Southern Historical Society Papers/Volume 03/February/Diary of Captain R. E. Park

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For works with similar titles, see Diary of Captain R. E. Park.

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

[Continued from January No.]

February 10th, 11th and 12th, 1865—There is a tent of sutler's supplies near the mess hall, kept by an avaricious Yankee, named Emery, who is believed to be a partner of General Schœff. Tobacco, matches, oil for cooking lamps, stationery, baker's bread, pies, cakes, apples, onions, etc., all of very poor quality, are kept for sale, and from 500 per cent. to 1,000 per cent. profit is charged. Emery's position is a paying, if not a very dignified one. Jolly Sam Brewer, the clever Twelfth Alabama sutler, would have rejoiced at a quarter of Emery's huge profits. There is very often an eager, clamorous throng crowded around his tent, checks in hand, and held aloft, eager to buy the inferior articles, sold at prices so far above their value. Emery and his clerks are vulgar, impertinent, grasping Yankees, and elegant Southern gentlemen are frequently compelled to submit to disagreeable familiarties from these ill bred men. The extortioners are openly denounced and unsparingly criticised and ridiculed by the impatient, hungry and poverty-stricken Rebels, as they anxiously await their time to be served. The enormous prices for very poor articles on sale are very candidly and freely complained of and objected to by the needy customers. But while they grumble, stern necessity forces them to buy. In clear weather the prisoners promenade in the open area and exercise by running, jumping, pitching quoits, etc.

February 13th, 14th, 15th and 16th—The privy is on the beach, where the tide comes in, 150 feet or more distant from the nearest division. It is open and exposed in front, and is in sight of Delaware city. The seats are very filthy, and cannot be occupied without being defiled. The sea water proves no disinfectant, and the constant frequenters of the place are sickened by the offensive odors which are wafted to their sensitive olfactories. Diarrhœa and dysentery are so prevalent, and the pen is so crowded, that parties are very often compelled to wait an hour or longer before they can be relieved. The floor and seats are too filthy and nauseating for description; yet very many who suffer from the diseases mentioned visit the foul place dozens of times, day and night, in rain, wind, hail, sleet and snow, and in spite of the most intense cold and blackest, most impenetrable darkness, pollution is scarcely avoidable on such occasions.

February 17th, 18th and 19th—Plenty of "grape," i. e., rumors afloat of a speedy general exchange. I have written home by my old college-mate, Capt. Zeke Crocker, who is on the exchange list. Much of my time is spent writing to my lady friends in the Valley of Virginia and Baltimore, and to relatives South. No letters from home, however, reached me by flag of truce boat, though I know they have been written. The authorities are intentionally negligent about forwarding and delivering our letters from Dixie to us. Have read "Macaria," by Miss Evans; "The Caxtons," by Bulwer, and am reviewing arithmetic and algebra. A number of valuable books have been sent us by the ever thoughtful and attentive Baltimore ladies. They will never know how much they have done, in various kindly ways, to ameliorate our unhappy condition and relieve the dull tedium of our monotonous life. God bless the noble women of Baltimore! They are angels of mercy to us. The supply of drinking water has been scarce and insufficient lately, and those who have been too nice to use the filthy ditch water, so unpleasant to sight and smell, for bathing purposes, have been forbidden to use the fresh water in the hogsheads. The drinking water is brought over from Brandywine creek, and is dipped out of the hogsheads by means of tin cups, coffee pots, buckets, etc. It cannot be clean, but is greatly to be preferred to the brackish ditch water. It is to be hoped we will not have a water famine. Many pleasant acquaintances have been formed recently.

February 20th—Mr. Bennett, of Baltimore, sent me one dollar and a supply of paper, envelopes and stamps. Ahl and Wolf are, like many other civilians, "clothed in a little brief authority" over their fellow men, very arrogant and offensive. They seem to delight in harassing and annoying the defenceless victims under their care and control. They evidently regret the prospect of resumption of exchange. When we leave, their occupation as turnkeys will be gone, and the dreaded "front" stares them in the face. Their coward hearts quail at the thought. Wolf gave up watches and Confederate money to most of the prisoners. This is a good indication of approaching exchange. I am satisfied that President Davis and the Confederate Government have been ready for it at any time. No blame is attached to our leaders. Colonel Robert Ould has labored zealously in our behalf. My hopes of release have revived.

February 21st, 22d, 23d and 24th—A movement has been on foot to stop the gambling and noise after ten o'clock, and many of the leading gamblers have approved the idea. Colonel Wm. J. Clark, Twenty-fourth North Carolina troops, has been elected chief of the division, and made a short speech, announcing that, by vote, it was agreed that all lights should be put out and quiet observed after the usual nine o'clock prayers. My friends Arrington and Browne aided me actively in canvassing in favor of this excellent change. Colonel Clark is an old army officer. Midshipman Howell, a relative of Mr. Davis, is an inmate of 28. Lieutenant E. H. Crawley, Twenty-sixth Georgia; Captain J. H. Field, Eighth Georgia; Lieutenant Q. D. Finley, Eighteenth Mississippi, and Adjutant Alex. S. Webb, of Forty-fourth North Carolina troops, are among the inmates also.

