Bowen Letter

Home
Written Accounts
Photographs
Maps
Hospitals
Prisons
Other Sites
Events
Search
Links

 


Bowen, Roland E., 15th Mass. Inf. (Gregory A. Coco, ed.) From Balls Bluff to Gettysburg and Beyond, pp. 173-184

Life on Belle Island

Commencing Aug. 8th 1863 Ending Dec. 27th 1863

Belle Island is situated in the James River just above the City of Richmond, its extreme lower end being opposite the famous Tredegar Iron Works. It is said to be about a mile in length and about a half mile in breadth, some parts of it are quite elevated. The main channel runs on the north or Richmond side and is quite rapid. This Island furnishes a fine water power station, water being brought down from its upper end in an aqueduct and running an extensive nail manufactory. The Island is connected with the mainland on the South or Manchester side by a R.R. Bridge wich runs to the nail works, considerable other business is carried on also. At the lower end of the Island there is a level spot of ground, say 6 or 7 acres in area, and of a very sandy nature, and about 8 or 10 feet above the river. On this piece of ground there is about 3 acres of land enclosed by a ditch and a bank, the ditch being about 2 feet deep and 4 feet wide, the bank being 4 feet high, the ditch was formerly on the outside but has recently been changed to the inside. There are two entrances or gates, the main gate being on the N.E. Side wich leads out to Headquarters, Cook House, Hospital. The gate on the S.E. Side leading down to the river.

On each day at about 10 oc A.M. the new guard of 112 men came over from the city, sometimes coming over in boats and at other times on the R.R. Bridge. (There are 3 bridges over the James River, two R.R. and one wagon, all below the island and opposite the City), these [the guard] are divided into three reliefs as in our own army and stand two hours each. Each relief consists of 36 men and they are posted about 35 feet apart immediately outside the bank. It will be readily seen that it is not an easy matter to run the guard. A great traffic is carried on with these guards who smuggle over every conceivable thing to sell to the prisoners. Formerly very severe restrictions were placed on this traffic, but of late, it has been carried on quite extensively and with much more boldness. Five or six weeks previous to my departure we had a sutler wich at once brought Confederate money into universal circulation wich previously had been very limited. His shop was just outside the main office and only four or five were allowed to go out at once, consequently at times there would be a tremendous rush to get out to the sutler.

First on the N.E. side is the Bakery just completed, our bread having formerly been baked in Richmond and brought over in boats. Next is the Bread House, Cook House, Sutlers Shop, Lieutenant Bossienax tent, Sergt., Suckers tent, Drummers and Fifers tent and Hospital. By Suckers I mean what some would call Hospital Nurses, but who in reality are a set of fellows who pretend to take care of the sick, but hang around and steal everything they can lay their hands on and bring into camp for sale. Yes, they will even steal the rations of their patients and sell them on the street. Considerable of the rations sent us by Uncle Sam disappeared in that way and reappeared on the street for sale. These men were detailed from our own prisoners. A more rascally set of men never lived. Beside these there are about 100 men detailed for various purposes such as bakers, cooks, camp cleaners, some work in the nailworks, carpenters, shoe makers. These men return into camp every night, except when they go over to the city to work. It is considered a great privilege to get a chance to work outside, because they not only drew double rations outside but drew their inside rations the same as we did, wich they could sell quickly for $5.00 a day (Confed). Besides that, they could carry on a considerable traffic in tabacco, stolen rations, but of late the inside rations have been discontinued.

