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[164] attended a number of exchanged Federal prisoners confined upon Belle Isle reported that ‘every case wore upon it the visage of hunger, the expression of despair. . . . Their frames were, in the most cases, all that was left of them.’ On the other side, we find charges of inhumanity against keepers.

After the suspension of exchanges under the order of May 25, 1863, these complaints increased both in volume and in bitterness, and attempts were made on both sides to send provisions to their men. The boxes sent by relatives or friends were generally delivered. In the fall of 1862, considerable quantities of clothing were sent to Richmond to be distributed by Federal officers, and also a number of boxes of food, so that certain tents in Belle Isle were declared to present the ‘appearance of a first-class grocery store.’ The boxes, some sent by the Sanitary Commission and others by private parties, were not examined until a letter, dated November 7, 1863, from General Neal Dow, himself a prisoner, was intercepted. In this he made the suggestion that, as the boxes were not examined, money be sent in cans labeled ‘Preserved Fruit,’ which money might be used for bribing the guards and thus effecting escapes. After this, all boxes were opened and carefully examined. Much food was spoiled from delay, or was eaten by hungry Confederates.

It was believed widely in the North that much of the food sent to Richmond was appropriated for the Confederate army, but there seems to be no evidence to sustain such a conclusion. The report had its origin, apparently, in the statement made to a prisoner by a carpenter employed about one of the prisons in Richmond. Without investigation, this was at once accepted as the truth, and blazoned abroad. An interesting feature of the study of the ‘Official Records’ is the discovery of the origin of many of the almost universally accepted beliefs of the day. Beginning as mere Camp rumors reported to a superior officer, they are quoted ‘on reliable authority,’ which soon becomes ‘unquestionable,’ and are spread broadcast.

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