Prison Life, Ch. 2
THE Tobacco Warehouse, where the officers and two hundred and fifty
privates are confined, is situated in the lower portion of the city, on the
southwest corner of Twenty-Fifth and Main Streets, and was occupied, previous to
being used as a military prison, by Messrs. Liggon & Co. for manufacturing
and storing tobacco.
It is a large, three-story brick building, built in a substantial manner,
and peculiarly adapted for prison and hospital purposes. The main (or first)
floor is allotted to the officers, fifty of whom are its present (December 1,
1861) occupants. The second and third floors contain each one hundred and
twenty-five privates. In the centre of the officers’ floor is placed the
machinery for pressing and preparing tobacco, dividing it into two equal
sections, - the western being used for eating and writing purposes, the eastern
for promenading and sleeping. Ten mess-tables, made of rough pine boards, and a
number of wooden benches and stools, occupy the main portion of the western
division; and the floor is well covered in the eastern by bedsteads and cots of
Southern and prison manufacture. The
latter are primitive yet unique in style, being of the simplest structure that
rough boards and a few nails can accomplish.
The length of the officers’ room is sixty-five feet nine inches, width
forty-five feet, height twelve feet three inches; one-half of which space is
occupied by the machinery in the centre and northern portion of the floor. The
room is lighted by five windows on the west or lower side, and three on the east
or city side. Those on the east are level with the street, and well protected by
iron bars; the west windows are without bars, but double-guarded by sentinels
placed in the yard. The sills of those in the west are used as pantries by the
stewards, and a curious assortment of stores is often displayed, - tin cups,
plates, knives and forks, a cup of butter, saucer of salt, paper of pepper, loaf
of bread, cold beef, comb and brush, - whisk broom, towels, a wet shirt drying,
shaving-apparatus, bottle of vinegars &c. The room is lighted by gas, the
use of which is either kindly or unwittingly given at all hours of the day: we
use it for cooking as well as illuminating purposes, and the odor of hot coffee
and occasional stews may be scented daily throughout the room. At nine o’clock
we have breakfast, consisting of fresh beef, - occasionally liver, - with five
ounces of bread; at one o’clock dinner, - boiled or roast beef, with five
ounces of bread; at six o’clock supper, - five ounces of bread. The
Confederate government furnishes the rations of bread and beef, with salt and
brown soap. All other articles of food are provided by the prisoners, at the
following prices: - Tea, $4 per pound; coffee, $1 per pound; brown sugar, 20
cents; butter, 60 cents; potatoes, $2 per bushel; molasses, $1.25 per gallon.
The cost of extra rations, which are confined to the fore-going articles,
averages $2.50 per week for each officer.
The cook-house of the officers is located in the prison-yard, and is
separate from that of the privates. The attendants have been selected from a
number of negroes who have been captured while acting as officers’ servants.
John Wesley Rhoads, of Bailey’s Cross-Roads, Virginia, an elderly
colored gentleman, acts as chief cook. He is an honor to his profession,
compiling with scientific skill the intricate dishes comprising our bill of
fare. The officers have ten messes, each independent of the other, yet drawing
their respective rations of bread and meat from the Confederate government. To
each mess is assigned a steward, - generally a non-commissioned officer or
private who is held as a prisoner of war.
The duty of the steward is to receive the allotment of cooked food for
each mess, prepare tile table for meals, and attend to such duties as may be
assigned him by the Sanitary Committee.
This committee consists of three members, appointed from time to time by
the Association, and has control over all matters relating to the comfort and
cleanliness of the rooms. When an officer is brought a prisoner to our
warehouse, he is presented with a tin plate and pint cup: to complete his
crockery, he is allowed to purchase a knife, fork, and spoon at blockade-prices:
he is also furnished with a cotton coverlet, and five yards of brown cotton
muslin, from which to prepare a bed-tick. When finished, be is permitted to go
into the yard, where, from a large pile of straw, he fills the tick. Then,
shouldering the unwieldy mattress, he staggers into the room and seeks a vacant
spot, which hereafter shall be sacred to himself.
