Skip to content

1864 November 5: From Vicksburg—Union Prisoners at Cahawba Exchanged

November 8, 2014

The following comes from The Prescott Journal of November 5, 1864.  Missing words and letters were obliterated by a white line on the microfilm.

From Vicksburg.

Arrival of Exchanged Union Prisoners—Another Story of Rebel Barbarity—
The Union Prisoners at Cahawba—Relief sent them by Gen. Washburne—
Letter of a promised Rebel Politician—He says the Future of the Rebellion
is to secure a Democratic Triumph at the North.

Correspondence of the State Journal.

VICKSBURG, Oct. 10, 1864.

Editors State Journal :—To-day there arrived at the Soldiers Home in this place, 25 prisoners of war, exchanged with the rebel authorities.  They have been staying at Cahawba, Alabama, for a long time in a prison enclosure to which the only shelter was a large building in the centre, of which 50 feet of the roof was gone.  They were not all soldiers, but some were citizens and were taken on a train of cars captured by the rebels, and the soldiers were from those lost by Sturgis [Samuel D. Sturgis] at Germantown.  Some of the citizens were employees of the rail road.  Their sufferings have been very great as to clothing, food and sleeping ;  all of them were barefooted, or virtually so.  They report that at least 50 of our prisoners at Cahawba are without pants, as many as 600 without coats, and an equal number without shoes.  All have to sleep on the ground and have about one blanket to six men.  Provision has been made by Gen. Washburne, through a flag of truce, to send them a suply [sic] of those articles.

Mrs. Gov. Harvey [Cordelia A. P. Harvey] made application to go out with the goods and are to their proper distribution, and that our men got them, but Gen. Gardner,¹ of the Confederacy, would not allow her to go.  Application was made here to-day, by Mrs. Mann, Supt. of the Soldiers Home, to Gen. Dana [Napoleon J. T. Dana], for clothing for the destitute soldiers, but Gen. Dana would not give an order for it as “It was Gen. Washburn’s affair and they must go to Memphis, and find their regiments, and then they could get clothing.”  Oh ! red tape, you will have to give an account some of these days and what a vast amount of meanness and incompetency you will have to shoulder.  I have seen several very prompt and dignified officers whose shoulder straps are now off, and they make very quiet and rather ordinary citizens.

But to the prisoners.  They say they need axes very much to cut wood for cooking.  Their fare consisted of about two ounces of bacon, cured in charcoal without any salt, with a small allowance of hard tack per day, made of cow peas and horsefeed ground together.  They report at least one thousand of our men there in prison.  All of them are full of vermin, and with their accommodations it is impossible to get clear of them.

They bring in the Selma Morning Register of October 12th, containing a letter from Wm. W. Boyce, addressed to Jeff. Davis [Jefferson Davis] and hearing on the election of President.  I wish I could send you the paper containing the whole letter, but cannot, and so will give you some extracts, which go to show the interest taken by the rebels in the success of McClellan [George B. McClellan], and the means to be adopted to accomplish his election.  You need therefore not not [sic] be surprised to hear that Jeff. Davis offers to “meet in convention as States in their sovereign capacity.”  After treating in general terms on the theory of a Republican form of government and the tendency of a state of war to create a military despotism, he, in alluding to the Democratic party, says, “I think our only hope of a satisfactory peace, one consistent with a preservation of the free institutions, is in the supremacy of this party at some time or other.  Our policy, therefore, is to give this party all the capital we can.”     *     *     *     “When we know what Mr. Lincoln [Abraham Lincoln] wants to do, then we know very certainly what we ought to do.”  Before this he says, “I admit in the first place, that a successful military defence is indispensable, without that nothing can be anticipated, but utter ruin.  But is this all ?  I think not.  There is something over and above success in war.  That is political policy.  If Mr. Lincoln remains in power there is no hope of accomplishing anything by political policy.”  Mr. Boyce appears to think that there is no hope of beating Mr. Lincoln by diplomacy any more than by war, and so emphatically goes in for “making capital” for the Democratic party, and feels confident of out[-]generalling them in that line, and as they do not even talk fight, it is the easy way “and only hope of a satisfactory peace.”  Well, it would not be the first time they had “out[-]generaled” McClellan.  He would doubtless first “exhaust all his statesmanship” before retiring to a “gunboat” of peace and safety.

Mr. Boyce closes his [__] and confidential letter to President Davis as follows :  “You may traverse indefinitely the same bloody circle you have been moving in for the last four years but you will approach no nearer than you now are.  Your only hope of peace is in the ascendency of the conservative party north.  Fortify that party if you can by victories but do not neglect diplomacy.  It was the boast of Philip the Great King, that he gained more cities by his policy than by his arms.  A weak power engaged with a stronger, must make up in sagacity for what it lacks in physical force, otherwise the monuments of its glory became the tombs of its nationality.”

From the harmony which appears to prevail between the “Conservative party north” and the rebels south, I should judge that the “Convention of sovereign States” would be perfectly harmonious and would rival the Charleston Convention of 1860, and equal the Chicago gathering, if not in harmony, at least in ignoring every sentiment of fealty to the government or the Union.  If not entirely lost to shame, I should hope the peace sneaks north would, after reading such epistles of southern rebel statesmen, hide themselves till after the election.  But the time will come when the loyal men shall have subdued the rebels and peace again prevail throughout the land, when the just indignation of an injured people will crush all traitors, as it were, into the very earth.  Then no longer will “shoulder straps” protect tyranny and incompetency.  “So mote it be.”²

The 23d and 35th Wisconsin regiments passed up the river on Saturday, leaving several of their sick in hospital here, a detailed list of whom I will try and send you to-morrow.

The 72d Illinois regiment voted Thursday on the Presidential question, and stood, Lincoln 6_3 to McClellan 32.  Rather strong for a Democratic regiment.  There were no Wisconsin men among the prisoners arriving here to-day.

Yours, &c.,
.    .GEO. C. SMITH.

1.  William Montgomery Gardner (1824-1901) graduated from West Point in 1846, served in the Mexican War, and was a career military officer. He resigned from the U.S. Army before the Civil War started, on January 19, 1861, and was appointed a major of infantry in the regular army of the Confederate States in March 1861.  In late May 1861, he was appointed lieutenant colonel of the 8th Georgia Infantry and fought at the First Battle of Bull Run (July 21, 1861). He became the regiment’s colonel on the date of the battle when the 8th Infantry’s colonel was killed. Gardner was severely wounded in the leg at First Bull Run, took a year to recover, and was incapacitated for further field service. While recovering, he became a brigadier general. In April 1862, Gardner was appointed Assistant Commissary General of Subsistence for the 1st Corps of the Army of Mississippi. From October 6, 1863 through February 23, 1864, he was in command of the District of Middle Florida. Between July 1864 and March 1865, Gardner was chief of prisons in Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Florida.
2.  “So mote it be” is a ritual phrase used by Freemasons; it means “so may it be,” or “so must it be.”

No comments yet

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: