This is a fictional, although fact-based, journal for John Alpheus Hatcher, my great-great grandfather, who fought for the Confederacy in the Civil War. Based on the genealogical research of my mom, Beverly Whitaker, I wrote this in 1996 as a Christmas present for my dad, Bob Whitaker.
Note: It is important to acknowledge that while some consider the Confederate flag a representation of Southern heritage, it has also come to be a symbol of racism. As such, it is my personal belief that the flag and other Confederate monuments should not be displayed and celebrated. We should, however, still strive to understand and recognize the diverse values and beliefs that shaped our history, warts and all.
Table of Contents:
Christmas, 1996: A Note to Dad
Merry Christmas! This project has been quite an undertaking, but definitely worth it. It has evolved significantly since my initial idea a few months ago. Originally, I asked Mom's opinion on writing a story where you, Dad, were in the Civil War. She suggested I write instead about someone who actually was in the Civil War - your great grandfather, John Alpheus Hatcher ("Alf").
I was concerned how much we could find out about what had happened to him. Our first lead was a book Mom had discussed with you before about Point Lookout, Maryland, the location of one of the prison camps for Confederate soldiers. Our ancestor was imprisoned there and we had this book that told us all about it! At that point, I decided to write a diary about Alf's time in prison.
Then a new challenge occurred. It seemed odd that Alf would discuss his two months in prison and neglect to talk about his year-long stint in the war itself. At that point, however, we had no idea what battles he would have fought in.
Once again, Mom, acting as project researcher, found a gem. She discovered exactly which battles Alf's unit fought in. Not only that, she found a list of everyone in his regiment, including casualties.
Now the information was really coming together. The diary exploded from an account of Alf's time in prison to his time in prison and the war. Mom continued digging up more information to give the diary credibility, like how many slaves Alf's father owned and how much the Hatcher property was worth.
Some of the information here is speculative. It didn't all necessarily happen to Alf; it isn't even realistic that he would know as much as this diary suggests (such as the details of the battles he was in and what various regiments were doing). However, any speculation is factually based. There may be stories, like the syrup incident, that didn't happen to Alf, but did actually happen to someone at some time during the war.
Before we move on, a few thanks are in order. This project wouldn't be so thorough if Mom hadn't researched it for me. Not only would I not have done as much, I wouldn't have known where to find some of it.
Then there's a rather unusual thanks - to you, Dad! Unknowingly you assisted a great deal simply by having so many Civil War books readily on hand. Well, enjoy!
A Word from Alf
I applied for a Confederate soldier's pension in October of this year here in Richmond County, Georgia. Simeon Morris, who fought in the war with me, was there to sign it as a witness. It brought back a lot of memories.
After the war I married a widow Smith; her maiden name was Harris - Florence Maxima Harris, daughter of Benjamin F. Harris and Anna Moriah Milton. We were married by Reverend Walsh Kilpatrick of the Hephzibah Baptist Association.
Florence died just last year, on December 15, 1909. She was buried at the Linwood Cemetery, where I too plan to be buried when my time comes.
gravestone of Florence Harris Hatcher, image from findagrave.com
She had one child, named Violetta, with her former husband. Florence and I also had seven children of our own. Lila Marie was born in 1870 and had a twin, Susie, who died. After her, was Jeannie Augustus and, in 1873, Mary Anna ("Mamie"). Then came Ida, who passed away at the age of 21. Our sixth daughter was Mattie Lou, born in 1879, and our only son was Charles Volliton, born in 1881.
I worked for the Central Railroad once I got back from the war and also built a mill and ground corn for the people of the area. The people around here are still greatly affected by the war we fought nearly fifty years ago. I am no longer a young man, but the memories are still vivid.
While I fought in the war I kept a journal of my experiences. That journal, however, was lost when I became a prisoner of war. While in prison, I tried to recreate that journal, writing about my initial decision to join, the battles I fought in, and the life I led. I tried to recall the names, dates, and places as accurately as I could.
I also kept a journal through my two months in prison. After filling out my pension application, I pulled out those journals once again. I've revised them and reworked them over the last couple months and tried to put together one journal that tells what it was like to fight in the South's Second American Revolution.
I do not know what will become of these writings. I hope my family will treasure them and use them to remember the war. I myself do not ever wish to forget it. It was a time when the South stood up for its rights and fought mightily to keep them. I am honored I was a part of it, even if the result was not what I wished.
- John Alpheus Hatcher
My Father's Death
I'd begged Pa for a couple years to let me go fight for the South and defend our rights. "You gotta stay here and fight," he'd say. "You gotta fight to keep our family together. You gotta fight to keep our land. You can't do that if you get killed in the war."
It broke his heart when Ma died in September of 1861. His brother James passed away that year as well. Pa worried about my older brother Rube, who'd gone to war already. Pa realized he could no longer keep the family together. He had to ask Uncle Robert and Aunt Sarah Mercer to take in my youngest brother Robert, who was not even two when Ma died. Vol, Fannie, and William went to live with Grandpa Mercer. After Pa's death, Vol and William, along with Tim and Sarah, went to live with our uncle Robert Mercer. Fannie continued to live with Grandpa; Anna went to live with Uncle Jep Hatcher and Dena with Uncle Robert Hatcher.
Pa also owned a decent amount of property. In 1850, he owned six slaves and real estate valued at $3500. At that time, he and his older brother James ran their neighboring farms together. James had five slaves himself. In 1860, Pa owned eight slaves housed in 3 slave houses. His real estate was valued at $3000 and his personal estate at $8800.
Before he died, Pa made me promise to do all that I could to keep the family together and protect the land on which he'd devoted his life. "You're the man of the family now, son," he told me; "that means it's your family to look over now."
The Conditions of the South During the War
I struggled to keep things intact after Pa's death. Food was in short supply throughout the South. We are running low on virtually everything - meat, fruit, vegetables, flour, fats (butter, oil, lard, mayo), sugar, coffee, condiments, flavoring, vinegar, baking soda, tea, and milk. We are hurt by bad weather, lack of labor, tools, and seed. It is hard to transport what food supplies we do have since the roads are in poor shape and wagons and horses have largely gone to the Confederate Army.
Railroads can't be maintained because the only real industrial plant is the Tredegar Iron Works in Richmond, Virginia, and all its efforts are devoted to the war.
Pretty much everything about our lives has changed because of the war. It seems that three-fourths of my clothes are made from some kind of substitute now. Sometimes people make clothes from sheets or drapes. I've heard of people making shoes from horsehide, dogskin, deerskin, pigskin, wood, leather made from worn articles, and even book bindings.
Household supplies like candles, matches, utensils, linens, needles, pins, soaps, bedding, furnishings, dishes, kettles, oil, gas for heat, coal, wood, and cutlery are all hard to get. A salary of $3000 would now buy only about $300 worth of supplies.
Medicine is either unattainable or severely overpriced. Most doctors have gone to the war.
Profiteering and bartering are both common. Government contracts do businessmen little good since they can't rely on the government to pay them.
Schools are in poor shape as well. There is a shortage of teachers, books, and supplies.
