|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
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
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
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
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
Visited all my comrades to-day, and, with one exception, found them all
suffering like myself from exhausting diarrhoea, induced by the poisonous
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
Southern Historical Society Papers
Vol I Richmond, Va. March 1876
No. 4 April Pages 259-270
Transcribed by Margie Daniels