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A Turner Bugler, 2004

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Union Prisoners at Richmond.


November and December 1863

From The Missouri Democrat, Saturday, November 28, 1863.

Union Prisoners at Richmond – A Narrative of their Privations and Sufferings – Statement of Rev. Jho. Hussey, L. L. D., a Released Prisoner.

Rev. John Hussey, pastor of the Presbyterian Church at Lockland, Hamilton county, Ohio, and a member of the Christian Commission, was captured by the rebels on the field of Chickamauga, on the day succeeding the battle, and conveyed, through a tedious route, to Richmond, where he remained in durance until 9th of the present month, less than a fortnight since, when he was fortunate enough to be released. The reverend gentleman has very kindly furnished us with a statement of what he was compelled to witness, and to endure, while in captivity, and, although it does not materially differ from the experience of others, who were equally unfortunate, it yet embraces many particulars of interest. At the present time, indeed, when the whole North is roused to sympathy and indignation at the recital of the sufferings of the Union prisoners in Richmond jails, any intelligence throwing light upon their actual condition must awaken a feeling of painful interest in the community. The following is Rev. Dr. Hussey’s story, as furnished to one of our reporters:

Accompanied by a detail of about a dozen men, I proceeded to the field of Chickamauga. On the 21st of September last, for the purpose of assisting the wounded, interring the dead, and discharging such other duties as the occasion might suggest. I had prepared a number of head-boards for the graves, and was marking others, when I found myself accosted by a rebel officer, who I subsequently learned was Medical Director on General Wheeler’s staff. His name I have forgotten. I said to him, “Doctor, I am a minister of the gospel and a delegate of the Christian Commission, and have remained here to do what I can for the wounded,” adding that I would care for the rebel wounded as well as our own. He immediately responded:

“You are a d–d abolitionist! Come, sir, I will ask Judge Terry what I shall do with you!”

We entered the hospital together where Judge Terry was discovered suffering from a wound in the left arm, which he wore in a sling.

“Judge Terry, here is a d–d abolitionist preacher!” That was all the ceremony of introduction considered necessary. Judge, or rather General Terry, for he was both, and expects soon to be made a Major General – asked me whether I was a chaplain, to which a negative response was of course given. The General walked up and down the room for many minutes in a perfect fury of passion, which found but partial vent in the most fearful oaths and most terrible invective, aimed at myself.

“If you were a chaplain,” he said, “I should know what to do with you; and if I could have my own way, I know exactly what I should do with you – I would hang every d–d one of you. Look at the condition of the country! Look at our widows and our orphans and our desolated homes! Just think of the blood we have shed and the treasure we have spent, and the bitter sorrows we have been compelled to suffer – and all for such infamous scoundrels as you! It is such men as you who are waging this war upon our liberties. It is you who have done all this, and are responsible for it. Now, what ought to be done with you? What ought I to do with such a villain as you?”

From his pointed manner, he seemed to be of opinion that having put an unanswerable question to me, I would not, as a reasoning creature, endeavor to evade it; but, villain as I was, would frankly admit that I had brought on the war, and was willing to suffer martyrdom for such an indiscretion. But, as I was contemplating with surprise and bewilderment an exhibition of rage that seemed so totally uncalled for, I did not reply immediately to his question; and when I would have spoken, he gave way to such another outburst of noisy vindictiveness that my words would have passed unheeded, and therefore I was silent. When the storm of his fury had exhausted itself in denunciation and profanity, not often heard from judge or general, he come down to a more rational frame of mind. At length in the tone of one who is willing to sacrifice the opportunity of avenging private wrongs for the nobler opportunity of treating his enemy with magnanimity he, he remarked, loftily, with a wave of his right arm:

“I am a military man, and have nothing to do with you. I will hand you over to the civil authorities were endeavoring to incite negro insurrections, contrary to the laws of the State!”

I remarked in a tone of self deprecation that I had not done any such thing, nor thought of it.

“Well,” said General Terry, “You were caught in our lines, that is enough,” and left the room.

A gaunt and filthy Texas Ranger then seized me insolently by the shoulder, and pulled me out of the hospital building. A horse without saddle or bridle, but only a halter, was then furnished me with the information that I must mount and followed closely in the path of the General, who was already in the saddle. In compliance with the injunction, I rode that day sixteen miles on my sharp-trotting Confederate horse.

