April 28, 1864
PERSONAL.- Milton Colwell, of the 107th Ill, Infantry, and Thomas Clark, of the 7th Ill, Cavalry, long confined in Libby Prison, Richmond, Va., have been paroled and are now at home. We have a lengthy letter written by Mr. Colwell, giving an account of his travels and imprisonment, from which we will make some interesting extract, next week.
May 5, 1864
From a Paroled Prisoner
Agreeable to promise we give the following extracts from a letter written by William [should have been Milton] Colwell, a member of the 107th Illinois Regiment, while in Camp Parole, Annapolis. He was taken prisoner by the rebels, and knows something of prison life among the chivalry.
"* * * After being confined as a prisoner of war, for nearly three months paying a visit, during the time, to the city of Richmond and a place known as Belle Isle, I am paroled and out of their hands-which is one of the greatest blessings of earth; for we were roughly treated by the rebels-so roughly, indeed, that it is impossible to portray it, and you would scarcely believe, if I did."
After giving an account of their capture, the robbery or over-coats, boot, blankets, watches, etc., he says:
"We arrived at Richmond a day or two before New Year's, a cold disagreeable day. 26 of us were in one Sibly tent, without a fire for several days. Men who were outside froze to death, and those who had tents were obliged to remain in them and cover up to keep warm. I have lain in bed three days at a time; if we ventured out of the tent we were compelled to keep in motion to preserve our lives. I have seen prisoners with feet frozen stiff, black, and they crying like children.
Our grub? When we first went on the Island, was better than it was afterwards. The bread was good, and we had a small piece of meat, each, nearly every day, and soup. But this did not long continue, the men ____ half a loaf of bread ____ of ____ and water, slightly salted, was furnished us, and we had no drink but the James River water, which fare was continued a long time. When we left, we drew a small sized loaf of bread, and a kind of soup made from the wild Georgia pea; peas, pods and bugs were thrown into water, boiled and made into a soup about as relishable as dish water, and not nearly as clean. Five pailsful of this washy food were given to 100 men.
I have seen men on the Island pick up bones that had lain for weeks, and knaw at them with a decided relish. Others have taken potato peelings from a ditch and make soup which was palatable.
* * * There are men on the Island who have been there 8 and 9 months and many will not live to get away; for they are nearly gone now. I have known the rebels to let dead bodies lie exposed 9 days, their faces eaten completely away by dogs and hogs. The boys got up a petition in camp, asking privilege of burying them, but were refused. But this is nothing. It does not hurt the dead. If they would treat the living humanely I would not complain. But they do not.
Not long since, I was sitting in my tent, and heard the report of a gun. I stepped out, and found that a prisoner had taken the guard's blanket from the fence where he had lain it. The guard shot at the crowd, missing his intended victim but wounding two innocent men who were on the street. They were sent away and I have no doubt since died. They stopped our rations entirely until the one who stole the blanket was discovered. The boys rather than starve, delivered him up, and he was "bucked" by the rebel sergeant, and whipped by one of our little drummer boys, who was forced into this unpleasant service. Some of the boys killed a lieutenant's dog, to satisfy his [their] cravings for meat, for which crime they were compelled to eat the hide.
Mr. Colwell's letter is lengthy and interesting. We have taken
from it such extracts as we thought adapted to our columns and
interesting to the community generally. His immediate friends
and adquaintances will do well to read the letter.
Many thanks to Judy Simpson who submitted this information.
Return to Scrapbook page