paint him more thoroughly than a philippic. A prisoner named Hale, belonging to the old Stonewall brigade, was discovered one day rather less sober than was allowable to any but the loyal, and Bowden being officer of the guard, arrested him and demanded where he got his liquor. This he refused to tell, as it would compromise others, and any one but a Yankee would have put him in the guard-house, compelled him to wear a barrel shirt, or inflicted some punishment proportionate to his offence. All this would have been very natural, but not Bowdenish, so this valorous Parolles determined to apply the torture to force a confession! Hale was accordingly tied up by the thumbs - that is, his thumbs were fastened securely together behind his back, and a rope being attached to the cord uniting them, it was passed over a cross bar over his head and hauled down, until it raised the sufferer so nearly off the ground that the entire weight of his body was sustained by his thumbs, strained in an unnatural position, his toes merely touching the ground. The torture of this at the wrists and shoulder joints is exquisite, but Hale persisted in refusing to peach, and called on his fellow-prisoners, many of whom were witnesses of this refined villainy, to remember this when they got home. Bowden grew exasperated at his victim's fortitude, and determined to gag him. This he essayed to accomplish by fastening a heavy oak tent-pin in his mouth; and when he would not open his mouth sufficiently - not an easy operation - he struck him in the face with the oaken billet, a blow which broke several of his teeth and covered his mouth with blood! 

On the other hand, some of the officers were as humane and merciful as these wretches were brutal and cowardly, and all who were my fellow-prisoners will recall, with grateful remembrance, Captain Benjamin Munger, Lieutenant Dalgleish, Sergeant-Major Rudd, Lieutenant McKee, Lieutenant Haverty, commissary of one of the regiments guarding us, a whole-souled Fenian, formerly in the book-business in New York, and still there probably, and one 
or two others. 

These officers were assigned in the proportion of one to every company at first, but to every three hundred or four hundred men afterwards, and were charged with the duty of superintending roll-calls, inspecting quarters, and seeing that the men under their charge got their rations; and the system was excellent. 

During the month of July, four thousand three hundred and twenty-three prisoners were entered on the records of Elmira prison and by the 29th of August, the date of the last arrivals, nine thousand six hundred and seven. 

The barrack accommodations did not suffice for quite half of them, and the remainder were provided with "A" tents, in which they continued to be housed when I left the prison in the middle of the following October, although the weather was piercingly cold. Thinly clad as they came from a summer's campaign, many of them without blankets, and without even a handful of straw between them and the frozen earth, it will surprise no one that the suffering, even at that early day, was considerable. 

As I left, however, the contributions of the Confederate Government, which, despairing of procuring an exchange, was taking its exhausted energies to aid the prisoners, began to come in. 

An agent was in New York selling cotton for the purpose, and many boxes of blankets and coarse clothing were furnished from the proceeds of the sale. 

This tender regard was a happy contrast to the barbarity of Washington management, which seemed to feel the utmost indifference to the sufferings of its soldiers, and embarrassed their exchange by every device of delay and every suggestion of stubbornness. 

As I have spoken of the military government of Elmira prison, it may not be inappropriate to pursue the statistical view, now that I am in it, by a brief chapter on the Medical and Commissary Departments, before I resume the threat of the more personal portion of my narrative. 

The chief of the former department was a club-footed little gentleman, with an abnormal head and a snaky look in his eyes, named Major E. L. Sanger. On our arrival in Elmira, another surgeon, remarkable chiefly for his unaffected simplicity and virgin ignorance of everything appertaining to medicine, played doctor there. But as the prisoners increased in numbers, a more formal and formidable staff was organized, with Sanger at the head. 

Sanger was simply a brute, as we found when we learned the whole truth about him from his own people. If he had not avoided a court-martial by resigning his position, it is likely that even a military commission would have found it impossible to screen his brutality to the sick, although the fact that the United States hanged no one for the massacre of Indian women and sucking infants during the year 1865, inspires the fear that this systematic * * * * of Confederate prisoners would have been commended for his patriotism. 

He was assisted by Dr. Rider, of Rochester, one of the few "copperheads" whom I met in any office, great or small, at the North. My association was rather more intimate with him than with any one of the others, and I believe him to have been a competent and faithful officer. Personally, I acknowledge his many kindnesses with gratitude. The rest of the "meds" were, in truth, a motley crew in the main, most of them being selected from the impossibility, it would seem, of doing any thing else with them. I remember one of the worthies, whose miraculous length of leg and neck suggested "crane" to all observers, whose innocence of medicine was quite refreshing. On being sent for to prescribe for a prisoner, who was said to have bilious fever, he asked the druggist, a "reb," in the most naive manner, what was the usual treatment for that disease! Fortunately, during his stay at Elmira, which was not long, there were no drugs in the dispensary, or I shudder to picture the consequences. This department was constantly undergoing changes, and I suspect that the whole system was intended as part of the education of the young doctors assigned to us, for as soon as they learned to distinguish between quinine and magnesia they were removed to another field of labor. 

