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2nd Vermont Infantry

Prison Memoirs


As experienced by one who spent thirteen
months in Richmond "black hole," Charleston
jail, Castle Pinckney, Columbia jail,
Richmond hospital, Salisbury prison, Bell
Island, and a few other holes.

By Capt. J. T. DREW

THE CALEDONIAN: February 27, 1863


The next morning after our arrival at Richmond

The next morning after our arrival at Richmond, we learned that there was some trouble with the boat, and they could not take us down the river. The next day we were told us there was no boat there, and they were waiting for one to come up. We had to endure this delay. The next day we were told there was no boat down the river, that they were not expecting any, that our Government had broken off the exchange.

It was a crushing blow to all. To get as we supposed almost to our lines, and then to be thrown back into despair.

We remained in the hospital a while, and were then taken to a store house. They had just removed from it a lot of pork and hams, and the filth was two inches thick on the floor.

It was about 40 feet by 30, the space we occupied. Here were our cooking apparatus, sink, wash room, sleeping room, and promenade. There was no means of ventilating it, but by two windows that opened on the canal. A hospital on one side, a guard room on the other, and a horse stable underneath. No need to multiply words --- it was too filthy and unhealthy for hogs.

Here we remained, enduring insults, privations and sickness, until they were obliged to send us south to the tune of Yankee cannon. That was the same as "black hole," into which, they afterwards thrust Pope's officers.

While here we learned much of rebel movements. They had all along expected McClellan would go to the peninsula. So certain were they, that they had defended it with 500 cannon, and left undefended both the routes from Manassas and Fredericksburg.

At the time the merrmac was destroyed, our gunboats could have come straight to Richmond. They owned it themselves --- The obstruction had not been filled across the channel; Fort Darling had not its guns mounted; ammunition had not gone to the batteries, and they felt that Richmond was lost. All the government money, papers, documents &c, were sent to Columbia S.C., and Jeff Davis and family went to Raleigh. But the delay of our gunboats gave them time to prepare for defence and block up the river.

I will copy from my journal: Maj. Vogdes, U.S.A., who was captured at Fort Pickens, is here among us. He is an old army officer, and for some time professor of Mathematics at West Point. He gave as his opinion that the route from the peninsula was the worst that could have been taken. He predicts that the result will be as follows:

The time spent in taking Yorktown will enable the rebels to prepare a second line of defence near Richmond, so that whatever the result may be on the Peninsula, they will have another line as strong to fall back on.

2. The rebels will throw all their troops here and at a point on the Mississippi, so that they can make two monster movements.

3. There is no way for McClellan to succeed, but by following the enemy closely and not allowing him to bring up his artillery.

4. They will try to drive out Banks and then come down to McClellans right flank, driving him to the James River, or to destruction.

" I have been watching the regiments as they pass and learn this: They are all poorly clad, sickly, poorly provided with everything but bad whiskey, pluck and arms, --- One Mississippi regiment I counted, and it had, 2 field officers, well mounted, 7 captains, 21 lieutenants, 245 rank and file, 75 negroes as servants, cooks & etch, 3 wagons, 6 mules, 2 flags, 2 drums, 1 fife, 1 bugle, 50 negro pioneers, making an aggregate of 275 whites and 140 blacks.

They are of a class that never think for themselves. They are contented to be led, and as they have never known luxury or even comfort, they stand it very well. They all hoot and yell at us as they go along, and say they will "bag McClellan", push the yanks into the river.&c.

The may beat " little Mac", but if they do, shame on our well dressed, strong and hardy men!shame on our Generals, Cabinet and President, who with the greatest and most willing nation on the earth to back, them, get whipped by a hungry, ill-clothed and sickly army of rebels.!

Speaking of negroes, here, let me say: They are used by the rebels for almost everything. They build fortifications, till the soil, act in the army inn every capacity save that of armed men; and yet copper-heads think we ought not to free them!

They are the strong arm of the rebels and are worth a million of men. A rebel captain of much intelligence said to me one day:

"You thought at the North, that our slaves would be a burden on us in this war, but, air, it has I think, been clearly shown that slavery is out right arm. More than 100, 000 thousand of our slaves will fill in the army that otherwise would have to be filled by white men, Over 300, 000 have been used on fortifications, that otherwise could not have been built. They till the soil and thus we can take away every able bodied man from the fields. We employ them as pioneers and scouts, and under the white men they do well.

You thought that we had 400, 000 to watch and guard, but the fact is, we had 400, 000 of workmen ready to be enrolled to help on our cause.

Can anyone find a better reason for the proclamation of Sept. 22, than what this rebel has given?

Gen. O.B, Wilcox ( then Col. 1st Mich.) asked the Secretary of the Treasury, who called on him one day, what he thought would would be the result of the efforts of some of those generals to use the blacks.

" If" said the secretary, " they do as well at it as we do ( and I think they will for the Yankees make good drivers), they will find a thousand niggers as good as a thousand whites for all purpose save fighting."

"Will Lincoln try emancipation, do you think?" said the Secretary.

"I think so, as soon as he is sure it will damage your prospects," said the General.

The Secretary seemed somewhat excited, and exclaimed, " It would only affect us where your troops go, I think, though I am not certain but it might cause an uprising of slaves in some districts where there are few whites left, and render less secure our teamsters, servants &c., in the army."

Col. O.B.W. --- "Will the Confederacy be able to stand the present drain for men, means &c-, another year?'

Sec. Treas. --- "Yes, twenty years --- forever! We have the advantage of you in position and natural strength. We can spare all our able-bodied men; for our slaves can do the work. We have thousands of friends North. We get information of all your doings. We have spies in your army, spies in your very Cabinet! We have been at this a long time---We did not start in a hurry; we were prepared both north and south. We have no fears of success, for your own Government cannot put forth half her efforts; she is chained by her seeming friends.

Col. O.B.W., --- I have heard as much before, but never from so high a source. --- Well sir, I thank you for your frankness; but let me say that, though beset by traitors at home, and you of the south without, we shall surely conquer I know the people; your sympathizes will have a slim chance when the whole nation gets aroused, as they will soon. If the present troops cannot succeed, we will call out a half a million more. We will atke your slaves that seem so useful to you, and see if they cannot also do us some good; we will burn down cities if we cannot guard them; we will destroy all the property we can get, and see if we cannot exhaust and then crush you.

Sec. Treas, --- "Spoken like a true Northener. Hating the South --- ready to destroy it."

I have copied from my journal this conversation, as I set it down then, to show you something of the turn conversation assumed when we had intelligent visitors. The next will show how an F.F. V. talked:

Capt. J., Va. Home Guards strode in among us to-day, and going up to Col. Woodruff exclaimed:

"Right smart chance for bagging McClellan I reckon soon."

Col. W. --- "Why"

"Well, kinder reckon the Yanks won't fight, and gen. Johnson and Lee are after them right smart."

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Transcribed by Deanna French.