From the National Tribune, 8/9/1900

Dread Days in Dixie

By SILAS W. CROCKER, Co. I, 6th Pa. Reserves, and Co. E, 191st Pa.

[author gives a description of his prior service in the Pa. Reserves, and his capture on 8/19/1864 at Petersburg - not transcribed.]


When all the descriptive lists were made it was nearly dark, and we were ordered to "fall in" in four ranks. It was raining hard at this time, and we went "on to Richmond" in a style that was anything but pleasant to me. It soon became what I considered the darkest night and the muddiest road I had ever contended with. We were obliged to keep in the middle of the road, and it seemed to me that the mud had only other mud for a foundation and so on down indefinitely. Virginia mud always was the stickiest substance I ever tried to walk through, but this road did beat all.

We floundered along perhaps half way to Richmond, the distance between the two cities being about 20 miles as I remember, when, for the reason, as I then understood it, that the guards could not keep up through the brush that lined the sides of the road most of the way and watch us at the same time, we were halted at a way station on the Petersburg and Richmond Railroad, and after waiting an hour or two were loaded on a train of cattle-cars and made the remainder of the trip in a manner more suitable to our feelings.

It being dark, we did not object to the kind of coaches we were asked to ride in. I felt very grateful toward my captors for the change, as I was tired to start with, and pulling myself through the mud had not tended to rest me much.

Soon after daylight our train arrived at Manchester, a little town just across the James River from Richmond, and now for the first time my eyes rested on the city that had been the goal of my boyish ambition for the past three and a half weary years. I cannot say, however, that this ambition was entirely gratified by the sight, and when half an hour later I marched across the bridge over James River and was fairly within the Capital City of the so-called Southern Confederacy, I did not feel at all like the conquering hero I had pictured myself when I should proudly march through its streets.

On turning the corner of Carey street toward the already famous Libby Prison a ragged newsboy called out to us:

"Say, Yanks, is you'uns the advance guard of Grant's army?" My heart sank, and I felt that life had indeed lost its charm. In a few minutes the great doors of Libby closed behind me, and now for a time hope even deserted me, for till that moment I had not fairly realized the fact that I was actually a prisoner.


Soon the gnawings of hunger made me remember that I had not eaten a mouthful for two nights and a day, and I began to wonder if meal time came around at the same hours here that were customary farther north. My reverie on this subject was interrupted by the entrance of a rebel officer, dressed in a showy gray uniform, who called us to "attention" and made proclamation that he would take charge of any money or other valuables we might have with us, and that the same would be returned when we should be exchanged.

This officer, who I afterward found was the notorious Dick Turner, came in at a side door in the farther end of the large room we were in from where I was, and was followed by an Orderly bearing a small table and writing materials, which he arranged in the corner, and then brought in a chair.

After repeating his proclamation, and adding that valuables not given up willingly would be confiscated, he sat down at the table and waited the approach of such prisoners as might be disposed to consider him a traveling bank and be willing to deposit their wealth in his pockets.

We were drawn up in four ranks at one side of the room, and for several minutes none of the prisoners seemed disposed to take advantage of Turner's liberal offer. I was at the farther end of the room from him, and seeing that he was getting impatient thought I would make the first deposit. So I stepped to the front and went boldly up to him. With the words, "Here's mine," I laid on the table before him two well-worn ten-cent shinplasters.

Turner had rubbed his hands gleefully together, smiled in a patronizing way, and dipped his pen in the ink as I came up, but when he had "sized my pile" his face assumed a look much like that worn by a dog when caught killing sheep. Said he: "Oh, we don't take less than two dollars from a man." He ordered me back to my place in line. On the day I was captured I had given all the money I happened to have about me to Norm. Grist when I left him, wounded, at our field hospital. I was now very glad I had done this, and have always had the satisfaction of knowing that, financially speaking at least, my capture was a dead loss to the rebels. Few of the prisoners gave their money or other valuables to Turner at this time, although it was plain to us that he was anxious and bound to have them do so if possible. Many of the men had considerable sums of money and watches in their pockets and these began devising ways of hiding them to escape the confiscation which all knew would follow a search. We were soon taken across the street and into another large building, which I was told was called Castle Thunder. Supposing we were to stay here, many placed their money, etc., on some large cross-timbers in the top of the room, which they reached by climbing on each other's shoulders intending to regain them after we should be searched. But in the midst of this performance a line of guards was quickly formed around us, and we were hurriedly marched back to Libby and turned into the same room we had so lately left. Those who placed their wealth on the cross-beams were saved the pleasure of having it taken from them in another way.


Soon after we went into Libby Prison the second time we were taken, 100 at a time, into a large room upstairs, formed in a single line near one side, and ordered to strip off our clothes. Each man took off all except his under garments.

A strong line of guards was placed facing us, and when all our clothing was piled on the floor several dextrous fellows in gray began at intervals along the line and each garment was carefully searched, the pockets being turned inside out to make sure work. Then after the robber had finished his examination of one's clothing he told the owner to hold up his hands, open, while he felt all over our persons for concealed wealth.

This examination was more thorough than that made by the ordinary highwayman. No questions were asked nor record made. In addition to this many new looking hats, coats, pants and boots were thrown out in the middle of the room by the searchers, and the prisoners thus despoiled were given worn-out, lousy, gray garments that they must take or do without. Several men who were in the hundred which I went upstairs with protested earnestly against these proceedings, but to no purpose. One man, who stood only a few feet from me in the line, was ordered by the rebel Sergeant who was "going through" him to take a ring from one of his fingers. The prisoner told him the ring was of little value to anyone except himself, but that he prized it much, as it was a gift from his mother, since dead. The Sergeant was not to be trifled with, and again ordered the prisoner to take off the ring. This time he flatly refused to obey, when the Sergeant with an oath snatched a musket from one of the guards standing near and with it struck the poor fellow over the head, knocking him down, and actually took the ring off his hand while he lay quivering on the floor.

Perhaps many persons who may read this will find it difficult to believe, and maybe many other incidents that I shall tell, but I solemnly affirm that I saw this with my own eyes, and, further, that all I write is the story of what I experienced and witnessed personally. I am writing wholly from memory and more than 23 years after these events happened, but many incidents like the above made so deep an impression on my mind that I never can forget them.

After the search we were taken downstairs and laced in a room with those of our party who had "seen the elephant" before us to wait for these who went up later.

Notwithstanding the thorough search we were subjected to, several men of my acquaintance came out of it with their greenbacks safe, and one member of my own company with a silver watch and a valuable meerschaum pipe.


EDITORIAL NOTE. - This thrilling narrative of life in the stockade and an adventurous escape will run for several weeks, and grows in interest as it goes.

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