Atrocities As Noted by Pt. Lookout POWs

A.M. Keiley, Pt. Lookout, POW

Mr. Keiley was captured near Petersburg shortly before the affair of the Crater, and with other prisoners hurried off to Point Lookout, situated at the mouth of the Potomac. This famous prison-pen consisted of forty acres of glaring white flat sand, destitute of a single tree or shrub, where, through the scorching summer and freezing winter (both particularly severe at this point), the poor fellows were confined in open tents on the naked ground, without a plank or a handful of straw between them and the hot or frozen earth. In winter when a high tide would flood the whole surface of the ground, freezing as it flooded, the suffering of the half-clad wretches, accustomed to a southern climate, may be imagined. Many died outright, and many will go to their graves crippled and racked with rheumatism dating from this time.

So severe was the cold that 'even the well-clad sentinels had to be relieved every thirty minutes, instead of every two hours, as is the army rule. The rations of wood allowed each man was an armful for five days." No bed-clothing was allowed beyond one blanket. If by gift or purchase another came into the possession of any more it was, by order, taken from him. The same rule applied to articles of clothing. No man was allowed to receive anything in the way of clothing without giving up the corresponding article already in his possession, and so literally was this rule enforced that prisoners who came in barefooted were compelled to beg or buy a wornout pair of shoes for exchange before they were allowed to receive a pair sent them by friends.

..... Mr. Keiley writes: Miss Dix, the northern prison philanthropist, gives a documentary statement that the prisoners at Point Lookout were supplied with vegetables, with the best of wheaten bread, and fresh and salt meat each day in abundant measure.

It is quite likely that some Yankee official made this statement to her, and her only fault was in suppressing the fact that 'she was so informed.' But it is inexcusable in the Sanitary Committee to have palmed this falsehood upon the world, knowing its falsity. For my part, I never saw any one get enough of anything to eat at Point Lookout except of the soup, one spoonful of which was too much for ordinary digestion. The miseries of the place were "greatly enhanced by the character of the water, which is so impregnated with some mineral as to be exceedingly offensive and induce disorder of every alimentary canal. It colors everything black, and the scum rising on its surface reflects all the prismatic hues. Outside the pen are wells of water, perfectly clear and wholesome, used by the Yanks.

Many gifts of food and clothing were sent by charitable persons until the Government forbade the express companies to carry parcels for the prisoners.

The guard was generally of negroes, and their insolence and brutality were intolerable. They would beat the prisoners, order them about, and point their guns at them, "jest to see the d--d rebels scatter," these performances being much enjoyed by the Yanks.

Keiley was then transfered to Elmira & he writes of a prison exchange that took place: An order came from Washington that a list of prisoners should be made out for exchange, consisting of those only who, by reason of age, sickness, or wounds, would be unfit for service for sixty days. Some fifteen hundred were chosen as "unfit for duty for sixty days, being one-sixth of the whole; and on the morning of October 19, 1864, these were ordered to assemble for parole. I speak in all reverence when I say the I do not believe that such a spectacle was ever before seen on earth since the sick and the maimed and the afflicted of every sort crowded for help and healing around the Saviour's feet. As soon as the announcement was made that the parole-lists were ready, the poor wretches began to crawl from their cots and turned their faces toward the door. On they came (fifteen hundred of them), a ghastly tide, with skeleton bodies and lustreless eyes, and brains bereft of all but one thought--freedom and home. On they came, some on crutches, some on their cots, others borne in the arms of their comrades; others still creeping on hands and knees, pale, gaunt, emaciated; some with the seal of death already stamped on their wasted cheeks and fleshless limbs; yet, fearing less death than the agony of dying amid enemies, where no hand should give them reassuring grasp as they tottered forth into the dark valley, and their bones would lie in unhonored graves amid aliens and foremen. Such a set of haggard, miserable, helpless, hopeless wretches I never saw. We arrived in Baltimore with seven dead men on the train, and left in Baltimore a number whose condition was such that their further progress would have been certain death-- one, a gray-haired old man, who there died. They had to be landed at Point Lookout to await further consignments of prisoners for exchange. And here a plank was stretched from the side of the ship to the dock, and down this 'shoot' the poor, helpless, maimed creatures were slid like coal into a vault.

They were turned into their former pen, where they found a scanty supply of tents, and, after some days, a scanty supply of straw. The water was scant, the rations scant, and all this for men just taken out of the hospital, condemned thus to sleep on the bare ground with insufficient food and clothing.