Counting the prisoners is an occurrence wich is very irregular. I have known them to count three times in a week and then again not for six weeks. When it is done, its usually the first thing in the morning. A guard is thrown around outside, both gates are thrown open and we are ordered to leave the camp, or in other words to "Get Out." At these times every single thing we have has to be carried out or it would be stolen by those who fast re-entered the camp, even a stick of wood, brand of fire, piece of bread or anything else left would never be seen again. Most of the men have but very little to carry out. Some of the speculators however, at times have a pretty big load especially if they have been buying dureing the night, but if they have more than they can carry they load down their friends or any way to get them out. It takes about an hour to clear the camp. The sergt. then takes a club and passes round among the tents. Should he find a stray man, he first gives him Hell with his club. We now commence to re-enter the camp at each gate in single file and [are] counted as we pass in, the Lieut. counting at one gate or having someone count, while he keeps the crowd back and makes them come in [in] single file. Some are cold, others are tired of standing and for some cause or another all appear to be in a great hurry to get into camp. The Lieut. has considerable patience, he keeps talking but still they crowd.

Now he springs at the guard, snatches the gun from out [of] his hands, dives at the prisioners as if he would kill them all, bangs two or three over the head with the breech of the gun and when there is no more within his reach he commences to laugh saying, God damn you, I will kill some of you as certain as hell if you don't mind what l tell you. This causes great laughter among those in the rear who push up on purpose to get the Lieut. to whack somebody. At the other gate the Sergt. is counting with his club, he, unlike the Lieut. never laughs but brings down the club with vengeance on their craniums. These scenes are quite frequent and create great merriment for those that don't get a sore head. I don't blame them at all, the prisioners don't use any reason and act shamefully.

What we call Squading off (wich is done occasionally) is when we are counted off into distinct hundreds and a Sergt. appointed for each hundred to draw rations. None of those scenes occur when we "squad off" or when the first hundred are called for. They and they alone come forth and if they lack their full number its made up from the second hundred and so on. But in counting the whole number its every man get into camp first if he can. It takes an hour to count and two to squad off:

The camp was formerly very neatly laid out having a spacious street runing through its center with sixteen small streets running at right angles with the main street, eight on a side. These side streets are now filled with tents and the whole camp is one irregular mass of old delapidated, worn out, rotten, weather beaten tents. Some are A, some Wedge, some Bell, some Sibley, in fact any thing wick the Confederacy happen to have. Some are their own manufacture and others were captured from us. Some of these are so poor that in order to get out of the rain you have to go out side. Very seldom dureing my stay on the Island that all could get into tents. At times many hundreds had to sleep on the street and in the ditch with out a blanket or an overcoat. I say blanket or overcoat. They were half naked and would lay down 8 or 10 together like pigs just as close as they could get, in this way they would shiver out a part of the night, the remainder of wick they would walk the street. The silent hours of night are always broken by the dismal tread of a hundred shivering forms as they pass to and fro. I suppose every one is aware that in this clime, especially in the low lands of the James, that in the fall of the year we have very chilly nights with hot days. Some become accustomed to sleep days and travel nights. When I left I think there were tents enough for all, yet there were about 50 who still occupied the ditch. This was partly their own fault. They were so dreadful lousy and nasty that no one would take them in. I have seen the lice so thick on the outside of their clothing that they would try to brush them off with their hands. What the inside contained I know not (lice I guess). Some of these men were nothing but skin, bone and lice, and quite often they would be suddenly relieved of all Earthly cares, being found dead in the ditch in the morning. We would take them out in a blanket, and by order of the Corn-federacy a pine board coffin would be made, the lousy carcass placed therein, taken up the island a little distance and burned with a pine board placed at his head with appropriate inscriptions. One day while we were out to count, some of the prisoners got into the "bone yard" and stole a large number of head boards and earned them into camp to burn. I suppose this was done so that when their friends came down from the North to take their remains home they might be more readily found.

The sick are much better taken care of than formerly; the [re] was a time when it was almost imposible to get a sick man out to the hospital. You might hear men at all hours of the day crying out Steward; Steward; I want to get a sick man out to the hospital, don't expect he can live but a short time. Answer. can't help it, have no room for him. Nine times out of ten this would be the answer. Yes, I believe nineteen out of twenty, and the poor wretch would be left to die without ever seeing a physician or having the first identical thing done to relieve him of his sufferings, until at last death relieves him of all his miseries. Then he is taken up the Island as above discribed and finally his Grave stone (board) is stolen by his brother Soldiers, and thus ends the history of the unfortunate Belle island prisioner, even the sacred spot of his burial is forever unknown.