The whole camp was divided into wards, to which physicians were assigned, among whom were three "rebel" prisoners, Dr. Lynch, of Baltimore, Dr. Martin, of South Carolina, and Dr. Graham, formerly of Stonewall Jackson's staff, and a fellow-townsman of the lamented hero. These ward physicians treated the simplest cases in their patients' barrack, and transferred the more dangerous ones to the hospitals, of which there were ten or twelve, capable of accommodation about eighty patient each. Here every arrangement was made that carpenters could make to insure the patients against unnecessary mortality, and, indeed, a system was professed which would have delighted the heart of a Sister of Charity; but, alas! the practice was quite another thing. The most scandalous neglect prevailed even in so simple a matter as providing food for the sick, and I do not doubt that many of those who died perished from actual starvation. 

One of the Petersburg prisoners having become so sick as to be sent to the hospital, he complained to his friends who visited him that he could get nothing to eat, and was dying in consequence, when they made application for leave to buy him some potatoes and roast them for him. Dr. S. not being consulted, the request was granted, and when, a few hours afterwards, the roasted potatoes 
were brought in, the poor invalids on the neighboring cots crawled from their beds and begged the peelings to satisfy the hunger that was gnawing them. 

When complaint was made of this brutality to the sick, there was always a convenient official excuse. Sometimes the fault would be that a lazy doctor would not make out his provision return in time, in which case his whole ward must go without food, or with an inadequate supply, till the next day. Another time there would be a difficulty between the chief surgeon and the commissary, whose general relations were of the stripe characterized by S. P. Andrews as "cat-and-dogamy," which would result in the latter refusing to furnish the former with bread for the sick! In almost all cases the "spiritus frumenti" failed to get to the patients, or in so small a quantity after the various tolls that it would not quicken the circulation of a canary. 

But the great fault, next to the scant supply of nourishment, was the inexcusable deficiency of medicine. During several weeks, in which dysentery and inflammation of the bowels were the prevalent diseases in prison, there was not a grain of any preparation of opium in the dispensary, and many a poor fellow died for the want of a common medicine, which no family is originally without - that is, if men ever die for want of drugs. 

There would be and is much excuse for such deficiencies in the South - and this is a matter which the Yankees studiously ignore - inasmuch as the blockade renders it impossible to procure any luxuries even for our own sick, and curtails and renders enormously expensive the supply of drugs of the simplest kind, providing they are exotics; but in a nation whose boast it is that they do not feel the war, with the world open to them and supplies of all sorts wonderfully abundant, it is simply infamous to starve the sick as they did there, and equally Esculapian traditions. The result of the ignorance of the doctors, and the sparseness of these supplies, was soon apparent in the shocking mortality of this camp, notwithstanding the healthfulness claimed for the situation. This exceeded even the reported mortality at Andersonville, great as that was, and disgraceful as it was to our government, if it resulted from causes which were within its control. 

I know the reader, if a Northern man, will deny this, and point to the record of the Wirz trial. I object to the testimony. There never was, in all time, such a mass of lies as that evidence, for the most part, could have been proved to be if it has been possible to sift the testimony or examine, before a jury, the witnesses. I take, as the basis of my comparison, the published report made by four returned Andersonville prisoners, who were allowed to come North on their representation that they could induce their humane Government to assent to an exchange. Vana spes. Edwin M. Stanton would have seen the whole of them died before he would give General Lee one able-bodied soldier. 

These prisoners alleged (I quoted from memory) that out of a population of about thirty-six thousand at that pen, six thousand, or one-sixth of the whole, died between the first of February and the first of August, 1864. Now at Elmira the quota was not made up till the last of August, so that September was the first month during which any fair estimate of the mortality of the camp could be made. NOW, OUT OF LESS THAN NINE THOUSAND FIVE HUNDRED PRISONERS ON THE FIRST OF SEPTEMBER, THREE HUNDRED AND EIGHTY-SIX DIED THAT MONTH. 

At Andersonville the mortality averaged a thousand a month out of thirty-six thousand, or one thirty-six. At Elmira it was three hundred and eighty-six, out of nine thousand five hundred, or one twenty-fifth of the whole. At Elmira it was four per cent.; at Andersonville, less than three per cent. If the mortality at Andersonville had been as great as at Elmira, the deaths should have been one thousand four hundred and forty per month, or fifty per cent. more than they were. 

I speak by the card respecting these matters, having kept the morning return of deaths for the last months and a half of my life in Elmira, and transferred the figures to my diary, which lie before me; and this, be it remembered, in a country where food was cheap and abundant; where all the appliances of the remedial art were to be had on mere requisition; where there was no military necessity requiring the government to sacrifice almost every consideration to the inaccessibility of the prison, and the securing of the prisoners, and where Nature had furnished every possible requisite for salubrity. 

And now that I am speaking of the death-record, I will jot down two rather singular facts in connection therewith. 

The first was the unusual mortality among the prisoners from North Carolina. In my diary I find several entries like the following: 

Monday, October 3d.- Deaths yesterday, 16, of whom 11 N. C. 

Tuesday, October 4th.- Deaths yesterday, 14, of whom 7 N. C. 

