From Rhode Island MOLLUS, vol. IV, p. 54. "My Four Months Experience as a Prisoner of War," Thomas Simpson, Capt. Battery F, 1st Regt, R.I. Light Arty.
(Oct. 1864)...After dinner the march was resumed and we passed through the swamp [White Oak], on emerging from which two scouts were observed, who, after considerable signaling, allowed us to approach them, being rather suspicious of our blue coats. From them was learned the fact, that our forces had retired during the night, and that Gary's Brigade had followed them. This determined the leader to send two of the party with us to Richmond, while he with the remainder rejoined their regiment. I had little to complain of from these men, much less than I expected. With the exception of my watch and money, nothing was taken from me, although I had a gold pin, which to them must have been quite valuable, and an entire new suit of clothes purchased in Norfolk but a few days before, any article of which would have been a welcome addition to their wardrobe. As we approached Richmond some care was taken by our guards to avoid passing near any prominent works; still we could see that the lines, although thinly manned with troops, were very formidable. Following the "Nine Nile Road," from the point on which we struck it, until we had passed through the first line of works, we turned to the left over a corduroy road in rear of this line, down which we went until near Rocket's Landing, a suburb of Richmond, when we passed through the second line and arrived at the camp lately occupied by Gary's Brigade. Here my orderly and myself were compelled to dismount - for we had been allowed to ride the entire day - and after some delay we were all marched to Libby Prison, arriving there about sundown.
Just before reaching Rocket's, my orderly whispered to me that he had sixty dollars which one of the men in camp had placed with him for safe keeping, and asked me to take a part of it. I consented to do so, and he handed it to me without attracting the attention of the guard. I supposed then that the money prisoners had would not be taken from them by the prison authorities, but in this I was woefully mistaken.
We were compelled to wait outside of Libby for some time, there being other prisoners ahead of us, but were finally admitted to the office. Here I had to part from my orderly, and it was with many misgivings. for having picked him out from among my men as too young and light to perform the heavy work required in a battery, I scarcely expected that he would survive the fare and treatment of a rebel prison; and blaming myself, as I did, for our capture, I felt that if he should die, his death would properly be chargeable to me.
A record of my name, date and place of capture, etc., was entered in a book kept for that purpose, and I was sent into another room to be searched for money and any concealed weapons which might be on my person. The officer having charge of this requested me, if I had any money, to give it up and it would be placed on my credit until I was transferred from there, when it would be returned; otherwise if on searching any was found, it would be confiscated - for whose benefit he did not say. I handed him the thirty dollars which my orderly had given me, and on assuring him that I had no more, nor any concealed weapons, was removed to the officers' prison in the next story. It might be well to remark that somebody still owes me thirty dollars, unless it is considered as balancing four months' board, although I think that amount, judiciously expended, would have kept me four months longer on the same fare and the balance then be in my favor.
The building known as Libby is a two story and a half brick block, situated in the business part of the city of Richmond, and was built, I believe, for a tobacco warehouse. It is divided into stores connected with each other by double iron doors set in brick partitions. These stores have a row of wooden posts, a foot or more in diameter, braced so as to sustain immense weight, running through the center in each story. The entire block, with the exception of the lower story of the western store, which was used as offices and quarters for the guard, was filled with prisoners. Officers were confined in the other two stories of the west end. Access from the lower to the second story was had by means of wooden steps, which, after being used, were immediately lowered to the floor by a pulley and communication cut off. All glass had been removed from the grated windows, and canvas screens substituted. These being worn and torn, and in some cases absent entirely, formed but poor protection against the winds, which at this time were quite cool. The interior was bare of furniture, excepting a long pine table to eat from, and two cast-iron wood-stoves; for each of these we were allowed one armful of wood per day, just enough to keep a fire. I don't believe that at any time while I was there it would have been uncomfortable to sit on either stove on account of heat. How much they could impart to a building with open windows, for it was necessary during the day, at least, to have part of the screen down to give us light, can readily be imagined. Most of us had to lie on the bare floor, though a few fortunate individuals had blankets. These were very desireable articles, but the owners soon found that they were not the only occupants, having to share them with a little creature, who, although not taking up much room, made it quite uncomfortable for his bed-fellows. Still with this drawback they were eagerly sought for. I managed to get a piece of one, lively too, just before leaving Libby, but was not allowed to carry it away.
Reveille was sounded about six o'clock in the morning, by a drum band made up from some of our colored soldiers, who were prisoners, and this was followed in about fifteen minutes by roll-call. For this we fell in, in four ranks, and instead of calling a roll we were counted by the Prison Inspector, "Dick" Turner. After counting, the rooms were carefully searched and then the ranks were broken. Any claiming to be sick were examined by the Inspector, and if he thought necessary sent to the hospital. Rations were issued shortly after roll-call. They consisted of a piece of corn-bread about three inches long, two wide, and perhaps one inch thick, with a pint of what they called bean soup - black beans boiled in water and seasoned with a little salt, and during the six days that I spent in this prison, I don't believe that one sound bean ever strayed into my ration. The inside of the beans had been eaten by small black bugs, who were still at work when put in the pot. Many could not eat this soup at all, and were forced to subsist on the ration of corn-bread. Being blessed with a good appetite, as well as a pretty strong stomach, I managed to eat my own rations as well as those of some others, who required a gradual breaking in. Nothing more was received until three or four o'clock in the afternoon, when the breakfast bill of fare was again presented, with sometimes two or three ounces of fresh beef as a substitute for the beans. I need not say that the substitute was a welcome one. Those who had smuggled a little money through were enabled to add some trifles to their bill. Searching my pockets thoroughly a day or two after my entrance I found about a dollar in scrip, which one of the negroes, who helped sweep the room, had the kindness to take out and get changed into Confederate money, receiving therefore five dollars. This I soon invested, buying two onions at a dollar each, some rice which I believe was worth nearly one dollar per pound, a clay pipe and a pound of smoking tobacco - the latter was the only cheap article in the Confederacy, the best costing one dollar per pound at that time.
