Gettysburg: The Fate of the Prisoners

Belle Isle Prison, Richmond, VA

Belle Isle, The Confederate Commandant in the Foreground, The Capitol of the Confederacy in the Distance

Prominent in the foreground is Major Thomas P. Turner, commandant of Belle Isle and Libby Prison.  He is clad in Confederate gray, with a soft felt hat, and his orderly stands behind him.  Before him are some tents of the Union prisoners - a trifle nearer the Capitol at Richmond seen across the river than they care to be at the present juncture.  The crest of the hill on which Major Turner is standing is one hundred and twelve feet above tidewater, overlooking the encampment.  The guard and guard-tents appear in the distance at the edge of the river.


Table of Contents


Introduction

It is estimated the Confederate Army captured 5,000 Federal prisoners at the battle of Gettysburg, not including wounded. The '13th Mass' reported 98 men captured.  The loss was so great in General John C. Robinson's 2nd Division it caused Colonel Charles Wainwright, Chief of First Corps artillery to muse;  “All the regiments look very small & some of them have disappeared altogether; three of the 2d Division were captured entire.”1  Facing a difficult retreat, General Robert E. Lee tried to parole the prisoners on the battle-field to alleviate the difficulty of guarding and feeding so many men in addition to his own troops.  It is estimated that about 1,500 Yankees accepted the parole, though their own officers told them that the parole was 'illegal' and would not be honored by the authorities in Washington.

Secretary of War Edwin Stanton

A shaky agreement  for the exchange of prisoners had been accepted on July 22, 1862 by a cartel of representatives from both sides, chosen to negotiate the terms.  On May 25, 1863, General-in-Chief Henry Halleck ordered the exchanges stopped because of a disagreement with  Jeff Davis about the treatment of captured Negro troops.  Secretary of War Edwin Stanton re-enforced this understanding to the Federal Army, with General Orders No. 207, July 3rd 1863, “declaring that all such paroles were in violation of general orders, and therefore null and void; declaring further that any soldier accepting such parole would be returned to duty and punished for disobedience of orders.” 2

Pictured, Secretary of War Edwin W. Stanton.

The Federal soldiers captured at Gettysburg were offered a battle-field parole by the Confederates.  The Union officers present advised the captives not to take the parole; that it was not legitimate and it would not be recognized by the government.  Still, according to Private Bourne Spooner, about one half the prisoners corralled with him, took it,  which proved to be lucky for them!   It is guessed that of the estimated total of 5,000 Federal captives, about 1,500 dis-obeyed the recommendation of their officers and accepted the parole.  These soldiers started off July 4th under a Confederate guard, and marched to Carlisle, Pennsylvania, then onto West Chester, where a temporary parole camp, Camp Elder, awaited them.  After a time spent in camp, many of the Massachusetts boys made their way home from here, some by hook or crook, and others by waiting several weeks and following orders.  By accepting the parole these men gained an unexpected respite from the war via an improvised furlough.

 The officers and others that obeyed orders and refused the battle-field parole endured a wretched two week forced march to Staunton, Virginia, with little or nothing to eat.  The leg of the journey  from Williamsport to Staunton, was succinctly described by Captain William Wilkins, 1st West Virginia Cavalry who joined the column of prisoners July 5 at Hagerstown.

“Our march from Williamsport to Staunton comprised the whole length of the Shenandoah valley, which is the best watered region I have ever traveled in; yet we suffered horribly for water.  I saw the men, 8 or 10 at once, after having been nearly famished for water, break from the ranks to procure a drink from a spring or a pump by the edge of the road, and, in every case, they were immediately driven back at the point of the bayonet, without having time to get a drop.  It was pitiable, to see them go along, cups in hand, ready to dip and drink from every little mud-puddle or stagnant pool that came within reach; and this, too, in one of the best watered countries in the world...

“And how did you stand it?'  That question was asked me more than one-hundred times on the road.  I answered that nothing kept me up but the resolution that I had formed  never to give up till I fell dead in my tracks  This I told our men, together with the strong and unconquerable desire I had to get back and fight them (the rebs) again which kept me up, but it was by the hardest that I got through several times I reeled and staggered like a drunken man; my head became dizzy, my sight failed me; I almost sunk to the earth  Once I caught hold of my comrade, and steadied myself for a few minutes, and then traveled on again, staggering at every step till a halt was ordered. Toward the last of the tramp, I suffered very much with my feet, for not being used to walking any in the last two years they soon became so blistered that I could not wear my boots and had to take it barefooted.  Being on a McAdamized pike, I soon became badly crippled.  My feet took to swelling and every step I took pained me to the very heart  but I must hurry along.”3

At Staunton the prisoners, estimated to be about 3,500 -  4,000 in number, camped in a hot treeless field overlooking the railroad depot south of town, exposed to the elements, where they waited for rickety rail cars to carry them 136 miles to Richmond.  The trains could only carry about 700 men at a time, and exhausted soldiers often had to push and fight their way into line in order to get a chance at boarding the cars. Believing they would be exchanged and released from captivity the sooner they got to Richmond, many were willing to to do so.   It took more than nineteen days, between July 19 and August 6, to clear the prisoners out of Staunton via the railroad.  In Richmond their fates varied.   Many officers were confined at Libby Prison, a large dark tobacco warehouse along a canal beside the James River.  Others were transferred to prisons in the deep south to alleviate the over-crowded prisons in Richmond.  Enlisted men were sent to Belle Isle, a 6-7 acre Island in the James River, with 2-3 acres set aside as a prison camp.

There is plenty of primary source material from the '13th Mass' on this page.  The stories are divided into two sections, those who accepted the parole and those who did not.

Privates Bourne Spooner, William A. Newhall, and Sergeant Warren Freeman, took the parole.  Their letters and memoirs begin this page. A short bit about Camp Elder, the parole camp in West Chester, Pennsylvania that was their destination, is included in this part of the narrative.

Sergeants George Henry Hill, John Boudwin and Lieutenant Morton Tower did not take the parole and were marched south.  They also recorded their experiences in letters, diaries, and memoirs which are presented on this page.  In between these stories from the regiment is a rare description of the railroad trip from Staunton to Richmond, as reported by William E. Warren of the 17th Connecticut Infantry.

Eleven other ‘13th Mass’ comrades are specifically mentioned in these narratives, which helps to add a bit of detail to their military records.  Information about these soldiers is listed in Part III; Soldiers' Biographies,  at the bottom of this page.

Private Bourne Spooner mentions, Alfred M. Burton.  Sergeant Warren H. Freeman mentions Edgar C. Reed. Sergeant George Henry Hill mentions, Lieutenant Samuel E. Cary, Lieutenant David Whiston, Corporal John B. Curtis, and Private Henry W. Metcalf.  Sergeant John Boudwin mentions Corporals Albert E. Morse and Edward A. Boyd, and Privates John C. Clark, Fred D. Locke, and Charles Christopher MacGraw.  The experiences of these men is as varied as their number.  The stories of officers Cary & Whiston lead the biographies from this group, as they lingered the longest in Southern prisons.


Notes
1.   Charles Wainwright Journals, July 6, 1863, Huntington Library, San Marino, CA
2.   Photographic History of the Civil War in Ten Volumes; The Review of Reviews Company, Ed. Francis Trevelyan Miller, New York, 1911; Vol. 7, p. 112.
3.  Strange and Blighted Land, by Gregory A. Coco, Thomas Publications, 1995.  p. 300 - 301.


Acknowledgments

Two sources were used extensively in the preparation of this page.  They are late author Gregory A. Coco's book, "Strange and Blighted Land, Gettysburg:  The Aftermath of a Battle" Thomas Publications 1995; and Mike Gorman's website 'Civil War Richmond' at www.mdgorman.com. The latter site contains many extensive accounts of prison life at Libby and Belle Isle.  These references helped to fill out the narratives of George Henry Hill, and John Boudwin.  I highly recommend both sources to my readers.

I also want to thank Mr. Art Rideout for doing additional biographical research on the soldiers listed in Part III.


PICTURE CREDITS:  All  images are from the Library of Congress with the following exceptions:  Private Bourne Spooner from his descendant,  Mr. Will Glenn;  The painting [cropped] of girl at piano is titled, "The Reverie" by Charles Gogin, 1900, accessed via Brighton and Hove Museums and Ar Gallery; Camp Elder Historical Marker by Ginger Rae Dunbar for the West Chester Daily Local News;  First Lieutenant Jacob A. Howe from Carlisle Army Heritage Education Center [AHEC], Mass MOLLUS collection;   George Henry Hill from his descendant, Carol Robbins;  A.C. Redwood's illustration of the Confederate Retreat from Battles & Leaders of the Civil War, The Century Company, New York, 1894;   Corporal Albert E. Morse from Mr. Scott Hann;  Two views of Staunton, Va in the 1850's are from the website 'Virginia Places,' created and maintained by Charlie Grymes,  www.virginiaplaces.org;  The photograph of the Locomotive 'Westward Ho'  resides at the West Virginia Regional History Center.  I accessed it at the website West Virginia and North Carolina Rails; by Dan Robie; [http://wvncrails.weebly.com/winifrede-big-eagle-railroad.html];  Photograph of the Crozet Tunnel from Wikipedia;  Photograph of the Exchange Hotel in Gordonsville, VA taken by web master Bradley Forbush;  Photographs of Belle Island Prison at the top of this page, the 'Flag of Truce Boat, New York,' & Portrait of Colonel Thomas E. Rose, from, 'Photographic History of the Civil War in 10 Vols.', Francis Trevelyan Miller & Robert S. Lainier,  NY, Review of Reviews Company, 1911;  Portrait of  Major A. G. Hamilton & Walton Tabor's illustration of Tunneling at Libby, are from Civil War Times Illustrated; Headstone for John B. Curtis is by  Nadeen Sobattka; at Find A Grave;   ALL IMAGES have been edited in PHOTOSHOP.

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Memoirs of Private Bourne Spooner, Company D

Private Spooner leaves a most entertaining account of his post-battle experiences.  While traveling through New York on board a steamer, he references the bloody New York Draft Riots that were then in progress.  More about this will be forthcoming on  a future page of this website.  This manuscript was shared with me by Mr. Will Glenn, a descendant of Private Spooner.

“In The Ranks”

Private Bourne Spooner

Transcribed by Maxine Glenn.

Next day [July 4th] we were up at betimes and en route for Carlisle in the Cumberland Valley.  Our escort was a squad of four or five rebel cavalrymen under the lead of sergeant who carried a flag of truce, i.e., a white handkerchief tied to a stick.  We streamed along the road without any attempt at the formation of a column, and our rebel escort had great difficulty in keeping many of the men from pushing forward in advance of the main body.  They time and again threatened to shoot, especially at halts, when some of the more irrepressible spirits persisted in streaming on in advance of them.  Indeed, it was a novel and strange march to all of us - proceeding in a free and easy manner with no other restriction than in not pushing ahead of the guards.  “Give us a gun to carry,” said some of them, “and ’twill seem more natural.”

As we proceeded through this rich and fertile region, the loyal people, especially womankind, furnished us with food from their doors as we passed.  Huge slices of bread and “apple butter” (Shaker applesauce) were the principal articles of food.  After our hard soldier fare and fasting this food was perfectly delicious and was eaten with great voracity.  Another thing to be remembered  was that this day was our great national anniversary, the Fourth of July.  Towards noon, I believe, it began to rain, and thereafter it increased in force and in the middle of the afternoon came down in drenching sheets.  But the rain was nothing to us.  We were a jolly crowd, traveling pretty much upon our own hook, and the condition of the elements in nowise affected us. As we neared Carlisle we passed through some very picturesque defiles in the mountains.  During the latter part of our journey we met considerable bodies of the Pennsylvania militia, moving to the front.  Their new uniforms, if nothing else, would distinguish them from the regular volunteers; but their great discomfort in consequence of the rain made them the subject of many jocose remarks.  In passing one of the mountain gorges, the effect of its picuturesqueness was much heightened by a sharp thunderstorm which prevailed at the time.

We reached Carlisle before dark and spent some time in roaming about the city.  Several of the houses bore the marks of shells, which had been thrown into the city by a rebel force under Fitz Hugh Lee before it surrendered. We were quartered that night in empty wash-houses, etc., and the next day, I believe, furnished with transportation up to Harrisburg and thence on eastward to Westchester where we were formed into a parole camp.  Our train was composed of baggage cars, and a portion of us, I among the rest, rode on top.  We reached Westchester towards night and were first enclosed in an open space within the limits of the village surrounded by a board fence. The next day we were removed to a field where there was a stream of water and some shade trees running through it for our camp.  A small force of militia were set guard over the camp and whom the boys were disposed to treat with contempt.

Just how many days I spent at this place I don’t know, but I don’t think it could have been over two. I believe I enjoyed the luxury of a bath in the stream, and I also remember visiting a cherry tree nearby and filling myself with its now ripe and luscious fruit - a thing we had hardly tasted of for two years.  About noon four of us belonging the 13th concluded we would cut camp and steer for home as many of the men had already done.  We acted at once upon the suggestion.  A little before one o’clock we managed to elude the guards, and after proceeding a mile or so from camp on the north side we sat down by the roadside to consult our future course.  Many of those who left the camp hired themselves out as harvest hands, as the fields of that region were now yellow with the ripened grain.  We concluded it was best for us to avoid Philadelphia (about twenty-five miles to the east) and other large cities because we were technically deserters, and provost marshals and guards were always on the watch at these places for absentees from the army.  We therefore concluded to strike diagonally across the country in the direction New York.  Our united funds did not exceed a few dollars, and of course only our legs could be relied upon for getting to our distant homes.  Before we started, however, an organ grinder happened to come along, and we had him play us a few tunes for diversion.  Then we proceeded on our tramp, and before we turned in for the night we had traversed over twenty miles. At last, long after dark, we clambered into the haymow of an old barn by the side of the road where we found a comfortable night’s rest.  About daylight the owner of the barn came round to do his chores, when one of the boys slid down from the mow to make his acquaintance.  This so startled the man that he immediately “streaked” for the house.

After enjoying a little laugh over this event we began our second day’s journey.  Without gun, knapsack, haversack or any of our usual impediments we made excellent progress with the greatest of ease.  We were not by any means deserters, in spirit or in fact. We retained our blue uniforms, when we easily might have substituted a citizen’s dress, and passed openly along the road by daylight.  In passing through a place where some quarrymen were engaged, I believe in getting out iron ore, one of the number treated us to a glass of …..

(The last page of the narrative has been damaged.  The following are the portions that are still legible.)

Panoramic View of New York City, 1860's Currier & Ives

We were fortunate in finding a …[steamer?]…… bound for Stamford, Connecticut, whose skipper was as ….. and whole souled a tar as ever breathed, whose name I think was Johnson.  We did not get underway, I think, until afternoon.  At this time the great anti-draft riots were in progress in New York.  The captain cautioned us to keep below the rail, as gangs of roughs were constantly cruising about in boats, eager to wreak their vengeance upon any “boys in blue” whom they might by chance discover.  We lay that night in the stream beyond the Battery.  The city from the water front looked dark and sombre, few lights were to be seen, the rioters at this time having the lower wards of the city pretty much at their mercy, though their brief reign of blood was nearly at an end.  An ominous silence seemed to hang over all.  However, we were not molested and the next day had a most pleasant sail along the East River, through Hell Gate, and down the Sound.   The captain was genial and full of anecdotes and instead of taking the fare we had bargained to pay gave us a dollar himself.  It was bright and balmy Sunday when we entered Stamford Harbor…..

Pictured is a Currier & Ives, Panoramic Map of New York Harbor.  Click to view larger.

After getting ashore we ….  I wandered ….. ground depot, and when the night train ….. came along I got aboard.  I did not purchase a …… ticket before getting into the cars, as I had not money enough to take me home and trusted to luck in getting over the road; and, as good luck would have it, I happened to sit right down in the seat with my fellow prisoner, Burton, who had left the parole camp only the day before and had come right through direct via Philadelphia and New York, braving the provost marshals, who, however, did not molest him.  He loaned me a half dollar, which, with the money I possessed, came within twelve cents I think of the requisite fare, and the conductor, after hesitating a moment, passed me through to Boston.  I walked out to Dorchester and caused a genuine surprise to the folks there.   I duly reported myself at the state House, and was able to secure a very pleasant furlough, all in consequence of my capture at Gettysburg.

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Letters of Warren Freeman & William Newhall;
Parole Camp, West Chester, PA

Letter of Corporal Warren Freeman, July 7th, 1863

For the first time since before the battle of Gettysburg, Sergeant Warren Freeman was able to write a letter home, from the Parole Camp in West Chester.  These letters are from the book, “Letters From Two Brothers Serving In The War For The Union,” Cambridge, 1871.

Parole Camp, West Chester, Pa., July 7, 1863.

Warren H. Freeman

Dear Father, - Well, I am safe after some pretty hard marching and harder fighting, but, as usual, I will refer you to the “Journal” for the particulars.  It is my ninth battle, and the hardest  I have been in yet. Our corps with the Eleventh fought the rebels at Gettysburg on the first day of the series of battles.  After a stunning fight of about five hours our ammunition gave out, and being pressed by the enemy in overwhelming numbers, we fell back on the town, but could not  escape, so we were compelled to surrender.   I think there were about 100 of our regiment taken prisoners, and about 100 killed and wounded.  So you will see there were not many escaped destruction or capture.

