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.--#23
OFFICE COMMISSIONER FOR EXCHANGE,
Fortress Monroe, Va., November 26, 1863.
Maj. Gen. E. A. HITCHCOCK,
Commissioner of Exchange, Washington, D.C.:
SIR: I have the honor to report that in accordance with your instructions I yesterday proceeded to City Point and obtained an interview with the rebel agent of exchange, Mr. Ould.
Before seeing him I conversed with many of our surgeons who had just been released from the Richmond prisons, and obtained from them an account of their treatment, and also testimony in regard to the horrible sufferings of our men, especially those confined on Belle Isle.
I communicated to Mr. Ould the accounts which I had of the shameful and barbarous treatment of our prisoners, strongly remonstrating at the conduct of the Confederate authorities.
Mr. Ould expressed great astonishment and denied that our prisoners were ill treated. I told him I would produce the evidence of ninety-five surgeons who were on the adjoining boat, and, if necessary, I would put them under oath as to the truth of their testimony, and asked him if he would still doubt the statements which they had made. Mr. Ould stated that he was still incredulous, but that if I knew any responsible <ar119_570> surgeon for whose truth and respectability I could vouch, he would listen to any statement made by him and give due credence thereto. I immediately sent for Doctor Bowes, with whom I was acquainted, and questioned him in Mr. Ould's presence as to the quality and quantity of rations issued to our prisoners in Libby Prison, Richmond. Doctor Bowes testified that for the four days preceding no meat at all had been issued to our prisoners, the ration consisting of about three-quarters of a pound of bread made from unsifted corn-meal and one sweet potato per man for twenty-four hours. After Doctor Bowes had retired, Mr. Ould suggested that he would like to have the testimony of Doctor Myers, assistant surgeon, U.S. Navy.
Doctor Myers was sent for and stated that he could not speak as to the condition of affairs at the prisons as he had been in the hospital, but that no meat had been served to the patients there for the four preceding days, and that the ration was the same as that described above by Doctor Bowes. Mr. Ould expressed great astonishment at hearing these statements, saying that the Confederate authorities had issued strict orders that our prisoners should have the same rations as their men in the field and throwing the responsibility of these outrages upon the subordinate officers at the prison, stating that he would himself investigate the matter and see that the officers in fault should be discharged and properly punished for such outrageous inhumanity.
In this connection I deem it proper to state that the provisions I sent to our prisoners by order of the War Department were in Richmond on the 18th instant; they had therefore been there two days at least before our prisoners were first deprived of meat. This fact, in connection with two statements, one from Surgeon Myers, U.S. Navy, and one from Surgeon Meeker, U.S. Volunteers, to the effect that they had heard that the rebels were forwarding these provisions to General Lee's army, has induced me to postpone forwarding any more supplies until I can satisfy myself that the rebels are not misappropriating them. I inclose the-statements herewith, marked A and B. I also have the honor to inclose another statement from Doctor Myers, marked C, and a report of the proceedings of a meeting of the U.S. Army and Navy surgeons recently held as prisoners by the rebels, marked D.
I made the inquiries as instructed in your letter of the 21st instant concerning our prisoners held at Atlanta. Mr. Ould stated that he would cause the proper inquiries to be made and would forward me all early report upon the subject. It appears that the money which had been taken from the surgeons was returned to them in Confederate currency at the rate of seven for one. I made an immediate demand upon Mr. Ould that such money should be returned as had been deposited. He stated that he would hold himself officially and personally responsible that this money should be returned to the surgeons and that he would forward it to me at an early day. I have caused a list to be made, with the amount claimed set opposite each individual's name, so that the amount due may be forwarded.
I have the honor to be, general, very respectfully, your obedient servant,
S. A. MEREDITH,
Brigadier-General and Commissioner of Exchange.
NOVEMBER 24, 1863.
I hereby certify on honor that while an inmate of the Libby Prison hospital I was informed by a carpenter of said prison that at least one <ar119_571> half of the pork sent by the United States Government for distribution among the Union prisoners at Richmond had been taken by the Confederate Government to be forwarded to "General Lee's army" for pro-visioning his troops, and that it was his opinion they would dispose of the flour in the same manner.
He stated that he knew such to be a fact.
W. W. MYERS,
Assistant Surgeon, U. S. Navy.
