Southern Historical Society Papers/Volume 01/April/Deposition of T. D. Henry

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Southern Historical Society Papers, April 1876

The following deposition of Mr. T. D. Henry was originally written at Oak Grove, Kentucky, in 1866, and was sent to us a few weeks ago:

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Seeing that the Congress of the United States has appointed a committee to investigate the treatment of Federal prisoners in Southern prisons, I have determined, in my feeble manner, to give an account of what I saw and know to be true, as happening in Federal prisons. I was captured with General Morgan at Salenville, Ohio, July 26th, 1863. After capture was carried to Camp Chase, Ohio, where I remained about one month. I was then, together with all the prisoners at that place, carried to Camp Douglas, Illinois. Prison life from September 1863, until the 12th of April 1864, was comparatively such as a man who, according to the fates of war, had been captured might expect, especially when a captive of a boasted Christian nation. Rations were of very good quality and quantity, the only thing unpleasant was the various and severe punishments which the commandant of the camp (Colonel C. V. Deland) saw fit to inflict. If you bribed one of his guards or escaped by any other means, and was afterwards recaptured and brought back, he would have you tied up by the thumbs just so as the toe would reach the ground. I have known men punished thus, until they would grow so deathly sick that they would vomit all over themselves, their heads fall forward and almost every sign of life become extinct; the ends of their thumbs would burst open; a surgeon standing by would feel their pulse and say he thought they could stand it a little longer. Sometimes he would say they had better be cut down. If this failed to cause them to tell who assisted them in escaping, they were then thrown into an iron-clad dungeon ten by ten square, with a single window ten inches by ten. Think of a man staying in this place forty or fifty days, when it was as full as it could be, their only privy being a little hole in the floor, from which all the odor arose in the room. When this failed a sixty-four pound ball and chain was placed upon their leg, with chain so short as to compel its wearer to carry the ball in their hand, or get some one to pull it in a little wagon while they walked at the side, the chain about twenty-eight inches in length. Some of the balls were worn more than six months. A great many escaped by tunneling. On one occasion a tunnel was discovered under the barrack occupied by (Cluke's regiment) the eighth Kentucky cavalry. Without trying to find out who dug the tunnel, the whole regiment was formed in column of eight deep, and a guard placed around them with instructions to shoot the first man who sat down; this was just after sun up; at two o'clock a man who had just returned the day before from the small-pox hospital, unable to stand longer fell; a guard saw him and fired; one man was killed dead, two others were wounded, one of them losing an arm, as it was afterwards cut off. This same fellow, who did the shooting, was promoted to a corporal's position, whether for this act or not, it is impossible to say, for he affimed that he would not take $100 for his gun, as that was the eleventh prisoner he had shot with it. This shooting was carried to such an extent that if a man in going from his barrack to the privy should stop at night he was shot at. If more than five were seen together in the day, or if two at night, the same thing occurred. If any one was heard to whisper at night, or the least ray of light was seen, the guard would fire into the barracks at once. In each barrack there was only two stoves to two hundred men, and for a stove to warm one hundred men, it was frequently red hot. When taps were sounded (i. e. "lights out") the fire in the stoves could not be put out immediately. The boys were afraid to go to the stove, for some one was nightly killed in the attempt to extinguish the light. A ball fired from a gun which would ordinarily shoot a thousand yards, would, when fired at a close object, go through three or four barracks, sometimes flattening itself against the barrack, more often burying itself in the vitals of some sleeper, who little thought that that was to be his last sleep on this earth. On one occasion as the flag which floated in front of the commandant's quarters was being hoisted the rope broke, letting the flag fall, which being seen by the regiment to which I belonged (second Kentucky cavalry), a terrific yell was given. This so incensed the Yankees that a certain valiant Captain, Gaffeny by name, marched his company, some eighty strong, up to our barracks; had the regiment formed and went up and down the line kicking the men, and swearing that his company, about eighty strong, could whip the whole camp of about five thousand.

