Southern Historical Society Papers/Volume 02/December/Diary of Captain R. E. Park

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Southern Historical Society Papers: Volume 2, Number 6  (1876)  by Robert Emory Park
Diary of Captain R. E. Park
Southern Historical Society Papers, December 1876

Diary of Captain Robert E. Park, Twelft Alabama Regiment.

[Continued from November No.]

January 1st, 1865—New Year's Day—The first day of 1865 is far from bright and cheerful; it is snowing, cold and windy. Our little band of Confederates remain closely in quarters, discussing the past and speculating on the future, now apparently dark and gloomy, of our sorely pressed county. Recently captured prisoners tell us of the great straits to which General Lee's army around Richmond has been reduced, of the long, thinly scattered line of soldiers, pale and worn by hunger and constant watching, and of the gloom and despondency enveloping the heroic citizens of the beleaguered Confederate capital. They confirm also the disheartening accounts of the dastardly conduct of Sherman in my native State, dear old Georgia, of his expelling the citizens of Atlanta from their homes, and the destruction of the entire city, and of his bloodthirsty letter to Honorable J. M. Calhoun, Mayor of Atlanta, declaring his purpose "to shorten the war by increasing its severity." The Northern papers, too, gloat over his cruel and boasted "march to the sea," and of his capture of Savannah, December 21st. During his unopposed march, he put his cruel principles into rough practice. General Hood left Georgia for Tennessee, with the main body of his sadly diminished army, and only the gallant General Wheeler, with a small body of cavalry, offered any opposition. Totally disregarding all the laws and usages of civilized war, unrestrained and uninfluenced by the humane and Christian conduct of General Lee, when in Pennsylvania, Sherman says in his official report: "We consumed the corn and fodder in the region of country thirty miles on either side of a line from Atlanta to Savannah; also the sweet potatoes, hogs, sheep and poultry, and carried off more than 10,000 horses and mules. I estimate the damage done to the State of Georgia at $100,000,000, at least $20,000,000 of which inured to our advantage, and the rest was simple waste and destruction." Here he confesses to have wantonly destroyed $80,000,000 worth of property of private citizens. Attila, Genseric and Alaric were not more cruel to the conquered Romans, than the brutal Sherman has been to the defenceless, utterly helpless old men, women and children of pillaged and devastated Georgia. No wonder our reflections and conversation on the first day of the new year were of a sad character. Added to our gloom at the news from the South was the painful intelligence that all hope of our exchange was now at an end, and we are to be carried to Old Capitol Prison as soon as transportation is furnished.

January 2d—After 9 o'clock at night all the officers at Point Lookout, except Major Hanvey, who was too sick to be removed, were put on board the boat "Johnson," and at 1 o'clock in the morning were carried to the mail boat "James T. Brady," bound for Washington city, and sailed up the Potomac. The wind blew fearfully cold, and as we were compelled to sleep on deck and in the gangway, our suffering was severe indeed. Fortunately I got near the boiler, and fared better than the majority of the party. As we advanced towards the city, the river was blocked by ice, covering it several inches in thickness, from shore to shore. The passage was slow, as the ice had to be broken in front of the steamer every foot of the way.

