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Chapter 12: experiences in rebel prisons,--Libby, Macon.

We were hurried to the rear, the rebels relieving us of our hats, belts and other personal property as we went. Captain Hume had been a prisoner before and thought he understood the rules of civilized warfare. A rebel officer demanded my belt. Captain Hume said, “Don't give it to him, Jack. Private property is to be respected, and all he has a right to claim is your sword.” But the rebel was not so far advanced as this in his study of the articles of war, and turning on Hume, with his revolver and a volley of oaths, made him give up his belt. I gave him mine without more argument. Sergt. J. E. Hodgkins of Company K had received a nice little ounce hat from home. A big rebel standing near the battery on the hill saw it and, like a hawk after its prey, sailed for it, snatching it from his head and throwing him his old one, which would weigh five pounds.

This treatment was a surprise to us. Few regiments in the Army of the Potomac had captured more prisoners than the 19th, yet I never saw private property of any kind taken from a rebel or heard an ungentlemanly word spoken; on the contrary, had often seen the boys share their rations with them and in every way make them comfortable.

When well beyond the lines we were halted and took account of stock. We found that we numbered sixteen hundred men and sixty-seven commissioned officers. [105]

As we had placed our colors in the rear of the line,--having dug a pit for Mike Scannell and the other sergeant,--we trusted they were safe, but soon a rebel horseman rode by with them, and trotting in his rear we saw Mike. “How came you to lose the colors, Mike?” I asked. “I'll tell you,” said he. “We lay in the pit dug for us, and the first we knew the rebels came rushing over and said, ‘You damned Yankee, give me that flag.’ ‘Well,’ I said, ‘it is twenty years since I came to this country, and you are the first man who ever called me a Yankee. You can take the flag for the compliment.’ ”

We could not understand how the rebels got in our rear, but from the best information we could obtain, learned that the 2d and 5th corps were ordered to advance their lines. The 2d did as ordered. By some mistake the 5th did not, and there was a large gap between the two corps. The rebels had seen this, and keeping us hotly engaged in the front, had sent a division around our left flank, and the result was we were “gobbled.”

The officer who had charge of my squad was Lieut. Wm. D. McDonald, Company C, 8th Alabama, Wilcox's old brigade, Anderson's division, A. N. V. He was disposed to be kind to us, as he had formerly resided in New York and knew Yankees were human, but he was soon relieved and ordered back to the front. The provost guard took charge, and we were marched to a field just outside the city of Petersburg and camped for the night. We were visited by squads of thieves, each reducing our baggage, which was none too large at first. Some of our men had a few hard tack. The officers had no rations.

The next morning we were ordered to a small island in the Appomattox River. As we marched over a little bridge [106] guards were stationed to take our haversacks, canteens and other property yet remaining, but we soon saw the game and sent over a few empty handed, who, coming down the shore, took charge of the traps we threw to them. By this flank movement we saved our property. We remained on the island that day. No rations were issued and we began to realize our position. We were among a new race of people and saw the beauties of an inflated currency. On our side of the line the New York Herald (double sheet) sold for five cents; on this side the “Richmond Examiner,” a little, dirty paper, was one dollar,--everything in the same proportion. Every few minutes a large, lank, lantern-jawed rebel would come up, look us over, and ask about the only question they had on hand: “What did you uns come down here to fight we uns for?” It mattered little what the answer was, he would pass on if he did not find any plunder and ask the same question of the next group. The captain of our guard was a spruce little chap and wanted his boots shined; but the so-called Confederacy was out of boot-blacking, so he sent one of his men to us for that article. After asking several and receiving various answers he called to his officer, “Captain, they all don't tote it.”

