Southern Historical Society Papers/Volume 02/November/Diary of Captain R. E. Park
Diary of Captain Robert E. Park, of Twelfth Alabama Regiment.
[Continued from October Number.]
December 9th, 1864—Letters have been received from Captain Hewlett, now at Fort Delaware; from Misses Lizzie Swartzwelder, Nena Kiger, Gertie Coffroth and Jennie Taylor, of Winchester, and Misses Anna McSherry, Mollie Harlan and Mary Alburtis, of Martinsburg. The dear young ladies who write me so promptly and so kindly have my warmest gratitude for their cheering letters. These charming, hitherto unknown "Cousins," contribute greatly towards relieving the tedious, unvarying monotony of this humiliating prison life. Additional insults in different ways are the only change, and keep us in a constant state of excitement and indignation. The very confusion and turmoil is monotony. Private Sam Brewer, of my company, also wrote me from Elmira, New York, where he is confined as a prisoner of war. Sam was the well known, humorous sutler of the Twelfth Alabama. He says that a poor, starving Tar Heel at Elmira, looking up piteously and pleadingly at him, as he sucked a bare beef-bone, said: "Mr., when you finish that bone, please, sir, let me juice it while." This letter must have been overlooked or very hurriedly read by the prison inspectors who examine all letters and condemn hundreds of them, or I would never have been permitted to receive it. Sam says it is bitter cold at Elmira, and he has but one blanket. They have snows several feet deep. Poor Dick Noble, from "Big Hungry," near Tuskegee, died a prisoner at Elmira. He was a faithful fellow. A kind letter was received, too, from Mr. J. W. Fellows, of Manchester, New Hampshire, who, with Professor William Johns, prepared me for college at Brownwood Institute, La Grange, Georgia, in 1859. He is now practicing law, and is an uncompromising Democrat. He has lived among the Southern people, formed friendships there, and understands their peculiar institution—slavery. His letter is very kind and full of sympathy, and he offers to aid me. Alfred Parkins, of Winchester, a prisoner in the "Bull Pen," as the quarters of the privates is designated, came to see Lieutenant Arrington, having as a guard over him a coal-black, brutal-looking negro soldier, an escaped "contraband," as Beast Butler styles the stolen and refugee slaves from the South. Parkins says there is great destitution and suffering in the "Pen," their food is insufficient, many are in rags and without blankets, and very little wood is furnished for fires. He says that several of the negro soldiers guarding them were once slaves of some of the prisoners, and have been recognized as such. Some of them are still respectful, and call their young owners "master," and declare they were forced to enlist. A majority of them, however, inflated by their so-called freedom, are very insolent and overbearing. They frequently fire into the midst of the prisoners, upon the slightest provocation. One negro sentinel, a few days ago, shot a prisoner as he walked slowly and faithfully from sheer debility away from the foul sinks to his tent, simply because he did not and could not obey his imperative order to "move on faster dar." Instead of being courtmartialed and punished for the wanton murder, the villian was seen a few days afterwards exulting in his promotion to a corporalcy, and posting a relief-guard. This employment of former slaves to guard their masters is intended to insult and degrade the latter. Such petty malice and cowardly vengeance could originate only in ignoble minds. No generous heart could have ever devised or sanctioned such contemptible meanness and littleness. Parkins showed us some very amusing caricatures, or cartoons, depicting the humorous side of prison life. The pictures evinced real genius. Many of the men have dug deep pits, or cellars, beneath their cabins and tents, and use them as protection against the chilling winds and intensely cold weather, as well as receptacles for their little stores.
