National Tribune, 8/11/1904

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From the National Tribune, 8/11/1904

[“Gettysburg Prisoners,” from notes of Orwin H. Balch, 142nd NY]

...”July 19 - The first lot of prisoners left for Richmond, 136 miles by rail, at which place they arrived on the morning of July 20. The prisoners were marched to a tobacco warehouse opposite a prison. The prisoners told our men, through their grated windows, that since the battle of Gettysburg all deserters and other prisoners held there who would volunteer to go to the front, had been liberated.


“On the afternoon of July 20,the prisoners who had arrived at Richmond were taken from the tobacco warehouse to Belle Island. Before they were taken they were searched, and everything of value, which could be found was taken from them.

“The rations at the Island consisted of half a loaf of bread, weighing a half pound, one ounce of fresh meat, and a pint of water called bean soup. This was all a man received for his rations for one day. On Aug. 20 the Lieutenant of the Island, had 800 men paroled for the purpose of being sent to Annapolis, Md. Aug. 21, 721 were marched from the Island to Libby’s Tobacco warehouse in Richmond, and the following morning took the cars for City Point.

“The following are the most important facts which occurred during our six week’s sojourn there:

“Private Blass, 4th Regiment, Excelsior Brigade, took the oath of allegiance to the rebel government and shipped in their bogus navy.

“Sept. 16 a lot of prisoners arrived. They had been taken at Charleston, S. C. These men, before leaving for Richmond, had their good clothing taken from them and old rebel suits given in exchange. This was the way the rebel government equipped its men in our uniforms around Richmond.

“On the night of Aug. 12 a large party escaped, with a few of the guards, who belonged to the 42d N. C.

“At noon Aug. 14, private John Donnelly, 91st Pa., who had that morning come to the Island, was standing near the bank that encloses the prisoners; the guard told him to go further back, and as he was in the act of turning to comply the guard raised his gun and shot him down. This act was cold-blooded murder. Donnelly lived in Philadelphia. The same ball that killed Donnelly struck Wm. Bayne 82d Ohio. The ball entered the breast of Bayne. His wound was a painful one, but not dangerous. The guard was taken off his post for the day, but in two days he was back again, ready to shoot more unarmed Yankees.

“On the morning Aug. 19 John Mahoney, 12th Mass., was shot dead by the guards. He was hurrying to the sink, being sick, when he was fired on and killed.

“It was the custom to give each morning to every 100 men a little salt. Aug. 19 this was stopped, and the rebel Quartermaster gave the salt to a miserable prisoner to sell in camp at 25 cents for one small spoonful.

“A number of the prisoners went to work for the rebels, outside the prisoners’ enclosure. Their pay was extra rations. This they would bring inside, among the half-starved and sell. The most notorious individual at this business was a Sergeant by the name of Gavitt, 1st N. Y. Art. This Gavitt, when a squad was to be sent away, would select those who could give him $5 or $10.

“There are still 3,200 men on the Island; some of these men are Tennesseans, taken as long ago as September ‘61. Others have now been held over 18 months.

“A search was made among the men for money, in August, each man being examined separately. The result was that the Provost-Marshal of Richmond got a bucket full of greenbacks, watches, etc. No money was returned to the men on their departure.

“The nights were very cold, and the men had nothing to cover themselves with. I am not capable of describing all the sufferings and scenes that I witnessed while on the Island.

“The Stars and Stripes looked good, flying over the Steamer New York, that brought us safely back to this place. Those who were ale to go to College Green Barracks were taken there; the sick to St. John’s College Hospital. I was among the latter. Here we got well washed up, received good, clean clothes - the old ones were thrown away. We felt like a set of new men after we got cleaned up and got rid of our Belle Isle graybacks. They were very numerous in Richmond. The prisoners who have arrived here within the last few days state that the suffering of the prisoners increases daily.”


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