Here they remained until the number for exchange sent from various points amounted to five thousand, when they were all re-embarked in three ships and sent South, first having all their blankets and every extra coat or pair of pants taken from them. Every day we saw coffins going over the sides of the other ships. On the Atlantic alone were forty deaths during our stay in the harbor--a stay obviously unnecessary and therefore shamefully cruel, since it compelled the confinement of hundreds of sick men in the filthy and unventilated holds of the vessels, without proper food, medicine, or attendance." Hon. A. M. Keiley, In Vinculis, SOUTHERN HISTORICAL SOCIETY PAPERS,Vol. XVIII. Richmond, Va., Jan-Dec, 1890, No.6 June - Pages 330-340

Sgt. James T. Wells, Co. A, 2nd SC Inf. Pt. Lookout POW

....This camp had been but recently established, and there was not many prisoners here. They yelled to us to "grab your pocketbooks," as we came in sight. This referred to the strict search to to which all new comers were subjected, in which everything, even to a few Confederate dollars, was taken from you. It was labelled and put away, to be returned to you when you were leaving; but the valuables were never returned, as they could not be found. We were now regularly initiated as prisoners of war, and began to feel all the rigors and severities of such.

...Our tents were miserable affairs, being full of holes, and very rotten. They were of the "Sibley pattern," and into each one of these sixteen men were crowded. In order to lay down at night, the men were compelled to lay so close together as to exclude sleep. The winter of 1863 was now approaching, and gloom, privation and starvation were staring us in the face. On the 9th of November, snow fell and there was not a stick of wood in camp. The day was bitter cold, most of us were but poorly clad, and very few of us had shoes of any description. We were compelled to stand in our damp tents, and "mark time" to keep from freezing. This scarcely seems possible, yet it can be attested by hundreds who were there.

... Our rations were now reduced as follows: for breakfast, half-pint, coffee, or, regather, slop water; for dinner, half-pint greasy water (called soup for etiquette), also a small piece of meat, perhaps three or four ounces. For bread we were allowed eight ounces per day; this you could press together in your hand and take at a mouthful. Our water was of such a character that we could scarcely use it, being so highly tinctured with sulphur and iron as to render it almost unbearable. Clothes which were washed in it were turned black and yellow. To our suffering from the cold and the want of pure water was now added that of hunger. To those who have never suffered in this respect, it is almost impossible to describe the sensations. The writer has known large, stout men to lay in their tents at night and cry like little babies from hunger and cold. We were not allowed to walk about, but were compelled to retire to our tents at "taps," which were sounded quite early. Even the poor privilege of keeping ourselves warm by walking up and down in front of our tents was denied us, and we were compelled to lay in the cold. The supply of blankets was very scant, and "bunks" were unknown. The cold ground was our bed, and pillows we had none. To add to our discomforts, the tide from the bay occasionally backed into the camp, and compelled those whose tents had been flooded to stand all night. Midwinter was now upon us, and the intense cold we suffered may be judged when it is stated that the Chesapeake bay was frozen hard full twenty feet from the bank.

Point Lookout is situated in Saint Mary's county, Maryland. The Department was commanded by General Barnes, United States army. Major Patterson was provost-marshal and had charge of the prisoners. The Second, Fifth and Twelfth New Hampshire constituted the guard, with two batteries of artillery and a squadron of cavalry. These troops were housed in comfortable tents, and as we saw the smoke rising from the innumerable stove-pipes projecting from their tents, we could not but indulge in bitter thoughts of their cruelty. If this man Patterson still lives his conscience must burn him. He was the impersonation of cruel malignity hatred and revenge, and he never let an opportunity pass in which he could show his disposition in this respect.

.....he tells the result of a planned escape: The alarm was given, and the prisoners who had succeeded in getting out had taken refuge behind the protecting banks of sand on the beach. As soon as the officers reached the spot, they called upon the prisoners to surrender, saying they would not be harmed. Major Patterson (the Provost-Marshal) stood at the gate, and as each prisoner came up, he deliberately shot at him. One was shot in the head, from which he never recovered, and the last account we had of him he was in a lunatic asylum. Another was shot in the shoulder, and another in the abdomen, from the effects of which he died. The remaining seven managed to get into the camp again, without being hurt, for which they could thank the darkens of the night. The tunnel was fired into several times, but no one was in it. The next day it was filled up, and the men in whose tent the opening had been made were confined in the guard house, on bread and water, for ten days. The shooting of these men was without any excuse whatever, as they had expressed a willingness to surrender, and were proceeding to do so; besides, it is a recognized principle that a prisoners of war has a right to escape if he can, and the capturing party has no right to punish, but simply to remand to proper custody. This event stopped all idea of escape for awhile, and we became resigned to our fate.

