Southern Historical Society Papers/Volume 01/April/Prison Life of Rev. Geo. W. Nelson
|←Narrative of Henry Clay Dean||Southern Historical Society Papers: Volume 1, Number 4 (1876) by
Prison Life of Rev. Geo. W. Nelson
|Letter of a Confederate Officer →|
|April 1876Southern Historical Society Papers,|
We will next give Rev. George W. Nelson's narrative of his prison life. Mr. Nelson is now rector of the Episcopal church in Lexington, Virginia. As an alumnus of the University of Virginia, a gallant Confederate soldier, and since the war a devoted, useful minister of the gospel, Mr. Nelson is widely known and needs no endorsation from us. The narrative was written not long after the close of the war, when the facts were fresh in his memory, and could be substantiated by memoranda in his possession. In a private letter to the editor, dated March 14, 1876, Mr. Nelson says of his narrative: "It is all literal fact, understated rather than overstated. I read it a few days since to Mr. Gillock of this place, (Lexington), who was my bunk-mate from Point Lookout until we were released, and he says that all of the facts correspond with his memory of them." Without further introduction, we submit the paper in full:
I was captured on the 26th of October, 1863, under the following circumstances: I had just returned from within the enemy's lines to the home of my companion on the border. We were eating dinner, and thought ourselves perfectly secure. The sight of a blue coat at the window was the first intimation of the presence of the Yankees. We immediately jumped up and ran into another room, expecting to escape through a back window, but to our dismay found that outlet also guarded. We next made tremendous exertions to get up into the garret of the house, but the trap-door was so weighted down as to resist our utmost strength. The effort to double up our long legs and big bodies in a wardrobe was equally unsuccessful. At last we threw ourselves under a bed and awaited our fate. A few minutes, and in they came—swords clattering, pistols cocked and leveled. They soon spied our legs under the bed. "Come out of that," was yelled out, then pistols were put in our faces, and I heard several voices call out "surrender," which we did with as good a grace as we could. The ladies of the family were much distressed and alarmed, particularly when the Yankees came up to us with their pistols leveled. They implored: "Don't shoot them—don't shoot them." The Yankees answered: "0, we aint going to hurt them." A few moments were given us to say good-bye, and then we were put upon our horses,(which they had found), placed in the column, with a trooper on each side and one in front leading our horses, thus precluding all chance of escape. We had gone about a mile, when an Orderly came up to us with an order from the Colonel to bring the ranking prisoner to the head of the column. Accordingly I was led forward. The Colonel saluted me, introduced a Captain Bailey who was riding with him, and said we should be treated with all possible courtesy while under his charge, and I must do him the justice to say he kept his word. He then proceeded to question me about our army. There were very few questions of this kind that I would have answered, but it happened that the Colonel and myself were both quite deaf, which gave rise to a ludicrous mistake, and resulted in putting a stop to the catechism. Overture: "Does Jeff. Davis visit the army often?" Answer: "0, yes, while we were camped about Orange Courthouse in the summer, the array of beauty was great, and the smiles of the fair ones fully compensated for the hardships of the Pennsylvania campaign." I thought he asked me whether the ladies visited the army. He asked me what I said. I repeated. I then noticed he had a puzzled look, and that Captain Bailey could hardly restrain his laughter. So I told him I was deaf, and had probably misunderstood his question. He answered that he was deaf, too. I came to the conclusion he thought I was quizzing, as he didn't ask any more questions. It is my intention to give full credit for every kindness I received, for stretched to the utmost, they make but two or three bright spots in a dark record of suffering and oppression. One of these occurred the evening of our capture. I had no gloves, and the night was very cold. Captain Bailey seeing this, gave me one of his, and the next day brought me a pair he had got for me. We halted the first night at a place called Ninevah. We were put for safe keeping in a small out-house, where we made our bed upon "squashes" and broken pieces of an old stove. This did not trouble us, however, as we intended to be awake all night in the hope of a chance for escape. But a numerous and vigilant guard disappointed us. "We reached Strasburg the next evening, where our captors gave us a dinner. We then went on to Winchester, where we spent the night. The Yankee officers gave us a first-rate