From the National Tribune, 11/10/1892
A Loudoun Ranger Taken in the Spot where He Starved and Suffered.
A long cherished dream to revisit Belle Isle, the place of
my imprisonment during the late war, was realized during the 26th
National Encampment in Washington. We took steamers down the Potomac and
Chesapeake Bay to Norfolk (next line unreadable) known in war times as the
Southside Railroad. From Richmond we crossed over one arm of the James to Belle
Isle on a new bridge connecting the Tredegar Iron Works with the Old Dominion
Nail Works, located on the Island.
The Tredegar Iron Works is where was rolled the heavy iron
plating used for the armament of the Merrimac, as well as all the heavy ordnance
for the Confederacy. This important industry was then, as now, the largest in
the South. The solid shot and shell used by that defunct Government was made
here. Those who were so unfortunate as to be prisoners of war on he Island will
probably never forget how the Confederates would test their cannon and shell
made at the Tredegar Works, by firing them over the prison stockade on the
Island. Quite often the shell would burst, and the fragments would create
consternation among the prisoners and graybacks. I suppose everything is fair in
As we stepped from the bridge to the Island a panorama of
28 years ago passed rapidly before us. We looked for the stockade, but it was
gone; almost all traces have disappeared. A portion of the dead-line is quite
visible at the northwest corner; the paraphet that was once about 13 inches
A map the writer made of the prison-pen some 10 years ago,
exclusively from memory, was produced, and was as accurate as if made by a civil
engineer, on the ground. We have always insisted the prison, after it was
enlarged in the Fall of 1863, contained about two acres of ground. Now I know I
was accurate in that statement. Where the prison-pen was located is now an
immense rolling-mill owned and operated by the Old Dominion Nail and Iron Co.
Where the writer lay in the sand with P. A. Davis and Rube Stypes, and where
both died during that memorable Winter of 1863-’64, is now located a large
Fairbanks scale for weighing ore.
Where the prisoners caught Serg’t Haight’s dog, and ate
him in about 15 minutes, is now a large set of rolls, rolling out red-hot
bar-iron. Where the hospital tent was located, beside which the dead were piled
up to the number of 200 waiting burial, is now an immense bank of dead cinders
from the rolling mills.
I walked down to the dead-line, where poor Jeff McCutchen
was shot for getting too near that line. I picked a sprig of the National
flower, the golden-rod, from as near the exact spot as I could locate it. I
stepped upon the parapet, now not over 18 inches high, where the two little boys
who belonged to the 13th Regulars would get with fife and drum and
sound the grub call. What sweet music it was to the starving prisoners!
I walked to where the gate was located that led to the
river for water and the sinks where we traded our last gutta-percha ring for a
half dozen biscuits. At the same place I also traded the copy of the New
Testament that was sent to me by the Christian Commission, in return getting one
dozen biscuits. The physical man was perishing then, and not the spiritual. I
walked up to the hill where was located the cannon that pointed its ugly nose
down on the prisoners. The guards took especial delight in telling us they
captured this gun at Bull Run. As I walked back towards the once stockade I met
a green snake coming towards me. I did not argue the point, but began pounding
Mr. Snake with my walking stick.
I was eager to conquer this enemy on the island, and as
upon my first visit the serpent had me, but now the table was turned, and I
thought of the many thousands of our fellow prisoners who had suffered here, and
then I pounded Mr. Snake again. While Mr. Snake was probably not to blame for my
mistreatment on the first visit, yet I readily seized upon the pretext of
holding him responsible, and beat him until he was dead, dead, dead.
I walked down to the gate where 100 men were taken out
every morning for Andersonville. I had always tried to get out before my turn,
but was always detected; when Serg’t Haight would bring down his long club on
my head, and send me back to starve awhile longer.
Mr. Baird, who was born on the Island, now the
Superintendent of the Old Dominion Nail Works, was exceedingly kind and pleasant
to me. He showed the large kettle that was used to boil the morning bean soup
for the prisoners. It is now used to mix cement in to lay firebrick. This relic
the National Prison Association should possess. I believe the Old Dominion Works
would present it to that association gratis. Mr. Baird also showed us about 10
or 12 tons of the iron plate that formed the armament of the Merrimac. He had
bought it for old iron. Several pieces showed dents in them three or four inches
deep made by the solid shot from Ericsson’s Monitor. He has had several kegs
of nails made from the same material, and took great pleasure in presenting our
party with two each. We were also shown one wing of the nail works that was
built by the prisoners, as good as the day it was put up, a splendid job of
masonry. All prisoners (bricklayers) that worked on the building got double
rations of corn-dodger, and glad to get the job.
Most of the prisoners who died on the Island (starved to
death) are now buried in the National Cemetery about three miles east of the
city; over 5,000 are unknown. This was the result of carelessness on the part of
the Confederates. When a prisoner would die we would always give his name,
company, and regiment to the Confederates, who would write it out on a piece of
paper and pin or stick it in a buttonhole, or lay it on the body, but when as
many as 200 at a time would lay out in the rain and snow for two weeks, before
burial, nearly all the names would be blown away or lost. Hence so many unknown.
Those that sleep there now the flag for which they died waves proudly over them.
“Rest on, embalmed and sainted
Dear as the blood ye gave;
No impious footsteps here shall tread
The herbage of your grave,
Nor shall your glory be forgot,
While fame her record keeps,
Or honor points the hallowed spot
Where valor proudly sleeps.”
Our party each cut a sycamore cane from the sprouts that
have grown up in the stockade, and walked off the Island with none to molest or
make us afraid. - BRISCOE GOODHEART, Loudoun (Va.) Rangers, Knoxville, Tenn.
Was in Squad No. 34 on the Island.
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