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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 13, 1863
Our journey to Columbia was the pleasantest one we had in any part of the South.
The sound of Yankee guns, and the movement of Northern armies, were creating something like respect for the Union soldiers. As we left the city, we could see thousands of negroes, at work on the fortifications, and we met large bodies of troops that had just come from Manassas.
The "nigger" is certainly a great institution. At the south they can send into the field all the able bodied men and boys, and feel sure that the negroes will till the soil and raise their food. Then, too, in the army they have their teams driven by negroes, their horses cared for by the negroes, their cooks are negroes, their servants negroes; their drummers, fifers, and pioneers are generally colored men, guides, scouts, spies, forgers, blacksmiths, coopers, tinkers, carpenters, tailors, saddlers, harness-makers, braziers, gunsmiths, boatmen, pontoon men, engineers, brakemen, conductors, workmen, and so in many other crafts, are negroes. To give you something of an idea of the service the rebels get from their negroes, I will give the situation I got from Col. R------, of Charleston, S. C.
His regiment consisted of ten companies, and at that time was 800 strong. Here I copy from my journal:
Col. R told me of the 800 men, he had nearly 500 who were wealthy planters, having from 25 to 200 slaves. From his conversation, I was able to make out the following list:
Company A, 80 whites 20 blacks, Average age in every company 80 whites, 20 blacks (sic)
Company A --- blacks --- 3 cooks, 3 waiters, 3 mechanics, 3 laborers, 3 wood-choppers, 3 guides, and 2 musicians.
Taking this as an average, and we have in one regiment, 200 efficient blacks to do the work that would otherwise require 200 white men Then all remaining slaves owned by the rebel planters, can surely do the work of 200 more white men; thus, with the slaves these 500 rebels are a good as 900 soldiers.
Certainly no honest patriot can for a moment condemn the policy that strips these rebels of such a strong arm on their slaves. Had all the slaves been taken and made use of in the onward march of our army last spring, more that 50,000 negroes might be in our employ, that are now in aid of the rebels.
The rebels know full well the benefit of these men and hence that howl of agony when the President declares he will emancipate all slaves. The traitors of the North know full well what an "apple of discord" this slavery has been, hence their "honest wrath" as they see it to be placed forever among the things that have been.
Nothing of interest happened on our journey and we arrived at Columbia about 7 o'clock P.M., the first day of January, 1862.
It was not the most "happy new year" we had spent, but what we lacked in happiness we made up in sport.
We held a session of Congress, and did as many foolish things, I doubt not, as ever a Congress did. The Confederate soldiers and officers seemed annoyed at our cheerfulness. They seemed greatly disappointed in our appearances and actions, having got the idea from Charleston that we were little better than banditti. There were no insults offered us, and the jail where we were confined was clean and wholesome. The men were placed on sheds built for the purpose. We found Capt. Shiver, the officer in charge, a gentleman. So were his officers. They did all they could for us. But the people could not endure to see us allowed any privileges. The Irish brought Col. Corcoran his meals every day, so he and his officers here at Charleston had very good food and many comforts the others were unable to have. The masons also visited the prisoners, and did a great deal for the comfort of their fraternity.
On the whole our treatment at Columbia was very just and humane. But Capt. Shiver and his officers were afterwards punished for showing so much kindness to us. Here again, we were held hostage for "bridge burners" that Gen Halleck had threatened to hang.
We lost but few men here, though seemed some died afterwards from hardship and exposure, who had made their escape and were recaptured.
There were several political prisoners here, among them a German, who was in for "tampering with slaves" --- a flimsy charge, got up because he was rich and would give nothing for the rebellion.
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Transcribed by Deanna French.