Page 69: Portion of Letter of Capt. James Cline, Co. F, regarding his Confederate prison ordeal in 1862
LETTER FROM CAPTAIN CLINE.
NEW CASTLE , Lawrence Co. Pa.
I could discover in some instances that the love and respect for the “old flag” had not entirely disappeared; but their exists a reign of terror there, more dreadful than that which held France in the days of Robespiere. There are many, even in this hot bed of secession, who are anxiously awaiting the approach of the Union forces, and who will rally to the defence of the striped and starry banner, beneath whose ample folds they have long found protection.
But to return, it was now 24 hours since we had tasted food, and we were faint from overexertion. About dark we received a little bread, for which we were thankful. This, with water, formed our frugal meal. But not a murmur escaped our lips, we were prepared for any hardships that might fall to our lot. We knew not what we were to suffer, but through the dark clouds of captivity, shone the bright rays of hope; and through the thick grated walls of our dungeon, came thoughts of home and loved ones far away. As we stretched our weary limbs upon the bare floor of our prison, the first night of our captivity, many silent prayers ascended to God for His protecting care, in this hour of our need.
The night passed slowly away, and at length the morning dawned. We were visited by hundreds – all eager to see the “Yankees,” and many questions were proposed to us. The reporters of the press were especially anxious to ascertain something definite of the advance of our forces; but my answer immediately was, that subordinates know nothing definite of the movements of their respective corps. – Sergant Moffatt was taken before General Pemberton, and subjected to a rigid examination, but with the same barren results. The citizens were in a perfect fever of excitement, consequent upon the advance of our forces, and thousand of non-combatants left the city, with all their effects. The reporters of the press had magnified the Union force to 50,000 men.
I am confident that a rapid advance of our force, small as it was, would have been successful, as Fort Pemberton, the key to James Island, at that time mounted but one gun. If taken, works could have been erected at this point, capable of reducing nearly all the other works upon the island, except Fort Johnston.
But the blind policy of delay, took possession of our leaders here, as elsewhere, culminating in the bloody tragedy of “Fort Pemberton” on the 16th f June.
We were not permitted to remain long at this place. At 4 P. M. of the 4th, we were put on the cars, and taken to Branchville, 58 miles from Charleston, on the Charleston and Columbia Railroad. We reached our destination at 11 o’clock at night, and were delivered to Capt. Cooper, of the 46th Georgia, and lodged in an old church for the night. When it came daylight, we were soon convinced that we had made nothing by the change. Our prison as we called it, was near a large swamp from which arose the noxious vapors so destructive to human life on the Coast of Carolina and Georgia.
We were more kindly treated here than we had been in Charleston, but were allowed no intercourse with the guards or others. Capt. Cooper treated us with great kindness, and seemed anxious to render our stay as comfortable as circumstances would permit.
We were given a little rough straw to lay upon, which made a better bed than the hard floor, and for which were very thankful.
As we had no blankets with us when captured, we were consequently without that very necessary part of a soldier’s equipage. A little hard bread, and “harder” meat, and a little rice, formed our rations. We were furnished with a kettle, and some wood, and soon prepared our simple meal. A more dreary, lonely, and unfrequented place could scarcely have been found. We were strongly guarded and none were permitted to speak with us. During all this time our wounded had been attended but once, and the wounds though not dangerous had become quite painful. Our stay at this place was destined to be of short donation, for on Friday night at 11 o’clock we were aroused and ordered to be prepared to take the cars in 15 minutes. As our wardrobe and other effects were not hard to pack, we soon reported ready to move. We bade adieu to this place with but little regret, and were soon on our way to Columbia, which was destined to be our stopping place for some time. We arrived at the depot about 8 A. M., and were received by a large crows as usual, but we had become somewhat used to this, and did not mind it much. We were escorted through the city by a detachment of the 46th Georgia, who had accompanied us from Branchville. We were taken to the district jail, a large three story brick building with ample accommodations for a large number of boarders.