December 10th, 11th, 12th and 13th—Several Confederate officers were brought in from Fortress Monroe and Fort Fisher, North Carolina. Among them were Colonel J. W. Hinton, of Elizabeth City, North Carolina; Major R. C. Taylor, of Norfolk, Virginia, a brother of Colonel W. H. Taylor, A. A. General to General Lee; Lieutenant J. A. Morgan, of Hertford, North Carolina, and others. Our meals are growing exceedingly scanty, and there is universal complaint of hunger. The hours for meals are looked forward to with growing eagerness. Daily talk of the long-looked and longed-for exchange keeps us in comparatively good spirits, and with games of chess, cards and draughts, we manage to "kill time." Some of my own men are in the "Bull Pen," and I occasionally receive notes from them, brought by working parties and prisoners, who manage to get a permit to visit some officer in the hospital, under a negro guard. The prisoners are employed as laborers to empty vessels of provisions, coal, wood, etc., and to do all sorts of menial offices. Their small rations are slightly increased as a reward, and they enjoy a respite from the rigid confinement. They are glad to get on these working squads. My brave men, one of whom is Wesley F. Moore, are true as steel, and, despite their sufferings and privations, are still hopeful of success, and resolved to remain faithful to the bitter end. I write them encouragingly, send them some tobacco, bought from the sutler, and urge them to remain faithful to their cause, and never despair of ultimate deliverance from prison, and the final success of the Southern Confederacy. They are without comforts, deprived of the bare necessities of life even, and have no acquaintances or friends in the North upon whom they might call for needed relief. Would that I could supply their pressing wants. These resolute, suffering private soldiers and their comrades in the field are the true heroes of the war: they, and not the men of rank, deserve the most honor and gratitude.
December 14th, 15th, 16th and 17th —Have received a kind letter from Mr. James M. Coulter, of Baltimore, stating that he inclosed ($5) five dollars, and generously offering to send anything else I might need. The letter had been opened and money abstracted before it was handed me. I am very grateful to Mr. Coulter, and as I need the money very much, went to Major Brady, the Provost Marshal, and made complaint. He said he knew nothing of the letter, as it was sent to "care Dr. A. Heger, Surgeon of Hospital." I went to the surgeon's office, showed him the letter, told him that the money had been taken out, and asked him to see it was turned over to me. He replied that there was no money in it when received, and declined to investigate the matter further. I am convinced the money did come and was stolen. Language is too poor to adequately describe the mean, petty rascality of a man so low and depraved as to rob a poor, destitute, powerless prisoner, and of so small an amount, great and important however to so very needy a person. Major Hanvey and Lieutenant Arrington had money stolen in the same way. We have no redress, and must submit to the unpunished and unrebuked robbery. Some of the officers entertain us by singing; Lieutenant Morgan, of the First North Carolina troops, is leader, and his favorite songs are "The Vacant Chair" and "All Quiet Along the Potomac To-Night."
December 18th, 19th and 20th—Our cottage is some distance from the main hospital buildings, all of which are built in a circle. In front of each is a covered platform or piazza, extending entirely around, cyclorama style, and on which the prisoners walk to the mess-room. My Dutch doctor has been sending my meagre meals to me, but two days ago he ordered me to go to my meals. A painful accident happened to me on my first attempt, and I am now confined to my bed. It had rained and sleeted the night before, and the long piazza was covered over with ice. The morning was windy and bitter cold; but knowing I could not afford to miss a meal, I took up my crutches and began my walk over the frozen ground to the nearest steps of the circular piazza. I was filled with dread on finding it covered with sleek, glassy ice, and used my crutches and right foot with great care and slowness. My left foot and leg were tied up as usual by a white cloth swing suspended around my neck, and I feared I might fall at any time. I was getting along pretty well, stopping frequently to allow parties of prisoners to pass by me on their way to the mess-room, and thus avoided being jostled against and thrown down, when, just as I had reached within two buildings of the breakfast room, and was congratulating myself on my good fortune, some Yankee, guards, composed of Irish and Dutch, met me, and as they did not offer to make room for me, I moved towards one side, and as I did so one of my crutches slipped on the treacherous ice, and I fell forward, throwing, without thought, my wounded foot and leg in front of me, breaking the thin cloth swing as I did so, and falling with all my weight on my disabled limb. The great shock to my whole system, and the intense pain which I endured rendered me utterly helpless and, for a few moments, insensible. My unfortunate leg was again seriously injured and my whole nervous system shocked and unstrung. The soldiers picked me up and assisted me to my room, where I have lain ever since in a state of helplessness and severe pain. Instead of giving me some nourishing food, my principal diet is weak beef soup and blanc mange. Lieutenant Reagan, who suffers a great deal, shares my detestation for blanc mange.