January 3d—We landed on the wharf at Washington at 9 o'clock A. M., and found it covered with snow and ice. In this uncomfortable place, with no shelter from the bleak wind, standing on the frozen snow, we remained under guard from 9 o'clock till 5 o'clock P. M. We had no fire, and only a few crackers and some wretched coffee for food. At dark we were carried in ambulances to the Old Capitol. This prison, situated on the corner of A and First streets, is an old brick building, erected in 1817, for the use of Congress, as the capitol building proper had been destroyed by fire by the British army under General Ross, August 24th, 1814. It was used by Congress until the capitol was rebuilt, and then fitted up as a boarding house. Honorable John C. Calhoun, of South Carolina, died in it. This pure and illustrious patriot and statesman—twice elected Vice-President of the United States, and the greatest of the great "Triumvirate," Calhoun, Clay and Webster, the only one who has left any enduring work to perpetuate his fame—never dreamed that his own room, in sight of the Goddess of Liberty on the dome of the capitol, would some day be used as a prison dungeon for the victims of rampant, fanatical abolitionism and the advocates of a higher law than the constitution which they had sworn to uphold and support. Prisoners are taken into the office, near the entrance, on their arrival, questioned, their answers being written in a book, and rigidly searched by some officious and offensive subordinate officer. While my party was being searched, their pockets emptied, and their persons felt, I quietly and unobserved put my knife in my hat, and placed the latter on the floor. I surrendered to the fellow who did the searching about $20 in Confederate money, concealing the remainder in my drawers' pocket. The knife was saved, to the great joy of myself and room-mates, none of whom saved theirs. We reached Old Capitol at 7 o'clock P. M., and about two hours after nine of us were assigned to "room 9," second floor. This room is about twelve feet by fourteen in size, and contained in one corner five sleeping berths or bunks, like those used in canal boats, one above the other, and about eighteen inches apart. The bunks are made of rough plank, three feet wide and six feet long. My comrades are Lieutenant James P. Arrington, A. D. C. of Forkland, Alabama; Captain M. Russell, Sixtieth Georgia infantry, Lafayette, Georgia; Captain J. G. Rankin, Thirty-eighth Georgia, Stone Mountain, Ga.; Lieutenant S. R. Murphy, Thirty-first Georgia, Hamilton, Georgia; Lieutenant Arthur Bryde, Fifth Louisiana, New Orleans, Louisiana; Lieutenant J. T. Bagby, Twenty-first Georgia, Troup county, Georgia; Adjutant W. B. L. Reagan, Sixteenth Tennessee battalion, Athens, Tennessee; Captain Junius B. Browne, Ninth Virginia cavalry, Gloucester Courthouse, Virginia. Lieutenant A—— and myself selected the lowest bunk. The berths had each a tick, containing a scanty quantity of old straw, which no doubt had done service for years. Each one was also furnished with a dirty quilt or blanket, and vermin held high carnival among them. The dingy walls were festooned with cobwebs, and darkened by smoke from the very small coal grate in one end of the room. A bench and two boxes were used for chairs. We have none of the comforts we have been accustomed to at home, though in close proximity to all the comforts and luxuries of civilized life, and near the headquarters of the Chief Quartermaster and Chief Commissary of the nation. We were given a very short piece of candle, and as we entered the room I looked around the grim dark walls, and its one narrow window, further darkened by heavy iron bars, through which its unhappy inmates might gaze, and I could but shudder at my future home. All my bright dreams of being exchanged and visiting my good mother were banished. The future looks dark and uncertain. I was depressed, but labored against gloomy thoughts. A good spirit whispered hope, and I resolved to bear up bravely as I could,

"For lo! the heavier grief weighed down,
The higher hope was raised."

No supper was offered us, and we retired hungry to our hard beds.

