Excerpts From Swann's "Prison Life At Fort Delaware"
Edited by Elizabeth Cometti
Captain John S. Swann dictated his reminiscences of prison life at Fort Delaware nearly twenty-two years after his release from that dismal island, where he had been interned as a prisoner of war. Ordinarily a lapse of so many years would militate against the accuracy of a memoir. In the present instance, however, the intervening time only served to diminish the bitterness engendered by war and captivity and to demonstrate the futility of opening old wounds. Thus the account is singularly free from either a deliberate or an unconscious emphasis on personal wrongs and sufferings endured. By 1886 Captain Swann entertained nothing but contempt for the "bloody shirters," neither did he care one jot about evoking pity from the sympathetic reader. Time had so modified his perspective that the author was able to view his former prison as an unusual community where life was lived as normally as possible.
John S. Swann was born in Virginia on October 5, 1822. At the age of twenty-six he and a younger brother, Thomas S. Swann, began to practice law at Charleston, now West Virginia.1 Land title litigation became the brothers' specialty and vast tracts of mineral and timber lands went through their hands during the years preceding the Civil War.2 In this manner John S. Swann acquired a fund of information concerning the rich and varied resources of the Kanawha Valley. After his release from Fort Delaware he utilized this knowledge in preparing an elaborate topographical map of the coal fields in this region. Swann's Title Map of the Great Kanawha Coalfields was published at Charleston in 1867 and was attested as to its reliability by four prominent men of the community.3 Undoubtedly the map supplied a real need, for no systematic geological survey of this region had heretofore been made.4
Politically Swann belonged to that group of trans-Allegheny Democrats who outshone many of their eastern brethren in professing loyalty for the "great Commonwealth of Washington." His position on the editorial staff of the Kanawha Valley Star afforded him an opportunity to publicize his ardent pro-Southern sympathies. After the John Brown raid he advocated the dissolution of economic ties with the North and the suppression of "seditious or treasonable leanings.5 On December 2, 1859, Swann was elected captain of the Kanawha Sharp Shooters, one of those military companies provoked into existence by the affair at Harpers Ferry. The constitution of the Sharp Shooters did not mince words: ". . . when it becomes a union wherein either the liberty of the persons or the property of the people of this mother commonwealth devolves upon her own Sons alone and her Sister States of the South for protection the union is already at an end."6
In January 1860, Swann was appointed a delegate to the State Democratic Convention to be held at Richmond the following month.7 Consistent with his general political beliefs, he was strongly in favor of Virginia's participation in the proposed Souther Conference and the Star devoted considerable space to the mission of C. G. Memminger.8 Swann was indefatigable in laboring for his party. At a Kanawha County Democratic meeting on February 20, he helped draft a series of resolutions which in their boldness were tantamount to a warning against further northern aggression. One resolution stated that Virginia was "inseparably united by sympathy, interest and institutions with the Southern States of this confederacy" and that she must and would share their destiny.9
At the outbreak of hostilities it was only natural that Swann should throw in his lot with the Confederacy. In May, 1861, Lieutenant-Colonel John McCausland10 ordered the Kanawha Sharp Shooters, still commanded by Swann, to encamp at Buffalo in Putnam County.11 While there he was appointed a commissioner in charge of the poll on the ordinance of secession. As the Star asserted, everything must have been done in a "fair and orderly manner" for even this pro-Southern paper was forced to admit that many people of the county had voted for rejection.12 Swann remained in the Confederate Army until his capture in September 1864, when Sheridan defeated Early at the battle of Winchester.13 Following the war he returned to Charleston, where he resumed his law practice and made the geological investigations heretofore mentioned. Captain Swann died on December 5, 1902, from the effects of a severe cold.
The account of prison life at Fort Delaware suffers from the consequences of hurried composition. The first chapter is dated December 8, the second December 10, the third December 12; no dates are given for the remaining four chapters. Despite occasional corrections in Swann's own handwriting, the evidences of carelessness are numerous, if unimportant, and many passages are either irrelevant or repetitious. These latter have been deleted from the account which follows.
