Southern Historical Society Papers/Volume 03/March/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
March 1877

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

[Continued from February Number.]

March 7th to 12th, 1865—A number of prisoners, mainly from the privates' pen, have signified a willingness to take the hated oath of allegiance, and are now kept in separate barracks, clothed in blue suits and given better rations. They are called "Galvanized" men, and sometimes "Company Q." These weak and cowardly men are willing to betray their own country and people, and swear to support a government which they can but detest. Such men could not have been of any real value to the South, but rather skulking nuisances, and they are to be pitied as well as despised. They are either ignorant and deluded, or actuated by self-interest or want of principle. They regard their personal comfort and safety more than the good of their relatives and friends and their native land. Many prisoners seem to have thrown aside all modesty. We have to wash our hands, faces and feet in the sluggish ditch-water which runs through the campus, and a good many strip to their waists and bathe themselves, utterly regardless of the presence of hundreds of fellow prisoners passing constantly near them. The water is brackish and covered with green scum. Men stand in a row along the banks, and all wash at one time. The dirty off-scouring from each man flows to his neighbor, and is used again. Some throw back the water with their hands and seek a cleaner supply. The whole scene is sickening.

Beer, made of fermented corn meal and cheap or mean molasses, and weak lemonade are sold at various stands, made of boxes, in the pen, and are bought by those able to do so. I doubt their cleanliness, and have touched but few glasses. Want of proper medicine and attention, combined with boiled fresh beef and thin, watery soup, keep many ill with constant diarrhœa. There are no night-vessels, and at all times of these cold, wintry nights officers are forced to go to the rear, several hundred feet distant. Fresh boiled beef, without vegetables, seems to cause and aggravate the very prevalent disease. The Yankee surgeons know it, but order no change of diet. Such meanness is despicable in its littleness and barbarity. It is known that Ahl and Wolfe have spies among the prisoners, who mingle freely with them, seek their confidence and then basely betray them. They listen to and watch every one, and promptly act the ignoble parts of eavesdroppers and tale-bearers. Think of a Government that will thus establish a cunning and cruel system of espionage over helpless victims, writhing under their strong, relentless grasp! Surely the Confederate War Secretary would not descend to such a small business as Secretary Stanton does! Sentinels walk on the parapet above the lofty fence which separates the pens of the officers and privates, and can watch both pens from their elevated positions. But despite their vigilance notes are frequently thrown over the parapet, and communication is thus kept up across the intervening barrier. These notes are tied to a small rock, or piece of coal, and sometimes a prisoner is struck on the face or person, causing some injury or hurt; but no one gets angry at the unintentional blow, and the note is promptly delivered to the party addressed. The notes from the privates abound in complaints against Schœpff, Ahl, Wolfe and their guards, and of great scarcity of rations. Their treatment must be hard and cruel.

March 13th to 15th—About 100 officers and 1,000 men have been sent off for exchange, and 500 officers arrived from Fort Pulaski, near Savannah, and Hilton Head, South Carolina. These sickly, limping, miserable looking men were chosen from the prisoners last August to be sent to Sullivan's Island near Charleston, and placed under fire of the Confederate batteries, in retaliation, it was said, for the placing of Federal prisoners in the city under the fire of the Yankee batteries. The Yankees had been shelling the city, killing women and children, and the Confederate General, to put a stop to such brutality, threatened to expose his prisoners to the fire if it were not discontinued. At first, in May, fifty officers were chosen by lot and sent to Charleston, but finding General Beauregard had not put his threat into execution, they were exchanged. Then, in August, 600 more were sent, and subjected to the harshest treatment, exposed in the sickly, malarial season to the severest hardships. For forty-three days they lived on ten ounces of meal and four ounces of pickles per day. Not a vegetable nor a pound of meat was issued to them, and consequently that depressing and dreaded disease (scurvy) became general among them. Their lean, emaciated persons were covered with livid spots of various sizes, occasioned by effusion of blood under the cuticle. They looked pale, languid and low spirited, and suffered from general exhaustion, pains in the limbs, spongy and bleeding gums. All this was caused by their rigid confinement and want of nourishing food. They were not given food sufficient to supply the elements necessary to repair the natural waste of the system. Nearly one out of every six died from this inhuman treatment, and on their arrival at Fort Delaware, for the second time, over one hundred out of five hundred were sent to the hospital. The feet and legs of many were so drawn by the fearful disease as to compel them to walk on their toes, their heels being unable to touch the ground, and they used either sticks in each hand, or a rude crutch, sometimes two of them, to aid them in hobbling along. Several, unable to walk at all, were carried on stretchers to the hospital. Our hard fare and rough treatment at Fort Delaware has been princely compared with that inflicted upon these scurvy-afflicted Fort Pulaski sufferers. Captain Thomas W. Harris, a Methodist minister, of the Twelfth Georgia infantry; Lieutenant W. H. Chew, of Seventh Georgia cavalry—both old collegemates of mine; Captain A. C. Gibson, of the Fourth Georgia; Captain J. W. Fannin, of the Sixty-first Alabama, formerly a private in my company, and Captain L. S. Chitwood, of Fifth Alabama, among the new arrivals, are all old acquaintances and friends of mine. Fifty-nine officers and several hundred men, belonging to Wharton's command in the Valley of Virginia, captured by Sheridan, were brought to the fort, and several officers from Fort La Fayette, including General R. L. Page, arrived soon after. The latter were captured at Fort Morgan, near Mobile.