Plantations are very different. Women are running a lot of them now since so many men have gone to war. I feel like I need to go as well. Life is bleak here and I'm not sure I can protect either the farm or the family by staying.
April 20, 1864:
gravestone of Voluntine Hatcher, image from findagrave.com
Voluntine A. Hatcher
Son of Josiah W. and Sarah Hatcher
Born in Burke Co., GA. Aug. 18, 1811
m. on Nov. 30, 1843
to Sarah Mercer
Died in his residence, Jeff. Co., GA. Dec. 13, 1862
Age 51 years 3 mo. and 25 days
"Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do with thy might"
Those were the words on my father's tombstone. I went to look at it a few days before I enlisted in the Confederate army. I prayed that Pa would understand that I had no choice but to go fight if I was to defend what mattered to him. I knew he wanted no harm to come to his family or land. I can no longer protect those hopes and wishes by staying here. If all that he accomplished is to fall, it will do so only by conquering me first.
April 23, 1864:
I enlisted in the Thomson Guards from Columbia County, Georgia. I was nearing my 19th birthday. I met up with them in Fredericksburg, Virginia. I became a private in F Company, 10th Regiment Georgia Volunteer Infantry. The company captains were William Johnston, William G. Green, and John T. Stovall. Captain Stovall enlisted me.
Most of the men in the unit enlisted May 11, 1861. However, as the ranks were thinned by disease, wounded, deaths, captures, and desertions, more would come on board on occasion.
For the men who enlisted earlier, they would go to a nearby camp for completion of the transition from civilians to soldiers. They're supposed to give everybody a physical then, but I heard they were so casual that some women managed to sneak in.
Most guys were inducted twice - first as state troops then as Confederate soldiers. Induction into national service consisted of undergoing inspection by companies by the mustering officer, pledging allegiance to the Confederacy, promising to obey orders, and swearing to abide by the Articles of War, numbering 101, which were read as the concluding feature of the induction ceremony. I didn't go through most of that because as soon as I enlisted we were off to battle.
While in Georgia's 10th Infantry Regiment, I was in:
The Typical Soldier
April 24, 1864:
A lot of these guys have the same backgrounds. Most have very little education. I guess I'm lucky to have what I did on Pa's plantation. About one out of every four guys is illiterate; I've heard that in some companies as many as half the guys can't sign their names.
The South doesn't have as many soldiers as the North. One guy told me they have like two million and we've got half that. We can't let it get us down, though. We're fighting for a good cause.
The fighting force is mostly common soldiers like privates and non-commissioned officers. Only one out of ten isn't. Even then the guys that are officers are usually chosen by their own men.
Almost nobody was born in another country. 95% of us are native born and nearly all the guys in the unit were born here in the South. Most of us are volunteers as well. We pretty much came from farms and most of the guys are around my age. 75% of all common soldiers are from 18 to 30 years old.
Seeing Someone Shot
April 30, 1864:
The first time I saw someone who had been shot was not in battle, but marching toward one. We were on the way to the Wilderness Battle when I saw a dead cavalryman lying by the side of the road. He had a neat round hole through his forehead. I asked William, another guy in the company, if he had ever been shot. He told me he hadn't, but described what he'd been told it felt like. "It's winter time. You and your brother are outside playing in the snow. He scoops up a snowball, packs it together, and heaves it at you from about 12 feet away. It hits you in the upper leg and there's an immediate dull, stinging sensation that starts to spread through your leg. That's what it's like to get shot."
I saw William get shot less than a week later in the Wilderness Battle. A field surgeon came over to him and stuck his index finger in the wound to see if the bullet was still in his leg. It wasn't; it had gone completely through his leg and out the other side. The surgeon took a handkerchief, moistened it with water from a nearby creek, and placed it over the wound. Unfortunately, William didn't make it.
Like most soldiers, William was buried there on the battlefield. A wooden marker with his name and regiment marked the spot; a year or two later he would be exhumed and put in a proper military cemetery. The company officer sent a letter home and saw to it that his belongings were gathered up. Tentmates would usually write also, but it was up to the company officer to see that the next of kin was properly notified.
The Battle of the Wilderness
May 4, 1864:
It was a desperate time in the war. It was my first battle, but the general feeling among the men was that if we were not victorious, this battle could be our last. Grant was trying to move the Yankee army south toward Richmond, a move which Lee was determined to thwart. Word around camp was that Lee felt we could finish the war if we could hold Grant out of Richmond a few months and get the North feeling like the fight just wasn't worth it.
That morning the Yanks moved toward the Rapidan River; Lee moved us into a thick forest of mixed cedar and pine known locally as "the Wilderness." Our army was outnumbered at least two to one, but we were operating on interior lines and in familiar territory. A year before, the Confederate army had trapped the Union soldiers in the same location. Lee was determined to strike the Yanks while they were in the woods and preferably still on the march.
There were three roughly parallel roads that led eastward into the Wilderness - the Orange Turnpike, which ran from Orange Court House through Chancellorsville and continued to Fredericksburg; the Orange Plank Road, about two miles south of the Turnpike; and the Catharpin Road, another two or three miles farther south. All three intersected.
Lieutenant General Richard S. Ewell's corps were closest. He led his men along the Turnpike. "Old Baldhead," as he was called, had a minie ball smash the bones in one of his knees at Groveton in 1862 and his leg had to be sawed away. Whenever he got on his horse he had to have an attendant help him into his saddle.
A.P. Hill, who took over Stonewall Jackson's command when he had been mortally wounded at nearby Chacellorsville almost exactly a year before, led the two divisions down the Orange Plank Road. Lee would ride with Hill.
Lieutenant General James Longstreet's corps moved up the Catharpin Road. Then there was also Lee's cavalry, led by Jeb Stuart. He had over 8000 men in three divisions.
Ewell's men halted for the night at Locust Grove, which was about two or three miles into the Wilderness. Lee and Hill were five miles southwest of Ewell at New Verdiersville (which the men called "My Dearsville"). When we settled down for camp that night we saw skulls and bones scattered everywhere, left from battle of the year before. We inspected any exposed clothing to see if they were Union or Confederate.
May 5, 1864:
Fighting began about noon. The dense underbrush and smoke from the gunfire made it difficult to see even fifty feet ahead. It was a blind hunt to the death rather than a battle. The fighting was bloody, every man for himself. Men were firing, shouting, pitching into each other with bayonets, throwing rocks, punching, and beating each other with the butts of their guns.
Like most of the guys I had a picket belt which held cartridges. Cartridges were made up of a lead bullet with a paper tube for the powder attached to one end. To load the gun you bit off the end of the paper cone, poured powder into the barrel, and rammed the bullet down after it with a ram rod. Then you took a copper cap out of your small box, capped the nipple of the rifle, and it was ready. The shooting was at pretty close range; sometimes muskets were fired at such close range that soldiers faces were burned.
The battle lines were very near each other at first and eventually no one could tell where they were. Whole units were getting lost and even firing on their own comrades. Fighting went on all day.
That night many men simply fell asleep, if they slept at all, wherever they were when they fired their last shot. All night I heard men moaning and crying for water. No one even knew, in the thick underbrush that prevented us from seeing, if those around us were friend or foe.
