Confederate Soldier In A Yankee Army Prison Chapter Six

The following is Chapter Six of the memoir of Byron Smith, who served in the 1st Georgia Cavalry. It was published in the Gloster Record (Amite County, Mississippi), February 10, 1939:


(By Byron Smith, Peoria, Miss.)

(Chapter Six)

Speculation and gambling were common. At nearly every tent some poor fellow had something to sell. Tobacco dealers were

plentiful. A piece of plank, or a little stool, would do for a counter and a plug of tobacco for his stock in trade. He would make a pattern and carefully cut his tobacco into little squares, each square a chew and each chew worth a hardtack. Some men would go from one stand to another, closely examine the squares to see who carried the largest squares or chew in stock, and when he was satisfied that he had found the best bargain, he would lay down his hard tack, take up his chew, go away happy, and make it last him all day. The dealer would make about 3 chews profit on his investment. Another investor would buy a sheet of paper, stamp and envelope for 4c and sell them for 5c. The coffee vender would buy a peck or half-bushel of old coffee grounds from the cook houses, boil them over, sell the hot colored water as coffee charging a hardtack or a chew of tobacco for a pint of it. They gave us coffee every morning with our rations. I sold my cupful for hardtack. Hardtack was legal tender there as good as gold, five for 5 cts but it required the appetite of a hungry man to eat it.

The dealer in smoking tobacco would walk all over the camp looking for old chews and cigar stubs. When he found one he would secure it so slyly that if you were looking at him you would not detect him. He would put his foot close to it, stop and scratch his ankle, and walk on. He would carry his collection to his tent, dry it, mix with some bought of the sutler, and sell it for hardtack.

For sharp trickery the Yankees has always been given the palm, but he is not in it if you pen a Southerner up where he has to use his wits in order to live. Of course there are exceptions. In our pen we had men suited to every calling in life from that of President down to cut-throat. A great many prisoners employed their time in making finger rings, watch chains, necklaces, bracelets, fans, pen holders, etc. The material used were gutta-percha buttons, horse hair, wool and silver. It was wonderful what beautiful things they made. We had some fine carvers and some

of their jewelry was made of bone mixed with gutta-percha and mounted with silver. We made our saws from bones on the back of case knives. We made three different kinds of bits for drilling holes but of table forks. We made several turning lathes. A friend of mine and I made use one in a cracker box. We could turn anything not too large. We did a great deal of bone work, making pen holders, bodkins, rings, etc.The ring makers would bring their button to us to drill and polish as we could do it faster and better. Then they would inlay them with silver and make beautiful rings. We could find sale for everything as Sergeant Finnegan, the first sergeant of our camp was a nice clever man and he would buy anything we made and send it to a curio dealer in New York.

Jewelry Mady by a Confederate Soldier at Elmira Prisoner of War Camp -

Jewelry Mady by a Confederate Soldier at Elmira Prisoner of War Camp –

We sold a good deal also in the pen. Rings from 10c to $5.00. We had to hustle to get the material. The bone we bought from the cooks paying 5c for a shank bone, and sawing it to suit our purposes. Horse hair for making watch chains was scarce and high. You had to pay 25c for a little wisp the size of your finger. It had to be pulled out there was no sale for cut hair. If an officer on a tour of inspection rode a horse having a fine tail into our camp, he was sure to leave the most, if not all

Civil War Era Watch Chain Made from Human Hair

Civil War Era Watch Chain Made from Human Hair

of it in the hands of the hair dealers. The ring peddlers would approach him and offer their wares, and while he was examining them, the hair dealers would be getting in their work. Such treatment would make the horse restless, but a few jerks with the bit and the spur, would quiet him. The major rode into camp one day on a horse with a very long, beautiful tail, well kept. When he went outside, the officers began to joke him about his tailless horse. When he looked around he was mad, and walked back into the pen and tried to buy some horse hair but there was none for sale. He offered five dollars for the offenders, but no one would tell on them. If he had found them they would have to ride “Old Bald” all the week.

Nothing is complete unless Atlanta, Ga., is in it, and I must say an Atlanta boy was the genius of our camp. He constructed a small engine out of a camp kettle and the mouth piece of canteens, of a power, he said, equal to that of two Wharf rats. He bought a cracker box for fuel to run it, and it worked beautifully. It was a great show, and he made something every day though he only charged a chew or a hard-tack admission. At length the Yankees heard of it and some of them paid a plug of tobacco admission. Finally he sold it to Sergeant Finnegan for $35.00. Then he bought some watch makers tools and started a repair shop. The Yankees gave him all their work. He made a clock entirely of bone, except the case which was a cedar wood Confederate canteen. It was a good time keeper and he sold it to the sergeant I think for $15.00.
The ladies of Baltimore started a school in our prison, and supported it with all kinds of second hand school books. We had the largest school in the United States. Everything was taught from A. B. C’s to French and German. The only pay the teachers received was an extra ration that the ladies induced the commander to issue to them but they were to get that.
(Another chapter next week)

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Confederate Soldier In A Yankee Army Prison Part Five

The following is Chapter Five of the memoir of Byron Smith, who served in the 1st Georgia Cavalry. It was published in the Gloster Record (Amite County, Mississippi), February 3, 1939:

(By Byron Smith, Peoria, Miss.)
(Chapter Five)

Every Sunday morning during inspection our tents were folded and all the blankets and clothing left in the tents would be

Confederate prisoners with their guard waiting for roll call - Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society, Vol.53, No. 1)

Confederate prisoners with their guard waiting for roll call – Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society, Vol.53, No. 1)

carried out in a cart brought in for that purpose. We determined to head them. We secured a barrel head, drew a line around it, and dug down four inches; then an inch inside of that, drew another circle, so the head would have a shoulder to rest upon, then dug a cave large enough to hold our extras. Then the head was fitted in nicely, and leveled with sand. The first thing on Sunday morning this would be packed and if we could get wood, a fire was built on it. We saved our things many times. You asked how we concealed the dirt taken out? We acted like ants, while some were digging, others would fill their pockets with it, take a walk, and slyly empty it as they went, watching for the corporals.

Before inspection those of our tent who were going to try for blankets, clothes, or shoes would fix up for it by putting on the worst he had, so as to show officers how needy we were. We took it turn about, and would not all try for the same thing at the same time. We had a little blue blanket that was good for a new one every time. The one who was to try for a blanket would “doctor” “True Blue” a little by tearing it and tying it with strings. Then it was ready. When the order was given to fall in line, the front rank would step four paces to the front “about face” and two inspecting officers would ride between the lines, one looking to the right the other to the left. If they decided a man needed anything they would say “Fall in line.” That column would march behind the officers between the lines and be followed by the corporals of that division. The Reb who carried the blue blanket would stretch it out, so the officers could see how good it was then they would say, “Fall in line.”

The order was to leave the old when you drew the new, but “True Blue” was slipped back every time. You are perhaps ashamed that Southern boys, raised to be upright and honest, and who were so honorable that they would endure any suffering and hardship rather than desert their cause, could condescend to cheat and swindle but we were driven to it by the way we were treated.

We were half starved, enduring the rigor of a cold climate and only allowed one blanket. If we bought another one it was taken from us, then we determined to beat them, and succeeded. There were sixteen of us in our tent, none of us were in the hospital, none of us would take the oath. We were a hard set. We had a friend in the hospital who was going with some more convalescents to be exchanged. He agreed to take a letter from us and have it published in “The Southern Confederacy” and “Atlanta Daily.” It was written, and all the boys in our tent signed it, hoping it would let our friends know where we were. We had a bulletin board in the pen on which the names would be written of those having letters in the office outside. So many a poor fellow would be disappointed that their names were not written there.

Prisoners Being Issued Rations - National Park Service

Prisoners Being Issued Rations – National Park Service

We had with us a good many sons of Southern merchants whose fathers had bought goods from firms in the North. Some of them would write to these firms and request the loan of a few dollars. Some of the letters were never answered, a few were. The money however, was not given to the writer. It was placed in the Sutler’s hands, who gave him a little book with the amount sent credited to him. He could buy from the Sutler until his accounts balanced.