The Hospital is a large tent and will accomidate twenty or twenty-five patients, when this is full they are taken over to Richmond. Sometimes this is not done for weeks, consequently no sick are taken out of camp. I think at one time the deaths in camp were from three to five daily, my only surprise is that the mortality under the circumstances was not greater.

Rations. About two-o-clock in the morning the meat chopers axe is heard. The next sign of grub are about 8.30 when they commence to weigh out the meat in buckets and set it out in front of the cook house. Each bucket is said to contain 17 pounds. This occupies about an hour or an hour and a half, then if the bread has been got over from the city, all is ready. The next and only sign worth mentioning is two or three taps on the drum by the drummer to see if the bands are sufficiently tightened, and the drum [is] in whistling order. He now comes forth with two little fifer boys (these are detailed prisioners) and the breakfirst call is beaten. The Quartermaster makes for the bread house with a book in his hand. B y this time the Sergt. of the first hundred is on hand at the gate with 3 men and one blanket. The Quarter master now calls for the Sergt. of the first hundred. Jewell (my much esteemed friend who I fear is no more as he went to a Richmond hospital a long time ago and I can hear nothing more of him) who comes out with his men, one for a bucket of meat, the other two for 25 loaves of corn bread in the blanket. Then the Sergt. of the 2nd hundred is called and so on. Our hundred the first was divided into 5 messes of 20 men each. The Sergt. of the hundred now proceeds to divide the bread and meat into 5 piles, the bread is easily divided, but the meat has to be divided to the best of the Sergt's judgment. Then one person turns his back and another says, who has this; pointing to a certain pile. No. 2, who has this; pointing to another, No. 5, or such number as may be called by the person who has his back turned. Each mess is numbered and has a Corp. who is on hand with one man to take his rations. Viz. 5 loaves of bread and 1/5 of 17 pounds of meat. After they all get their rations each budges off for his mess muttering as he goes, "I knew I would get that pile, its all Goddamn bone, the whole of it, just my cursed luck." l believe if you would give one of them a double ration he would still swear he got the smallest heap. Now its the Corporals turn to divide for the mess of 20. Each loaf of bread is cut into 4 equal parts and the meat into 20, then a ration of meat is placed upon each ration of bread with a little salt upon each. We drew about a gill [equal to 1/4 pint] of salt to the hundred so you can judge for yourself how much each man would get. Now all is ready. One person turns his back and the Corporal pointing to a certain ration says who has this? Somebody gets it and forth-with proceeds to devour it at the same time saying, "I knew I would get the smallest ration." Usualy it would be about 10 oc when we got through breakfirst. About 4 oc P.M. we get supper, the routine is about the same except that we get 6 buckets of soup instead of meat, more appropriately called slush or swill. Sometimes it is rice, at other beans, and once in awhile mush. The beans are a very inferior kind, I think I never saw any like them before, they are very small and dark coloured. It is said they grow wild in many parts of the South and are commonly called peas. I should never call them peas however. The quality of the rice would be very good if they would pick it over, but the quantity, Lord. The mush would be very good if it was not for the absence of meal. I have seen many a pail of soup, say ten or twelve quarts, with less than a pint of beans or rice in them. Sometimes for supper we would get a few miserable half decayed sweet potatoes. A few times we got potatoes and soup both at the same time. Occasionally in the place of bread we got 3 hard tack and a little pork in the place of soup, with came from our lines. Very little of the provisions sent by our Goverment ever reached us, and when they did they were spareingly dealt out to us in place of Confederate rations. We expected to get a little extra when they should arrive but in this we were bound to be disappointed.