The prison was a parallelogram, a level area about twice as long as broad, traversed by ditches of sea water, some 4 feet wide, bounded on three sides by continuous rows of buildings made of plank nailed upright was an opening in the rear between the building and a building used as a Mess Hall. In the rear was another building some thirty feet from the main building, and in the read of this a space, with a ditch of sea water passing through it; on each side of which was a space surrounded by a plank wall or partition, and washed by the bay, overlooked by a plank way on which the sentry was posted. This space was used by the prisoners, for cooking and washing; a plank bridge in rear of the Mess Hall built over the ditch lead to the resort of the prisoners, built over the waters of the bay, and also another return way over the same ditch. These buildings were divided by plank partitions, each from 60 to 80 feet long, and named and marked Divisions No. 1, 2 etc. On one side of this parallelogram, and separating it from a similar space, with the same style of building and occupied by the privates was a wall, or rather plank partition, some ten to fifteen feet high, along on the top of which was a plank way, where were posted, and where walked the Sentry. In each of these divisions were there rows of bunks the lower resting on the ground, and very damp. These bunks faced each other, being constructed along the sides with a passage some 6 to 8 feet wide between them, and in the midst a large Coal Stove. This Stove even when red hot owing to the openings between the upright planks, did not warm the Division, which was so cold that of a cold night, even those in a few feet, one could not sleep comfortably, while those 10 feet away could only sleep by catches, and the bulk of the prisoners crowded the stoves by turns all night, and most of the day in cold weather. We were allowed a blanket each, and but few had any more clothing by the officials.15 What we had was mostly sent us by friends, or humane associations, in the North. Some of them private combinations acting through individuals. The prisoners necessarily suffered greatly from cold, and the worse clad would wrap their blankets around them and crowd the Stoves night and day sometimes producing difficulties among them, in their eagerness to get near the stove.
AN INCIDENT OF KINDNESS
To illustrate, when I got to Fort Delaware I had on a Confederate suit. A bullet at the redoubt had deprived [it] of the only brass button by which I kept the coat buttoned; my clothing was made of cotton and wool worth then about $100.00 now about 50 cts. a yard. My shirt and drawers were of slazy cotton, my socks home knit wool, and I had a twilled silk pocket handkerchief, with the pictures of several of our distinguished men stamped on it some way. I suppose it was made in England. All that was furnished me while in prison was a grey undershirt half cotton, which was given me by a Sergeant, who occasionally came around with shirts of this sort on his arm. He gave it to me because he saw I was suffering from a cough, which eventually ended in Pleurisy, which I relieved, and I think cured by rubbing my side with some vinegar with Cayenne pepper in it.
Before I got a supply of clothing from a distinguished citizen, of Philadelphia, whom I knew before the war, (and whose honored son now fills a position of high trust, so well and worthily,)16 -- I suffered much from cold. This gentleman sent me a full suit of grey cloth, with flannel etc. and a hat as soon as I wrote to him, accompanied with a letter that would have done credit to any father writing to a son, in distress. If I can find this letter it will appear in my next number, -- and he thus relieved my bodily sufferings, and aroused in my heart emotions, that yet live, and can never die. I hesitated to write to him, fearing I might compromise him, until I found out how to write to a Northern man, without compromising him. I wrote to this friend and here was the way I got to write to him. I had neither money, paper no postage stamps. So, I took off my woolen socks, washed them and tried to sell them, but could not find a purchaser at any price. I then put them on my feet, for my feet suffered very much from the cold. I then tried to sell my silk handkerchief, but could not. The weather was getting very cold and I was suffering much from hunger as well as cold. After waiting sometime I concluded to run the risk, and try a sentinel. Passing a sentinel one day I opened the handkerchief so he could see it. Seeing him look at it, I returned passing him again, and said without pausing "this handkerchief for two postage stamps." He shook his head, and motioned me on. I concluded I would be sent for and humiliated or punished, for we were not allowed to speak to a sentinel. About a week afterwards while passing a sentinel, I felt something touch my hand, I closed my hand without pausing, went to my bunk, opened my hand and found 20 postage stamps, wrapped up in a very small space.
