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Doc. 106.-treatment of Union prisoners.


Report of Colonel Streight.

Willard's Hotel, Wasiiington, D. C., March 2, 1864.
Hon. F. W. Kellogg, House Committee on Military Affairs:
dear sir: Agreeably to your request, I have the honor to report the following facts in relation [451] to the treatment of our officers and men by the rebel authorities.

It is impossible for me to give you an account of all the acts of barbarity, inhumanity, and bad faith I have witnessed during my captivity, but I will endeavor to mention such instances as will give you as correct an idea of the true condition of our men as possible.

On the third day of May last, near Rome, Georgia, my command having become so reduced by hard fighting and marching, during the seven days previous, that it was evident to me that we (about one thousand five hundred officers and men) would fall into the hands of the enemy, and, after holding a council of war with my regimental commanders, it was decided to capitulate, and thus secure the best terms possible for the command as a condition of surrender. In accordance with this decision I met the rebel commander, General Forrest, under a flag of truce, when a stipulation was entered into between him and myself, whereby it was agreed that my command should surrender as prisoners of war, on the following conditions, to wit:

1. Each regiment should be permitted to retain its colors.

2. The officers were to retain their side-arms.

3. Both officers and men were to retain their haversacks, knapsacks, and blankets; and all private property of every description was to be respected and retained by the owner.

The above terms were in a measure respected while we remained with General Forrest; but no sooner were we turned over to the rebel authorities than a system of robbing commenced, which soon relieved us of every thing valuable in our possession. The blankets, haversacks, and knapsacks were taken from my men at Atlanta. They were also robbed of nearly all their money, and most of them lost their overcoats at the above-named place. Here, too, the colors and side-arms were taken from us. My men were turned into an inclosure without shelter of any kind, destitute of blankets and overcoats, as I have before stated, and kept under guard for four days, during which time a most disagreeable cold storm prevailed; after which they were sent forward to Richmond and soon exchanged.

My officers were sent to Richmond after a stay of about ten days in Atlanta. On our arrival at the rebel capital, we were all searched separately, and all moneys found in our possession were taken from us. For a few days thereafter we were allowed to draw small sums of our money for the purpose of purchasing food. But this privilege was soon denied us.

I then asked and obtained permission from the rebel authorities for the officers to send home for money, clothing, and provisions. The clothing and provisions were generally delivered to the parties ordering them, providing the package or box containing them was not broken open and rifled of its contents before it reached its destination, which was frequently the case; but in no case within my knowledge has the money been delivered to the owner. The retention of this money, after expressly agreeing to deliver it, is an act of perfidy that beggars description.

I have repeatedly called the attention of the rebel authorities to the terms of my surrender, and demanded that its provisions be complied with; but General Winder, commandant of the prisoners, took from me the stipulations signed by General Forrest, which he still retains, and refuses to be governed by its provisions. My officers, together with something near one thousand other United States officers, are confined in a large warehouse building, with an average space of about twenty-five square feet to each man. This includes all room for washing, cooking, eating, sleeping, and exercising. They have no bunks, chairs, or seats of any kind furnished them, consequently they both sit and sleep on the floor. The windows of the building were entirely open until about the middle of December last, when pieces of canvas were furnished for the purpose of closing them to keep the cold out; but, as this would leave us in the dark, we were compelled to leave a portion of them open and endure the cold.

Many of the officers were entirely destitute of blankets until our Government sent a quantity to us in the fore part of the winter. The supply of blankets is now exhausted, and officers who have been captured during the last six weeks have none furnished them.

The rations furnished both officers and men by the rebels consist of about one pound of corn bread, made from unbolted meal, and one fourth of a pound of poor fresh meat per day. The meat has been issued to the prisoners but about half the time since the first of December last. In addition to the rations of bread and meat, as above stated, the prisoners draw about two quarts of rice to one hundred men. There is a sufficient quantity of salt furnished, and a very small quantity of vinegar. I will here remark that in a few instances, say six or eight times at most, a small quantity of sweet potatoes has been issued instead of the rations of meat.

The above is the sum total of the rations issued to our officers and men now prisoners of war.

The condition of our unfortunate enlisted men, now in the hands of the enemy, is much worse than that of the officers. From early in May last, when I arrived in Richmond, to about the first of December, all the enlisted men were taken to what is called Belle Island, and turned into an inclosure, like so many cattle in a slaughter-pen. Very few of them had tents, or shelter of any kind, and the few tents furnished were so poor and leaky as to render them but little better than none.

