National Tribune, 4/16/1903

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From the National Tribune, 4/16/1903

BELLE ISLE.
The Sergeant at the Gate - Hite’s Cavalry - The Cold New Year.

EDITOR NATIONAL TRIBUNE: I can fully corroborate Comrade Ludgate’s statements concerning Belle Isle prison. I was captured at Moorefield, Va., Sept. 11, 1863, and taken to Libby, where I remained about two weeks before being transferred to Belle Isle. I have a vivid recollection of the “Battle of the Gate.” The name of the red-headed Sergeant was Hite, a deserter from the Union army. The other Sergeant, a Spaniard, was a deserter from the navy. The cruelties of Hite, the Sergeant at the gate, were manifold. At least 1,000 suffering prisoners swore vengeance against him. He carried a ponderous hickory cane, to which was attached a heavy iron ring. This ever-ready weapon he used indiscriminately, often without any apparent provocation. He also invented the wooden horse, known as “Hite’s cavalry.” This “horse” had a sharp back and stood four feet high. I saw a poor boy “riding the horse,” his hands tied behind him and his feet staked to the ground at an angle of 40 degrees. When released he could not sit up. I should like to know what became of the lurid-headed son of Belial.

Every member of the Quartermaster’s Department celebrated Christmas Day by getting drunk and forgetting to issue rations. On the “Cold New Year’s Day” matters were even worse. The ferryboat failed to make the usual trips, thus depriving us of our rations, which were supplied daily from the opposite shore. There was a serious delay, also, in bringing over the much-needed “wooden” overcoats, as the boys styled the boxes used as coffins. There being an insufficient supply of tents, a lamentable want of shelter, some of the prisoners dug holes in the sand and crawled into them like burrowing animals. Others would run about in a vain endeavor to keep from freezing. The death rate was more than usually excessive, and 500 poor fellows, at least, had frozen hands, feet, ears, and noses.

Who remembers the killing of the rebel Lieutenant’s dog? For the “breach of discipline” we fasted three days.

I was one of those lucky ones who were paroled at City Point. Within 15 minutes after boarding the transport we received an abundance of rations, which filled “a long-felt want.” I should like to hear from any of the boys who were Belle Isle prisoners in the Winter of 1863-’64. - IRA E. GOSBY, Corporal, Co. H, 1st Va., Lazearville, W. Va.

 

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