From John N. Beach, History of the Fortieth Ohio Volunteer Infantry. London, Shepherd & Craig, 1884, pp. 132-136

LETTER FROM LIEUTENANT J. M. WASSON - ADVENTURES IN SOUTHERN PRISONS.

RENSSELAER, INDIANA,
March 1st, 1884 .

MY DEAR DOCTOR:

Your letter of February 21st, asking for a brief history of my capture and imprisonment, is received. I hasten to reply, and will give you facts as I remember them; not supposing, however, that my personal adventures will be of much interest to old comrades, only as they are illustrative of one feature of our soldier life that but few, fortunately, of our regiment had any personal knowledge.

I was captured on Missionary Ridge, September 22d, 1863 , in company with Captain J. C. Meagher, and I think about twenty of his men, Company “H.” [author goes on at length about his trip through Atlanta to Richmond ]

...Reached Libby Prison about 9 o’clock P. M., September 28th. Before entering the building we were placed in line, and the officers were ordered from among the men, and with two exceptions I have never see any of the latter since. Upon entering the office of Libby, our names and rank were entered in a register, and we were advised to turn over all our money to the authorities with the understanding that it would be returned to us when we left, or were exchanged. This advise was coupled with the statement if our money was not so turned over voluntarily, we would be searched, and all valuables confiscated. Under the circumstances I thought it best to loan the Confederacy $150, and am sorry to say that the exploded concern still owes me that amount.

We were then ordered up a flight of stairs and into the “Chickamauga room,” were we were greeted with cries of “Fresh fish! Fresh fish!” a term applied to all new prisoners. The room being dark I groped my way until I found a vacant place and laid down. Morning revealed a large room, the floor covered with men lying in rows, and packed like sardines in a box. At 9 A. M., guards [page 135] entered and announced roll call, the prisoners all being ordered into fours when a sergeant proceeded to count the files. Rations were then issued, a ration consisting of a very small loaf of bread ad a little soup, but this, scant as it was, soon gave way to a small piece of very poor corn bread. General Neal Dow, who was one of our number, said when his ration was issued: “We are now getting down to the dregs of the Confederacy.”

I will not attempt to describe any of the scenes of Libby, the horrors of this prison having been so often told as to be familiar to all, so far as any one can understand them without having been a prisoner there. Exchange, or some plan of escape occupied all our thoughts. Captain Meagher was fortunate in being exchanged early. Imprisonment bore heavily upon him, but he was always ready to sing a song, tell a story, or play a game of whist. I think he was the happiest man I ever saw the day he was told of his exchange. As for myself I was always on the lookout for a chance to escape. Accidentally hearing of tunnel being dug I determined to leave by that route as soon as those doing the work had gone out. In the evening of February 9th, 1864, the tunnel was finished and utilized. I crawled out in company with a Lieutenant of a Kentucky regiment about 10 P. M., passed liesurely by the guards, saluting them occasionally, and thus got safely out of the city. We soon reached the fortifications, luckily striking a point where the pickets were not very vigilant, and crawling over one of the big guns, we went rapidly forward, and at daylight had reached a point eight miles from the city where we lay quiet for the day, suffering greatly from cold. At dark we pushed forward rapidly, meeting a squad of rebel cavalry which we eluded by dodging into the brush. At 9 P. M. of the third day out, we were suddenly confronted by five rebel soldiers, [page 136] who fired upon us but fortunately without hitting us - We were prisoners again, all our hopes of freedom, meeting friends, and joining our regiment had vanished into thin air. We were taken to General Picket’s headquarters, and from there returned to Libby. As a punishment for our attempt to escape we were confined in a dark, damp cell for eight days, the cell being so crowded that we could not lie down. During this confinement no one entered the cell, our ration of corn bread being passed in through a hole in the do. Imagine our filthiness when we were let out more dead than alive, of what we fully expected would be our grave. Men talk of forgetting the past. Never!

May 10th, 1864, we left Libby for Camp Oglethorpe, Macon, Ga. [author goes on at length about his stay in other Confederate prisons - this was not transcribed. Transcription continues on page 140:]...Following this we were removed to Charlotte, N. C., to Salisbury, N. C., to Danville, Va., and finally landing in our old room at Libby. After a night’s stay there, next day, Sunday, was sent to City Point for exchange. Reached Annapolis, Md., April 7th, 1865, where I remained two weeks in hospital. From here I went to Washington City, where I settled my account with the Government May 5th, and reached my home in Ohio May 10th, 1865 .

Very truly yours,
J. M. WASSON,
Late Lieutenant Company “H” 40th O. V. I.

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