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John L. Ransom
Arcadia Ebooks 2016
Copyright © 1881 John L. Ransom
THE book to which these lines form an introduction is a peculiar one in many respects. It is a story, but it is a true story, and written years ago with little idea that it would ever come into this form. The writer has been induced, only recently, by the advice of friends and by his own feeling that such a production would be appreciated, to present what, at the time it was being made up, was merely a means of occupying a mind which had to contemplate, besides, only the horrors of a situation from which death would have been, and was to thousands, a happy relief.
There has been little change in the entries in the diary, before presenting them here. In such cases the words which suggest themselves at the time are best — they cannot be improved upon by substitution at a later day.
This book is essentially different from any other that has been published concerning the “late war” or any of its incidents. Those who have had any such experience as the author will see its truthfulness at once, and to all other readers it is commended as a statement of actual things by one who experienced them to the fullest
The annexed list of the Andersonville dead is from the Rebel official records, is authentic, and will be found valuable in many pension cases and otherwise.
BELLE ISLAND, Richmond, Va., Nov. 23d, 1863. — I was captured near Rogersville, East Tennessee, on the sixth of this month, white acting as Brigade Quarter-Master Sergeant. The Brigade was divided, two regiments twenty miles away, while Brigade Head-Quarters, with Seventh Ohio and First Tennessee Mounted Infantry, were at Rogersville. The Brigade Quarter-Master had a large quantity of clothing on hand, which we were about to issue to the brigade as soon aa possible. The Rebel citizens got up a dance at one of the public houses in the village, and invited all the Union officers. This was the evening of November 6th. Nearly all the officers attended, and were away from the command nearly all night, and many were away all night. We were encamped in a bend of the Holston River. It was a dark, rainy night, and the river rose rapidly before morning. The dance was a ruse to get our officers away from their command. At break of day the pickets were driven in by Rebel cavalry, and orders were immediately received from commanding officer to get wagon train out on the road in ten minutes. The Quarter-Master had been to the dance and had not returned, consequently it devolved upon me to see to wagon train, which I did, and in probably ten minutes the whole seventy six mule army wagons were in line out on the main road, while the companies were forming into line and getting ready for a fight Rebels had us completely surrounded and soon began to fire volley after volley into our disorganized ranks. Not one officer in five was present; General Commanding and Staff, as soon as they realized our danger, started for the river, swam across and got away. We had a small company of artillery with us, commanded by a Lieutenant. The Lieutenant, in the absence of other officers, assumed command of the two regiments, and right gallantly did he do service. Kept forming his men for the better protection of the wagon train, while the Rebels were shifting around from one point to another, and all the time sending volley after volley into our ranks. Our men did well, and had there been plenty of officers and ammunition, we might have gained the day. After ten hours fighting, we were obliged to surrender, after having lost in killed over a hundred, and three or four times that number in wounded. After surrendering we were drawn up into line, counted off, and hurriedly marched away south. By eight o’clock at night had probably marched ten miles, and encamped until morning. We expected that our troops would intercept and release us, but they did not. An hour before daylight we were up and on the march toward Bristol, Va., that being the nearest railroad station. We were cavalrymen, and marching on foot made us very lame, and we could hardly hobble along. Were very well fed on corn bread and bacon. Reached Bristol, Va., November 8th and were soon aboard of cattle cars en-route for the Rebel Capital. I must here tell how I came into possession of a very nice and large bed spread, which is doing good service even now, these cold nights. After we were captured, everything was taken away from us, blankets, overcoats, and in many cases, our boots and shoes. I had on a new pair of boots, which by muddying them over had escaped the Rebel eyes thus far, as being a good pair. As our blankets had been taken away from us, we suffered considerably from cold. I saw that if I was going to remain a prisoner of war, it behooved me to get hold of a blanket After a few hours march, I became so lame walking, with my new boots on, that the Rebels were compelled to put me on an old horse that was being lead along by one of the guard. This guard had the bed spread before spoken of. Told him I was going into prison at the beginning of a long winter, and should need a blanket, and couldn’t he give me his. We had considerable talk, and were very good friends. Said he rather liked me, but wouldn’t part with his bed spread. Didn’t love me that much, treated me, however, with apple-jack out of his canteen. I kept getting my wits together to arrange some plan to get the article in question. Finally told him I had a large sum of money on my person which I expected would be taken away from me anyway, and as he was a good fellow, would rather he would have it than any one else. He was delighted and all attention, wanted me to be careful and not let any of the other Rebels see the transfer. I had a lot of Michigan broken down wild cat money, and pulled it out of an inside pocket and handed him the roll. It was green paper and of course he supposed it greenbacks. Was very glad of the gift and wanted to know what he could do for me. My first proposition to him was to let me escape, but he couldn’t do that, then I told him to give me the bed spread, as it might save my life. After some further parley, he consented and handed over the spread. He was afraid to look at his money, for fear some one would see him, and so did not discover that it was worthless until we had become separated. Guards were changed that night and never saw him any more.