January 4th—I awoke early, looked out from my bunk, and scanned my narrow, crowded room more closely. It was used as a committee room of the old Congress, and had probably been repeatedly tenanted by Calhoun, Crawford, Webster, Forsyth, Tyler and other leading statesmen of their time. Phantoms of the past rose before me, and I fancied I could hear the voices of the departed orators, as the declaimed against the abuses and errors of the day, and gave their powerful aid to the sacred cause of personal liberty and State sovereignty. They never imagined that the very walls which re-echoed the eloquence of freedom would ere long confine the victims of a sectional despotism. How shocked they would have felt at hearing the memorable words of Secretary Seward to Lord Lyons, the British Minister, September 14th, 1861, early after the war began: "My Lord, I can touch a bell on my right hand, and order the arrest of a citizen of Ohio. I can touch the bell again, and order the arrest of a citizen of New York. Can the Queen of England, in her dominions, do as much?" Seward makes all law subservient to the exigencies of war, and the constitution and laws, State and Federal, are disregarded. That article of the constitution which declares that "no person shall be deprived of life, liberty or property, without due process of law" is of none effect. Those who took solemn oaths to obey the constitution and laws do not scruple to violate their oaths, and perjure themselves. This Government, these apostles of liberty, these tender-hearted lovers of the nigger, who shudder at the bare idea of the African's fancied wrongs, do not hesitate to cast into dungeons, in open day, without accusation or form of trial, any one of their white fellow countrymen or countrywomen whom they may suspect of want of fealty to their arbitrary domination. As a proof of it, the Old Capitol and Carroll Prison, near by, Fort Warren, Fortress Monroe, Fort McHenry and others are used for confining, without trial or charges, hundreds of excellent Northern citizens. My thoughts wandered, too, to my last visit to Washington, with arms in my hands, under General Early. Certainly the vicissitudes of war are passing strange! At 8 o'clock we were summoned down stairs to the mess-room, where we breakfasted on a slice of baker's bread, one and a half inches thick, and a cup of weak tea. At 10 o'clock I went to "Surgeon's call," and got some liniment for my leg. The long exposure in the cold on the wharf yesterday did not benefit my wound. At 2 o'clock we went to dinner, and found in each plate a small piece of beef, with a smaller piece of pork, and a slice of bread. We had no supper. Two meals per day are all we are allowed. The narrow hall in front of our room is paced night and day by a sentinel, and the door kept locked. The sentinel will allow only one prisoner to attend nature's calls at a time, and on one's leaving the room, shouts to the next sentinel, "All is right, No. 9." Guards are in every hall, and at every stairway, and so much noise is made posting and relieving guards every two hours, calls of sentinels and clanking of arms, that sleep is of short duration and very unsatisfactory.

January 5th—We amuse ourselves playing chess and cards, and reading a few old magazines. Captain Rankin received a kind letter from a lady signing herself "Margaret J. Nisbet," telling him she "had noticed his name published with other prisoners recently confined at the Old Capitol," and that she "wrote to inquire concerning her relatives in Georgia, the Lumpkins, Cobbs and Nisbets." As Captain R.'s wounded arm prevented his writing, I replied for him, giving such information as we had. William P. Wood and Mr. —— Clark are the prison superintendents. The latter seems to have special charge of us: he is a rough, but not a cruel man. On the same floor, near our room, the eccentric Miss Belle Boyd was recently imprisoned, and a few ladies are reported to be still here. Miss O'Bannon, of Shepherdstown, Virginia, was lately brought here for giving information to Mosby's men, which caused a paymaster's train to be detained and rifled of its contents. Twenty or thirty young men and boys belonging to Colonel Mosby's partisan rangers or "guerrillas," are also in rooms near us. They are generally very young, well dressed and handsome. Their spirits are fine—nothing seems to dampen their ardor.