As we expected to remain for some time in the city, Col. Preston commandant of the post, politely suggested that we had better register our names, and take rooms at this place. Having no friends in the city to whom we could apply for references, we thought best to do so, but without some misgivings, although we were assured that if we were disposed to be peacable, there would be no difficulty about the charges, as they were prepared to furnish rooms and board at as moderate rates as could be done in the city.
We were soon shown to our rooms, and told to make ourselves at home, and ring for what we wanted. Contrary to the usual rules of all well regulated houses, the landlord after turning the key, placed it in his pocket with the independent air of a man who feels that he is “clothed with authority.’ We found here Lieut. Colonel Bennett; Lieut. McElhanny, and Lieut. Kirby, together with about 20 privates of the 55th Pennsylvania were captured while on picket duty on Edisto Island, early in February, and had been brought to this place the first of May. We had now the choice of remaining in close confinement, or signing a parole of honor, pledging our sacred word and honor not to attempt to escape or hold communication with any person outside the limits of the prison. To this we readily assented as escape was utterly impossible. By this arrangement we had the privellege of the first and second floors of the prison and a small yard about 75 feet in length, adjoining the jail. We found very good police arrangements here. The prison was thoroughly washed with water once a week, and the yard swept each morning.
Men were regularly detailed for police duty, and by 8 o’clock, A. M. each morning the house and yard were put in comple order.
The men were quartered in messes of 10 or 12, and when rations were drawn for the company they were subdivided among the messes. There were two cooking stoves provided for us, upon which the men prepared their plain and frugal meals. They took their turns at cooking and as there was not much to cook – not much time was occupied in its preparation. Our rations was three quarters a pound of flour, to the man, per day – about for ounces of rusty bacon, over which a guard was necessary to prevent it from taking “leave of absence.” A little rice, and a very little sugar, constituted our ‘bill of fare.” We prepared our bread by mixing our flour with water and baking “flatcakes” as they are called. With the meat and rice we made a soup of which the epicure certainly would not boast. Coffee and tea were luxuries, not once to be thought of by prisoners. Our financial concerns were not in a condition to warrant very extensive draws. The little money of which we were the fortunate possessors, was expended in the purchase of bread, and such things as would satisfy the cravings of hunger. Very fortunately for us through the kindness of Col. Leasure, and by whose influence a flag of truce was sent through the lines – we received a substantial token of respect in the shape of gold, with which we were enabled to procure some of the necessities of life. We had no difficulty in finding a market in Columbia for gold, it being 250 per cent premium, but every thing is at ruinous rates in the south. Flour is worth $15 per bbl. Coffee $2.50 per pound. – Tea $10 per pound. Molasses $3 per gallon. Irish potatoes $4 per bushel. – Butter $1 per pound, and all other things in the same proportion. Yet money is plenty. Every man has his pocket full of confederate bonds, notes, and merchant’s shinplasters.
Now came the dreary monotony of prison life, with nothing to enliven the quiet and unchanging order of things. True we were allowed the privilege of walking in the yard during the day, but at night we were locked up in the cells. The prison is situated in the most business part of the city, and as we enjoyed the privilege of looking into the street from the windows, we had an excellent opportunity of seeing the amount of trade and business done in the city. Columbia is situated upon a hill, and about one mile form the Congarre river.
It is built with the streets wide and running at right angles. There are many splendid mansions – the residences of the rich and aristocratic. The new State House now in process of erection, will be a splendid building when completed.
The city is well supplied with good water and enjoys the benefit of a mild and salubrious climate. It is connected with Charleston, and Raleigh by railroad, and seems to be the center of trade for the Northern part of the State.
There are no public works in operation in this place, except a manufactory for cotton cloth, used for army clothing. As far as I had an opportunity of seeing everything bears the impress of the “peculiar institution,” and the poor class which form the bulk of the population, are in a state of utter destitution. I conversed with many privates of the rebel army and found them almost unanimously ignorant of the great cause of the war, 20 per cent of the privates of the army can not read, and consequently are imposed upon by the base fabrications of their leaders. – They think that the Union army is a vast abolition mob, carrying fire and sword, wherever they move. They are made to believe that the Federal army is utterly demoralized and cannot much longer continue the war.