The cars ran very slow, and being crowded for room, the journey to Richmond was very tedious. Arrived on the morning of November 13th, seven days after capture, at the south end of the “long bridge;” ordered out of the cars and into line, counted off and started for Belle Isle. Said island is in the James River, probably covers ten or twelve acres, and is right across from Richmond. The river between Richmond and the island is probably a third or half a mile. The “long bridge” is near the lower part of the island. It is a cold, bleak piece of ground and the winter winds have free sweep from up the river. Before noon we were turned into the pen, which is merely enclosed by a ditch and the dirt taken from the ditch thrown up on the outside, making a sort of breastwork. The ditch serves as a dead line, and no prisoners must go near the ditch. The prison is in command of a Lieut. Bossieux, a rather young and gallant looking sort of a fellow. Is a born Southerner, talking so much like a negro that you would think he was one, if you could hear him talk and not see him. He has two Rebel Sergeants to act as his assistants, Sergt. Hight and Sergt.
Marks. These two men are very cruel, as is also the Lieutenant when angered. Outside the prison pen is a bake-house, made of boards, the Rebel tents for the accommodation of the officers and guard, and a hospital also of tent cloth. Running from the pen is a lane, enclosed by high boards going to the water’s edge. At night this is closed up by a gate at the pen, and thrown open in the morning. About half of the six thousand prisoners here have tents, while the rest sleep and live out of doors. After I had been on this island two or three days, I was standing near the gate, eating some rice soup out of an old broken bottle, thoroughly disgusted with the Southern Confederacy, and this prison in particular. A young man came up to me, whom I immediately recognized as George W. Hendryx, a member of my own company “A,” 9th Michigan Cavalry, who had been captured some time before myself. Was feeling so blue, cross and cold, that I didn’t care whether it was him or not. He was on his way to the river to get some water. Found I wasn’t going to notice him in any way, and so proceeded on his errand. When I say that George Hendryx was one of the most valued friends I had in the regiment, this action on my part will seem strange, as indeed it is. Did not want to see him or any one else I had ever seen before. Well, George came back a few minutes after, looked at me a short time and says: “I believe you are John L. Ransom, Quarter-Master Sergeant of the same Company with me, although you don’t seem to recognize me.” Told him “I was that same person, recognized him, and there could be no mistake about it.” Wanted to know why in the old Harry I didn’t speak to him then. After telling him just how it was, freezing to death, half starved and gray backs crawling all over me, &c., we settled down into being glad to see one another.
Nov. 23. — Having a few dollars of good Yankee money, which I have hoarded since my capture, have purchased a large blank book and intend, as long as I am a prisoner of war in this Confederacy, to note down, from day to day, as occasion may occur, events as they happen, treatment, ups and downs generally. It will serve to pass away the time and may be interesting, at some future time, to read over.