While in full retreat I passed near a rebel officer lying on the ground;  he was a very large man, badly wounded, and not able to move.  He spoke to me and wished I would remove him to some place where he would be less exposed to the shot that was falling around.  I declined for want of time and strength to lift him.  Then he requested me to take his handkerchief and wipe the sweat from his face and around his eyes.  This I did cheerfully, and it was all I could do for him.  We were pursued by the rebels in large numbers, and there was considerable danger of his being hit by the balls intended for us.  When exposed in this way to the hot sun and the perspiration starting out freely, it will soon form quite a thick crust, and unless wiped from the neighborhood of the eyes it soon becomes very painful.

Our corps general (Reynolds) was killed, our new brigadier-general (Paul) was killed, our colonel (Leonard) was wounded and taken prisoner, our lieutenant-colonel was taken prisoner, and Major Gould was wounded; and I do not know how many line officers are among the killed and wounded.  Edgar Reed is among the prisoners.  He would not go into the fight but went down into the town, and got taken in one of the hospitals; he has hardly pluck enough for a fighting soldier.

While being marched off the field we passed through a farm-yard, where I saw a rebel wounded officer seated.  He looked at me rather sharp, and then said he had seen me before that I was a paroled prisoner, had broken my parole, etc.  I simply denied the assertion; and there was nothing done about it, though it made me feel a little uncomfortable at the time.

I was used first-rate by the rebels, better than their men are used by ours, I think.

We were kept about two days, then paroled and sent within our lines. We came through Carlisle and Harrisburg to West Chester.  I will write at greater length in a day or two.  I must close now, as it is beginning to rain, and fix up some kind of a shanty to protect me from the weather.

Please direct to Parole Camp, West Chester, Pa.  Thirteenth Regiment Massachusetts Volunteers.

Warren.


Letter of Private William A. Newhall, July 8, 1863

Private Newhall, of Company F,  also wrote home to family from the parole camp to let them know he was alive and well after the battle of Gettysburg.  At the end of his letter he mentions George Atkinson's death.  Charles Roundy who was also in Company F,  identified 'Greasy Cook' Atkinson as the hero of the story, 'General Hartsuff and the Baked Beans' which he included in his memoirs.   You can read the story as told by historian Charles E. Davis, Jr. on the  website here.

William A. Newhall survived the war.  He mustered out of the '13th Mass' on August 1, 1864 with the rank of corporal, Company F.  He settled in Hudson, Mass.  This is the only letter transcription I have from him.

This transcription of Newhall's letter [done by someone else] at the end of page 5 said “Captain Pierce is wounded in the knee.”  I changed this to “Captain Palmer.”  I do not have a copy of the hand-written letter so this is an informed guess on my part.  Private Newhall was in Company F, from Marlboro, and would have known Captain Palmer, who organized Company I, in the same town.  Captain Palmer was badly wounded in the knee at Gettysburg. Captain Elliot C. Pierce of Company H, was attached to the First Corps Ambulance train.  As far as I know he was not wounded at Gettysburg and he is not listed in Lt.-Col. Batchelder's report of officers present at the battle.  According to that list, I think Sam E. Cary was the ranking officer of Co. F at the battle.  - B.F., webmaster,  2/23/2017.

Camp West Chester Penn.
        July 8th, 1863

Dear Sister,
        I will try to write you a few lines to let you know that I am still alive and well and I hope this will find you enjoying the same blessing.  I suppose that you have heard of the Battle of Gettysburg.  Our Regiment was engaged the first day and hard fighting it was to but we didn’t have many men in the fight to what we have had.  Our Regiment fought them about seven hours and then got surrounded and one hundred and four I think was taken prisoners.  I amongst the rest

(2)

(and) busted we was taken to the rear of the Rebel Army and kept their under guard 4 days and then we was sent off on peroll to our lines.  At the time I was taken, there was 27 hundred other more of our Corps taken but while we was prisoners we was used very well, except we did not have Much to eat.  All we had was one pound and 1/8 of flour and a Small piece of pork givein us but otherwise we was treated well.  Some of the men that was taken went to Richmond.  we had our Chois to go to Carlile or Richmond about half of us chose to go to Carlile to our lines   I guess by this time the rest wish that they had come with us.  some thought that the

(3)

Peroll was not good but we run the risk and I guess that we are all right after we got to our lines they Sent us to Harrisburg and from their to West Chester where we are now encamped    we have had the privilege to go around the town and do about as we wanted to but some of the Boys have got drunk and raised the dead and all the rest of us have got to be prosecuted  for it by putting on a guard So that we cant go into town.Cropped painting "Reverie" by Charles Gogin It is the prettiest town and the best folks that I have ever seen.  It seems like home.  The girls are as thick as Bees and do all they can for the wounded men.  I was asked into a house the night I came into

(4)

Town.  Wher I saw 2 or 3 girls playing on a Piano.  I told them I did not look fit to enter any house but they told me not to mind that I was a Soldier and must come in.  I did so and come to find out I was in one of the richest mens houses that was in town.  One of the girls sat down and played and the other sang.  After they got through singing they went to talking about the war.  I had one of the Sixteenth Maine Boys with me and I tell you I never passed an evening so pleasant in my life.  One of the girls is the Prettiest girl I ever saw in my life.  If I ever get through this war I shall come out here and see the folks.  I tell you the girls think a great deal of a soldier.

(5)

I suppose that I shant see any more fighting till I am exchanged.  I should like to stay here until they trade us out  I wrote to Miriam yesterday and told her to Send me 10.00 dollars for I want to get me some things for I lost some stuff and I want some with me. I cant writ much more this time for there is strict (orders) news I can write.  We had Eighty men killed and wounded beside those taken Prisoners so our Regiment is about played out.  Captain Pierce [Palmer] is wounded in the knee.  I don’t know how bad.  I think he was taken Prisoner after wards.

(6)

I had my right hand man killed at the first Volley, his name is George Atkinson  of Marlboro.  I cant write any more this time so you must excuse (me I thought to write not for that but for)  Letting you know that I was alright so I must bid your goodbye.  Give my love to all and tell them I am well.  Please Direct your letter to West Chester, Chester County, Penn.

I have no more. Please write as soon as you get this from your ever wise Brother

The Site of Parole Camp Today

Sign Commemorating Parole Camp Elder

Private Spooner and his friends were technically deserters, when they left the parole camp and headed home.  But they fared far better than many of the soldiers, like Warren Freeman, who obeyed orders and stayed in the Parole Camp.  These soldiers lingered for weeks waiting for the government to act, - to figure out how to deal with this 'illegal parole,' and in the course of time, some of the men took sick and died.  Extended time spent in any confined place was never healthy during the Civil War.

In 2013, a state historic marker was dedicated to commemorate the site of the Parole Camp in Westtown, Pa. near where the camp was located.  

The new historical marker commemorating the camp states that more than 2,000 soldiers were held here.   Warren Freeman wrote, “We have moved camp since I wrote you last; we are now about a mile and a half from the town, on the West Chester and Philadelphia Railway; the cars run about as often as they do at West Cambridge, and I can lay in my tent and see them pass by – the prospect is quite pleasant.”

The new marker is located near the corner of Oakburne Road and Trellis Lane in Westtown. Google maps shows the railroad runs right by the location.

This photo was taken by Ginger Rae Dunbar for the West Chester Daily Local News.  Click the image to view larger.

Letter of Warren Freeman, July 12, 1863

Parole Camp, West Chester, Pa., July 12, 1863.

Dear Father, -  I have received no letter from home for a month, but suppose it is because we have changed round so much during that time.

I think I intimated in my last that I would write a long account of the Gettysburg battle; but although only a few days have passed since it took place, yet it seems like an old story, and no doubt you are weary of hearing about it.  All things considered, it is a wonder the boys fought so well as they did; we had been making forced marches for several days, with little sleep and scant supply of food.  On one day we marched from one mile the other side of Fredrick City to half a mile this side of Emmetsburg – most of the way in mud, as it rained nearly all day.  The distance was more than twenty-five miles, and we made it in twelve hours. If that is not good marching I should like to know what is?  On the next day, July 1st, we marched to Gettysburg, arriving at about one o’clock, and our corps, the First, was hardly drawn up in line of battle before an attack was made on us by the enemy.  Our regiment was posted on the extreme right, and the battle raged furiously for several hours.  During one charge that we made we captured 132 prisoners.  Of the color guard (seven men) four were killed and three were taken prisoners, but the colors were saved; Lieutenant Howe [pictured] seized them and bore them off the field.

Lieutenant Jacob Howe, Company AOf the severity of this battle you will judge by the loss in our regiment.  We had 260 men: 100 were killed or wounded, and 103 taken prisoners, leaving but fifty-seven men to answer to roll-call on the following day :  so I have been told; of course I being in the hands of the rebels, was not there to see.  There were but fifteen officers able to report for duty at the same time.  The battle on this day settled the question of our superiority over the rebels in a fair stand-up fight, and was a sure presage of victories that were to follow on the two following days.  Now the triumph is with us; and the haughty foe, broken and discomfited, with a loss of not less than 33,000 men, will seek their fortifications around Richmond or some other stronghold, and lament over the day they encountered the Federal army on free territory.

We have moved camp since I wrote you last; we are now about a mile and a half from the town, on the West Chester and Philadelphia Railway; the cars run about as often as they do at West Cambridge, and I can lay in my tent and see them pass by – the prospect is quite pleasant.

I understand we are to have clothing issued to us tomorrow – of which we are much in need; some of the boys are quite ragged, and all of us need more or less covering for our backs.

photo of wild cherries

West Chester is a very pretty place; and we can buy articles at the stores on very reasonable terms.  Many of the inhabitants are retired Philadelphia merchants, and quite rich; there are some very beautiful residences in town.

I tell you this is a great place for cherries; I never saw the like before.  It beats old Warrenton (where we were encamped one year ago); but there are not so many blackberries as there were there.  I go out every day and eat my fill of cherries, then fill my dipper full, bring them into camp and stew them.

One of our boys wrote to Adjutant-general Schouler to see if we could not all come home and stay till we were exchanged; the general replied that he would do all in his power for us.  It may be several weeks before we are exchanged, and it would be rather pleasanter to be at home than to be lying round here.

But I will close with a kind remembrance to all.

Warren.

Image of the general area where Camp Elder was located.

View From Oakbourne Estate towards Parole Camp

Just for an idea of what the parole camp looked like, this view from Google Maps is taken from the entry of Oakbourne Park in Westtown, (the site of an historic estate) across fields in the general direction of where the camp was situated.  The State Marker for Camp Elder, is located quite a bit down the road pictured in the foreground, which goes some distance from the left side of the picture, then turns a sharp corner to the right.  This would be beyond the tree-line in the distant left background.  

Letter of Warren Freeman, July 17, 1863

Some of the boys took the parole offered and some didn't.  The parole was offered to the prisoners on more than one occasion, as the large bodies of men were consolidated on the battle-field.  It is interesting that Warren states in this letter that of the squad of about 600 men corralled with him on July 2nd, all of them accepted the parole.  When the parole was again offered the next day after the prisoners had been consolidated, George Hill says, “We were now offered a parole but our Officers declined  to accept it and so did 35 of us, the rest did take it, with what result  I have not yet learned.”

Parole Camp, West Chester, Pa., July 17, 1863

Dear Father, - I acknowledge the receipt of two letters from home, also one from Uncle Washington, and one from Eugene. For these favors you will please accept a soldier’s thanks.

In reply to your queries about my treatment by the rebels, I would say that they did not take my watch nor money, - nothing, except, of course, my rifle and equipments;  neither did they laugh and jeer at us, as I have seen our men do to them under similar circumstances.  After our capture we were marched back on the pike road about two miles, and halted at the side of the road near one of the wagon trains, the Eleventh South Carolina Regiment, which was the guard, doing duty over us.  We stayed there that night; the next day they took our names.  There were between five and six hundred in our squad, when we were paroled after this manner:  we were drawn up in line by states, and asked if we were willing to take the parole that we would not take up arms against the confederate government until we were fairly and legally exchanged; the answering to our names as they were called, is considered the same as an oath;  all of our squad took the parole.

On Friday, July 3d, we were marched down toward the front of the rebel army.  Here we found another squad of prisoners, about three times as large as ours.  Part of these men took the parole and part would not.  We halted quite near the rebel line of battle.  The artillery fight was then in full blast; we could see the shells burst very plain; some of the shells from our side burst almost over our heads. 

Have you seen the rebel description of the battle?  I will quote a few lines which describe the fight at about the time I speak of:   “At twelve o’clock the signal gun was fired and the cannonading commenced.  The fire of our guns was concentrated upon the federal line on the heights, stormed on the day before by Wright’s Brigade.  Our fire drew a most terrific one from the federal batteries, posted along the heights from a point near Cemetery Hill to the point in their line opposite to the position of Wilcox.  I have never yet heard such tremendous artillery firing.  The enemy must have had 100 guns, which, in addition to our 115, made the air hideous with most discordant noise.  The very earth shook beneath our feet, and the hills and rocks seemed to reel like a drunken man.  For an hour and a half this most terrific fire was continued, during which time the shrieking of shells, the crash of falling timber, the fragments of rocks flying through the air, shattered from the cliffs by solid shot, the heavy mutterings from the valley between the opposing armies, the splash of bursting shrapnel, and the fierce neighing of wounded artillery horses, made a picture terribly grand and sublime, but which my pen utterly fails to describe.”

The above is from the “Richmond Enquirer’s” war correspondent, and I can testify to its truthfulness.  Toward sunset those of us that were paroled were marched off the field toward Carlisle; there were about 1,400 of us.  I did not know the rebels were beaten till I reached Harrisburg and read the account of their defeat in the papers.

July 26. – An order has just been issued, saying that our parole was good for nothing, and that as soon as we were armed and equipped we must join our respective regiments again without being exchanged.  Now I don’t understand about this.  I think there will be serious trouble if we should be taken again by the rebels, for they may take a notion to hang us for so gross a violation of our parole.  But I will not borrow any trouble till I understand better about it.

I have recently received photographs of mother, Eugene, Susie, George Henry, and Albert Gould.  Now, although a soldier, still I will confess to a little weakness, and admit that I have looked with undimmed eyes upon all the horrors of many battle-fields, with my brave comrades torn and bleeding on every side, without experiencing those tender emotions which the little cards never fail to produce.

Farewell. 

Warren.

Letter of Warren Freeman, July 26, 1863

Towards the end of July, the prisoners in parole camp were still awaiting orders.  Warren tells his father about the confusion of affairs. 

Parole Camp, West Chester, Pa., July 26, 1863

Dear Father, - I got my box of nice things in good order, and only three days from West Cambridge.  The shirts and draweres came in good time, for I am quite destitute of those things.  The condensed milk I will keep till I go back to the regiment, as I can buy milk here for five cents a canteen full, or three cents a quart.  We draw soft bread now, and are living well.

We have not got our new uniforms yet, but expect them every day;  I will then go into the town and get a picture taken.

I have not heard anything more about our parole not being valid or our being sent to the regiment;  it may all blow over yet, so I shall not worry about it.  The guard that do duty over us are raw Pennsylvania militia, and seem disposed to grant us, not only a full run of the camp, but the largest degree of liberty.  Consequently, some of the men have gone home, others work for the farmers in the neighborhood at haying, etc.  Some of our regiment talk of stepping out some day and going to Boston and reporting to General Schouler* and our Colonel Leonard for duty.  They must look upon such an act as a very grave matter, but I think they would not arrest us for desertion.  But perhaps they will say:  “Well boys, you have done wrong in coming away from camp without a furlough from the proper officer.  We must report you to the government, but will give them the facts, and I recommend that your offense be looked upon in a favorable light,” etc.  Colonel Leonard was not severely wounded, and I suppose he will return to his command in a few weeks.  We could report to him occasionally, and return with him, etc.  Well, I don't know what will come of it, but if you do not hear from me soon you may think there is something in the wind.

From your affectionate son, 

Warren.

*Adjutant-General of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, William Schouler

It seems Warren and others may have traveled to Boston as he contemplates doing here, for his next letter home is dated 7 weeks later, September 13th, when he had finally re-joined the regiment at Rappahannock Station.  That letter describes his trip to the front via New York,  Philadelphia, and Baltimore, accompanied by Colonel Leonard.

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SOME ESCAPED ! Tales from the 97th & 94th NY

Colonel Charles Wheelock, 97th NY, Baxter's Brigade

On the march over South Mountain, many Union prisoners managed to escape from their Confederate guards.  One such officer was Colonel Charles Wheelock (pictured) of the 97th New York, Baxter's Brigade.  He was age 50.  Colonel Charles Wainwright, Chief of First Corps Artillery, noted the escape with a humorous comment in his journal.

“July 9th. -  ...A great many of the prisoners that were captured from us are escaping;  I hear of several officers arriving every day.  Even old Colonel Wheelock got off though he is as big & old as Jack Falstaff;  the old fellow showed a good pluck in running.”