I certify on honor that on the 23d day of November, instant, I was informed by one of the cooks in the prisoners' hospital in Richmond (where I was an inmate at the time) that the Confederate authorities, when unloading the provisions lately sent by the United States Government and relief associations for our prisoners in Richmond, said that they would send part of the flour and pork to Lee's army, and that on the same day I was informed by a carpenter, who works in the building where these supplies were put after being unloaded, that he heard the Confederate authorities who were present say that they would send part of those supplies to Lee's army, or to their soldiers. I am not certain that he said Lee's army.
Surgeon, U. S. Volunteers.
I do hereby certify that for several months previous I have enjoyed the privilege of access to the hospitals where the sick and wounded among our Union soldiers received treatment. Since the battle of Chickamauga the number of deaths per diem has averaged fully fifty. The most prevalent diseases were diarrhea, dysentery, and typhoid pneumonia.
Of late the percentage of deaths has greatly increased, the result of causes that have been long at work, as insufficient food, clothing, and shelter, combined with that depression of spirits brought on so frequently by long confinement.
It may seem almost incredible when I affirm of my personal knowledge that in the three hospitals for Union soldiers the average mortality is now forty-five per diem, and upon the most reliable authority I am forced to believe that in the tobacco factories and upon the Island will raise the total mortality among all the Union prisoners to be sixty per diem, or 1,800 monthly. The extremely reduced condition of those brought from the Island augurs that hundreds quite sick are left behind who would be considered fit subjects for hospital treatment. Such, too, is the fact invariably stated by scores I have conversed with from that camp. The same to a degree holds true of the prisoners in the city. It would be a reasonable estimate to put the number who are fit subjects for hospitals, but who are refused admittance, at 500. A thousand are already under treatment in the three hospitals, and the Confederate surgeons themselves say the number of patients is only limited by the scant accommodation provided.
Thus we have over 10 per cent. of the whole number of the prisoners held classed as sick men, who require the most assiduous and skillful attention. Yet in the essential matter of rations they are receiving nothing but corn bread and sweet potatoes. Meat is no longer furnished to any class of our prisoners, and all, sick or well, officers and privates, are now furnished with a very poor article of corn bread in <ar119_572> lieu of wheat bread. Is this proper food for hospital patients prostrated with dysentery and fever, to say nothing of the balance? Startling instances of individual suffering and horrid pictures of death from protracted sickness and semi-starvation I have had thrust upon my attention. The first demand of the poor creatures from the Island was always for something to eat; and I have seen them die, clutching the half-eaten crust, self-respect all gone, all hope and ambition gone; half clad, and covered with vermin and filth, many of them, too, often beyond all reach of medical skill.
In one instance the ambulances brought sixteen to the hospital, and during the night seven had died. Again, eighteen were brought, and eleven died within twenty-four hours. At another time fourteen were admitted, and during a single night ten of the number died; and not unfrequently they die in the ambulance before reaching the hospital. Judging from what I have myself seen and do know, I do not hesitate to say that under a treatment of systematic abuse, neglect, and semi-starvation the number who are becoming permanently broken down in constitution must be reckoned by thousands. The Confederate daily papers in general terms acknowledge the truth of all I have affirmed, but usually close their abusive editorials by declaring that even such treatment is better than the invading Yankees deserve. The Examiner in a recent article begrudged even the little food the prisoners did receive and the boxes sent to us from home, and closed by eulogizing on the system of semi-starvation and exposure as well calculated to dispose of us. All this is true, yet cold weather has hardly commenced, and I am horrified when I picture the wholesale misery and death that will come with the biting frosts of winter. Recently several hundred prisoners per diem are being removed to Danville. In two instances I was standing by as the ranks filed past. It was a sad sight to see the attenuated frames and sharpened features and pallid faces of men a few months previous in vigor of health. Numbers were without shoes, nearly all without blankets or overcoats; and not a man did I behold who was well or fully clad. But to the credit of the prisoners in Richmond, of all ranks, be it recorded, that all along they have shown heroic fortitude under suffering, spurning the idea that our Government had forgotten them.
They have held fast their confidence in the final and speedy success of our cause.
W. W. MYERS,
Assistant Surgeon, U. S. Navy.
STEAMER ADELAIDE, Chesapeake Bay, November 26, 1863.