Nov. 24. — Very cold weather. Four or five men chilled to death last night. A large portion of the prisoners who have been in confinement any length of time are reduced to almost skeletons from continued hunger, exposure and filth. Having some money, just indulged in an extra ration of corn bread, for which I paid twenty cents in Yankee script, equal to two dollars Confederate money, and should say by the crowd collected around that such a sight was an unusual occurrence, and put me in mind of gatherings I have seen at the North around some curiosity. We received for to-day’s food half a pint of rice soup and one-quarter of a pound loaf of corn bread. The bread is made from the very poorest meal, coarse, sour and musty; would make poor feed for swine at home. The rice is nothing more than boiled in river water with no seasoning whatever, not even salt, but for all that it tasted nice. The greatest difficulty is the small allowance given us. The prisoners are blue, downcast and talk continually of home and something good to eat. They nearly all think there will be an exchange of prisoners before long, and the trick of it is to live until the time approaches. We are divided off into hundreds, with a Sergeant to each squad, who draws the food and divides it up among his men, and woe unto him if a man is wronged out of his share — his life is not worth the snap of the finger if caught cheating. No wood to-night and it is very cold. The nights are long and are made hideous by the moans of suffering wretches.
Nov. 25. — Hendryx is in a very good tent, with some nine or ten others and is now trying to get me into the already crowded shelter. They say I can have the first vacancy, and as it is impossible for a dozen to remain together long without losing some by sickness, my chances will be good in a few days at farthest. Food again at four o’clock. In place of soap, received about four ounces of salt horse, as we call it.
Nov, 26. — Hendryx sacrificed his own comfort and lay out doors with me last night, and I got along much better than the night before. Are getting food twice a day; old prisoners say it is fully a third more than they have been getting. Hardly understand how we could live on much less. A Michigan man (could not learn his name), while at work, a few moments ago, on the outside with a squad of detailed Yankees, repairing a part of the embankment, which recent rains had washed away, stepped upon the wall to give orders to his men, when one of the guards shot him through the head, killing him instantly. Lieutenant Bossieux, commander of the prison, having heard the shot, came to learn the cause. He told the guard he ought to be more careful and not shoot those who were on parole and doing fatigue duty, and ordered the body carried to the dead house. Seems tough to me, but others don’t seem to mind it much. I am mad.
Nov. 27. — Stormy and disagreeable weather. From fifteen to twenty and twenty five die every day and are buried just outside the prison with no coffins — nothing but canvas wrapped around them. Eight sticks of four foot wood given every squad of one hundred men to-day, and when split up and divided it amounted to nothing towards warming a person. Two or three can put their wood together and boil a little coffee made from bread crusts. The sick are taken out every morning and either sent over to the city or kept in the hospital just outside the prison and on the island. None admitted unless chimed out in blankets and so far gone there is not much chance of recovery. Medical attendance is scarce.
Nov. 28. — Very cold, and men suffer terribly with hardly any clothing on some of them. A man taken outside to-day, bucked and gagged for talking with a guard; a severe punishment this very cold weather.
Nov. 30. — Came across E. P. Sanders, from Lansing, Michigan, and a jolly old soul is he. Can’t get discouraged where he is. Talk a great deal about making our escape but there is not much prospect. We are very strongly guarded with artillery bearing on every part of the prison. The long bridge I have heard so much about, crosses the river just below the island. It is very long and has been condemned for years — trains move slow across it. There was a big fire over in Richmond last night about two o’clock; could hear all the fire bells and see the house tops covered with people looking at it. Great excitement among the Johnny Rebs.
Dec. 1. — With no news concerning the great subject — exchange of prisoners. Very hungry and not having a good time of it. Take it all around I begin to wish I had stayed at home and was at the Jackson Citizen office, pulling the old press. Dream continually nights about something good to eat; seems rather hard such plenty at the North and starving here. Have just seen a big fight among the prisoners; just like so many snarly dogs, cross and peevish. A great deal of fighting going on. Rebels collect around on the outside in crowds to see the Yankees bruise themselves, and it is quite sport for them. Have succeeded in getting into the tent with Hendryx. One of the mess has been sent over to Richmond Hospital, leaving a vacancy, which I am to fill. There are nine others, myself making ten. The names are as follows: W. C. Robinson, Orderly Sergeant, 34th Illinois; W. H. Mustard, Hospital Steward, 100th Pennsylvania; Joe Myers, 34th Illinois; H. Freeman, Hospital Steward, 30th Ohio; C. G. Strong, 4th Ohio Cavalry; Corporal John McCarten, 6th Kentucky; U. Kindred, 1st East Tennessee Infantry; E. P. Sanders, 20th Michigan Infantry; George Hendryx and myself of the 9th Michigan Cavalry. A very good crowd of boys, and all try to make their places as pleasant as possible. General Neil Dow to-day came over from Libby Prison on parole of honor to help issue some clothing that has arrived for Belle Isle prisoners from the Sanitary Commission at the North. Sergeant Robinson taken outside to help General Dow in issuing clothing, and thinks through his influence to get more out for the same purpose. A man froze to death last night where I slept. The body lay until nearly dark before it was removed. My blanket comes in good play, and it made the boys laugh when told how I got it. We tell stories, dance around, keep as clean as we can without soap and make the best of a very bad situation.