I thought to myself, "Now I am saved." Why should I and this man be seeking to take each other's blood? Why should these Christian people, animated with such holy feelings be at war with each other? It is unholy. It is all the result of a momentary passion which would have passed away without war or disunion, but for the fell determination of some few people in high places, to avail themselves of this momentary passion to inaugurate a bloody crusade for the emancipation of the blacks, which they durst not make known, and the equally fell purpose of some few others to make use of the same passion of the hour, to set up a separate Government, more congenial with their own fancies.
I returned to find the kind soldier with the handkerchief tied into a small bundle with a thread, passed by him, and made a motion to slip it into his hand. He shook his head and smiled, and I went on reflecting that among all Democratic peoples there is a gentle sympathy from man to many that controls and tempers all passions and rises like the dove from whatever stormy sea to bear the message of peace and fraternity. In the matter of scarcity of clothing, and suffering I have in my own case but illustrated the condition of the great body of the prisoners, some ten, or fifteen thousand at Fort Delaware, with this difference, that much the greater number of them, knew not, had not, where or how to supply their wants. Any other than an occasional garment from the Sergeant in charge, or from a fellow prisoner, while one who had money could buy from the sutler anything whatever whether clothes or food, but at enormous prices. I do not know what percentage of the prisoners died, or were sent to the hospital. Perhaps some one with the facility to get the facts, will make this known.
I would remark that much clothing etc. were sent to many of the prisoners by friends or acquaintances in the North, and by benevolent associations there. But the great body of them were nearly destitute of any comfort, and even of necessary food and clothing.
In my first number, I referd (sic) to a friend, a distinguished and venerable gentleman in Philadelphia, who sent me clothing etc at Ft Delaware. I here give some of his letters to me, as a matter of some interest to the young generation North and South who will enquire into the history of those heroic times.
Philadelphia Decr 4 1864
Dr Sir. Your letter of the 1st inst: reached me last evening. I am surprised and sincerly (sic) sorry you are so much afflicted. I have not forgotten the many happy hours we have past together. I am compelled to attend Doylestown Court tomorrow and shall return in the evening. I will go down to see you either on Tuesday or Wednesday. I am not acquainted personally with the officer who commands the station at Ft. Delaware. I believe his name is Genl. Shoff,17 and if so all concurrant (sic) testimony says he is a kind and humane man. I will ask of him an interview with you and endeavor to make you as comfortable as possible. I will take with me as many of the things you want as I can collect and the rest shall follow. If I find that I cannot see you when I go down I will write again. My son Bob desires to be remembered to you and you may depend on our doing all we can for you.
Phila. Jany 27 1865
Dr Sir. I have sent by Adams Express a box containing the clothing you desire. My son Harry has superintended the whole affair. At this inclement season the receipt will be opportune. When peace shall be restored and we shall be once more a happy and united people I hope to see you and talk over all our former pleasant reminiscences. I send the recpt. by express.
Philada: May 6 1865
Your letter of the -- ult: was received upon my return from New York. I shall be very glad to assist you in obtaining your release. But I do not think it possible to effect this object unless you are willing to take the oath of allegiance. Your friends at Richmond and at Kanawha C. House18 are taking the oath and I hope you are willing to do so. At the present time opposition to the Government has ceased and it now becomes the duty of every man in the South, to add his personal example in giving his adhesion to the old union as it was and I hope as it will remain forever. I trust you will receive these sentiments in the same spirit in which they are tendered. I desire to see you restored to your friends and family and once more occupied in the discharge of your professional duty. Your early answer is necessary if you wish me to move in this matter.
PRISON LIFE, OUR FOOD
I will now resume my narrative in which the curious may find something to reflect on, the fanatic something to cavil about and the partisan something to doubt. As stated we reached the Fort at night. On the next morning I found myself very hungry. I was up early and walked around the prison grounds observing and hearing what I could. Presently a bell or something I forget what, gave the breakfast signal. We formed in line and marched to the mess hall, in which were several long rows of plank tables with pieces of bread and meat arranged along the sides at intervales (sic) of some two feet. When we were in place each prisoner took one ration. The bread was made of rye and wheat flour, well cooked, but the piece very small, about half enough for a well man. The meat a small chunk of beef. Occasionally all sinew or mostly bone. It was cut up very carelessly and very small, not half a ration. Some days the bread was substituted with crackers, and these were hard days on us. We were permitted to take these rations to our bunks. I ate mine but remained very hungry. When dinner came the same thing was repeated, except there was occasionally a tin cup of what was called corn soup very tasteless and insipid, with little or no grease.