The intense cold weather at this season induced the authorities to give us some wood, and for this purpose a detail of four men from each one hundred was allowed to go, under a guard, to a point about a quarter of a mile above the camp for it. An idea can thus be obtained of the quantity of wood each company obtained - as much as four men could carry a quarter of a mile. This, too, was for three rations.

..... A guard of negroes was sent through the camp to search for a stolen knapsack that belonged to a black guard..... the manner in which they performed that duty was observable in the number of bleeding heads among the prisoners. They had beat them over the head in order to compel them to tell who did it. For this conduct, their officers praised them, and told them to shoot whenever they felt like doing so, and right well did they obey this order, as will be shown hereafter. Matters were thus proceeding from bad to worse. The shooting of a prisoner was looked upon as an every day affair, especially when said shooting was done by a negro. The colored troops came on guard only once in three days, and the day of their coming was always dreaded by the prisoners.

... The health of the men began to fail rapidly, and soon the prisoners' hospital was crowded. Fever in every shape abounded, and smallpox was epidemic. Nearly every tent contained one or two cases of this loathsome disease. It had become so common, that prisoners did not fear it. The hospital could not accommodate all the sick, and they were left in their tents, many of them with a blanket only to protect them from the damp ground, and entirely destitute of proper nourishment. Men who were seen in the morning, apparently in health, were taken to the "Dead House" in the afternoon, and some have been known to drop in the street, and die before they could be carried to the tents. Notwithstanding the enforcement of the most rigid sanitary measures, diseases of all kinds continued to spread with an alarming rapidity. Add to this the short rations which were meted out to us, together with their miserable quality and the cruel treatment which we received at the hands of the negro soldiers, and you have but a faint idea of the suffering to which we were now subjected.

...As a general rule, the treatment by the white soldiers was not so bad, and it would have been much better, no doubt, had it not been for the cruel policy of the United States Government, and the stringent orders to have that policy carried out. Our guards were relieved every morning, and fresh ones were mounted. A patrol of ten or twelve men was placed in the camp, whose duty it was to see that the prisoners retired to their tents at the proper hour and extinguished their lights. Their orders were to allow no one to walk about after "taps" were sounded, nor to allow any unnecessary noise or conversation in camp. The colored troops were very harsh in their treatment of us, and they were no doubt urged to do this by their officers, who were certainly the meanest set of white men that could be found anywhere. The negroes never let an opportunity pass to show their animosity and hatred towards us, and the man who shot a Rebel was regarded as a good soldier. They carried their authority to the extreme, and would shoot upon the slightest provocation. If a prisoner happened to violate even one of the simplest regulations, he was sure to be shot at, and should he be so unfortunate as to turn over in his sleep, groan or make any noise, which some were apt to do while sleeping, the tent in which he lay would be fired into. For instance, one night in Company G, Fourth division, some one happened to groan in his sleep. The negro patrol was near, heard it, and fired into the tent, killing two and wounding several others. These were killed while sleeping and were unconscious of having committed any offence whatever. None of the patrols were punished, but were praised for vigilance.

...Suffice it to say that a man's life was in more danger than upon a picket line, for he was completely at the mercy of the cruel and malignant negro soldiery. Even the white troops were incensed against them, and often "rocked" them while walking their posts - an act for which the prisoners were blamed, and for which they were fired into on more than one occasion. Shooting into the tents of prisoners became so common that the officers of the white regiments protested at last against their (the colored troops) being allowed in camp, and accordingly they were withdrawn at night, and white patrols substituted.

....SOUTHERN HISTORICAL SOCIETY PAPERS, Vol. VII. Richmond, Va., Jan -Dec , 1879, No.7. July - Pages 324 - 330

Letter of a Confederate Officer: private letter, written August 4th, 1865, from Great Barrington, Massachusetts, to a lady in Richmond:

I was captured on Tuesday, the 4th of April, near evening. Some four hundred or more, that had been collected during the day, were marched a few miles and stowed away for the night in a small tobacco barn.

The next morning we were told that if we could find any meat on the remains of three slaughtered cattle (that had already been closely cut from) we were welcome. No bread or salt was offered, yet it could be had for money.