Dec. 2. — Pleasant weather and favorable for prisoners. At about nine in the morning the work of hunting vermin commences, and all over camp sit the poor starved wretches nearly stripped, engaged in picking off and killing the big gray backs. The ground is fairly alive with them, and it requires continual labor to keep from being eaten up alive. I just saw a man shot. He was called down the bank by the guard, and as he leaned over to do some trading another guard close by shot him through the side and it is said mortally wounded him. It was made up between the guards to shoot the man, and when the Lieutenant came round to make some inquiries concerning the affair, one of them remarked that the prisoner passed a counterfeit bill on him the night before, and he thought he would put him where he could not do the like again. The wounded man was taken to the hospital and has since died. His name was Gilbert He was from New Jersey. Food twice to-day; buggy bean soup and a very small allowance of corn bread. Hungry all the time.
Dec. 3. — Rumors of exchange to be effected soon. Rebels say we will all be exchanged before many days. It cannot be possible our government will allow us to remain here all winter. General Dow is still issuing clothing, but the Rebels get more than our men do of it. Guards nearly all dressed in Yankee uniforms. In our mess we have established regulations, and any one not conforming with the rules is to be turned out of the tent. Must take plenty of exercise, keep clean, free as circumstances will permit of vermin, drink no water until it has been boiled, which process purifies and makes it more healthy, are not to allow ourselves to get despondent, and must talk, laugh and make as light of our affairs as possible. Sure death for a person to give up and lose all ambition. Received a spoonful of salt to-day for the first time since I came here.
Dec. 4. — Exchange news below par to-day. Rather colder than yesterday; a great many sick and dying off rapidly. Rebel guards are more strict than usual, and one risks his life by speaking to them at all. Wrote a letter home to-day, also one to a friend in Washington. Doubtful whether I ever hear from them. Robinson comes inside every night, and always brings something good. We look forward to the time of his coming with pleasure. Occasionally he brings a stick of wood which we split up fine and build a cheerful fire in our little sod fireplace, sit up close together and talk of home and friends so far away. We call our establishment the “Astor House of Belle Isle.” There are so many worse off than we are, that we are very well contented and enjoy ourselves after a fashion.
Dec. 5. — Cold and raw weather with no wood. Men are too weak to walk nights to keep warm, sink down and chill to death. At least a dozen were carried out this morning feet foremost Through Robinson’s influence Hendryx and myself will go out to-morrow to issue clothing, and will come in nights to sleep. We are to receive extra rations for our services. In good spirits to-night, with a good fire and very comfortable for this place.
Dec. 6. — One month a prisoner to-day — longer than any year of my life before. Hope I am not to see another month in the Confederacy. A great deal of stealing going on among the men. There are organized bands of raiders who do pretty much as they please. A ration of bread is often of more consequence than a man’s life. Have received food but once to-day, very cold; at least one hundred men limping around with frozen feet, and some of them crying like little children. Am at work on the outside to-day; go out at nine in the morning and return at four in the afternoon, and by right smart figuring carry in much extra food for tent mates, enough to give all hands a good square meal.
Dec. 7. — No news of importance. The Rebels say a flag of truce boat has arrived at City Point, and Commissioner Olds telegraphed for and undoubtedly will agree upon terms for an exchange of prisoners. Men receiving boxes from their friends at the North, and am writing for one myself, without much hope of ever getting it.
Dec. 8. — The men all turned out of the enclosure and are being squadded over. A very stormy and cold day; called out before breakfast and nearly dark before again sent inside. Very muddy and the men have suffered terribly; stand up all day in the cold drizzling rain, with no chance for exercise and many barefooted. I counted nine or ten who went out in the morning not able to get back at night; three of the number being dead.
