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2nd Vermont Infantry
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 6, 1863
Our sufferings in Charleston jail will never be half told.
Hunger was a constant companion; sickness and death made us many a solemn visit; insults came often and outrages were no stranger.
The memory of those days will never fail to make strong the arm and ready the hand of all who suffered there. Very fortunate will be those Rebel jailers if they escape:
For time at last sets all things even,
And if we do but watch the hour,
There never yet was human power
Which could evade if unforgiving,
The patient search, and vigil long,
Of him who treasures up a wrong.
While here, the great Naval expedition under Dupont, appeared off the coast---Charleston at that time was defended by less than three- thousand men. Fort Sumter had not ten guns mounted, and was manned by only one company of 70 men. So certain was their information as to where this fleet was to attack that they sent away to Port Royal and Pocatoligo, all the troops, artillery and ammunition save a small force of a few hundred, two days before the arrival of the fleet off Port Royal.
I have no hesitation in saying that Charleston might have been taken with less than Port Royal. Should anyone have doubts about this statement, if he would take the trouble of calling on the writer of these lines he can be shown statistics and items of information, which will convince him, though they are of a nature and come from a source that forbids publication, lest it might go back to rebel hands.
Had two-thousand marched at once, the railroad from Savannah to Charleston might have been destroyed; had 5,000 men the gunboats tried they could have taken Charleston any time within ten days after the taking of Port Royal. At this time the enemy feared Charleston would fall and so they sent us to Columbia, S.C.
Before leaving this part of my subject, I will copy verbatim, from my journal, items set down at the time.
"The privateers run out and in with impunity."
"Capt. Nichols tells me the privateer Sally, after burning his vessel, ran into Charleston via North Edisto, and came within fifty yards of a blockade."
"I have seen over twenty ships run the blockade."
"There is no troops here save a few home guards. --- not 2500 in all."
Gen. Ripley sent word to Dr. Stone, if he gives poison to any one condemned to be hung, if an execution is ordered, he will hang him instead." "A communication by some means got to us from a Masonic lodge, saying to all masons in prison that they would be glad to feed and clothe them, but the bitterness of both Governments and people rendered all their good wishes of no avail."
"Capt. J.T. Morrell, steamer Osceola, wrecked on the sandbar near Georgetown, S.C., was brought here to jail. The question is, how will he be held? A shipwrecked sailor thrown into prison for being a Yankee."
"Oh! Consistency, thou art a jewel, but Gen. Ripley don't seem to want a jewel."
"Some letters came for us and though they had all been examined before, the jailor must keep them, and read them again thus, keeping us out of them for a day. Hang the dog."
A mother came all day from Detroit, Michigan, to see her son. She had been allowed to pass the line after a thorough search, and after delays and hardships reached the city. She went to see Gen. Ripley, and could get no hearing. She then went to his hotel and spoke to him as he left the breakfast table."
"General", said the mother, with tears in voice and eyes, my son is in jail, a prisoner of war, I have come to see him, will you let me go?"
"Go to hell, you d---d fool", were the polite words of the General. She entreated him for a few moments to see her son, and at last he said to an officer"
"Let her stay just five minutes and then send her home."
The officer accompanied her to the jail and allowed her to stay all day, showing he does not partake of the brutal spirit of his general.
All this among the chivalry! Now at the north, where we do not claim to be to very killingly polite, we consider swearing at a lady rather in bad taste to say the least. And a mother that came to Fort Warren from the south to see her son, was allowed to take him home with her. But, then, we must not be too hasty in our opinions, it may be chivalry, the "real Simon pure," remains alone at the south. Through much whiskey, cursing and abuse of those in their power, it comes to the world in rather doubtful dress, and yet it must be chivalry. It must be chivalry, my boy, it must be, for it certainly is not humanity or decency.
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Transcribed by Deanna French.