Battle of the Wilderness by Kurz and Allison, image from Wikipedia.org
May 6, 1864:
On the second day of fighting the Yanks were determined to drive through the middle of our army. Ewell's men began the fight at 5am. Hill's men were fighting at the crossroads, trying to secure that point. We were all waiting for Longstreet's men to arrive. Lee had already ordered Longstreet to give up on the Catharpin Road and concentrate his advances on the Orange Plank Road instead. He could relieve Hill quicker that way.
The Federals thought they had forced us into withdrawal, but they were getting entangled in the woods and slowed down. That was enough time to allow Longstreet's men to show up and take up the fight.
General John Gregg's Texas Brigade was the first of Longstreet's men to arrive. They went in to plug up the hole the Yanks were drilling through the middle of our line. They went in with nearly 700 men and lost over 400 men, but held the enemy back long enough for more of Longstreet's men to arrive.
By the end of the day we had smashed Grant's right, seized two generals and six hundred prisoners, and come close to cutting off the Union supply line. In two days, the fighting in the Wilderness had cost the Yanks 17,000 men, twice what we lost. It was said to be one of Lee's greatest victories.
That night I could hear the men all around me again. This time the screams weren't for water. They were screams of the wounded men who couldn't escape the forest fires that had been set from all the gunfire and they were burning to death.
During the Wilderness Battle we lost several men, one of who was William, whom I mentioned earlier. His name was William B. Garrett. He became a private on May 11, 1861, when most of the rest of the unit joined. On April 20, just a few days before I enlisted, he was appointed ensign on account of special gallantry. He was killed May 6 and buried on the battlefield in the Wilderness.
Benjamin Smith, another private from my unit who'd been in since the start, was wounded and captured on the same date. Albert E. Wiley, also a private since the beginning, was wounded in his right arm and had to have it amputated.
The Battle at the Spotsylvania Court House
May 7, 1864:
Lee sent some of the army farther south to Spotsylvania, anticipating that even with his heavy losses, Grant would not give up on his march to Richmond.
After the slaughter of the Wilderness Battle, both sides spent much of the day recovering and burying their dead. During the battles of the days before we couldn't even get to our wagons, so we rifled through the haversacks of dead Yankees, who had four or five days rations of hardtack and bacon.
That evening the North made a move south toward the crossroads of the Spotsylvania Court House. It was an important crossroads that lay on the route from the Wilderness to Hanover Junction. It was where Lee's principal supply lines met - the Richmond, Fredericksburg, & Potomac and the Virginia Central Railroads. It was also 12 miles closer to Richmond. Longstreet was injured so his corps was taken over by Richard Anderson, who was ordered to race to the court house. Hill was sick, so Jubal Early took his place and marched toward the court house as well.
Spotsylvania Courthouse, image from sonofthesouth.net
May 8, 1864:
Anderson's men marched hard and reached the Block House Bridge, the most important of the spans, at daybreak. It was about 8am when Anderson's men arrived at the court house.
By evening Ewell had 17,000 troops there and when darkness ended fighting for the day, we were too strong for them and Spotsylvania remained blocked.
May 9, 1864:
We spent the day digging fortifications and strengthening for an attack. By this time, Hill's men, now led by Early, were moving into line behind us.
May 10, 1864:
The Yanks slipped a brigade south across the river. However, Grant assumed we must be weak at other points in the line as well and launched a frontal attack. Three hours later we had killed about 3000 of their men.
Then they moved east to the center of our line, called "the Mule Shoe." They sent 5000 men right at this point. They drove through, where it now fell on Ewell's men as the backup, to come forth.
May 11, 1864:
The Union army was hampered by a sudden change in weather. Unseasonable heat gave way to uncomfortable cold, followed by a heavy shower of wind, rain, and hail. When they didn't attack that day, Lee decided maybe they had plans to attack further east toward Fredericksburg and find a route toward Richmond.
May 12, 1864:
Grant sent nearly 60,000 men against the Mule Shoe. Gordon's reserve division counterattacked and regained possession, but the North continued to fight, earning the Mule Shoe the new nickname of the Bloody Angle.
May 20, 1864:
It rained heavily from May 13 to May 16, but by the 18th the North came at us again. By the 20th, the Yankees gave up on frontal assaults and came at us from the west. In the end it was said the North lost 36,000 men while we lost half as many.
Reflections on My First Battle
After my first experience at fighting in the war I am amazed at how these guys have lived this way as long as they have. I am proud to be from the South; it is my duty to do all that I can to protect her.
There are some men who deserted and ran away during the fighting, but not many. Most of the men feel a duty to their companions in arms. Guys are more worried about being courageous than being killed; they want to make their families proud.
The other guys often compare our fighting to the Revolutionary War. Some of them talk about Washington at Valley Forge and that this is our chance to stand up and fight for what we know is right.
I guess what hit me hardest as we prepared for battle was when some of the guys were taking pieces of paper and writing their names, companies, and regiments on them and pinning them to their coats. I asked the corporal, Henry Thomas, who was from McDuffie County, why he was doing that. "In case we get killed," he said, "then someone can identify who we are."
The Battle at the North Anna Crossing
May 21, 1864:
In their continuing attempt to drive toward Richmond, the Yanks abandoned the line in front of Spotsylvania and shifted forces eastward and southward toward the North Anna Crossing, 25 miles north of Richmond. The North Anna River is a pretty stream, running between high banks, steep enough to nearly form a ravine. For the most part, the area is heavily wooded with oak and tulip trees.
North Anna Crossing, image from nps.gov
May 22, 1864:
We scurried south to get in front of them. Ewell's men took position just south of the Chesterfield Bridge, covering the railroad crossing at Hanover Junction. Anderson arrived about noon and moved his two divisions into a line extending upstream about a mile and a half from Ewell's left. Breckinridge brought two brigades from the Shenandoah and came in between Ewell and Anderson.
May 23, 1864:
Hill's men arrived and extended the line a couple of miles southwest. We had established a strong defensive position on the south bank of the North Anna River, protecting the critical railroad intersection of Hanover Junction. Lee then gave us time to recuperate from our seventeen straight days of fighting. Of course, food was scarce so that was hard. We were allowed one pint of unsifted corn meal and one-fourth of a pound of bacon for one day's ration.
The Yankees' Army of the Potomac reached the North Anna after a two-day march, approaching on a wide front. It was mid-day when they first arrived on the northern banks of the river. That afternoon they attacked us on both flanks. For two hours we raged a fierce artillery battle, even as we were hit by a pelting rainstorm. The Yanks broke across to the southern side of the North Anna before the battle was over, but Hill's men fought back hard.
May 24, 1864:
We fell back from the Chesterfield Bridge, which allowed the Yanks to cross the river unimpeded. The key to Lee's defense, however, was Ox Ford, a half-mile stretch on the south bank of the North Anna that was higher than the bank on the other side. He positioned half of Anderson's corps there, giving them strong artillery support. This allowed the rest of Anderson's men along with Ewell's and Hill's to fight from a compact five-mile-long position that converged in a V at Ox Ford, its strongest point. Grant would have to pull troops back across the river to the north side and march them around to offer support to his troops.
