Browsing "Prisons for Americans"

Shaping Northern Opinion Against the South

As the Northern armies spread across the Confederacy, newspaper reporters following them sent observations and stories northward. The result was predictable as they wrote of an evil land and emphasized any unfavorable aspects of Southern civilization. In the last year of war, the United States government refused prisoner exchanges while Jefferson Davis and Robert E. Lee pleaded in vain for the starving men in blue held in Southern prisoner of war camps to be saved by their own leaders.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

Shaping Northern Opinion Against the South

“[The] years from 1865 to 1880 were dreary years in which there was no peace. The war had only ended on the battlefield. In the minds of men it still persisted. Memories of the past and issues living in the present combined to perpetuate and perhaps enlarge the antagonism that victory and defeat created. One observer made the comment that “it was useless to preach forgiveness and good will to men still burning with the memory of their wrongs.”

Deeply [engraved] on the Northern heart was the conviction that the Confederacy had deliberately mistreated the prisoners of war captured by its armies. The Southern prisons . . . were at best what one Confederate surgeon described as a “gigantic mass of human misery.”

A war-crazed [Northern] public could not dissociate this suffering from deliberate intent of the enemy. Rather it fitted the purposes of propaganda to attribute the barest motives to the Confederates [that] “there was a fixed determination on the part of the rebels to kill the Union soldiers who fell into their hands.” The great non-governmental agencies of relief and propaganda contributed to the spread of similar impressions.

Northern opinion was thus rigidly shaped in the belief that “tens of thousands of national soldiers . . . were deliberately shot to death, as at Fort Pillow, or frozen to death as at Belle Island, or starved to death as at Andersonville, or sickened to death by swamp malaria, as in South Carolina.”

Horror passed into fury and fury into a demand for revenge. And the arch-fiend of iniquity, for so the North regarded him, Major Henry Wirz, was hanged as a murderer [in November 1865] . . . he was the scapegoat upon whom centered the full force of Northern wrath.

Meanwhile the South had no effective way of meeting these charges of brutality [though] it is not difficult to find, however, material in these years that the South received the Northern charge with sullen hatred.

Typical is an article contributed to the Southern Review in January 1867:

“The impartial times to come will hardly understand how a nation, which not only permitted but encouraged its government to declare medicines and surgical instruments contraband of war, and to destroy by fire and sword the habitations and food of noncombatants, as well as the fruits of the earth and the implements of tillage, should afterwards have clamored for the blood of captive enemies, because they did not feed their prisoners out of their own starvation and heal them in their succorless hospitals.

And when a final and accurate development shall have been made of the facts connected with the exchange of prisoners between the belligerents, and it shall have been demonstrated . . . that all the nameless horrors [of both sides] were the result of a deliberate and inexorable policy of non-exchange on the part of the United States, founded on an equally deliberate calculation of their ability to furnish a greater mass of humanity than the Confederacy could afford for starvation and the shambles, men will wonder how it was that a people, passing for civilized and Christian, should have consigned Jefferson Davis to a cell, while they tolerated Edwin M. Stanton as a cabinet minister.”

(The Road to Reunion, 1865-1900, Paul H. Buck, Little, Brown and Company, 1937, excerpts, pp. 45-48)

Death and Robbery Await Prisoners

Camp Butler near Springfield, Illinois was a death camp for Southern prisoners in 1862 and 1863. With medical supplies almost nonexistent, malnutrition, dysentery, typhus and pneumonia ravaged the camp and in late 1862, over seven hundred Southern prisoners died in a smallpox epidemic.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

Death and Robbery Await Prisoners

“At Arkansas Post, January 11, 1863 the whole command to which I was attached was captured, and we were all sent to [the Northern prison] Camp Butler, near Springfield, Illinois, where we were imprisoned for about three months.

The rigors of winter in that latitude, against which our thin Southern clothing afforded us insufficient protection, prostrated nearly all of us with diseases; but in a short time a supply of blankets and woolen clothing came to us from some ladies of Missouri and Arkansas, and improved our condition very much.

Prison life was rather monotonous; but there was occasionally a little stir among us produced by an exhibition of authority by a small fellow called Colonel [William F.] Lynch, who was our master.

On one occasion he had us rush out of the barracks and into line, and while one of his set of  underlings were searching our sleeping places — for “spoons,” perhaps — another set were searching our persons for money. On another occasion a detail of us, including myself, were ordered out by this little tyrant to shovel snow out of his way — not out of ours.