If one of the boys in our tent received a letter, they all rejoiced with him, and all had to read it for letters were a rarity. Every letter was examined and a good many burned, because they contained news the Yankees did not wish us to know. One day one of my tent mates saw my name on the board. They ran a race to tell me, and then raced with me to get it, seeming as much rejoiced as I was. The postmaster tantalized me with questions. I was afraid I would not get it. Of course, I could not tell him who it was from. Finally he asked if I had any relatives in Covington, Ga., I said yes. Then he asked their names. I told him, and he gave me the letter and we hurried back to read it. The boys said it contained more news than any one page letter they ever saw. It was read and re-read by all that belonged to our tent and a good many that did not belong to our tent. It ended with “Love to you and your mates, Affectionately, Your Cousin Occie Livingston.” I cannot tell how much good that letter did us. John Free read it nearly every day for three or four weeks, and said it made him love the South better, and carried him back to his home in Switzerland.

There was a man with us from Covington, Ga., Joe Barber an Englishman who belonged to the 3rd Ga. Regiment. He was sergeant of the police detail whose duty it was to keep the camp clean. When he found out a cousin of mine had once been the orderly sergeant of his company, he was very kind to me. He said, “Ah, you did not know that cousin like I did. J.W. Livingston was a grand soldier, who never shirked his duty, his company loved him. I was with him when he was killed.” I told him I had a letter from my cousin’s sister. He came to my tent to read it and when he read it the tears rolled down his cheeks.

He was allowed a hundred men for his work, their pay an extra ration each when the days work was done. After my cow was captured, he gave me a place on the force who emptied the kitchen slops. For this I received an extra ration. There were so many hungry boys there that would eat almost anything that a dog would eat, even if they had to hold their noses to do it. This is saying a great deal, but i can prove it. Each company had a slop barrel, that was emptied and washed every morning. Sometimes a man would get a little money, buy some loaf-bread, and throw the crust in the barrel. It would not be there long before some poor fellow would fish it out and eat it. The hardest fight I ever saw was over a rotten hog. It had died on a schooner and had been thrown overboard, and had floated in the water until the hair had come off, like it had been scalded. When tide washed it toward the beach and it was near enough for them to wade out to it two men who had been watching it for sometime, started for it and hauled it on the bank. They both claimed it. While they were fighting, others came up, cut off big pieces and carried it to their tents. When these two had fought till they were exhausted, the hog was all gone.The fellows who had it soon made it in hash with the aid of a little hardtack, and were going through the camp crying, “Here’s your hot hash!” and selling it for five and ten cent quantities according as a prisoner was able to buy.

(Another chapter next week)

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Confederate Soldier In A Yankee Army Prison, Chapter Four

The following is Chapter Four of the memoir of Byron Smith, who served in the 1st Georgia Cavalry. It was published in the Gloster Record (Amite County, Mississippi), January 27, 1939:

(By Byron Smith, Peoria, Miss.)
(Chapter Four)

It had been very cold for several days. We had nothing to make fires but the sun took pity on us and came out with its warm

Illustration of a Civil War Soldier picking lice. From Hardtack and Coffee: The Unwritten Story of Army Life by John D. Billings

Illustration of a Civil War Soldier picking lice. From Hardtack and Coffee: The Unwritten Story of Army Life by John D. Billings

genial rays. Soon hundreds of Johnnies were on the sunny side of their tents trying to get warm and picking themselves like a flock of geese. [Editor’s note: by “picking” Smith means he was removing lice from his uniform]

A galvanized Reb (that is what we called one who took the oath) came by going outside. An idea occurred to me. I decided I would take his place on the ration pole. I hurriedly entered my tent and had a request written out for transfer to Co. B, 8th Div., the company the man had just left. I gave it to the sergeant. He put my name on his roll and said “Come with me and I will show you your tent.” I told him I had a place to sleep, he replied, “All right but be sure you answer to roll call and be with us to get your rations.” I assured him I would attend to that.
I went back to my tent and said, “Boys, I have bought a cow,” and explained it to them. They replied “Yes, and the Yankees will catch you, kill your cow and make you ride old Bald.” Old Bald was a scantling 4x4x12 feet long with four legs ten feet long, making a trestle seat ten feet high to punish offenders. A ladder was placed against it, and the fellow ti be punished was made to walk up it, straddle old Bald and ride him without stirrups two, three or four hours. If he did not fall off when his time was out they placed a ladder for him to come down.

Two Union Soldiers at Vicksburg being punished by riding a wooden horse similar to

Two Union Soldiers at Vicksburg being punished by riding a wooden horse similar to “Old Bald” as described by Smith. – Library of Congress

Next morning I told the boys I was going to milk my cow. They all watched to see how I would succeed. I secured my extra ration and milked by cow for several months by answering to two rolls in two different companies. After the transfer business had been going on for several months, the number of men reported was about the same as it was before any took the oath, although by this time they had nearly two regiments of galvanized rebels from the inside. The Yankees were puzzled they did not understand it.
The corporals became very particular about roll call, but the boys would help each other and they could not catch up with us until one day a galvanized rebel was going out and the boys begged him to sell them his blanket but he refused. Then three or four of them took it away from him, knowing he would get another on the outside. One of these boys was “milking a cow” and this fellow knew it, and reported him for spite. The corporal carried him outside and kept him in the guard tent three or four days. Then they caught three others. They took three old flower barrels and knocked the heads out, nailed a strip of plank on two sides of them, then lifted the three barrels and put them over the heads of the three men. They put a barrel over the fourth one, and tied him with a rope to the other three, making a spike team. Then [they] fastened a card with “Flanker No.1,” Flanker No. 2 and so on to each one, and had them march before the guard between the cook house for two days. The corporal tried very hard to catch more but failed, as the boys were on the watch all the time.

Confederate Soldiers at Point Lookout Prisoner of War Camp forced to wear barrels as punishment. -

Confederate Soldiers at Point Lookout Prisoner of War Camp forced to wear barrels as punishment. –

After General Grant took command of the Virginia army, the prisoners were ordered to fall into line with one blanket and march out on [the] beach. A detail of Yankees then searched every tent and threw all the blankets and clothing out, and they were carried outside. When this was done the roll was called, and as each man answered he stepped inside and formed a new line. Our cows were captured. They found that about five thousand men had been answering to two roll calls. Perhaps they had by this means saved their lives. Well, we enjoyed it while [it] lasted, and had a great deal of fun, joking each other about the Yankee’s raid on our cows.
But it was not much fun over the loss of our blankets. When we came to Point Lookout, and all who had U.S. blankets had to

A Civil War U.S. Army Blanket

A Civil War U.S. Army Blanket

give them up, it was nearly a month before I succeeded in buying one. I had a hard time of it. The weather was cold, I had to sleep on the bare ground, and sometimes I thought I would freeze. Two of the boys allowed me to use as much of their blankets as they could spare. After I had bought one, our corporal asked if I was the man that had no blankets, I told him yes, he said, “come with me.” We walked outside to the house where they kept the supplies. He said, “take one.” I took two, I walked by his side to my tent happy. I was the owner of three good blankets, and could sleep comfortable.
(Another chapter next week)

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Confederate Soldier In A Yankee Army Prison, Chapter 3

The following is Chapter Three of the memoir of Byron Smith. It was originally published in the Gloster Record (Amite County, Mississippi), January 20, 1939.



(By Byron Smith, Peoria, Miss.)

When we arrived at Philadelphia there were train loads of Rebs from different prisons. They packed us on the transport “City of New York” until we barely had room to lie down on deck by lying very close together. One fellow was very careless about it and when he tried he failed to find space enough. He begged for space, no one paid any attention to him. He stood it awhile, and when nearly all had gone to sleep, he began to sing, ‘Oh Massas runned away, de darkies stay at home.’ When he started on the chorus, he tried to see how loud he could sing, and made more noise that any man I ever heard. He woke up most of the boys, and how some did curse and bemean him. One fellow told me if he didn’t hush, he would come over and cut his throat. “I would like to see you get to me.” He replied defiantly. Some got angry, some laughed at them for getting angry.