At 3pm, the Union soldiers drove into Ewell's corps and, despite heavy rain, fought until midnight, first capturing a section of Ewell's line, and then losing most of it back.
At the same time, another section of the Union army charged into Ox Ford, suffering heavy losses, with Lee's V strategy holding up well. The North lost nearly 2000 men in the two attacks; we lost half that. Their losses were restricted primarily to a handful of divisions; most of their men did not fight at all. After such heavy defeats in the Wilderness and Spotsylvania battles, the Yanks wouldn't fight so long this time.
May 26, 1864:
The Northern army pulled out again. They moved once again toward Richmond, marching on parallel roads to another crossing of the Pamunkey River fifteen miles downstream near Hanovertown.
May 27, 1864:
Once Lee discovered that the North had pulled out, he marched us 18 miles south to Atlee's Station along the banks of a sluggish, marsh-fringed watercourse called Totopotomoy Creek.
We were there by afternoon, well ahead of the Yanks. Lee spread the three corps out east of the station so that they blocked all approaches to Richmond from the Pamunkey River, from which the Union would be coming. We entrenched ourselves and prepared for an all-out assault.
Our leadership was in poor shape. Jackson was dead, Longstreet wounded, and Ewell was sick and gave command to Jubal Early. That meant all three army corps had changed commanders since the start of the campaign, although Hill had regained his command. Three of the army's nine infantry divisions also had new leaders, as did 14 of the 35 original brigades.
May 28, 1864:
Eight hundred green South Carolina troopers arrived and confronted the Federal infantry crossing the Pamunkey. In the next seven hours they battled, fighting in woods so dense that the cavalry had to dismount. It looked like we would win the day, but then another brigade arrived to support the North.
May 29, 1864:
Grant's men fanned out south and west, arriving around dusk at Totopotomoy Creek. Our three corps were ready on the other side. We were not in good shape, however. We couldn't make up the losses of the last month and many of the men were weak from sickness and hunger. Some had gone two days without rations and then got three biscuits and a slice of bacon to eat. Then it was another two days without food and the men got a single biscuit for their rations.
May 30, 1864: At midday, Early was sent to intercept the Federals who were trying to march around Lee's right. Unfortunately, Early didn't bring up reserve divisions quickly enough and was beaten handily. There were about 2000 casualties to each side.
The Battle at Cold Harbor
May 31, 1864:
Once again the North began a move closer to Richmond, and once again we countered it. The race was now on for the crossroads called Cold Harbor, near the Chickahominy River. Cold Harbor was little more than a dusty intersection where five roads met. The name made no sense; there was no harbor and it certainly wasn't cold with temperatures running close to 100 degrees.
One of the five roads went eastward to White House Landing, another northwest to Bethesda Church. These two roads provided vital links, connecting Grant's army with its supply base and offering a way for Grant to extend his left flank.
Fitzhugh Lee's cavalry unit was sent about a mile east of the site of the 1862 Battle of Gaines' Mill. The North sent forces as well and clashed the same day. Fitz's cavalry was forced to abandon their defenses and were swept out of Cold Harbor, leaving their dead and wounded on the field as the North took the crossroads.
Battle of Cold Harbor, image from sonofthesouth.net
June 1, 1864:
General Lee, however, was determined to retake the crossroads. Before dawn, Anderson led four divisions, including mine - Kershaw's, to Cold Harbor. Our division and Hoke's were ordered to push back the dismounted cavalry, while the other two divisions would strike any approaching Union soldiers. We got there so quickly it was another four hours before the Yanks' foot soldiers arrived.
We were led, however, by Lawrence Keitt, who had arrived with the green South Carolina regiment the week before. Since he was a former Congressman and had a lot of power in his home state he was given charge of the brigade. He rode recklessly into battle, was toppled from his horse, and mortally wounded. The green South Carolinans ran for the rear, forcing us to give way as well. The North held the crossroads.
At 4:30 that afternoon, the North launched an attack of six divisions against Anderson's four. We made an abatis of felled trees and sharpened saplings 30 yards in front of our first line of entrenchments. When the Yanks reached the barrier they met with artillery so intense and so near that it singed the men's faces. Hundreds of men were falling on both sides. By nightfall, the Yanks had gained some ground, but lost about 2200 troops.
June 2, 1864:
Lee bolstered up our right by moving armies from the left and the center. Early's corps faced brief fighting, but rain falling heavily that afternoon curtailed operations for the day. It hailed during the night, but both rain and hail had stopped by morning.
June 3, 1864:
We waited for the Union soldiers, hiding well in our trenches we'd had plenty of time to bolster. Half of the Union army, said to be 60,000 men, charged in on the front and the flanks. We watched as they came closer and closer, anxious to open fire. Once the battle began the ground seemed to seethe like a boiling cauldron from the incessant pattering of shot which raised the dirt in geysers and spitting sand. Around 6000 Yankee soldiers fell, most in the first eight minutes of the battle. It was the bloodiest battle of the war.
For three days and nights both armies just sat, neither willing to ask for a truce to collect the wounded or bury the dead. The stench from the dead was nauseating. The dead covered more than five acres of ground about as thickly as they could be laid.
Early June 1864:
Nobody enlisted in the army as a cook; we just took turns. We formed messes who tented together. It wasn't designated; it was just guys who came together. One guy would carry the coffeepot, one the stew bucket, one the frying pan, etc. We each had our own tin cup and carried coffee in our haversack.
Whenever the army halted we boiled water and shook in our coffee and would have boiled coffee in just a few minutes.
We were sometimes issued horse or mule meat as rations. When we could get ahold of beef, we would eat every scrap. Once, after slaughtering a cow, we boiled the feet to pieces, picked it clear of bones, strained it through a rough, improvised sieve, then seasoned it, mixed it with flour, and fried it with tallow. We thought cow hoofs were a delicacy.
The hardest piece of rations we were subjected to was a kind of meat called Nassua bacon. Nausea would be a better word for it. It was probably discarded ship's pork, or salt junk, or as some called it, salt horse. It was a peculiarly scaly color, spotted like a half-well case of smallpox, full of rancid odor, and utterly devoid of grease. When hung up it would double its length. It could not be eaten raw and imparted a stinking smell when boiled. It had one redeeming quality - elasticity. You could put a piece in your mouth and chew it for a long time, and the longer you chewed it the bigger it got. Then, by a desperate effort, you would gulp it down - out of sight, out of mind.
Hardtack was our standard bread ration. It was a thick cracker or biscuit often so wormy that we called them "worm castles."
Sometimes we went days without food, except maybe a few grains of corn picked up from where the horses fed. We would parch them over the glowing embers of the campfires. Once we came to a farmyard where we saw a large pot full of boiled turnips, corn, and shucks for cattle and hog feed. While it did not look so tempting, it smelled appetizing. We dipped in our tin cups and drew off some of the mess. The soft corn was really good, and, stripping the turnips off the peel, we made a meal out of it.