At a meeting of the surgeons of the U.S. Army and Navy lately confined in prison in Richmond, Va., of which G. P. Ashmun, surgeon Ninety-third Ohio Volunteer Infantry, was president, and J. McCurdy, surgeon Eleventh Ohio Volunteer Infantry, was secretary, it was
Resolved, That a committee of seven be appointed to prepare a report on the condition and treatment of the Federal prisoners in Richmond, also its prisons, the quality and quantity of the ration, and treatment of our sick and wounded.
The following committee was then appointed: Daniel Meeker, surgeon, U.S. Volunteers, president; O. Q. Herrick, surgeon Thirty-fourth Illinois Infantry; William M. Houston, surgeon One hundred and twenty-second Ohio Volunteer Infantry; H.J. Herrick, surgeon Seventeenth <ar119_573> Ohio Volunteer Infantry; John T. Luck, assistant surgeon, U.S. Navy; Augustine A. Mann, assistant surgeon Rhode Island cavalry, and J. Marcus Rice, surgeon Twenty-fifth Massachusetts Volunteers.
The following is the report presented by the president, which was read, received, and adopted unanimously. After which the committee received the thanks of the meeting and were dismissed:
U.S. STEAMER ADELAIDE,
En route for Baltimore, Md., November 26, 1863.
The committee appointed by U.S. Army and Navy surgeons recently imprisoned in Richmond, Va., to report the past and present condition and treatment of Union prisoners now held at that place, submit the following facts derived from personal observation and the statements of fellow-prisoners in whose veracity they have implicit confidence.
The officers--about 1,000 in all, and representing nearly all grades of both branches of the service--are confined in seven rooms of Libby Prison, a building formerly used as a warehouse. Each room is 43 feet wide and 102 feet long, affording, exclusive of the dining-room, only about 276 cubic feet of air to each prisoner.
These rooms have unplastered walls, partitions, and ceilings; but few of the windows are glazed, being either open to the free sweep of cold winds or closed with boards or canvas screens. Both of the latter when used render the rooms dark and cheerless. One of the rooms is used exclusively as a kitchen and dining-room, while portions of others are necessarily devoted to the same purpose, and but nine scantily furnished and medium-sized cook stoves are supplied the entire prison. The officers have to do their own cooking, and the supply of wood for this purpose is often insufficient, and occasionally for half a day none at all is sent in. A privy and sink render foul and disgusting one end of each room, polluting at times the air of the entire apartment. None are permitted to leave this building of accumulated and accumulating horrors till borne to the hospital or happily exchanged.
The enlisted men are confined in various places. At the time the surgeons left Richmond there were about 6,300 privates held on Belle Isle in James River, near the city, and about 4,000 soldiers and 150 sailors and marines in buildings similar to and in the immediate neighborhood of Libby. In the buildings the men are in about the same condition as the officers in Libby, only much more crowded; but the condition of those on the island is much worse. An insufficient number of tents are furnished to protect them from cold and rain, and no blankets or other bedding has ever been given them by the rebels. Only one surgeon is assigned to Belle Isle, and he makes but one visit a day, during which he does not enter the inclosure where the men are kept to see those too sick to walk, but attends to those only who are able to come to him. When the neglected men are sent to the hospital it is often too late.
None of the privates in the prisons about Libby are furnished by the rebels with bedding of any kind. A member of this committee received a letter from a man belonging to the same command, and confined in the building opposite Libby, worded thus: "Doctor, we beg of you to try and get us something, either clothes or blankets, to keep us warm; we have no fire in the building to warm us; have nothing either to lie on or cover us, and suffer greatly from the cold."
In Libby stoves for heating purposes have recently been put up in some of the rooms, but no fuel of any description has yet been given to render them useful.
At one time the rations issued consisted of about three-fourths of a pound of wheat bread, one-fourth of a pound of fresh beef, two ounces of beans, and a small quantity of vinegar and salt for each prisoner per day. Subsequently the same quantity of corn bread, made of unsifted meal, was issued [instead] of the wheat bread, and rice instead of beans. More recently the ration has been corn bread, rice, and fresh beef in the above quantities; or in lieu of beef and rice, two or three small sweet potatoes, and quite often, more particularly within the past two weeks, absolutely nothing excepting the three-fourths of a pound of corn bread has been issued to each prisoner to satisfy the gnawings of hunger for twenty-four hours.
On the 10th of this month the men on Belle Isle did not get a morsel of anything to eat until 4 p.m.
The committee unanimously agree that the rations furnished Union prisoners by rebel authorities at Richmond, Va., are not sufficient to prevent these prisoners suffering from hunger and thus becoming debilitated and very susceptible to disease.
