BELLE ISLE IN
'62. The Story of a New Jersey Soldier Captured at Gaines' Mill.
To the Editor NATIONAL TRIBUNE:
On the 27th of June, 1862, at 3 o'clock p.m., my
regiment - the 4th New Jersey - was sent into the fight at Gaines'
Mills to relieve a Pennsylvania regiment. We remained until near dark, when we
were relieved by the 11th Pennsylvania, and then retired out of the
woods, where we had been fighting, into an open field, and formed line of
battle. It was nearly dark, and on emerging from the woods, we faced by the rear
rank, which made the left of the regiment the right (as we stood), my company
(B) being nearest to the troops standing in line of battle in our front.
"What troops are those?" suddenly enquired our colonel (Simpson).
"Don't know; but we will find out," replied Lieutenant Shaw, and he
started off towards them on a dog trot. He had gone about fifty yards, when one
of them put up his rifle and blazed away at him, cutting his sword belt.
"Now you know who they are," he sang out, as he rejoined the company.
"Left face! forward, by file right!" sang out our colonel, his
intention being to take a new position under cover of a bush camp, but before we
could exe cute the movement the enemy had opened. "Lie down 4th
battalion!" sang out our colonel, just as the 11th Pennsylvania
was driven out pell-mell on top of us, followed by the exultant enemy. It seemed
almost impossible for anything to live in such a fire, and the Johnnies must
have killed a good many of their own men as they followed up the 11th
Pennsylvania. They ordered us to lay down or arms, and it was folly to do
otherwise, as we were entirely surrounded by Longstreet's division, and no Union
troops were anywhere near, all having retreated. Just then a rebel captain came
up to Lieutenant-Colonel Hatch, (since dead of wounds received at
Fredericksburg), and demanded his sword. "I surrender to no inferior,"
he replied, as he defiantly broke the blade across his knee and flung away the
scabbard. They allowed our colonel, I think, to retain his sword on account of
the gallant defense he had made. We slept at Longstreet's headquarters that
night, and the next day they marched us into Richmond, amid the taunts and jeers
of the populace, and up Main street to Libby, where we were searched. They took
my diary from me and a letter containing money for a birthday present for a
sister, which I had failed to mail, which was very fortunate for me, as I
afterwards found out, for, after looking at them, to my surprise, they handed
them back - no doubt thinking them worthless. After washing, they took our names
and we passed upstairs. The next day, Sunday, the rebs paraded with our colors
and those of the 11th Pennsylvania. As they passed Libby we gathered
at the windows and defiantly sang "Hail Columbia" and the "Star
Spangled Banner." On Monday, the 30th, we moved out of Libby to
another prison, a little further up the street, where we remained until the 15th
of July, when we were marched over to Belle Isle. This was over a year before
Comrade Meadville was captured, according to the statement reprinted by The
TRIBUNE, from the Pittsburg Leader, and there were some prisoners there
(though not many) when we got there.
Much has been written about prison-life and its sufferings,
yet none but those who experienced it can realize what it cost us to remain true
to our country through it all. I kept a diary of daily occurrences, as also our
bill of fare, but will not intrude upon your valuable space by going into
details. Three thousand five hundred of us were exchanged on the 5th
of August, 1862. Who will ever forget that terrible march from Belle Island to
Aitkens' [Aiken's] landing, or the contrast between us and the rebels who were
exchanged for us, and whom we passed on the way? No doubt some of your readers
But I must not forget to relate a little incident that
happened on the Island, as showing that the boys, notwithstanding their
surroundings, were fond of a joke. Of course we had no trouble to eat all the
rations they gave us, so I took the money spoken of and went into business; that
is, I bought flour and made flapjacks out of flour and water, and then sold
enough to pay for the flour and divided the rest among my tent mates. One day
one of my company, named Sam Farrell, who put up in another tent, came to me and
wanted to trade a drawing of tea for some cakes. The very thought of tea made my
mouth water, so the exchange was soon made and the drawing of tea put over the
fire. Bending over the old tin cup, I waited until my patience was exhausted.
"What is the matter with the tea, anyhow; there is no strength in it,"
I exclaimed. Over in another tent, Farrell and the other boys were grinning from
ear to ear at the sell. The fact was, they had stewed it three times and as
often dried it, and then sold it to me, and when we met they wanted to know how
I liked my tea. But I forgive them!