I have not mentioned the irregularity in our rations. This was a serious and shameful annoisance and I believe at many times inexcusable on the part of those in charge. It was not a rare occurrence that no bread would be brought over from Rich[mond] and we would have to go without a particle of supper. The Lieut. would say it was not his fault, he could not help it, and the Quartermaster would tell us that we should have double rations in the morning, but he was a liar, we never got them, and not only that, but the soup wick we ought to have had the night before, would stand in kettles over night and sour and then be dealt out to us in the morning instead of meaty At other times something would happen to the kettles and then we would get bread only. I think when we failed to get meat or soup it was never made up in a single instance. In a few cases when we got only one meal in a day we got a third of a loaf of bread each, or 33 1/3 loaves to the hundred. Our bread and meat was always very good, the meat however, was mostly fore quarters. This I suppose is oweing to the beeves all having four legs, yet we would not find fault at that if they would only be a little more liberal with the quantity. When we used to get flour bread I think I never saw better wheat bread in my life. I think a majority of the prisioners prefer corn bread, especially those who have no money. As for myself, give me wheat bread.

Tradeing with the guard is a business carried on very extensively yet secretly, always keeping a sharp lookout for the Officers. Generally the Sergts. and corporals take a lively part in the tradeing, then we only have to watch the commissioned Officers. The great majority of the guard trade more or less consequently, instead of exposing each other, they use their utmost energies to help one another sell whatever he may have. On the distant approach of an Officer a slight whistle is given wick is passed along from post to post in quick succession.This is understood by all, both Prisioners and Sentinel. The goods are quickly concealed, the prisioners disappear into the camp and all is quiet until the Officer is passed, when we again return to our illegal business. Again he slyly comes into camp, but the guard is at once informed that the Lieut. is in camp and all trade is dispensed with until he has retired. Considerable tradeing is done in the day time, yet most of it has to be done in the night especially if the goods are bulky, also it is much more safe on account of rallyers.

The[re] are hundreds of men who speculate, but let me give you a history of one, I will suppose it to be myself, (for one day). Whenever I speak of the price of any article, I mean Confederate money unless otherwise stated. One Greenback was worth ten Confederate.

As soon as the first relief of the new guard are posted, wick is about 10 oc A.M., I go out to the [river] "bank" to see how trade is and if there are any good bargains to be had. Here I find a considerable of a crowd, some are buying, some are priceing the goods, others are here out of curiosity, and still others to take something without your consent. Passing, I soon notice some one who appears to have more than one days rations in his haversack. I says, have you anything this morning. "Yes, got two pounds butter, two pounds sausage, pound coffee and a doz[en] apples." What do you want for the lot. "$5.00 Greenback" I says, Oh, you are crazy, and pass on priceing all that had got any thing to sell. We all have our favorites to trade with. I finally come to an old trader. Ali ha says I, then you still live and how is your best health. "Good, how is yours" Oh nicely I tell you, Belle Island is a healthy place, but what have you got to squander. "Well I have got 5 p[oun]ds butter, 5 pds sausage, 2 doz. eggs and a pd coffee rye." About 4 pds butter I suppose. "No sir, every thing is just as I tell you." What's the price. "5.00 Greenback." Will 50.00 Confederate answer. "I little rather have the Greenback, but suit yourself." Where is the articles? "Up to the house, I will get them as quick as I come off post." (when he is relieved he gets them according to agreement and takes his 50.00). Now what can you get me to night. "I have arrangements made to run a boat accross the river at midnight, just say what you want and you can have it: You may bring me 60 loaves bread, 1 bu[shel] potatoes, l peck onions, l qu[art] molassess and 2 qts. whiskey, all for how much. "Lets see, bread 5.00, po 4.00, on 2.00, mo 1.00, whisk 6.00 all for $18.00." Call it $17.00 "No, can't do it." Well I will tell you what I will do, I will give you $10.00 in greenbacks and $75.00 in your money thats 17.50. "All right."