The Siege of Petersburg
June 15, 1864:
In the 30 days since the Wilderness battle, the Yanks lost 50,000 men, half as many as in the three previous years of struggle. Somehow, they kept going.
From Wilderness to Petersburg, image from thomaslegion.net
This time their target was Petersburg, a communications center just south of the Confederate capital. If they took it and choked off supplies, Richmond would be forced to surrender. For the first time, Lee misjudged Grant's move, rushing most of us to the outskirts of Richmond, assuming Grant would try to attack there.
When Grant's men reached Petersburg with 16,000 men we only had about 2000 soldiers south of the Appomattox River. Our army was forced to retreat, surrendering over a mile of our entrenchments.
June 18, 1864:
Over the next three days the door to Petersburg, which subsequently led to Richmond, stood open. The North waited for more soldiers to arrive and on June 17 and 18 launched an attack with an army of 75,000. Our army fought hard, though, and the Yanks only got another mile or so of our trenches. We also bought enough time to get more troops to Richmond.
June 22, 1864:
More forces arrived. We dug in for a siege. Over the months we built a labyrinth of defensive works and trenches. We worked with axes, spades, knives, and bayonets; we even used spoons and tin cans. We enclosed redans or forts as strong points for artillery and infantry. We scooped out trenches parallel to the forward line, then connected the lines with zigzagging trenches for communication. To the rear we created sunken roads along which men, guns, and wagons could move under cover from enemy guns. When shelling began from the Federals, we began constructing bombproofs with roofs made of timber and sod.
trenches at Petersburg, image from http://historyrevived.blogspot.com
July 30, 1864:
The Yanks blew up a section of the Confederate line today with an underground mine at the end of a 500-foot long tunnel built by a regiment of coal miners from Pennsylvania. When the mine exploded it scared everyone back and made a crater 30-feet deep, 70 feet wide, and 250 feet long. The Yanks' goal was to blow a line through our defenses and then rush into the town.
After the explosion, an hour went by before the Union finally stormed in with three divisions. Instead of going around the crater the bomb made, the fools went right down into it. Now they were trapped and all we had to do was line up at the rim of the crater and shoot down at them! By afternoon, they had raised their white surrender flag. We created about 4500 casualties.
In August, Grant attempted to take the Weldon Railroad. While they seized a small piece of the railroad, we could still get supplies to Petersburg by simply going around them.
September 4, 1864:
The Yankees fired a one-hundred-gun salute in Sherman's honor into the Confederate works at the front here in Petersburg. His march to Atlanta proved successful; the Confederates had to evacuate.
Conditions in Petersburg
The weather made life in the trenches even more miserable. We were plagued by flies and the fierce Virginia sun. We'd had no rain since Cold Harbor. It had already been hot and now became hotter than anyone could remember. At the slightest movement, inches of thick, powdery dust would well up in choking clouds.
There was a real shortage of surface water. We knew, though, if we kept digging we could get down to a layer of clay with a ready supply of cool water.
The days of July passed with the sun burning down. On all sides of me were hot, sweaty men, filthy and frightened. All the time the sounds of big guns and mortars were thumping away. Men were killed in their camps, at their meals, and in their sleep. So many men were struck daily that they became reckless, wandering around even as balls were striking around them.
The constant exposure to sun and rain, the rancid bacon and half-raw cornbread that we were issued, the filth accompanying the scarcity of clothing, the lack of opportunity for bathing or washing our clothes, the vile water, the want of rest at night, and the constant, excited anxiety, had produced and aggravated diarrhea, dysentery, dyspepsia, and slow fevers, which were wasting men away.
The biggest battle we fought in Petersburg was boredom. We went for days at a time without fighting and had nothing to do. There were men who would stand up in the trenches and taunt the enemy out of sheer boredom. Of course, some of them got shot that way.
Petersburg wasn't the only time during the war we'd fought boredom. We spent most of the time during the war trying to find things to do. We were marching and camping and trying to get enough to eat, and only once in a while were we actually fighting. Petersburg was kind of the climax of all that. It was more boring, supplies were harder to come by, and men did stupid things.
Months of this would ensue. The North swelled to 100,000 men and we fought trench warfare until March of the following year.
October 12, 1864:
By the time I joined, most men were going to war with their own clothes and even had to bring their own guns. I was in the Confederate army for six months before I was issued a uniform, and even then wasn't issued much. Standard issue was supposed to be a short-waisted single-breasted gray jacket, gray trousers, a cotton shirt, drawers, socks, shoes, a cap, a black leather cravat (which hardly anyone ever wore), and a double-breasted gray flannel overcoat, fitted with a cape. The uniforms were trimmed with red for artillery, blue for infantry, and yellow for cavalry and the buttons contain the number of the regiment.
The soldiers didn't worry much about uniform regulations. Comfort was more important than appearance. Most of the guys substituted soft hats instead of the caps they were issued. They also wore clothes spun by relatives and friends. We would wear drawers to prevent chafing on long marches, but in camp we didn't wear them, since we were not used to wearing them at home.
Footwear was also given out, but it wasn't much good. The ones made by the Confederates were made of green, or at best, half-cured leather. After a week's wear the heel was on the side at an angle to my foot, and the vamp ended up as the sole. When hot and dry they would shrink like parchment, and when wet they just slopped all over your feet. English-made shoes were nearly as bad. They were lined with stiff paper and after fording a few times, they came to pieces.
The Battle at Cedar Creek
October 18, 1864:
We left Petersburg to lend support at Cedar Creek. Lee sometimes sent men out of Petersburg to other battles. There just wasn't enough going on in Petersburg to keep so many men tied to it all the time. General Gordon found a road leading around the enemy. He led three divisions of 7000 men through the thick woods, along the steep ridges, and across the river where we could surprise the Yankees' left flank. Our march began at nightfall. We removed anything that might rattle and clink and began our way through the path in the woods.
The Confederate attack hits the rear of the XIX Corps – a wartime sketch from Alfred Waud, image from Wikipedia.org
October 19, 1864:
We reached our position by the river long before dawn and then waited. It was difficult to see; it was quite foggy that morning. At 4:30am, Gordon marched down on the 300 or so Union cavalrymen camped at the river.
Early led two other divisions, including Kershaw's division, which was mine. We edged forward just east of the pike, to the banks of Cedar Creek. At the same time as Gordon's attack, we swept over the enemy's left work, capturing seven guns, which we at once turned on the enemy. We were in the Union's camp before they could even get out of their tents. We could see their smoking breakfast, blankets, overcoats, dress uniforms, hats, caps, boots, and shoes. Some Confederates plundered food and clothing from the Yankee camp.
Gordon's men soon joined us from the other direction. The fighting was brutal, men fighting hand to hand. Skulls were crushed with clubbed muskets; bayonets dripped with blood. Some men retreated.
At midday the fighting slowed and we pulled back, not sure if we were preparing to launch another attack or just wait. Some of the soldiers said Gordon and Early couldn't agree on what to do next. That gave the Yanks time to regroup. They gathered their cavalry and formed an onslaught that sent us running. They ended up taking back the guns they'd lost that morning and captured 24 more. They caught hundreds of prisoners, and nearly got General Gordon.