It was some time before quiet was restored and some began to snore. He began his song again “louder yet and yet more dread” it sounded. Some fellow a long distance from him cried out “Can’t some one kill that fool?” That started a laugh. Finally he stopped, and said “Boys, spoon up closer, and let me lie down.” No one moved. He waited until all were asleep again. Then if possible, his song rose louder than ever. They all woke up, and began to move as close together as possible, and managed to make space enough for him to lie down. Then all went well until we reached the Atlantic. The waves were running very high and a great many were seasick. Oh, such a time, such a time. So many paying tribute to Neptune in the darkness, and you could not move yourself. It was indescribable. The captain of the vessel said he told the officer in command not to crowd so many on board.

Two men on lower deck broke out  with smallpox. When we landed at Point Lookout, everyone who had a United States blanket, had to lay it on the wharf. The weather was extremely cold, thick ice every morning. They marched us nearly a mile to the pen. Near the gate we were formed into line, and the command given for all who were sick to the front. About fifty stepped out. Some were real sick and some only felt bad from their recent experience. They were put in wagons and ambulances and carried three miles. They had no idea where they were going but found to their horror that they were put in the smallpox hospital. But they could not help themselves. When they had been there long enough they all took it and ten or twelve died. It was too cruel.

Illustration Depicting Point Lookout Prisoner of War Camp -

Illustration Depicting Point Lookout Prisoner of War Camp –

One man from each tent was sent out under guard to get firewood toward the smallpox hospital. While out there I witnessed the burial of some of those who died in there. They were thrown in a wagon by negroes like they were dead hogs, hauled to a big ditch, the wagon backed up to it the corpse seized by the hand or foot, whichever was handiest given a pull and into the ditch it went. As it fell so it lay. When they had finished hauling corpses for that day they would lengthen the ditch for the next day, throwing the dirt over those they had already dumped in.

Interpretive Sign from Point Lookout Concerning Deaths at the Camp -

Interpretive Sign from Point Lookout Concerning Deaths at the Camp –

At Point Lookout, they gave us at breakfast a pint of coffee and hardtack. For dinner a cup of soup and a piece of meat. In

the summer the beef and soup were dreadful. We suppose from the odor and looks it must have been in city markets so long that the people would not buy it, then it was sold to the government to feed Rebs on. When it was cooked it was covered with flyblows and worms. We had to hold our noses to eat it, we could not afford to throw it away. The other meat was very good, what there was of it. Every day someone would try to “flank,” we do not call it steal, a ration. If caught he had to take a whipping. Every kitchen kept a man especially for the purpose, called the cook house fighter. He was well fed, fat and strong, and able to fight, and could easily whip the weakly half starved fellows who would risk a beating for the sake of a ration.
One day a fellow flanked a ration and the fighter thought he had caught him but he caught the wrong man. He thought John Free was the one. In vain John tried to prove his innocence, he would not listen to him, nothing would do but he must be whipped. The fighter took charge of him. John handed me his rations and then went to the fight ground. They squared themselves for the first round. He struck at John, but he warded off nicely, and gave the fighter a dash on the nose that knocked it out of shape. The fighter then tried to give John a terrible blow, but he fenced it off and landed a right hand blow over the fighters eye, then he broke the rule and ran for shelter, John right after him, but was stopped by the cooks at the door. When the fighter started to run, you never heard such a rejoicing. The cook asked him why he ran, he replied, “I was not going to be killed.” John was the hero of the hour. He said that it was his first fight since he was a school boy. The fighter lost his job, another took his place.
There were three ways of flanking a ration. One was to be among the first counted in, secure your ration, hand it to a mess mate, crawl under the table, rise up in line, and be given another. The second was to try to get in with another company. The plan generally failed but sometimes the company sergeant would take pity on the poor fellow and count him in, but he had to take a beating if caught. Another was what he called, buying a cow. It was done by transfer from the company you were in to another in a different division. You had to answer to two roll calls. The corporals did not suspect anything wrong neither did they care. Nearly every day someone would go outside to take the oath, and go west to fight Indians. We took advantage of this to “buy cows.” Out tent was the first to start in.
(Another chapter next week)

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Confederate Soldier in a Yankee Army Prison, Chapter 2

The following is Part 2 of the memoir of Byron Smith; it was published in the Gloster Record, (Amite County), January 13, 1939.

CONFEDERATE soldier in a Yankee Army Prison

by Byron Smith, Peoria, Miss.

Our next stop was at Lexington, [Kentucky] where they searched us and took away my cord and pocket knife and put us in what they called “John Morgan’s jail.” The next day they sent us to Cincinnati [Ohio] and marched us to the barracks where they stored their deserters. The building was six stories high. They said they had 1000 on each floor. We were sent to the sixth floor where a lattice partition separated the Rebs from the deserters. There we found several of our soldiers, among them one of Morgan’s men. He was a jolly fellow and the guard called him “Kentucky.” He they and John Roberts talked and sang nearly all night.

Wartime view of Cincinnati, Ohio - Harper's Weekly, September 27, 1862.

Wartime view of Cincinnati, Ohio – Harper’s Weekly, September 27, 1862.

“Kentucky would sing “Zollicoffer’ and the guards, ‘We’ll hang Jeff Davis on a sour apple tree.’ One of the guards asked him if he was not afraid the court-martial would have him shot, and he replied, ‘No, if they shoot me General Morgan would retaliate by slaying a thousand of those who wear the blue.’

We were very hungry, having had nothing to eat since morning. Some lady sent Kentucky a large waiter of nice things to eat and he had us join him in eating them. The next morning he received another waiter and again he insisted on our sharing with him, saying he would enjoy it much better and could eat more, then if he was shot he would have a full stomach. At 9 o’clock they marched him out and riveted a chain to his leg that was fastened to a 60 lb ball he lifted the ball in his arms and with the six guards around him he left us to be tried by drum headed court-martial. We never heard of him again. We suppose he was shot. Such as war.

Fifteen of us were ordered to Camp Chase. While we were standing in line waiting for the cars, a nice-looking old man appeared in front of us and stood looking at us, and then began to cry. John Roberts asked him what was the matter. He answered “I have a boy in your army somewhere and to think I cannot help him almost breaks my heart.” John replied” my dear Sir, do not worry about your boy, he is all right and will not suffer for anything for he is among friends.” That seemed to do the old man good and he said, “I wish I was allowed to help you all.” Just then we were ordered into the cars and he told us goodbye. We tried to buy something to eat on the train but failed as a set our money was no good.

We arrived at Camp Chase just after ‘taps’ or 9 o’clock and were allotted different rooms all in the dark as no lights were allowed after that hour. We were so hungry that the prisoners who were there felt around in the dark and found enough to save us from suffering to a great extent, but we retired hungry.

The Interior of Camp Chase  - National Archives

The Interior of Camp Chase – National Archives

The ‘Johnnies’ as the Yankees called the southern soldiers inquired eagerly the news from our army and told us to be

careful about the prison rules, as the guards would shoot you quick if you disobeyed them. There were about 200 prisoners there. Some of them were busy making rings of gutta-percha buttons and could sell all they made. We stayed there only one week. While there Col. John and Col. Jim Brownlow, sons of the notorious Brownlow of Knoxville Tennessee, and who were schoolmates of mine in Knoxville, came to Camp Chase to get recruits for a cavalry regiment to go west and fight the Indians. I liked them in school, but did not go to see them, as I did not care to renew the acquaintance. Several joined them, one of whom deserted and was back with his command in six months.