As he is on from 10 to 12 in the morning of course he comes on again from 10 to 12 at night. About 11:30 I cautiously approach the bank and calling him by name, inquire if my goods are coming. "Yes" he says in a whisper, "the boat is already over and the articles hid in the bushes, come out at 12:30 and I will be ready to pass them over." I return to my tent, get 3 or 4 of my tent mates, each one with a dirk or club, and at the stated time return after reconnoitering around among the tents for Rapiers, and finding all quiet inform the guard that I am ready. Over comes 30 loaves of bread in a bag. Placing it upon my shoulder I toddle for my tent, one of my friends going ahead as a preventitive of my runing upon some hidden foe, the others keeping close in the rear that no rascals may pounce upon my bread bag. The bread having been left in the tent, we all return to the bank and the same scene is re-enacted until all the things are stored in the tent and paid for. Thus you see how trading is done.

But this is varied in a thousand forms. At times the Officers keep such a close watch that the guard don't dare try to get any thing in. At others the ralliers would be out in such force that I would[n']t run the risk of taking them. I have known quite a number of boats to be discovered by the officers and everything therein taken and the guard arrested and taken to Castle Thunder. Again yes, time and time again I have known the rapiers to make a furious attack on a few loaves of bread, then there would go up a hideous yell and clubs would fly and bread too. In an instant there would come forth a throng of rapiers and anti-rapiers, men with clubs and knives and men without either. Some one would be sought out as a rallyer and get a crack on the cranium. Another would seize a loaf of bread, no sooner than he would get it 3 or 4 would rally on him and thus the scramble for bread and the fight would become general. The bread would be torn into a thousand atoms most of wick could be found in the sand the next morning. After the disappearing of the bread quiet would again reign, some going away to walk the street again, others to their tents, some to see if there was not more bread to rally on, some with marks of the dirk, some with sore heads declaring if they knew who was the cause of it they would kill him, some laughing that they had got a paw in and made a good grab.

A number of the rapiers lost their lives in these melees. Its no crime on Belle Island to kill a man. In the Bay State if a man has plenty of money and puts it out freely, he is a good fellow. On B. I. if a man kills a rallier he is a good fellow, and the man that steals his grave stone is no sinner.

Part of the goods are sold from tents, many of the tents becoming little groceries. These are occasionally rallied on, many times the tent would be torn down or upset, then the bread and pies fly in all directions and a fight ensues. In this case after quiet is restored you find yourself minus of blankets or overcoats, or if it happens in the night perhaps all the Earthly goods that you have got. There is no law, you must catch a man in the act or he is safe, there is no chance to investigate cases of supposition or suspicion.

The "Market"

Of all the curiosities this perhaps is the most peculiar, scenes both shameful and laughable may here be witnessed. I have often been surprised myself at the great variety of things always for sale on the main street of Belle Isl[and]. Almost every thing that could be bought in the City of Richmond and many things that were not to be had in Richmond would be found for sale at the market. The reason [for] this was that boxes were sent from the North, some of with found their way on to the island with many delicacies therein with were vended on the street. This at first thought may appear ungrateful indeed. I think however that a starving man having a loaf of cake with he can sell for $10.00, wick will buy him 12 loaves of bread is justified in so doing, notwithstanding it may be the gift of the dearest friend on earth.