supper. We reached Charlestown next day, where dinner was again given us—a very good one, too. The Yankee officers took us to their "mess," and treated us very courteously. That evening the Colonel commanding took us to Harper's Ferry. As we were starting, Captain Bailey very kindly gave us some tobacco, remarking, "You will find some difficulty in getting such things on the way." The Colonel left us at the Ferry, and we found ourselves in the hands of a different set of men. We were put in the "John Brown Engine House," where were already some twenty-five or thirty prisoners. There were no beds, no seats, and the floor and walls were alive with lice. Before being sent to this hole, we were stripped and searched. We stayed here about thirty-six hours, were then sent on to Wheeling, where we were put in a place neither so small nor so lousy as the one we had left, but the company was even less to our taste than lice, viz : Yankee convicts. We remained here two or three days, and then were taken to Camp Chase. We reached there in the night—were cold and wet. After undergoing a considerable amount of cursing and abuse, we were turned into prison No. 1, to shift for ourselves as best we could. At Camp Chase I made my first attempt at washing my clothes—having no change, I had to be minus shirt, drawers and socks during the operation. I worked so hard as to rub all the skin off my knuckles, and yet not enough to get the dirt out of my garments. We stayed at this place about twenty days. We were then started off to Johnson's Island. My friend had ten dollars good money when we reached Camp Chase, which was taken from him and sutlers' checks given instead. When about to leave for Johnson's Island, where, of course, Camp Chase checks would be useless, the sutler made it convenient not to be on hand to redeem his paper, so my friend lost all the little money he had. We marched from Camp Chase to Columbus, where we took the cars. This march was brutally conducted. Several of our number were sick, and yet the whole party was made to double quick nearly the whole distance—five miles. The excuse was, that otherwise "we would be too late for the train." But why not have made an earlier start? or why not have waited for the next train? We traveled all day, reached Johnson's Island in the night, worn out and hungry. I stayed at Johnson's Island from about November 20th to April 26th. During this time, in common with many others, I suffered a good deal. Prisoners who were supplied by friends in the North got along very well, but those altogether dependent upon the tender mercies of the Government were poorly off indeed. I was among the latter for sometime not having been able to communicate with my friends until the middle of December. But the New Year brought me supplies and letters more precious than bank notes, even to a half starved, shivering prisoner. The building in which I stayed was a simple weather-boarded house, through which the wind blew and the snow beat at will. It is true many of the buildings were quite comfortable, but I speak of my own experience. The first of January, 1864, was said by all to be the coldest weather ever known at that point. It was so cold that the sentinels were taken off for fear of their freezing. Wherever the air struck the face the sensation was that of ice pressed hard against it. Yet cold as it was, we were without fire in my room from 3 o'clock in the evening to 9 o'clock next morning. I went to my bed, which consisted of two blankets, one to lie upon and one to cover with, but sleep was out of the question under such circumstances. So I got up, got together several fellow prisoners, and kept up the circulation of blood and spirits until day light by dancing. My chum, unfortunately, stayed in our bunk—the consequence was, he was unable to get his boots on, so badly were his feet frost bitten. During my stay in this prison, there was at times a scarcity of water, sufficient not only to inconvenience us, but to cause actual suffering. The wells from which we got our supply were shallow, and were generally exhausted early in the afternoon. We were surrounded by a lake of water, whence we might have been allowed a plentiful supply, but the fear of our escaping was so great that we were never allowed to go to the lake except through a long line of guards. This opportunity was given once a day, except when the wells were frozen so that no water could be got from them at all, then we had access to the lake twice a day. In this prison, as in all others in which it was my misfortune to be confined, we were liable to be shot at at any time, and for nothing. I remember three different times that the room I stayed in was fired into at night because the sentinel said we had lights burning, when to my certain knowledge there was no light in the room. The authorities had rules stuck up, the observance of which, they said, would insure safety. It