And when we got on the [railroad] cars to leave the place, he sent men through each coach with orders to rob us of everything we had except what we had on our backs and one blanket apiece.”

(The Case of the South Against the North, Benjamin Franklin Grady, Edwards & Broughton, 1899, pp. x-xi)

 

An Inhuman and Barbarous Act

Fully aware of the sufferings of Northern prisoners in the South due to the blockade, President Jefferson Davis in the summer of 1864 sent commissioners to Washington to bring US surgeons to the Southern camps to dispense medicine. No reply was ever received and Lincoln refused to meet the commissioners, leading Davis to wonder if Federal were prisoners left to suffer, and afterward photographed “to aid in firing the popular heart of the North?”

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

An Inhuman and Barbarous Act

“The South had been dependent upon the outside world for medicine of all kinds, except “home remedies” used by many of its people. Of all imported, none was so necessary in the South as quinine, since malaria was prevalent over most of the region.

As if striking at the most vulnerable spot in the Confederacy, the United States, immediately upon the outbreak of war, placed medicine on the contraband list. Few war measures caused feeling to run so high in both the North and the South, for many felt this to be an inhuman, barbarous act.

When the American Medical Association met in New York in 1864, some doctors decided that they would try to get the restrictions regarding medicine going into the Confederacy lifted in the name of humanity, but their motion to that effect was tabled “indefinitely.” And the restrictions were not removed for the duration of the war. A poem urging the continuance of the contraband principle was widely circulated in the Northern newspapers as follows:

“No more quinine – let ‘em shake; No more Spaldings pills – let their heads aches; No morphine – let ‘em lie awake: No mercury for the rebels take though fever all their vitals bake;

No nitre drops, their heat to slake; No splinters though their necks they break, And, above all, no Southern rake, Shall have his ‘wine for stomacks sake,’ Till full apology make.”

From the adoption of Federal restrictions, there was never sufficient medicine to relieve the sickness and suffering in the Confederacy.

Medicines and surgical equipment were captured from time to time, but this became increasingly rare as the course of the war turned against the Confederates. And when such supplies were captured, they were diverted to military channels and had no effect on the supply of medicines for civilians.

The second source of supply, through running the blockade, proved far more successful. Small in bulk and high in price, medicine became part of the cargo of nearly every blockade runner. Land blockade-running was more interesting than running of the water blockade. Drugs were sent down the [Mississippi] river originally from Paducah, Kentucky, or Cairo, Illinois, by Northern speculators or traders and were sent ashore into the Confederacy at night.

During the late winter and early spring of 1862, a story was widely circulated that some of the quinine sent into Tennessee and Arkansas in this manner was poisoned; heated editorials and warnings followed. The quinine was believed to contain strychnine, and the people were cautioned against its use.”

(Ersatz in the Confederacy, Shortages and Substitutes on the Southern Homefront, Mary Elizabeth Massey, University of South Carolina Press, 1952, excerpts, pp. 115-117)

Six Hundred Southern Officers at Morris Island

Imprisoned Southern officers were transported to Morris Island near Fort Sumter as used as a human shield in front of Northern batteries indiscriminately shelling Charleston in mid-1864. Those who did not perish from the ordeal would later suffer serious intestinal disorders or early death from their near starvation by the enemy.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

Six Hundred Southern Officers at Morris Island

“After weary months in Washington, during which time I was shown many kindnesses and attentions from Southern sympathizers, I was carried to Fort Delaware prison. After a lapse of some time I was drawn in with the lot of six hundred officers to be carried to “Morris Island,” to be placed under the fire of our own guns at Charleston. We were crowded in the dark hole of the vessel, only equal to the “Black Hole of Calcutta,” and packed on shelves like goods in a store, without any light or air, except that driven down a shaft by wind-sails.

On our arrival we were put in a “stockade pen,” between “Fort Wagner and Fort Gregg,” and guarded by a Negro regiment. For forty-five days we sat upon the sands and witnessed the burning fuses from bombs, larger than nail-kegs continuously fired night and day by our men at the forts. If they overshot the one or undershot the other they’d hit us. But that God marks the sparrow’s fall, protected us.

On the eve of our leaving for “Hilton Head,” the Negroes on guard fired into some of us. I saw three fall either killed or wounded; they were hurriedly moved out. I never learned their fate.

Three of our number got the cabin maid to steal life preservers from the cabins and quietly slid over-board where sharks were as thick as minnows. Two were exhausted from thirst and lack of food and were captured on PinckneyIsland; the third reached Charleston.