Dec. 9. — Rumors that one thousand go off to-day to our lines, and the same number every day until all are removed. It was not believed, until a few moments ago, the Lieutenant stepped upon the bank and said that in less than a week we would all be home again, and such a cheering among us; every man who could yell had his mouth stretched. Persons who fifteen minutes ago could not rise to their feet, are jumping around in excitement, shaking hands with one another and crying, “A general exchange! a general exchange!” All in good spirits, and we talk of the good dinners we will get on the road home. Food twice to-day and a little salt.
Dec. 10. — Instead of prisoners going away, five hundred more have come, which makes it very crowded. Some are still confident wo will go away soon, but I place no reliance on Rebel reports. Rather warmer than usual, and the men busying themselves hunting vermin. A priest in the camp distributing tracts. Men told him to bring bread; they want no tracts. Exchange news has died away, and more despondent than ever. I to-day got hold of a Richmond Enquirer which spoke of bread riots in the city, women running around the streets and yelling, “Peace or bread!”
Dec. 11. — Was on guard last night over the clothing outside. Lieutenant Bossieux asked Corporal McCarten and myself to eat supper with him last night, which we were very glad to do. Henry, the negro servant, said to the Lieutenant, after we had got through eating: “I golly, masser, dont nehber ask dem boys to eat with us again, dey eat us out clean gone;” and so we did eat everything on the table, and looked for more.
Dec. 12. — At just daylight I got up, and was walking around the prison, to see if any Michigan men had died through the night, and was just in time to see a young fellow come out of his tent, nearly naked, and deliberately walk up the steps that lead over the bank. Just as he got on the top, the guard fired, sending a ball through his brain, and the poor fellow fell in the ditch. I went and got permission to help pull him out. He had been sick for a number of days, and was burning up with fever, and no doubt deranged at the time, else he would have known better than to have risked his life in such a manner. His name was Perry McMichael, and he was from Minnesota. Perhaps he is better off, and a much easier death than to die of disease, as he undoubtedly would in a few days longer. The work of issuing clothing slowly goes on. In place of General Dow, Colonel Sanderson comes over on parole of honor, and is not liked at all. Is of New York, and a perfect tyrant; treats us as bad or worse than the Rebels themselves. Col. Boyd also comes occasionally, and is a perfect gentleman. Talked to me to-day concerning Sanderson’s movements, and said if he got through to our lines should complain of him to the authorities at Washington. He took down notes in his diary against him.
Dec. 13. — Nothing of any importance to note down. The officers come over from Richmond every day or two, and make a showing of issuing clothing. The work goes on slowly, and it would seem that if clothing was ever needed and ought to be issued, it is now, yet the officers seem to want to nurse the job, and make it last as long as possible. Many cruelties are practiced, principally by the Rebel Sergeants. The Lieutenant does not countenance much cruelty, still he is very quick tempered, and when provoked, is apt is do some very severe things. The Yankees are a hard crowd to manage; will steal anything, no matter what, regardless of consequences. Still I don’t know as it is any wonder, cooped up as they are in such a place, and called upon to endure such privations. The death rate gradually increases from day to day. A little Cincinnati soldier died to-day. Was captured same time as myself, and we had messed together a number of times before I became identified with the “Astor House Mess.” Was in very poor health when captured, but could never quite find out what ailed him. I have many talks with the Rebels, and am quite a privileged character. By so doing am able to do much for the boys inside, and there are good boys in there, whom I would do as much for as myself.
Dec. 17. — I have plenty to eat. Go outside every day, whether clothing is issued or not. To explain the manner of issuing clothing: The men are called outside by squads, that is, one squad of a hundred men at a, time; all stand in a row in front of the boxes of clothing. The officer in charge, Colonel Sanderson, begins with the first at the head of the column, looks him over, and says to us paroled men: “Here, give this man a pair of pants,” or coat, or such clothing as he may stand in need of. In this way he gets through with a hundred men in about half an hour. Us boys often manage to give three or four articles where only one has been ordered. There seems to be plenty of clothing here, and we can see no reason why it should not be given away. Have to be very careful, though, for if we are caught at these tricks are sent inside to stay. Officers stay on the island only two or three hours, and clothe four or five hundred men, when they could just as well do three or four times as much. It is comical the notes that come in some of the good warm woolen stockings. These have evidently been knit by the good mothers, wives and sisters at the North, and some of the romantic sort have written letters and placed inside, asking the receiver to let them know about himself, his name, etc., etc. Most of them come from the New England States, and they cheer the boys up a great deal.