is true, the non-observance of them would almost certainly entail death or a wound, but the converse was by no means true. Sentinels interpreted rules as they pleased, and fired upon us at the dictation of their cowardly hearts. In no instance have I seen or heard of their being punished for it, though it was clearly proven that the sufferer violated no rule. This prison afforded opportunity for the exhibition of a spirit characteristic of our people, and which, now they are over-powered and under the heel of oppression, is still manifested. It is that spirit of self reliance and submission to the will of Providence, which, added to a conscious rectitude of purpose, bids men make the best of their circumstances. This spirit showed itself at Johnson's Island in the efforts made to pass the time pleasantly and profitably. Schools, debating, clubs, and games of all kinds were in vogue. There were all kinds of shops. Shoemaker, blacksmith, tailor, jeweler, storekeeper, were all found carrying on their respective business. The impression is upon my mind of many disagreeable, unkind, and oppressive measures taken by the author- ities, but the very severe treatment to which I was afterwards subjected so far threw them into the shade that they have escaped my memory. I must not omit a statement about food. At Camp Chase my rations were of a good quality and sufficient. At Johnson's Island they were not so good nor near so plentiful, though sufficient to keep a man in good health. While at Johnson's Island, I made two attempts to escape. My first attempt was in December. Six of us started a tunnel from under one of the buildings, with the intention of coming to the surface outside of the pen surrounding the prison. Our intention then was to swim to the nearest point of mainland, about a quarter of a mile distant, and then make across the country for the South. We had with infinite labor, during three or four nights, made a considerable hole, and were in high spirits at the prospect, when one night there came a tremendous rain, which caved in our tunnel and blasted our hopes for that time. My next attempt was on the 2d of January, 1864, during the intensely cold weather. I succeeded in getting to the fence where the sentinel was posted, but the guard was so vigilant it was impossible to get over. I lay by the fence until nearly frozen. The moon shone out brightly, and I had to run for my life. In the beginning of spring an exchange of sick and disabled prisoners was agreed upon between the two Governments. I had been very unwell for some three months. Accordingly I went before the board of physicians, which decided I was a fit subject for exchange. On the 26th of April, in company with one hundred and forty sick, I left Johnson's Island, fully believing that in a few days I would be once more in dear old Dixie. We traveled by rail to Baltimore, thence we went by steamer to Point Lookout. Here I drank to the dregs the cup of "Hope deferred that maketh the heart sick." Every few days we were told we would certainly leave for the South by the next boat—once all of us were actually called up to sign the parole not to take up arms, etc., until regularly exchanged—but the order was countermanded before one-third of us had signed the roll. I never before nor since felt so sick at heart as then. My disappointments of the same character have been many, but that overstepped them all. All faith in the truth of any Government official was then shattered forever. The greater part of my time at Point Lookout was passed in the hospital, where I was very well treated. The sick were not closely guarded, and had the privilege of the whole Point. It was no small consolation to sit for hours on the beach, the fresh breeze blowing in your face, the free waters rolling endless before you (moodful as nature's own child, sparkling with infinite lustre in the sunshine of a calm day, kissing with a soft murmur of welcome the gentle breeze or struggling with an angry roar in the embrace of the tempest), and miles distant was the Virginia shore, and I have often thought I might claim a kindred feeling with the prophet viewing from Pisgah the land he might not reach. About the middle of May the hospital was crowded with wounded Yankees sent from Butler's line. This necessitated our removal. Accordingly we were sent out to the regular prison. There we lived in tents. We still had one luxury—sea bathing. The drinking water here was very injurious—caused diarrhoea. About this time rations were reduced. We were cut down to two meals a day. Coffee and sugar were stopped. The ration was a small loaf of bread per day, a small piece of meat for breakfast, and a piece of meat, and what was called soup, for dinner. About the 20th of June I was removed to Fort Delaware. We were crowded in the hold and between decks of a steamer for three days, the time occupied in the trip. I thought at the time this was