December 21st, 22d, 23d and 24th—Our prison circle has been thrown into a state of feverish excitement by the perpetration of one of the most brutal and cowardly outrages ever inflicted upon unarmed, helpless, wounded prisoners of war and brave, honorable gentlemen and soldiers. Lieutenant Morgan, of North Carolina, and Lieutenant Hudgins, of Virginia, were apprehended in a very daring and reckless attempt to escape from the Point, by seizing a small boat fastened to the river bank and rowing to the Virginia shore. Both of these officers had been wounded, and Hudgins was still on crutches, and the probabilities are, if they had not been swamped and drowned during the dark, blustering night, that the terrible cold and piercing wind would have frozen them to death, clothed as they were, before they could have reached the Virginia shore, said to be over two miles distant. It was a very hazardous attempt, but they preferred risking the danger to longer bearing the insults and cruelty they daily suffered. While Morgan was striking at the chain which fastened the boat, the noise was heard, and he and his bold comrade were arrested and closely confined all night in a guard room, without fire or blankets. They were afterwards clad in a peculiar felon's suit, made of blankets sewed up before and open behind, the close fitting body being joined to the covering for the arms and legs, all being one garment. They wore blanket caps running to a point, with tassels; a ball and chain, attached only to condemned criminals, was fastened to a leg of each. This infamous and barbarous treatment of gallant Confederate officers, honorable prisoners of war, under no parole whatever, was a shame and disgrace to the authorities who ordered its infliction, and certainly no injury nor shame to the brave men sought to be insulted and dishonored. The punishment was intended to insult us all, and to humiliate us as much as possible; but they degraded and debased themselves by their utter want of chivalry and magnanimity, and their harsh, unsoldierly and cruel treatment of helpless prisoners. These men had violated none of the laws of war, had broken no pledges, were guilty of nothing unbecoming officers and gentlemen, and were merely trying to exercise a divine and inalienable right to take care of their own persons, and to escape from durance uncommonly vile, if possible. In the felon's garb mentioned, and with ball and chain attached to their limbs, these gentlemen were sent back to their quarters during the day, to be remanded to the chilly guard room at night. Their clothing had all been taken from them and retained, when they were forced to don their present degrading garments. We were all justly very indignant at the insult offered us, and a committee, composed of Colonel Hinton, Major Hanvey and Major Taylor, was sent to remonstrate against the gross indignity. Major Brady was interviewed; but showed himself anything but a high-toned gentleman, falsified promises made, and did not repudiate the charge of harsh and unsoldierly conduct towards prisoners of war, nor remove the cause of complaint. His whole course is a reproach and scandal to himself and his Government. He brands us "Rebels," and treats us as if we were criminals of the lowest type. We should be proud of the noble name "Rebel." It is borne by those dead heroes, Generals Albert Sydney Johnston, Stonewall Jackson, J. E. B. Stuart, Leonidas Polk, R. E. Rodes and T. R. R. Cobb, by Colonels R. T. Jones and B. B. Gayles, of my own beloved regiment, and by hosts of other gallant officers and no less brave privates, who have been transferred from the Confederate army to that glorious encampment where the white tents of the just are never struck, and where the laureled soldier bleeds and dies no more. The great Captain of us all has promoted these Rebels to higher rank, and given them more honorable and exalted commissions. George Washington, Francis Marion, Putnam, Thomas Jefferson, Patrick Henry and "Light Horse" Harry Lee (father of our beloved R. E. Lee), were all rebels. The glorious name is the patronym of all the mighty dead of this land. Almost