Now, the proportion of North Carolinians was nothing, even approximating what might have been expected from this record. I commit the fact to Mr. Gradgrind. Can it be explained by the great attachment the people of that State have for their homes? 

The second was the absolute absence of any death from intermittent fever or any analogous disease. 

Now I knew well that many of the sick died from this and kindred diseases produced by the miasma of the stagnant lake in our camp; but the reports, which I consolidated every morning, contained no reference to them. I inquired at the dispensary, where the reports were first handed in, the cause of this anomaly, and learned that Dr. Sanger would sign no report which ascribed to any of these diseases the death of the patient! I concluded that he must have committed himself to the harmlessness of the lagoon in question, and determined to preserve his consistency at the expense of our lives - very much after the fashion of that illustrious ornament of the profession, Dr. Sangrado, who continued his warm water and phlebotomy merely because he had written a book in praise of that practice, although "in six weeks he made more widows and orphans than the siege of Troy." 

I could hardly help visiting on Dr. Sanger the reproaches his predecessor received at the hands of the persecuted people of Valladolid, who "were sometimes very brutal in their grief," and called the doctor and Gil Blas no more euphonious name than "ignorant assassins." 

Any post in the medical department in a Yankee prison-camp is quite valuable on account of the opportunities of plunder it affords, and many of the virtuous "meds" made extensive use of their advantages. Vast quantities of quinine were prescribed that were never taken, the price (eight dollars an ounce) tempting the cupidity of the physicians beyond all resistance; but the grand speculation was in whiskey, which was supplied to the dispensary in large quantities, and could be obtained for a consideration in any reasonable amount from a "steward" who pervaded that establishment. 

I ought not to dismiss this portion of my description of matters medical without adding that the better class of officers in the pen were loud and indignant in their reproaches of Sanger's systematic inhumanity to the sick, and that they affirmed that he avowed his determination to stint these poor helpless creatures in retaliation for alleged neglect on the part of our authorities! And when at last, on the 21st of September, I carried my report up to the major's tent, with the ghastly record of TWENTY-NINE DEATHS YESTERDAY, the storm gathered, which in a few weeks drove him from the pen, but which never would have had that effect it he had not, by his rudeness, attained the ill-will of nearly every officer about the pen whose good-will was worth having. 

I ascend from pills to provender. 

The commissary department was under the charge of a cute, active ex-bank officer, Captain G. C. Whiton. The ration of bread was usually a full pound per diem, forty-five barrels of flour being converted daily into loaves in the bake-shop on the premises. The meat-ration, on the other hand, was invariably scanty; and I learned, on inquiry, that the fresh beef sent to the prison usually fell short from one thousand to twelve hundred pounds in each consignment. Of course when this happened many had to lose a large portion of their allowance; and sometimes it happened that the same man got bones only for several successive days. The expedients resorted to by the men to supply this want of animal food were disgusting. Many found an acceptable substitute in rats, with which the place abounded; and these Chinese delicacies commanded an average price of about four cents apiece - in greenbacks. I have seen scores of them in various states of preparation, and have been assured by those who indulged in them that worse things have been eaten - an estimate of their value that I took on trust. 

Page270    Southern Historical Society Papers. 

Others found in the barrels of refuse fat, which were accumulated at the cook-house, and in the picking of the bones, which were cut out of the meat and thrown out in a dirty heap back of the kitchen, to be removed once a week, the means of satisfying the craving for meat, which rations would not satisfy. I have seen a mob of hungry "rebs" besiege the bone-cart, and beg from the driver fragments on which an August sun had been burning for several days, until the impenetrable nose of a Congo could hardly have endured them. 

Twice a day the camp poured its thousands into the mess-rooms, where each man's ration was assigned him; and twice a day the aforesaid rations were characterized by disappointed "rebs" in language not to be found in a prayer-book. Those whose appetite was stronger than their apprehensions frequently contrived to supply their wants by "flanking" - a performance which consisted in joining two or more companies as they successively went to the mess-rooms, or in quietly sweeping up a ration as the company filed down the table. As every ration so flanked was, however, obtained at the expense of some helpless fellow-prisoner, who must lose that meal, the practice was almost universally frowned upon; and the criminal, when discovered, as was frequently the case, was subjected to instant punishment. 

This was either confinement in the guard-house, solitary confinement on bread and water, the "Sweat-box" or the barrel- shirt. The war has made all these terms familiar, except the third, perhaps; by it I mean a wooden box, about seven feet high, twenty inches wide and twelve deep, which was placed on end in front of the major's tent. Few could stand in this without elevating the shoulders considerably; and when the door was fastened all motion was out of the question. The prisoner had to stand with his limbs rigid and immovable until the jailer opened the door, and it was far the most dreaded of the peines fortes et dures of the pen. In midsummer, I can fancy that a couple of hours in such a coffin would inspire Tartuffe himself with virtuous thoughts, especially if his avoirdupois was at all respectable. 

Source:

Southern Historical Society Papers

Vol I Richmond, Va. March 1876
No. 4 April  Pages 259-270

Transcribed by Margie Daniels

1/17/2004

 

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