We retreated to New Market. We had suffered 3000 casualties, either killed, wounded, or imprisoned. We had inflicted 5500 casualties, over 600 dead and 3400 wounded. Still, the North outnumbered us 2 to 1. The following casualties were from my unit: Eusebius Langford was killed. C.H. Morris was wounded in his hip and captured. Edward Amerson and David McGahee were captured at Cedar Creek.
The Syrup Incident
Late October 1864:
After Cedar Creek, we headed back toward Petersburg. On the march back, we did have one of a handful of comic incidents. There weren't many during the war, but it wasn't like we didn’t have any.
One day we came across a large cask of syrup in a farmyard. A crowd quickly gathered around it. Soon men were pushing and fighting to get even just a taste of the sweet juice we had so long gone without. There was a little fellow in our company who was slim and pale and just shy of 16 that we called "Sis." He was in the middle of the crowd, fighting his way toward the syrup when a couple of the stronger men in our company scooped him up off his feet, lifted him up atop their shoulders and heaved him headlong into the half-filled cask of syrup. He was soon fished out, but Sis decided that he needed no more syrup that day.
Return to Petersburg
October 27, 1864:
We are back at Petersburg. Today the Yanks tried to get to the Southside Railroad, but were turned back at the Battle of Burgess Mill and Hatcher's Run. I wonder if there's a connection. I know the Hatcher family came from Virginia to Georgia - was this place named after a relative? I think it was Pa's grand-daddy who came to Georgia from Virginia.
November 24, 1864:
Lincoln has proclaimed the last Thursday in November a National Day of Thanksgiving. In the trenches on the Union side they served up 120,000 turkey and chicken dinners. We have no feast, but we are observing a cease-fire in honor of the holiday.
Christmas: December 25, 1864:
Today isn't much different than any other day. Food had been so scarce we ate Christmas dinner from a tin cup and drank clear, cold water from a well just in the rear of the breastworks. A cattle-stealing raid in September had supplied some fresh meat, but usually the fare was both sparse and poor. Daily meat rations amounted to three or four ounces, scarcely more than a mouthful per man.
New Year's Day: January 1, 1865:
Rumors circulated for several days that the women of Richmond were preparing a feast from the donations of local farmers. Because we had honored Thanksgiving, the Union men returned the favor, calling for a cease-fire. We waited all day for our food, and once it arrived it consisted merely of one small sandwich made up of two tiny slices of bread and a thin piece of ham. Though disappointed, we ate the food with thanks, for it was certainly more than we had been getting.
Early March 1865:
This nine-month siege has depleted our numbers. Grant extended his trenches to the left, forcing us to stretch our line, even while we are dropping in numbers. Our lines around Petersburg extended 53 miles. Our troops dwindled to 35,000. 60,000 deserted. Meanwhile Grant still had 125,000 fighting men.
Retreat from Petersburg
March 25, 1865:
It was finally decided our troops were too sparse and we moved out of the trenches and to the southwest to link up with Johnston in the hills of North Carolina. However, we first mounted a sudden night attack, trying to drive into the Yanks' rear area by attacking an earthwork called Fort Stedman. Our army seized the fort, but counterattacks forced Gordon's men to retreat. We lost some 3500 men.
April 1, 1865:
When Grant countered, we held them back in a skirmish at the Dinwiddie Court Hose, but then in the Battle of Five Forks, our position became precarious when our right wing crumpled. They took 4500 prisoners.
April 2, 1865:
Grant decided it was time for an all-out attack on Petersburg. Union soldiers fought through the line at Poplar Springs in a battle that killed A.P. Hill. We fought hard, but were driven from the trenches.
Lee sent word to Jefferson Davis in Richmond that our lines were broken in three places, and it was time to evacuate the capital. That evening Confederate armies set fire to Richmond's warehouses to keep the valuable contents from falling into the hands of the Yankees. 900 buildings were burned in all.
We headed for Lynchburg to meet up with Johnston's men. We were moving roughly parallel to the Appomattox River, in a desperate quest for food, with Grant's force close behind. We did not even have 20,000 men now.
April 3, 1865:
We reached Amelia and found not a single ration stored there. 125,000 Union troops were closing in our remaining troops as we continued marching westward. We sustained ourselves on handfuls of dried corn originally meant for horses. Many of the famished troops left the lines in search for food; some simply surrendered. The end draws near.
April 6, 1865:
I had to surrender today. It is over for me. I'm afraid it is over for us all. Nearly a third of us, 8000, were captured at Sayler's Creek today.
image from warfarehistorynetwork.com
The retreating Confederate columns were attacked repeatedly by Yankee cavalry. Lee and Longstreet were far ahead at Rice's Station, but the Confederate wagon trains were strung out behind them for miles. When a gap opened in the line, Union cavalry dashed through and set the wagons on fire, which created general havoc. There was much confusion as we kept moving on, trying to ignore what was happening behind us.
The battle of Sayler's Creek occurred in a field behind Hillsman House, which had been turned into a field hospital. Union forces congregated on the ridge by the house, while Confederate forces formed a line across the field near the woods.
Ewell, my commander now, led us across Sayler's Creek opposite Hillsman House and we built breastworks at the edge of the woods in preparation for defense. The Union forces built a line of offense along the ridge closest to Hillsman House. They placed a line of cannons on the ridge, just 800 yards from our Confederate army. Only the valley of Sayler's Creek and the creek itself separated the two lines.
In the early evening Union cannons began to open fire on the Confederate line, and the Union cannon fire was very successful. One of my buddies remarked, "the enemy's fire had become very rapid and severe... the line began to suffer under the enemy's deliberate fire...the shot sometimes plowing the ground, sometimes crashing through the trees, and not infrequently striking in the line, killing two or more at once."
Around 6pm, after the cannon fire ceased, the Yankee troops began advancing across the field. When they waded across the creek some troops had to hold their rifles and ammunition over their head due to the high water level from frequent rain.
The Union troops reached the Confederate ridge. However, no shooting occurred due to Union and Confederate orders. The Union officers did not order fire until they came within 100 yards of the Confederate line and Confederate officers did not order fire due to low ammunition supplies.
Once shooting began, the Confederate troops broke their lines and ran toward the Yankees. The Union soldiers retreated as the cannons on their ridge opened fire at our advancing troops. This drove us back and gave them a chance to regroup and advance again.
April 6, 1865:
Once the second charge began, the battle degenerated into a butchery. Men killed each other with bayonets and the butts of muskets, and even bit each other's throats and ears and noses, rolling on the ground like wild beasts.
General Lee himself rode up on a ridge overlooking Sayler's Creek. From somewhere he obtained a Confederate battle flag and held it up as he sat slumped in the saddle watching what was left of his broken army stagger past with blind, staring eyes and wounds undressed.
The once peaceful little valley was now a slaughter pit. At one point I saw a soldier kneeling, eyes open, and hands uplifted as if in prayer. I thought he was alive and went over to help. I found his eyes dazed in death, and beneath him dead bodies lay so thick that they had to be dragged out of the way to let a horse pass.