"Brownlow at Camp Chase," from Scraps from the Prison Table, at Camp Chase and Johnson's Island by Joseph Barbiere, 1868

“Brownlow at Camp Chase,” from Scraps from the Prison Table, at Camp Chase and Johnson’s Island by Joseph Barbiere, 1868

We were next sent by rail to Sandusky, [Ohio] then by steamboat for miles to Johnson’s Island. On landing we were marched to the pen which was enclosed by a plank fence twelve or fourteen feet high with a plank walk for the sentinels on the outside four feet down from the top. The pickets next to the wall 2 x 3 scantling, spiked onto the railing which was 4 x 4 scantling. In it was the officers and privates quarters, sutler store, blockhouses for the guard a 12 pound howitzer pointing to the inside of the pen and a little house where they kept spies until they were shot. They shot two while I was there. Fifteen feet from the fence was a ditch, the dead line which it was death to cross only at the bridge leading to the gate.

They gave each of us a little bedtick, which they allowed us to fill with straw. Our bunks were built one over the other, seven or eight bunks high next to the wall, with two tiers in the middle of the room upstairs. For breakfast they gave us coffee, pickled pork and one small loaf of bread. That was all the bread I received for a day. If you ate it all for breakfast you had none for the other meals. Sometimes for dinner they would make a change and give us beef instead of pork with boiled potatoes. About once a week they gave us a rice soup.

Johnson's Island Prisoner of War Camp -

Johnson’s Island Prisoner of War Camp –

If you had plenty of money you could get what you wanted from the sutler’s store, or those who kept little stands in the pen, if you had the money, but there was the rub. The absence of money was present with us, and hunger was also present. They gave us just enough to eat to keep us hungry, but perhaps that was best for some of us. It made us hustle about to find some job [that] would enable us to supplement our rations a little, but they were so few and they the most menial kinds. For instance I was so hungry, I hired to the Dutchman who came for the swill every morning, to help empty the swill from the barrels into the cart, for which I got five cents. This helped me to live but it was dirty heavy work. Then we put our wits to work to cheat so as to appease our hunger.

Yankee Guards at Johnson's Island -

Yankee Guards at Johnson’s Island –

The Dutchman sent milk in every morning to sell at ten cents a quart. I gave John Roberts my dollar bill and told him to buy a quart. He returned with the milk and ninety cents in sutler’s tickets. The tickets were made of colored pasteboard five cents yellow, ten cents green, fifty cents blue, and so on. We bought some biscuits, butter, and syrup, and out of [a] mess of six had a feast. Next morning I gave John my two dollar bill and told him to buy a half gallon of milk. He returned with the milk and changing tickets. We had plenty to eat as long as the tickets lasted, but we could buy no more milk. The next morning the boy called two or three times for the man to whom he had sold the milk to but no one answered. Finally John sauntered down to the cart and asked “Buddy what do you want with him?” He replied “the money he gave me was no good.” John said “let me see it.” Examining it closely he remarked, “I do not know what to think of the man who would pass that,” and walked off. I saved my last fifty cents for harder times.

One day I was coming from the sutler’s store I found an empty button box, a rascally thought came into my head. I carried it and my fifty cents sutler’s ticket to a young Kentuckian in our room. We compared them, the color was exactly the same. He said “I can make them, if you can get them off.” I replied “all right.” He made eighty fifty cent tickets. I gave one to John and told him to buy five cents worth of biscuits and five cents worth of butter from the sutler. When he came back I told him the secret. I divided with the Kentuckian. We would never buy but five cents worth at the time. We did not want to be suspected of having found a gold mine. Finally the sutler found he had too many fifty cent tickets in circulation. He had new ones made and called in the blue ones. We carried what we had left and exchanged for new ones.

Sutler's Ticket from Johnson's Island -

Sutler’s Ticket from Johnson’s Island –

When our tickets were all gone and hunger gnawed I hunted for a job of work. The men who cooked for the officers hired two dishwashers: one quit and I secured his place. We had to wash one hundred tin plates, 110 tin cups, and the mess pans, and carry water from the dump. Our salary was the scraps left on the table. As the officers bought a good many extras, we had more than we could eat. The other washer sold what he did not eat, I divided with my mess.

Many of the prisoners were refined, educated gentlemen, raised in luxury, and never knew what work or hardships were until they entered the army, and the richest government that the world ever saw would not give them enough to eat. After persistently refusing to exchange them a great many grew despondent and homesick and were sent to the hospital and died. Others tried to keep up their spirits by singing, dancing, playing bass and some playing cards.

Three men had long had their plans ready to try to escape. A skiff was moored to a bank about one hundred fifty yards from the east block house. They waited patiently for a suitable night. It came dark stormy and raining. After taps they started. Crawled down the ditch that ran through the pen, keeping about ten feet apart. The leader had a saw made on the back of a case knife. He sawed two pickets off just below the railing that extended to the bottom of the ditch. The sentinel stood in his booth and called, “Post No. 5, 11 o’clock and all’s well.” It was an awful storm the wind blew, the lightening flashed, the thunder rolled and the rain poured. When the sentinel called “Post No. 5, half past eleven and all’s well,” three prisoners were standing under his booth.

Among the prisoners was one from New Orleans, who set up a laundry and made money. He agreed to teach us so John Free and I started a laundry and made money. We made enough to buy us plenty to eat, and had some money [left] over. About the 15th of September 1863, all the privates were ordered to be ready to march to the landing to be sent to Savannah, Georgia, to be exchanged. How elated we were. What visions of freedom and loved ones floated in our imagination. Alas, only to be disappointed. Poor John Roberts was in the hospital too sick to go. I divided my money with him, and bid good-bye. I never saw him again.

(Another Chapter Next Week)

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Confederate Soldier in a Yankee Prison: The Memoir of Byron Smith, 1st Georgia Cavalry

In 1910 Byron Smith of Peoria, Amite County, Mississippi, published a memoir of his service during the Civil War. He

gave his tome the rather ponderous title of Reminiscences of a Confederate Prisoner: Scott’s Cavalry, Composed of 1st Georgia, 1st Louisiana and 3d Tennessee Regiments. A True Story Full of Interesting Events. A reminiscence of his time spent as a prisoner of war at Point Lookout, Maryland, Smith’s reminiscence is a very well written account of life in captivity during the Civil War.

Byron Smith’s book is long out of print, and I could find only about 15 copies of the work in various libraries scattered across the United States. There are a few quotes from the book on the internet, but the entire reminiscence has been, for the most part, unavailable to the public. Fortunately while doing some research, I found that Smith’s entire book had been serialized in the Gloster Record in 1939. Published in seven parts, I will post these articles the same way, one each week for the next seven weeks.

Bryon Smith was born on July 20, 1843, in Morgan County, Georgia, and was the son of Wiley and Sarah Smith. In the 1860 U.S. Census for Georgia, Byron was living with his parents and siblings in Cass County, Georgia, and the 16 year old listed his occupation as farmer. On May 1, 1862, Byron and his brother Langdon both enlisted in Company G, 1st Georgia Cavalry for “Three years or during the war.”  He served faithfully until June 3, 1863, when he was captured at Falls Creek, Kentucky. Byron was sent initially to Camp Chase, Ohio, then transferred to Johnson’s Island, Ohio. In October 1863 he was sent to Point Lookout, Maryland, where he spent the remainder of his captivity. I hope you enjoy this reminiscence as much as I did.


Part 1

By Byron Smith, 1st Georgia Cavalry

Published in the Gloster Record (Amite County, Miss.,) January 4, 1939

It sometimes surprises us when we recall our experiences during the Civil War, to find how fresh and vivid those buried

memories are. It seems as though they were burned in as with a pen of iron, never to be effaced. Especially is this true if we were prisoners, shut out from the world, with so few exciting events to crowd out impressions once made. Yet for the most part, Southern soldiers have been silent, preferring that the memories die out with them. But comrades, is this right? When so much has been written of the horrors of Andersonville, Libby, and other Southern prisons: is it just to the Southern prisoners who were treated so kindly, they had no cause for complaint? We will soon all pass ‘over the river’ and if we remain silent, a true history of what we suffered can never be written, and for this reason I will give an account of my experience while a prisoner.

