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.]
DISTRIBUTION IN LIBBY.
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.]
last updated on