Civil War Letter
From the Historical Files of the Oshkosh Public Museum Oshkosh, Wisconsin.
Letter written to Mrs. Arnold by her son Joseph
Co. E 2nd Wis. Vol. Inf. (Transfered to the 26th Wisconsin prior to his imprisonment)
Iron Brigade of Oshkosh, Wisconsin
Eight Months and Two Weeks in Secession.
Having at present some
leisure time I set down to give you a short description of my life and
experience in Dixie. On the first day of July 1862 we left Emittsburg,
Md. Croped the Boundaries of Md. and Pennsylvania. The day was rainy and
the roads were muddy, I was at that time not enjoying very good health
and therefore received a pop. from Dr. Van de worth, of our regiment to
ride in ambulance, but the ambulances were all full and I therefore kept
as close to the Regiment as possible. Having arrived in the suburb of the
town of Gettysburg our regiment halted. The roaring of cannon which had
already begun, told us of the terrible storm that was approaching. I had
by this time come up with the regiment. The regiment started again to pass
through the town, I could not keep up, the regiment going double quick.
But followed as speedily as possible having arrived at the other side of
the town and formed in line of battle, I had by this time caught up again.
The orders were now given to advance on, we went. The enemy advancing at
the same time. The conflict commenced closer and closer, did we come to
one another until we were at a distance of about 20 yards of one another.
The enemy was now out flanking ours on both our right and left flank, turning
our flank and throwing our line into confusion. We now received orders
to retreat. I being in the crowd, was knocked down and at the same time
Sergt. Maj Metzel and another man fell onto me who was wounded, I now could
not easily get up, but by the time I had gotten out from under the wounded
men, I was told to surrender by one of the Rebs or they would blow my brains
Seeing that there was no use to resist, I submitted and now was a prisoner. All that could possibly walk were ordered to the rear. While going to the rear I asked the guard what troops were fighting us, who told me that I was taken by Early's Division, Hays 8th Brigade and the 21st Georgia Regiment, Turning the attention of the guard away from me I took the opportunity to secret my revolver.
We were now moved around from one place to another until dark when we were turned into a field for the night where we stayed that night, the next morning on the second day of July, I went around the field to see how many acquaintances I could find among my unlucky comrades. I found Capt. Domahke and Adegt. Walber of our Regiment, and Enlisted men of Co. A, 3 of Co. B, 7 of Co. C, 4 of Co. D, 7 of Co. E, including myself, 6 of Co. F, 1 of Co. G, 3 of Co. H, 6 of Go. I and 1 of Co. K.
During the night I had taken my revolver into as many pieces as I could and divided the pieces among those of my company to prevent it from doing the Rebs any good in case they should find a part of it.
I went to see Capt. Domsche and Aft. Walber, who told me that they had nothing to eat. I had some coffee left and cooked a cup of coffee for them and gave them a few pieces of hard tack which was all I had left.
All officers were now ordered together and were separated from us. We moved again from one place to another until the middle of the afternoon, we were halted and towards evening every regiment what men there were of it was drawed up in line, names taken and offered a parole. We asked permission to consult our officers which was granted. I went to see Capt. Domshke who told me that we could do as we liked that our Government had notified the Rebs that the parole would not be recognized and if we would take it we would do so on our own risk.
As for him he was going to Richmond and, would advice every man that felt able to walk to Stanton, a distance or 170 miles, to go too. I returned and told the boys what the Capt. had said, told them to act according to their own mind and that I was going to Richmond too.
All agreed to go to Richmond. Some men of another regiment took the parole but the majority did the same as we. Evening had again come around and we now began to feel a little hungry, the Rebs shot 3 or 4 cows that they had stolen from the farmers and told us to take the hide off and use it. I went to work, scined a beef and took as much as myself and 2 other men could hardly carry. Had divided it among those of our regiment. We had now meat enough for that day but no salt or anything else with it. The next morning on the 3rd we were again schidted, those that took the parole were separated from us, were paroled drawed rations and sent away to our lines.