At eight o’clock each morning, the clerk of the prison, accompanied by
the officer of the day, calls the roll. When an officer’s name is called, be
is required to pass by the clerk, remaining on his left until the roll is
completed. Occasionally the officer in charge becomes negligent, and days pass
without the attendance of the roll-sergeant. When daily required, it becomes one
of the many petty annoyances of our prison-life.
nine P. M. the officer of the day commands, “Lights out!” and we are
expected to prepare for bed.
The strictness of this order varies with the disposition of the officers
in charge. By some, the gas is immediately turned off, with the remark, in one
instance, “We don’t mind the gas, but you must go to bed at nine
o’clock.” Others allow one burner for any length of time we desire; yet
occasionally we neglect to extinguish the remaining light, premising that our
accommodating officer is on duty, - in which case one of the guard is ordered in
to turn off the gas. If, as often happens, the soldier is from the backwoods,
and ignorant of the nature of gas-fixtures, he awkwardly fumbles at them,
turning on those burning dimly, and reversing things generally. So, if they do
leave us in total darkness, we go to bed under the influence of a jolly good
laugh, - the only exercise unrestricted by our prison-walls.
Amid the hearty roars of laughter and general burly-burly tumult of
preparing our beds in the dark, a voice will be heard exclaiming, “Keep quiet,
gentlemen, do, if you please: you might wake up the guard.”
When an officer is desirous of visiting his men, confined in the adjacent
warehouse, he makes his request known to the officer of the day, who asks
permission of the commandant of the post. After repeated importunities, it will
sometimes be granted a week subsequent to the first request. The same delay
often occurs in visiting sick or dying men in the hospital, as the following
incident will illustrate: —
On the 17th of December, the writer was informed of the
serious illness of a private in his company, - Robert McMennamin, of
Philadelphia, - then in the hospital. Desirous of visiting him, application was
made to the roll-sergeant of the prison, and through him to the officer of the
day, who presented the request to the commandant of the post. In a few hours the
reply came that the request could not be granted.
Later in the day, information was received that the poor fellow was very
low, and could not possibly live through the night.
Resolved to see him, and ignoring prison-rules
and persons, the writer watched the street and hailed the commandant
through the bars: be came, listened, and granted the urgent demand. Placed in
charge of the guard, we entered the hospital, and found McMennamin on the third
floor, lying upon a cot, in the last stages of typhoid fever. As the writer bent
over him and received his dying words, - “Lieutenant, see to my mother and
little children,” - and looked upon his haggard and wasted features, his
shadow-like frame, sunken yet burning eye, he realized the unutterable horror of
That man dying in this lonely hospital, without a mother’s gentle
nursing or wife’s thrilling tenderness to mellow the agony of death, - ah! it
was a scene to touch the strong heart. No bolder spirit than his ever braved the
bullet and bayonet, no truer heart beat round our camp-fires, no gayer voice
rang with the wild notes of the bivouac-song. Loved, honored, the boast and
pride of his companions, he died far from home and friends, and we know not
where “he sleeps his last sleep.”
Visitors occasionally arrive at the prison, requesting of the officer
permission to see a prisoner known to them. They are referred to General Winder,
to visit whom and procure his written authority often occupies half the day. In
the mean time the young officer of the day has piloted through the room several
strings of his personal friends, who gaze at us as if we were Hottentots or
cannibals. When a Federal officer is visited, the officer of the day announces,
in a loud tone, that “A gentleman wishes to see him:” upon his return from
the prison-office he is immediately congratulated upon being released; and. it
is only after repeated efforts that be convinces our little band that lie is
still part of our confederacy.
Thirty minutes are allowed to visitors for conversation with a prisoner,
which is generally held in the presence of several officers connected with the
Letters, after undergoing supervision in Norfolk, are sent to General
Winder, where much delay occurs be-fore they are assorted and delivered. When
asked for, the reply has been made, - “The postmaster has not bad time to
arrange them.” Occasionally they are brought to the prison-office, and
subjected again to delay; and often it requires repeated and urgent requests for
the privilege of assorting and delivering them.
At one time, the penny-post brought them direct from the post-office and
delivered them personally to the prisoners, with which arrangement we were much
pleased; but, owing to a personal difficulty between the commandant of the post
and the letter-carrier, he discontinued bringing them. The privates suffer still
more, as an increased interval-occurs with their letters between receipt and
It is amusing to observe the strictness and severity of our martinet
officers of the day, when the details of the system upon which they act are so
loosely connected together. The officers attached to the post are, one
commandant, and four lieutenants, acting officers of the day, - one of whom
inaugurates a system today, another tomorrow, and a third on the next has none:
hence it is usual with us, when we wish to visit our men or present other
requests, first to inquire who is officer of the day.
“Is Yankee-Killer?” “No.” “Is the tall, accommodating
officer?” “No.” “Is the little fellow who drinks so much whiskey?”
“Yes.” Then we are safe in asking any thing, for he is both kind and drunk
all the time.
In the early part of January, a chance occurred in the administration of
our prison, caused by the departure of Captain Gibbs, the commandant of the
post, to Salisbury, North Carolina, to assume charge of the Feder4, prisoners
confined there, Captain A. C. Godwin, of the C. S. Army, being placed in command
On the day the change occurred, Brigadier-General Winder was seen to
visit the prison-office; and it soon became known in the officers’ room that
our new commandant would inaugurate a fresh system of regulations, - which
caused much amusement, as experience had taught us that prison-systems at our
warehouse were ephemeral, and apt to vaporize upon the assumption of duty by
each succeeding officer of the day.
We were informed that our errand-boy would cease his duties from that
day; that hereafter no communication would be allowed with the “outer
world;” that our luxuries must be in future procured through the corporal of
the guard, who was instructed to carry every article purchased into the office
for inspection. He obeyed his
orders strictly in one instance, to the personal knowledge of the writer, by
carrying to the officer of the day the basket containing the half-peck of
potatoes required by “our mess.” Previous to the advent of the new
commandant, we habitually slumbered in the morning until eight or nine
o’clock, as a resource to shorten the drear tediousness of the day; but, alas!
on the 22d of January our realm of slumber was invaded, and we were aroused
shortly after daybreak, and summoned to attend roll-call by the officer of the
day surnamed “Yankee-Killer,” accompanied by a file of Confederate soldiers.
The astonishment with which the dreamy, half-recumbent sleepers received the
call, the husky, inquiring voices, the reluctant, drowsy lassitude evinced by
all, gave evidence of the unwelcome nature of the order.
With slow and intentionally lazy movements we prepared to obey: each
garment was handled with a studied yet demure awkwardness; boots were put on the
wrong foot, legs were reversed in pantaloons, and coats manœuvred to change
front to rear. In the mean time, “Yankee-Killer,” erect, attentive to the
scene, with anger-clouds marring the effeminate delicacy of his features, and
feverish fingers restlessly fondling his sword-hilt, stood watching the sluggish
preparations around him.
The Secesh guard looked upon the scene with astonished eyes. They could
not realize that Yankee prisoners had courage sufficient to loiter in obeying an
order from the stern yet truly harmless “Yankee-Killer.” Thirty minutes
elapsed before our clothing was adjusted properly for the ceremony of roll-call.
Upon its completion, twenty voices were mingled in whistling the stirring,
rollicking notes of “Yankee Doodle,” and our friend marched out of the
warehouse with his soldiers, probably anathematizing the unquenched spirit of
“the eternal Yankee.” With no other officer would these scenes have been
enacted: lie alone appears to gratify his personal bitterness by drawing roughly
the prison-shackles around us.
The regulations of our new commandant remained in force a few days, to
annoy us and circumscribe our privileges, and then faded away like their
To assist them in carrying on the commissary and hospital departments of
the prisons, the Confederate authorities select the many assistants needed from
the prisoners of war; and it must be acknowledged that they show great
discrimination of character, - for they have chosen the most intelligent and
serviceable. With the exception of the commissioned officers and attendant
surgeons, the entire organization is composed of Federal assistants, who serve
because they in a measure add to the comfort and welfare of their
fellow-prisoners. The following remark made by a Confederate officer will show
the estimate placed upon them: -
“There is more ingenuity and industry in the Yankee prisoners of
Richmond than in the whole Southern Confederacy.” Each floor containing
privates is placed under the charge of one of their number, who is called the
“sergeant of the floor,” and often possesses an authority with the Secesh
guards not usually exercised by prisoners over jailers. A few of them have the
parole of the city, and often aid the officers in prison by making purchases,
and bringing welcome intelligence of Secession reverses, - news considered
contraband by the officer in charge.