By next day I was ravenously hungry and so continued as did all who had no money or tobacco, untill (sic) I got the means to buy from the sutler. No one can immagine (sic) the effect of continuous hunger who has not experienced it, judging of others by its effects on me, and when it continues with no hopes of relief its effects are very demoralizing and the man is ready for almost anything. He thinks about eating all day and all sorts of devices to get food come into his mind. All night his dreams are most singular and sometimes fascinating about food and feasting. Every thing he has ever eaten, dinner parties, suppers, girls bearing flowers and fruit, his boyhood scenes at hog killings such as frying liver etc. and whatever food he has ever seen or eaten comes vividly before his disturbed senses, and he sometimes awakens dazed and half conscious that it was but a dream. To illustrate, I was in Mobile in the early spring of 1862, and a number of little girls were around with trays with bunches of flowers, although I had left Virginia in a snow storm. This all came before me in a dream, and sudenly (sic) the bunches of flowers became loaves of bread. I grasped at the tray. It fell to the ground and the loaves rolled away like marbles. All this I underwent untill (sic) I got some money by the instrumentality of the twenty postage stamps given me by the kind sentinel. In talking with some of the prisoners, who like myself had no money, I found they were suffering very much as I was.
MURDER AND DANGER
After my first breakfast about 9 A.M. I walked along the plank way to the retreat built over the bay. (I will here remark there were plank ways around the prison bysected (sic) by other plank walk ways, made essential by the damp earth.) Crossing the bridge over the ditch to my right as I was returning the same say, the sentinel over the resort hailed "go to the right." I did not understand him at the moment and stopped. He repeated the order in a rough way. One of the prisoners passing pointed to the left plank way and said "go that way." This was on my right as I was returning. I returned to the prison yard and this prisoner coming up said, "You were in danger just now." I said "How?" "Why," said he, "Coln -- was shot and killed where you were the other day for not coming out the left way promptly when ordered to do so." I said, "And what was done with the sentinel?" He replied, "He was promoted." The same thing I heard from others.19 They said the Coln: was afflicted, I forget how, and was slow in obeying the order, and shot in the act of turning to go to the right.20 I will say that going to the right was essential to prevent confusion.
Some days after, learning that two of my lieutenants were in the prison, I went to see them. I found them sitting together on a bunk, badly off for clothing and in a sad plight, dejected and quite as hungry as myself. One of them was writing in his diary, in which he wrote every day while in the army. I said, "Thomas, how did you manage to keep that diary?" He replied, "I concealed it in my bosom." "Well," said I, "Every man has his hobby, I expect you will take it with you into the world of spirits." He said, "I will hold on to it in this world any how." The other lieutenant, Snyder, said, "Captain if you will cut your bread into small pieces, put water on it and boil it, it will fill you up and you wont be so hungry." I said, "I have no pan and no wood to make a fire." He said, "I will borrow a pan for you, and you go down where they are cooking and somebody will let you put it over his fire."
I got the pan, went where they were cooking and found several hundred prisoners, many of them cooking. They had made little holes in the ground, or set up bricks, over which they set their pots and pans. The cut pieces of plank, shingles etc. into shavings with which they kept up a blaze and I was surprised to see how much cooking was done in this way with a very small piece of plank. Some of them were making a sort of soup, by boiling their bread as I had come to do, some who had money or tobacco were making coffee or tea, frying fish, beef etc. or boiling vegetables, some were waiting like myself to get a chance to boil their bread. Some were standing by looking on, tantalized no doubt, but I never knew a prisoner to beg of another, while the great body of them, over 3,000 were in their quarters. I boiled my bread but found it only temporarily allaid (sic) the cravings of hunger. So after a few trials I stoped (sic) it. I will remark that many who had money often gave their rations to others, as well as their old clothes which was a great help to them. I one day enquired of my lieutenants for -- Peal from Rush Cr Kanawha, a brave soldier who was captured with them. They said he was shot on the wharf, I forget where, by a negro soldier. That when the prisoners were landed he went aside a step or too (sic), suffering very much with dysentary (sic), that the guard, a negro, ordered him back into the line, but not rising up promptly he was shot and fell over dead. I said poor Peal was a brave soldier. He has left a widowed mother, his brother George was killed at the battle at the White Sulpher (sic). He was the only man, when a volunteer was called for, that would go for a box of cartridges through the storm of bullets. He was returning with a box of cartridges, and in sight of our lines, when he fell and no one dared go to him. I will remark I happened not long since to be talking about the way the Cols: was killed, as above stated, and some one in the company said, "I know that man, his name is ------- and he lives in a town in Ohio and every body shuns him."
