O.R.--SERIES II--VOLUME VI [S# 119]
UNION AND CONFEDERATE CORRESPONDENCE, ORDERS, ETC., RELATING TO PRISONERS OF WAR AND STATE FROM JUNE 11, 1863, TO MARCH 31, 1864.--#20
Near Fort Monroe, Va., November 7, 1863.
Brig. Gen. Neal Dow wished me to lay before General Meredith the following statements of facts in regard to our soldiers at Belle Isle, which facts General Dow had obtained from personal observation and inquiry at the island when on Thursday of this week he visited it for the purpose of distributing the clothing and blankets which the United States Government sent to the soldiers. He declares that the soldiers on Belle Isle are suffering beyond endurance. There are 5,400 on the island, which is low and unhealthy. They have not tents, into which by crowding more than one-half can enter at all; the remainder sleep without on the bare ground without sufficient clothing and almost entirely without blankets. Many have no pants; many have no shirts; so of shoes; and almost every individual lacks some essential article of clothing. They are on half rations, have no fuel of any kind, no soap is issued to them; they are consequently very filthy, of necessity. They need socks, additional supply of blankets and clothes, unless exchanged soon; shoes, mostly 8, 9, and 10. They are dying at the rate of eight and ten daily now, and the rate must fearfully increase from this on. One hundred will die daily by January 1. The general says they ought to be exchanged if possible, or many, many lives will be sacrificed and the health of the most of the remainder impaired.
The above embraces the substance of what General Dow desires me to say to you, taken from my notes of his conversation.
I wish to add for myself, for I spent three days this week in one of the tobacco factories ("Scott's") with about 160 privates who were <ar119_483> wounded at Chickamauga mostly, and now nearly recovered, the others having been sent to Belle Island. I wish to state how they fare. The rations are, for each man, twelve ounces of bread and two to three ounces of beef or mutton in twenty-four hours, given about 1 o'clock each day, and nothing else; no stoves, no fuel, no light at night, no soap. They have no straw or bunks and very insufficient clothing and blankets; not one in four has a blanket. They have very generally bad colds and cough incessantly. They are not allowed to purchase anything. What they get is got by stealth from the guard, who charge them two or three prices for everything they buy for them. I paid a $1 for a small six-ounce loaf, but they usually get such a loaf for 50 cents, which is double the price out in the city for bread a little smaller. But the most of the privates were robbed of their money and have to live on their rations. So much for the private soldier.
The following is the substance of what General Dow and the officers generally desired me to communicate to you in relation to the comparative treatment they and the rebel officers in the North receive. From notes of his conversation:
We receive twelve ounces bread daily, one-half gill rice, four ounces meat, vinegar and salt, one Sallow candle to each room containing from 175 to 200 officers. They furnish stoves only for cooking purposes, and scarcely sufficient. We have to furnish our own cooking and table utensils, have to do our own cooking and rise very early, and then have no means of cooking more than two meals a day. We sleep on the floor without blankets (except as our Government furnishes them to us), are kept in close confinement in closely packed rooms, dark, deep, and insufficiently ventilated, though our windows have no glass in them. Now, we protest against the treatment their officers receive from our Government and we ask that they be placed in similar position until we and our men are better treated.
They would have sent a petition signed by every officer, but I thought it not safe to undertake to bring it through. They do not ask our Government to retaliate on the private soldier in captivity, but upon the officers.
Let me add, the officers who return South, whether they escape or are released, as the chaplains recently, almost uniformly misrepresent the treatment they receive and from it justify the treatment our officers receive.
Delegate U.S. Christian Commission.