Towards evening the Rebs issued to everyone of us 6 tablespoonsful of flour and on the next day the fourth day of July, we started on to Richmond, passing their hospitals they had made use of every barn and every tent and shelter tent, they could scare up and turned it into a hospital. Passing ahead I had seen our former Brigade Flag and other colors which the Rebels had captured from us. The whole Rebel army was now on a move and we were therefore taken by side roads. The heavy rain made the roads almost impassable.
We had marched about 5 miles when we were halted and camped for the night.
July 5 we started again, passing through Fairfield, Pa. Toward evening our calvary had caught up with their enemies rear and was attacking the Rebs wagon train which we could see very plain, it only being 2 miles from us. Our calvary captured and destroyed 200 of the Rebs wagons. We were marched until about 11 o'clock at night and then camped at Cold Springs, Pa. for the rest of the night.
July 6 the weather began to be a little brighter and the roads better. The Rebs had destroyed the night previous, a great many wagons loaded with arm and under that they could not get away in their hasty retreat. We started again at 6 in the morning, passing through Waterloo and Wainesborough, Md. Marched during the day and all night. Passed through Mengaburgh and halted on the road in the morning, drew rations which consisted of 2 oz. of beef, including the bones and 2 oz. of flour. This was on the morning of the 7th of July.
Thus we had marched 3 days on 6 spoonsful of flour and 2 oz. of meat and bone. After eating our short allowance we started again, passed through Hagerstown. The other side of Hageratown some of our calvary had been fighting the Rebs the day previous and the bodies of our dead were still lying around, stripped of all the clothing. Some were lying on the road but were not removed. We had to march over them. Toward evening we arrived near Williamsport and camped for the night.
July 8, in the morning we started again but only got to the river when we were ordered back again. Our calvary had cut their Pontoon Bridge and the heavy rains had swelled the river so that they could not easily repair it. They were moving their artillery and trains back and forth as if not knowing what to do.
July 9, we crossed the river on a flying ferry and received our allowance of 6 spoonsful of flour again.
July 10, about 7 in the morning every Yankee prisoner was ours and at noon we started on our march again, arriving at Martineburgh in the evening. The citizens knowing our condition about something to eat, brought out all they had and were even refused, not allowed to give it to us but some were bound that we should have it and thronged whatever they had over to us. The Rebels driving them back with swords and at the point of the bayonet, yet they encouraged us to be of good spirits and offered to write home for us if we would leave our direction. We marched about 2 miles outside of town and camped. The citizens, meanwhile, gathered a loaf of bread, meat and corn together and sent it after us but were not allowed to give it to us themselves. The Rebs took charge of it and promiced to give it to us. Long will remember the good union citizens of Martinaburgh, Va.
On the 11th we marched to Bunkerhill, were divided into squads and I was put in charge of one of them, The Sergeants were then called to draw the bread and meat that was left. The Rebs taking the best of it for their own men, Each man received about 3 oz. of bread and 3 oz. of meat.
After rations were issued we started again and arrived near Winchester about 12 o'clock at night and camped. The Rebel guard took advantage of our starving condition, bought bread from the citizens and sold it to us for $1 dollar a slice or $5 greenback for a loaf which was paid and glad to be had. When one of the guards would come with a loaf of bread he sold it to the highest bidder. One would offer $5, another one to get it would offer $10 and sometimes a loaf would sell as high as $15 and $20 dollars in U. S. currency.
July 12 we went 3 miles south of Winchester and drew 2 day ration which consisted of 2 spoonsful of flour and 8 oz. of meat.
On the 13th we left camp again, passed through Newton and Middletown and camped near Ceder Creek. Rev. Mr. Sanders and Dr. Mc Donald, who were captured while bringing out a load of sanitary stores for our wounded, were at that time in my squad, The Rev. and Dr. not being used to hardships gave out in the evening. The Rebel calvary threatened to cut their heads off if they would not march along and misused them dreadfully.
On the 14th we passed through Strasburgh, Woodstork, Edeneburgh and camped near Edeneburg in the evening we marched 26 miles.