But I find myself growing tedious, and must hasten to close. It was about the first month of our captivity, that we were called upon to mourn the death of one beloved by all who knew him. J. Calvin Sampson, a young man of fine talents, whose bravery, and heroic conduct, was noticed by all, was violently attacked by that most malignant of all diseases, typhoid fever, which baffled the skill of the best physicians. It was impossible in our situation to give him that attention which we could have wished, all that could be done for the youthful sufferer, was freely done.
But all in vain; the disease could not be stayed, and at 1 o’clock, A. M. on the morning of the 18th of June, he expired in the hope of a glorious resurrection, when time shall be no more. His remains were decently interred, the evening of the same day. I solicited and obtained privilege to see him buried. Attended by a guard, I followed to their final resting place, the remains of one who but a short time before, had been the idol of his company. – In a little grave on the banks of the beautiful Congarele they laid him to rest, and and although but one morning friend followed the hearse that bore the youthful patriot – although his late companions in arms, were denied the privelege of paying the “last sad tribute of respect” at his grave, his burial was no less honorable.
‘What fame have they, who sink to rest;
With all their country’s honor’s blest!”
Shortly after this melancholy occurrence, came the intelligence of McClellan’s repulse before Richmond. The news caused excitement in the city. – Bands were playing – salutes were fired, and the stars and bars were flung t breeze from every public building. Prayer meetings were held in all parts of the city thanking Almighty God for thus signally causing victory to rest upon their standards.
They confidently believed that the entire Federal army would be overtaken before it reached the James, and cut to pieces. They were fond in their praises of Lee, Hill, Longstreet and Jackson. We learned from papers, (which we smuggled into the jail) that as soon as the news of McClellan’s defeat would reach England, they expected recognition, but weeks, and months, rolled by and yet they were not recognized. They began to think that they were mistaken in regard to the feeling of the people of England, and wisely came to the conclusion that the best dependence was in their won resources. I believe that the well informed class in the confederacy have dismissed from the minds the vague idea of recognition, and have settled down into the firm conviction, that if their independence is secured, it must be done by themselves. I have conversed with large numbers of confederate officers, and never have I heard the wish expressed that there might be a reconstruction. I think that the great Democratic victory in the north will be barren of any important results as far as regards a peace on the basis of reconstruction. I believe that if the Democracy would send their most distinguished leaders to Richmond, and offer to legalize slavery in all the territories of the United States if the States now in rebellion would consent to send the Federal Congress, they would reject them with disdain. They want a peace on no other basis than that of separation. They say “our interests are entirely different, that it is impossible for us longer to remain under one government.” There is no doubt in some instances a respect and love for the “old Union” but it is completely crushed beneath the ear of disunion. The people have been taught to hate the “starry banner” under whose ample folds they sought protection in the days of their weakness, and to which they justly should ascribe their greatness.
The long and dreary days of our captivity passed slowly away, and when the cheering intelligence reached us that we would shortly be sent to Richmond and paroled it acted like a charm upon the hearts and feeling of the men. They resumed their wonted cheerfulness, and joy and hilarity resounded through the prison. On the evening of the 4th of Oct. we were ordered to prepare three days rations, and be ready to take the cars for Richmond on the 6th. The men were willing to prepare the rations, but lo! there were none to prepare.
We were furnished with a little cornmeal and meat and told to prepare our three days rations. The men went to work willingly and baked the meal into bread, but when it was divided among them there was not one full day’s rations to the man; but we cared not for that, we were starting once more for the land of Freedom; a country not entirely forsaken by God, and the thought nerved us with renewed strength. Long before the time for starting the men were prepared. We presented truly a ludicrous appearance, and Falstaff’s recruits could not have exhibited greater diversity of dress. Some without shoes, while many were destitute of shirts and blouses.
