|Rev. George Harris , OF Upperville, VA.
Recalls POW Experience
On the morning of the 30th of August our quiet
village was thrown into excitement by a report of the approach of Yankees.
From the fact that private citizens had recently been arrested and carried
from their homes by raiding parties, nearly every male inhabitant of the
village felt it to be unsafe to remain at home; and I have reason to believe
that I was the only man left in town upon their arrival. I relied upon my
sacred calling for security from molestation, and as usual awaited in my own
house their coming.
Shortly after their arrival, I observed a man coming around my house to
the back door, as though ashamed to approach by the front entrance, and
according to my usual custom, I advanced to meet him and learn his business,
when the following conversation ensued:
Yankee: Are you the man of this house?
Answer. I am.
Yankee: What's your name?
Answer. My name is Harris; what is yours?
Yankee: My name? Why my name is -.
Then looking around, he espied some of the servants in the kitchen, a
detached building, and awkwardly moved off to see them. I returned to my
seat at my secretary and resumed my occupation of reading. In a few minutes
he returned, and leaning against the lintel of the door, said: "Guess you
can go with me." "Go with you," said O; "Where shall I go with you?" "Up to
headquarters." I arose, took my cane, and walked about a quarter of a mile
to the main body of the command. The first officer with whom I met was a
brainless, conceited Lieutenant, whose name I never learned. he, without any
kind of salutation, accosted me in a manner meant to be extremely scornful,
and asked why I had not sent Mosby word they were coming and wanted to meet
him. I said to him, "Sir, if you really wished to see Mosby, and desired me
to notify him of your coming, why did you not inform me of the fact in
time?" "Do you think he would have come?" he queried. "It is extremely
probable he would," I replied. He ordered me then to be conducted to the
Major. I was taken up the his quarters, and there learned that the
Eighth Illinois Cavalry, commanded by Major Waite,
a little dapper newspaper correspondent formerly, as I have learned, were my
captors. I demanded of this man the cause of my arrest. He replied that he
was carrying out his instructions. I asked if I might know what those
instructions were. He said, to arrest all men between seventeen and fifty. I
reminded him that I was a minister of the gospel, and not subject to
military duty. He replied, that if upon my arrival in Washington that fact
should appear, I would be released. He ordered me to be taken to a
Captain Townsend, who had charge of the
prisoners. I declared my purpose to return home for a change of
underclothing before I would consent to go, and he might use his pleasure
either to take my pledge to return, or to send a man with me as a guard.
Yankee-like, he preferred the latter alternative, as, having no such regard
for his own word as to prefer faithfulness to a pledge to life itself, he
could not believe it to be a trait in the character of any other.
I was obliged to make my few preparations in the most hurried manner, and
having commended my family to God, I proceeded to report myself to my
captors again. I found on my return that a large number of citizens had been
picked up, among the rest, General Asa Rogers,
a gentleman over sixty years of age, and Rev. O. A.
Kinsolving, of the Episcopal church. We were moved off, I suppose,
about 2 P. M., and proceeded to Aldie, about thirteen miles. Here we halted,
and immediately the men scattered to plunder, and every hen-roost in the
village was despoiled in a few minutes. Women and children were running
through the streets, some screaming, all looking for officers to protect
them. Of the nature and extent of their depredations we could only judge by
the declarations of such as passed us; all were crying that they were being
robbed of everything they had. After remaining here long enough to sack the
village completely, they hurried us on to Mt. Zion Meeting House, five miles
below Aldie, where we bivouacked on the ground, without blankets, and only a
few hard crackers - all any of us had had since morning - for supper. The
following morning they issued to us more of the "hard-tack," as they termed
it, and some salt pork, which we broiled by sticking it upon the ends of
twigs and holding in the blaze of the fire.
As soon as breakfast was over we were once more on the road, and at a
most rapid pace. Proceeding nearly to Drainesville, the rear of the column
was fired upon, when our gallant Major, dreading an ambush , tacked nearly
right about, and at an increased sped proceeded nearly to Fairfax
Courthouse, and then turning again toward the Potomac, carried us on to
Falls Church, halting only about an hour in a very strong position to feed
their horses. Thus these gallant fellows who, about 700 strong, had started
out, as they said, expressly to catch Mosby, succeeded in capturing
thirty-two citizens, in stealing some twenty-five horses, robbing private
citizens along the whole line of their march of all kinds of supplies, and
through fear of an attack made, on their return, a march of not less than
forty-five or fifty miles in one day. On the morning of September 1st,
Major Waite took occasion to insult us by his
profane language and vain boasting of what he had done and was yet to do.
His pickets being fired on however, the camp was thrown into the utmost
commotion, and we were hurried off again toward Washington.
Owing to various delays, we were not brought to Washington until
afternoon. Near the city we were turned over to
Captain Berry and Lieutenant Trask, who treated us with the utmost
politeness, and seemed desirous to do all in their power to oblige us and
render us comfortable. On arriving in the city we were remanded to the Old
Capitol Prison, and paraded through the streets to show to the good and
loyal citizens of the capital of "the greatest nation on earth," that the
"good work was going bravely on." At the Old Capitol our fare was horrible
for several days; the meat given us was putrid, and few of us could eat our
bread with the meat before us. A change for the better, however, took place
pretty soon after we had an interview with the superintendent, and the fare
became pretty palatable. We were shown many indulgencies, too, until it was
ascertained that the most of us would not even take a parole such as they
were administering to many citizen prisoners; when suddenly we were informed
that we were to be sent off to Fort Delaware, to be subjected at that abode
of horrors to severe treatment, in retaliation for treatment of a similar
character alleged to have been extended to citizens of the North in Southern
prisons. And here we are, exposed in a degree that threatens seriously our
health, if not the lives of some of our party. But "hitherto hath the Lord
helped us," and in Him is our trust; we will not fear what man can do unto
Mr. Harris, one the most devoted and useful
ministers in Virginia, contracted disease at Fort Delaware, from which he
was a great sufferer until, a few years after the war, death came to "set
the prisoner free."
Southern Historical Society Papers
Vol. I. Richmond, Va., March, 1876.
No.4. April - Pages 270 - 273
Transcribed by Margie Daniels