In this way we proceeded to Tunnel Hill, and thence to Atlanta, where along with some other prisoners I was thrown into the barracks and kept two nights and two days. Here we were officially, systematically and completely robbed of everything of value we possessed; only two of us being passed out through the door at a time, so that those within, ignorant of what was going on, could not conceal or destroy any valuables upon their persons. Thence we were removed to Augusta, Ga., and Raleigh, North Carolina. In the barracks at the former place, we saw Judge Gant, one of the most prominent and widely esteemed citizens of East Tennessee, a prisoner, hand-cuffed, in tattered garments, and in the most abject and miserable condition. One of his fellow prisoners, a Major of an East Tennessee regiment, with whom I stole an opportunity to converse, informed me that the rebels invariably hanged every Kansas soldier who fell into their hands; and that he himself had seen sixteen Kansas soldiers hung up like dogs before his own quarters.

At the village of Thompson, Georgia, we met General Duff Green, who had been detained in consequence of the train running off the track. Carpet-bag in hand, and accompanied by two young ladies, his nieces, perhaps, he mingled freely among our men, to ascertain our views upon the war question.

“Why did you come here to fight us?” he asked. “Why don’t you go to your own country, and let us alone?”

One of our party – a Kentuckian – said:

This is our country – that’s why we come here.”

“But,” said General Greene, “we do not try to invade the North.”

“Well,” answered the Kentuckian, “what about Gettysburg?”

The General felt this to be rather a poser, and did not attempt to reply, but parried it as best he could with other questions. After little while he grew excited, and exclaimed, with vehemence:

“The time will come when we will cut the throat of every one of you we take.”

We will not do it, will we?” said one of the young ladies in a tone of horror.

“Yes, we will,” answered General Greene, sharply. “We will cut the throat of every Yankee prisoner.” Just in our train moved off, but we could see the General gesticulating violently and growing redder in the face.

In the southern part of North Carolina, the cars stopped before a handsome private residence. Upon the porch stood two young girls, fashionably dressed, and, so far as outward appearance went, apparently ladies of refinement. No sooner, however, had they ascertained our character, than they betrayed in their demeanor that they were unworthy of this title. One of them took out her handkerchief, made a loop of it, passed it around her neck – indicating, in a pantomimic way, that we were either worthy of hanging or deserved to be hanged; perhaps both ideas were intended to be conveyed. The other young lady contented herself with simply clutching her throat in both hands, and mimicking the contortions of a strangling person. When the train passed on, both of them shook their little fists at us with terrible energy, and we felt much safer when they had passed from view.

At length we reached Richmond, and were placed in Castle Thunder, where all civilian prisoners, whether Northern or Southern loyalists, are placed. There were about six hundred of the former and eight hundred of the latter incarcerated when we arrived. The Southern Unionists are mostly from East Tennessee, North Carolina, and Western and Northern Virginia. Included among them, however, are citizens from all parts of the South. Very many of them were formerly possessed of great wealth and influence, and one of the prisoners was but a short time since one of the largest planters of Texas. Another, who had practiced law in Jackson, Miss., thirty-five years, was brought to Castle Thunder, with linen pants, worn out at the knees, and with no other covering but an old striped shawl thrown over his shoulders.

The statement that the prisoners on Belle Island had received no meet for twelve days, and are compelled to kill dogs and eat them to avoid starvation, is possibly true; but in the Richmond prison affairs, though bad enough, have not yet reached this desperate pass. The prisoners receive one meal a day, consisting of half a loaf of bread and two ounces of meat. In all the prisons of the city the same quantity of provisions is furnished to the unfortunate inmates. In every other respect they are treated almost like dogs. They are unprovided with any clothing except what they may have upon them when captured, nor with blankets or bedding of any kind, but are compelled to lie upon the bare and filthy floors. The inmates of Castle Thunder, of whom there are two hundred and forty on the upper floor, are crowded into apartments so small that they are compelled to sleep in parallel rows, to economize space. Once every three weeks the floor is scrubbed, when they are allowed to proceed to the prison yard for a breath of fresh air and exercise. At no other time are they allowed to leave their rooms upon any pretense whatever.

Prisoners never have a chance to wash themselves, as neither soap nor water is provided for them. Partly from the circumstance, partly from the insufficient supply of food, and partly from the fetid atmosphere they are compelled to breathe, diseases of the bowels and liver are very prevalent, especially among the more advanced in life; and very few, young or old, manage to maintain any semblance of health. Another cause contributing to this distressing result is the lack of clothing already mentioned. Among the prisoners is a man from New York, who is only covering is about a yard of rag carpet, and in the eyes of his fellow-sufferers his wardrobe is by no means considered despicable; and another, a Baptist minister, is almost naked. Since his imprisonment he has heard of the death of four of his children,; but, notwithstanding his terrible sufferings, he refuses to purchase his liberty by taking the oath of allegiance to the Confederate Government. These are by no means exceptional cases of hardship, but I mention them because they came immediately under my own observation, and because they are a striking and suggestive of as any I could name.