From Tuesday till Friday all that I had given me to eat was two ears of musty corn and four crackers! During that time we were exposed to the rain, which was continued for days. We were marched through mud and water to City Point, a distance of near one hundred miles by the route taken. The first sustaining food I received was from Mrs. Marable, at Petersburg, and I shall ever feel grateful to her for it.

We arrived at Point Lookout at night, and mustered for examination next morning over eighteen hundred. After searching my package and person, taking from me nearly everything that my captors had left me, I was assigned, with two others, to a tent having already twenty-three occupants. I cannot describe the appearance of that tent and the men in it. If there is a word more comprehensive than filthy I would use it. It would require a combination of similar adjectives to give any description. There was given me a half loaf of bread and a small rusty salt mackerel, which I was informed was for next day's rations. I declared I would not sleep in the tent, but was told there was no alternative, as the guards or patrol would shoot me if I slept outside. It was a horrible night. Weary, exhausted, almost heart-broken, I ate a part of my scanty loaf, and placed the remainder under my head with the fish. I soon forgot my troubles in sleep. Waked in the morning and found I had been relieved of any further anxiety for my bread, as it had been taken from me by some starving individual, (a common occurrence). The mackerel was left as undesirable. A chew of tobacco would purchase two, so little demand was there for them - for many had no means of cooking them. A few hours of reflection - that ever to be remembered morning. There were none there that I had ever seen, except the few acquaintances made on the march. All looked dark, dismal - and the thought I might remain there for months came nearer to making my heart sink in despair than ever before. I thought that must be surely the darkest hour of my existence. While thus lamenting my fate, and almost distrustful of relief, a boy near me asked what regiment I belonged to. I told him the Washington Artillery. "Why," says he, "there is a whole company of them fellows here captured near Petersburg." I began to revive a little on that. For though the saying goes, that "Misery seeks strange bed fellows here captured near Petersburg." The surprise was mutual. By the kindness of Mr. Vinson, I had good quarters with him, and was more comfortable. We had a small tent, and only six in it. True, we were "packed like sardines" at night, but we were friends, and each one had a pride and disposition to keep as cleanly as we could.

The food allowed was as follows: In the morning, early, the men are marched by companies (each about one hundred and fifty) to the "cook houses," and receive a small piece of boiled beef or pork. I do not think the largest piece at this time, and it is a common occurrence for the men to have eaten their scantly allowance in a few mouthfuls without bread. At or near twelve o'clock, there is issued to each a half of a small loaf of bread, (eight ounce loaves). The men can then go to the cook-houses and receive a pint of miserable soup. That is the last meal for the day. I never tasted of the soup (so called) but once. It was revolting - I might say revolting to my stomach. Sometimes, in place of meat, is given salt mackerel or codfish - never of good quality.

The water at the "Point" was horrible, being strongly tinctured with copperas and decayed shells, &c. It was obtained from wells in different parts of the enclosure. Near the officers quarters' was a pump from which a little better water was once condemned by a Board of Surgeons on account of the poisonous composition of the water. Many persons were greatly affected by the water, and the food given would barely sustain life - in many cases it did not - and I feel confident that many deaths were caused solely from scanty and unhealthy food, and this too by a Government that had plenty.

... I have seen them many times fishing out from the barrels (in which all the filth and offal of the camp is thrown) crusts of bread, potato peelings, onion tops, etc., etc.- in fact, anything from which they might find little sustenance. I had never before witnessed to what great extremity hunger would drive a human being. The discipline of the prison was very strict. The guard was most of the time of colored troops, who, when (as they usually were) badly treated by their officers, would vent their rage upon the prisoners.

... I was an eye-witness of many disgusting scenes, almost brutal on the part of the guards, towards simple and ignorant prisoners. That prison said to be the best of all the Yankee prisons - if so, I am, truly sorry for those that were in the others. I know not what Andersonville was. I do not doubt but there was great suffering, but all was done by the Government that could be, and we had not the resources of the world as had the Yankees.