Some of this committee have seen men brought from Belle Isle to the prison hospital literally starving to death, and a U.S. Army officer of high rank and undoubted veracity, then and now a prisoner in Libby, told a member of this committee that while on a visit to Belle Isle, whither he had been permitted to go by the rebels, the prisoners there followed him in crowds as he walked around the <ar119_574> inclosure and cried to him with eager voices: "Send us some bread, we are hungry; send us some bread."
Were it not for supplies received from home none of those confined in Libby and the other prisons would escape the pangs of hunger.
Arriving at the prison the officers are searched, and in addition to articles "contraband of war," their money and other valuables are taken from them; a few get all, some the greater portion, and others none of their money returned, while all other valuables are retained. All money arriving in letters or express packages for prisoners, from whatever source, is taken and "deposited "with the rebel quartermaster of Richmond, and the owner is permitted to draw it in limited amounts in rebel paper, though $7 in Confederate currency is allowed for $1 U.S. money. Some of the surgeons released yesterday, on applying for their money taken from them in various ways--but always with the promise that if released while any remained on deposit it would be returned in kind--were coolly told that it had been exchanged by the aforementioned quartermaster [who] had exchanged all their money, and they must either take Confederate money or wait.
The treatment received by our privates is of the greatest severity. For looking out a window, three nights since, one was shot and instantly killed. Those having trades, and also some who have none, are taken out into the city and compelled to work, guarded and restrained from all liberty by sentries. It was no uncommon sight to see gangs of our men coming back to their house at night, carrying their implements of labor, bespattered with whitewash, or showing other signs of having been at work. About thirty of our men are now employed in Richmond making shoes, supposed to be for the rebel army.
Some officers have been compelled to scrub the floors, clean the water-closets of the prison, and perform other menial services. All are and have been at all times since their confinement in Libby subjected to insults and brutal treatment on the part of prison subordinates, and both captain and inspector of the prison, when appealed to, not only do not rebuke their subordinates, but encourage them to further offensive conduct. Upon the most trivial charges officers have been confined for from twenty-four hours to several days in damp dungeons under the jail, there fed only on bread and water. An officer, for doing that which certainly did not merit the term offense, was put into one of these dungeon cells, though at the time convalescent from typhoid fever and almost too weak to do anything.
Not more than 200 blankets have been given the prisoners in Libby by the rebels. Were it not for those received from home and furnished by the Sanitary Commission all would suffer very much.
Twice within the past week the floors have been scrubbed at sundown, and thus through the cod nights following, with no fires to drive off the moisture, officers must lie on those disease-engendering floors or walk the rooms till morning brought relief by bringing the sunlight. On two other occasions the floors were scrubbed nearly half an hour before the officers were ready to arise from their sleeping places.
And thus in various ways do the authorities seek to make our condition not only uncomfortable, but dangerous. After their arrival at the prison hospitals the sick are not unkindly treated, and the rations given them are a shade better than those issued in the prisons, but so enfeebled have they become by the privation of food, and so stricken by exposure previous to their admission, that the mortality is great. The number of deaths among Union [soldiers] in Richmond and on Belle Isle together has reached the startling number of fifty in one day.
All the prison hospitals are insufficiently supplied with medicines for the proper treatment of the sick. And finally the members of this committee individually asseverate that no prison or penitentiary ever seen by them in a Northern State equaled, in cheerlessness, unhealthiness, and paucity of rations issued, either of the military prisons of Richmond, Va.
Surgeon, U. S. Volunteers,
O. Q. HERRICK,
Surgeon Thirty-fourth Illinois Volunteers,
WM. M. HOUSTON,
Surgeon One hundred and twenty-second Ohio Volunteers,
H. J. HERRICK,
Surgeon Seventeenth Ohio Volunteers,
J. MARCUS RICE,
Surgeon Twenty-fifth Massachusetts Volunteers,
JOHN T. LUCK,
Assistant Surgeon, U.S. Navy,
AUGUSTINE A. MANN,
Assistant Surgeon First Rhode Island Cavalry,
On motion it was voted to present a copy of the proceedings of this meeting and of the committee's report to Abraham Lincoln, President of the United States of America.
On motion the meeting adjourned sine die.
G. P. ASHMUN,
Surgeon Ninety-third Ohio Volunteer Infantry,
President of the Meeting.
Surgeon Eleventh Ohio Volunteer Infantry, Secretary.