Another officer who made note of the event is Chaplain John V. Ferguson, 97th NY Vols,  whose letter is quoted in part below.

July 11, 1863
       Hospital at Gettysburg, Pa

Col. Wheelock has escaped from the Rebs & has safely returned after being two days in the mountain with no food before he dare venture to a house as Rebs were on both sides of the Mountain.  He escaped while passing through a forest in the dark night by lying down just at the side of the road & the guards didn’t miss him. Col. Spofford Capt Egelston Lt Murphy & lt. Chamberlin were prisoners & designed to effect their escape if possible.

…Col. Wheelock’s sword & a part of the flag staff captured by our regiment were saved by a Lady Miss Carrie Sheads the principal of the female academy who lived in a house in which Col Wheelock stopped as the Regt were falling back. She hid them from the Rebs who followed the Col into the house by covering them in the folds of her dress. I yesterday went with the Col. over the battlefield & to the house & obtained the sword & highly prized flag staff.

Chaplain J. V. Ferguson
Hospital 2nd Division 1st Corps
Gettysburg, Pa


The letter of another escaped soldier from the 94th N.Y. regiment, Lieutenant R. N. Joy,  was printed in an unknown  home town Newspaper.  This letter was found among the collection of digital  newspaper clippings posted at the New York Military Museum.  (https://dmna.ny.gov)

ESCAPES EN ROUTE

ARMY CORRESPONDENCE.

We extract portions of a letter written by Lieutenant Joy, of Lafargeville, to his wife, wherein he gives an interesting account of the manner of his escape from the rebel lines, having been taken prisoner in the first day’s fight at Gettysburg.  Passing over his account of the fight, which our readers already well understand, we give his narrative of his brief prisoner life and escape.  He says :

After we were taken, they kept us moving about from place to place, as the fighting shifted from one position to another, until Saturday, the 4th, when they began to send their trains, wounded and prisoners, towards Hagerstown, preparatory to a grand skedaddle.

 In going through a narrow gap in the mountains between Fountaindale and Hagerstown, about 9 o’clock p.m., the road being filled with artillery and wagons, and it being pretty dark at the time, I managed to get outside of the line of the guards, and skedaddled up the side of the mountain through the woods.  A good many others took advantage of the same opportunity.  I don’t know as any others of the 94th did.  I got off about a fourth of a mile from the road and laid down in the bushes to rest and if possible to sleep.  I could hear the teamsters and guards yelling and swearing, the wagons and artillery rattling, and altogether my slumbers were rather disturbed; so I concluded to change my base of operations, and take up a new position.  I did so, and finally slept tolerably well under the circumstances, though it rained considerable during the night.

I was awakened in the morning (Monday the 6th) by the baying of hounds, and thinking perhaps they were blood-hounds scouring the woods, and being unarmed, I thought I would get out of their reach, and accordingly climbed a thick leaved chestnut. 

About 6 o’clock a.m., two rebel cavalry came along near me.  They arrested a citizen within a dozen rods of me, took him and his horse; but, thanks to the rain and leaves, they did not discover me.  About 10 a.m. I got rather dozy, and when I woke up and began to look around, just below me sat another blue coat.  We soon came to an understanding and I came down.  We sat there talking, and soon saw two or three rebel cavalry patrols coming towards us.  We concluded it was not a safe locality, and broke camp in different directions.  After going down that mountain and over another, we came together again. As we could not keep separated, we agreed to travel together.  We passed several places where the rebles had bivouacked the night before.  We saw several squads of rebs, but as they were armed and we were not, we pursued the “let alone” policy, and left them to pursue their winding way, while we pursued ours.  About 3 o’clock p.m., we concluded to go to some house and inquire our way, and if possible get something to eat.  We called at the door of a house where we were met by a young lady who was so smiling and sociable that we felt we were among friends.  We soon had a luncheon, and as we were rather tired and foot sore, we agreed to stop all night.  Just before dark a captain who had escaped came along and staid with us.  This morning (the 7th) we took up our line of march for Fairfield.  On our way we found two rebs who had been arrested by two brothers who had availed themselves of the chance to go home.  One of the brothers took his prisoners and started with us for Fairfield.  Before we had got half way there, we heard of six more rebs who were at a house getting breakfast, and wished to give themselves up.  We went to the house and caught them all at the table.  We asked them if they gave themselves up.  They replied Yes.  They were a good deal surprised when they found out there were but three of us there, and unarmed at that; but they came along without any trouble, and we were soon hail fellows well met.  We soon overtook the guard with the other two and continued the march.  We found that our forces had all left Fairfield, and we changed our course for Emmettsburg, where we arrived about noon.  Our guard left us when we changed direction.  He went back to finish his visit, and we three marched into Emmetsburg, with out arms and with eight prisoners.  We delivered them over to the provost guard of the 5th corps, which was passing through the place, and we (the Captain and myself) concluded to stay here over night.

 Albert Dixon was killed in the first day’s fight, almost instantly, while fighting bravely with his company.  I did not see him, but was so informed by those who did.  I don’t know anything about Lampson, but presume he got a way all right.  Marshall was not with us.  He is in hospital from a sprained ankle, I believe.


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Letter of George Henry Hill, August 4, 1863

George Henry Hill was one of the prisoners who obeyed Union officers' advice, and refused the battle-field parole offered by the Confederates.  In the letter to his father dated August 4th, he does an exceptional job describing the exhausting forced march from the fields around Gettysburg to Staunton, Virginia.

He names several officers and comrades in this letter who shared some of his experiences.  They are Lieutenant Morton Tower, Lieutenant Samuel E. Cary, Lieutenant David Whiston, and Private Henry W. Metcalf. 

I believe, after checking the regimental roster and other sources, that the 'John' he mentions in his letters is Corporal John B. Curtis, Company B. Curtis's service record states :  “Was taken prisoner at the battle of Gettysburg, carried to Richmond and Belle Island, and held a prisoner four weeks. Paroled and remained in camp at Annapolis, Md., till duly exchanged; rejoined his Regiment at the front in February following.”

Lieutenant Tower's memoirs are on this page in a section of their own. Lieutenant Cary's and Lieutenant Whiston's experiences are outlined with the others, including Curtis, at the bottom of this web page.

Belle Isle Prison Grounds by A.R. Waud

Alfred Waud sketched the portion of Belle Island where prisoners were kept.  There are several descriptions of Belle Island on this page.  Private Roland E. Bowen, who was imprisoned there between August 8 - December 27, 1863, described in great detail what life was like at the camp in letters home.

“Belle Island is situated in the James River just above the City of Richmond, its extreme lower end being opposite the famous Tredegar Iron Works. It is said to be about a mile in length and about a half mile in breadth, some parts of it are quite elevated. The main channel runs on the north or Richmond side and is quite rapid. This Island furnishes a fine water power station, water being brought down from its upper end in an aqueduct and running an extensive nail manufactory. The Island is connected with the mainland on the South or Manchester side by a R.R. Bridge wich runs to the nail works, considerable other business is carried on also.

“At the lower end of the Island there is a level spot of ground, say 6 or 7 acres in area, and of a very sandy nature, and about 8 or 10 feet above the river. On this piece of ground there is about 3 acres of land enclosed by a ditch and a bank, the ditch being about 2 feet deep and 4 feet wide, the bank being 4 feet high, the ditch was formerly on the outside but has recently been changed to the inside. There are two entrances or gates, the main gate being on the N.E. Side wich leads out to Headquarters, Cook House, Hospital. The gate on the S.E. side leading down to the river.”

Letter of George Henry Hill, August 4, 1863

George Henry Hill's letter picks up where it left off - the night of July 1.

George Henry Hill

(Continued from July 1 page).

I was marched to the rear over the same ground over which we fought. I saw our boys, dead and wounded, but could give them no help. I felt tired sick and discouraged. I was marched over the ground where the rebels fought and I tell you their dead lay thick proving that we had not fought in vain.   Can it be that I am the only one taken of our Co. was the question I asked myself. I soon saw a squad of prisoners coming and among them was John and two others of Co. B.  “Thank God I am not alone!”  We marched about a mile to the rear where we halted and as squad after squad came in each bringing an addition to our little number until it swelled to 100 including Lieut Tower of Co B. Lieut Cary and Lieut Whiston of Co K.  I began to think that our regiment was all taken. You can imagine our feelings that night.

We thought the battle lost and we feared that we should have to bear the blame, but next morning [July 2] when the fight commenced again so near us we felt reassured for we knew that reinforcements must have arrived. We knew that the Rebels had a tremendous force for we saw and heard them coming in all night long.  We fought them on the 1st thirty thousand strong This they acknowledged.  All day the fight continued.  At 2 P.M.  we heard heavy firing away down on the Rebels right and they told us that Longstreet was in the rear of our Army.  They were very joyful over it but at about sunset they began to be cross and ugly and the smiles gave place to frowns.  We began to suspect that things were not quite as favorable as they might be. There was occasional firing all night and next morning it commenced again in earnest.

I think I never heard such cannonading as was kept up for about three hours about the middle of the day.  We could not get a word out of the Rebels as to how the battle was going but we knew from the immense number of wounded which passed us that they were suffering a tremendous loss. We began to be hungry now but could get no rations.   That night (the 3rd) we were taken back about two miles.  Next day it rained hard.  We commenced our march to Richmond.  Signs of a retreat of the rebels were evident and sure enough before night they were in full retreat. That night (the 4th) we slept about 8 miles from the battle field.  We drew rations,  half a pound of flour and lb of meat, no salt. We mixed the flour with water and put it on our plates and stood it in front of the fire and baked it or dried it and eat it.  A hard mess but we were hungry.

(This was the way we always had to cook our rations what little we got)  The morning of the 5th we started again and marched about 12 or 14 miles to Monterey Springs just over the South Mountain.  We were all day marching it and until 11 P.M. owing to the waggons being in our way.  Gen. R.E. Lee passed us on the road.  Next morning (6th) we marched to Waterloo about 8 miles, here we drew 10 ounces of flour and lb of meat and cooked it and then started again and marched all night passed through Hagerstown at 8 A.M. of the 7th and arrived at Williamsport at about 11.  Tired and hungry in fact used up as who would not be on such rations both in quality and quantity.  We sent word to our friends in town that we were there and we afterwards learned that they sent us a load of bread but none of it reached us except two loaves for which one of the boys paid eight dollars ($8.).  Think of that.  I wrote a letter to you from there and as we passed through town I slipped it into the hand of one of the girls, did you get it?  The Rebels had all of their trains here intending to cross but the destruction of their bridge by our cavalry and the rise in the river prevented it and so we waited until the 10th when we crossed in the old ferry boat and started for Richmond. During the 3 days which we lay at W. we drew one lb of flour and one of meat.  As we passed through town one of the girls took my haversack and filled it with bread,  but for that I think I should have been obliged to have given up.  We were promised rations as soon as we crossed the river but did not get them.  At Martinsburg notwithstanding the threats of the guard to shoot them the women (God bless them) threw bread to us from the windows which was of great assistance to us.  We stopped for the night about two miles from M. and were promised rations sure in the morning but morning came and no rations but instead orders to pack up and move on.

I was so weak and faint I could hardly move but never mind Rebel bayonets would force us on and on we went to Bunker Hill.  Here we were overtaken by a lot of bread which was sent to us by the people of Martinsburg.  There was 35 hundred of us and we got about a pound of bread each.  I tell you it was good and we ate it all at one meal.  After a halt of about 3 hours we continued on to Winchester and arrived at 11 P.M. tired enough I assure you.  I laid down and slept and oh such dreams.  Bountifully spread tables upon which I could feast my eyes but when I offered to take any a bayonet forced me back. Then came my Mother bringing a large plate of baked beans and brown bread and bidding me sit down and eat.  I took it but when I attempted to eat they changed to stones.  And last I was living at home in our old house no 100 3rd st Ro B.[?]  I came into the house by the back way and Pa was in the dining room.  oh so natural.  “Come Bub go get some steak and a bunch of onions and you and I will have a  supper of our own” and he threw down a silver half dollar 

“Fall in Prisoners” and I woke again to my misery.

We marched through Winchester where we anticipated insult but news of the fall of Vicksburg had just arrived and a shadow of truth regarding the late battle had began to reach them and we passed on without a word for or against.  We marched about two miles beyond Winchester and drew rations.  1 qt of flour and 1 lb of meat this was to last us to Mt Jackson 45 miles, I will not go on and detail our movements day by day.  It was 94 miles from Winchester to Staunton and we left W. Monday morning and arrived at 8 Saturday morning.  On the road at Mt Jackson we drew 1 qt. of flour and 1 lb of meat and on Friday we drew three hard crackers.

That was all the Magnanimous Southern Confederacy furnished us with.  John had 10 dollars given him in Williamsport but where biscuit are $1.00 a dozen and  pies  $1.00 each, bread 2 & 3 dollars a loaf 10 dollars does not amount to much and as this money was C.S. money and worth only about as much as greenbacks we were about as bad off as though we had none.  We traded off our pocket knives and everything else that was tradable for bread.  At Staunton our rubber blankets & tents were taken from us and most of the boys had no woolen blankets and therefore nothing to lay on or to cover them.  I was more fortunate having a woolen blanket which I shared with John and Metcalf.  We laid on the ground and covered the blanket over us.  Sunday a lot of 750 was sent off on the cars for R.  Monday another lot and Tuesday John & I and four more of Co B determined to go and by standing three hours in the sun and then crowding and punching we succeeded and arrived in R the next morning (Wed 22) at 3 o'clock.  We went into a tobacco house and slept about an hour then were searched and had our knapsacks - haversacks - canteens taken from us.  Those who had money had all except $5 taken and in some instances watches were taken.  In fact those who searched us took just what they pleased.  We then marched to Belle Island and were paroled.  One of our boys who arrived the day before had got hold of a tent and had saved it for John & I so we were provided with shelter.  Most of the boys were not so fortunate.

We staid on the Island 10 days receiving a daily ration of lb of bread one ounce of meat and a pint of bean or rice soup each day.  Saturday night at 8 o'clock much to our surprise we were called for to come away.

     There was about 12 hundred ahead of us but by some means our roll got on the top and here we are.  I tell you it was a happy day for us when we were once more in Uncle Sams lines where we could get enough to eat and a pleasant look.

I have written a sort of diary here and quite a long letter.  I shall write another to Aunt Ellen in a day or two which will be a sort of supplement to this and therefore you must allow her to read this and she will do the same by hers. I am very anxious to hear from you all.  I sent for $5. yesterday and when you answer this I want you to enclose 5 more.  I have enough to eat now and I was fortunate enough to  find a friend here who loaned me some money.

Love to all from your obd son

Geo H.


Sergeant Hill was lucky in getting away from Belle Island so quickly.  His comrade Sergeant John Boudwin, who was still lingering at Staunton, waiting for transport to Richmond, was imprisoned 5 times longer than Hill and his friends.  More detail regarding his luck leaving prison so early is found in an article printed in the National Tribune, October 23, 1902, by Captain R. K. Beecham of the 2nd Wisconsin.  A few relevant excerpts are presented here.

“On or about Aug. 5 an order came to the prison authorities to exchange or parole several hundred prisoners. First, all the sick were selected, without regard to priority, which amounted to about half the quota.

“...After the sick had been selected the remainder of the quota was filled in the order of priority. The oldest prisoners were called until all were taken, and there remained only the Winchester and Gettysburg prisoners. The quota lacked then 100 or more of being full. The Winchester prisoners were the next in priority, but the rolls had been mislaid, and the rolls of the Gettysburg prisoners were substituted.

“This even caused an excitement that is easier imagined than described. It was like a death-knell to the hopes of the Winchester men, but it gave a new and unlooked-for hope to every man from Gettysburg. After getting my tent-mate through the gate I had gone back to my desolate den with no expectation of being exchanged on that day, but the moment I heard the call for the Gettysburg prisoners I joined the excited crowd and watched the result, with my heart beating like a trip-hammer. We had been enrolled by regiments, but we knew nothing of the priority on the rolls of our organizations. Usually there were only a few in each regiment, and we watched anxiously for the name of the next on the rolls. 

“...Rapidly the names are read off by the clerk, to which fortunate one responds as he runs through the gate. The quota is almost filled; there are only a few more names to be drawn. The 2d Wis. is called.  How that name thrills the very marrow of my bones, for my name is among the number on that short list. Then follows a moment of suspense that no living being who has not been placed in a like situation can imagine, a few seconds of time of almost endless duration. My heart stands still in an agony of hope and dread. Will the quota hold out?  Will my name ever be reached? Live a thousand years, I cannot experience another such moment.  At last the spell is broken, my name is called, then my heart gives a great rebound, and I stepped out from under the Shadow of Death.”

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The March to Staunton; Sgt. John Boudwin's Experiences

George Henry Hill gives a good account of the Union prisoners’ march to Staunton, VA, nearly 200 miles from Gettysburg. The diary of Sergeant John Boudwin provides another account. which adds some detail left out of Hill’s letter.

Thirteenth Mass comrades mentioned in the diary are, Ed Boyd, John C. Clark, Fred D. Locke, Charles ‘Chris’ Magraw, and Charles B. Morse.