From early dawn until long after the Sun ceases to shine, the cry of a hundred venders may be heard. From 4 to 600 men may be found on the street at almost any time of day, (there are a few exceptions with I will soon mention). About 150 of these are peddlers, each one if possible raising his voice a little above the other, So long as I live I believe the peculiar cry of the Belle Island peddler will be fresh in my memory, and even when I am in "dreamland" I imagine I hear the vender shout at the top of his voice. "Here is where you have your nice bread, the last loaf for 10 cts. or one dollar in Confed." ["]Here is where you have your splended sausage for only 10 cts or one dollar in Confed." This will be a piece about one inch in diameter and two in length. The bread is about 10 ounce loaves. "Here is where you get your nice hot coffee and toasted bread for the small sum of 10 cts in money or one dollar in Corn-fed. This would be one pint of rye coffee and 1/4 or 1/3 of a loaf of bread, smoked rather than toasted. "Here is where you have your bread, butter and molasses for only 10 cts. in Greenbacks or one dollar in trash." This would be a half loaf bread with b & m very scanty. "Who will have the next drink of run." You could have any size drink you wanted at the rate of $5.00 a gill. "Who will have the next hot boiled egg for only 5 cts or 50 in Corn fed." "Here is the last ration of bread arid meat for only 10 cts or one dollar in C." This is a ration as above described, hundreds of these are always for sale. "Who wants to swap tabacco for a ration," etc. etc. Overcoats could be bought for $20.00, (2 Greenback). Pants 8 or 10 dollars, Caps 1.50 (15 cts [greenback]), Blankets $15.00, Socks $1.00 (10 cts.). I assure you it was not because those things were not wanted that they sold so cheap. A starving man will do any thing for a few loaves of bread. I bought two over coats, one for my bunk mate who had no money, I gave $30.00 for one and $20.00 for the other. The first hundred drew blankets, no Overcoats, before our Goverment sent us clothing (or whoever it was). I paid $10.00 for a pair of woolen socks and the same for two pairs of cotton, 5.00 each. Shirts and drawers were 2.50 each. Shoes brought a very fair price as there was always a loud call for them among the guard, $20.00 a pair. I saw 20 overcoat[s] sold to one guard in a day, all at $20.00 apiece, simply nothing, (67 cts. in Gold). Sugar 5.00 a pd., Eggs 5.00 a doz., Molasses 40.00 a gallon, Whiskey $120.00 a gallon, Irish potatoes $40.00 a bu., etc.

But I will suppose it to be a little past noon and no breakfirst. The rapiers, 15 or 20 in number, make a de[s]cent upon the market. My God, if they don't make things fly than I am no Judge. In a minit the street is clear, the shout of the vender is no longer heard. Some have lost their goods, while others have run to their tents.

Now the tents are attacked one after another until a crowd collects armed mostly with clubs wick are freely used on both sides. But generally the rowdies are soon dispersed. Sometimes the leaders are arrested and taken out to the Lieut. who has them bucked' for an hour or so. It is only recently that he would take any notice of these fellows. Formerly he encouraged them in hopes of stoping the traffic with the guard. Quite a number have been killed in these fights. After a short time the peddlers are out the same as before. Usually when a new lot of prisioners come in they have to sleep in the street. In the morning he finds himself relieved of what few things he has got. This is the rule not the exception. Why its an almost every night occurrence for a man, although rolled up in his blanket, to have it stolen. The first he knows he fords himself buzzing like a top in the dirt and has a glimpse of the blanket going around the corner. Being so suddenly awoke from his slumbers, before he can gather himself from his surprise, the theif has gone and the blanket is forever beyond his reach.

In the month of August about 10 oc one night, I saw an old Dutchman standing by the side of the street. A young man steped up to him and placing his hand upon the old Du[t]chmans shoulder as if to have some friendly conversation. With the other hand he cut the old mans blouse collar and gave it a jerk wick tore one edge completely off (down in front). With the quickness of lighting he disappeared among the tents. The old man stood like a statue for a second then began to take on bitterly. On inquiry I learned that he had 180 dollars concealed in his blouse buttons. Alas, every dollar was gone, (Greenbacks of course). The theif must have known the location of the money. I was very fortunate, don't think I lost more than $100.00 by the Thieves and Rapiers. I think I never lost anything out of the tent but three times. Twice I lost a few articles by men runing their hand under the tent in the night and grasping my haversack, [then] forthwith departed. Anoth[er] time a man came into my tent in the evening to buy some pies. I held them up that he might look at them, when he snatched them and without any apologies left, with a No. 11 shoe close in the rear. One night l bought 200.00 two hundred dollars worth of pies and was about to take them over [to] the [river] bank when I discovered the Lieut. standing by my side. I hardly knew what to do at first, but finally told the guard to wait awhile. I watched the Officer and got my pies before morning.