On the 15th passed through Hawkinstown, Mr. Jackson and new market a train of Pontoons passed us which was going to the relief of Lee's army but was reported captured by our men before it got there.
On the 16th drew 3 crackers and 4 oz. of bacon and arrived at Mt. Crawford in the evening.
17 we left Crawford, passed reinforcements for Lee. Passed a spring running out of a hanging willow, camped in the evening one mile from Stannton.
On the 18 left camp in the morning, passed through Stannton and were then searched for money. Had our tents, rubber, blankets, canteens, and other articles taken from us. Were put in camp with nothing to shelter us from the burning sun or daily rains.
On the 19th 600 left for Richmond on the cars.
On the 20th 1000 left for Richmond on the cars.
On the 21st 600 left for Richmond on the cars.
On the 22nd 800 left for Richmond on the cars.
On the 23rd no care went out. Weather was very hot. Drew rations.
On the 28 reinforcements of 30 Yanks, the officers were put in irons for breaking their gold watches and tearing their greenbacks.
On the 29th, eight Yankee escape during the night.
July 30th planters came and pick out their niggers from a squad that was captured with a wagon train near Washington.
31st were searched for money, we hid our money in buttons, I buried my revolver and the Rebs found little except on one man who had $1.00 in his stockings.
August 1st drew rations, some of the guards deserted with squad of our men,
Aug, 2 drew 2 days rations.
Aug, 4 left Stanton on train of freight cars. Were packed in as tight that only one half that were in the car could set down at one time. I happened to get in with some lousy fellows, therefore received some lice which I could not prevent. The car, while in motion, would tip from one aide to the other like a rocking ship in a storm. We therefore had to hold on to keep the train from going overboard. On our way we passed through these tunnels, passed Ivy Station and Charlottesville and arrived in Richmond on the morning of the 5th of Aug. 1863.
LIFE ON BELL ISLAND
After driving in Richmond
we staid on the cars about 3 hours during this time Jews and speculators
came around offering us $5 Confed for 1 dollar greenback. Ties were sold
at $1 apiece, apples 50 cts. apiece and boy were taring around, The Richmond
Paper selling at 50 cts. apiece. After waiting until about 10 o'clock on
the cars, orders came for us to fall in and we were taken to a tobacco
warehouse opposite the Libby Prison (Pictured). The Officers were put into
the Libby and we into the tobacco warehouse and then searched again for
money, taking knapsack and haversacks from us, we had now nothing left
but the few rags we had on our back. We were packed as close as we could
stand. Windows were only on each end of the building and we almost suffocated
after remaining in this condition about 2 hours. We were taken out and
marched to the Island which is situated in the James River and nearly between
Richmond and Manchester which is connected a Railroad Bridge is built across
the river from Manchester to the Island. On the Island there is a Foundry
and Rolling Mill and several dwellings belonging to the Rolling Hill. On
the opposite or north side of the Prisoners Camp, which is about two acres
square and contained tents for 3,000 men. Outside of the camp and around
a wall of dirt was thrown up with a ditch 10 feet wide on every side. Out
side of the outer ditch ran the guard line. After arriving on the Island
we were all paroled, put into equals and numbered. I was then ordered to
take charge of the 34th squad which consisted of all the Wisconsin Boys
of the 6th, 2nd, 7th, 3rd, and 26th Regiment and we were then turned into
We all were pretty much starved not having anything since we left Stannton. I asked the commander of the Island weather we would draw rations that evening but he told me that we would not get any until the next day at 10 o'clock. We were all by this time tired out. I laid down in the ditch, we received no instructions to the contrary. One of the boys that came in with me wanted to go over to ditch and before anything was said to him a bullet wissed passed his head coming very near me. I moved my position a little to the rear, took my towel into which I had my revolver tied up and hid it under my head and in the morning when I woke up it was gone. In the forenoon at about ten o' clock it became quite lively around the camp and I soon learnt what was up. I went down to the gate and when my turn came, drew rations for my squad which consisted of 3 oz. of bread, 1 oz of fresh beef. In the afternoon we received rations again, 3 oz of bread, a pint of thin soup. This now was to be our daily ration but the women in Richmond would sometimes raid on the bread that was on its way to Belle Island and then we would not get any bread. Other times the flour would be short and they could not bake any.