The March to Staunton

Hunger and fatigue are the defining words for the forced march of Union prisoners to Staunton, Virginia, nearly 200 miles distant from Gettysburg.   Heavy afternoon rain provided the proper emotional backdrop for the dreary trudge 5 miles further from town which kicked things off on July 4th.

A.C. Redwood 'Retreat from Gettysburg'       A little bit of flour and beef was issued and cooked up at midnight for the next day’s 11 mile hike over South Mountain to Monterey Springs.  The road was clogged with wagons and the tedious halting march didn’t cease until 11 p.m.  The boys caught a glimpse of the Confederate commander passing by, ‘on our way over the mountain General Lee passed us.  Also General Picket & Brother, fine looking men both of them.’  Hunger drove Sgt. Boudwin to slip outside the Confederate Guards in the dark to beg something to eat from members of the Washington Artillery camped nearby.  They genially obliged him with some bread.

The prisoners received another scanty ration of flour and beef at 7 a.m. July 6, but they had to march 8 miles down the mountain before they could cook it.  The journey to Williamsport resumed at 7 p.m.   At midnight the party stopped for a one hour rest.  Sgt. Boudwin again ‘slipped by the Guard and got in to a garden and got some potatoes.-  Dug them up with my hands.’

They were on the move again at 1 a.m., and stumbled along for another 7 hours through the rainy night, before they arrived ‘very sleepy’ at Hagerstown. This was the old stomping ground of the ‘13th Mass’ in the heady days of ’61.  Not surprisingly, members of the regiment ‘saw several of our old friends who used to visit our camp at Williamsport.’  John Boudwin continues,  ‘Marched within mile of Williamsport and turned in to a cow pasture.  On the Road passed several of our dead laying stripped of their clothing.  There was a large cavalry fight here the evening before.’  George Hill said they arrived at Williamsport at 11 a.m. on Tuesday July 7.

Crossing the Potomac

At Williamsport, the prisoners waited 3 days  to cross the Potomac River.  A ration of flour and beef was issued on Wednesday.  On Thursday, ‘the Rebels and our boys are exchangeing for Bread, Knifes, Pocket Books, Combs, Paper &c.  for a small pancake we had to pay 1 & 2 dollars for the same.  Last evening the Ladies of Williamsport, Md. sent us some bread by one of the Rebel officers and he brought it to camp and sold it to us for 4 dollars a loaf.  At 2 p.m. …marched to the Town and the boats – that carry us across – broke loose and we have to march back to our old place again.  While down in the town saw several of our old friends and had a talk with them, also several of the young ladies in the town came and brought us bread and cake which Johnnie Rebel did not like and they sent them away, but the girls stood their ground and would not go  - gave them letters to Wife and Mother.  Got back to our old camp and at dark some cattle strayed in side of our lines & hunger drove us to kill them and it was done with out much ceremony.  I got quite a piece and gave it to my boys & turned in for the night feeling very much in need of some rest.  Bought some bread and paid $1 a loaf.’

The rest he needed was cut short at 3 a.m. by an order to ‘fall in’ and march to the river.  It was time to cross. 

Sgt. Boudwin did not describe the crossing only to say he cooked breakfast by the river bank and didn’t get on the road to Martinsburg until noon.  One soldier estimated about 3,000 prisoners were ferried across the river in an old ferry boat, about 200 men at a time.

From the south side of the Potomac the party started at noon for Martinsburg, about 13 miles distant.  The day was hot, ‘several [of the men] gave out from the effects of the heat.’  They arrived at Martinsburg and discovered many citizens were still loyal to the Union. (It was the home town of 13th Mass drummers Sam and Isaac Webster).    John Boudwin wrote, ‘going through the town several of the men and women threw bread into the ranks & the guard stopped them and would not let them speak to us and called them every thing but respectable people.  At night the guards laid in line of battle & had 3 pieces of artillery pointed at our camp in case of an outbreak as the men were hungry and were told that we would get rations when we got to Martinsburg but there was none to be found…we have been 48 hours without food.’

In the morning the hungry prisoners were pushed forward at the point of bayonets for another 8 miles before they got any food.  Rations of bread and beef were issued, ‘the bread was cooked by the women of Martinsburg.  We were a happy set when we got the bread as we had been 68 hours without anything to eat.  ...marched again at 5 and over one of the worst roads that man ever walked on – arrived within 7 miles of Winchester at 12 midnight.  Completely used up – Woke up several times in the night.’  This is the night George Henry Hill had the vivid dream about food, described in the letter to his father, above.

Several woment lined the streets of Winchester to watch the prisoners pass through. Sgt. Boudwin recognized several of them from their previous stay at Winchester in 1862.  The column was halted for the day and night on the far side of town and two days rations of beef and flour were issued to the prisoners.  John sold his watch for $40 to a Confederate Calvary man. It was here Richmond newspapers informed the captives that Vicksburg was taken on the 4th of July.   While halted here, another two hundred captives from Milroy’s command, mostly sick and wounded, joined the column.  The day’s short march and supply of food caused Sgt. Boudwin to sleep well that night, --regardless of the rain.  At least they still had their tents.  That would change soon.

Staunton was still 100 miles distant, and the prisoners, estimated to be 3,500 in number, were pushed on toward their destination like cattle, through rain and mud and water, averaging 18 miles a day.

Monday, July 13 came in wet with a heavy downpour, and in consequence, at Newtown it took 4 hours for everyone to wade waste deep through a  flooded creek.  The column pressed on. Sgt. Boudwin wrote, ‘marched within 2 miles of Strasburg and camped for the night feeling tired – hungry and used up.   My clothes all wet and nothing dry to sleep on I had an uncomfortable nights rest.  Rained hard during the night.’

Corporal Albert E. Morse, Co. B

Tuesday July 14, came in clear, but the tired prisoners in wet clothes were driven 23 footsore miles !

Some relief was had the next day, when more rations of beef, bacon, and flour were issued at 10 a.m. but only after the usual 3 hour morning march.  Distance covered this day was just about 13 miles and for the first time, plenty of good water was found in the abundant springs surrounding the village of New Market, where the column camped for the night.

At Harrisonburg on Thursday, -- ‘going through the town some of the men went to get some water out of one of the buckets – which was on the sidewalk and the woman turned the bucket over and told him he should not have a drop as it was for the Confederate soldiers and not you Nasty Yankees.’  Distance marched; 18 miles.  At night Sgt. Boudwin got a touch of the chills.  Small wonder.

Friday, the last full days march was uneventful other than the long 18 miles covered.  Rations of bread and bacon issued.  Officers were brought into Strasburg, 4 miles further on.

Waiting for a train; July 19 – August 4.

Early the next morning the prisoners were marched through the city of Staunton and turned into a large treeless field on a hill overlooking the depot at the south end of town. They were searched and everything of use or desired by the Confederate officers was taken away. Tents and rubber blankets would be sorely missed. In defiance to the Rebels, Corporal Albert E. Morse [pictured, above] and some of the boys cut up their blankets. 

Staunton Virginia

Sgt. Boudwin wrote, ‘Those who were seen doing so were bucked and gagged.  Corporal Morse of Company B of our Regiment was one of the victims.’ The hands and feet of the victims were tied with arms passed over their drawn up knees, and a rod inserted between the arms and the back of the knee. Some seven hundred of the prisoners were soon after loaded onto rickety railroad cars and started for Richmond. These proved to be lucky men, the idea being that since they were all going to be paroled, the sooner they arrived at Richmond the sooner they might be exchanged, --and sent back to Union lines.  Those left behind in Staunton slept cold at night without their tents.

Sunday morning, another group of prisoners left on the cars for Richmond. There was nothing to do in the field at Staunton but broil in the sun and mark time. Some local enterprising women from the town entered the camp on Monday with bread and pies to sell to the captured Yankees - at exorbitant prices, in general, double the going rate. They returned the next day to peddle their wares but the guard told them not to overcharge the prisoners. Prices dropped in half accordingly.

After 3 days anxiously sitting around, all were ready to start for Richmond. This was the Tuesday that George Hill, John B. Curtis and 4 others stood in the sun for 3 hours and ‘by crowding and punching’ succeeded in getting onto the cars bound for Richmond. They went on their way rejoicing. Sgt. Boudwin ‘tried hard to go but did not get the chance.’ This proved very unlucky for him and his companions. They would uneasily wait in camp another two weeks for their turn.

Time dragged on. Afternoon rain showers were frequent, sometimes heavy. This caused consecutive sleepless nights in wet clothes on damp ground. Other days came in hot. The captives wilted in the sun. Rations were scanty and hunger was constant. On July 31st, perhaps to break the monotony, the soldiers were marched down the hill and searched. Any money found was confiscated. John Boudwin and his friend Ed Boyd were robbed of $27.00 and $17.50 respectively.

Map of the Va Central RR route from Staunton to Richmond

Pictured is map showing the Virginia Central Railroad route from Staunton to Richmond. This is the same route Sgt. Boudwin and other prisoners took to Richmond.  The 4,237 foot 'Crozet Tunnel' at Rockfish Gap is marked.  The image is cropped from a much larger map of the Virginia Central Railroad.  

Two weeks of exposure naturally made many men sick, without doctors or medicine to ease their symptoms. The post surgeon finally visited camp and doled out badly needed medicine on August 3rd.  The next morning at 10 a.m. Sgt. Boudwin with his friends, ‘left Staunton for Richmond on freight cars 70 of them in a car and packed in any way.’

 The rickety train ride is described in detail below, but Sgt. Boudwin did note passing through the Blue Ridge tunnel at Rockfish Gap, and passing through several small towns en-route.  He admired the splendid scenery notwithstanding the circumstances.  But the ride was still agonizingly slow. By contrast, George Henry Hill and his friends through much luck, were at this date comfortably safe behind Union lines at Annapolis.

To be continued.

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The Train Trip from Staunton to Richmond

Descriptions of the train trip from Staunton to Richmond are rare among the prisoner accounts.  But William H. Warren of the 17th Connecticut Volunteer Infantry provided one. The letter resides at Gettysburg Battlefield National Military Park Library, but I accessed it from Gregory A. Coco's book, "A Strange and Blighted Land.”

'Westward Ho' purchased by the Va Central RR, 1857

It was announced that 700 men would be transported to Richmond & the 1st that got in line would go first so of course there was a scattering, jamming, & a great deal of swearing as the line was forming.  8 of our company succeeded in getting in the line & thus was marched down to the depot & embarked on part platform & part box cars.  Rickety old things they were too as the box car I was in had no roof on, only the frame & I remember while setting upon the frame that it swayed, back & forth sideways, so that it frightened me & I was expecting every moment to be dumped out by the side of the road & left there.   Pictured is the engine, 'Westward Ho' purchased by the Virginia Central Railroad in 1857.*

The inside of the car was so full there was not standing room.  The rideing was very slow as the cars being so poor, they would not admit of fast travel, besides the road bed being in very poor condition.  There was also a halt every little while.  The scenery however was truly a remarkable feature, especially after passing beyond the Blue Ridge. 

The road skirted the summit of a high ridge, giving a splendid view of the valley beneath & distant mountains.  It was very tedious rideing nevertheless.  Night brought no relief as it was so crowded as to render sleep of any account out of the question & so the day wore away into the night while we went jogging on to Richmond. 

north face of the long blue ridge tunnel

We left Staunton at just 11 A.M., the distance to Richmond being 136 miles.  The first station we arrived at was Fishersville, 129 [miles] to Richmond.  The second station was Wanesborough, 124 miles to Richmond.  About halfway between Fishersville & Wanesborough we stopped about hour, going up grade.  They burn chestnut & oak wood.

Passed through 4 tunnels between 2 stations.  First tunnel we were 7 minutes passing through it.  I timed it by my watch.  We were running lively too.  After we got through I had to look almost strait up in the air to see the top of the mountain.  

Pictured is the north face of the Blue Ridge Tunnel, completed in 1858.  It ran through Rockfish Gap 4,237 feet long, the longest in the U.S. at the time of its completion. It was engineered by Claudius Crozet. [Wikipedia]

The third station was Meashum River, 115 miles to Richmond.  Passed a sign board marked “Blairs Park 24 miles.”  There were 2 trains on the side track at this station, one a passenger train just arrived, loaded mostly with soldiers. 

The name of the R.R. is Virginia Central.  The name of the passenger train engine was Hero, the name of the other engine was C.S.C.  Name [of the] fourth station Ivy.  Fifth station Charlottsville, quite a place.  Sixth station Shadwell.  Here was a brick building & several wooden buildings with the insides all torn out.  At this station we run on the side track & waited about  one hour for another train.  Between this station & the next, we stopped to get wood.  At 5 P.M. we were just 90 miles from Richmond.  Seventh station not known.  8th station, Lindsays, did not stop here.  9th station, Gordonsville, another road branched off here & went to Culpepper. 

Gordonsville, Exhange Hotel

Pictured is the Exchange Hotel built on the Virginia Central Railroad line in Gordonsville.  The hotel opened its doors in 1858.  During the war it was used as a hospital for badly wounded soldiers. Hospital tents were often pitched on hotel grounds.  The original railroad depot was just to the left of this building.  After the war it was used as headquarters for the Provost Marshall and Freedman's Bureau.  The building had fallen into ruin by the 1970's but today it is a fully restored Civil War museum.  William Warren describes this stop on the railroad in the next paragraph. 

Several barracks & tents were here put up around & near the depot & filled with wounded.  Reached here about dark & stayed about 1 hour for the officers to get their supper, so it was reported.

We then went on stopping at the different stations along the road till we arrived at Richmond.  I bought 2 blackberry pies for $1.00 & sold one to R.G. Seymore for $1.00.  They were very thin, hardly more than the top & bottom crust & hardly berrys enough to color the crust.  Pretty poor things but I was very hungry & I bought the first thing I could get hold of.

*The 'Westward Ho' is pictured at Winifrede Junction, WV; 1875. The photograph resides at the West Virginia Regional History Center.  I accessed it at the website West Virginia and North Carolina Rails; by Dan Robie; [http://wvncrails.weebly.com/winifrede-big-eagle-railroad.html].

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Life at Belle Isle Prison

The summary of Sergeant John Boudwin's experiences resumes.  He was held captive at Belle Island August 5 - September 21, 47 days.  John wasn't very descriptive in his diary entries and merely noted events in the sparsest of terms.  Fortunately, descriptive accounts  of life at Belle Isle Prison do exist.  Captain Meecham 3d Wisconsin, Private John F. White, 9th NY Militia, and Private Roland E. Bowen, 15th Mass. were all incarcerated about the same time as Sgt. Boudwin, and all left descriptive accounts of their imprisonment.   I've used their writings to expound upon the narrative, but many things have been left out.  For more information about this camp and Civil War Richmond, visit Mike Gorman's excellent website, of the same name. 

Belle Isle Prison, August 5 – September 21

I have corrected the spelling and grammar of John Boudwin's diary entries when quoted for easier reading.

The prisoner train arrived at Richmond in the dark, wee-hours of the morning August 5th.   The prisoners had to wait for daylight to disembark.

Citizens of Richmond turned out at the depot ‘to see the Yankees’ who were marched at 9 a.m. to a tobacco warehouse and searched. Canteens, haversacks, and any valuables found on their person were taken away.   Next they marched to Belle Isle.   They signed parole papers and entered the prison area at dark.

A good description of Belle Isle is provided by Captain R. K. Beecham, 2d Wisconsin Infantry.1

“The island seemed well shaded with trees and fair to look upon, but the soil was a bed of sand and the island was low and level. The prison pen was adjacent to the river, and comprised three or four acres of ground surrounded by a wide, deep ditch and an embankment, within which enclosure there was neither tree, nor shrub, nor plant, nor flower, nor blade of grass; nothing but a bed of sand.  In or near one corner, where the water came close to the surface, were three or four excavations about six feet deep, with sloping sides. These were our wells of living water, and the green scum that covered the water made them very inviting. There were also a number of old tents, all badly dilapidated, pitched in a promiscuous cluster in the center of the enclosure, occupied by several hundred Union prisoners of war captured in part from Milroy’s command at Winchester in June, and others at some earlier date. No extra tents were furnished for the additional prisoners, and we found shelter as best we could or went without. During our whole imprisonment I never once enjoyed the luxury of a change of clothing or the opportunity to wash a garment.

“The cooking establishment for the prison was situated just outside of the pen, on the bank of the James River, and 20 or 25 rods above it, at the other corner of the pen, and out over the river a few feet, were situated the prison sinks. The water supply for cooking purposes was drawn from the river, and of the relative situation of our kitchen and the sinks I have no further statement to make, except that the statement of their relative positions is true.”

View of Richmond from Belle Isle Prison

Belle Island Prison with the city of Richmond in the background.  The railroad trestle to the island is visible on the right, center.   In late August, through early September, Sgt. Boudwin noted the high volume of Confederate troop trains moving south to re-enforce the Confederate army in the west.

When George Hill and friends had arrived at Belle Isle, 11 days earlier, a comrade had reserved a tent space for them.  This was not so for Sgt. Boudwin.  He wrote, “Tents could not be had for love or money.”  Those without tents suffered terribly in the hot weather that persisted through early August.  The first night in camp a tragic killing was foreshadowed, when a guard fired at a prisoner standing not ten yards away.  Miraculously, He missed.  