... SOUTHERN HISTORICAL SOCIETY PAPERS,Vol. I. Richmond, Va., March, 1876, #4, April - Pages 257 - 258

Excerpts from an Address he gave
the Pickett CV Camp, 10/11/1890

Sgt. Charles T. Loehr
Pt. Lookout, POW

When we came there the prison was already full and the small tents were totally insufficient to accommodate us. Many were without shelter of any kind and exposed to the bad weather which prevailed for the greater part of our stay. We had but few blankets and most of us had to lie on the bare ground; so when it rained our situation became truly deplorable. Our rations were just such as kept us perpetually on the point of starvation, causing a painful feeling of hunger to us helpless, half starved prisoners. Four small crackers, or a small loaf of bread per day and a cup full of dish water, called pea soup, horrible to taste and a small piece of rancid salt meat, was our daily fare. So hungry were the me that they would et almost anything they could pick up outside from the sewers; potato peelings, cabbage stalks, or most any kind of refuse that hardly the cattle would eat and greedily devoured. The scurvy, brought on by this wretched diet, was prevalent in its most awful form.

It is wonderful how much a human being can stand. I myself, who was never sick during the whole war, was taken down with the erysipelas. It was a bad case, so the Federal surgeon said who examined me. "Entirely too late to do anything for him; neck and face swollen black and green." Those who did the packing up, that is placing the dead bodies in rough boxes, seeing me, one of them said, "there goes a fellow we will have to box up to-morrow." I was removed to the hospital pen, and with two of my company, Alexander Moss and John Harris, both of whom I saw stretched out in the dead house on the following day. The hospital could only accommodate about twelve hundred sick, and there were no less than six thousand sick and dying men lying within the main building and in the tents surrounding it. Being assigned to a tent where there was room for about sixteen, but which had no less than forty in it, I was placed on the damp ground, only one thin blanket being given me. The two nights I spent there were simply horrible. The praying, crying, and the fearful struggles of the dying during the dark night, lit up by a single small lantern, was awful. The first night about five or six died, and the next morning found me lying next to two dead comrades. The second night was a repetition of the first; and that day, though just in the same condition, I asked the Federal surgeon to allow me to return to camp, which he at once granted, thinking I might just as well die there as anywhere else. But I got better, how I cannot explain; perhaps it was my determination not to die there in spite of them, that kept me alive.

The white sergeants in charge were hardly of a better class than their colored brother. They belonged to that class of mean cowards who dare not face the foe on the battle field, whose bravery consisted in insulting and maltreating a defenseless prisoner. Often I have seen them kick a poor, sick, broken-down prisoner, because he was physically unable to take his place in line at roll-call as quickly as the sergeant demanded. Prisoners were sometimes punished by them too horribly to relate. Men were tied, hand and feet, and had to stand on a barrel for hours; others were bound and dipped head foremost in a urine barrel--all this for some trifling offence, such as getting water from a prohibited well, stealing perhaps something eatable, or some other small affair.

Could a picture have been taken of the men who arrived in Richmond from the prison-pens during those days, it would not be believed that the men who walked from the boat in Rocketts in June, 1865, were the proud soldier boys that left here in April, 1861. Silent, friendless, and sorrowful each one went his way. No welcome, no cheer awaited their return to this city and to their homes. Oh how few could boast of having homes! Nothing but ruins everywhere; but the man who was a good soldier generally proved himself to be a good citizen. The ruins are gone, war and desolation have passed--may it never return.

I close with the following interesting statistics: The report of Mr. Stanton, as Secretary of War, on the 19th of July, 1866, contains the following facts:

He states that the number of Federals in Confederate prisons was two hundred and seventy thousand, of which twenty-two thousand five hundred and seventy-six died; while the number of Confederate prisoners in Federal prisons is put down as two hundred and twenty thousand, of which number twenty-six thousand four hundred and thirty-six died. According to these figures the percentage of Federal prisoners who died in Southern prisons was under nine, while that of the Confederates in Northern prisons was over twelve. These figures tell their own story. We of the South did what we could for the prisoners that fell into our hands. Our poverty and the destruction of our means of supplies plead our cause of not being able to offer better accommodation to them. We, the soldiers of the Confederacy, fared no better; but the Federal Government--it can only offer expediency as an excuse.

...Southern Historical Society Paper, Vol. XVIII, pg. 114-120

Excerpts from a Pt. Lookout POW

Rev. J. B. Traywick

... The greatest cruelty perpetrated while I was in prison was on thirty-two inmates of one of the cook-houses. At the side of the prison, next to the gate, was located a number of long cook and eating-houses, where all the cooking except baking was done. There was only a street or roadway between these houses and the stockade where the guards walked continually. Between two of these houses, a little nearer one than the other, one of the negro guards fell from the parapet and was found dead. A contusion was on his head and a piece of brick near him. This discovery took place about sunset. No one saw him when he fell. No one saw who hit him.