Dec. 18. — To-day as a squad was drawn up in front of us, waiting for clothing, I saw an Irishman in the ranks who looked familiar. Looked at him for some time, and finally thought I recognized in him an old neighbor of mine in Jackson, Michigan — one Jimmy Devers — as whole-souled and comical a genius as ever it was my fortune to meet. Went up to him, and asked what regiment he belonged to; said he belonged to the 23d Indiana, at which I could not believe it was my old acquaintance. Went back to my work. Pretty soon he said to me; “Ain’t you Johnny Ransom?” And then I knew I was right he had lived in Jackson, but had enlisted in an Indiana regiment. Well, we were glad to see one another, and you may just bet that Jimmy got as good a suit of clothes as ever he had in our own lines. Jimmy is a case; was captured on the 1st day of July, at the Gettysburg battle, and is consequently an old prisoner. Is very tough and hardy. Says the Johnny Rebs have a big contract on their hands to kill him. But I tell him to take good care of himself anyway, as there is no knowing what he will be called upon to pass through yet.
Dec. 20. — James River frozen nearly over, and Rebels say it has not been so cold for years as at the present time. There are hundreds with frozen feet, ears, hands, &c., and lying all over the prison, and the suffering is terrible. Hendryx and myself are intent on some plan for escape. The Lieutenant has spies, who are on the watch. The authorities know all about any conspiracy almost as soon as it is known ourselves. Last night, about dark, two or three Yankees agreed to give the guard $10, if he would let them get over the bank, to which he promised, and as soon as they got nearly over fired, and immediately gave the alarm. One of them received a shot in one of his legs and the others scrambled back over the bank — the three minus their $10 bill and a sound leg. They cannot be trusted at all, and will promise anything for greenbacks. Sergeant Bullock, of our regiment, is here, and very sick with fever; cannot possibly live many weeks in such a place as this. Colonel Sanderson still issues clothing, but very unfair, and the men who need it most get none at all. All the outsiders received a suit throughout to-day, myself among the rest. Got a letter from home, everybody is well. They say keep up good heart, and we will be exchanged before many weeks.
Dec. 21. — Still cold. Have enough to eat myself, but am one of a thousand. The scurvy is appearing among some of the men, and is an awful disease, caused by want of vegetable diet, acids, &c. Two small-pox cases taken to the hospital to-day. A sutler has been established on the island, and sells at the following rates: Poor brown sugar, $8 per pound; butter, $11; cheese, $10; sour milk, $3 per quarts and the only article I buy; eggs, $10 per dozen; oysters, $6 per quart; and the cheapest food in market.
Dec. 22. — A large mail came this morning, but nothing for me. A man who gets a letter is besieged with questions, and a crowd gathers around to learn the news, if any, regarding our future. Rations smaller than usual, and Lieutenant Bossieux says that it is either exchange or starve with us prisoners sure, as they have not the food to give us. To-day saw a copy of the Richmond Enquirer, in which was a long article, treating on exchange of prisoners, saying our government would not exchange, owing to an excess held by us, and, unless their terms were agreed to, as they could not afford to keep us, the coming summer would reduce our ranks so that they would not have many to feed another winter. Rather poor prospects ahead for us poor imprisoned Yanks. Lots of sanitary stores sent on to the island for us, but as yet none have been issued, the Rebels (officers in particular), getting fat on what rightfully belongs to us.