A letter of Private John F. White,2 a soldier of the 9th N.Y. Vols. [Baxter’s Brigade] describes life at Belle Isle at this time.  Private White was among the first group of 700 prisoners to depart Staunton on July  19th.  He arrived at Belle Isle 2 weeks before Sgt. Boudwin.

THE NEW YORK SUNDAY MERCURY

September 13, 1863

NINTH REGIMENT, N.Y.S.M.
Camp Parole, Annapolis, MD., Sept. 7.

[Beginning of letter related the authors capture at Gettysburg and subsequent journey to Richmond.] 

The men could hardly be got along and a great many had fallen out exhausted.  The guards would hallo:  “You, Yanks, go along dare!  Get in ranks!  Doggon, you Yanks!”   On the 17th, we reached Mt. Sidney, and on the 18th, Staunton; having marched in thirteen days 168 miles, over a turn-pike, the majority of the men barefoot, no blankets, and no hats in some cases.  At Staunton, they took all the India-rubber blankets from the men, and on the 19th, we took the train for Richmond, arriving there on the morning of the 20th.  

Daylight, they marched us to Libby 700 of us and kept us three hours.  While here, we got a ration of bread and meat (rather small), and one of the chivalry shot a Kentucky soldier, who was deaf, in the arm since died for looking out of the window.  After this, they searched us; took all our money, writing-paper, haversacks, etc., allowing us only our blankets and caps.  We were then marched over to Belle Island, a miserable, hot place, an acre of ground, about 4,000 men in it, and full of lice and vermin.  Here we lived on ten ounces of bread and two ounces of fresh meat per day. Breakfast at 9, 10, 11, and 12 o’clock, just as it suited the Quartermaster; dinner at 3, slop rice soup and bread.  Almost two and three times a week we were turned out and counted, and put in messes of a hundred each.   

On the 10th of August, they played a sharp game upon the Yanks.  A citizen came over from Richmond, and offered $8 in silver for $10 greenbacks.  A great many of the boys having large bills – 10’s and 20’s – got them changed; and I suppose, $500 so exchanged.  The next day, the men were all turned out and searched, and the silver confiscated.  

On the 14th, they deliberately murdered a member of the Ninety-first Pennsylvania.  He had just come in, and was sitting near the bank inside, when the guard ordered him up.  He simply asked him, “Where will I go?  I have no tent.”  “You Yankee son of a b—”  Leveling his piece, and shot him dead, wounding two others. The brute and murderer was taken before the officer in command of the post, nothing was done to him, and the Union soldier lies buried on Belle Isle unavenged. 

A great deal of trading with the guard at nights was done.  They seemed perfectly crazy for greenbacks, offering $10 of their money for $1 of ours; for $7 of our money would buy as much as $10 of their money.  Those that had money speculated considerable, and, I must say, a great many of our men completely robbed the boys by selling a small five cent loaf for $1; pies they would buy for twenty-five cents a-piece, they would charge $1 for tobacco, a plug for fifty cents, worth 10 cents; and a canteen full of whiskey, $5 – cost them $1!  The camp had any quantity of these speculators, who would sit up all night, buy off the guards, and sell to our own men, some realizing a small  fortune – one man having $1,000 in greenbacks.

We were subjected to all kinds of treatment while we were in the Rebel clutches and thank God we were released from their hands on Friday, August 28, leaving Richmond at daylight, August 29, stopping two hours at Petersburg, arriving at City Point at 11, delivered upon the flag-of-truce boat City of New York.  Once more under the good old flag, the Stars and Stripes, we arrived at Fortress Monroe at 4 P.M., and reached Annapolis Sunday morning, August 31.  

Upon the free soil of the  United States, we received our clean clothes, of which we were very much in need, got our dinner, wrote to our friends and relations, thank Almighty God for our safe deliverance to our homes and firesides.  We are now in the new barracks, Camp Parole. I will drop you a line, in my next, about this place.  It is under the control of Colonel [Adrian] Root, and all we want is Uncle Sam to pay us two months’ pay, give us a furlough, until we get exchanged, which, by the way, is very doubtful, as the Rebels will not exchange negro soldiers. However, I hope that this will find you well, and I remain yours truly,

J.F.W.

P.S. – I forgot to mention what I have seen of the inside of Rebeldom.  The bogus Confederacy is nearly played out; then, provision they have none; their large, boasted armies are all fudge.  Vicksburg and Port Hudson stunned them; Charleston, Mobile, and Savannah, will kill them; and our Government ought and can take Richmond any day, if they have a mind to; no soldier around there nearer Fredericksburg.  The city militia does not amount to anything, and the people of Richmond will help us as soon as our forces near the city.

J.F.W.



Graveyard of Belle Isle Prison

Pictured is the prison graveyard on Belle Island taken by Timothy Sullivan, 1865.  The middle-ground  is a bit fuzzy but the headstones can be made out, with the Confederate Capitol looming in the left back-ground.  The names on the front two headstones are W. Hoffman, and P. Wolf.

The murdered prisoner referred to in the letter above, is Private John Donnelly, 91st PA.3  His murder on August 14 shocked Sgt. Boudwin, who wrote:

“At 2 P.M. one of the guard fired on one of the prisoners who was standing near the bank and killed him & wounded two others slightly.  The guard had no cause what ever to fire on him.  The man was married and left a large family to mourn over his untimely death -- It was as cold Blooded a Murder as ever witnessed -- Evening his body was carried away and buried.  It was a sad sight, and I never want to witness another. Evening a heavy thunder shower.”

The above shows that survival at Belle Isle Prison was not just about filling up vacant hours of relentless boredom waiting to be exchanged.  It was a life and death struggle against dirt, vermin, starvation, neglect, and exposure.  Of the lice Private Roland E. Bowen, (15th Mass) said:

“I don't deny being lousy when I went on to the Island, but I was not alive with them. I had been there but a short time before every crevice and seam in my few remaining rags were full of lice and nits. I used to pick lice from one to two hours a day, and then it was with the most utmost difficulty that I keep them in subjection. On the ground they could be seen crawling in all directions.”

After 2 weeks sleeping on the ground Sgt. Boudwin came down with chills and was sick for a week. In general, cries of help for the sick were ignored.  Private Roland E. Bowen4 continued:

“The sick are much better taken care of than formerly; the[re] was a time when it was almost impossible to get a sick man out to the hospital. You might hear men at all hours of the day crying out Steward; Steward;  I want to get a sick man out to the hospital, don't expect he can live but a short time. Answer. can't help it, have no room for him. Nine times out of ten this would be the answer. Yes, I believe nineteen out of twenty, and the poor wretch would be left to die without ever seeing a physician or having the first identical thing done to relieve him of his sufferings, until at last death relieves him of all his miseries.

In the midst of his illness Sergeant Boudwin wrote, “if we are kept here much longer we will die off like time.”  After toughing it out on his own for a week John Boudwin was able to see a doctor and get some medicine.

Throughout his captivity, he kept a careful record of the daily rations.  Prisoners were issued rations twice daily.  A sergeant was often placed in charge of a squad of 100 prisoners. Sgt. Boudwin was one of these squad sergeants.  He was responsible for getting the squad's rations in the morning, and afternoon, from the Confederate Quartermaster at the prison gate.  The sergeant, with some men, distributed the rations to his squad, which was further divided into 5 messes, each in charge of an appointed corporal, who divided it accordingly among the men in his mess.  Breakfast invariably was bread and meat.  Supper was bread and soup.  Sgt. Boudwin failed to provide a culinary review of these offerings, but Roland Bowen did record his impressions.

“About 4 oc P.M. we get supper, the routine is about the same except that we get 6 buckets of soup instead of meat, more appropriately called slush or swill. Sometimes it is rice, at other beans, and once in awhile mush. The beans are a very inferior kind, I think I never saw any like them before, they are very small and dark coloured.  It is said they grow wild in many parts of the South and are commonly called peas. I should never call them peas however. The quality of the rice would be very good if they would pick it over, but the quantity, Lord. The mush would be very good if it was not for the absence of meal.  I have seen many a pail of soup, say ten or twelve quarts, with less than a pint of beans or rice in them. Sometimes for supper we would get a few miserable half decayed sweet potatoes. A few times we got potatoes and soup both at the same time. Occasionally in the place of bread we got 3 hard tack and a little pork in the place of soup, which came from our lines. Very little of the provisions sent by our Goverment ever reached us, and when they did they were spareingly dealt out to us in place of Confederate rations.”

Tuesday, August 25, the day after Sgt. Boudwin  saw the camp doctor, everybody's rations were cut.  Beef rations were cut down to 12 pounds per 100 men, “and it makes quite a small piece to a man.  Also our bread ration is smaller but all we can do is to grin and bear it.”

The day had a bright side though, for Sgt. Boudwin finally got himself into a tent, “...after being here 20 days and it is a little more comfortable than laying out in the hot sun.”

The added shelter the tent provided was a fortunate thing for the days were very hot and the nights turned cold during the last week of August. One night John wrote,  “Those that did not have tents – had to keep walking most of the night to keep warm.”

Prisoner Bowen  re-enforces Boudwin's diary entries.  He wrote:

“Very seldom during my stay on the Island that all could get into tents. At times many hundreds had to sleep on the street and in the ditch with out a blanket or an overcoat. I say blanket or overcoat. They were half naked and would lay down 8 or 10 together like pigs just as close as they could get, in this way they would shiver out a part of the night, the remainder of wich they would walk the street. The silent hours of night are always broken by the dismal tread of a hundred shivering forms as they pass to and fro. I suppose every one is aware that in this clime, especially in the low lands of the James, that in the fall of the year we have very chilly nights with hot days.”

Fictionalized sketch of Union Prisoners on Belle Island by Thomas Nast

A fictionalized sketch of Union Prisoners on Belle Isle, by Thomas Nast.

There were other threats inside the prison apart from exposure and hunger. At the end of August and early September Sgt. Boudwin begins to frequently mention the speculators, thieves and bread raiders that preyed on fellow inmates.  Reduced rations incited men called  ‘ralliers’ by Bowen, and ‘bread raiders’ by Boudwin, who would prowl camp to steal bread and rations.   On August 28, Sgt Boudwin wrote, 

“Evening bread raids in camp several tents torn down.  …the bread raids continued till 2 this morning the Guard came in camp and put a stop to it as the boys got very noisy.  Some of the men got very roughly handled as knives were freely used.”

Private Bowen called these men ralliers and described them in his letters:

“…time and time again I have known the raiders to make a furious attack on a few loaves of bread, then there would go up a hideous yell and clubs would fly and bread too. In an instant there would come forth a throng of raiders and anti-raiders, men with clubs and knives and men without either. Some one would be sought out as a rallyer and get a crack on the cranium.  Another would seize a loaf of bread, no sooner than he would get it 3 or 4 would rally on him and thus the scramble for bread and the fight would become general.

“…A number of the raiders lost their lives in these melees.  Its no crime on Belle Island to kill a man. In the Bay State if a man has plenty of money and puts it out freely, he is a good fellow. On Belle Island if a man kills a rallier he is a good fellow…”

Thieves were another problem.  The day following the bread raids Sgt. Boudwin wrote:

“I was to day engaged in a fight as we found a thief who stole some things from us and Lock and myself gave him a good thrashing which he won’t forget for some time.  We found several stolen articles on him all of which he said he found…”  [Fred D. Locke, Company D, 13th Mass].

August dragged into September, and the party of 13th Mass men with Sgt. Boudwin marked their 4th , 5th and 6th weeks in camp.  The Confederate Newspaper sugar-coated conditions at the camp.

RICHMOND EXAMINER
September 1, 1863.

BELLE ISLE.  The camp of the Yankee prisoners now contains between 4,000 and 5,000 of them. The camp is beautifully laid out, with streets formed by the row tents, and wells are sunk in every street. Captain Louis S. Bossieux is in command of the guard posted to guard the camp. Their quarters are on a high bluff overlooking the camp. The most rigid discipline is observed. At this season of the year a visit to the Island would be very pleasant, but military rules forbid it without a permit.

From Mike Gorman's website; Civil War Richmond; www.mdgorman.com

How can the miserable dreariness of life here be described?  Captain Beecham of the 2d Wisconsin said:

“Talk not to me of your long June days in the North - they are as but moments. The longest days ever experienced by man were those prison days of July and August in the sunny Southland, within a stone’s throw of the court of Jefferson Davis.”

There were no exchanges after some 650 men  left camp on August 20th and 28th; only rumors of exchanges.  Meanwhile more prisoners were coming in to the camp.  At irregular intervals, men captured from various engagements on land and sea swelled the ranks of the 3 acre plot that was Belle Isle Prison. Condemnation of the government authorities, a popular past-time with soldiers, became more frequent.  Sgt. Boudwin wrote ,

“I wish to God our Government would use some means to get us out of here for there is not any excuse for our being kept here so long...”

And men continued to die.  In the early dawn hours of  September 13th, another soldier, half out of his mind from the strain of prison conditions, was shot down by a guard. 

“At 4 a.m. one of the prisoners was shot dead by one of the guard while on his way down to the sink.  I have not heard the cause.  I have learned his name and it is Mahoney of the 12th Mass Vols.  He was a little out of his mind & was sick and was going to the sink and before he got there was fired on twice by the guard.  It is a very sad affair and I am afraid a great many  more will meet the same death for a large number of the men are getting desperate on account of being fed so poorly, but I will hope for the best and keep my courage up.  I had a talk with the Lieutenant to day and he told me he would send me out if possible in the next squad.”5

 The Lieutenant of the Guard kept his word. Confederate officers came in to camp to begin the process of exchanging a batch of prisoners on September 17.  Sgt. Boudwin made his way to see him to have another talk.  As an incentive, he gave the lieutenant Private Fred Locke’s gold ring, and Corporal Ed Boyd’s Meerschaum pipe, and a book, and in return the lieutenant promised to parole them the next day. 

The anxiously awaited dawn came in stormy with a cold drizzling rain that turned to showers.  After 9 a.m. it cleared off and the Confederate officers returned.  The paroling process resumed.  John Boudwin wrote, “after considerable hard work I got myself and comrades E.A. Boyd, John Clark, Fred Locke, and Chris Magraw paroled before sunset.  Nothing else occurred during the day I learned that another man died in the Hospital this morning.”

The rain returned at night.  The temperature dropped, the wind increased and the shower grew into a storm.  Those without tents suffered severely.  It was literally, 'a dark and stormy night.'  The cold wind and rain persisted into the morning and throughout the next day.  Two men in camp were found dead from exposure.  And, John got 7 more men paroled.

On the night of the 20th the temperature dropped further still.  It was another chilling, sleepless night, the coldest yet, for the paroled prisoners desperate to get away.  Thoughts of  their long awaited freedom nearly at hand fortified their patience to endure, yet still they suffered.

The 21st of September, continued cold into the morning, and for most of the day. And there were no evident signs of release.  It was the 47th day at Belle Island for Sgt. Boudwin and his comrades.  But the slow, drawn-out struggle for survival was about to end.  On this day he wrote:

“…This morning was very cold and I have not slept one hour the whole morning for I could not.  I am feeling pretty old and since I have been a prisoner I have lost 30 lbs. of flesh and there seems to be nothing left but bones of my whole body.  I hope to the Lord that we will leave this cursed hold before the week is out.

“At 10 A.M. we all marched out and were counted; at 4 P.M. the very joyful news of going away.   My name and my comrades was called and I have not felt so happy for a long time to march out and off of Belle Isle.  Marched to a large Tobacco warehouse in Richmond and quartered for the night here.  We drew rations of Bread, ham & soup & there was some pretty tall raiding for the same.  I got 9 loafs of bread & 6 lbs. of boiled bacon & a bucket of soup for 12 of us, and if we did not stow that away no one ever did, for we were pretty hungry.  Did not sleep any being over-joyed at getting away from Belle Isle.”

City of New York, Flag of Truce Boat

Patience was still required as the exchanged prisoners traveled by train from Richmond to Petersburg, changed cars, and started to City Point to meet the Flag of Truce boat.  The boys had to camp out yet another night but slept little while excitedly waiting to board the boat to freedom.

“The boat came in sight at 7 and some tall cheering was done by the boys.  It brought some paroled Rebel prisoners. At 9 A.M. all were landed and we took there [their] places on the boat and got rations of bread & bacon, all we wanted to eat.”

Pictured is the Federal “flag-of-truce boat” New York, which carried exchanged prisoners to Aiken's Landing, and later to City Point, in 1862, for the change to be completed.  The Federal prisoners were usually taken from the point of exchange first to Fortress Monroe, and then to the parole camp at Annapolis. - From, “The Photographic History of the Civil War”, vol. 7.

John took sick while the boat steamed up river through the night to arrive at Annapolis, 8 A.M. September 24.  The released soldiers marched up to the barracks and found,  “several of our regiment here looking very well. Received a clean suit of clothes & I went down to the river and had a wash & threw away my old ones and I felt like a new man when I got clean clothes.  I got plenty of good food to eat & I feel happy.  I quartered for the night in a good warm building & had a blanket to cover me and the first one for 3 months.”

William Waud sketch, released prisoners getting new clothes on the truce boat

Artist William Waud sketched these exchanged Union prisoners receiving a new set of clothes on the flag-of-truce boat.