About three o'clock on the morning of the 24th we were ordered to fall in and were marched through the city to the depot, packed in the cars, and were “on to Richmond,” where we arrived about noon. We were given a rousing reception. Men, women and children thronged the streets and were sure they had captured the entire Union army. They said, “Right smart lot of you all this time, I reckon.” The men swore, the women spit at us, the children joined in the general cry. Just before we turned down Carey Street [107] to go to Libby we halted. I was standing a little aside from the rest, thinking over the situation and whistling to keep together what little courage I had left, when a rebel officer rode up and said, “We will take that whistle out of you in a little while. Corn bread is gitting pretty mouldy down in Libby.” I said I guessed not. It was my intention to whistle as loud the last day as I did the first. “Oh, I have heard lots of you fellows talk, but Dick Turner soon fixes them,” was his reply. This was the first promise of starvation.

We moved forward and soon stood in front of Libby prison. I could almost read over the door, “He who enters here leaves hope behind.” We marched in and passed to the rear of the room. As I looked out of the window I saw them carry out four of our dead boys in blankets, all of them naked, having been stripped of their clothing. We hardly knew what was to come next but had not long to wait, for Dick Turner, who had charge, ordered part of us to fall in. Lieutenant Chubbuck had kept a small revolver in his pocket until this time, but now threw it out of the window into the canal in rear of the prison. We were ordered to stand in line, unbutton our clothing, and, as Turner passed down, were made to open our mouths that he might see if we had any greenbacks in them. He said those who gave up their money should have it again, but those who did not would lose it. I had sixty-two dollars and had just time to put ten between the soles of my shoe. The rest I gave to Turner. After he had picked a squad he ordered them to the front of the room, away from the rest.

The front door was guarded by a thing I supposed they called a soldier, dressed in a black, swallow-tailed coat, his head crowned with a stove-pipe hat and armed with a sporting [108] rifle. He was so thin that he could never be hit by a bullet, as he could hide behind his ramrod in time of danger. I called to the boys, “See what they call a soldier,” but as he brought up his musket to fire I found it was alive and I retired in good order.

Lieut. Thomas J. Hastings of the 15th tore a piece off his shelter tent to use as a towel and was made to mark time while the rest were being searched. After our names, rank, regiment, place and date of capture were recorded we were marched to a room in the third story. The one next to ours was filled with our men. A brick partition wall divided us, but some of them made a hole through, and, as they had not been searched, passed a few things to us. Mark Kimball gave me ten dollars, Mike O'Leary a razor, another gave me a spoon. The razor and spoon I carried all through my prison life, and have them yet. The money I returned to Mark some two weeks later. We were not allowed to rest long, as I suppose they thought we required exercise, and were marched to another room over the office. The rooms were perfectly bare. We had no blankets or dishes, as everything had been taken from us. We sat down on the floor, about as blue a collection of humanity as was ever assembled.

In a short time Turner came in to look us over. I asked him if it was not about time for dinner, as no rations had been issued since we had been captured, two days before. He did not like my question and swore at me for several minutes, winding up by saying that no rations would be issued until the next day, and I should be —— lucky if I got any then. I replied that as I was not acquainted with the other hotels in the city I guessed I would wait. He swore [109] some more, said he reckoned I would,--and I did. At night we lay down on the hard floor and tried to sleep, but were so hungry we could not. Besides our hunger we had many other things to contend with. When we entered the room we thought it was vacant but were mistaken, for we discovered that it was inhabited by “very many curious things that crawl about and fly on wings.”

Morning came at last. We got up, washed in an old tank in one corner of the room, wiped our faces on our shirts, and waited for breakfast. While waiting I went to the window to look out. In a second I found myself on the floor and heard the report of a musket. The guard in front had fired at me, but a comrade had seen him as he brought up his piece and had pulled me down. Had he not done so some other fellow would have written this story.

About ten o'clock rations came in and we eagerly fell in to receive them. They consisted of a piece of corn bread as large as a quarter of a brick and twice as hard, bean soup, and a very small piece of rotten bacon. How to draw the bean soup was the question, as we had nothing to draw it in. Lieutenant McGinnis was in rear of me. He said he must have some soup, and, taking a broken pane of glass, he fell in and the line moved on. When it came my turn the negro who issued the rations dipped in his gill dipper and I held out my hands. He turned it in. The soup ran through my fingers, but I secured a few beans. McGinnis held out his pane of glass and drew four rations, one on each corner. We did not touch the bacon. Hungry as we were the smell satisfied us. We went upstairs and sat down to dinner. I ate half my bread, and thinking it unwise to make a pig of myself at my first banquet in Richmond, placed the rest on the window [110] sill, sat down and looked at it, then ate a little more and a little more, until all was gone, and I was as hungry as before.