The newspaper accounts of Sherman's march from Georgia through South Carolina are heartrending. An extract from one of them says: "Sherman burnt Columbia on the seventeenth instant. He had burnt six out of seven farm houses on the route of his march. Before he reached Columbia, he had burned Blackville, Graham, Bamburg, Buford's bridge and Lexington, and had not spared the humblest hamlet. After he left Columbia, he gave to the flames the villages of Allston, Pomaria, Winnsboro', Blackstock, Society Hill, and the towns of Camden and Cheraw." Would that the prisoners at Fort Delaware could be exchanged and sent to confront this ruthless, heartless destroyer of the homes and subsistence of helpless women and children. We would teach him a wholesome lesson. The paragraph quoted reminds me of a letter written by General Sheridan. After the battle of Fisher's Hill, he wrote from Strasburg as follows: "Lieutenant J. R. Meigs, my engineer officer, was murdered beyond Harrisburg, near Dayton. For this atrocious act, all the houses within an area of five miles were burned. In moving back to this point, the whole country, from the Blue Ridge to the North Mountain, has been made entirely untenable for a rebel army. I have destroyed over 2,000 barns, filled with wheat, hay and farming implements, over 70 mills, filled with flour and wheat; have driven in front of the army over 4,000 head of stock, and have killed and issued to the troops not less than 3,000 sheep. This destruction embraces the Luray Valley and the Little Fort Valley, as well as the Main Valley." These two vandals fight with the torch better than the sword, and seem to glory in their own infamy. The South Carolina prisoners are greatly troubled by the terrible accounts of Sherman's destructive march through their native State.

February 25th and 26th—The terrible reports of Sherman's cruelty during the burning of Columbia, and of his subsequent march into North Carolina, are appalling and disheartening to us all. The Carolinians are specially grieved and indignant. Sherman's whole course in the South is in bold and dishonorable contrast with the gentle and generous conduct of Lee and his veterans in Maryland and Pennsylvania. I well remember that memorable march into the enemy's territory, far more daring and heroic than the unapposed marches of the brutal Sherman through Georgia and Carolina. I was with Lee when he invaded Pennsylvania, and was wounded at Gettysburg, just before our brigade entered the town, July first, 1863. General Lee's famous order, dated June 27th, 1863, at Chambersburg, Pennsylvania, is brought forcibly to my mind. The following immortal words, extracted from that renowned order, ought to be repeated daily in the ears of the inhuman Sherman:

"The Commanding General considers that no greater disgrace could befall the army, and through it our whole people, than the perpetration of the barbarous outrages upon the innocent and defenceless, and the wanton destruction of private property, that have marked the course of the enemy in our own country. Such proceedings not only disgrace the perpetrators and all connected with them, but are subversive of the discipline and efficiency of our army. The yet unsullied reputation of our army, and the duties exacted of us by civilization and Christianity, are not less obligatory in the country of the enemy than in our own. It must be remembered that we make war only upon armed men, and that we cannot take vengeance for the wrongs our people have suffered, without lowering ourselves in the eyes of all whose abhorrence has been excited by the atrocities of our enemy, and offending against Him to whom vengeance belongeth, and without whose favor and support our efforts must all prove in vain. The Commanding General, therefore, earnestly exhorts the troops to abstain, with most scrupulous care, from unnecessary or wanton injury to private property; and he enjoins upon all officers to arrest and bring to summary punishment all who shall, in any way, offend against the orders on this subject.

"R. E. Lee, General."

This Christian and humane effort to mitigate the horrors of war confers greater glory on Lee than all the villages, towns, cities and private residences burnt by Sherman and his cruel followers can ever reflect upon his dishonored name. Many of Lee's soldiers had suffered great mental anguish and immense pecuniary losses by the cruel devastation and cowardly atrocities of their enemies, but when they, exultant and victorious, invaded the country of their inhuman enemy, they nobly restrained their angry passions and kept pure and bright their unsullied reputations. They heroically resisted the alluring temptation to inflict merited retaliation, and like brave, Christian soldiers and gallant gentlemen, scrupulously obeyed the humane orders of their beloved chieftain. But this sublime lesson of generosity and magnanimity was lost upon the vandal enemy. In base return for Lee's noble, Christian conduct they despoiled and desecrated his own home at Arlington, and the cherished homes of his brave followers in Virginia, Georgia and South Carolina. Sherman's base course, his wicked crimes, have forever stained his name and cause, dishonored his country and disgraced his triumph. The grand, glorious and humane Lee and his chivalrous officers and brave men disdained to retaliate by imitating the cruel deeds of the malignant Sherman, Sheridan and Grant and their hordes of reckless ruffians. We have just reason to be proud of the magnanimous conduct of our peerless leader, while the Yankees must hang their heads in shame at the evil deeds perpetrated by their chosen commanders. In Southern parlance, the terms soldier and gentleman are synonymous, and our officers and men pride themselves upon that "chastity of honor," which, as Edmund Burke expressed it, "feels a stain like a wound."