At the top of the hill we had destroyed our camp and garrison equipage including field desks and reserve papers. For acres the ground was white with requisitions. An immense amount of material, doubtless of value to a future historian, was ruthlessly destroyed.
Ewell, and a group of generals that included Custis Lee, Kershaw, Corse, Barton, Hunton, and Du Bose, were caught in the gigantic trap with nearly 7000 men and were forced to surrender. Union troops captured 1700 men, 3 artillery pieces, 200 wagons, 70 ambulances, and 13 battle flags.
The wounded were sent to Burkeville, but there was no time to bury the dead. They were left lying on the field for days with the sun and the rain beating down on them until local people got burying parties together to shovel enough soil over them to cover the putrefying flesh.
I spent my first night as a prisoner of war at Burkeville, quartered on the grounds of a Mrs. Jeter at her house, called Inverness.
The Final Surrender
April 7, 1865:
Last night was cold, so cold that snow flurries were reported at Burkeville, and this morning it began to rain again.
Palm Sunday; April 9, 1865:
With his men completely surrounded, Lee decided there was nothing left to do. Shortly before noon Lee sent a white towel as a surrender flag along with a note into the Union lines. Total surrender by Lee came on 2pm in the front parlor of Wilmer McLean's Appomattox farmhouse. Grant said the Confederate officers could keep their side arms and personal possessions. Also, officers and men who claimed to own their horses could keep them for the spring plowing they would shortly need to do. Each officer and man would be allowed to return to his home undisturbed by United States authorities. Grant also offered 25,000 rations. I'm told Lee accepted terms with a mix of gratitude and despair.
April 12, 1865:
The Army of Northern Virginia formally surrendered. 28,231 Confederates representing the Army of Northern Virginia relinquished arms and battle flags.
Good Friday; April 14, 1865:
Abe Lincoln was shot today. He went to Ford's Theatre in Washington to see the British comedy Our American Cousin and John Wilkes Booth slipped into the President's box. He fired a derringer pistol at Lincoln right in the head, vaulted over the front of the box, catching his right spur in the draped flag, and landed on stage, breaking his left leg. Lincoln died at 7:22am the next morning.
Arrival at Point Lookout
April 15, 1865:
I am now at Point Lookout, Maryland, at Camp Hoffman. That's its official name; it was named after a Colonel William Hoffman, but no one calls it that. The prison camp sits at the junction of the Potomac River and the Chesapeake Bay, on a peninsula. The Point has a strongly fortified palisade stretched across the tongue of land on which the prison stands from the bay on the northeast to the Potomac on the southwest. Within this palisade but outside of the pens were usually two regiments of infantry, and a couple of batteries of artillery. One could also see two or three companies of cavalry and, while at anchor in the bay, one gunboat.
The prison was formed a couple of years ago. After the Battle of Gettysburg, July 1-3, 1863, the Yanks decided to establish a prisoner of war depot at Point Lookout. It was to be for 10,000 prisoners. By September, almost 4000 Confederates had arrived and by December numbers had increased to over 9000.
Point Lookout, image from Pinterest
We came here part way by rail and then were marched awhile, too. Finally, we were put on steamer boats that carried about 1000 prisoners to make the crossing to the prison.
We arrived about 1am. When we first landed on the pier at Point Lookout, quarters were not ready, but the guards permitted us to come ashore near the foot of the pier. However, in a short time, a Yankee officer arrived and ordered the prisoners back out on the pier where we were forced to stay until 7:00am the next morning. In the morning we were ordered to strip while the guards went through our clothing, tearing out the linings of our coats and hats. Everything of value was taken.
I stood the trip better than the older and bigger Confederates. On entrance into the prison the first thing we saw was a pile of coffins for dead rebels. Then we saw the sign in a large circle over the prison gate that said "Prison Camp."
Once inside the prison it looked to be about twenty-three acres. It was enclosed by a tall, upright plank fence, about 12 to 15 feet high. At the top, along the outside of the planks, was a bridge or walk extending around the prison for sentinels. A man standing upon this walk could be seen from the inside of the prison from his waist line up. Along the parapet, at short intervals, were placed guards of Negro soldiers. The prison was laid off into streets, lined with regular old army tents - our only protection from the weather.
I did not know what was to become of me, or the other men who went into prison with me. I did not know what would become of the men in my unit who surrendered a few days after I was imprisoned. This, our Second American Revolution, has reached the end.
Tent Living in Prison
April 18, 1865:
There are only about 1000 tents in the camp. They are supposed to hold 16 men each, but some tents are crowded with as many as 40 men. Some prisoners don't even have tents.
Tents have prisoners of every nationality, kindred, and tongue. Discussions amongst us deal primarily with how to get something to eat.
The cold was severe at times this last winter. I was told that on cold nights four to seven men would freeze to death. Blankets were in poor supply with only one to about every three men. There was often no bedding either, and we were forced to sleep on the bare ground. Most tents have a fireplace and chimney built of brick, made from the soil and sun baked. However, there was never enough wood for the fires. I can only be grateful that the weather is warming up; I pray I will not have to face such hardships.
Point Lookout sketchbook (by John Jacob Omenhausser)
Living conditions at Point Lookout can be seen in this sketchbook by John Jacob Omenhausser, who was, according to the University of Maryland, a Confederate soldier imprisoned there from “June 1864 to June 1865…Omenhausser documented prison life in sketchbooks with vibrant watercolors. His paintings were annotated with captions and dialog and, while intending to be humorous, often touch upon the grimmer aspects of camp life. Because he had relatives in the North, Omenhausser may have had an easier time obtaining supplies to make his life more bearable during that year. The University of Maryland Libraries owns one of only a handful of Omenhausser sketchbooks in existence, and our volume, with 62 color paintings, is the largest single collection.”
Click here to see the full book online (with larger images).
General Conditions in the Camp
April 26, 1865:
The land is low and marshy so mosquitoes are a problem on calm nights. There is poor drainage here, the pumps are deficient, the quality of water is bad, the tents are old and worn, there is a deficiency of vegetables, a limited variety of rations not to mention a limited amount of rations at all, and disease is prevalent.
John Wilkes Booth, the man who shot Lincoln, was trapped in a barn and gunned down today, shot in the head by the Union cavalry.
Food in Prison
We would get a small cup of soup with a stray Yankee bean in it here and there, and a piece of fat pickled pork as large as your hand. This, together with two or three cuts of loaf bread issued twice a day, completed our menu. They did allow us to draw a copious supply of vinegar. This I ate with my diet, and drank with water, hoping that it might help to keep down disease.
Rations for a day made about one meal, just enough to maintain life. We didn't get more than half of our meat ration. Some would eat the whole day's rations at one meal. I chose to be more prudent and divide it into two or three meals. I have seen men eat anything that they could lay their hands on. On one occasion when the tide in the bay was high it brought ashore an old sea gull which had been dead for a month or more. It was picked up by a hungry rebel and devoured with a gusto that would have made a vulture ashamed of himself. I, with others who were willing to get a meal, gave my pocket knife for a pie which had been seasoned with skimmings from the slop tubs at the cook house, mixed with anything else that could be gotten. For this I sorrowfully repented, for it gave me a spell of sickness which came very near sending me to the "Peach Orchard" (the cemetery) where many of the boys had gone.