Sgt. Boudwin was sick for over a week following his return to safety.   But with proper care and shelter he recovered.  He had been at Belle Isle 47 days.  Those incarcerated even for a short time complained of the suffering endured when in the hands of the Confederacy.

Conditions at Belle Isle deteriorated even more, from these low Summer standards, for those imprisoned through the winter. Captain R.K. Beecham  said:

 “Yet we saw only a fraction of the horrors of prison life - or prison death, as it afterward became, when all exchange of prisoners had ceased, and the doors of hope were closed. At that time the oldest prisoner on Belle Isle had not been there to exceed 60 days, for exchanges were being made at irregular intervals. We all expected to be exchanged, and hope is a wonderful invigorator.”

John Boudwin and his comrades got off just in time.  One wonders how any prisoner, north or south, survived  prolonged imprisonment during the war under such conditions as those at Belle Isle.


Pictured below is an engraving from a photograph of a  prisoner released from Belle Island Prison in 1864.

NOTES
         1.  Captain R. K. Beecham, 2nd Wisconsin, National Tribune, October 23, 1902.  Retrieved at Mike Gorman's Civil War Richmond,  http://www.mdgorman.com

Belle Isle Captive after release

2.  John F. White, Jr. age 28, enlisted  in the 9th New York State Militia (83rd NY Infantry) on Sept. 18, 1861.  He was promoted to corporal on Oct. 21, 1863 and served until his discharge on Jan. 10, 1865.  In 1867 he enlisted in the 31st U.S. Infantry and was discharged at Fort Stevenson, Dakota Territory in 1870.  He died in Kansas City on February 8, 1902.  From Writing & Fighting the Civil War:  Soldiers Correspondence to the New York Sunday Mercury, by William B. Styple, et al., 2000.  Retrieved at Mike Gorman's Civil War Richmond, http://www.mdgorman.com

3.  From the National Tribune, August 11,  1904 accessed at Michael Gorman's Civil War Richmond website; http://www.mdgorman.com   [Gettysburg Prisoners, from notes of Orwin H. Balch, 142nd NY]  "At noon Aug. 14, private John Donnelly,  91st Pa., who had that morning come to the Island, was standing near the bank that encloses the prisoners; the guard told him to go further back, and as he was in the act of turning to comply the guard raised his gun and shot him down. This act was cold-blooded murder. Donnelly lived in Philadelphia. The same ball that killed Donnelly struck Wm. Bayne 82d Ohio. The ball entered the breast of Bayne. His wound was a painful one, but not dangerous. The guard was taken off his post for the day, but in two days he was back again, ready to shoot more unarmed Yankees."

4.  Private Roland E. Bowen, 15th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry, (Gregory A. Coco, ed.)  From Balls Bluff to Gettysburg and Beyond, pp. 173 - 184.  'Life on Belle Island, Commencing August 8th 1863, Ending December 27th, 1863.'  Retrieved at Mike Gorman's Civil War Richmond,  http://www.mdgorman.com

5.  P.J. Mahoney, 12th Mass. Vol. Inf., is listed among  known prisoners who died and were buried on Belle Island and re-interred in Richmond National Cemetery.  His date of death is however recorded as September 8, 1863.  John Boudwin recorded the shooting on September 13, 1863.

Return to Table of Contents

Lieutenant Morton Tower's Memoirs

Lieutenant Tower’s excellent story [later 'Major Tower'] was written for the Oregon Veteran Association.  Tower settled in Coos Bay, Oregon after the war.  When Charles E. Davis, Jr. learned of it, he requested a copy for publication in the 13th Regiment Association Circulars. It was published in this form in Circular #8, December, 1895. In the forward to the article Davis wrote,

“I am prompted to say that for a long time I have hoped our circulars would be made a vehicle for the publication of similar papers from comrades who can recall incidents of their service worth reading and preserving.”


STORY OF THE ESCAPE OF UNION PRISONERS FROM LIBBY PRISON, RICHMOND, VA., IN FEBRUARY, 1864.

By MAJOR MORTON TOWER.

Chancellorsville had been fought; it had been called a drawn battle. We retreated, and after a few weeks Lee and his army were again on the march, this time destined to reach Pennsylvania.

Our march to Gettysburg, although a long one, was not particularly hard, as we had become inured to marching and the hardships attendant upon a soldier's life, by long service. There were small fights such as almost always preceded large battles ; almost everyday we could hear cannonading, and knew that the enemy was in our vicinity.   On the evening of June 30, after the day's march, we went quietly into camp. Early on the morning of July 1, the long roll was sounded and we were hurried along, and at the double quick were marched some five or six miles, and formed into line under a severe musketry fire - formed not as usual, in one continuous column, but went into line by regiments with intervals between each. Very soon we found we had hot work to perform, and well the old First Corps did it. It is said we withstood Early's division of thirty thousand with our corps of only ten thousand nearly all day.

Repeatedly they charged our lines and as often were repulsed; our regiment during the fight captured more men than it contained, and got them safely to the rear. A brigade of the Eleventh Corps came up in the afternoon and took position on our right; it was a fearful all-day's fight. General Reynolds, our Corps Commander, was killed early in the morning, and every division or brigade general was either killed or wounded, General Paul, commanding our brigade, being shot through both eyes, entirely destroying his sight. About four o'clock the enemy made a final charge, outflanking our right, and driving us into the town of Gettysburg, which they completely surrounded, taking between two thousand and three thousand prisoners, of which I was one.

Morton Tower, Co. B, standing

When our corps was driven back to the town there was no rout, though we steadily gave way as we were forced. As far as I know, not a single piece of artillery was lost; but, what was of very much more importance, I do know that by stubborn and heroic fighting the First Corps saved the heights of Gettysburg, as well as the army, for the fights that were to take place during the next two days. As we were driven back we could see our army marching and taking possession of the hills beyond the town, and we all felt that our task was done, and well done.

The Confederates gathered us up, marched us over the battlefield to their rear, and I had every reason to think that after more than two years vainly endeavoring to get into Richmond, I was at last destined to reach there.

We were marched about three miles to the rear of their army and halted. The incessant reverberations of the artillery and the rapid discharge of musketry told us how bloody was the struggle and how well disputed the ground. On the 4th we heard rumors of the repulse of the enemy, and unmistakable indications told us our captors were in full retreat. On that day our only celebration was the glorious news that Vicksburg was captured by Grant, and the knowledge that our troops had won at Gettysburg.

We started during the morning and marched steadily until midnight, in a drenching rain, to a place called Monterey. The next day we started early, and could plainly hear the firing in our rear, which gave us groundless hopes of our recapture. All through our march in Pennsylvania and Maryland the people along the route gave us provisions, which our guards allowed us to receive; in fact, during our long march while in charge of the men who had seen service, we received no unkindness. Our rations, after we entered Virginia, were scanty, and our march was a hard one, as it rained very hard most of the time, and when it did not rain the heat was almost unbearable. On the third day's march they camped us on the very same ground our regiment first occupied in 1861, near Williamsport. The people there heard of the capture of our regiment, and as we passed through the town loaded us with provisions.

We crossed the Potomac by the ferry, which was a tedious process, and again found ourselves once more in Virginia, with but little prospect of recapture.

Staunton Virginia, 1857

Print of Staunton, Virginia, 1857.   Click to view larger.

Stanton, our destination, was about two hundred miles away; this distance was made by forced marches. We had few blankets, and those mostly of rubber, a canteen and a haversack, which were all we carried; the latter was most of the time empty, at irregular intervals during the march, rations of flour and raw beef were issued, which we cooked by making a paste of the flour and baking on the hot coals, the meat being cooked the same way.  All things have an end; so did our march to Stanton, Va. We were strongly guarded, only one man that I know of, Colonel Spofford, of a Pennsylvania regiment, managing to escape. Once I tried it. While marching along a railroad one rainy night I slid down an embankment, and thought I had succeeded, when a voice said to me,  “If you feel rested you better join the other fellows.” Another time I might have escaped had I only recognized the chance. One night as we were going into camp we passed a well where men were getting water. I passed out of the line, filled my canteen, and stood watching the men, when one of them asked me to what regiment I belonged; on my replying Thirteenth Massachusetts he kindly escorted me to the prisoners' camp. Our uniform was worn by many of the Confederates, so one could have stayed among them without being noticed.

When we arrived at Stanton a large crowd was at the depot to meet us; our reception was very loud, if not very warm. Here we were to say good-by to our guards, and to be handed over to the tender mercies of the  “stay-at-homes.”  Captain Patterson, of the Sixty-first Virginia, had been in command, and he bade us good-by, saying,  “I and my boys have treated you as well as we could. When you get to Richmond everything will be taken from you; the rubber blankets, haversacks and canteens you have will be of great use to my men.”   Instantly almost every man handed them what he had, the guard then left us, but soon came back and loaded us with pies, cakes and cold meat, and when the cars started for Richmond gave us three cheers, which we returned. This was good-by for a long while to any considerate treatment. On the evening of the same day our sorry column, weary, foot-sore, and dust-covered from eighteen days' hard marching, was marched through the streets of Richmond to Libby Prison.

The gloomy and forbidding exterior of the prison, with the pale, emaciated faces staring vacantly at us through the bars, were repulsive enough, but at least it was a haven of rest from the weary foot-march. We were ushered into a lower room, where we were thoroughly searched and all money and articles of any value taken from us. We were then led into the upper south room. Not a chair, bench, table, or bunk was there; from the rafters hung a lot of old dirty blankets, to which we helped ourselves, and when put to use were found to be filled with vermin. Weary and sore we laid our-selves on the bare floor and slept as only overworked men can sleep.

Interior Room of Libby Prison

Libby Prison stood close by the Lynchburg canal, and in full view of the James river. It was a capacious warehouse, built of brick and roofed with tin; the building had a front of about one hundred and forty feet, with a depth of one hundred and five. There were nine rooms, each one hundred and two feet long by forty-five wide, the height of the ceiling from the floor was about seven feet, except the upper story, which was better ventilated, owing to the pitch of the roof; while at each end of these rooms were five windows.

We were now fairly embarked upon Libby life, little thinking what a long weary time it would be before we were once more free.

The room I was in was occupied by officers from the Army of the Potomac; there were over two hundred of us. Our only water supply was a faucet in one corner, with a sort of trough for the water to run into, which we utilized as a bath-tub when we could get a chance, though that was not often, among so many.  Our rations were of the scantiest kind, with the exception of a short time when they allowed us to receive boxes from home. Mornings, the first thing was roll-call, which meant standing in line in files of fours until counted. After this came what was called breakfast, which consisted of a piece of unbolted corn-bread three inches square, and a very small piece of meat, mostly rancid bacon; this was all the bread and meat for the day. About five o'clock in the afternoon half a dozen negroes, each with a couple of buckets, would appear; these buckets were filled with a sort of broth that the meat had been boiled in, with a little rice added, and of this they gave us about a pint. Such were the rations we received every day. Every morning came a darkey with a frying-pan filled with steaming tar; this was to fumigate the rooms. Once a week came scrubbing-day, which was most dreaded of all days; the same darkies would appear with buckets and brooms and thoroughly drench the floor with water; this, as we had to sleep on the bare floors, would make it decidedly uncomfortable for a day or two.

Life in Libby, at best, was very monotonous, but as we became used to it, we passed the time playing cards, chess, and other games.  Schools of all kinds were in vogue. We had mock trials, civil and military, in which, generally, the culprit would be an officer who understood very little English, and the jury would be selected from the same kind; frequently during the trials, the anxiety of the prisoners and the jury to understand what was going on would be very interesting to the outsiders, though it did not appear so to them. We had lectures, and published a weekly paper called the “Libby Chronicle.”  The editor, I thought then, and still think, could have been successfully sued for libel, as the items were generally quite personal.  At night, after lights were out, came what was called the “Catechism,” when such questions as these were asked and answered ; “Who hid behind the big gun?”   “Who surrendered for humanity's sake?”  “Who washed his clothes in the soup buckets?”  “Who burnt the hash ?”  “Who took a bath ?” etc. And these were replied to with the names of the several offenders, much to the amusement of those acquainted with the circumstances referred to. These highly refined entertainments usually closed with a bombardment of all the utensils one could find at hand, which resulted in a general search for personal property the next morning.

At one time we gave theatrical and musical entertainments, and they were remarkably good, as among so many, more than average talent was to be found. Sundays, as we had several chaplains amongst us, we had Divine service. We also had temperance lectures by the famous Neal Dow. They did not make much impression on the audience, for of all the 1,500 or 2,000 men who attended, I knew of no one who used intoxicating liquors; perhaps from the fact that none were to be had.

About a month, during the fall of '63, we were allowed to receive boxes from home, and clothing which was sent for the prisoners at Belle Isle by the Sanitary Commission, and here I want to say what any true, loyal man who saw the workings of that commission will echo with his whole soul, “God bless the Sanitary Commission!”  Words cannot tell the good work they did.

Libby Prison Exterior View

While we received boxes from home we fared very well. We gave and received dinners, and for a time, if prisoners can be, were jolly.  Christmas came about this time, and we had a grand ball in one of the lower rooms, when we were allowed to burn candles until mid-night; we sang and danced until then. Soon after lying down someone started  “Home, Sweet Home,” and I do not think there was a man that didn't join in singing the grand old tune, and grand and sad it must have sounded when one takes into consideration our surroundings.

Winter was cold and cheerless without fires and with scanty clothing. Life was dreary indeed; we had long given up hopes of exchange, but all willingly submitted to the decision made by our government, that no arrangement for a just and equitable exchange of prisoners could be made.

From the time one becomes a prisoner, the whole tenor of his thoughts will be the means and method of escape. Very few chances were offered, owing to the almost impregnable position of the prison. Few escapes were made, and most of these by seizing sudden opportunities. Occasionally visitors, mostly citizens of Richmond, were allowed, by the consent of the authorities, to enter the prison, and when leaving would pass out without being challenged by the sentinels.

One day several visited the prison. Captain Porter, Major Bates, and Lieutenant King, having obtained citizens' clothing from home, donned the same and followed this group of visitors past the guard. Captain Porter succeeded in reaching our lines, but the other two were recaptured.

At another time workmen were replacing wooden bars in the upper story with iron ones, and Lieutenant Cupp disguised himself as one of the number by soiling his hands and face, putting his old shirt over his clothes, and taking a piece of iron bar in his hands. When the workmen left at dinner-time, he quietly followed them out of the prison. As he passed across the street he was stopped by a citizen, to whom he apparently explained the alterations being made at the prison. He then coolly walked up the street and probably as coolly walked into our lines.

At another time Major Halstead and Lieutenant Wilson were in the hospital, presumably sick. The major, who had been a tailor prior to his military life, offered to make a uniform for one of the surgeons, but the surgeon, however, did not wear it, for one afternoon the major, in a surgeon's uniform, and Lieutenant Wilson, who by some means had obtained a Confederate private's uniform, not only walked out of the door, but all the way down the peninsula to the Federal lines.

Diagram of Libby Prison & the Escape Tunnel

Cropped Diagram of Libby Prison & the Escape Tunnel.  (Click to view the full diagram larger).  The numbers pictured correspond to the following key.

1.  Col. Streight's Room 8. Gettysburg Room (upper)
2.  Milroy's Room 9. Gettysburg Room (lower)
3.  Commandant's  Office 10. Hospital Room
4. Chickamauga room (upper) 11. East or "Rat Hell" cellar
5. Chickamauga room (lower) 12. South Side Canal Street, ten feet lower than Cary St.
6. Dining Room 13. North Side Carey Street, ground sloping toward canal.
, 7. Carpenter's Shop (middle cellar) 14. Open Lot (not visible in cropped image)


Libby prison had been considered by confederate authorities as one of the most difficult of all the prisons from which to effect an escape, the building being  completely isolated.  On the north and south sides were vacant lots, on the east and west,  streets.  Libby itself is a brick building divided into three tenements of which the middle portion of the ground floor was the only one accessible to the prisoners, the north and south rooms being occupied, one as the Confederate officers' quarters, the other for a hospital for the Union sick;  the basement under this hospital was used as a place for rubbish, also as a place of temporary receptacle for the dead previous to burial. The prison was guarded night and day by twenty sentinels, five on each side of the building. During December of 1863 and January of 1864, combined attempts at escape were commenced.


Colonel Thomas E. Rose Major A. C. Hamilton, Kentucky

Colonel Thomas E. Rose, 77th Pennsylvania, left, and Major A. G. Hamilton, right, 12th Kentucky Cavalry accidentally met in remote areas of Libby Prison while separately planning their escape.  The two formed a secret partnership and together explored various means of escape from Libby Prison. Other prisoners were let in on the secret by necessity.  It was only through the unflagging efforts of these two men that the third successful tunnel out of Libby was completed. One hundred nine men escaped the night of February 9, 1864.  Estimates vary but a recent study claims about 49 succeeded in making it to Union lines.  Two men drowned and about 58 were re-captured.  Colonel Rose was re-captured.  Major Hamilton made it to Union lines. 