The next day some negroes came in to swab the floor, and among them we of the 19th recognized little Johnnie, Colonel Devereaux's servant. We had left him at White House Landing, sick with fever, when we started on the retreat down the Peninsula in the spring of 1862, and supposed he died in the hospital, but he must have been captured, as here he was. I was near enough to whisper “Johnnie.” He recognized me and also saw Lieutenant McGinnis, but said nothing. The next day when he came in he dropped some soap near where I stood. He looked as though he was having a hard time of it.

Our enlisted men were not confined in Libby but in an old tobacco warehouse across the street. Three days later we saw them march past on their way to Belle Isle. We watched our chances and exchanged greetings with them. The lines between officers and men in the 19th were not closely drawn. Most of the officers had come from the ranks and the only difference was in the pay. We would have been glad to have remained with them, but the rebels ordered otherwise.

We remained in Libby about a week, receiving reenforcements nearly every day, until our squad of officers numbered over a hundred. One morning we were ordered to fall in. The same old blankets were given us, dirty and torn, but better than none. We were told that we were going south. A very small loaf of white bread was given each man, but having no way to carry it and being very hungry, we ate it before we left the prison. We filed out and marched past Castle Thunder. This place was used for the confinement of [111] political prisoners. We saw several women and one of them had a palm-leaf fan. On one side was the stars and stripes. As we looked up she turned that side to us and some one said, “Boys, see the old flag.” Major Turner rode back and said, “Break the head of the next man who says ‘old flag,’ ” so we did not cheer, but the sight gladdened our hearts. We crossed the river to Manchester. A large crowd were at the station. They told us that our men were dying fast down south and that “you all will get your little piece of land down in Georgia,” a prophecy which proved true in very many instances.

The train backed into the depot and we were ordered to “get aboard the coach.” A passenger car was in front, and we marched in, thinking that we were to be transported in good shape; but when every seat was taken, they continued to come in, and our entire party, numbering more than a hundred, packed into this one car.

We rode all day without food or water, and found ourselves the next morning at Lynchburg. We were confined in the cars until noon, and it is impossible to express in words what we suffered. We could not walk about, the car was so crowded; we would get down on the floor, stand up, look out of the window, but nothing could drive away the terrible hunger. Outside the cars were hucksters selling bread, pies and fruit, and the sight made us wild. Men opened the windows, took rings from their fingers, and sold them for loaves of bread. I had no rings or anything valuable to sell. I had my ten dollar greenback in my shoe, but the orders were very strict in regard to the people taking greenbacks, and I dare not try to pass it for fear the guard would see me and confiscate it. [112]

At noon we were ordered out of the car, and after some delay rations were issued, consisting of twenty small hard tack and a small piece of bacon not properly cured and covered with maggots. This was to last us four days, as we were to march from Lynchburg to Danville, our cavalry having destroyed the railroad between the two places. As I had eaten nothing for thirty-six hours I ate twelve of my hard tack, leaving eight for the next three days. I did not care much for the bacon, but tied it up in an old rag, and, finding a stick, carried it over my shoulder.

They marched us five miles, and camped for the night. The sun was so hot that most of my bacon melted and ran down my back, but the maggots still lived. We were commanded by a major who had lost an arm in the service, and had also been a prisoner. He was a first-class man and understood how to march men; would turn us out at daylight, march until nine or ten o'clock, then rest until three. He always selected our camp near a stream of good water, and did everything possible for our comfort. I am sorry I cannot recall his name, as he was about the only man I met in the south who considered our comfort in any way.