I belonged to Scott’s Cavalry Brigade, composed of the First Georgia, First Louisiana and the Third Tennessee regiments, and

John Sims Scott of Wilkinson County, Mississippi, commanded the brigade to which the 1st Georgia Cavalry belonged -

John Sims Scott of Wilkinson County, Mississippi, commanded the brigade to which the 1st Georgia Cavalry belonged –

the Third Tennessee battalion. In the spring of 1863 we were ordered back into Kentucky to get beef cattle. After passing through Monticello, the First Georgia, (our regiment), camped at Rankin’s Mills on the Cumberland River and kept pickets at every ford, as the Yankees were camped on the other side below us. Some of them would secure guides who lived in the neighborhood and knew every path, go down the river at night, cross over, and capture some of the Yankees pickets. They would generally parole them on the promise not to re-enlist.

In a few days the Yankees tried their hand at the game, but the ones they captured were sent back to prison. On the second day of June, 1863, John Roberts, Alfred Bryant and myself were detailed as pickets. Our post was at an old crib in an old clover field. After dark the pickets would draw from the crib and stand by trees in a little hollow nearby. Our orders were, not to shoot unless it was necessary.

During the night, six or eight of the enemy slipped about through the woods hunting us. They came within thirty feet of us. We could hear them, but it was so dark we could not see them. The next afternoon, while grazing ten or twelve horses on the clover, one of the pickets said, “Look at the Yankees” there were about five hundred of them about a mile down the river on the other side coming in a run. I ran to drive the horses to the gap, but before I could get them, Yankees had dismounted and were firing at us. The horses were so excited they passed the gap, and I took to the crib for shelter. John Roberts and Alfred Bryant had gone to a farm house near the crib they were there and said that that the farmer had just told them the Yankees could not cross nearer than three miles up the river. They were mounted infantry, and were armed with Colts five shooter cylinder rifles and while we were watching them shoot at us, they tore the roof of the crib into splinters.

Union Cavalrymen skirmishing with the enemy - Library of Congress

Union Cavalrymen skirmishing with the enemy – Library of Congress

About one hundred of the First Kentucky Yankee cavalry crossed the river about a mile above us, and were on us before we knew it. The Lieutenant asked us what command we belonged to, and when we told him he said, “It is a fine thing for you that you do not belong to that…Tennessee battalion.” One of his company told me afterwards that the night before, some of that battalion had captured the lieutenant’s brother, and when he attempted to escape, they had shot and killed him.

They had captured our horses, and told us to mount. My saddle was near, so I put it on my horse, and went across the river. The banks were steep and high, and it was difficult to cross. While we were crossing one of our pickets, who had gone to the woods, fired on the Yankees. Oh then there were hurrying times with those in the river. They went three miles up the river, crossed over, and came up in the rear of those pickets and captured them. They were John Free, David Seller, and Frank Chadwick of the Third Tennessee. They carried us two miles to their camp, which was located near where Zollicoffer was killed. It was my last ride on my noble horse that had carried me through so many dangers and close places and it was a sad parting. I told the Yankee that got him to take good care of him, that there was not a better horse in the army and I hoped that I could recapture him someday.

Our captors were very kind and treated us as well as they could under the circumstances. They gave us a fly tent to sleep under, a luxury to which we were not accustomed. I could not sleep I was planning to escape. Finally I arose and went to the fire, and talked to one of the guards. They kept a bright light all night with fence rails. We talked pleasantly until two o’clock then I asked him to take a walk with me. I was active and strong, and intended if only one went to seize him by the throat as soon as we reached the dark and choke him until he would be unable to give the alarm, then make my escape. I knew where their pickets were and could have dodged them, but he had the precaution to ask another one of the guards to go with us. Then I thought when we reached a little thicket, I would turn rabbit and make a jump for liberty, but before we reached it they stopped and we returned to the fire.

Next morning a lieutenant and sixteen of the cavalry started with six prisoners to Sommerset, [Somerset, Kentucky] a distance of eighteen miles. Our guards were very kind to us, and let us take it time about with them riding. [and let us take our time with them riding] When we arrived, the provost marshal tried to get us to take the oath to the United States but we refused. The next morning we started for Stanford [Kentucky]. About half way we stopped, and were put upstairs in a vacant house to spend the night guarded by German infantry. After a supper of hardtack and pickled pork, and some time spent in talking and poking with our guards we prepared to retire. Our beds were easily made, all we had to do was spread ourselves on the floor, and use each other for pillows. Before I lay down, I told the guard if I walk about in my sleep not to wake me. He replied, “I does vake you mit dis ver,” pointing to his bayonet. I did not walk any.

The next day John and I were walking some distance ahead of the others and the guards, and found in the road about 30 feet of small rope or cord. I picked it up thinking someday I might need it. I wound it around my body so it could not be seen. When we arrived in town they marched us to the Provost Marshals office to take the oath. None of us felt like we could swallow it. John Roberts said, “Colonel with due respect to you we volunteered to fight or die for the South, or rot in prison.” He answered, “It takes that kind of men to make good soldiers. Put them in jail, we can feed them easier than we can fight them.”

That jail was strong, not only in structure but in other things. A dump cart could not have hauled at three loads the filth that was in the corner of the room. It was bad but we had to endure it. John said, “Boys, it won’t take us long to rot in this place.” Next morning John asked the Yankee who brought our breakfast to please set it on the platform outside, and tell the officer of the guard we wanted to see him. He came and we invited him inside. He said, “Boys, how can you stand this? John replied, “Lieutenant, we are Southern soldiers and can stand anything, but we will appreciate the favor if you will give an order for us to take our meals on the platform.” He said he would, if we would promise not to escape. We promised and ate our meals on the platform as we stayed there. Jno. Free was so glad when the door opened, to breathe fresh air once more, he jumped out, striking his head against the top facing of the door, and cutting a gash to the bone. We dressed his wound the best we could.

The third day after our arrival, I was looking out the window which was over the pavement, when I noticed a lady walking on the opposite side of the street. She wore a sun bonnet, carried a big market basket on her arm, and had a light shawl thrown over her shoulder, which covered the basket. She soon passed out of my sight. Directly I heard someone under the window say something about a cord or rope. Not thinking it was intended for me, I paid no heed to it. Again I saw the lady walking on the opposite sidewalk, and in a few minutes a voice under the window said, “Let down a cord.” I threw my cord out, held on to the end, and waited to see what would happen. I felt someone working with it, and after awhile two or three jerks were given it as a signal to haul up. When it came in sight I could scarcely keep from shouting with joy. I squeezed the load through the bars, and unloaded it on the windowsill. The attention of the other boys was elsewhere, so I kept quiet.

The first haul consisted of the nicest pies, with tea cakes rolled up with them. I saw my friend pass down the street again. I threw my cord and waited. This time I drew up a cake so large I had to mash it through the bars. I threw my cord again and waited, she sent up more tea cakes and pies, gave the signal and said “bye, bye.” When I had arranged the dainties on the sill I called the boys. They were amazed. “Where did you get all these nice things?” they exclaimed. “Never mind,” I replied. “I fish for them.” I wonder if my mother had not been praying that the Lord would prepare a table before me in the presence of mine enemies?

If that good lady could have seen how intensely those poor Rebels enjoyed their nice treat, she would have felt rewarded for her trouble. We had no way of finding out who she was or of returning our gratitude but during all those years her memory has been cherished in our heart of hearts and we hope Heaven repaid her in full measure. For three days she came and sent supplies. Then thirty prisoners were brought in, including five Yankee deserters, which so crowded our quarters that the next morning we were ordered into wagons and under a large escort of cavalry sent to Nicholasville [Kentucky]. On the way one of the Yankee deserters seeing I had Confederate money, offered to exchange greenbacks for it. Knowing I could not use the Confederate, I exchanged, giving him two for one.