All the prisoners are taken to Libby when they first arrive in Richmond, for the purpose of counting them and enrolling their names; consequently I had a fair chance to see their condition when they arrived. Fully one half of the prisoners taken since May last were robbed by their captors of their shoes, and nearly all were robbed of their overcoats, blankets, and haversacks. [452] At least one third of them had been compelled to trade their pants and blouses for mere rags that would scarcely hide their nakedness. Very many of them were entirely bareheaded, and not a few, as late as the middle of December, were brought in who had nothing on but a pair of old ragged pants and a shirt, being bareheaded, barefooted, and without a blouse, overcoat, or blanket.

I have seen hundreds of our men taken to the hospitals thus clad, and in a dying condition. I have frequently visited the hospital, and have conversed with large numbers of dying men, brought there from the Island, who assured me that they had been compelled to lie out in the open air, without any medical attendance, though for several days they had been unable to walk. Though destitute of any thing like quarters, and nearly naked during the cold, stormy, and chilly fall season, the first and chief complaint of all I saw and talked with was on account of an insufficiency of food. I will here remark that in no instance have the rebel authorities furnished clothing or blankets to our men. During the winter large numbers of our men were frozen. I heard one of the rebel surgeons in charge say that there were over twenty of our men who would have to suffer amputation from the effects of the frost. This was before the coldest weather had commenced.

Some time in the fore part of December a portion of our men were removed from the Island to some large buildings, where they were more comfortably quartered, but there has been no time since May last but what more or less men have been kept on the Island, in the open air, and without blankets or overcoats. It is a common thing for the rebels to keep our men for several days without food. This was particularly the case with a portion of the Gettysburgh prioners. Some went as long as six days without food, and were compelled to march during the time. The officers captured at Chickamauga assure me that they and their men were robbed of every thing. Many of them lost their coats, hats, and boots as soon as captured, and then were nearly starved and frozen.

I trust you will pardon me for the tedious length of this communication. If you will bear with me, I will only call your attention to a few of the outrages practised on our officers and men in the prison discipline. Under the building known as Libby Prison is a large cellar, in which they have several cells partitioned off. Several of them are without any light, but some have windows below the pavement. These cells are used for the purpose of confining securely such of the prisoners as the authorities may fear will attempt to escape, as well as such who may chance to offend some one of the many petty officials and prison attaches.

Some of our unfortunate men are continually confined in these filthy holes on one pretext or another. It is the uniform practice to feed any and all persons sent to these cells on bread and water only. Lieutenant Reed, of the Third Ohio volunteers, was thrown into one of these cells and kept there for forty-eight hours, without any thing to eat or drink during the time. He was not allowed any blankets nor his overcoat. The weather was very damp and cold, and he, at that time, was suffering from a most severe wound in the hip.

On the night of the nineteenth of December I received a communication, purporting to come from one in authority, stating that for one hundred dollars in greenbacks, and two silver watches, myself and friend would be permitted to pass the guard. Some days previous to this, one of my officers succeeded in making his escape in this way, and although I was not without apprehension that it was a trap, nevertheless I resolved to try the experiment. Accordingly, Captain B. C. G. Reed, of the Third Ohio, and myself, went to the designated place at the appointed hour, where we were assured it was all right. We complied with the terms and passed out, but no sooner were we outside the guard lines, than Lieutenant La Touche, the Adjutant of the prison, and seven men, sprang out from a concealed place and commenced firing upon us before halting us.

We were unarmed, and could do nothing but surrender. We were taken back to the prison, put in irons, and thrown into one of these filthy holes called cells, where we were kept for three weeks on bread and water. The weather was very cold during the time, and we nearly perished. There was a large amount of filth in the cell which I could not induce them to remove, nor could I get them to permit me to remove it. I asked for paper, pen, and ink, to write to the rebel authorities. I also asked for a box to sit on, of which there was a large number in the cells. But every thing was denied me. At the time I was taken to the cell, there were six of our men confined in one of these cells for attempting to escape. They had been there for six days without blankets, and two of them were very sick. They were released at the end of seven days of their confinement.

I might continue to enumerate instances of a similar character, but these will answer to give you an idea of what is daily taking place. I cannot describe to you the loathsome filthiness of these cells. They are infested with an innumerable number of rats and mice, and they have no mark of having been cleaned since they were built. It is needless for me to say that no man can survive a long confinement in a place of this kind; and although I am acquainted with several persons who have been confined there, I do not know one who can now be called a well man.

As I have before remarked, it is impossible for me to enumerate in this communication but a few of the many acts of barbarity which have come under my notice, though I have endeavored to give you a sample of such as will enable you to form a correct conclusion relative to the treatment our unfortunate men are receiving at the hands of the inhuman people with whom we are now at war. They seem lost to every principle [453] of humanity, and it is my candid opinion that their brutality to our prisoners is only measured by their fears.

I have the honor to be, most respectfully, your obedient servant,

A. D. Streight, Colonel Fifty-first Indiana Volunteers.

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