At the time of the writer’s advent in the warehouse, (October 24,)
there had been considerable amelioration of the treatment and condition of the
The Federal officers captured at Manassas were conveyed in the cars to
Richmond, and thrust, with six hundred privates, into a warehouse, - where,
sweltering with the heat of midsummer, with closed windows, and not room
sufficient for them all to lie wedge-packed upon the floor, they remained,
suffering and without food, for nearly twenty-four hours. They were then removed
to their present quarters, yet were permitted to occupy only half the space
subsequently allotted them, - the eastern section of the room being filled with
the prison-guard and sentinels on post upon the same floor, with orders to
bayonet all who approached within three feet of them.
For weeks they slept upon the floor, without blankets or overcoats, with
blocks of wood - and not enough even of those - for pillows. It was not until
three months had elapsed that the Confederate authorities furnished straw and
cotton coverlets. Without servants, mess-tables, benches, or even knives and
forks, they ate their meals cross-legged upon the floor, and off the
window-sills, in a primitive, yet (owing to the quantity furnished) ravenous,
style. Without water-facilities, except a well in the yard, which was used not
only by the officers, but also by five hundred men confined in the upper stories
of the warehouse, one of whom only was allowed to use it at a time, hours would
pass each morning before an officer was able to wash.
Visitors of all grades were allowed to enter the building, and often
subjected them, in the presence of Confederate officers of the prison, to the
vilest abuse. Outside of the warehouse, the square was for weeks packed with
Rebels, who, whenever they caught a glimpse of a Federal officer, hooted at and
insulted him. Richmond had, apparently, given up her rabble and filth to centre
around the “Yankee” prisons, - as men, women, and even little children
scarcely old enough to walk, united in heaping scurrilous abuse upon them.
Although in October the treatment of the officers has improved, that of
the privates remains the same. Two
thousand eight hundred and thirty-eight have been confined in Richmond since the
commencement of hostilities; and their condition in the upper stories of the
warehouse is harrowing to the sternest heart. With the floor for a bed, without
straw, many without pantaloons, all with scant raiment, but few with blankets,
whilst the keen air of mid-winter pierces through the ill-protected building, -
receiving half the ration of food allowed in the Federal army, covered with
vermin, starved and shivering, - they are crowded together in herds. Regardless
of life, dead to the dictates of humanity, their jailers see them die daily, -
apparently without sympathy, evidently without attempting to prevent mortality.
At ten o’clock they are furnished with breakfast, consisting of a small
piece of cold beef and five ounces of bread; at seven P. M. they receive about
a-half-pint of soup and five ounces of bread, with rice occasionally in lieu of
meat. They receive but two meals per day, and those of the poorest quality. The
rice is often wormy; the meat is cooked two days before consumed and lies
exposed in a trough in the yard, becoming covered with dust and ashes, and the
juice being extracted by making soup for one meal before the meat is served, dry
and hard, for the next.
For two weeks the men have not been able to pro-cure water or brooms with
which to scrub the floor, and the dirt and bones are swept into one corner: it
cannot be thrown from the window, the sentinel having orders to shoot any one
who approaches it.
Seven Federal prisoners have been shot dead by the sentinels for
inadvertently leaning from the windows.
They have been known to hunt for a bone from the pile of filth, and gnaw
eagerly upon it. There being but one hydrant in the yard, for the use of five
hundred and fifty men, they are kept waiting for hours in line before being able
to reach it; and the same buckets used for distributing meat and soup are
furnished them for washing their bodies and clothes. One small stove is put into a room eighty feet long by fifty
wide; and the men are forced to walk half the night to keep from freezing during
the other half. Every day, from early morning until late at night, emaciated
soldiers may be seen waiting longingly for the surplus bread and meat from the
officers’ table. It is a scene of piteous sadness when a steward brings forth
a pan of food to distribute among them. As he appears, every soldier’s eye
glares with a hungry look, arms are reached forth beyond the sentry’s musket
and each man jostles with his neighbor for a crust of bread, and crunches his
share with eager, ravenous haste.
The hospitals for the prisoners of war are locate on Alain Street,
adjacent to the prison-warehouse. The
buildings are similar to the latter in every respect, consisting of three
stories, each floor of which is subject to the following sanitary regulations:
Four rows of camp-cots, containing eighty beds, occupy the room.