terrible, but subsequent experience taught me it was only a small matter. On reaching Fort Delaware we underwent the " search" usual at most of the prisons. What money I had I put in brown paper, which I placed in my mouth in a chew of tobacco. I thus managed to secure it. An insufficiency of food was the chief complaint at Fort Delaware. I did not suffer. My friends supplied me with money, and I was allowed to purchase from the sutler what I needed. While at Fort Delaware, one of our number, Colonel Jones, of Virginia, was murdered by one of the guard. Colonel Jones had been sick for sometime. One foot was so swollen he could not bear a shoe upon it, and it was with difficulty he walked at all. One evening he hobbled to the sinks. As he was about to return a considerable crowd of prisoners had collected there. The sentinel ordered them to move off, which they did. Colonel Jones could not move fast. The sentinel ordered him to move faster. He replied that he was doing the best he could, he could not walk any faster, whereupon the sentinel shot him, the ball passing through the arm and lungs. He lived about twenty-four hours. He remarked to the commandant of the post: "Sir, I am a murdered man—murdered for nothing—I was breaking no rule." The prisoners at Fort Delaware were great beer drinkers. The beer was made of molasses and water was sold by prisoners to each, other for five cents per glass. Every few yards there was a "beer stand." Beer was drank in the place of water—the latter article being very warm, and at times very brackish. While at Fort Delaware we were kept on the rack by alternate hope and disappointment. Rumors, that never came to anything, of an immediate general exchange, were every day occurrences. On the 20th of August, 1864, six hundred of us were selected and sent to Morris' Island, in Charleston harbor, to be placed under the fire of our own batteries. We were in high spirits at starting, for we firmly believed we were soon to be exchanged for a like number of the enemy in Charleston, In some instances men gave their gold watches to some of the "lucky ones," as they were termed, to be allowed to go in their places. On the evening of the 20th we were all (600) stowed away between decks of the steamer "Crescent." Bunks had been fixed up for us. They were arranged in three tiers along the whole length of the ship, two rows of three tiers each on each side of the vessel, leaving a very narrow passageway, so narrow that two men could with difficulty squeeze by each other. In the centre of the rows the lower and centre tiers of bunks were shrouded in continual night, the little light through the port holes being cut off by the upper tier of bunks. My bunk, which was about five feet ten inches square, and occupied by four persons, was right against the boiler, occasioning an additional amount of heat, which made the sensation of suffocation almost unbearable. Here we lay in these bunks, packed away like sardines, in all eighteen days, in the hottest part of summer. In two instances the guard placed in with us fainted. I heard one of them remark: "A dog couldn't stand this." Perspiration rolled off us in streams all the time. Clothes and blankets were saturated with it, and it constantly dripped from the upper to the lower bunks. Our sufferings were aggravated by a scarcity of water. The water furnished us was condensed, and so intense was the thirst for it, that it was taken from the condenser almost boiling hot and drunk in that state. One evening, during a rain, we were allowed on deck. Several of us carried up an old, dirty oil-cloth, which we held by the four corners until nearly full of rain water. We then plunged our heads in and drank to our fill. I remember well the sensation of delight, the wild joy with which I felt the cool water about my face and going down my throat. On one occasion, hearing that the surgeon gave his medicines in ice water, I went to him and asked for a dose of salts, which he gave me, and after it a glass of ice water. He remarked upon the indifference with which I swallowed the physic. I told him I would take another dose for another glass of water, which he was kind enough to give me minus the salts. It was strange that none of us died during this trip. I can account for it only by the fact that we were sustained by the hope every one had of being soon exchanged and returning home. Our skins, which were much tanned when we started, were bleached as white as possible during this trip. We lay for some days off Port Royal, while a pen was being made on Morris' Island in which to confine us. While at anchor, three of our number attempted their escape. They found some "life preservers" somewhere in the ship. With these they got overboard in the night, swam some eight or ten miles, when two of them landed; the third kept on swimming, and I have never heard of him since. The other two got lost among the islands and arms of