End of Part 1

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“Determined to Storm Headquarters:” The Attack of the 38th Mississippi on their Commanding General

The Civil War was filled with days of valor, glory, and bloodshed, but most of the time soldiers battled nothing more dangerous than boredom. The young men found many ways to relieve the tedium of life in the army. Quite often in reminiscences of the war, soldiers talk about the pranks that they played on their fellow soldiers. Armies then as now were made up of young men, and there is nothing than young men like more than tricking their fellow soldiers. James Henry Jones, an officer in the 38th Mississippi Infantry, related the following story in the Magnolia Gazette, December 3, 1887:


Col. Jones of the Thirty-Eighth Mississippi Regiment, tells the following story:

In the early part of 1864 the regiment was mounted. This was considered by the men as being retired from active service,

Post-war photograph of James Henry Jones, Lieutenant Colonel of the 38th Mississippi - Publications of the Mississippi Historical Society

Post-war photograph of James Henry Jones, Lieutenant Colonel of the 38th Mississippi – Publications of the Mississippi Historical Society

for the infantry entertained a profound contempt for the cavalry, or Buttermilk Rangers, as they were derisively termed. Of course this was unjust.

Soon after reporting for duty the regiment joined in an attack on some lightly armed gun-boats on the Yazoo River. A skirmish line was formed, a dash made for the river bank which was reached without loss and the boats were covered by our rifles from the protection of a levy. In such a situation gunboats must close their side ports and are helpless and our artillery soon made short work of them.

Thee was really little risk and the work was familiar, but it pleased our new General, and as a reward, we were exempted from all fatigue duty except furnishing a nightly guard for headquarters. And thereby hangs a tale. One night the commissariat was robbed, no doubt with the connivance of the guard, and the regiment was disposed from its favored place and made to do ordinary duty in consequence. But our General had “reckoned without his host,” and did not fully understand the resources of the old Thirty-Eighth in an emergency.

Soon after their disgrace a party of the boys prepared a lot of grenades – corn-cob shells they called them – and determined to storm headquarters. These shells were made by taking the pith out of the cob of a full ear of corn and replacing it with powder. A short fuse was inserted and the hole plugged. It will be seen at a glance that this was a weapon of offense not to be despised. It exploded with a report quite equal to that of a musket, and the grains flew in all directions with stinging force. Armed with these shells they approached the General’s tent in the dead of night.

The sentry was speedily routed, and the General, in great alarm, rushed from his tent in his night robe, which report says, was uncommonly short. A shell or so exploding between his legs speedily sent him to cover, and he was kept under his blankets, though his curses were vigorous and eloquent during the siege. They remonstrated with him on his carelessness in sleeping without guards. They assured him his life was necessary to the safety of his command, and implored him, for their sake, to be more cautious in the future. During this address a shell was occasionally exploded in the tent to enforce a patient hearing, for the General, like all Texans, was known to be handy with the pistol, and his temper was none of the sweetest.

Having accomplished their purpose the attacking force was withdrawn in true military style. A rear guard of one man was left, who kept up a lively fusillade, under cover of which the main body withdrew. When these were safe the rear guard took to his heels. Next morning the General had recovered his good humor, and laughed heartily at the joke, and restored the regiment to its former post of honor and of ease.

The “General” who was so rudely attacked by the 38th Mississippi was Colonel Hinche Parham Mabry. Starting the war as

Colonel Hinche P. Mabry - Confederate Veteran Magazine, Volume 20, (June 1912)

Colonel Hinche P. Mabry – Confederate Veteran Magazine, Volume 20, (June 1912)

Captain of Company G, 3rd Texas Cavalry, Mabry worked his way up to command of the regiment. At the battle of Iuka the fiery Texan had been wounded three times and captured by the Federals. Offered a parole by the Yankees, the obstinate Colonel refused because the parole document referred to his country as the “so called” Confederate States of America. Mabry refused to sign the insulting papers and spent several months in a prison camp before being exchanged. Such was the spirit of the man tasked with whipping a rag-tag brigade into fighting trim, and he definitely had his work cut out for him.  Douglas Hale, The Third Texas Cavalry in the Civil War (Norman, Oklahoma: University of Oklahoma Press, 1993), 28, 127-129.

Mabry’s first assignment after assuming command of the brigade to which the 38th Mississippi belonged was to take his men and operate in Yazoo County to protect the property of local citizens from Yankee raiding expeditions. The Colonel began his assignment in grand style, capturing the tinclad gunboat U.S.S. Petrel above Yazoo City on April 22, 1864. The boat was proceeding up the Yazoo River on a cotton stealing expedition when it blundered into a trap and was attacked by a detachment of Mabry’s brigade commanded by Colonel John Griffith of the 11th & 17th Arkansas. United States Navy Department, Comp., Official Records of the Union And Confederate Navies In The War of The Rebellion; (Washington D. C., 1895-1929), Series 1, Volume 26, 248.  

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“Oh You Cannot Get Away:” The Prisoner of War Memoir of George A. McGehee, 22nd Mississippi Infantry

In 1861, George A. McGehee enlisted in the “Liberty Guards,” Company E, 22nd Mississippi Infantry, and marched off to

Post Civil War picture of George A. McGehee -

Post Civil War picture of George A. McGehee –

defend Mississippi. In the years that followed, McGehee saw the hard hand of war up close and very personally. He was wounded at the Battle of Shiloh, recovered, and returned to the 22nd Mississippi just in time to fight in the Battle of Corinth, where he was wounded again. By the time of the 1864 Atlanta Campaign, McGehee had been promoted to Sergeant in the Liberty Guards, and was involved in some of the bloodiest fighting of the war. But his time as a fighter abruptly came to a close when McGehee was captured and sent to Camp Douglas prisoner of war camp. On March 17 & 24, 1939, MCGehee’s memoir of prison life was published in the Gloster Record of Amite County, Mississippi. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

Experience of Confederate Prisoner
Written by Geo. A. McGehee

On the 5th of July, 1864, on a line about five miles south of Marietta, Georgia, I was awakened by a charge of Yankees on our empty breastworks and on jumping up three Yankee soldiers on top of the breastworks cried out “surrender” and on looking to see if there was any chance to get away – one said, “Oh you cannot get away, I say, surrender,” which I did. They came to me and asked me when the army left and as I was left by the company sound asleep, I did not know which I told them as I certainly would have gone with them if I had known the time of departure.

They told me to leave my gun and cartridge box and the camp kettle as I would not need them, and one of them conducted me back to his company a part of Sixty-odd Ohio Regiment where they were preparing a breakfast of coffee and bacon and plenty of hard tack which they courteously asked me to partake of. Many questions were asked which I answered as far as I could, but the main question was “do you think you Johnnies will win this war?” My answer, “yes, I believe we will.” They seemed to like my answer and said they liked for a man to talk that way.

Confederate Earthworks along the south bank of the Chattahoochee River, Georgia. George A. McGehee was captured while serving in the Chattahoochee defenses. -

Confederate Earthworks along the south bank of the Chattahoochee River, Georgia. George A. McGehee was captured while serving in the Chattahoochee defenses. –

I was conducted to the provost guard, where there were other prisoners, and I am sorry to say a good many deserters, whom the yanks treated with scornful words; the guard moved in the rear of the advancing army for one day then we were marched to Marietta, a place where the inhabitants numbered 15,000 but 10,000 were dead Yankees, so a lady from Marietta told me about eight years ago.

The prisoners were placed on cars and shipped to Chattanooga, where we saw insolent negro soldiers and as we were suffering for water we asked that our canteens be filled, but our thirst was not assuaged nor did we ever see our canteens again, demonstrating that the negros natural propensity is to steal. We were put in the guard house and the next morning we were shipped to Nashville where we remained in the penitentiary buildings two more days. From there we went to Louisville and crossed the Ohio River to Jeffersonville at which place all the deserters were turned loose to shift for themselves. Possibly they were supplied by the officers with money but the soldiers in line considered all such as cowards and a disgrace to their country.

From Jeffersonville we were shipped to Chicago where we arrived July 16, 1864, being eleven days on this journey. We were marched out to “Camp Douglas” on Lake Michigan and in sight of Stephen A. Douglas residence. I here note that I had about three days rations in my havre sack and the Yanks forgot to furnish anything at Jeffersonville, and I having shared with a friend from east Miss., grew very hungry and began to grumble as I had not eaten anything in twenty four hours. The Yankee guard sitting in the door of the box car in which we were traveling asked me if what I said was true and I told him it was. He threw me two crackers saying “I cannot let a man suffer if I can help it.” I gave one of them to my friend, but there were others hungry.

