From the National Tribune, 11/27/1902

[This material is taken from the lengthy memoir of Henry Clay Trumbull, chaplain of the 10th Connecticut. His account was published serially in the National Tribune in 1902. Trumbull published many war-related things independently, including his memoirs in 1898. He spent time in several Southern prisons, and while this article is mainly a guilt-trip about the lack of mail sent to prisoners, a small section, which follows, gives an interesting account of mail distribution at Libby Prison.]


After an experience of months in the prisons of South Carolina, I was in Libby Prison, with this longing for home letter filling my heart, as it filled the heart of every soldiers prisoner. How vividly there stands out in my memory the picture of that first mail distribution I witnessed in Libby!

There were more than 900 Federal officers there at that time. The mail for soldier prisoners in all the South came from the North by flag of truce to City Pont, and thence to Richmond for sorting and distribution to other points. The cry of “Mail! mail!” was my first glad surprise in the Libby. I knew its meaning full well. All were at once excited, and busy in preparation for its reception. A circle of boxes and barrels inclosed a space on the upper floor, where the huge mail could be deposited and sorted when it came in. Adjt. Knaggs, of the 7th Mich. Cav., took his place in the center of that circle, with several assistants, for the sorting of the mail. Outside of the circle gathered all the Union prisoners who could pack into the great room, and beyond were others trying to get within sight or sound through the doorways. Few could hope for a letter in that mail, but all could watch for one.

More than 20,000 letters were in that mail, not more than one in 20 of which belonged in the Libby. The assistants went rapidly through the great pile, tossing back into the bags letters which were to go elsewhere, and laying before the Adjutant all letters for Libby prisoners. The adjutant took up those letters one by one, and called out their addresses in a loud, clear voice. No one failed of getting his letter through inattention when his name was called.

Oh, how intent were those listening ears! The very hearts seemed to stop beating, as each address was called. And when a man heard his name spoken by the Adjutant, how did he jump and shout! His arm went up, even though he had struggle as for life to get it free in that close, living mass, and with outreached hand, as though he would clutch the letter instantly, he called aloud, “Here! here! here!” as though he might miss his letter by not speaking quickly enough.

Hours passed in this distribution, but none grew tired through waiting. Yet, as the pile of Libby letter grew smaller, the look of glad expectancy n many a face grew fainter, and when the last letter was called by the Adjutant, and the crowd of waiting prisoners dispersed, there were hundreds of sad faces which had hoped for home letters and had been disappointed. For 21 hours after that we could tell by a prisoner’s face whether he had drawn a prize or a blank in that home-mail lottery; and I thought at the time that, if those at home realized how much a home letter was to a soldier prisoner, that prison mail would have been larger, and its letters even more loving and tender.

It was this power of the home mail in the army that kept the citizen soldier from losing his home self in his army self. It was this which made him, at the close of the war, drop back into his home life with even more love for it than before. And it is one of the results of this influence that we have in our country today so much of good as a result from the war for the Union, and so little of evil.

[remainder of memoir, on a variety of unrelated topics, was not transcribed.]

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