Clothing in Prison
We were pretty much all in rags. Some men lacked even enough clothes to cover their nakedness. You couldn't receive any new clothing unless you give up an item you already have. That meant if you came into the camp barefoot, the only way you could get new shoes was to beg for or buy a pair of worn-out shoes so that you had a pair to trade in.
Survival in Prison
Early May 1865:
Most men operate some kind of business, but I find it impossible with the overcrowding of the prison. Men who have been here much longer know more of the ropes and it is easier for them to set up businesses as well.
One man's forte was molasses taffy (or "lasses taffy") and corn mush with black strap syrup. The taffy was made by boiling molasses into a paste and pulling out rolls about six inches long and laying it on a cooling board.
He would fry flap jacks so thin you could read through them and dilute the molasses so that it would run on a board. He charged five hardtacks and a chew of tobacco. He could sell enough to last a week.
Outside of the Camp
Prisoners were allowed the liberty of congregating on the shore of the Chesapeake outside of the prison camp for recreation and exercise between the hours of 9 and 2. The conglomerated mass of lousy, ragged and hungry rebels was a sight to behold, especially in the winter days, when we could bask in the sun. Every type of humanity was exhibited in all the different phases of a prisoner's life in this assembly. A variety of proceedings were carried on - the pious praying, the wicked fighting, the tradesmen tricking, and the thieves stealing. There were all kinds of gaming from trick cards to keno and lotto to dice.
We were also allowed outside the camp on details to cut wood, whitewash buildings, and unload boats, etc., and when a requisition was made for a certain number of men to go outside a thousand would rush for the gate all eager to get extra rations for their work.
On one occasion I was in a detail of 100 to help unload a large boat loaded with rations for the prisoners, in which was hardtack, pickled pork, sugar, coffee, beans, vegetables dried for soup, and pickled beef. The provisions had to be carried from the boat to the commissary, a distance of 300 or 400 yards, and the opportunity to flank was flattering.
The prisoners took advantage of it by going into a cracker box or opening a barrel of sugar and coffee and anything else they could do. Many supplied themselves with more than extra rations, not suspecting the keen-eyed guards. Everything was working lovely, or so we thought, and every rebel had his breeches and pockets full like a frog eating shot, too heavy to move. All things were merry as a marriage bell, with bright anticipations of a feast, when we went back to camp. But when the time came for march they formed us in two lines and marched us up within twenty paces of the gate. The column was halted, with the command "right face!" The officer of the day rode up and down the line, seeing that we took the position of a soldier.
With drawn sword, he gave the command to shake rags. Silence reigned supreme for a few minutes, and then the captain gave the command again. Everyone still remained perfectly silent. Finally, with a broad smile on his face, he gave the order, "take off your trousers and disgorge," which we proceeded to do. That was done by turning our trousers upside down so that anything in the pockets and legs would tumble out.
Just imagine the result. There was a pile of every article that was unloaded from the boat, making a heap as big as a hogshead, at which everyone looked very wistfully and with many regrets. So we marched back into camp, sadder but wiser ragamuffins.
My Own Survival in Prison
The ration of coffee was cut, probably because the Confederacy didn’t have it. I was on detail soon afterward outside the camp whitewashing at the hospital department, and I noticed a large pile of coffee grounds that had been used for the sick. The hospital was just outside the main prison camp, where there were a thousand sick prisoners and, of course, they were furnished with a good article of coffee. I found an old coffee sack and made my way close to the wall, stopping close to the dead line, which was a ditch 15 feet from the fence and anyone crossing it would be fired upon. When the guard's back was to me I ran across the dead line and ducked into a trench that ran under the fence. I filled my sack with coffee grounds and when the guard wasn't looking crossed back again.
Every tent had a camp kettle and with my stock I would have a kettle full of coffee every morning. I would stand in front of my tent and cry, "here's your hot coffee! Cupful for a cracker!" I made enough crackers to feast three times a day.
May 10, 1865:
Today Union cavalry caught Confederate President Jefferson Davis and imprisoned him in Fortress Monroe. I definitely feel our cause is over.
Disease in Prison
May 16, 1865:
Diseases such as diarrhea, dysentery, typhoid fever, fevers in general, scurvy, and itch were prevalent. The mortality rate was 10% and vaccinations were discontinued due to unhealthy ulcers following the vaccinations.
There is a tent where dead victims are put, known as the Dead House, until they can be buried. It is said that 8600 Confederate dead are buried near the prison pen in a graveyard called the "Peach Orchard." It is named for the site at Gettysburg where so many of our Confederate soldiers were killed.
The Hammond Hospital was mostly occupied by the Confederate sick. It was arranged like the spokes of a wheel with about 1400 beds. There are presently between 1800 and 1900 Confederate prisoners in Hammond Hospital. The Smallpox Hospital was located about one fourth of a mile north of the camp, among the pine bushes. Nine Sisters of Charity were in charge of the Half-Diet kitchen and Store Rooms.
Night in the Camp
Some prisoners suffer temporary blindness for part of each day by the glare of the sun on the sand, the white tents and the water surrounding. They would be able to see during the day but at dusk they would lose their sight and not have it again until morning. While still awake they would have to be led around by friends if they wished to move about the camp.
Taps was blown at night (8 o'clock), after which silence was maintained. No talking was allowed in the tents.
Late May 1865:
The guards were brutal. When we were driven out of our tents at night by diarrhea, the guards would make us carry them on their back. We were quick-stepped about the grounds and forced to kneel and pray for the late Abe Lincoln.
Last winter a negro guard was felled from the parapet by a brick and died. Thirty-two men in a nearby cookhouse were roused out in the night in their shirts and drawers, put in the block-house in zero-degree weather, without food, water, or fire for 48 hours. When a confession was obtained from a man in another part of the camp and the men were released, three had died from exposure.
Late May 1865:
I’ve wondered about escape. The last successful escape occurred in March, before I arrived. Two prisoners got together cracker boxes to make a small sailboat and by some means evaded the guard and escaped across the Chesapeake Bay. I never knew how they managed to get out of the camp – maybe they tunneled under the fence, maybe they scaled the wall. In any event, prisoners were kept under heavy surveillance after that.
Release from Prison
May 30, 1865:
There were some 1700 men released today, of those deemed well enough. I pray my time is coming near.
June 13, 1865:
We had to take the oath of allegiance and then were released. We knew we still would have to wait for transportation and probably go several days without food, but at least we were headed home. We were marched single file down to the wharf on the Potomac River, where we boarded a New York truce boat with her outstretched gang plank. There were no bayonets to move us lively this time. We gave one old-fashion “rebel yell” and joined with one accord in “Dixie.” Old times there are not forgotten. Unfortunately, life would never be like old times again.
Documents (Prisoner of War Roll, Oath of Allegiance, Oath, Certificate of Release)
Civil War Trust Animated Map: Entire Civil War