Twelve nurses are in attendance, - eight during the day, four at night;
two sergeants, alternating day and night in their duties, who alone give the
medicines to the sick; and one steward, having charge of the commissary and
For a long period previous to the release of the Federal sick and wounded
prisoners, one hundred and sixty in number, they were attended by one physician
only. Drs. Fletcher and Revere, Federal surgeons, were for a short time
permitted to attend the hospitals, subject to a parole which confined them to
the immediate vicinity of the prison: they were of incalculable benefit to the
prisoners, who suffered much for the want of proper medical attendance.
When the sick were released and sent North, the Federal surgeons were
abruptly informed that their parole had expired, and we welcomed them once more
to our “pent-up Utica.”
The food furnished in the hospital is of good quality and well cooked,
consisting of beef, beef-soup, potatoes, coffee and tea, with molasses and milk
The building is kept in excellent order, the attendants being prisoners
of war; yet, owing to the sick being removed from the crowded prison direct to
the hospital-wards, they transfer with them myriads of body-vermin; and often
men have lain for days in a typhus condition, infested with vermin, nauseating
to sight, yet incapable of being cleansed, owing to the nature of the disease.
When a private becomes unwell, no medicine is furnished until he is sufficiently
ill to be removed to the hospital. This fact, with the natural aversion they
have to being removed thither, adds to the mortality.
We have been informed that upon the arrival of the Federal wounded
prisoners from Manassas, the entire stock of lint and bandages in the hospital
was furnished by the Unionists of Richmond. The papers at that time reeked with
the foulest abuse of their government for devoting even a small portion of its
resources of medical aid to the U.S. wounded, when their own were thronging the
city, making it one vast charnel-house.
Looking from the west windows of our room, we see daily from one to three
corpses brought from the hospital to the yard, and deposited in pine coffins.
These are from the hospital exclusively used for prisoners. In the morning a
hearse arrives, receives the coffins, and drives away, none knowing where or how
the poor fellows are buried.
The disease most prevalent is typhoid fever; and the great mortality
arises in part from patients being discharged from the hospital during the early
stages of convalescence. A relapse occurs, and death generally ensues.
John Riley, sergeant of Company H, California
Regiment, a man forty years of age,
upright, brave, and a veteran soldier, became sick, and was taken to the
hospital. In a few days he was brought, staggering from weakness, yet tinder
guard, to his quarters. As lie passed across the officers’ floor to the
stairs, the writer said to him, in astonishment, “John, you are not able to
come out. Why did you leave the hospital?”
“Ah, lieutenant,” was the answer, - “I ate a little breakfast this
morning; and when they found I could eat, they told me I must go back and make
room for others sicker than I am.”
During the suffering and destitution the men daily experienced, -
suffering calculated to deaden every energy of life, and render turbid the
natural buoyant impulses of man’s nature, - the Federal privates had resources
within themselves to soften the rigor of their confinement.
Often did we hear their fine glee-club blending voices in the notes of
our national songs, whilst “Home, Sweet Home” would come trilling to our
ears through the plank ceiling above us.
Theatrical amusements and working in bone and wood served to lessen the
tedium of imprisonment.
Specimens of their skill in producing from bone trinkets of beautiful
workmanship were bought with avidity by the Confederate and their own officers.
Finger-rings of exquisite and unique chasing, Maltese crosses of elaborate
finish, and curious national emblems of quaint design, portraying the skill
whilst suggesting the patriotism of the carver, cut from bone and carved with
the rudest tools, - a jack-knife and file, - were the results of the constant
employment of the men.
At one period General Winder issued an order making files contraband of
war within prison-walls; but the men laughed at the prohibition, and the order
was never enforced.
in manual labor alone do they commemorate their sufferings and imprisonment: an
association exists among them to perpetuate the records of their confinement,
and to serve as a nucleus round which they may gather in brotherhood when the
period of their incarceration is ended. It is called the “Union Prisoners’
Association,” and is governed by the following officers, all of whom belong to
the rank and file of Colonel Baker’s California Regiment: -
As donations of clothing arrived from the North, and detachments of the
prisoners were sent home and to the South by the Confederates, the condition of
those remaining in Richmond became improved.
of quarters in some instances enabled the men to cleanse themselves, and the
liberal gifts of clothing from Northern friends prevented, in a measure, the further accumulation of body-vermin; and more
space and increased water-facilities being furnished,
all were able to keep their bodies clean and partially invigorate them by
exercise, though restricted to their in-door quarters.
