From the National Tribune, 4/16/1903
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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