The following night after taps, when every prisoner was in bed, a file of soldiers rushed into the nearest cook-house to the scene and hurried the thirty-two inmates out in the night. The weather was intensely cold-thermometer below zero. They had on nothing but shirt and drawers--few of them had on socks. They were placed in a block-house which had a door and a hole a few inches wide, without food, water or fire. They were told that one of them killed the negro guard, possibly all of them knew of it, and when the fact was so made known, then all the others could go back to their quarters, but if they did not come out and confess who killed the guard that the day following the next had been fixed as the time when all thirty-two of them would be shot. So in that bitter weather these innocent helpless men (not all men, for two of them were boys) passed that fearful night and next day in the block building, where they were continually jeered at through the little window by the negro guards who were off duty, they telling the suffering prisoners how delighted they would be to see them shot.

The awful hours rolled on, another night of indescribable suffering passed away, and the day of execution has come. To many of these men a quick death was to be preferred to the slow and cruel death they were then passing. The hour for the execution arrives. All the troops, mostly negroes, off guard on the Point were formed into the hollow square. The thirty-two almost naked, freezing, starving men were marched out in line into the hollow square. Major Brady, with the audacity of the wolf before eating the lamb, proceeded to ask each man if he knew who killed the guard. As he proceeded he received a very positive no from the heroic boys first , and then from the brave men. He had not gone far, however, when an alarm was heard in the direction of the gate. Four or five men were seen coming on horseback at full speed and yelling at the top of their voices. It was an officer who had found a young man, a prisoner and employ in the next cook-house, who could tell them something about who killed the guard.

But we must go back one day in the narrative. During that day of cruel mocking there was one kind man who visited the suffering prisoners. He was a commissioned officer and a Mason. Among the thirty-two prisoners there was but one Mason, and he gave a signal which will stir the deepest emotions of a brother. This officer lost no time, but set to work to ferret out the cause of the death of the guard. Major Brady, unfeeling monster as he was, attempted to find out the cause by torturing innocent men.

Of course the proceedings were stayed until the young man was heard from. He was placed on a box to testify, but he could not do this until Major Brady had indulged in some silly, irrelevant questions. He, however, stated that on the evening the guard was killed he was at the wood-pile gathering some chips for the fire when he was hit on the leg by the brick. Smarting with pain he threw the brick back and hit the guard on the head, and he fell off the parapet. Whether, said the young man, the brick or the whiskey in the guard caused the fall and death he could not say; for, said he, the guard was drunk that afternoon. Then the young man added, I am sorry that I did not know that you were bestowing this cruelty on these men, for I should have come forward and made known these things.

The thirty-two were immediately sent back to their quarters, where they were clothed and fed, but thee of them died soon after from this exposure, and most of them had impaired health. As for the young man, he was never punished for what he did, but in a few weeks he was acting courier for Major Brady in the prison.

...excerpt from Southern Historical Society Papers, Vol. XIX, Jan. 1891, pg. 433-435

Excerpts from a Pt. Lookout/Elmira POW

Walter D. Addison
Stewart’s Horse Artillery, Co. A

Pvt. Addison was punished in prison for writing the truth about prisoner treatment.

"...During my entire confinement at Point Lookout we were under guard of Negro soldiers whose conduct and treatment of the prisoners was infamously cruel and in many instances they conducted themselves in a savage manner. I have witnessed them fire their muskets indiscriminately into crowded masses of prisoners, shooting two or three men at a single shot and such outrages were tolerated by their white officers, and they never were punished nor their cases investigated. This repeatedly happened at Point Lookout, and I never heard that one was even reprimanded.

Stringent orders were given to the guard to fire upon any prisoners who were seen out of their quarters after eight o’clock at night. Many prisoners were unaware of the orders and incautiously ventured out for the performance of nature calls, when they were ruthlessly shot down. Several cases of the kind occurred. All these outrages were perpetrated by Negroes as there were none others on guard.

When drinking from the water barrels...The audacious Negro was always at hand, and seemed to delight in immersing the head of the drinker, and then gloat over the fun.

Transfers of prisoners from Pt. Lookout to Elmira: The first installment from Pt. Lookout was dispatched by sea via New York City in the month of July upon a miserable old government transport only fitted to carry cattle. About 1200 men were crowded upon this old tub between decks with only the hatches open and there they remained crowded together like sheep for many days, only allowing one or two at a time on the main deck for a few minutes, when they were ordered into their horrible quarters below. The sight of these holes was sickening in the extreme, and the condition and sufferings of the prisoners therein confined was indeed horrible, and a large number of the men being already sick when placed on board, their wretched condition upon the voyage can be imagined better than described.