They gave us absolutely nothing at all to eat for forty-five days but a little rotten corn meal filled with black bugs, without salt or anyway to cook it. Our comrades were dying by squads daily, the dead house was filled all the time with the corpses. Scores of cats would enter through holes and prey upon the dead.”

Lt. Col. C.B. Christian, Walker’s Ford, Amherst County, Virginia

(Southern Historical Society Papers, Vol. XXXVII, R.A. Brock, editor, 1909, pp. 241-242)

Propaganda to Sustain the Northern War Effort

Of German and English parentage, Lincoln’s chief of staff Henry W. Halleck married the granddaughter of Alexander Hamilton and in early 1861 was worth $500,000 from a career in railroads and banking. He predicted that the North “will become ultra anti-slavery, and I fear, in the course of the war will declare for emancipation and thus add the horrors of a servile war to that of a civil war.” While Halleck directed the propaganda war and often withheld casualty figures from the Northern press, Lincoln’s Secretary of State William H. Seward scoured Europe for mercenaries to fight against Americans struggling for independence.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.circa1865.org

 

Propaganda to Sustain the Northern War Effort

“Politically, Old Brains served Lincoln well. When the President decided to fire a general he had Halleck sign the order; thus the general’s supporters blamed Halleck for the dismissal. Lincoln liked to assume a pose of weakness and simplicity and to give the impression that others were controlling him. When friends enquired about a military move, Lincoln would say, “I wish not to control. That I now leave to General Halleck,” or “You must call on General Halleck, who commands.”

To Horatio G. Wright, commander of the [Northern] garrison at Louisville, Kentucky, Halleck clarified the issue: “The Government seems determined to apply the guillotine to all unsuccessful generals.” Ruefully he added: “It seems rather hard to do this where a general is not in fault, but perhaps with us now, as in the French revolution some harsh measures are required.” Halleck’s realization demonstrated his growing insight of the necessary interrelation of war and politics in a democracy.

[Halleck] struggled for efficiency against [an] entrenched and powerful enemy, the [Republican] politicians, who wanted to include the army in the spoils system.

Writing to a civilian who was active in army reforms, Francis Lieber, Halleck expressed a fear that the governors would build up a “northern States rights party that would eventually overpower all Federal authority.” He had cautioned Lincoln, but “no heed [was] given to the warning,” and now “approaching danger is already visible.”

Since the North was in legalistic confusion during the war, there were other areas where Halleck needed [Prussian liberal Francis Lieber]. The government’s official policy that the Southern States had not withdrawn from the Union, meant that the Confederate armies were mere rebellious mobs and were therefore not protected by established rules of civilized warfare.

But Union generals could not slaughter every captured Confederate, or their own men would receive similar treatment when they were seized. The Northern populace needed a heavy diet of propaganda to sustain their fighting spirit and the government had to cater to them. The Confederacy’s inadequate prison camps . . . were the soup de jour on the propagandists’ menu.

Halleck contributed his share of atrocity stories. In his annual report for 1863, he said that the North treated Rebel prisoners with “consideration and kindness,” while the Confederates stripped Union officers of blankets, shoes even in winter, confined them in “damp and loathsome prisons,” fed them on “damaged provisions, or actually starved [them] to death.”

Others were murdered “by their inhuman keepers,” and the “horrors of Belle Isle and Libby Prison exceed even those of “British [floating prison] Hulks” or the “Black Hole of Calcutta.” Southerners [he claimed] applauded these “barbarous” acts as a “means of reducing the Yankee rank.” Laws of war justified retaliation and the “present case seems to call for the exercise of this extreme right,” he concluded.

[Halleck’s] General Orders No. 100 were entitled] “Instructions for the Government of Armies of the United States in the Field,” [and] Southerners denounced it for legalizing crime [committed by Northern forces]. [Lieber, like Clausewitz] believed that total war could not and should not be limited [and] said that restrictions on violence – such as General Orders 100 – were “hardly worth mentioning.”

