Page:Southern Historical Society Papers volume 01.djvu/299

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291
Treatment of Prisoners During the War.

as principals or as tools they committed this outrage on humanity for the sake of their commissions, like the Irish jurors portrayed by Curran, "Conscience swung from its moorings, and they sought safety for themselves in the surrender of the victims."

But hunger was not the only cause of suffering, clothing was prohibited. The provost marshal took possession of all boxes and packages addressed to prisoners—these were opened and examined—and until August, 1864, with the exception of some pilfering, usually reached the owner; but after that date, the prisoners were not permitted to receive anything sent by friends or relatives. How much clothing and provisions fell into the hands of the provost marshal and his men after August, will never be known. What they did with the booty may be readily guessed. On the 22d February, 1865, three Confederate officers arrived, and distributed clothing to the prisoners, but the worst part of the winter had then been endured, for want of that covering the jailors had taken away. I have given my own experience until October, 1864, but I know that the suffering was even more terrible during the following winter. In a climate where the well clothed sentinels were relieved at short intervals to prevent their freezing to death, nature demands a generous food to sustain life; but the last winter in Rock Island prison presented a scene of destitution only to be equaled by a crew of cast-aways in the frozen ocean, and this too where the sound of Sabbath bells were heard. It was a pleasant sound to many who felt that their troubles were nearly ended; it seemed a prelude to the melody that awaited them in a better land. But to those who could not die, whose vitality doomed them to suffer, what a mockery the sound seemed to them; what rebellious thoughts of God's injustice took possession of their souls, and would not down while tortured with the cravings of hunger. I have realized these things. I have noted one day that I tasted no food. It was Sunday the 18th September, 1864. I was recovering from a severe attack of dysentery. I was very hungry. The church bells were ringing as I eagerly watched the great gate of the prison hoping it would open, and the bread wagon would come in, but hour after hour passed away, and there was no sign, evening came on and I gave up all hope. I had lingered near that gate all day. Hunger is delirium, and the gospel is not for the famished body. The good men who sometimes preached for us had had their breakfasts. The Government that sent us preachers would not send us bread.