Our rations consisted of fat pork and a loaf of bread. No beds nor straw lie upon, only a blanket spread beneath us on the filth covered hard boards only comparable with hog or cattle pen. Never upon the whole voyage was there any attempt made to sweep or clean the floors. There was scarcely an inch of space where there could be a step between the crowded mass of human freight. The insufficient ventilation of the ship’s hold rendered the stench and the foul air unbearable, and many death were the result.

Some were already dead when the ship reached NY, and I feel certain that many died afterward from the affects of that horrible voyage. It reminded me of only one other scene I witnessed when passengers upon a ship at sea, which was converging at market nearly 2000 huge densely crowded together upon deck, the animals having been fed upon raw potatoes just before starting. The sea affects them as it does a human being. Those swine were accommodated better than we, they being upon the upper decks in the fresh air, whilst we were between decks almost poisoned by the foul air, which was intensely polluted by human excrement.

We were marched from the prison to the depot in Elmira through about two feet of snow, the weather intensely cold, in Feb. 1865. Upon reaching the depot wet and cold we were crowded into cattle cars wherein was a little dirty straw scattered over the floor, and not a particle of fire.

At Baltimore we were marched a long distance through a blinding sleet and snow storm to the steamboat upon the wharf from noon till night, when we were placed upon a dilapidated government cattle transport and landed at City Point below Richmond. A violent storm of wind, sleet, and snow raged the entire night of our passage down the bay, and unprotected as we were upon the hurricane deck with only a blanket the night was a hard one. Many of the sick of which there were a large number were placed below decks in the stalls formerly for cattle, and but slightly protected from the weather, and but little more comfortable than there on the hurricane deck.

There can be no doubt that it was the grossest indifference on the part of the government in thus permitting sick prisoners to be conveyed in such an inhuman and cruel manner. I do not believe that in any instance during the war when northern prisoners suffered as much, if as, it was for lack of provisions and the refusal on the part of the north to exchange prisoners, it seeming their intention to let the latter die rather than refrain from their endeavor to eat out the substance of the South.

The conduct of many of the physicians in charge of the hospitals herein named deserves especial notice, and the strongest condemnation. If they had been dumb brutes, instead of human beings as they were supposed to be, they could not have exhibited greater brutality. I was ward master in one of the hospital barracks at Elmira which contained from 85-90 patients crowded, as they sometimes were 2-3 in a bunk. The physician, a Dr. VanNess made his visits once and sometimes twice every 24 hrs. For the many different diseases incidental to such places, nearly every patient received opium pills. That being the favorite prescription no matter what the nature of the disease. On one occasion, three persons so being treated were visible shaking, the surgeon-in-chief, a Dr. Sanger, was called in. He directed Dr. VanNess to write four or five drops of Fowler’s solution of ARSENIC! He wrote 45 and the patients in a very short time breathed their last breath! NO investigation ensued. No reprimand. Dr. VanNess continued in his position. Hundreds of our prisoners died. I can truthfully say not 20% of those in the hospital left it alive.

This is no exaggeration of what I believe was a terrible crime growing out of, to put it mildly, the deplorable ignorance of the medical men in charge, if not willful murder. They had our poor helpless soldiers at their mercy. Often have I heard them, when gathered together in the dispensary discussing their experiences of the day, exult over the numbers of the Rebs they had put through, i.e. killed and expressing their desire to, in this way, get rid of the whole number of the Confederates there, thus avoiding an exchange. All in authority at Elmira seemed to be of this opinion.

I have known persons to be frost bitten, and when some of them provided for themselves little mud chimneys to their tents, gathering chips and other small fuel, the yankee officers would send a guard to ruthlessly destroy them and Mjr. Beall, who was then in command, would go to the rounds himself, in the middle of the night and deprive them of the extra blankets which were their own personal property, leaving the soldier to freeze to death. No coffee, no tea, no vegetables but a few beans to make tasteless watery soup consisting of the liquid in which the pork had been boiled.

After many months the old soldier barracks - barns-were used as hospitals. Hundreds were wedged in, and crowded together like packed sardines. Two and frequently three in a bunk. They had no opportunity to cleanse themselves of vermin there first found, therefore who can wonder at the fearful numbers of deaths, arising from ignorant medical supervision, and total lack of proper ventilation.