(Halleck, Lincoln’s Chief of Staff, Stephen E. Ambrose, LSU Press, 1990 (original 1962), pp. 65; 88; 102; 104; 128-131)

Grant's Royal Robes

Imprisoned by scalawag Governor William Holden for alleged activities with North Carolina’s postwar Klan as it fought Holden’s Union League, Randolph A. Shotwell spent three hard years in an Albany, NY prison, which he termed the “Radical Bastille.” The prison staff was instructed to use any means to extract confessions of Klan outrages and lists of Klan members in North Carolina. Below, Shotwell criticizes the 1872 victory of Grant’s corrupt administration and the low quality of the Northern electorate.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.circa1865.org
Grant’s Royal Robes

“Nov. 6th. All is over! The Great Farce, (the Presidential Election) closed yesterday, as had been foreseen for the past month, with a complete triumph for the Bully Butcher, and National Gift Taker. Grant walked the track. Telegraphic reports from all quarters leave it doubtful whether [Horace] Greeley will get a single vote. Even New York – the Democratic Old Guard – surrenders to the tune of 3500 majority for the “Coming Man.”

Twenty-five other States are in the same column – marching the Despot gaily to his throne! Selah! It is absolutely amazing, the apathy, the blindness, the infatuation of the people!

Is there no longer an patriotism, any conservatism in the land? What do we see this day? A nation yielding its elective franchise to elect a worse than Napoleonic despot! I say the nation yields its franchises because no one believes that Grant is the choice of the people, that he is worthy of the high Authority which is now his for another term and doubtless for life.

Bu corruption, and greed, and avarice, and fear, and Prejudice, and Misrepresentation, every malignant passion, every illegal and dishonorable means have been made to bring about the stupendous result. And now, what next?

Historians tell us that every Republic that has fallen, to shake the faith of man in his own capacity for government, has been, preceding its final fall, the scene of just such transactions as these; sectional prejudices, the majority trampling on the minority, the courts corrupted and used for political ends, open corruption in office, bribery of voters, use of the military to intimidate the opposition, great monopolies supporting the most promising candidates, and finally much unanimity in favor of some popular leader, who quietly took the crown and Royal Robes when a suitable opportunity occurred.

This is the political panorama now unfolding, slowly but surely, in our own country. The end we may almost see. And then bloodshed, insurrections, turbulence and anarchy! I do not predict that all of this is to occur in a year or two; it may be postponed for a score of years. But one thing is certain it will not be half so long, nor a third of it, if the Government continues to usurp power, and hold it, as it has done during the last decade.”

(The Diary, 1871-1873, The Papers of R. A. Shotwell, Volume III, Jos. D.R. Hamilton, editor, NC Historical Commission, 1936, pp. 276-277)

Francis Key Howard's American Bastille

Francis Key Howard (1826-1872) was the grandson of Francis Scott Key and revolutionary war Col. John Eager Howard; in 1861 he served  as editor of the Baltimore Exchange which criticized Abraham Lincoln’s unconstitutional suspension of the writ of habeas corpus. On Lincoln’s order, Howard’s newspaper was office was closed and he was made a political prisoner for fourteen months in Forts McHenry and Lafayette, and Warren. He later published “Fourteen Months in American Bastilles.”

Bernhard Thuersam, www.circa1865.org

 

Francis Key Howard’s American Bastille

“On the morning of the 13th of September, 1861, at my residence, in the city of Baltimore, I was awakened about half-past twelve or one o’clock, by the ringing of the bell. When I opened it . . . two men entered . . . One of them informed me that he had an order for my arrest.

In answer to my demand that he should produce a warrant or order under which he was acting, he declined to do so, but said he had instructions from Mr. [William] Seward, the Secretary of State. [He] stated that he intended to execute his orders and that resistance would be idle, as he had with him a force sufficient to render it unavailing.

As he spoke, several men entered the house . . . The leader of the gang then began to search the apartment. Every drawer and box was thoroughly ransacked, and also were my portfolio and writing-desk, and every other place that could possibly be supposed to hold any papers. All my private memoranda, bills, note-books and letters were collected together, to be carried off. After the first two rooms had been thus searched, I was told that I could remain no longer, but must be prepared to go to Fort McHenry.

Two men, wearing the badges of the police force which the Government had organized, escorted me to the fort. I reached Fort McHenry about two o’clock in the morning. There I found several of my friends, and others were brought in a few minutes afterward . . . fifteen in all.  Among them were most of the members of the [Maryland] Legislature from Baltimore, Mr. Brown, the mayor of the city, and one of our Representatives in Congress, Mr. May.

The rooms were in the second story of the building, and opened upon a narrow balcony, which we were allowed to use; sentinels, however, being stationed on it. When I looked out in the morning, I could not help being struck by an odd and not pleasant coincidence.