January 13 and 14 were gala-days within prison-walls. Appeals had been
made by the imprisoned officers of Colonel Baker’s California Regiment to the
citizens of Philadelphia for the relief of the suffering privates in the
Richmond warehouses. A warm response and welcome contributions quickly followed,
- the packages arriving at the warehouse and being opened for distribution on
the above days.
The officers’ floor had the appearance of a bazaar rather than of a
prison, as the different articles, consisting of coats, pants, vests, boots,
shirts, drawers, stockings, towels, sponge, soap, combs, toothbrushes,
sewing-bags, and even dressing-gowns, were strewn promiscuously around, -
presenting to our shabby guards a picture of tempting comfort towards which in
vain they “cast a wishful eye.” The Governor of Massachusetts had forwarded
in the latter part of December three hundred and fifty complete suits of
clothing, - thus maintaining the reputation of that noble old State for
generosity and liberal attention to the wants of her volunteer soldiers. The
clothing for the California Regiment was contributed solely by private persons,
residents of the city of Philadelphia, to whom a more fitting evidence of our
gratitude could not be rendered than to depict the earnest, expectant eagerness
with which the articles were received.
As name after name was called, and the poor fellows filed into the room
in destitution and in rags, and were sent back with armfuls of the good things
from our Northern homes, their features glowing with thankfulness and honest
pride of their generous and time-honored birthplace, full well the scene would
have repaid the donors for their liberal contributions. Kind friends at home, do
you not see destitute men, after months of suffering, gathering the treasures
you have sent them, in some selected corner of the old warehouse sacred to
themselves, counting, handling, ay, gloating over the rare comforts of this
They who sent this warm blanket, this heavy woollen shirt, knew not,
perhaps, bow much of disease and death hung around these prison-walls, of the
filth and destitution within them, now cleansed and alleviated by the responsive
sympathy of their generous hearts.
The Hon. Mr. Faulkner, released by the United States government in
exchange for the Hon. Mr. Ely, M.C., of Rochester, N.Y., visited us on the 21st
day of December, 1861. We were solicitous of his unprejudiced opinion regarding
the comparative treatment of Federal and Confederate prisoners of war, and were
gratified at the tenor and courteous sincerity of his conversation.
He passed through the officers’ floor, greeting us with much cordiality
and evident sympathy. His recent arrival from France, brief residence in “Secessia,”
with his “wheelbarrow experience” in Fort Warren, had, no doubt, mellowed
the bitterness of his Southern heart, - as we were thoroughly impressed with his
kindness of manner and the interest be evinced in the details of our
imprisonment and treatment.
After examination of our quarters, he said, “But little difference
existed between them and those of the Confederate prisoners at Fort Warren,
excepting in out-door exercise, which was imperatively needed, and, he hoped,
would soon be allowed us.”
expressed his opinion that a general exchange would speedily occur; by which
remark be added a new chapter to our already voluminous text-book, “Hart on
After conversing socially for a short time, be was passing from the
building when an officer suggested that probably he was desirous of visiting the
quarters of the privates. He remarked that he had just passed through them. Upon
being informed of his error, - that those he was now in belonged to the
officers, - he appeared much astonished and desired to be shown those of the
He was led into the tipper stories, and evinced surprise and pity at the
condition and treatment of our soldiers.
During his visit to our warehouse, he expressed the following opinions: -
“That United States officers in Richmond received treatment similar to
I that of the Confederate privates in the North.
“That United States privates were treated much worse than Confederate
privates were in the North.
“That the privateers North received every comfort possible under the
“That the Federal hostages in Richmond jail, were treated far worse
than the privateers were in the North.”
Mr. Faulkner has placed himself under the ban of Secession displeasure by
maintaining a “masterly inactivity” on the subject of the Rebellion, since
his return from the North. The Richmond press coarsely abuse him for a want of
patriotism, intimating that he is at heart a “Unionist;” and Confederate
officers have declared in our prison that a shrewd “Yankee” trick had been
played upon them in exchanging Mr. Faulkner for Mr. Ely, - that it inaugurated a
new system of exchange, “a Yankee for a Yankee.”