The hour of 6 o’clock A. M. arrived, and as the prison doors were thrown open, we stepped forth, and breathed the fresh air of Heaven for the first time in three months. We were soon all on the cars, and as a special train had been provided for us, we were not annoyed by persons anxious to see “the Yankees.” I will not attempt to describe our trip from Columbia to Richmond, at which latter place we arrived at 10 o’clock A. M. Oct. 10th after being 80 hours on the road. We came via. Charlotte, Raleigh, Salisbury, Weldon, and Petersburgh.
We were taken immediately upon our arrival at Richmond, to the “Libby Prison” famous for being the place where the first Bull Run prisoners were confined, and where the “Chivalry” used to practice themselves in the use of their rifles upon the head of any unlucky yankee that unwarily came too near the window. Unfortunately this state of things still exists, for we were shown the fresh blood of some poor fellow who had been shot but the day before, still remaining upon the window sill. This was the most disagreeable place in which we had yet been placed. It was dirty and filthy, with abundance of vermin of all kinds. Luckily for us, we were not destined to remain here long; we were paroled in the afternoon and were told that we would start for Variea in the morning. The process of paroling was quickly gone through with, and at 9 o’clock the same night we had all signed the parole. For the satisfaction of those who are interested, I give a copy of the exact language of the parole to which we were required to subscribe.
“We the undersigned solemnly swear and pledge our sacred word of honor, that we will not during the existing hostilities between the United States, and the Confederate States of America, aid or abet the enemies of said Confederate States or any of them in any form or manner whatever, until released or exchanged.”
In the morning we learned that we would have to await the arrival of 214 officers captured at the battle of Pittsburgh Landing, and at that time at Weldon, on their way to Richmond. This, of course, we could do no better than assent to. Sure enough at 10 o’clock A. M. Sunday morning, the officers arrived, a motley crowd of Generals, Colonels, Lieut. Colonels, Majors, Captains and Lieutenants.
Among those worthy of note was General’s Prentiss and Crittenden. These officers were paroled the same day on which they arrived, and at ten o’clock A.M. Sunday morning we bade adieu to Richmond, and commenced our toilsome march through the deep mud, to Akin’s landing.
The hills around Richmond are covered with frowning batteries, and for four miles from the city, the long lines of intrenchments present a formidable impediment to the advance of an attacking army. This section of country bears upon it face the evidence of fearful, desolation, occasioned by the march of invading armies.
Groves destroyed, fences burned, houses torn down, and fruitful fields laid waste, are some of the signs of the almost utter devastation, that has fallen upon the “Old Dominion.” The distance from Richmond to Akin’s Landing is 12 miles, and as we toiled along through the deep mud, we were animated by the thought of soon meeting our friends. At length the blue waters of the James, burst upon our view not more than a mile before us. With a shout we pressed forward, and in a few minutes more, caught a glimpse
Of the Stars and Stripes, floating from the mast head, of the flag of truce boat, “Metamora.”
We were soon at the wharf, and as everything was ready for our delivery to the Commissioner of exchange we passed rapidly on board, and had the satisfaction of seeing the boat cast loose from the moorings, and steam down toward Fortress Monroe. When once fully under weigh, we gave vent to our feelings in three hearty cheers for the “Stars and Stripes”
At dark we anchord in the James, as we had yet to pass Rebel batteries on the shore. Late in the evening we passed “Harrison’s Landing,” renowned as being the place where McClellan collected his tired and weary legions, after their repulse before Richmond.
At daylight the next morning we were moving, and at 10 o’clock A. M., we anchored off Fortress Monroe. We were ordered by Gen. Wool to report to Col. Sangster of Camp Parole, Annapolis We accordingly started at 9 o’clock the same evening, and arrived at Annapolis at 4 o’clock P. M., Oct. 13th. Upon our arrival here, the men were ordered into camp, about two miles from the city, and the officers were ordered to report to gen. Sherman, at Washington. Through the influence of Gen Prentiss and Gen. Halleck, the officers received a part of the pay then due them, and permission was also granted them to remain at home until exchanged.
Thus I have followed in detail the principal incidents that occurred during the time passed within the gloomy walls of a southern prison.
True I have been tedious and uninteresting, but I trust my friends will forgive, rather than censure.
CAPT. J. H. CLINE.
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