I recollect, in one instance at Elmira hundreds of deaths were the result of small-pox introduced by patients from Blackwell’s Island, NY. Up to that time not a case of the disease had been known there. In a few days it manifested itself in one of the new importations. Instead of being isolated, he was placed immediately adjoining one of the wards used as a hospital, and there remained for days. Other cases rapidly developed, and soon broke out in a virulent form. Tents were then placed inside the stockade where hundreds were confined, and immediately upon their convalescence were again distributed amongst the well prisoners, even occupying the same beds, thus spreading the disease to an appalling degree. No comfortable buildings were provided for the wretched victims, even when the temperature fell 20 deg. below zero. Very few small-pox patients survived. When discharging small-pox cases they were led to a pump, and there stripped and washed in the coldest weather, and then assigned new quarters for a brief time, when they were returned to the hospital to meet their deaths. Their sufferings were laughed at. Considering their ill usage, premeditated torture, insufficient food, and the prevailing lack of any show of humanity it seems a miracle that one again reached his home. I repeatedly heard it said by federal officers that the mortality at Elmira far exceeded that at Andersonville.

The outrageous manner in which men were vaccinated excelled anything I have ever witnessed even surpassing the acts of savages. The modus operandi was to assemble the man first in long lines with coats off and arms bared; then the butchering began by illiterate and irresponsible men. They would take hold of a thick piece of flesh, dip a lancet into the diluted virus, and then thrust it entirely through the pinched up flesh. The spurious virus soon produced such fearfully disastrous results that it became necessary to construct gangrene hospitals, from which arose a dreadful stench. Scores died from the effects; others losing arms. I have there seen the sickening effects of their villainous vaccination. There are many who can verify the above.

The torturous sweat box: For trivial offenses our men were therein confined for hours, in the scorching suns of July and August, without food and water, and removed in many cases only when the victim was more dead than alive. I vividly recollect when one man dropped with rigid limbs swollen and almost paralyzed, and died in a few days from the effects. This instrument of torture consisted of a narrow upright box, about 7 ft. high and wide enough to fit an ordinary sized man. It stood in a perpendicular position with its victim without ventilation, and the poor victim was left to sweat to death.

The dreaded barrel shirt: What was known by that name was a very heavy barrel with one head out, and the other containing a hole large enough to admit the head of a man through it. All offenders, twice a day, for two hours, had to wear it. They were drawn up to form a circle, the barrel adjusted over the head the inside of the barrel resting upon the shoulders and the parade commenced. This death dealing instrument would have been a burning shame amongst savages. This afforded the Negro guard amusement everyday, and also seemed to gratify their beastly officers.

Rats, dogs, cats or any other animal would not long exist amongst that hungry throng of prisoners. Catching rats and selling them for food became quite a business, and they pursued the avocation with quite a profit, the demand being steady. Would men eat dogs and rats unless suffering from extreme hunger? Many died from insufficient and improper food. I have seen men, almost starved, fish scraps from barrels containing hospital refuse and devouring it ravenously, although in so doing were poisoning themselves with the putrid filth they were swallowing.

Can it be imagined that human beings imagined that human beings - officers- could witness such sights and then return to their sumptuous meals without a thought of the terrible suffering of the starving Confederates. The customary prison diet consisted of 3 or 4 crackers, and a small slice of fat pork in the morning. In the afternoon a half pint of water in which the pork was boiled, and a piece of bread - nothing else.

No vegetables, tea nor coffee were ever seen. It was repeatedly said, in my presence, that the reason we were denied vegetables, was in retaliation for the refusal of tobacco to their prisoners in the South. On many occasions vegetables sent by friends outside were denied to the prisoners. This occurred oftener at Pt. Lookout than at Elmira. At the later prison, clothes sent to me they refused to deliver, also boots and shoes. In case they did deliver a coat it was not until the tail had been cut off and the tops of boots were similarly curtailed. At Elmira I was one day notified that there was a box at headquarters for me. Upon reporting there for it was opened in my presence by the order of Mjr. Colt who was in command. The articles of clothing therein were of a valuable character. They were refused me. After pleading some time for the new coat, Mjr. Colt consented to having it exchanged in town for another, he said of more suitable color, and detailed. Sent Mjr. Rudd to attend to it. The overcoat was a very handsome and costly one; in return, after charging me $5.00 for his trouble, he delivered to me a miserable shoddy one almost worthless.

I could relate dozens of other outrages equally disgraceful, but enough is said to illustrate what was the condition of thousands of our Confederates confined in the Northern prison pens!

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Last updated on October 27, 2008
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