February 27th—A party of ninety or one hundred officers and a few hundred privates were paroled and left for Richmond. Some of the officers bribed Ahl and Wolf with gold watches and greenbacks to put their names on the paroled list. Influential Northern friends aided others, and a few sold their places and remained behind.

February 28th—One hundred and three officers, of those earliest captured, were paroled to-day for exchange. We are growing hopeful of a speedy return to our homes and all are in fine spirits. The despondent are becoming cheerful and happy at the exhilarating prospect of release from durance vile.

March 1st and 2d—Lieutenant Waldman, our division postmaster, surprised and delighted me by handing me the following letter this morning after "letter call":

Baltimore, February 22d, 1865.

Captain R. E. Park:

Dear sir—I have lately learned that you are a prisoner at the Old Capitol, and too delicate to make known your wants. Now let me beg, as a great favor, that you will write me immediately, and call on me for whatever you may need. I shall attend promptly and with the greatest pleasure to your commands. You don't know how highly we ladies feel ourselves honored to be able to add in any way to your comfort. The longer your list the better I'll be pleased.

Very respectfully,

Miss Eliza Jamison, 
43 Calvert street, Baltimore, Md.

This charming, elegantly expressed letter had been reforwarded from Washington, and its kind, cordial words gave me unqualified pleasure. The generous writer is one of those earthly angels from that glorious city of angelic women, Baltimore. My astonishment was profound, for I had never heard of Miss Eliza Jamison before, and could not divine how she had heard of me. I promptly and gratefully responded to her highly valued note, telling her candidly that my greatest want was a few greenbacks, adding that a cheerful young lady correspondent, who would help to revive my spirits and drive away unwelcome thoughts of my depressing surroundings, would prove very acceptable.

March 3d to 6th—The parapet between our pen and that of the privates, on which the sentinels walk, had several ladies and gentlemen walking upon it a day or two ago, and they looked kindly and compassionately upon the emaciated, ragged, suffering Rebels in the two pens. One of the ladies carried her handkerchief to her eyes to wipe away the generous tears, as she gazed pityingly upon the abject misery and wretchedness before her. I hear they were Delaware ladies, and that Senator Saulsbury was one of the gentlemen in the party. If these sympathizing people could spend a few hours inside the pens, among the prisoners, and witness the distressing evidences of hunger to be constantly seen there, they would have pitied us with truest pity, and not blamed the darring, starving men for oft-repeated attempts to escape by swimming, under friendly cover of night, across the bay to the Delaware shore. Hunger seems to have dissipated the pride and self-respect of many of the prisoners. They will perform the most menial services for the most trivial gift or smallest articles of food. When the bunks and floors are swept, pieces of bread crusts and crumbs and stale scraps of food are sought for and eagerly gathered up by hungry officers, who have no means to purchase from the sutler, and for whom the rations issued are entirely insufficient. It is a painful spectacle to see them snatch the dirty scraps and quickly devour them, or hastily thrust them in their jackets, and stand ready for another grab. A number gather promptly every morning around these piles, and contend for the spoils. Their hunger must be torturing to thus humiliate and degrade themselves in the effort to secure such insufficient and filthy cast away scraps of stale bread. These poor fellows eat rats and mice whenever they can catch them. How miserable their good mothers and loving wives would be if they knew to what wretched straits their imprisoned sons and husbands were reduced. Surely the powerful Government ought to feed these poor, suffering, starving men. In Southern prisons the prisoners are issued the same rations as their guards, both in quantity and quality. How glad we would be if we were fed as our guards are. Many work hard all day, unloading vessels, rolling hogsheads and barrels, etc., and receive an extra ration only as pay. Three crackers ("hardtack," as it is called) and a cup of coffee for breakfast, and a small piece of beef, cup of soup and a third of a loaf of bread for dinner, are now our daily rations. These are for stout and small, sick and well, and are not enough for a hearty well man. Many eat the rations from dire necessity, as the only alternative is to starve. Some men require more food than others, and the small amount given is not enough to satisfy the least hungry. Guttapercha rings, breastpins, fans, buttons and canes are made by ingenious prisoners as a means to raise money. The patterns are numerous, and many are unique and beautiful. A few are set in gold, but most are ornamented with silver, tin or lead, fastened with rivets. These materials are bought at a high price from the sutler and secretly from the guards. The articles are bought by visitors occasionally, and by prisoners as prison relics. I have secured some rings for Sister L. Curiously carved pipes, and tasteful chains and necklaces, all of guttapercha and ivy root, are to be found for sale in most of the divisions. They have very few tools, and work ten or twelve hours sometimes for a mere pittance as a reward. Barbers can be found, too, and hair cut or face shaved for only five cents. Captain H., of the Thirteenth Georgia, is my barber.