From Derby, W. P.; Bearing Arms in the Twenty-Seventh Massachusetts Regiment of Volunteer Infantry During the Civil War 1861-1865. Boston: Wright & Potter Printing Company, 1883. pp. 408-411


MUCH of the experience of enlisted men in rebel prisons was also endured by officers in the hands of the enemy, and after what has already been written, need not be repeated. On reaching Libby Prison, May 16, 1864, they were required to register their names, rank, regiment and company. They were then subjected to examination for personal effects, as already described, with the statement: “If you surrender your valuables without search, they will be returned when you are exchanged, but failing to do this, they will be confiscated.” The consequences to those who voluntarily surrendered their valuables to Turner were sad to contemplate, for they introduced themselves into captivity without any means to relieve its misfortunes.

After search, the officers were confined on the third floor of that famous gaol, Libby Prison. It was a large three-story building, containing nine rooms, each about forty by one hundred feet. The lower floor was used for hospital and guard purposes. The building was close to the Lynchburg Canal and the James River. In full view across the river was the village of Manchester, and beyond, magnificent plantations with mansions, groves, and waving fields, reaching far to the south and east. Looking from the opposite side was that charnel-house for enlisted men, Castle Thunder; the tents of our guards; and the uninviting rear walls of buildings facing another street.

No rations were issued until the next day, under the economical plea, “prison rations were drawn but once a day,” our arrival (nine A.M.) being too late to be included that day. It was a very convenient rule, and was found elastic enough to preclude the issuing of rations to all prisoners the day of their arrival. It must have been in recognition, if not in acknowledgment of the fact, that the surest means of destroying courage and fortitude, was to withhold the means of sustaining life. On the afternoon of the 17th a few old United States army blankets,-discarded by former prisoners,-with one cup, spoon, and plate for three, and some black bean soup, were issued to us. Hungry as we were, many declined the unpalatable dish.

When our funds were taken, Turner said we might draw against them at the rate of seven dollars in Confederate currency to one of greenbacks, not to exceed one hundred dollars per month. A few days later he appeared with a pen and requisitions, saying that if signed by us he would bring the funds the next morning. The third day he returned, claiming there was some informality in the first requisition, when a second was signed, and a few days later he sought signatures to a third, on the same pretext. This we refused, and it is hardly necessary to add we heard nothing farther from our funds. Fortunately, Col. Lee espied a familiar face upon the street, whom he recognized as formerly attached to the United States Armory at Springfield, and succeeded in getting a note to him, inducing him to call. As he left, he slipped one hundred dollars into Col. Lee’s hands, and soon after sent in a basket containing knife, fork, spoons, cup, basin, and towel, all of which was contributed to the mess of the captured officers of the Twenty-Seventh Mass. Regt.

Dick Turner, who was the animating spirit of this gaol, was a vindictive Baltimorean, and so close a counterpart of Gen’l Winder, his chief, was he, as to often be himself the instigator of acts of brutality. He so completely overawed all sense of humanity in subordinates as to impress a doubt as to its possession by any of them. One of them has remarked, since the war, “Turner is the greatest scoundrel that ever went unhung.”

After remaining at Richmond until May 31st, we were aroused, at five a. m., and ordered to get ready to go south: As we filed out of Libby, half a loaf of corn bread, and a slice of bacon was given to each, and, after a slight delay, we were marched over the river to Manchester, the terminus of the Danville Railway. Here we were hustled into box-cars, and at 7:30 A. M. started for Danville, at which place we arrived about one o’clock the morning of June 1st. At seven A.M. we were transferred to the Greensboro road and to the care of a detachment of the Third Virginia Infantry, under a Lieut. Gay. We were favored with passenger coaches on this road to Greensboro, but at that place sixty-two officers were crammed into a box-car at the point of the bayonet. At two A. M. June 2d we started for Salisbury, but the train moved with great difficulty, and with frequent delays to get up steam. A drenching rain-by cooling the air-made our overcrowded condition more endurable.

While waiting at Salisbury, a citizen recognized Col. White of the Fifty-Fifth Pennsylvania Regiment, and entered into conversation with him. A guard named Arnold ordered Col. White back, and away from the car door. From some cause the guard failed to attract Col. White’s attention, which resulted in the latter being roughly seized by the guard and thrust back, with the exclamation, “Go in there you Yankee son of a ___!” Capt. Belger protested against such treatment, which the guard resented by levelling his musket at him saying, “I’ll learn a Yankee how to talk to me!” He was checked from firing by a Capt. Carpenter who was sitting upon the roof of the car, - saying, “I see no cause for such treatment.” The enraged Arnold struck Carpenter several times upon his feet and legs with his gun, when the latter withdrew from his reach, and supposed the affair ended. A few moments later the guard appeared upon the car behind Capt. Carpenter, and dealt him two stunning blows upon his head with his musket, and left him with the exclamation, “There! d-n you, take that!” While efforts were being made to resuscitate the injured man, Lieut. Gay happened along, and, hearing Arnold’s story, called the guards around him and delivered the following tirade: “I’ve heard of Arnold’s affair. He did just right! Don’t you take a word from the d--n Yankees. If they don’t mind at the first word, put a bullet through ‘em, d-n ‘em ! Arnold did just right!” A citizen and one of the guard attempted to say, Capt. Carpenter was not at fault, but Gay stopped them with an oath, saying, “Arnold did right!” There were about seven hundred enlisted men upon the train as prisoners, and at one of our stops, liberty had been granted some of them to get off and fill their canteens. A sick man was attempting, by the aid of comrades, to get into the cars as the train started, which being noticed by Lieut. Gay, he gave orders to one of the guard to shoot him, and a moment later his body was being ground under the wheels of the train.

We arrived at Charlotte, N. C., at four P. M. June 2d and marched to a grove near by, where we remained in a drenching rain until morning. So profuse was the fill of rain, we began a serious inquiry what we should do, but it was so much better than being packed in close cars, we concluded to let it rain. At early morning two days’ rations were issued, consisting of four hard-tack and one-fourth a pound of bacon, after which we were again crowded into box-cars, and moved for Columbia, S. C. We arrived at this place just before dark June 3d, disappointing a large crowd at the depot who had congregated with supplies of home luxuries, anticipating the arrival of a train loaded with Confederate wounded.

[remainder of memoir not transcribed.]

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