the sea, and after scuffling and suffering for three days were re-captured and brought back to their old quarters. On the 7th of September, 1864, we landed on Morris' Island. We disembarked during the middle of the day, under a scorching sun, but yet the change from the close, and by that time, filthy hold of the ship, was delightful. During the voyage we were guarded by white soldiers. They were now relieved by blacks, and they were certainly the blackest I ever saw. But black, uncouth and barbarous as they were, we soon found that they were far preferable to the white officers who com- manded them. If physiognomy is any index of character, then surely these officers were villainous. But not one of them, in looks or deeds, could compare with their Colonel. I always felt in his presence as if I had suddenly come upon a snake. He used frequently to come into the pen and talk with some of the prisoners. He seemed to take a fiendish pleasure in our sufferings. A prisoner said to him, on one occasion: "Colonel, unless you give us more to eat, we will starve." His reply was: "If I had my way I would feed you on an oiled rag." Once he told us we must bury the refuse bones in the sand to prevent any bad smell from them. One of our number answered: "If you don't give us something more to eat, there will not only be nothing to bury, but there won't be any of us left to bury it." "Ah, well," he replied, "when you commence to stink, I'll put you in the ground too." The bread issued us was spoiled and filled with worms. Someone remonstrated with him about giving men such stuff to eat. His answer was: "You were complaining about not having any fresh meat, so I thought I would supply you." The pen in which we were confined had an area of one square acre. It was nearly midway between batteries Gregg and Wagner, perfectly exposed to the shot and shell fired at the two batteries. The principal firing was from mortars, and was done mostly at night. We lived in tents, and had not the least protection from the fire. This, however, troubled us but little. Our great concern was at the small amount and desperate quality of the food issued. One of our greatest pleasures was in watching the shells at night darting through the air like shooting stars, and in predicting how near to us they would explode. Sometimes they exploded just overhead, and the fragments went whizzing about us. But, strange to say, during our stay there, from September 7th to October 19th, not one of our number was struck, though there was firing every day and night, and sometimes it was very brisk. The negro guard was as much exposed as ourselves. One of them had his leg knocked off by a shell—the only person struck that I heard of. In this place we lived in small A tents—four men to a tent. The heat was intense during the day, but the nights were cool and pleasant—the only drawback to Asleep being the constant noise from exploding shell and from the firing of the forts by us. Our camp was laid off in streets, two rows of tents facing each other, making a street. These rows were called A, B, C, D, E, F, G, H. A negro sergeant had charge of each row, calling it "his company." His duties were to call the roll three times per diem, issue rations, and exercise a general superintendence. These sergeants were generally kind to us, expressed their sorrow that we had so little to eat. We had a point in common with them, viz : intense hatred of their Colonel. Their hatred of him was equalled only by their fear of him. His treatment of them, for the least violation of orders, or infraction of discipline, was barbarous. He would ride at them, knock and beat them over the head with his sabre, or draw his pistol and shoot at them. Oar rations were issued in manner and quantity as follows: The sergeant came around to each tent with a box of hard biscuit, issued to each prisoner three, generally, sometimes two, sometimes one and a half. Towards the last of our stay five were issued, which last was the number allowed by the authorities. The sergeant next came around with a box of small pieces of meat, about the width and length of two fingers. One of them was given to each man. This was breakfast. At dinner time the sergeant went around with a barrel of pea—soup gave each man from one-third to half a pint. Supper was marked by the issue of a little, mush or rice. This, too, was brought around in a barrel. I have before spoken of the lively nature of the bread. Any one who had not seen it would hardly credit the amount of dead animal matter in the shape of white worms, which was in the mush given us. For my own part, I was always too hungry to be dainty—worms, mush and all went to satisfy the cravings of nature. But I knew of several persons, who, attempting to pick them out, having thrown out from fifty to eighty, stopped picking them out, not because the worms were all gone, but because the little bit of mush was going with them.