Wartime photograph of Camp Douglas prisoner of war camp -

Wartime photograph of Camp Douglas prisoner of war camp –

At Camp Douglas the guards were told to search us but as they had been in front, they took my pocket book, merely opened it looked in and handed it back. We were then called off to barracks No. 7. There were four of these barracks to cross about sixty feet long and 20 feet wide with one door about the middle of the house with a kitchen on one end, kitchens were facing an alley about 20 feet in between there were streets between each row and there were 8 or 9 rows, the last row being the hospital row. The whole camp was surrounded by a plank wall about 20 feet high and a platform about four feet from the top was built on which guards were placed about thirty yards apart with orders to shoot anyone who crossed the “dead line” which was staked off about twenty feet from the fence. The camp was said to be 1500 yards in circumference and contained about twenty eight acres.

The inside guards consisted of a Yankee sergeant and corporal for each row and a private police guard, which was to see that all the prisoners obeyed the orders given. Also a Yankee was a kitchen guard or sergeant who attended to the kitchens as to sanitary conditions, and was considered the most exacting Yankee in the camp and of course was not liked by the prisoners. Besides each barracks had a Confederate as sergeant of the barracks who called the barracks in line when ordered by the authorities and attending any duties that might come up. There also was a kitchen sergeant whose duties with six others called cooks, prepared the food and distributed it to the men according to messes, which consisted of rations in a wooden box about sixteen inches square, for twelve men.

The barracks when full contained 180 men, and also running through the middle of barracks with frames for bunks on either side were for twelve men, four at bottom, four in middle and four in the top. There was a large stove in each end of the barracks and a fire was allowed in it all night especially when the night was very cold. The kitchen had a large kettle which held sixty gallons and was heated by a furnace. Plenty of fuel was furnished.

Confederate prisoners inside their barracks at Camp Douglas - Harper's Weekly, April 5, 1862

Confederate prisoners inside their barracks at Camp Douglas – Harper’s Weekly, April 5, 1862

About the middle of November, 1864, the Yankees sent in lumber dressed and tongue and grooved, and relaid the floor cross ways, thus making the boys more comfortable, and also recovered the barracks. The sick were attended by a physician and if a

George McGehee's bunkmate at Camp Douglas was Andew J. Nixon of Company C, 9th Arkansas Infantry. He was sent to New Orleans for exchange in May 1865. -

George McGehee’s bunkmate at Camp Douglas was Andew J. Nixon of Company C, 9th Arkansas Infantry. He was sent to New Orleans for exchange in May 1865. –

case was considered dangerous was sent to the hospital barracks where the patient received good attention. There were several cases of small pox all of which were taken to the mess house, my bed mate, a 9th Arkansas man, named Nixon, had it broken out on him and the man on the other side of me had fever and both of them were carried out in the morning, I sunned our blankets that evening and used them afterwards but I guess I was immune as I never took it. I had had a spell of rheumatism just before this, and had gone through a course of medicine.

Col. Sweet was in charge of the camp and most of the soldiers had seen service on the firing line and they were as a general thing kind to the prisoners, but woe to the ones who transgressed any rules for _____ punishment would follow and that of [the] most excruciating kind.
Many of the prisoners became experts in the manufacture of gutta – perch rings with gold and silver settings which some of the guards would carry out and sell. Besides we had games of chess, seven-up and other games, and some teaching especially arithmetic and algebra.

In December, 1864, the kitchen sergeant removed the cooks and sergeant of the kitchen for some cause I never found out, and he chose seven others to take charge of the kitchen and by the request of the barracks I was put in charge. In assuming this responsibility, I allowed the opposite kitchen sergeant to divide the rations sent as it had been done before. But as we were all required to retire to sleep at sundown and not get up till sunrise I had plenty of time to make a rule of division which in less than ten minutes I saw there was nothing in it except partnership rule and strange today there were college graduates there who had not seen it.

A great many of the prisoners were Gen. Morgan’s command and captured in the raid through Ohio. The rations were sent in a cart for barracks 7 and 8 and had to be divided. I was told that all kitchen sergeant’s adopted the same rule – The rations for a man was 7 loaves of bread for 10 men, 14 oz. beef, 2 oz. Irish potatoes, some salt, and every tenth day 10 oz pickled pork, also a few beans, and soap, as all were required to keep clean. In preparing the rations the meats were boiled in the large kettles and when boned gave each man a fraction over 4 oz. of meat or beef to the man which with ½ loaf of bread was issued through a draw window to the men in the barracks for dinner. The balance of bread was cut up and put in the liquer where the meat was boiled and was issued to the men for breakfast, the potatoes and beans was put in with the bread and pork liquor, and was much relished by the boys, only once in the 6 months that I was in charge did they (Yankees) fail to give us the full rations. I reported same to headquarters and in a short time a cart brought us the balance due.

I here remark that after a time the kitchen sergeant of barracks was removed and Enoch Carruth was put in charge of that kitchen, thus forming a friendship between us that lasted as long as he lived. He was a man and true Christian. One of the cooks with me was F.M. Martin from Pike County, who after coming home studied medicine, while Enoch lived in Lincoln County near Adams Camp Ground.

[Editor’s Note: Enoch Carruth was Joseph Enoch Carruth, Sergeant Major of the 45th Mississippi Infantry. He was captured at Franklin, Tennessee, on November 30, 1864, and sent to Camp Douglas.]

As I found when I was captured that as I had my hands in the lions mouth, it was best to go quietly along and do nothing which would cause me to break any rules. I therefore was not punished in any way, but acquired the good will of the sergeant and corporal of barracks and also of the kitchen sergeant, for whom I did some clerical work.

When Lincoln was assassinated the prisoners were much excited and some of the boys lost all discretion and showed their joy so plainly that an old guard said to have been a preacher, lost control of himself and soon showed that Lincoln was the Idol of the Yankee army and all our demonstrations of joy led to the severest kinds of punishment, while some of us did not show it, yet I do not doubt that every Confederate rejoiced in his heart that the great bulwark of the war was broken as we thought, and I at this time can not see that Lincoln was such a great president.
About June 1st, 1865, the camp officials began to parole the prisoners, commencing with those who had been longest there. Before this all the prisoners had asked in petition some very unwillingly, especially Morgan men, not to be paroled but the paroling continued day after day, each prisoner taking the Amnesty oath, and on the 11th day of June 1865, my name with others was reached and under guard we were marched to the depot of a railroad and put aboard passenger cars, and shipped to Cairo, where we arrived the next day late in the evening.

I met Johnnie Walker and J. Monroe Whittington, Elaine’s son, from Fort Delaware, who had been prisoners about eighteen months. The guards there were negro soldiers, and no doubt but the men suffered many indignities that the Wisconsin men did not put on their prisoners. Johnnie, Monroe and I were put aboard a steamboat for Natchez, June 1865, where I met a dear school mate, who formed a guard of ex-Confederates and conducted us to my father’s house about 12 miles. My father came in about 2 p.m., and told Monroe that his father was in town, and he and Johnnie came back to old Amite free and independent men.

On the 6th day of July 1865, I came back to Amite and I trust that I have been a true and faithful citizen of this my native county. Born January 1st, 1842 on the same hill where my mother was born in 1818, May 18, on land entered by Angus Wilkinson her paternal uncle in Zion Hill neighborhood.

The reason I slept so soundly the morning I was captured was that I had been first a picket on July 2nd, remained till about 12 midnight on 3rd, marched in line till daylight, had charge of squad digging ditches on the 4th, and was simply worn out when I went to sleep and our orderly overlooked me when he woke the company to leave.


George McGehee took the Oath of Allegiance to the United States and was discharged from Camp Douglas on June 16,

1865. He went home to Amite County married Josephine A. Cotten, and had a house full of children. In the 1870 U.S. Census, George and Josephine were living in Amite County with their two children. George was making his living as a schoolteacher, and told the census taker that his personal estate was valued at a modest 100.00.

