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

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Southern Historical Society Papers: Volume 3  (1877)  by Robert Emory Park
Diary of Captain R. E. Park
January 1877

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

[Continued from December No.]

February 5th, 1865 (Sunday)—My sleep was a very cold and uncomfortable one last night, and I rose early to warm myself by the single stove in the "division." The "pen," as our quarters are called, embraces an area of near two acres. The building, a mere shell, unceiled and unplastered, is on three sides, with a high, close plank fence on the fourth side, separating us from the privates' barracks. The long side of the building (barracks, as it is called), parallel with the fence, is about 300 feet in length, running east and west, and the other two sides or ends are each about 150 feet long. The campus or exercise ground is low and flat, wet and muddy. There are narrow plank walks, intersecting each other, and near the building, which are thronged with passing crowds this wet weather. The bunks or berths in each division are six feet long and about four feet apart, extending entirely across the room. Each division is heated by one large upright stove, which the prisoners keep very hot when sufficient coal can be obtained. The room is so open and cold, however, that a half-dozen or more stoves would be required to heat it. Several poor fellows, who have no bunk-mates and a scarcity of covering, sit up around the stoves and nod all night. The mess-room is next to "22" and near "the rear." It is a long, dark room, having a long pine table, on which the food is placed in separate piles, either on a tin plate or on the uncovered, greasy table, at meal hours, twice a day. No knives nor forks, nor spoons are furnished. Captain Browne kindly brought my meals to me. The fare consists of a slice of baker's bread, very often stale, with weak coffee, for breakfast, and a slice of bread and piece of salt pork or salt beef, sometimes alternating with boiled fresh beef and bean soup, for dinner. The beef is often tough and hard to masticate. It is said to be thrown, bloody and unwashed, in huge pots, filled with water of doubtful cleanliness, and boiled. Many prisoners club together and form messes, and with such money as they receive from Northern friends, or as they can make by their own ingenious work, buy such eatables as can be obtained from the sutler. The prison allowance is poor and scant indeed, and I eagerly consume all I receive. Being on crutches I am unable to run and scuffle for a place at the mess-room table, where all stand to eat, after pushing and crowding in.

Many bring their rations to their bunks, and eat there. All eat as if hungry and ill-fed. Tubs, made of barrels, are placed at night in front of the doors, and used as urinals. These are emptied by details of prisoners early every morning. Each division has its daily details to make fires, sweep up, etc. I spent much of the day writing to friends, informing them of my "change of base" from the Old Capitol to Fort Delaware.

February 6th and 7th—Captain W. M. Dwight, A. A. G., of South Carolina, is "chief" of 22. His duties are to keep a roll of the inmates, make all the details, look after the sweeping and cleaning the room, report names of the sick, preserve order in the division, preside over meetings, etc. Captain D. is an active, gentlemanly officer, and quite popular. I have met Captain E. J. Dean, Colonel P. A. McMichael, Lieutenant James Campell and Adjutant G. E. Manigault, of South Carolina; Adjutant John Law, of Tennessee, Colonel Isaac Hardeman, Captain W. H. Bennett, Captain E. W. Crocker, Captain C. S. Virgin, Adjutant G. C. Conner, of Georgia, and others, but saw them only a few minutes. They are polite and intelligent gentlemen, excellent representatives of their respective States. The majority of the prisoners are worn and feeble by sickness, want of necessary food, wounds, scurvy, personal care, anxiety and privation. Many are sadly depressed on account of long confinement and cruel delay in exchanges. Some are in complete despair. Others make Dixie and home themes of constant thought and conversation. They dream and sigh, and talk and long for home and its loved ones. A few constitutional cowards, who have a mortal horror of the battlefield, seem contented here. They prefer to risk the annoyances, inconveniences, hunger, insults and diseases of prison to the lesser but more dreaded dangers of the field of battle. This class of persons is very limited. Over 2,000 officers and 7,000 non-commissioned officers and privates are in the two prison pens. Brigadier-General A. Schœff, a Hungarian, is in command, and has two very unpopular and insolent officers, Captain G. W. Ahl and Lieutenant Woolf, as his adjutants. These uniformed plebeians delight in exercising petty tyranny over their superiors in the prison. They are rude, coarse men, with no conception of sentiments of generosity and magnanimity. Woolf is generally drunk, boastful and boisterous. Ahl is more genteel in speech and manner, but less obliging and more deceitful and cruel. General Schœff is disposed to be lenient and kind, but is terribly afraid of his superior officers, especially Secretary Stanton. He is a moral coward, and as false and faithless as the notorious French liar and revolutionist, Barere. General Schœff, the Hungarian, and General Meagher, the Irishman, surely forget the oppressions they pretend to lament in their native lands, while assisting our enemies to enslave and destroy ours. "Consistency is a jewel" they do not prize. Mercenary motives control them.