While at Morris' Island we considered ourselves in much more danger from the guns of the guard than from our batteries. The negroes were thick-headed, and apt to go beyond their orders, or misunderstand. They were, therefore, very dangerous. Fortunately they were miserable shots, else several men would have been killed who really were not touched. A sutler was permitted to come in once, a week to sell tobacco, stationery, molasses, cakes, etc., to those who had money. Inside the enclosure and all around the tents was a rope: this was the "Dead Line." To go beyond, or even to touch this rope, was death—that is, if the sentinel could hit you. When the sutler came in we were ordered to form in two ranks, faced by the flank towards the "Dead Line." Every new coiner had to fall in behind, and await his turn. On one occasion, one of our number, either not knowing or having forgotten the order, walked up to the "Dead Line" on the flank of the line of men. He was not more than five yards from a sentinel. An officer was standing by the sentinel, and ordered him to fire, which he did, and wonderful to say, missed not only the man at whom he shot, but the entire line. The officer then pulled his pistol, and fired it at the prisoner. He also missed. The prisoner, not liking a position where all the firing was on one side, then made good his retreat to his tent.
Our authorities in Charleston and the Yankee authorities on the island exchanged a boat load of provisions, tobacco, etc., for their respective prisoners. Bread, potatoes, meat, and both smoking and chewing tobacco, were sent us by the Charleston ladies. Never was anything more enjoyed, and never, I reckon, were men more thankful. I had as much as I could eat for once, even on Morris' Island. All the prisoners seemed to squirt out tobacco juice, and puff tobacco smoke, with a keener relish from knowing where it came from, and by whom it was sent. There, as elsewhere, we were constantly expecting to be exchanged. No one counted upon being there more than ten days and, at the end of that ten days, "why, we will surely be in Dixie before another ten days passes." One freak of the Yankees I have never been able to account for. They took us out of the pen one morning, marched us down to the opposite end of the island, put us on board two old hulks, kept us there for the night, then marched us back to our old quarters. About the 18th of October we were ordered to be ready to leave early the next morning. In compliance with this order, we got up earlier than usual, in order to bundle up our few possessions and wash our faces before leaving. The guard took this occasion to shoot two of our number, one through the knee, the other through the shoulder. Early on the morning of the 18th of October we were drawn up in line, three days' rations were issued, viz : fifteen "hard tack" and a right good-sized piece of meat. I felt myself a rich man. I remember well the loving looks I cast upon my dear victuals, and the tender care with which I adjusted and carried my trusty old haversack. A few moments more and we took up the line of march for the lower end of Morris' Island, with a heavy line of darkey guards on either side. The distance was only three miles, but this to men confined for over a year, and for two months previous existing upon such light rations, was a very considerable matter. Several of our number gave out completely, and had to be hauled the remaining distance. Arrived at the wharf, we exchanged our negro guards for white ones, the 157th New York Volunteers, Colonel Brown commanding. This officer and his men, though we afterwards while in their hands were subjected to the most severe treatment, as far as they were concerned individually always treated us with kindness. We were put in two old hulks fitted up for us, and then were towed out to sea. The first evening of the journey I fell upon my "victuals," and was so hungry that I ate my three days' rations at once. To a question from a friend, "What will you do for the rest of the time?" I replied: "I reckon the Lord will provide." But I made a mistake. I might have known the Almighty would use such instruments as were about us only as ministers of wrath. The evening of the third day we anchored off Fort Pulaski. By this time I was nearly famished. We did not land until the next morning, when we were marched into the fort and provisions given us. On the journey a party attempted to escape. They had succeeded in cutting a hole in the side of the vessel, and were just letting themselves down into the water when they were discovered and brought back.
Fort Pulaski is a brick work, mounts two tiers of guns, the lower tier in casemates. The walls enclose about an acre of ground. We were placed in the casemates, where bunks in three tiers were prepared for us. The flooring was mostly brick. This was very damp, which, together with the cold, damp air, rendered us very uncomfortable. A heavy guard was thrown around our part of the fort, and for additional security iron grates were placed in the embrasures. Twenty prisoners at a time were allowed to walk up and down the parade ground within the fort for exercise. Doors and windows were generally kept shut, and our abiding place was dark and gloomy enough.