every name held in honor is that of a Rebel: Rebels give names to our universities and colleges, to our institutions, to our counties, cities and streets. The greatest and noblest of our dead, the purest and most honored of our living, bear the grand old names of Rebels. No efforts of Lincoln, Seward, Stanton, Beast Butler, Provost Marshal Brady and others of that ilk, brought into dishonorable notoriety by the accidents of war can make the noble title "Rebel" odious. We, who share the illustrious title in common with Davis, Robert E. Lee, Joseph E. Johnston, Braxton Bragg, Wade Hampton, Jubal A. Early, A. P. and D. H. Hill, M. F. Maury, Raphael Semmes and thousands of other true-hearted patriots, will never blush at its application to ourselves, but our eyes will grow brighter, our steps firmer, our bodies more erect, and our hearts will beat more exultingly, as we listen to the proud and glorious appellation. Our martyred Savior was called seditious, and I may be pardoned if I rejoice that I am a Rebel, a Rebel against tyranny and oppression. I have as my Rebel comrades the best, brightest and bravest of my native South, men whose names are garnered up in her heart, whose valor sheds unfailing lustre upon her arms, and whose fame is among the jewels of her crown, and over the hero dust of many of whom her most precious tears have been shed.
December 25th, Christmas Day—How keenly and vividly home recollections come to my mind to-day! I see the huge baked turkey, the fat barbecued pig, delicious oysters, pound and fruit cakes, numerous goblets of egg-nogg and syllabub, etc., etc., on my beloved mother's hospitable table. My brothers and sisters are sitting around it as of yore, and my dear fond mother, with warmest love and pride beaming from her still handsome blue eyes, now somewhat dimmed by approaching age, sits at one end bountifully helping each plate to a share of the well-cooked eatables before her. How happy I would be if I were with them! I can but repeat the words of the familiar song—
|"Do they miss me at home, do they miss me?
'Twould be an assurance most dear
To know that some loved one was saying,
To-day I wish he were here."
Those touching words, too, of "Home, Sweet Home," flash before my memory, and I cannot restrain the tears that rush to my eyes. Over three months have passed since I have heard from home and mother. What changes may have occurred since my capture, the 19th of September! Two of my brothers are members of the First Georgia reserves, now guarding the thirty thousand Yankee prisoners at Andersonville—one is major, and the other, a youth of sixteen years, is one of Captain Wirz's sergeants. These two are no doubt absent from the annual home reunion. Others may be too. I hope and feel that my brothers are civil and kind to the Yankees they are guarding. They are too brave to act otherwise. My poor prison dinner was in sad contrast with my Christmas dinners at home. It consisted of beef soup, a small piece of pickled beef, some rice, and a slice of loaf bread. Lastly, to our astonishment, about three mouthsful each of bread pudding, not very sweet, were handed us.
December 26th, 27th and 28th—I am able to get about on my crutches, but still feel the effects of my severe fall. Major Hanvey, who sleeps in a small room above mine, is quite sick. Last night I sat up alone with him until he went to sleep, long after midnight. He was suffering from a high fever and was delirious. His thoughts were of his wife and little daughter, in far off Georgia, and he spoke of them in the tenderest, fondest manner. I fear he will never see his loved ones again.
December 29th, 30th and 31st—The last days of eventful, never to be forgotten 1864. All hope of a speedy exchange is now dying within us. The prospect is exceedingly gloomy. Savannah has been captured by Sherman, and Hood defeated in Tennessee. I am not at all despondent, however, and believe the Confederate States will be successful and independent yet. It is rumored we are to be removed in a day or two to Old Capitol Prison, Washington city. Our surgeon confirms the report. Point Lookout will be left with no regrets.