I bought a few pies one morning and some tobacco, it was such a small quantity that I took no notice of the ralliers. As quick as they [the articles] were thrown over, a furious mob went at them, some got a mouthful, others got none. The haversack wich belonged to the guard was torn into a thousand pieces, and in the row my cap disappeared.

In consequence of the long accumilating filth the water is getting to be very disagreeable. Formerly we had about twenty small wells or holes from 4 to 8 feet deep with a barrel or barrels placed therein. These failed to furnish the necessary supply as the prisioners increased. Then 3 or 4 wells were dug in various parts of the camp and boarded up inside to keep them from caving in, but these barely do their duty. Recently we got water from the river, many of us drinking but very little water from the wells. The river water in cold weather is splendid. The Confederacy never furnished us with any soap or accomodations for cleanliness what ever. It is a shame that prisioners, though they have no change of clothing, should not be allowed to wash those that they wear once in a while, espicially in hot weather. But this privilege was never granted.

Lice are a great pestilence. No one that has never been a prisioner can really appreciate the blessing of a change of clothing with a chance to wash the same. I don't deny being lousy when I went on to the Island, but I was not alive with them. I had been there but a short time before every crevice and seam in my few remaining rags were full of lice and nits. I used to pick lice from one to two hours a day, and then it was with the most utmost difficulty that I keep them in subjection. On the ground they could be seen crawling in all directions. In the loose sandy soil of Belle Island there lives a small emmet or ant. Th[ey] are very small indeed, being about half the size of a louse, but on espying one they just walk up to him, seize him by the head and all entreaties, distortions, wringing, twisting and kicking is of no account. The little emmet is hard­hearted and bath great faith in his own strength. He tugs away in earnest and they soon disappear beneath the sand. I have cussed the ants when they got into the sugar box before now, but in their good work on Belle Island I could only say, good, go in my sweet cuss, take that louse down and taunt him until he dies.

Wood was dealt out to us very spareingly, it seemed more like a mockery than any thing else, sometimes being without [it] for days. Finally a couple of stick[s] were given to each 20 men every other day. And last of all, five men were detailed from each hundred daily to go a mile over on the Manchester side and bring what they could on their shoulders. So every 20 men would have what one man could carry a mile each day. Judge for yourself how much it was. With this we could have a little fire morning and evening. Many would roll themselves up in their blanket and lay down nearly the whole day to keep warm.

The sink [latrine] is down by the river side. Formerly we were allowed to go out to it during the night. But some took advantage of this and swiming the river escaped, after wich the gate was closed at dark and no man allowed to go out. As there were 6000 prisioners on 3 acres of ground you must know that the condition of the camp in the morning must be filthy beyond description. They had men detailed to clean the camp every morning but it was not half done, much of the offal being covered up rather than carried away. And I think I may safely say that one fourth of the filth is never touched at all. Again the cleaning is neglected entirely for days a time. Should the prisioners be kept on Belle Island until the return of hot weather, the health of the camp will be in a terible condition and the mortality fabulous.

Since writing the above I have heard that my friend Jewell is no more.

Its not my intentions to make any apologies. I will simply say that no one is better aware of the bad grammar and orthography than myself. Some of the language may seem a little harsh to those more Spiritually inclined, correctly too. But for facts I can prove them.

Davis, I wish you to let Mother read it, aside from that it is optional with you who reads it.

My highly esteemed friend W.W. Hendershot of Mich[igan] has perused the above and says for truth, facts and veracity it is all Hunk.

With respect I remain yours, etc.

 

R.E. Bowen

 

Page last updated on 02/12/2008