Nothing remarkable happened until the end of the old year. A tolerable amount of rations was issued, and our life was pretty much the same with prison life elsewhere. The new year brought a terrible change. General Foster ordered us to be retaliated upon for alleged ill treatment of prisoners at Andersonville, Georgia. Our rations were reduced to less than one pint of meal and about a half pint of pickle per day. No meat and no vegetables of any kind were allowed us. The meal issued was damaged. It was in lumps larger than a man's head, and as hard as clay: it was sour, and generally filled with bugs and worms. We either had to eat this or lie down and die at once. This regimen lasted forty-three days. I cannot do justice to the misery and suffering experienced by myself and seen everywhere around me during this period. It is only one year since, and yet I can hardly believe I really passed through such scenes as memory brings before me. Our diet soon, induced scurvy. This loathsome disease, in addition to the pangs of hunger, made life almost insupportable. The disease first made its appearance in the mouth, loosening the teeth, and in many cases making the gums a mass of black, putrid flesh. It next attacked the limbs, appearing first in little spots, like blood blisters. One of them, after being broken, would become a hard, dark-colored knot. These spots would increase until the whole limb was covered, by which time the muscles would have contracted and the limb be drawn beyond all power of straightening. I have seen cases where not only the legs and arms but the back was thus affected. Another feature of the disease was the fainting produced by very slight exercise. I have walked down the prison, and stumbled upon men lying on the floor to all appearance dead, having fainted and fallen while exerting themselves to get to the sinks."
Terrible as was the above state of things, our sufferings were increased by as heartless and uncalled-for a piece of cruelty as has ever been recorded. Our poor fellows generally were supplied, and that slimly, with summer clothing, such as they brought from Fort Delaware in August. United States blankets (and many had no other kind) had been taken away at Morris' Island. Not only were blankets and clothing not issued, but we were not allowed to receive what friends had sent us. We had only so much fuel as was needed for cooking. Can a more miserable state of existence be imagined than this? Starved almost to the point of death, a prey to disease, the blood in the veins so thin that the least cold sent a shiver through the whole frame! No fire, no blankets, scarcely any clothing! Add to this the knowledge on our part that a few steps off were those who lived in plenty and comfort! Crumbs and bones were there daily thrown to the dogs or carried to the dunghill, that would have made the eyes of the famished men in that prison glisten. The consequence of all this was that the prisoners died like sheep. Whatever the immediate cause of their death, that cause was induced by starvation, and over the dead bodies of nine-tenths of those brave, true men there can be given but one true verdict: "Death by starvation" I remember one instance that, suffering as I was myself, touched me to the heart. One poor fellow, who had grown so weak as not to be able to get off his bunk, said to his "chum": "I can't stand this any longer, I must die." "0, no," said the other, "cheer up, man, rations will be issued again in two days, and I reckon they will certainly give us something to eat then—live until then anyhow." The poor fellow continued to live until the day for issuing rations, but it brought no change—the same short pint of damaged meal and pickle, and nothing more. As soon as the poor fellow heard this, he told his friend not to beg him any more, for he could not live any longer, and the next evening he died.
Fortunately for some of us, there were a great many cats about the prison. As may be imagined, we were glad enough to eat them. I have been partner in the lulling and eating of three, and besides friends have frequently given me, a share of their cat. We cooked ours two ways. One we fried in his own fat for breakfast—another we baked with a stuffing and gravy made of some corn meal—the other we also fried. The last was a kitten—was tender and nice. A compassionate Yankee soldier gave it to me. I was cooking at the stove by the grating which separated us from the guard. This soldier hailed me: "I say, are you one of them fellers that eat cats?" I replied, "Yes." "Well, here is one I'll shove thro' if you want it." "Shove it thro'," I answered. In a very few minutes the kitten was in frying order. Our guards were not allowed to relieve our sufferings, but they frequently expressed their sympathy. The Colonel himself told us it was a painful duty to inflict such suffering, but that we knew he was a soldier and must obey orders.