On the 11th day of Aug., a bright star could be seen very near the sun at 3 o'clock in the afternoon.
On the 14th one of the guards fired into our camp killing one man, wounding 2 men. Daily prisoners were coming in from different parts, some from Charleston and some Gesnleatmen who were taken in a Picket Boat, they were sailors of the Wabash.
On the 25th my squad received tents. Meat began to grow less and the rations became more and more irregular.
On the 27th the Rebels were throwing shells olligue across the Island. One burst throwing pieces through the tents but fortunately did not hurt anyone.
The 28th all the sick were taken across the River.
On the 31st some men tore up an old tent to cover themselves, some were backed, some tied up by the thumbs an the other put on a rail for punishment.
From the 1st to the 5th of Sept., nothing of interest happened, only some dying every day and salt was played out.
On the 6th the cartridge factory opposite the Island exploded. Rebels sending out troops on the Petersburg Railroad.
On the sixteenth, received a letter from home.
On the 17 Sutler say loss and teamsters were paroled.
On the 21st a squad of 640 went to City Point.
27th 600 Yanks left for City Pt. Salt was now selling on the Island for 25 cts a spoonful.
Sept. 28th a squad of 7000 prisoners arrived on the Island but there being no room inside the camp, had to remain outside and were afterward sent to the City.
Dept. men were daily dieing in camp. I see one man that was sick vomit his ration after he had ate it. How another one came along picked it out of the sand and ate it, which I seen done several times.
Our bread consisted of rye and course meet getting more scarce. We received sweet potatoes, having no wood to cook them, we ate them raw.
Oct. 8th N. Jenges Co. I died on the Island.
Oct. 14th Clark of the C Wis. went to the river after water, came back laid down and died all within 30 minutes.
Oct. 15th a Rebs. guard shot on post for trading with the Yanks.
Oct. 84th 100 men captured from Meades army were brought on the Island.
Oct. 16th Rebs fearing a break by the Yanks, doubled the guards and placed signal lights on the flag staff to enable the Babberies to get range of us.
Fights occurred daily on the Island. Men were stabbed and rolled in broad day light.
Nov., 3rd General Neil Dow visited the sole promise us clothing.
Nov. 10th Received some clothing from U. S.
Bread was now made entirely our of corn. Meat was played out altogether. We would sometimes receive 1 spoonful of dry beans. Meat being played out we had to, and our ration returned to bread and water. All dogs, rats and mice were now catched and cooked and ate.
Two men being catched at having killed the St. dog were taken out and made to eat it raw which they readily did asking for more.
It was now being around Christmas, we were allowed or received 3 sticks of wood for 2 and sometimes it would have to last 3 or 4 days. Between Christmas and New Years 600 were paroled and sent to City Point. Nothing new was now going on, the Island was to thickly crowded, they would not turn us out to Point and I took the opportunity to keep on drawing rations on the name of those that were sent away sick and died and was drawing 83 rations having only 50 men in my squad which I divided equally among my squad. It being the only way we could manage to keep alive.
Those men that were now dying were laid out behind the tents and about 20 yards from our camp and had to lay there 14 days were they were buried, the dogs eating the faces off of them. We could not witness this dreadful spectacle any longer and wrote a request to to Officer commanding the Island to allow us to burry our dead which was not answered. But a day after that the rebs buried them. We had by this time began to live more like beast than human beings, forgetting altogether one existence until the 7th day of March we were paroled and sent on a flag of truce boat down the river to City Point. The Joy was inexpressible when once again we saw the Glorious Stars and Strips at the mast head of our Flag of Truce steamer City of New York.
(Rest of letter destroyed.)
Wisconsin Historical Society, Call # SC701
(Photo courtesy of the National Archives)