Dec. 23. — Almost Christmas, and we are planning for a Christmas dinner. Very cold. The Rebels are testing their big guns on the opposite shore of the river, and fairly shake the ground we stand on. We can see the shells as they leave the guns, until they explode, affording quite a pastime for us watching their war machines. Militia in sight, drilling over in Richmond. A woman found among us — a prisoner of war. Some one who knew the secret, informed Lieutenant Bossieux, and he immediately had her taken outside, when she told him the whole story — how she had “followed her lover a soldiering” in disguise, and being of a romantic turn, enjoyed it hugely until the funny part was done away with, and Madame Collier, from East Tennessee, found herself in durance vile; nothing to do but make the best of it, and conceal her sex, if possible, hoping for a release, which, however, did not come in the shape she wished. The Lieutenant has sent her over to Richmond to be cared for and she is to be sent north by the first flag of truce boat. She tells of another female being among us, but as yet she has not been found out
Dec. 24. — Must hang up my stocking to-night for habit’s sake, if nothing else. I am enjoying splendid health, and prison life agrees with me. Wrote home to-day.
Dec. 25 — and Christmas. — One year ago to-day first went into camp at Coldwater, little dreaming what changes a year would bring around, but there are exchange rumors afloat, and hope to see white folks again before many months. All ordered out to be squadded over again, which was quite a disappointment to our mess, as we are making preparations for a grand dinner, gotten up by outside hands, Mustard, Myers, Hendryx and myself. However, we had our good things for supper, instead of dinner, and it was a big thing, consisting of corn bread and butter, oysters, coffee, beef, crackers, cheese, &c.; all we could possibly eat or do away with, and costing the snug little sum of $200 Confederate money, or $20 in greenbacks. Lay awake long before day-light, listening to the bells. As they rang out Christmas good morning, I imagined they were in Jackson, Michigan, my old home, and from the spires of the old Presbyterian and Episcopal churches. Little do they think as they are saying their Merry Christmas and enjoying themselves so much, of the hunger and starving here. But there are better days coming.
Dec. 26. — News of exchange and no officers over from Libby to issue clothing. Extra quantity of wood. Rebels all drunk and very domineering. Punish for the smallest kind of excuse. Some men tunneled out of the pen, but were retaken, and were made to crawl back through the same hole they went out of, and the Lieutenant kept hitting them with a board as they went down, and then ran back and forward from one hole to the other and as they stuck up their heads, would hit them with a club, keeping them at it for nearly an hour. A large crowd of both Rebels and Yankees collected around to see the fun.
Dec. 27. — Colonel Sanderson and Colonel Boyd came over this morning in a great hurry and began to issue clothing very fast, saying an exchange had been agreed upon, and they wanted to get rid of it before we all went away. Pretty soon the news got inside, and the greatest cheering, yelling, shaking of hands and congratulating one another took place. Just before dinner five hundred were taken out, counted and sent away. Everybody anxious to go away first, which of course they cannot do. Sergeants Hight and
Marks stand at the gate with big clubs, keeping order, letting them out two at a time, occasionally knocking a man down, and it is seldom he gets up again very soon. Some of the outside went and the rest go to-morrow. It is a sure thing — a general exchange, and all will be sent away immediately. Everybody in good spirits. Guess Northern folks will be surprised to see such looking objects come among them. They are the worst looking crowd I ever saw. Extra ration of food and wood to-night, and am anxiously waiting for the morrow.
Dec. 28. — For some reason or other, no more being taken away and more despondent than ever. Very cold.
Dec. 29. — Nearly as cold weather as I ever saw at the North. All the supplies brought by hand over the long bridge, owing to the river being frozen over and not strong enough to hold up. Rebel officers all drunk during the holidays. Snow an inch deep.
Dec. 30. — No rations issued yesterday to any of the prisoners, and a third of all here are on the very point of starvation. Lieutenant Bossieux sympathizes with us in word, but says it is impossible to help it as they have not the food for us. This is perhaps true as regards edibles, but there is no excuse for our receiving such small supplies of wood. They could give us plenty of shelter, plenty of wood and conveniences we do not now get, if they felt so disposed.
Dec. 31. — Still very cold and no news encouraging. Rebels very strict. One prisoner found a brother among the guards, who had been living in the south for a good many years and lately conscripted into the Confederate army. New Year’s eve. Man wounded by the guard shooting, and ball broke his leg. Might better have shot him dead, for he will surely die. Raw rice and corn bread issued to-day in small quantities. Richmond Enquirer spoke of the five hundred who left here day before yesterday, and they have reached Washington.
