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2nd Vermont Infantry

Prison Memoirs


As experienced by one who spent thirteen months in Richmond "black

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 Hospital --- How the Dead were buried --- "The Black List"

The great number of rebel wounded taxed the resources of the medical director of Richmond, and so our own sick and wounded were deprived of all, but the commonest things. There was a lack of stimulants; indeed, so poorly supplied were our wounded that some of our surgeons, who had money, spent it all to buy whiskey and brandy for the sick. Many of our men died that might have lived had they been given what they needed. The food of the hospitals was very poor --- beef --- bread --- and rice, but so poorly cooked that the feeble could not relish it. I think about one out of five lived of the difficult cases, and twenty-five per cent of ordinary cases died.

When anyone died, the body was at once put into a wooden box and set into the dead house and after five or ten had died, a hole was dug and they were thrown in , all in one common grave. The dead cart was driven by a slave, and many of the rebels made coarse jokes about the "yankee at last being waited on by a nigger."

As I lay on my sick bed, unable to help myself, I could look through the iron bars of my prison, and see the piles of wooden boxes that were brought every day, and see the dead house and the emancipated remains of the dead soldiers, and I could hear the vulgar jokes of the rebels as they watched our men bring out a lifeless comrade; and a bitterness that is not hate nor contempt, but which has something of the venom of both filled my>
From that time I began to get better. I could not die to be joked over by the rebels, thrown like a dog into a ditch covered with the cursed soil of Virginia.

Man may be trampled on for a season, but there is a point beyond which he cannot be pushed, alive As we saw all that was heaped upon us, a sullen, angry look filled many a face, and a desperate plan of escape was formed.

The plan was, to seize the guards simultaneously, and take their arms and uniforms, and then with a few of our men, with iron bars carried like muskets, to march out as the relieving guard, and secure all the arms in the guard house, arm our party , rush to the armory and get the park of light artillery, go and take Jeff Davis and cabinet, and hold them as hostage as we made our way down the river, taking them with us. All this was wild and reckless, but yet we had such accurate information of all about the city, I am of the opinion it would have succeeded, all but the getting away! The plan was abandoned, owing to two regiments coming from camp and being quartered near the prison, and to a search for arms made amoung us, showing that some traitor had informed.

You have all doubtles heard of Lieut. Todd, the renegade brother of Mrs. Lincoln. He was a tall, well formed fellow, with a gross sensual look. I will dismiss him him with his "descriptive" list. A brute that might have been a decent dog had he always had good company.

"Old Warner," the cook, was a northern by birth, and talked broad yankee, though he affected great contempt for all Yankees he did all sorts of dirty lying to Gen. Winder and got commissioned "Capt commissary of prison." One could not help laughing to see how odd he looked when he doffed the cook's apron and donned the captain's uniform, "Asints cum pelle leonis" --- the ass in the lions skin --- was never better illustrated.

One day this "Old warner" brought in an old man with long white hair and a restless eye --- a man of small form, bent with years, and yet possessing great strength of body and mind. This was "Edward Ruffin", who boasts of having fired the first gun at Sumter. "Ah" said I "then you had the honor of beginning this war." "Yes" said he, "and thank God for that". I was amazed! That old man who had seen our proud flag float in freedom and bring plenty to our land for years, could feel a joy that his had been the hand to first stain its folds in blood and bring woe and wretchedness to millions.! The first who fired a gun at Sumter! Ruffin is his name --- fit name for the deed!

A few weeks after our confinement at Richmond, there was strong talk of making all the officers hostages for the good conduct of our government.They sought for every possible pretext to hold some of us to be hung. South Carolina sent up her " howl for blood" "The U.S. government hold our sailors as pirates --- send us some U.S. officers and men to hold the same way." was the cry. This had a good efect.

Already they had treated us with renewed severity --- shot three of our men for looking out of the window, deprived us of papers, cut down our rations, would not allow us to send out nothing, would allow no one to go to the hospital to see the sick, called our names twice a day, cursed and insulted us, and finally made out the "black list", concerning which I will write about in my next chapter.

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Transcribed by Deanna French.