January 6th, 7th and 8th—Sunday has come and gone; and I, in common with most of my fellow prisoners, accepted an invitation given to hear Rev. Dr. —— preach in the mess-room. Curiosity and a desire for change influenced most of us, for very few had any confidence in his piety. We knew he had been president of —— college; that he had enjoyed southern hospitality, friendship and confidence; that he had accepted high positions of honor and trust, and a liberal support at the hands of generous Southerners; and we knew, too, that in the hour of her greatest peril and deepest distress, when her brave sons, many of whom had listened to words of instruction from his lips, were called to defend the honor of the South, and her soil from desecration at the hands of a cruel and remorseless invading army, he meanly abandoned her and them, and hastened to incite and encourage their foes. Dr. —— deserted the South as General Sherman did his adopted State, Louisiana. Sherman, at a parting banquet, given in his honor, on resigning charge of the Louisiana Military Institute, by good citizens who had done him many favors and conferred upon him a lucrative and honorable position, voluntarily pledged his word of honor never to draw his sword against a people who had ever treated him with such marked, whole-souled kindness and hospitality. But Sherman and Dr. —— were guilty of the base sin of ingratitude. They speedily forgot every unselfish kindness, every friendly attention that they had gladly received, and, like the poisonous adder, turned upon and struck their venomous fangs into the hearts of their patrons, their generous supporters and oft-tried, old time friends. Dr. —— preached an ordinary sermon, which received polite attention from the prisoners, and afterwards walked into the open ground, 100 feet square, where we were allowed to exercise half an hour each day at dinner time, and began to distribute tracts to the prisoners. He handed me one, at the head of which was a picture in colors of the "old flag," that emblem of hate and oppression, called by Horace Greeley "a flaunting lie." I rapidly glanced over its contents, and told the Dr. it was a political or war pamphlet, and preached the "Union" and the "old flag," and either ignored or mentioned incidentally only the crucified Christ, and that such prominent political pictures on a so-called religious tract evinced more fanaticism and bigotry than true piety. What connection could there be between the stars and stripes and the pure religion of Jesus Christ? It was insulting, not only to us, but to the Almighty, to circulate such sacrilegious literature. A number of Mosby's men collected around us, and listened to our conversation, all encouraging me by looks and words, and laughing sarcastically and incredulously at the remarks of the old renegade. As I asked the question above, I threw my tract upon the ground and stamped it with my crutch and heel, which the young men heartily applauded, throwing down their tracts also, and some of them crushing the emblems of sectional hate and Yankee fanaticism beneath their feet. The Yankee's love for the flag is all sentiment, false and hollow, as they do not care at all for or regard the principles it was originally intended to symbolize. The old fossil hastily left us, and we were ordered to our rooms.

January 9th, 10th and 11th—Our daily bill of fare consists of bread and tea for breakfast, and a small piece of pork, some beans and bean soup in a tin cup, with one-third of a loaf of bread, for dinner. Sometimes beef and beef soup is furnished in lieu of pork and bean soup. Some of my room-mates have received a little money from friends, and buy cheese, crackers and apples from the sutler. His prices are exorbitant. Captain Rankin's mother, brothers and sisters live in Massachusetts, but he has steadily declined to write and inform them of his situation until to-day. Lieutenant Bryde's parents live in Saint Louis, Missouri, and write to him often. They urge him to take the oath of allegiance and be released, but he positively refuses to do so.

January 12th—I received a package of paper and stamped envelopes by express from Baltimore to-day. This is a timely and welcome present.

January 13th—This is my birthday, and I am twenty-one years old. This is an important epoch in a man's life, when he "becomes of age," a "free man," and enjoys the privilege of voting. Its arrival, however, does not bring "freedom" to me.

January 14th and 15th—A sermon on Sunday from a Minnesota Methodist preacher.

January 16th, 17th and 18th—I received letters from Mr. J. M. Coulter, enclosing $5.00 in greenbacks, and offering to send me a suit of clothes, and from "Cousin" Mary Louise A——, of Martinsburg, proposing to send me a box of eatables. Miss Annie R——u, of Martinsburg, now on a visit to Washington, also wrote to me.

January 19th to 22d—Sunday.—Lieutenant Bryde and Captain Rankin received boxes of eatables, and generously invited us all to partake of the good things. The chickens, cheese, butter and biscuits were eaten with great relish.

January 23d—Superintendent Wood gave me a "permit" to receive clothing from Mr. Coulter of Baltimore, which I forwarded.

January 24th and 25th—Received a letter from Mr. Alfred Bennett, of Baltimore, telling me a friend of his in Washington would furnish me with any clothing I might need.

