Thomas Bean Letter - Belle Isle

Written Accounts
Other Sites



From HCA Auctions, Spring 2003, Lot 223

Manuscript Document pertaining to Thomas Bean (1833-1914) a member of the 39th Massachusetts Infantry, he was captured at Weldon Rail Road on August 19, 1864, and prisoned at Libby, Belle Island and Salisbury , 19 p. quarto, no dated c. 1870, being a complete account of his prison experiences with hand drawn map.

In part: “...Prison Life, during the War of the Rebellion, as narrated by me who experienced nearly seven months in Southern prisons, and pens of the south...My Regt. served during the war in the Army of the Potomac, participating in its hardships and battles, through the Wilderness, Spotsylvania, North Anna, Cold Harbor, and front of Petersburg and up to Aug. 1864 I had not been seriously injured by rebel lead or iron...I had faced them on the field amid shot and shell, I had heard their ‘Yell’ and withstood the charge and I had charged through fields and pits, with my comrads, many of whom are today in a soldier’s grave - I had seen the wounded, dying and the dead - and I thought I knew the horrors of war - but all of this sinks into insignificance compared to what was in store for me. While the Army lay in front of Petersburg in Aug. 1864 there was a detachment sent out to take and hold the Weldon R.R. The 39th Regt being a part of this detatchment and during the fight quite a large part of our brigade was cut off from the main body and was captured by the rebels - I was among the captured - and I will tell you, not all about it, but some things I know...we were dressed in summer clothing, and I carried for protection a piece of shelter tent and a rubber blanket. They, the rebels, took us up near the city, put a strong guard around us, and yarded us that night in an open lot. After dark...they cam around and took the most of the blankets that the men had over them, saying they wanted them for wounded Union officers....On the way from the battlefield up to Petersburg, the guards and their officers took hats, boots, and many such things, from our men, and sometimes gave back their old ones, but some had none to give back...They took us on to an island, in the river, and put a guard around us and in the afternoon it rained, and night was cold and we stood out like cattle and took it. The third day they gave us some rations, this was the first we had had since being captured...They then put us on cars, and took us to Richmond, and put us in Libby Prison - after being there a few days we were taken across the street to a tobacco warehouse...They told us ‘if we had greenbacks to give it up to them, and they would make record of the name and amount in a book, kept for that purpose, and when we were exchanged, we should have it back again’...They took us ...into a separate room, and searched us down to the skin, taking off every rag of clothes except the shirt and made a thorough examination of all the clothing...some of the money they found sewed in between the linings. One man had his watch under his arm, being held there by a string over the other shoulder. They took it, and kicked and beat him for trying to secrete it. I had only Confederate scrips and this they did not seem to want...we were taken back to Libby Prison...From this place we went to Belle Island...were many days without shelter...there was nine thousand prisoners, and I estimated the enclosure to contain about three acres...The guards were on the outside...with orders to shoot any man seen in the ditch, this was what was called the dead line [the one page 8”x10”, hand drawn diagram of the prison depicts Belle Island and illustrates his description of the place] ...The water in the river at this time was about two feet deep. This was the privy, as also the only place where we were allowed to get any water, to either drink or wash with...the river was full of filth from houses and mills of the men from my Regt got crowded off into the ditch and the guard shot him dead....About the fourth week of our stay here, the sick men were taken out and sent down the river and man that was able to fight, was allowed to go, for they could destroy them here faster than they could in the field...About the first of Nov. we were taken across the river, loaded on the cars like cattle, and taken to Salisbury, N.C....There was two cannon set at two opposite corners of the enclosure, so they would sweep nearly the entire ground...the men had to lie on the ground as close together as they could (what they called spoon fashion)...many should be unable to turn over in the morning...And that their comrades should be called upon to perform their last act of kindness by carrying them to the dead house...When I looked on and saw these things, saw strong, powerful men go down to death in this rebel hell. I did not wonder that they died, but that men in human form could treat men so brutish...”

Much more. Some irregular trimmed margins, else VG. Estimate: $800

***important note: the webmaster is merely transcribing an auction listing and has no access to the original letter, nor does he know who bought it.

Page last updated on 07/01/2008