George A. McGehee lived a long life, and was active in his local United Confederate Veterans camp. He died on January 4, 1924, and was buried in Liberty Cemetery in Amite County.

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Long Ago

I found the following poem in The Meridian Semi-Weekly Gazette, June 13, 1867, and the mournful, sad lines spoke to me. The writer, identified only as “E.S.,” was certainly someone that had suffered great loss, and the pain they were suffering was all to common in the post war South.

I am sitting, sitting all alone,

19th Century Depiction of a Woman in Mourning -

19th Century Depiction of a Woman in Mourning –

In the little cottage door;

Where oft I’ve sat with loved ones

In the halcyon days of yore –

Memory reverts in a sadness,

To the time I used to rove

Round about this quiet cottage,

With those I fondly loved –

Unbidden tears are falling,

As a glance I backward throw,

Through the sad and many changes,

Since the times of long ago.

Twas here I spent my childhood,

Neath this cottage roof so low;

Floating on the stream of pleasure,

In the time of long ago;

With those I loved to join me,

In the sports of my delight,

From the early dawn of morning,

Till the reign of dismal night.

Oh! blissful days of childhood,

Why did ye fly so fast?

And leave the weary heart to feel,

Life’s sweetest joys are past.

Twas then, I had a mother dear,

With a voice so sweet and low,

And a father kissed me often,

In times of long ago.

And too, I had a brother dear,

With a heart so manly firm

And a sister to caress me

With a love that’s always true.

But all have gone and left me,

There are none that love me now –

There are none that love me now –

There are none to caress me,

Nor soothe my aching brow.

My mother’s form is mouldering,

Beneath the old Elm tree;

My father’s bones are lying,

‘Neath the deep and far off sea;

The grass and flowers are growing,

On the little mound we made,

In the corner of the garden,

Where my darling sister’s laid.

My brother, oh my brother –

He never had a grave –

He fell, as falls the soldier,

The bravest of the brave.

The world’s a desert now to me,

One field of endless woe,

I ne’er again shall see such days,

As the times of long ago.

But whereso’er I wander,

Over land, or over sea;

My thoughts shall come at evening,

Childhood’s home to thee,

And when my living ceases,

And my body slumbers low,

I’ll join in Heaven my loved ones,

As in the times of long ago.


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A Band of 8 Brothers: The Sons of Alexander Slay, Sr.

I have received numerous comments concerning my article about the eight sons of Jane Boykin that served in the Civil War. Without a doubt the most interesting came from Bradley Jeffreys, who informed me that his family also included eight brothers who fought for the Confederacy. Alexander Slay and his wife Elizabeth of Copiah County had 11 children, 8 of whom were soldiers in the Civil War. Bradley sent me the following information about his Slay relatives, which I am happy to post:

Elijah Slay (1838-1864)

Captain, Company C, 16th Mississippi Infantry

June 10/1864

What a strange scene meets the eye on every side.  Forts on the plains and in the woods.  Constant roar of Artillery and

Slay Family Marker in County Line Cemetery, Copiah County, Mississippi. Included on the stone are the names of Elijah and Cincinatus Slay. Photo courtesy of Bradley Jeffreys.

Slay Family Marker in County Line Cemetery, Copiah County, Mississippi. Included on the stone are the names of Elijah and Cincinatus Slay. Photo courtesy of Bradley Jeffreys.

bursting of shells.  Even as I write I saw one poor fellow shot down as he left his shelter.  May God forgive the men who brought about this war.  I fear that I shall yet hate them.” Lt. E.H. Rhodes witnessed the death of Elijah Slay.

Rhodes, Robert Hunt (1985). All for the Union: The Civil War Diary and Letters of Elisha Hunt Rhodes.  New York: Orion Books.  page 161

In the family bible record of his father is recorded that Elijah “departed this life June 10th 1864 killed by a Yankee sharp shooter at Cold Arbor near Richmond, Va.”

His close friend was by his side, A.A. Lomax, and he reported the news to the family back in Copiah Co that Elijah was killed while adjusting his shade.

June 10-12, 1864. Cold Harbor.

For a week now there has been little activity – although it is dangerous to raise one’s head above the embankments.”  “In our regiment both Capt. Slay (C) and Lieut. Lewis (K) have been killed.  Captain Slay was sitting in the trenches preparing an awning to protect himself from the sun when he was struck and killed immediately by a minnie ball from a sharpshooter.  Chaplain Lomax, who conducted his funeral, has written his wife – who just recently left Richmond to return to Crystal Springs to bear their second child.”

Dobbins, Austin C. (1988).  Grandfather’s Journal.  Dayton, Ohio: Morningside.  page 199

Corydon Slay

Company C, 16th Mississippi Infantry



was a member of a brass band in Hazlehurst after the war

Born 1841, Died at Beauvoir (Confederate Soldiers’ Home) in 1918

Post Civil War Photo of Corydon Slay (Third from Left) posed with his band. Photo Courtesy of Bradley Jeffreys.

Post Civil War Photo of Corydon Slay (Third from Left) posed with his band. Photo Courtesy of Bradley Jeffreys.

Norvell Slay




16th Mississippi Infantry

Norvell (Norval) Slay was a founder of Harmony Baptist Church in 1887.

Nathan W. Slay



second sergeant 


Nathan W. Slay, also a brother of Corydon and Elijah Slay, served in the “Crystal Springs Southern Rights Rifles” as did his brothers.  His first enlistment ended by discharge due to a wound.  He was shot through the face and lost one eye at the Battle of Shiloh, Tennessee on April 6, 1862.  His second enlistment was in Powers’ Cavalry which ended by virtue of the general surrender at Gainesville, Alabama.  Nathan W. Slay first enlisted on August 24, 1861 at age 31.  He was elected Sergeant, Second Sergeant, and then Captain of his Company.  He was five feet, eight inches tall, had blue eyes, auburn hair and a fair complexion.”

Jeffreys, J. Bradley (1985).  A Genealogy of the Slay Family in America.  page 269

Alexander Slay, Jr.


Co. A, 4th Mississippi Cavalry (Terrell’s Dragoons)

This unit captured and sank the Union steamer Lone Star on the Mississippi River in November 1862.

Leonidas Slay



Co A, Powers Regiment Mississippi Cavalry

Survived the war but three years later, “shot by his own pistol by accident”

Cincinatus Slay

1846 – Dec 31, 1864

Co F, 6th Mississippi Infantry (“Crystal Springs Guards”)


Family bible records states “killed by the cars near Iuka”

As it was passed down through the family, Cincinatus and another man had survived the recent Battle of Nashville (December 15-16, 1864).  (Would have been part of Loring’s Division).  After their defeat the Rebels walked from Nashville to near Tupelo.  Here was an opportunity to ride a train rather than walk.  The wounded and sick were laid on flat cars.  Cincinatus Slay and another man, being well, put a board between two flat cars since there was no other place for them.  At some time after the train cars began rolling, the board collapsed and he was crushed by the train.

Alonzo D. Slay

May 28, 1848 – 1921


Uncle Lonzo was too young to be a soldier but, wanting to join all 7 of his older brothers, ran off from home and became a member of Company A, Powers’ Regiment Mississippi Cavalry, in which unit his oldest brother Nathan also served.  Later Alonzo was a founder of Harmony Baptist Church in 1887.

The family was very musically gifted, and the family tradition is the Slay boys were always leading the men in song to keep up their spirits.  Their musical talents continued after they returned from war.  Corydon was in a brass band in Hazlehurst; Alex Jr. often lead the choir at Damascus Baptist Church, where he’s buried.

Photo of the Alexander Slay, Sr., homestead where the eight Slay brothers were raised. The home is located on Terry - Gatesville Road in the Northeastern corner of Copiah County, and it is still standing. Photo Courtesy of Bradley Jeffreys.

Photo of the Alexander Slay, Sr., homestead where the eight Slay brothers were raised. The home is located on Terry – Gatesville Road in the Northeastern corner of Copiah County, and it is still standing. Photo Courtesy of Bradley Jeffreys.

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