From Harper’s Weekly, 12/5/1863, p. 779

UNION PRISONERS AT RICHMOND.

WE illustrate on page 781 the condition of our poor fellows who are so unfortunate as to be prisoners of the rebels at Richmond, Virginia. While the rebel prisoners in our hands are supplied with food in such abundance that they can not consume it all, with clothing, and even regular rations of tobacco, our brave soldiers, to the number of fifteen to eighteen thousand, are shivering and starving to death on Belle Island. The first intimation we had of their sufferings was on the receipt of a boat-load of sick and wounded at City Point, on 29th September. Of their appearance an eye-witness spoke as follows:

The men landed at five A. M. In the chilly dawn, and it seemed a fitting time for so mournful a procession. They numbered 180 men, brought from Belle Island, near Richmond. Many were unable to walk, and were carried to the hospital. Those that could walk must have presented a sight never to be forgotten; for, before leaving, the rebels not only stripped them of socks, shoes, and blankets, but took from them their shirts and pantaloons, except where the rags could scarce hold together. Men came without hats or caps, with thin cotton drawers, and bodies bare to the waist, their nakedness and bleeding feet covered only by what tatters their cruel captors had left them, not from mercy, but because they were too filthy to keep. These men had been on Belle Island (which seems to be a barren waste) without any protection from the weather, except what they had themselves constructed. They had lain on the sand, which was to them both bed and covering, exposed, both sick and well, to all extremes of heat and cold, without clothes, without food (except small portions of the most repulsive kinds), for weeks and months, many having been taken prisoners at or before the battle of Gettysburg. Many were suffering from what are called sand-sores, and the surgeons in vain attempted to produce general circulation of blood, the cuticle in many instances seemingly dried on the bone from exposure.

Within a day or two a returned prisoner from Richmond, Rev. H. C. Trumbull, of the Tenth Connecticut regiment, has stated that when he left the Libey prison at Richmond on Wednesday, the Union officers confined there had only received one-third of a pound of bread and some water for two days previous, and for several days no meat had been served out. The Quarter-master explained to the prisoners that he had no provisions to give them, and excused himself for the seeming inhumanity on his part. He stated that on the same day he was unable to supply the prisoners on Belle Island with any thing whatever, and that it was with the greatest difficulty he could produce a little meat for the hospitals.

DeWitt C. Walters, an Indiana scout, equal to Leatherstocking, captured just before Chickamauga, and paroled with three hundred and fifty other Union prisoners, arrived at Washington last week, and stated, among other things of absorbing interest, that the average of deaths among our men in Richmond hospitals is forty-three a day, and that most of them get their death-warrants on Belle Island. That sandy desert is low, damp, swept with winds, and wrapped in fogs. Our men are without blankets, and but one-third of them sheltered under mould-eaten tents. All the starved sicken instantly, and run down with frightful rapidity. Four dogs, enticed to the Island during the twenty days Walters was confined there, were greedily cooked and joyfully ate. In the hospital to which he was transferred, the sole diet was cornbread, made up without salt. Not a beef animal has come to Richmond in twelve days.

Five thousand Union prisoners are now on their way to Lynchburg and Danville, for easier access to such food as can be reached. Walters’s picture of waste time and cunning in a vain endeavor to entice the more confiding one of four fat pups from a slut seated outside a fence, which coops our men on Belle Island, to trot under it and be ate up, is one of ghastly humor, and a sure measure of misfortune to which our friends so speedily succumb in that Golgatha.

The following from the Richmond Examiner of 7th instant, may help to explain our picture:

On last Wednesday night a “spy,” from Lieutenant V. Bossieux’s guard, on Belle Isle, while perambulating in disguise through the Yankee prisoners, overheard one of the prisoners say, “Well, they’re going to plant cannon around us to-morrow, and all who don’t want to stay here and freeze to death this winter must make a break tonight.”

The “spy” immediately sped to Lieutenant Bossieux with the information he had obtained. The latter communicated the alarm to the guard, threw the sentinels forward, and sent to the barracks for one hundred additional men.

No attempt to break the lines was made, and it was plain that if any was contemplated it was checked by the demonstration of the guard.

Five pieces of canon are now planted in positions bearing on the prisoner’s camp at short range, and any demonstration to overpower the guard will result in the thinning out of their number amazingly.


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