March 16th—Miss Eliza Jamison, my fair unknown friend of Baltimore, sent me five dollars, promised to correspond with me herself, and enclosed a bright, sparkling letter, full of wit and humor, from a young lady friend of hers, signed "Mamie," offering to "write to me once in awhile to cheer me in my prison life." Miss Eliza Jamison thus describes "Mamie": "She is full of mischief and fun, but very discreet and particular. She is small, has very dark hair, beautiful black and very expressive eyes, small and pretty. Her nose is large and her worst feature. She is smart and entertaining, and I think one of the nicest little bodies in the world; I am sure you will think the same." "Mamie" writes fluently and elegantly, and tells me she recently lost her youngest brother, twenty years old, in the Southern army. She will not allow Miss Jamison to give me her address, which is really tantalizing. Mr. J. W. Fellows, of Manchester, New Hampshire, writes he has sent me twenty-five dollars, but it has never been received. Such a handsome remittance would be a God-send to me now. I suppose the letter examiner pocketed it.

March 17th and 18th.—Captain Browne, Captain Hewlett, Lieutenant Arrington and I changed our quarters to Division 27, and are messing together. Twenty-seven is known as the "Kentucky division," as most of its inmates are from that State and belonged to Morgan's cavalry, having been captured during the famous Ohio raid, and for awhile confined in the Ohio State Penitentiary, their heads shaved, and dressed in felon's garb. A majority of them are of fine personal appearance, intelligent, social and well dressed. They receive money from relatives at home, and live well from the sutler's stores. Lieutenant William Hays, of Covington, Ky., better known as "Doctor" Hays, having been a practicing physician at home, is chief of the division. He has lost one eye, but is a handsome man, very polite, and universally popular. He acts as postmaster also. We luckily found bunks next to a window on the second tier, and quite near the stove, in the centre of the room. The light from the window is excellent for reading and writing purposes, and I shall not lose the opportunity. On the other side of the window are the bunks of Lieutenant Joe G. Shackelford and Lieutenant H. C. Merritt, of the Third Kentucky cavalry, with Lieutenant J. D. Parks and Lieutenant S. P. Allensworth, of Second Kentucky cavalry. Shackelford is just across from my bunk. He is a tall, well built, plain spoken, honest fellow. He has been in prison over twenty months, but remains unterrified and resolute in his allegiance to the Confederacy. I enjoy his strong, expressive language much. Browne, Arrington and Fannin play chess nearly all day. I play it very indifferently, and prefer reading. Colonel R. C. Morgan, a younger brother of General John H. Morgan, Captain C. C. Corbett, a Georgian in the Fourteenth Kentucky cavalry; Lieutenant M. H. Barlow (the wit of the room), and Lieutenant I. P. Wellington, both of the Eighth Kentucky cavalry, are among the inmates of 27. Colonel R. W. Carter, of the First Virginia cavalry, a large, military-looking man, and Captain R. T. Thom, of General Page's staff, are also inmates of the division. Captain David Waldhauer, of the Jeff. Davis legion from Savannah, and commander of the "Georgia Hussars," occupies a bunk near mine. He has lost his right arm. I find him to be a very agreeable gentleman. Lieutenant J. E. Way, of the same cavalry legion, is with Captain Waldhauer. He is a very amiable and modest officer.

March 19th.—To my surprise I received a letter from Abe Goodgame, a mulatto slave belonging to Colonel Goodgame of my regiment, who was captured in the Valley, and is now a prisoner confined at Fort McHenry, having positively refused to take the oath. He asks me to write to his master when I am exchanged, and tell him of his whereabouts, and that he is faithful to him. I replied to Abe in an encouraging way, and showed his letter to several officers of my brigade. The blatant Abolitionists of the North would scarcely be convinced of the truth of this negro slave's fidelity to his master, if they were to see it. They are totally ignorant of the real status of the divine institution of slavery, and would be shocked at such an evidence of love for and faithfulness to his master as this slave exhibits. Abe is an honest, industrious negro, and I am sorry for him. His captors, not understanding nor appreciating his devotion to principle and affection for his master and his Southern home, will, I fear, treat him with great severity, work him unmercifully and feed him scantily. I have not heard a word nor received a line from home since my capture. To-day, five long, weary, dreary, miserable months ago, occurred the battle of Winchester, and I have not heard from my beloved mother since then. I know letters are written to me, but no doubt they are destroyed through the whims and caprice of some venomous clerk, who wickedly throws them aside or burns them. All letters written or received by prisoners are opened and examined by some careless and heartless upstart official, who has or assumes full power and authority to destroy any he may whimsically object to.[1]

  1. Louisiana "Confederate" will please accept my most grateful thanks for the handsome and highly-appreciated present received safely from New Orleans, January 22d, ultimo. It was sweet and most welcome.   R. E. P.