On that day, forty-seven years before, my grandfather, Mr. [Francis Scott] Key, then a prisoner on a British ship, had witnessed the bombardment of Fort McHenry. When on the following morning, the hostile fleet drew off, defeated, he wrote the song so long popular throughout the country, the “Star-spangled Banner.” As I stood upon the very scene of that conflict, I could not but contrast my position with his, forty-seven years before. The flag he had then so proudly hailed, I saw waving, at the same place, over the victims of as vulgar and brutal a despotism as modern times have witnessed.”

(American Bastille, John A. Marshall, Thomas W. Hartley & Company. 1881, pp. 643-646)

Black Guards for Southern Prisoners

Deadly hatred toward white Southerners was instilled in black troops by their new Northern friends, and the same would continue in the postwar as victorious Republicans needed the freedmen’s political dominance in the South to remain in power.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.circa1865.org

 

Black Guards for Southern Prisoners

“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.

The colored troops were very harsh in their treatment of us, and they we 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 these patrols were punished, but were praised for vigilance. Scores of incidents, similar in character and result, might be given . . . 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.

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, Prison Experience (Point Lookout), James T. Wells, Volume VII, pp. 397-398)

Jun 13, 2015 - Prisons for Americans    No Comments

An Empire State Confederate at Fort Fisher

Serving with Orangeburg’s Edisto Rifles, Company G, 25th Regiment, South Carolina Volunteers of Hagood’s Brigade was one Ira Thomas Shoemaker. He was part of the Fort Fisher garrison during the attacks in late 1864 and early 1865, and captured after its fall. Sergeant Shoemaker was imprisoned in his hometown of Elmira, New York.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.circa1865.org

 

An Empire State Confederate at Fort Fisher

“Our picket line one day while the brigade was on the Darbytown lines was attacked and driven in by the Yankees. The pickets in front of the Twenty-fifth Regiment were commanded by a lieutenant. General [Johnson] Hagood had a new detail made at once, with Sergeant Ira T. Shoemaker of the Edisto Rifles in command, who promptly drove the Yankees back, reestablished the line and held it till next morning when regularly relieved.

Sergeant Shoemaker was a New Yorker, from Herkimer County. He came down South several years before the war and was teaching in Orangeburg [South Carolina] when the State seceded, and did not hesitate as to what he should do, but promptly aligned himself with those who fought under the Starry Cross, and unswervingly held on to the bitter end.

Like Jim Bludsoe: “He seen his duty a dead sure thing, And went for it thar and then.”

He fulfilled the requirements of a model Confederate soldier. After the close of the war he represented Orangeburg County in the legislature several years before his death.

Sergeant Shoemaker’s home was in Elmira, where the prison was located, before he came South, and his parents and other members of his family were living there when he was a prisoner. They endeavored in every way to induce him to take the oath of allegiance to the United States, but this he positively refused to do, preferring to stand true to his convictions and “live and die in Dixie.”

(Sketch of the War Record of the Edisto Rifles, 1861-1865, William V. Izlar, The State Company, 1914, Pages 103, 109)

Prisons Holding Independence-Minded Americans

In April 1864 Gen. Grant, apparently with the approval of Lincoln, forbade Gen. Benjamin Butler “to deliver to the Rebels a single able-bodied man.”  Butler then wrote that “[the] facts abundantly show that the responsibility of refusing to exchange prisoners of war rests with the Government of the United States, and the people who have sustained that government; and every sigh of captivity, every groan of suffering, every heart broken by hope deferred among [the North’s] eighty thousand prisoners [in Southern prisons], will accuse them in the judgment of the just.”  Lincoln kept his own men starving in Southern prisons in order to deny the South any returned soldiers.
Bernhard Thuersam, www.circa1865.org

 

Prisons Holding Independence-Minded Americans

“For the common soldier in prison, survival was a daily struggle. James Huffman of the Tenth Virginia Infantry was one who lived to write his reminiscences of prison life:

“Elmira Camp was a very sickly place. The death rate was much higher than in the army during active hostilities. About half of us Virginians — and I think three-quarters of all the Southerners — died here in eight to ten months. A large number of North and South Carolinians had been captured at a Fort on the North Carolina coast — hale, hearty looking fellows except that they were yellow from lying in the trenches.

These men crowded us very much at first, but in two or three weeks they were nearly all gone to the hospitals, and most of them died. The well water looked pure and good but was deadly poison to our men, thousands taking chronic diarrhea from which they died. We had smallpox almost all the time. One doctor there said he killed more Rebs than any soldier at the front.”

(True Tales of the South at War, Clarence Poe, editor, UNC Press, 1961, pg. 147)