February 8th—With Captain Browne and Lieutenant Arrington, I left 22, and found somewhat better quarters in division 28. Here we have to climb over two bunks to the uppermost one. Putting my crutches on the bunks above as I ascend, I climb with difficulty, by means of my hands and knees to my bunk, leaving it as seldom as possible. This division is called "The Gambling Hell," and games of faro, keno, poker, euchre, vingt et un, seven-up, chuck-a-luck, etc., are played incessantly, day and night. Gamblers from all the divisions resort to "28." The fascination for games of chance is wonderful, and the utter recklessness with which some men will venture their last "check" is really painful to behold. Many penniless fellows, "dead broke" from repeated fights with the "tiger," stand near and eagerly watch the games for hours in succession. The "faro-bankers," two officers from West Virginia, seem to be flourishing, have plenty of money, and live well from the sutler's. Lieutenant C.C. Carr, of Uniontown, Alabama, bunks next to me. He is in the Forty-fourth Virginia regiment. Carr is an Alabamian in a Virginia command, while I am a Georgian in an Alabama regiment. Lieutenant George R. Waldman, also of the Forty-fourth Virginia, from Baltimore, Maryland, is the popular and accommodating postmaster of the division. He carries off our letters for inspection and mailing, and delivers those received, after the authorities have opened and read them. He also attends "money calls," and brings sutler's checks in lieu of the greenbacks sent to prisoners. It is an interesting sight to see the crowds gather around him, as he calls out the names of those receiving letters. The eyes of the fortunate recipients sparkle with pleasure, and smiles light up their countenances, while the disappointed turn reluctantly and sadly away, with sighs of regret, when the roll has been finished, and their names not called. Some poor fellows never join these expectant crowds, as they have no acquaintances North, and never receive any letters; they are to be pitied. It is a great consolation to know you are not forgotten, though a prisoner. We find it difficult to sleep at night in our new quarters; so many noisy men remain awake, gambling, talking, swearing and walking about. Loud bursts of laughter and horried oaths sometimes arouse and startle us. Such confusion should be stopped after 10 o'clock. Prayers are held by some of the officers in each division at 9 o'clock at night. Wicked 28 is not neglected, and its occupants are usually very quiet and respectful during the exercises, but gambling is actively resumed as soon as "amen" is pronounced. Captain E. A. Jeffress, Twenty-first Virginia regiment, from Clarkesville, Virginia, is one of the few inmates of our room who will lead in prayer. Officers from other divisions assist him.

February 9th—A few officers were paroled to-day for exchange. Why am I not among the number? Very few here are more helpless than I, and the fortunate parties are strong and well. It is difficult to be patient and calm under such treatment. The paroled officers are buoyant and happy, while those who have to remain are correspondingly depressed and wretched. The anxious, increasing desire to be exchanged is positively painful. Nostalgia or homesickness is alarmingly prevalent, and its effects, combined with poor food and rough treatment, are often fatal. Sometimes a paragraph from an eagerly scanned newspaper, or a "grape vine" telegram, having no foundation whatever, makes all hopeful and jubilant, but soon a counter report fills them with gloom and despair. Many declare they would prefer to fight in battle every day to remaining longer in their wretched quarters. Gaming occupies the minds of many. Some read novels and histories, others study ancient and modern languages and mathematics, and thus divert, for the time, their minds from the painful, desperate, hopeless surroundings. A few are actually losing their memories and are in danger of either becoming gibbering idiots or dangerous madmen. A speedy change to home life is the only salvation for them.