The first of these was to tunnel to the sewer which passed under the street between the prison and the canal. The first attempt was made by Major Hamilton and another officer,* who tried to pass through a drain to the sewer; this was found to be impracticable. They had meantime obtained access to the middle tenement by raising a board from the floor. Next, tunneling was tried, but was stopped by the tunnel coming in contact with a large rock. Another tunnel was abandoned on account of striking a flow of water. Traces of the tunnels were obliterated and all endeavors in this direction ceased. Had they been able to reach the sewer, which was built of brick and led to the outskirts of the city, undoubtedly the prison could have been emptied of prisoners in a few hours.

Discouraging as these failures were to the men engaged, they were not disheartened.  The next attempt made was commenced in a brick fireplace on the south side of the middle room, the object being to reach the basement under the hospital. This was done by digging out the bricks from the fireplace, the only implements used being a common case-knife. These bricks had to be replaced after the night's work was finished, every trace of which must be obliterated.

Walton Tabor illustration of two men working on the tunnel

After obtaining entrance to the basement under the hospital, a ladder was formed of old pieces of rope, blankets and sticks, which were hidden away during the day. The first work in the cellar was to remove the bricks from the foundation, thus making an opening of about two feet by eighteen inches in size. Then it became necessary to cut through one of the piles that formed the foundation of the building. This was a tedious labor, as the work had to be done with ordinary pocket-knives. Then commenced the process of tunnelling through the dirt, which was accomplished by filling common spittoon-boxes, with which the prison was furnished, and placing the contents under the rubbish in the cellar, throwing it into sinks where it was washed away by the water, and in every other conceivable place where it would not attract attention. After the tunnel had been dug a few feet, one would lie on his back, draw the spittoon to his chest by means of a string, loosen the dirt behind his head with an old chisel, fill the box with his hands and pull the string, when the spittoon full of dirt would be drawn out by 'a comrade and replaced with an empty one. All the excavating of the tunnel was accomplished in this manner. As we had no means of propping the tunnel, the sensation of being buried alive was fearful, and men could work only for brief periods.

In a building which occupied part of the yard our boxes from home were stored, since the authorities had stopped delivering them to us. Could we but reach that yard, we supposed the sentries would think we were their own men stealing them. This they probably did, as not one of us was challenged during the night of our escape. The entrance from the street to the yard was a brick arch-way closed by ordinary wooden picket gates, through these we passed into the street in plain sight of at least seven sentinels.

Gate which prisoners exited onto Canal Street

On the night of February 9, as soon as it was sufficiently dark the exodus from the prison commenced from the lower middle room, through the hole in the fireplace to the cellar below the hospital. The room was crowded with prisoners, which somewhat interfered with the exit of those escaping. About 11 o'clock an alarm was raised that the guard was coming. This caused the room to be cleared. With a rush every man sought his resting-place, and immediately all was quiet. Soon after Colonel Davis, of the Fourth Maine, came to me, saying, “Now is our chance.” We, with Major Hamilton, Colonel Rose, and others of the projectors, went down to the room and, finding no one there, passed at once through the tunnel just as the clocks in Richmond were striking twelve. It seemed strange that no alarm was given, as the noise made by the men rushing and crowding up the stairs was very much out of the ordinary. Colonel Davis had been seriously wounded in his left arm, which was now nearly helpless, and I had to help him crawl through the tunnel by pulling him along as best I could. We passed under the archway, waiting for what we thought a favorable moment to evade the sentinels' observation. Colonel Davis turned into and went down the street first. After a few anxious moments I followed and came up with Davis leaning against a building. We then passed along to the suburbs of the city, when we came to a railroad, near which a sentry was standing near a small fire. We succeeded in eluding his vigilance and walked as rapidly as possible away from Richmond, crossing over unoccupied fortifications.

Near daybreak we reached a small thicket of woods, where we stopped to rest. We had scarcely lain down when we heard "reveille" sounding all around us. We knew we had to move, and we did so suddenly. We came out in full view of their camps, and tried to find some hiding-place. We were not successful in this, for we were on a small hill, within not more than a thousand yards from where cavalry was located. We lay down on the ground expecting, of course, to be recaptured before the day was done. Time passed on, and still we were safe. After the longest and most anxious day I ever spent, night came again and once more we breathed freely. We again started on, evading in the best way we could their camps and sentries.

Early in the morning we reached the banks of the Chickahominy river, where there was a grove of large trees with no underbrush, in plain sight of a sentry, had he been looking our way. He was leaning over a small fire around which several men were sleeping. It was as dangerous for us to retreat as it was to advance, so we did the latter. We struck the river where parts of an old pontoon boat and other drift had lodged, over which we passed in safety.

For an hour or more we travelled on, hiding in the brush the remainder of the day. As soon as night fell we again took up our line of march. During our wanderings we avoided all highways and open fields. Most of the way lay through swamps filled with tangled underbrush, and with water sometimes waist deep. The weather was very cold, the Potomac river being partly frozen over during the time we were out. We shaped our course by the north star.

At one time during the night, as we were walking along a path, we heard the tinkling of a cow-bell. Davis thought it would be a good scheme to have some fresh milk, we therefore hid in the brush beside the path, waiting for the cow to come along, the cow, how-ever, proved to be no cow at all, but a Confederate soldier leading his horse, which had a cow-bell suspended from its neck. We hunted no more lacteal fluid that night, as we had come to the conclusion that it was not healthy, although at different times we heard more bells, which we always carefully avoided. Early that morning we found, as we thought, a secure place for the day, near an old log. We had not hidden there long before we heard the baying of a hound, and as the sound drew nearer and nearer we knew the enemy were on our track. It was no use to run, and we prepared ourselves the best we could.  The colonel selected a stout club and I opened a common pocket-knife which I had, and then waited. Soon a hound came up, jumped on a log, and commenced to bay, not offering to touch us unless we moved. The colonel struck the dog over the head with his cudgel and I with my knife, and soon he was a good enough dog for us.

We travelled for an hour or two hunting for another place to hide, where we stayed until dark, when we once more commenced our tramp. We journeyed all night through the swamp until daylight, when we suddenly came into the Williamsburg turnpike, which we had all along been trying to avoid.

We struck the road in plain sight of a Confederate picket, who called upon us to halt, which we did not see fit to do, but turned and ran for the swamp; three shots were fired at us as we disappeared. We managed to hide under some old logs, in water nearly up to our necks. For nearly an hour we could hear them hunting for us and calling to each other. After waiting until all was quiet we took up our march. We travelled for a couple of hours and hid for the day in a thicket. As soon as it began to grow dark we heard some one passing near us, and as they came in sight we discovered them to be two escaped Union officers. We joined forces and travelled together during the night. Early in the morning we came in sight of a house, which we concluded to visit. We found only three or four women there, and to them we said that we were Confederate cavalry, and that the Yankees had captured our horses and chased us through the swamp. We asked where our troops were. Pointing to a hill, they informed us  “there were right smart of 'em” over there. They gave us some corn bread and biscuit, when we immediately left, making a wide detour of the place indicated as being occupied by the Confederates, and soon again went into hiding.

Escaped Prisoners Reach Union Cavalry

At nightfall we once more started, and had travelled for about three or four hours when we saw a large fire ahead of us. We proceeded toward this, coming soon into a large field in which were three haystacks. We could plainly see the fire, which was near a road.  We dared not approach nearer, and as the haystacks offered a tempting bed we burrowed into the centre of one, lay down and enjoyed our first real rest since leaving Richmond. Next morning, feeling much refreshed, we concluded to travel for a few hours and find a safe hiding-place, as we thought the haystacks, from their position, too conspicuous. We passed around the place where we had seen the fire on the previous night, when we came to a wood where we had a plain view of the Williamsburg turnpike. We had been lying down for an hour or two when we saw coming from the direction of Willamsburg a troop of cavalry. As they approached near enough for us to distinguish their uniforms and equipments, we felt sure they were Union. We waved our hats to them, when they broke into a gallop and came cheering to where we stood.  We found them to be a company of the Twelfth Pennsylvania Cavalry, commanded by Captain Ackerly, coming out from the camp at Williamsburg to relieve a company that had been sent out to help escaping prisoners, they having heard of the escape from officers already arrived. The fires we had seen in the night had been built by these troops, thinking they might be seen by the fugitives. We stayed at this place all day. Captain Ackerly furnished us with horses, and with the company we rode to Williamsburg, a distance of about eight miles, where we found several officers who had succeeded in escaping. We were received with open arms by every one, were furnished with a tent, plenty of blankets and eatables, which we had been almost without since leaving Richmond seven days before, and from which place we took with us two small boxes of sardines, a piece of bologna sausage about four inches long that we had saved from boxes received from home, and two small pieces of Confederate cornbread. These were all the rations used by us during our wanderings, excepting the bread we received from the only house we visited.

We slept well that night and were up when the sunrise gun was fired and reveille sounded. We saw the flag raised, and never did a flag look as handsome to us as "Old Glory” did that morning. One who has not passed through the hardships experienced by us the last eight months could hardly imagine the joy we felt in knowing that we were once more really free.

One hundred and nine officers escaped through the tunnel, fifty-three of whom succeeded in reaching our lines.

From Williamsburg we were sent to Yorktown in ambulances, from which place some thirty of us were sent by steamer to Fortress Monroe, where we were received by Gen. B. F. Butler, who placed everything in Hygeia Hotel at our disposal. Next morning General Butler detailed an escort for us, with which we proceeded, passing through Baltimore, and upon arriving at Washington marched to the White House where we were received by President Lincoln. The news of our escape had preceded us, and all along the route from Fortress Monroe to Washington we were constantly receiving ovations from the crowds of people that thronged our way.

The officers on board the boat that conveyed us from Yorktown to Fortress Monroe did not apparently know who we were. As we left the former place we occupied the cabin, and of course were jubilant and very noisy. Soon the captain of the boat came into the cabin and said, “This noise must be stopped.”  He then left, but soon reappeared and asked, “Are you the men that escaped from Libby?”  We replied, “Yes.” He then said, “Make all the damned noise you please.”

Portrait of Walt Whitman, 1864

Aboard the same boat was the celebrated Miss Dix, of sanitary and soldiers' hospital fame. She was greatly interested in us and our adventures, and invited us all to visit her in her home at Washington. At the Capitol there was the usual amount of “red tape.”

We had received orders to be paid off, and had been allowed thirty days' leave of absence. For two days I vainly tried to get my pay, visiting the Treasury Department each morning. On the third morning I again presented myself there, and was met by the usual answer “that I would have to wait.”  I remarked “that it was mighty hard that a man who had just spent eight months in Libby Prison, and with a thirty days' leave of absence in his pocket, could not get the wherewithal to go home.”  As I said this a kindly looking gentleman, who stood beside me, asked my name, rank, and regiment, saying, “Wait a moment.”  He left, but soon returned, handing me a check for my pay. He then handed me his card, and on it I found inscribed the name of Walt Whitman, known as the poet and soldier's friend.

Thus ended my experience as a Union prisoner of war.

*The other officer is Colonel Rose, who was a modest gentleman, and kept his prominent role in the building of the Libby tunnel quiet for many years after the war. As such, Lt. Tower did not know his identity at the time this memoir was written.

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Lieutenants Samuel E. Cary and David Whiston

Lieutenant Samuel E. Cary; age, 21; born, Wayne, Me.; clerk; mustered in as sergt., Co. B, July 16, '61; mustered out as 1st Lieut.; promoted to Co. F, 2d lieut., Feb. 27, '63; promoted to 1st lieut., Oct. 23, '63; residence, New York City.

First Lieutenant Samuel E. Cary

Samuel E. Cary was the youngest of the 3 Cary brothers, who were all officers in the 13th Massachusetts.  Middle brother Joseph Cary (age 29 at enlistment)  mustered into the regiment as the original Captain of Company B.  Captain Joe Cary is credited with beginning some of the admirable traditions of the "13th Mass," regarding neatness, cleanliness, and pride in the regimental camps.  Joseph's health broke down after General Pope's horrid summer campaign of '62 that culminated with the Federal defeat at 2nd Bull Run. He was discharged for disability in December, 1862 , and returned to Boston.  Joseph was the first of the three brothers to pass away.  Eldest brother William Howard Cary (age 31 at enlistment) joined the "13th Mass," with the rank of 2nd Lieutenant, Company D.  William would serve all 3 years with the regiment, mustering out as Captain, Company G, in August of '64.  But young Sam served the longest.  

He enlisted at age 21, as sergeant, Company B.  On February 27, '63, Sam was promoted 2d Lieutenant, appointed to Company F.  He was captured at Gettysburg and spent the rest of his service in prison camps in the deep south.

Considering the narratives above it would seem a miracle that Sam, and others, survived such a long captivity.  Conditions at other prison camps in the South were not much better at times, than those at Belle Island.  A descendant of the Cary's tells me what little she knows of his life. From a book titled "John Cary, The Plymouth Pilgrim," Sam got a sample Confederate Hospitality in the states of Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia.  The record states Sam was incarcerated, at the following:   Libby Prison, Richmond; Salisbury Prison, and a prison in Charlotte, North Carolina; and prisons in Augusta, Macon, and Savannah, Georgia; Charleston, Columbia and Florence, South Carolina; and Raleigh, North Carolina.  He was released at Wilmington, North Carolina on March 1, 1865, seven months after his term of enlistment had expired.

Whatever his experiences in prison, he was able to successfully resume civilian life.  His descendant believes he ran a men's clothing shop in New York City.  He married Catherine Lanning at Trinity Church in Boston on April 11, 1871.  Their daughter Annie Louis was born in East Orange, New Jersey on May 12, 1872.  Sam stayed in touch with his comrades in the '13th Mass' through the years via the 13th Regiment Association.

Although he did not attend many re-unions, he would occasionally send letters, or subscribe a generous amount of money to support the Association.  He attended the Boston re-union dinners in December, 1900, and December, 1905.   Letters were sent to the Association in 1896, 1908, 1909, and in the summer of 1911 he subscribed the generous sum of  $10.00 to support the printing and editing costs of a special edition of the Circular for the Regiment's 50th Anniversary.  He attended the next re-union in December, 1912.  His short letter to Association Secretary, Charlie Davis, was published in Circular #27.

New York, Nov. 28, 1913.

Dear Charlie:
       Circular at hand, for which accept thanks.  Sorry not to be with the old boys on December 13.  The “spirit is willing,” but the nerve supply is weak.

Kind regards to all assembled.  Enclosed find small check ($5.00) to your order.  Hope you have been successful in your efforts against the potato-bugs, the past season.

Your old friend,                
Sam E. Cary.

Sam traveled to Boston for the re-union dinner in September, 1917.  Henry Metcalf, a member of Company B, who rarely went to re-unions also attended.  Both Cary and Metcalf shared the experience of the long forced march to Staunton, VA following the battle of Gettysburg.  In August, 1920, the Pensioner's Office gave Sam Cary's address as #41 Union Square, New York, N.Y.    The last printed Circular says Sam sent his regrets that he could not attend the re-union in September, 1921.

Lieutenant David Whiston; age, 28, born, Boston; painter; mustered in as 1st sergt., Co. A, July 16, 1861; mustered out as capt., March 12, '65; promotions : 2d lieut., July 26, '62; 1st lieut., Feb. 14, '63; capt., March 4, '64; taken prisoner at Gettysburg, July 1, '63; released, March 1, '65.

I've been curious to learn more about David Whiston, or find his picture, ever since I first read the following story in George Jepson's article titled 'Gettysburg' in 13th Regiment Association Circular #15;  published December, 1902.

“There was a sunken road in our front, and in this a rebel brigade found themselves involved as they attempted to charge us. But they couldn't stand our fire when they ascended the bank, and a large number of them threw down their arms and surrendered. I remember, as one of those comical sights that will intrude even in the most serious of moments, perceiving Sergeant Whiston, of Company A, holding in each hand two rebel officers' swords which in their eager haste to surrender, their owners had thrust upon him, his face wearing such a look of helpless bewilderment and his attitude denoting such utter incapacity to know what to do with his prizes, that it was impossible to subdue the temptation to laugh. I have often wondered what became of those four swords, but could never learn.”

The account is written by Lt. Jacob A. Howe of Company A, who saved the regimental colors from being captured on July 1.  

David Whiston was mustered into the '13th Mass' with the rank of First Sergeant, Company A, and is thus referred to by Howe, as Sgt. Whiston, but at Gettysburg he was actually First Lieutenant David Whiston, commissioned on February 13, 1863.  Officers were often assigned to companies as needed at this period in the regiment's history, so I am not sure which company Whiston belonged to at Gettysburg.  He is assigned, Captain, Company B, at the time of his discharge:  March 12, 1865.  At Gettysburg, Whiston was captured and like Lieutenant Sam Cary, Whiston was sent to prisons further south to alleviate the overcrowding of Libby Prison in Richmond, Virginia.  And like Lt. Cary, David Whiston languished in hellish Rebel prisons, long after his term of enlistment was up.  Unfortunately, I still know very little else about him.