About this time Colonel Deland was ordered to the front. He was succeeded by Colonel B. J. Sweet as commandant of camp, Colonel Skinner as commissary of prisoners, and a fiend named Captain Webb Sponable as inspector of prisoners.

From this time forward the darkest leaf in the legends of all tyranny could not possibly contain a greater number of punishments.

Our whole camp was rearranged; the parapet guard were ordered not to fire unless some one tried to escape; a police guard was placed in the prison to do all the devilment which the infernally fertile mind of Captain Sponable could invent; starvation was carried on quite systematically. Our rations for breakfast consisted of five ounces of bread and six ounces of fresh beef. As the rations for two hundred men were boiled in a sixty-gallon kettle, it was necessary in order to cook it done, to boil it to shreds. In fact there was no more nutritious matter in it than in an old dish cloth, for dinner one pint bean soup and five ounces of bread, this was our living. This was not regularly issued, for the slightest offence would cause the captain's direful anger to be aroused, and as he would make most by stopping our rations this was quite a favorite punishment.

His mildest punishment was to get a scantling two inches wide, shave it down until it was only half inch thick on top and put legs about seventeen feet long to it. (This horse, when finished, was called Morgan). Now, for the slight offence of looking at a guard the boys have been placed on this horse for hours, their feet hanging down. Sometimes the Yanks would laugh and say, I will give you a pair of spurs, which was a bucket of sand tied to each foot; also to set the boys astraddle the roof of a dog house. I have seen men who had been left in this condition until the skin and flesh was cut nearly to the bone. Men in the winter would get so cold that they would fall off. When warmed they were put back. Another slight punishment was to saw a barrel in two, cut a hole in one end so as to allow a man's head to go through, but leave the barrel around his shoulders, then march him in the sun until the rays reflected from the barrel would swell his head almost twice its natural size. I have seen men's faces peel all over from this innocent amusement of the guards.

If the least sign of water or spit was seen on the floor the order was, "Come, go to the horse or point for grub," which was to stand with the legs perfectly straight, reach over, and touch the ground with the fingers. If the legs were bent in the least, a guard was present with a paddle, which he well knew how to use. When the guards grew weary of this punishment, another was to make the men pull down their pants and sit, with nothing under them, on the snow and frozen ground. I have known men to be kept sitting until you could see their prints for some days afterwards in the snow and ice. When they got weary of this, they commenced whipping, making the men lay on a barrel, and using their belts, which had a leaden clasp with sharp edge, the belt would often gather wind so as to turn the clasp edgeways; every lick inflicted thus cut entirely through the skin.

If more than five men were seen together, or if anyone was heard to whisper or spit upon the floor, it was certain to be followed by one of these punishments. Frequently men sick in barracks were delirious; sometimes one or two in a barrack were crazy. These were the cause of a whole barrack of men being mounted on a horse or punished in other ways. Sometimes a guard would come in, and swear he heard some one whispering. He would make four or five men get up, with nothing but their underclothes to protect them against a climate where the thermometer stood twenty degrees below zero. Shooting about this time was less frequent. The fiends were satisfied with such punishment as would most likely end in death. At this period we were reinforced by the prisoners captured in front of Nashville. They, after being cooped up in the cars four or five days, were nearly dead for water. The hydrants were frozen up, and we had eaten all the snow inside the prison. The poor fellows would lay down at or as close to the dead-line as possible, and reach their arm through and pull the snow to them. I saw one of the guards standing twenty-five steps from a prisoner thus engaged shoot at him three times. Fortunately the police guards were armed with pistols; had it been a rifle the poor fellow must have died the first shot.

Think of a man's mind being racked by all of these punishments, for the innocent suffered as well as the guilty, and as frequently, when no one was to blame, were all punished; and it is almost a miracle that anyone should have remained there twenty months without losing his reason.

T. D. Henry,
Company E, Duke's Regiment, Second Kentucky Cavalry, General J. H. Morgan's command.

Sworn to before me this third day of March, 1876.

Will. A. Harris,
Notary Public in and for San Bernardino county, State of California.