The 3d of March, 1865, dawned upon us ladened with rumors of a speedy exchange. The wings of hope had been so often clipped by disappointment, 'one would have thought it impossible for her to rise very high. "Hope springs," etc., received no denial in our case. Each man was more or less excited. Strong protestations of belief that nothing would come of it were heard on all sides. But the anxiety manifested in turning the rumor over and over, the criticisms upon the source from which it came, and especially the tenacity with which they clung to it in spite of professed disbelief, showed that in the hearts of all the hope that deliverance was at hand had taken deep root. On the 4th the order came to be ready to start in two hours. Soon after one of our ranking officers was told by one of the officials that an order was just received from Grant to exchange us immediately. We were wild with hope. The chilling despair which had settled upon us for months seemed to rise at once. All were busy packing their few articles. Cheerful talk and hearty laughter was heard all through the prison. "Well, old fellow, off for Dixie at last," was said as often as one friend met another. The alacrity with which the sick and crippled dragged themselves about was wonderful. Soon the drum beat, the line was formed and the roll called. "Forward, march!" Two by two we passed through the entrance to the Fort, over the moat, and then Fort Pulaski was left behind us forever !
One sorrowful thought accompanied us. Our joy could not reach the poor fellows who had suffered with us and fallen victims to hunger and disease, and whose remains lay uncared for, unhonored, aye! unmarked. A good many head-boards, with the name, rank and regiment of the dead had been prepared by friends, but an opportunity to put them up was not given, although it had been promised. We reached Hilton Head without anything remarkable happening. Then we took on our party which had been sent there at the beginning of the retaliation, or "Meal and Pickles," as we used to call it. This party had undergone the same treatment. The greeting between friends was: "How are you, old fellow, ain't dead yet? you are hard to kill." "I'm mighty glad to see you. Have some pickles—or here is some sour meal if you prefer it." The boat in which we started was now so crowded that there was not room for all to sit down. It was so overloaded, and rolled so, that the Captain refused to put to sea unless a larger ship was given to him. Accordingly we were transferred to the ship "Illinois." The sick, about half our number, occupied the lower—deck the rest of us were packed away in the "hole." But no combination of circumstances could depress us as long as we believed we were "bound for Dixie." So we laughed at our close quarters, at ourselves and each other, when sea sick. We were almost run away with by lice, but we off shirts and skirmished with these varmints with the "vim" inspired by "bound for Dixie."
We reached Fort Monroe on the third day. By this time the filth in the ship was awful—language can't describe the condition of the deck where the sick were. The poor fellows were unable to help themselves, and sea sickness and diarrhoea had made their quarters unendurable. The stench was terrible—the air suffocating. "We expected to go right up the James river and be exchanged at City Point. We were most cruelly disappointed. Orders were received to carry us to Fort Delaware. When we learned this we were in despair. The stimulus which had enabled us to bear up all along was gone; we were utterly crushed. The deaths of three of our number during the day and night following told the tale of our utter wretchedness. Their death excited little or no pity. I think the feeling towards them was rather one of envy. I remember hardly anything of our passage from Fort Monroe to Fort Delaware. A gloom too deep for even the ghost of hope to enter was upon my spirits. I noticed little and cared less. Upon reaching Fort Delaware seventy-five of our number were carried to the prison hospital, and had there been room many more would have gone. We were marched into the same place we had left more than six months before. I had no idea what a miserable looking set of men we were until contrasted with the Fort Delaware prisoners—our old companions. I thought they were the fattest, best dressed set of men I had ever seen. That they looked thus to me, will excite no surprise when I describe my own appearance. A flannel shirt, low in the neck, was my only under-garment. An old overcoat, once white, was doing duty as shirt, coat and vest; part of an old handkerchief tied around my head served as a hat; breeches I had none—an antiquated pair of red flannel drawers endeavored, but with small success, to fill their place. I was very thin and poor and was lame, scurvy having drawn the muscles of my right leg. When I add that I was in better condition, both in flesh and dress than many of our crowd, some idea can be formed of the appearance we made. The prisoners came to our rescue, gave us clothes, subscribed money, and bought vegetables for us. For a long time after our arrival, whenever any one was about to throw away an old crumb or piece of meat or worn out garment, some bystander would call out: "Don't throw that away, give it to some of the poor Pulaski prisoners." The fall of Richmond, Lee's surrender, and, finally, the capitulation of Johnston's army, soon swept from us every hope of a Southern Confederacy. But one course remained, viz: swear allegiance to the Government in whose power we were. Upon doing this, I was released on the 13th of June, 1865.