January 26th to 30th—A sentinel summoned me to the Superintendent's office, where I found Mr. Clark, who directed me to receipt for a box of clothing, just forwarded by express by my excellent friend, Mr. J. M. Coulter, of Baltimore. The box had been opened and its contents examined by Clark, who ordered the guard to carry it to room 9, where I gladly looked at the welcome and much needed articles. It contained a gray jacket, a pair of pants, two over and two undershirts, two pairs drawers, two pairs socks, two silk handkerchiefs, one pair shoes, two bars of soap and two combs. All my room-mates gathered around the box, looking admiringly at each article, as it was taken out, and warmly congratulating me on my good fortune. The noble friends (Mr. and Mrs. Coulter) who have thus gladdened me by their timely and generous present, have my warmest gratitude. Mrs. Coulter was the accomplished and wealthy Miss Joanna Douglas, of La Grange, Georgia, and we are known to each other only by family name and character. How my dear mother's gentle heart would warm towards them, and how earnestly would she invoke God's kindest blessing upon them, if she only knew of their disinterested, Christian conduct towards her suffering, destitute, imprisoned boy. They will surely reap an abundant reward.

January 1st to February 2d, 1865—A number of officers, captured in Georgia by Sherman, arrived, and were quartered in adjoining rooms. Among them are General G. P. Harrison and Major George W. Anderson, Jr., of Savannah. The former commanded one of Governor Brown's militia brigades, and is dressed as a citizen.

February 3d—All the officers, who had been confined at the Old Capitol any length of time, were to day very suddenly and unexpectedly ordered to "pack up for Fort Delaware," and, soon after, were marched (I on my crutches, with my one legged friend, Adjutant Reagan, by my side) to "Soldiers' Rest." At 4 o'clock we took the cars for Baltimore, arriving there at half-past 6 o'clock, and there took the train for New Castle, Delaware, via Havre de Grace. I am getting accustomed to being dragged about from prison to prison, and think I will soon know all about Yankee bastiles, and see also a good deal of the country, traveling at the Government's expense. Before I could use crutches, when perfectly helpless from my wounds, I was carried from Winchester to West's Building Prison Hospital, in Baltimore. In a short while I was sent to Point Lookout Prison. Thence, after a month's stay, was transported to Old Capitol Prison; and now, after residing in Washington a month, I go to another prison at Fort Delaware, on Pea Patch island, Delaware bay. Why are we thus hurried from place to place? Is it to benefit our health by change of air and scenery, or to kill us by frequent exposure to the intensely cold, pneumonia weather?

February 4th—We walked a mile from the depot, through New Castle, to the wharf. The noble ladies of the town cheered us by sympathizing looks and kind words, as we trudged along, several of us on crutches, and a few of them brought us tempting lunches of ham, chicken, biscuit, preserves and fruit. These lovely Delaware women are our own kith and kin, and our cause is their cause too. Little Delaware is a slave State, and she has furnished some great orators and statemen. The Bayard and Saulsbury families inherit their talent, chivalry and nobility of character from a long line of illustrious ancestors. We reluctantly left the good ladies of New Castle, and entered the boat bound for the dreaded fort, five miles distant. We reached it at 1 o'clock, landed, and marched on a plank walk (the street or road was mud itself), till we were near the entrance to the barracks, and then halted. Here we were ordered to "front," and a close search of our persons and baggage was instituted. Every pocket was emptied, and watches, jewelry, knives, greenbacks and Confederate money were taken possession of. My canteen, one I had captured in the Valley, was confiscated. I suppose the authorities feared I would use it as a buoy to aid me in swimming across the bay some dark night. After the rigid search, we were ushered into the officers' barracks yard, where, crowding near the gate, along the plank walk, and at the windows and doors of the nearest "divisions" (as the rooms of the barracks were designated), we were greeted by hundreds of fellow prisoners, all eager to catch a glimpse of the new arrivals. As the gate swung open and we entered, suddenly the shout "Fresh Fish" was raised, and the different "divisions" were speedily emptied of their inmates, who rushed eagerly toward us, inquiring "where we were from," "the latest news from Dixie," etc. The scene was an animated, but painfully sad one. Many old comrades in arms met me cordially, and invited me to their quarters. I ate dinner with Captain Hewlett, and located in "division 22." It was greatly crowded, and at night I slept on the cold plank floor, over some cracks, through which the bleak wind whistled ceaselessly throughout the long, dreary, wintry night.