Our only amusements were walking and smoking; for knowing that our stay in Richmond would be short, and feeling as all new prisoners will, rather blue, we had no ambition to get up any amusements. Those who had been proprietors of blankets a short time had something to keep them busy an hour or two a day, although it could hardly be classed under the head of amusements.
On the evening of the second of November two days' rations were issued, and we were informed that sometime during the night we would start for a prison depot further South. These rations consisted of three or four ounces of rotten bacon, so rotten that it might have been eaten with a spoon, and the smell of which nothing in the world had ever equaled, a small dried haddock, and the usual allowance of corn-bread. I have said that I was blessed with a pretty strong stomach, but this bacon was too heavy for it, and with some difficulty I traded it for more haddock. About two o'clock in the morning we were treated to a serenade by "Turner's Band." They played but one air, the "Long Roll," at which we fell in, were counted, and with the exception of several non-combatants, surgeons and chaplains, who were to be paroled, we were marched through the deserted streets of Richmond, across the bridge to Manchester, where a train of cars awaited us. Here we found a large number of enlisted men also taking passage. All were carefully guarded, so that to escape was impossible. It was daylight before all were aboard and the train made up. If the members of the "Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals" could have seen that train they would never complain of overcrowded cattle cars. These were ordinary box cars, with no windows, only two doors, and but one of these open, which was protected by a grating, and each car was crowded with full sixty human beings. Two guards were stationed inside and six on top of each car. As we had nothing on leaving Richmond in which to carry water, and having eaten quite freely of our dried haddock, our sufferings from thirst soon became intolerable, and had the train not stopped occasionally and the guard allowed one or two to get water from the ditch alongside the track we would soon have been desperate. We arrived at Danville, Virginia, which it seems was our place of destination, during the following night, but were confined in the cars till daylight. How quickly we obeyed they order to turn out, and how good the fresh, cool air felt and tasted to us, after twenty-four hours in hot, crowded and filthy cars, no one can know unless placed in a similar situation.
[At this point, p. 63, the narrative describes his time in the Danville prison (#3). On Feb. 16, 1865, Danville apparently forwarded half their prisoners to Richmond for exchange. Transcription resumes as the train from Danville arrives in Richmond (p. 76).]
We arrived at Manchester about noon the next day, and after a delay of several hours, the train crossed the bridge and entered the city. Here occurred a comical scene. The cars no sooner stopped, than all of us, paying no attention whatever to the guard, jumped off and started for Libby, each anxious to get there first and secure a good place. None had any thought to escape, yet it was after dark before the entire party were inside the walls. A number finding that they were too late to secure good positions, spent the time in wandering around the city, until warned by darkness and the provost guard that it was time to make arrangements for sleeping.
Next morning, boxes sent by our friends in the North, and which had accumulated to the number of nearly a hundred, were distributed after an inspection, and Libby was at once transformed into a vast cook-house. A couple of bricks taken from the walls and placed anywhere on the floor - there were no chimneys - with a few chips split off the boxes, gave us the opportunity to cook and eat our first square meal in nearly four months. These boxes contained a little of everything, and evidently reflected the taste of their owners. An old officer near me had ten or twelve pounds of lard - nothing else; another had all flour, others a variety of everything from a ham to a bottle of medicine. Knowing that we should remain but a day or two, and determined not to leave anything behind for the Johnnies, quite a general distribution took place, those having boxes sharing with their less fortunate friends. By eating too much, and from the dense smoke of so many fires, numbers were made sick, causing quite a run on medicines. Boxes of Spencer's pills, (genuine too, sent by Mr. Spencer to his son, who was one of us), castor oil, and other searchers, disappeared rapidly and to good purpose.
On the twentieth we signed our paroles, and on the morning of the twenty-second, (Washington's birthday), we started for Rocket's Landing to take the flag of truce boat, first destroying everything belonging to us that was destructable and which might prove of any value to the rebels. Arriving at Rocket's, a boat was found awaiting us, and there was little delay in getting aboard, each one seemingly afraid that he might get left. The day was delightful, and moving rather slowly, we had a fine opportunity to view the rebel's works along the shore of the James, and the several iron-clads at anchor in it. The distance from Richmond to Bulwer's Landing, our destination, was but about seven miles, though it took an hour to steam there. Here was found Colonel Mulford, having charge of exchange on the Union side, who held a short conversation with Colonel Ould, acting in the same capacity for the rebels, after which we were allowed to disembark, a privilege of which we were not long in availing ourselves. No time was lost in making for our picket lines, which could be seen a short distance up the hill. All cheering was done on the run. I felt like hugging our colored soldiers, who composed the picket, and might have done so but for the desire to put as great a distance between myself and Richmond in as short time as possible. From Bulwer's to Aiken's Landing is full two miles, and long ones they were to us who were so unused to walking. At Aiken's we found our flag of truce boat waiting for us. Several hours were consumed in bringing over the sick and the weak in ambulances, during which time we received a serenade from the band of a cavalry regiment. I also heard from my battery, which was stationed a short distance from the landing, but was unable to visit it.