Union men - or, more properly, prisoners under suspicion of Union
sentiments - are confined in an adjacent warehouse. The condition of our own
soldiers is harrowing to the heart; but sympathy, pity, and impulsive horror are
called forth by the contemplation of the treatment received by the Union men.
Taken from the backwoods, often whilst in the field at the plough, and
conveyed to Richmond, without change of clothing, they are huddled together, two
hundred and eighty-nine in number, in the lower room of the warehouse occupied
by the Federal privates. Young boys, scarcely old enough to know what Union
means, old men, ragged, unshaven, filthy, trembling with age, - in one instance
totally blind, - a few so helpless that they were led about the room, - covered
with vermin to such an extent that even the vermin-afflicted soldiers shun
contact with them, - the ignorant and educated, the filthy and refined, are
mingled in one mass of misery and stench. Nearly all are afflicted with
incipient consumption, brought on by want of proper raiment and by the cold,
biting draughts through the building. Two have died in their plank bunks on the
prison-floor, from lack of attention and medical assistance; ten per cent. have
died in the hospitals; whilst two-thirds of those taken there die in consequence
of the fatal progress the disease has made previous to their removal from the
prison. Many have an idiotic appearance; whilst all are ignorant of the charges
against them, but presume in every case that it is from suspicion of “Union
A few voted the Union ticket; but many know nothing of the political
causes of the war. Nearly all are entirely destitute of money, and a few so
utterly dead to shame that no employment is too repulsive or degrading for them.
Instances have been known where they would beg permission to hunt vermin upon a
soldier’s shirt for a pittance of money wherewith to buy bread.
A permanent commission was appointed by the Confederate government, to
whom were referred all cases of men “under suspicion.” Yet day after day
passed, and they still lay in prison, without trial and without knowledge of the
charges against them. By the merciful ordination of Providence, the commissioner
was removed by death, and the Confederate government appointed a man who has
shown that regard for humanity which, when blended with justice, constitutes the
purely upright judicial.
At the present time (February 1,1862) few Union prisoners remain in the
Richmond warehouses. When brought to trial, few refused to take the oath of
allegiance, and on taking the oath they were sent to their homes, - perhaps to
find them in desolation and ruins.
Through all time will the foul stigma of inhumanity cling to this great
rebellion, when the sad history of the Union prisoners is told by the future
Union prisoners of a different character and standing are occasionally
incarcerated in the prison ware-house occupied by the officers, but generally
for a very short period, as the association would yield pleasure to Unionists,
and welcome intelligence would be given to the prisoners.
During the early part of January, a wealthy and influential citizen of
Richmond became an inmate of the officers’ room for a few hours. His name will
not be given, as he is still a resident of Richmond, and we do not wish to
compromise his, interests, and perhaps injure the cause he so nobly yet
discreetly represents amidst the rebellious herd around him.
He is a relative of a distinguished physician of Philadelphia, and has
been from the commencement of our political troubles a staunch Union man.
During his temporary absence from Richmond, his son, against the
father’s express desire and command, accepted a commission in the Confederate
army, and previous to his confinement among us the father had been visiting his
son at Manassas. Whilst there, the usual holidays of the season opened, and he
bad sub-scribed liberally in behalf of his son to an entertainment given by the
officers to commemorate the auspicious opening of the New year.
Whilst at the social board, unconscious of the evil gathering around him,
he was placed under arrest, and conveyed to Richmond, where we had the pleasure
of greeting him, openly and without danger to his person, at our rough yet
social mess-table. The few hours he passed in our midst impressed us with the
earnest sincerity of his Union sentiments, whilst the courteous and refined
urbanity of his manners rendered his society pleasing and grateful during our
hours of seclusion from the “outer world.”
His early removal from the warehouse caused general regret. During his
brief stay, he informed us that whilst at Manassas he was convinced that
treachery was rife in high quarters of the United States Army, - that daily
information passed from the Federal lines to those of the Confederates at
Manassas. - So convinced was he of this fact, and so thoroughly had he
identified persons concerned in this treacherous villany, that measures were at
once taken by a prominent officer among us to furnish the United States
government with the information, which was done within ten days from the date of
the Unionist’s arrival in the warehouse.