Jan. 1. 1864. — A great time this morning wishing one another a Happy New Year. Robinson bought on the outside a dozen apples and gave us all a treat. Nothing but corn bread to eat and very poor quality. Dr. F. L. Lewis, Veterinary Surgeon 9th Michigan Cavalry, came in to-day; was captured at Danbridge, East Tennessee, where our regiment had a severe engagement. Tells me all the news. Colonel Acker wounded, etc., etc. Thinks it a queer New Year trip, but also thinks we will be exchanged before many weeks.
Jan. 2. — Rebel Congress about to meet, and the people of Richmond demand through the papers that the prisoners confined here be removed immediately, as there is hardly enough for themselves to eat, aside from feeding us “Northern Hirelings.” Hear of bread riots and lots of trouble across the river. A big fire last night in the vicinity of Libby Prison.
Jan. 3. — Received a letter from Michigan. Not quite so cold, but disagreeable weather. Nine men bucked and gagged at one time on the outside, two of them for stealing sour beans from a swill-barrel. They would get permission to pass through the gate to see the Lieutenant, and instead, would walk around the cook-house to some barrels containing swill, scoop up their hats full and then run inside; but they were caught, and are suffering a hard punishment for it
Jan. 4. — Some ladies visited the island, to see us blue coats, and laughed very much at our condition; thought it so comical and ludicrous the way the prisoners crowded the barn next the cook-house, looking over at the piles of bread, and compared us to wild men, and hungry dogs. A chicken belonging to the Lieutenant, flew up on the bank and was snatched off in short order, and to pay for it, we are not to receive a mouthful of food to-day, making five or six thousand suffer for one man catching a little chicken.
Jan. 5. — Succeeded in getting Dr. Lewis into our tent; is rather under the weather, owing to exposure and hardship. Jimmy Devers spends the evenings with us, and we have funny times talking over better days, and are nearly talked out I have said all I can think, and am just beginning to talk it all over again. All our stories have been told from two, to three or four times, and are getting stale. We offer a reward for a good new story.
Jan. 6. — Still prisoners of war, without the remotest idea as to how long we are to remain so. Some of the paroled Yankees on the outside curse and treat the inside prisoners more cruel (when they have a chance), than the Rebels themselves. Blass, a Spaniard, who has been a prisoner over a year, and refuses to be exchanged, is the Lieutenant’s right hand man. He tied up a man, a few days ago, for some misdemeanor and whipped him. He is afraid to come inside, knowing he would lose his life in a jiffy. He also raises the Rebel flag at the island, mornings, and lowers it at night. It is a dirty rag, and the appearance of it ought to disgust any sensible person.
Jan. 7. — Rainy, cold and disagreeable weather. Henry Stilson, a fellow who was captured with me, was carried out dead this morning. He was diseased when taken, and fell an easy prey to their cruelties. A good deal of raiding is going on among the men. One Captain Moseby commands a band of cut-throats, who do nearly as they please, cheating, robbing and knocking down — operating principally upon new prisoners, who are unacquainted with prison life. Moseby is named after the Rebel Guerrilla, his real name being something else. He is from New York City, and is a regular bummer.
Jan. 8. — All taken outside to-day to be squadded over — an all day job, and nothing to eat. The men being in hundreds and some dying off every day, leave vacancies in the squads of as many as die out of them, and in order to keep them filled up, have to be squadded over every few days, thereby saving rations. Richmond papers are much alarmed for fear of a break among the prisoners confined within the city. It is said there are six hundred muskets secreted among the Belle Islanders. The citizens are frightened almost to death, double guards are placed over us, and very strict orders issued to them.
Jan. 9. — A signal light suspended over the island all last night, for some reason unknown to the men confined here. We are cautioned against approaching within eight or ten feet from the bank. One of the raiders went through a man who lay near the bank, and started to run, after robbing him. A guard who saw the whole affair shot the villain dead, and was applauded by all who knew of the affair. Fifteen or twenty carried out this morning dead and thirty or forty nearly so, in blankets.
Jan. 10. — A brass band over to-day giving us a tune. Look more like a wandering tribe of vagabonds than musicians. Discoursed sweet music, such as “Bonnie Blue Flag,” “The Girl I Left Behind Me,” and for their pains got three groans from their enemies in limbo. Dying off very fast on the island.