Art Rideout found a few documents relating to Whiston's life before the war.  He was born in Nova Scotia, Canada to John Whiston (of New York) and Elizabeth, (from Nova Scotia).  David was born July 5, 1833 in Nova Scotia, and came to the U.S. in 1849 at age 16.  At age 22, on June 15, 1855 he became a naturalized citizen; settled in Boston, occupation:  painter.  He married Miss Mary McGrath, February 16, 1863 in Roxbury. This is about the time Whiston was promoted First Lieutenant, and he was obviously home with a furlough to acquire new equipments and get married.   David is buried in Mount Hope Cemetery in Boston.  According to Records of Headstones of Deceased Union Veterans he died July, 1884,  but Massachusetts death records and other records list his date of death as August 22, 1884.  He would be 51 years old at time of death.  His widow Mary died in New York, March 29, 1895 at age 60.  

Others

Alfred M. Burton; age, 18; born, Wilton N.H. carpenter; mustered in as priv., Co. D, Sept. 10, '62; mustered out, Aug. 1, '64; taken prisoner at Gettysburg and paroled.  

There is a passing mention of Private Alfred M. Burton, in Bourne Spooner's memoirs.  He finds Burton riding  the same train to Boston, after going 'AWOL' from Parole Camp Elder in West Chester, PA.  Burton tells Spooner, he struck out of camp and made straight for Philadelphia, without encountering any flak from Provost Marshall's or guards.  Burton was either very bold or just plain unconcerned with the consequences of 'deserting' the parole camp after the experience he had just been through.  Needless to say, Burton twice dodged a bullet, when he took the battle-field parole at Gettysburg and then took it upon himself to leave the parole camp for home.  Warren Freeman, a good soldier, obeyed orders, stayed in Parole Camp, lingered there for several weeks, and appears to have ended up in the same place as Burton, at home in Massachusetts for a brief spell.  Subsequent information on Burton shows he settled in Pittsburgh, PA after the war.

Art Rideout provided the following information for Burton. He was born in June, 1844. The 1860 census finds him living in Boston.  In 1870 he is in Pittsburgh, PA where he remained the rest of his life.  He first worked as a Carpenter, and is later listed as a Pattern Maker on the census for the years 1880 and 1900.  He died in some unknown accident in December, 1901, and is buried in Homewood Cemetery.    This bit of information comes from the obituary of his widow, Harriet Moorehead Burton.  Harriet received a widow's pension after Alfred died.  She died in 1903 and is buried in the same cemetery as her husband. Private Burton's death was announced in 13th Regiment Association Circular #15.

Mrs. Harriet Mason Burton.

Mrs. Harriet Mason Burton, rellet* of the late Alfred M. Burton, is dead at her home, 407 Frankstown avenue, East End, Pittsburgh.  She has been indisposed for some little time, but her death at 3:30 o'clock Sunday afternoon resulted from paralytic stroke.  She was 53 years of age and was born near Saltsburg, Westmoreland County, August 28, 1849; being a daughter of David and Mrs. Anna Moorhead.  Alfred M. Burton, her husband, was killed about a year ago.  Mrs. Burton is survived by a son and two daughters, all living in Pittsburgh.

*rellet seems to be an archaic word for 'widow'.

Mentioned by Warren Freeman in his letters:

Edgar C. Reed;  age, 18; born, Boston; clerk; mustered in as private, Co. A, Aug. 7, '62; mustered out, Aug. 1, '64.  Records found by Art Rideout:  Edgar Cyrus Reed born about 1846 Massachusetts son of Joshua and Lucy Reed (1850 census).

The story of Edgar C. Reed is patched together from disparate sources.  He is first mentioned in the letters of Warren Freeman, August 25, 1862, when he joined the regiment along the Rapidan River in Virginia, as a recruit of '62.  Warren wrote,  “Here the recruits from Boston joined us, Eddie C. Reed being among them.”    Young Edgar enlisted in the 13th Mass, Company A, to join his older brother Herbert, of the same company, who had mustered in with the unit at its inception at Fort Independence, July 16, 1861.  Young Eddie Reed seems to have been unprepared emotionally to be a soldier.  His age at enlistment is given as 18, but his birth record suggests he was two months shy of 16 when he joined the regiment in the field.  Among Colonel Leonard's papers, in the Gilder-Lehrman Collection of New York, is a letter from Eddie, to his father, J. T. Reed, and a letter from his father to Colonel Leonard.

Eddie's father, Joshua Reid [The father spelled his name with an 'i'] was then himself, serving in the military, in the 10th Massachusetts Battery.    In the letter from Washington, D.C. dated November 30, 1862, he first thanks Colonel Leonard for his kind note.

“Col. Leonard, Dear Sir, I received with much pleasure your kind note of the 24th inst, in reply to my appeal to your sympathy, and controll and influense, in regard to the transfer, of my son, into the 10th Mass Battery.  I am fully aware that the power to affect such transfer is beyond the direct controll of Officers Commanding Regts, or Battery; but as I wish to express my sinsere and heartfelt thanks to you, for the kind & Gentlemanly maner in which you have notised my request, and to be permitted once more in behalf of my son, to make an appeal to you, to grant him the privaledge or, to order, that the wish he so earnestly prays for, in this note of his, to me ...may be complyed with, and that he may be transfered to this Company, E as he so urgently entreats me to intersede for in his behalf; I am very reluctant, and sorry to give you any unnessesary troble, on his account; and if he was a man, and could, (as it were) speak & act, as of & from himself, I should consider it out of place in me to interfeer in his position, in the Regt, but he is yet, a boy in age, and mind and, no doubt feels the want of Parental assistance in all his doings, (and I must say that it is a pleasure to me to have it so) and have not the least doubt that you will so regard the mater in this case as well as others;  I have every reason to expect that he is willing to do his duty, to the best of his ability and I consider it of the utmost importance, considering his turn of mind that he should be treated as kindly as the nature of the case may permit...”

Eddie had written to his father a few days before on November 27, 1862 from camp near Stafford Court House.  After some hard service as a recruit, Eddie was miserable in Company A.   In this letter he refers to his father's efforts to help him transfer into the 10th Mass. Battery.  Recognizing that the plan failed, he asked his father to intercede with Col. Leoanrd to have him transfered out of Company A and into Company E, of the 13th Massachusetts.

“I tell you father I would give all my bounty and my 6 months pay to be in that Company, thats the company Elijah Curtis is in.  the company numbers very small and I like the Officers first rate I wish and pray that I was in that company, the company are composed of first rate men & are Kind and I think Col Leoanrd would have no objection to my being transferred in that Co.  in the Co. that I am in now, I tell you I am treated just as rough as a dog knocked about anywheres and no matter if I do the best I can it makes no difference.

“...Herbert advised me to go into company C and I wish I had then but Co E is the co I want to be in and if I can help getting into it I will...”

It is not clear if Edgar obtained his transfer.  He is again mentioned in Warren Freeman's July 7th letter from Parole Camp at West Chester, after the battle of Gettysburg.

“Edgar Reed is among the prisoners.  He would not go into the fight but went down into the town, and got taken in one of the hospitals; he has hardly pluck enough for a fighting soldier.”

I have to assume Eddie took the parole.  His record does not suggest he went to Belle Isle.  Both Reed brothers, Herbert, and Edgar, survived the war and mustered out with the '13th Mass' on August 1, 1864.  I would speculate that Eddie found some sort of detached duty to avoid being at the front, but have no evidence to support this.  In any case his death record suggests his emotional problems haunted him his entire life.

Eddie worked as a piano-turner after the war.  He died at age 40, of tuberculosis at an insane asylum in Boston, October 28, 1886.  

Herbert A. Reed worked like his father as a piano-forte manufacturer, perhaps in his father's business.  Herbert lived a long life and occasionally attended regimental re-unions. Herbert A. Reed died August 15, 1921.

NOTE:  The Reid letters are in the “ Gilder-Lehrman Collection, at the New York Hisorical Society; Colonel Samuel H. Leonard's Papers;  GLC3393 #26 & #27.

Mentioned in Sgt. Hill's Letter:

Private John B. Curtis; age, 19; born, St. Johnsbury, Vt.; clerk; mustered in as priv., Co. B, July 16, '61; mustered out as corp., Aug. 1, '64.

George Hill mentions a friend in Company B, ‘John’ several times, in his letters home.  Of the list of Company B men captured with Hill on July 1, John B. Curtis is the only ‘John’ listed - and seems a likely candidate for his friend 'John.'   They both may have been ranked Corporal at this time, and perhaps the two were messmates.  George Hill with 4 others of Company B [unnamed] caught the train from Staunton, Virginia on Tuesday, July 21, just a few days after arriving there, from the grueling march south. Marker for John B. Curtis, 13th Mass. Wood CemeteryThis would have been an especial ordeal for John B. Curtis, if he is the aforementioned 'John', as his military record states on July 1st  he injured his right foot, and cracked 3 ribs on his left side when run over by some artillery.   By fighting their way onto the cars they gained a place on the train to Richmond before many others were to leave the barren wind swept hill used as a holding camp at Staunton.  This proved to be a lucky thing for them.  Once they were at Belle Isle, the Confederates messed up their paperwork and paroled some Gettysburg prisoners out of turn, releasing them before 1,200 other prisoners who had been at the dreadful place much  longer than they had.  George Hill and his friends, including 'John' only spent 10 days at miserable Belle Isle Prison.

The military service record of Corporal John B. Curtis is found in the book,'Soldiers Record of the Town of St. Johnsbury Vermont in the War of the Rebellion' by Albert G. Chadwick, Saint Johnsbury, VT; p. 173.

John B. Curtis.  Born in St. Johnsbury.  Son of Hull Curtis.  At the time of enlistment he was a clerk in Boston.  Enlisted in Company B, 13th Massachusetts Regiment of Infantry, in April, 1861, and mustered into United States service in July.  Age eighteen years.  Was taken prisoner at the battle of Gettysburg, carried to Richmond and Belle Island, and held a prisoner four weeks. Paroled and remained in camp at Annapolis, Md., till duly exchanged; rejoined his Regiment at the front in February following.  Was in actions of the Wilderness, and those following, including the first one before Petersburg, in June, 1864.  Before the battle of Gettysburg he was engaged in the battles of Cedar Mountain, Antietam, Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, and Second Bull Run.  Mustered out of service July, 1864, and soon thereafter became a resident of Chicago, Illinois.

Subsequent information about John B. Curtis is that he was born, 1842 in St. Johnsbury, Vermont.  He was 5'6" tall with a light complexion and the ability to read and write.  He was living in St. Joseph, Michigan, Beman County, before changing residence in December 12, 1900 to the National Home for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. His sister Mrs. George Chandler is also listed as the nearest relative, living in St. Joseph.   Records from the military home list his Gettysburg injuries stated above.  At the time of admittance he received a monthly pension from the government of $12.00.    He died July 27, 1909 at 304 Marion Street, Oak Park, Illinois and is buried at Wood National Cemetery, Milwaukee.  His death was announced in 13th Regiment Association Circular #22, December, 1909. [photo by Nadeen Sobattka; at Find A Grave].

Private Henry W. Metcalf; age, 18; born, Boston; clerk; mustered in as priv., Co. B, Aug. 8, '62 mustered out, July 16, '64; residence, Worcester, Mass.

Other records found by Mr. Art Rideout for Henry Metcalf show that as a recruit of '62,  he served 1 year and 10 months with the 13th Massachusetts.  Perhaps to make up a 3 year term of enlistment, he enrolled as a Hospital Steward in the regular army (no unit designation given) in late July 1864, and served in that capacity until March, 1866. Metcalf lived a long life.  He died December 18, 1920.  Pension records show he received a pension, when living in Massachusetts.  After his death the pension was transferred to his widow, Mary S. Metcalf.  Mary was living in Indianapolis in January, 1921.

Curtis and Metcalf were friends with Sgt. Hill and the trio shared rations when possible on the dismal march to Staunton from Gettysburg.  He probably was exchanged at the same time as George, after 10 days at Belle Isle.  Henry was a member of G.A.R. Post #26 in Worcester, Mass.  He didn't attend most of the re-unions in Boston but his membership in the G.A.R. suggests he was active in veteran affairs and probably associated with his old comrades at other functions.  Towards the end of his life, when the ranks were quickly thinning, he decided to attend a re-union dinner in Boston.  He was present at the September 17, 1917 re-union dinner at Young's Hotel.  Sam Cary, another infrequent attendee from Company B, was also present that year.  Henry again attended the Boston re-union in 1919.  His death December 18, 1920 was announced in Circular #34.

Mentioned by John Boudwin in his Diary:

Albert E. Morse; age, 20; born, Southbridge, Mass.; mechanic; mustered in as priv., Co. B, July 16, '61; mustered out as corp., Co. B, Aug. 1, '64; wounded at Sandy Hook, Aug., '61, and Manassas, Aug. 30, '62; taken prisoner, July 1, '63, at Gettysburg; residence, Spencer, Mass.  

Charles Reed illustration of 'Bucked & Gagged'

Sgt. Boudwin specifically mentions that Corporal Morse cut up his rubber blanket at Staunton, to prevent the Rebels from having it. He seems to have plenty of pluck!  For this offense he was bucked and gagged.

I have a little bit more information on Corporal A. E. Morse.  The 1850 census has his family living in Southbridge, Massachusetts.  In 1860, at age 18 or 19, Albert was working at a shoe factory in Sturbridge.  He returned to Sturbridge after his 3 year enlistment and was living there when he married Clara F. Edgarton on November 17, 1868.  Records show Albert re-married Elvira Livermore on February 11, 1885, at Spencer, Mass., 13 miles north from Sturbridge, where he remained settled.  One of Albert's war time letters is published on this site.  It is a description of the Battle of Cedar Mountain, and was published in the Webster Massachusetts Times.  [See 'Site Map' page].  Morse was also a tent-mate of '13th Mass' historian Charles E. Davis, Jr. in the Summer of 1862.  Davis wrote of Morse, 

“Al Morse and myself were wounded [at 2nd Bull Run].  Morse was the only one who remained with the regiment.  He had a habit of getting wounded and also of leaving hospitals without leave in his anxiety to get back with his comrades, preferring to be with the regiment rather than remain in the hospital, which he detested.  He served his three years in spite of wounds, was a good soldier, a brave and modest man who never lost his head or heart in battle, and a lovable companion.”

The full article, titled 'Shelter Tents' can be read here.

       I am not sure when Morse was released from Belle Isle; whether he was exchanged early with George Hill, or later with John Boudwin.  I tend to favor the former scenario, as Hill and Morse were in the same company.

A gentleman in Illinois once wrote and told me that he had custody of several other war-time letters written by Albert Morse.  But my several requests to obtain copies of these went un-answered.  I do know that Albert was very active in the 13th Regiment Association.  He attended re-unions in Boston in March and December, 1892, December, 1895, December,1897, August, 1904, and December, 1913.  His death on February 16, 1916 was announced in Circular #30.  He is buried in Spencer, Mass.

Four Soldiers named in Sgt. Boudwin's Diary, who were exchanged with him:

Corporal Edward A. Boyd, age 25; born Newton, Mass.; painter; mustered in as private, Company A, July 16, 1861; mustered out, August 1, 1864.

Edward was Sgt. Boudwin's pal, mentioned in the diary several times, and they were paroled together.  Edward Augustus Boyd called Newton, Massachusetts home.  He was the son of John and Abigail Boyd, born June 27, 1830 in that town.  He is listed as a painter on the census of 1860, which corresponds with his record in the '13th Mass' roster.  After the war, in 1870, he is listed as single, working as a Carpenter, and living at home in Newton with his widowed mother.  No other record is found.  His parents are buried in Newton.  Edward A. Boyd is listed as being buried there also, but the date is wrong, given as January 30, 1863.  Perhaps the date should be Jan. 30, 1873.

Private John C. Clark, age 21; born, Roxbury, Mass.; plumber; mustered in as priv., Co. A, July 29, 1861; mustered out, August 1, 1864; residence 373 Dudley Street, Boston, Mass.  

John Boudwin says he got Clark paroled with others of his squad that left Belle Isle on September 21, 1863.

Clark attended at least two re-union dinners with his comrades in the Thirteenth Regiment Association.  The Association began recording attendees in 1891.  John attended the re-unions in December, 1894 & December, 1897.  In 1920 the Government Pension Office was still sending John checks at 573 Dudley Street in Roxbury. He sent a letter to the Association, expressing his regrets that he could not attend the re-union dinner held in September, 1921.  This was printed in the last Circular, #35.  Because of his common name no further information could be dredged up for Comrade Clark.  I have no date of death.

Private Fred D. Locke, age, 19; born, Chester, Vt.; clerk; mustered in as priv., Co. D, July 16, 1861; mustered out, August 1, 1864; was a prisoner from July 1, '63 to May 5, '64; residence, Le Vegas, N.M.

Sgt. Boudwin mentions beating up a thief with the assistance of Fred Locke.  They had found several stolen articles among the thief's possessions.  Subsequent information on Locke provided by Art Rideout, shows him single, living in East Las Vegas, San Miguel, New Mexico in 1880 where he worked as a saloon keeper.  (I wonder if he ever served Wyatt Earp and the boys? or anyone else of note for that matter).  Nothing more was found.

Private Charles Christopher MacGraw, age, 22; born, Waterville, N.Y.; clerk; mustered in as priv., Co. D, July 16, '61; mustered out, Aug. 1, '64; died Aug. 20, 1884.  

No further information was found and he died before the first 13th Regiment Association Circular was printed in 1888.

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Page Updated February 24, 2017.

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