He assured us of the immense amount of dissatisfaction in the rank and
file of the Confederate Army; that, were it in their power, two-thirds of the
Rebel army would go home: that they would do so upon the expiration of the
twelve months’ service, he had not the slightest doubt.
These facts, with many others relative to the Union sentiment in
Richmond, were gladly received by us; for we bad almost desponded of ever
catching a ray of hope through the bars.
Our friend had no fears of a lengthy confinement, as he had many
influential friends, among whom might be classed a few of the bitterest Rebels
of Richmond. He anticipated being
released in the morning; yet his hopes were realized sooner than he had
expected, although in a ludicrous and singular manner. At twilight of the day he
arrived, a private carriage was observed to stop at the prison-door. A lady of
fashionable and refined appearance alighted, approached the sentinel, and
demanded imperatively to see our Union friend. The sentinel refused her
admittance. The lady insisted in a louder tone, and a little crowd gathered
round the door, whilst the prisoners collected at the windows at the unusual
Louder and louder grew the lady’s voice, sterner the sentinel’s,
until the commandant of the post appeared.
He was immediately accosted by the lady, who demanded admission, at the
same time informing him that “she was as good a Rebel as any in the States.”
Upon his refusal, she again approached the sentinel, and persisted in passing.
Our worthy jailer, taking her by the arm, led her to the carriage, at the same
time speaking a few words in a low tone. She entered, and, in an excited voice,
ordered the negro to drive home.
Turning to the sentinel, the commandant sternly ordered him to bayonet
any who approached, without authority, within three feet of the door, without
regard to sex, age, or position, concluding with the words, “Remember, I order
you.” He then quickly paced the pavement to and fro for some time, in deep
thought. Finally he entered the
building, and inquired for our Union friend, who passed into the office with
him. In a few moments he returned for his carpet-bag, ignorant of his
destination, yet surmising that he would be paroled.
We have not seen him since that moment; yet many of us judge him to be
another political inmate of Richmond jail.
The prisoners are guarded according to the following regulations, copied
from those posted on the walls of the prison-office: -
1st. The roll-call of prisoners will commence at seven
o’clock A.M., and the officer of the day will superintend the roll-call in
2d. Either the officer of the day, or of the guard, must be at the
guard-room at all hours; and the guards off post are required to remain always
at their quarters, ready for service.
3d. Prisoners have not permission, nor will they be allowed, to pass from
floor to floor, or house to house, or be absent from the building to which they
are assigned, except with the permission of the commanding officer, or officer
of the day.
4th. No prisoner, whatever be his rank, will be allowed to
leave the prison to which he is assigned, under any pretext whatever, without
permission of the commanding officer; nor shall any prisoner be fired at by a
sentinel or other person, except in case of revolt or attempted escape.*
5th. The guard, whether on post or otherwise, will have no
conversation with citizens or prisoners, nor will they permit it between
citizens or others and prisoners.
6th. They will not permit letters, packages, or parcels of any
kind, to be sent into or out of the prisons or hospitals, without permission
from the officer commanding, the surgeon, the officer of the day, or officer of
7th. They will not, under any circumstances, pass persons into
or out of the prisons, except by permission of the officer commanding or officer
of the day; and any person presenting a pass or permit will be directed to the
commanding officer’s office.
8th. Except in cases of special permit, the interview between
visitors and prisoners must be had at office of commanding officer.
9th. All lights, except hospital’s, must be extinguished at
nine o’clock P.m.
10th. All prison-gates to be closed at six P.M.
11th. No visitors will be permitted to enter the prison, or
have any conversation whatever with the prisoners, except by special permit of
12th. A number of the guard will be detailed between the hours
of ten A.M. and twelve o’clock M., daily, to make purchases for the prisoners.
At no other time will they be permitted to leave the post.
13th. The first duty of the guard, daily, will be that of
policing each floor, and the entire premises of each prison; and the officer of
the day will see that this duty is rigidly performed.
14th. The firing of a single gun at night, or in the daytime,
will be the signal for the immediate assembling, under arms, of the guard,
excepting the sentinels on post, and, when so assembled, the officer of the
guard will keep them at attention for orders.
15th. The officer of the guard is required, by frequent
inspection, to see that the arms of the guard, particularly at night, are in
condition for constant use.
*The sentinels have killed seven and wounded three Federal prisoners for looking out of the windows.
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