Our enlisted men joined us here. We were not allowed to visit them, but, passing them on the road, had a chance to chat a little.

Our guard was not thought sufficient to take care of us, and it was constantly receiving reinforcements from the cradle and the grave. At every cross-road we were joined by old men on horseback and in carriages, and boys from ten to sixteen years of age, armed with shot-guns and pistols. We could get along very well with the men, but the boys were anxious to shoot a Yankee, and we had to keep our eyes [113] open. Lieutenant McGinnis was much interested in the boys, and would ask them if their fathers allowed them to play with a gun, and if they were not afraid to lie out doors evenings.

Our march was through a splendid country and the days were fine. We had many good singers among the officers, and as we marched through a village they would strike up a song. It would pass down the line and be taken up by the men. Passing through Pittsylvania they were singing “Home again.” I saw several women who were watching us wipe away tears. Whether the tears were of sympathy for us, or because the scene recalled loved ones in the rebel army, we did not know, but it was the only manifestation of anything but hate I ever saw from a rebel woman.

Just before we went into camp one night a citizen walked beside us for a short distance and I saw him exchange glances with Captain Hume. After he passed on Captain Hume said, “We will have something to eat to-night. That man is a mason; he says we are going into camp soon and he will come down and bring me some food.” We soon after filed out of the road and into a field. The captain's brother-mason came and walked around until he saw Hume, then passed near and dropped a package containing bread and meat. Although not a mason at that time I shared the refreshments furnished by the craftsman.

We continued the march until July 4, when we arrived at Danville. Here we were turned over to the provost guard and placed in an old warehouse. Our humane commander left us, and our best wishes followed him. We were brought back to the realization that we were prisoners by the brute in command. We were very hungry, but that [114] did not trouble them, and we waited until afternoon for rations. At night we were taken out and marched to the depot. Although it was the anniversary of our nation's birth we saw no demonstrations of any kind, and I do not believe that a citizen of the town knew it was a national holiday; but we remembered it, and while waiting for the train to be made up sung Star Spangled Banner and other patriotic songs. We collected quite a crowd, but they manifested no interest, only stood and looked at us.

The train ready, we were ordered on board and packed in close box cars,--fifty-six in a car. Only one door was allowed to be opened, and that was filled with rebel guards. We had no room to lie down, but were forced to stand or sit cramped up on the floor. We lay our heads on each other's shoulders and tried to sleep, but it was too hot. We had no water, but one of the officers had an old two-quart pail, and by coaxing, the guard filled it twice out of the tank of the locomotive. I never passed a more uncomfortable night, and when we arrived at Greensborough, N. C., in the morning, and were allowed to get out of the cars, we were happy. Here we were re-inforced by some of Wilson's cavalry officers, captured on the raid. They had been shamefully treated,--some were bleeding from wounds received from the guard. When they loaded us again some were allowed on top of the car, and I was one. Our guards were a lot of home guards, and, like all such, were making a war record by abusing us.

On our car was a loud-mouthed fellow who was constantly insulting us. After a while he became quiet and was nearly asleep. One of the officers near touched me, and motioning to keep still, drew up his feet, straightened out, and the fellow [115] went flying off the top of the car. Turning to me he said, “Jack, didn't something drop?” I said I thought so, but guessed it wasn't best to stop the train to find out, and we never learned whether he landed or not.

We arrived at Augusta, Ga., on Sunday, and were marched to the park. Here citizens visited us and we had a chance to talk with them. The questions were about the same as at Petersburg. “What do you uns come down to fight we uns for?” etc. Talk about Yankees being anxious to trade! There was not a man, woman or child but wanted to barter with us. I sold a hat cord to a woman for twenty dollars, bought a dozen eggs for ten dollars, and invested the rest in a blackberry pie. I shall never forget that pie. The crust was ironclad, and I had to bombard it before I could get at the berries. I ate the inside, but left the crust for the woman to fill again.

We took the cars at night, and next morning arrived at Macon, where we left the train, and our men went on to Andersonville.

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