RATS AND RAT EATING
On the raised plank walkway seperating (sic) the two prisons the sargeant (sic) or some other would often appear and call out, "Money or boxes." He would then, when the prisoners came around, give out the names listed and either give them a memorandum of what he had for them, or take them through the gateway etc. These calls were termed "Money calls or box calls" as the case might be. In the banks of the ditches and under the plank walkway were rat holes and numbers of rats. The sargeant (sic) or some one would come around often with a squad of men with force pumps and hose and rat tarriers, sticks etc. The hose would be put in the rat holes, the force pump applied and the rats would run out and be killed. Numbers were sometimes caught in this way. When money or boxes were to be delivered you could hear all over the prison yard "Money call or box call" (I will say comparatively flew ever heard this call for themselves.) Not long after my arrival I heard a cry "Rat call! Rat call!" I went out to see what this meant. A number of prisoners were moving and some running up near the partition, over which a sargeant (sic) was standing and presently he began throwing rats down. The prisoners scrambled for the rats like school boys for apples, none but some of the most needy prisoners, and the needy were the large majority, would scramble for these rats. Of course but few were lucky enough to get a rat. The rats were cleaned, put in salt water a while and fried. Their flesh was tender and not unpleasant to the taste.
In proceeding with my narrative I shall endeavor to give matters and things as they occured (sic) or came to my knowledge. I will remark, whether this be characteristic of the Southern people, of the nature of man in prison, of the effects of long continued hunger, I do not know, but perhaps the latter; for I observed that the general bearing of those who were able to buy food and clothing from the sutler, was very different from that of those in want, in this: that the one class was comparatively gay, the other sad and retreating; I say I will remark that the prisoners did not become generally acquainted nor did they share much in general social communications.
SOCIETY IN PRISON
We associated together very much as neighboring people, from small localities, meeting together in a Town or City, in small companies. The city and town people companionated, the country boys companionated, as a constancy in these little associations. The Virginians companionated as a whole, so the Kentuckyians, Carolinians and Marylanders, and more or less those from the cotton states together, as a whole. I thought I observed in these peculiarities the germs of that future which points to a time, it may be in the distance, when the cotton states, as they are called many become a seperate (sic) and independent confederacy. So with the border states etc. And I have no doubt the same thing occured (sic) in the Southern prisons as between the Eastern, Middle, Western and Trans Mississippi States. So true it is that there are natural causes slowly but continuously at work, forming types of thought and sympathies, shaping the destiny of many and peoples, and in the end overriding all laws of force, all the schemes and plans of individual or local interests, however and by whatsoever cause prompted. Whether the lust of Empire, of trade, of avarice, of national power and glory and therefore to keep up and maintain a common Government, can only be done by a wise and forbearing conservatism, and general and supreme justice to all.
From this cause I have no doubt there were many occurances (sic) that did not come to my knowledge, while whatever effected the occupants of a "Division" would become known to all in that "Division" something like national matters and matters more particularly effecting each particular state. As an incident in illustration there was a celebrated debate in prison on a matter greatly interesting us, hereafter to be related, in which was debated with power, zeal and eloquence the whole question of State sovereignty and centralization. We in our insanity, if the Northern people choose so to term it, immagining (sic) that each "Division" was sovereign and when acting together by delegates, as was done on that occasion, they as a whole could not dictate to any one "Division," which resulted first at a threat of nulification (sic), and next of secession etc. and came very near resulting in a serious disturbance and would have no doubt done so but for the blue uniforms and bayonets ever staring us in the face.
PRISON INSPECTION AND SOME OTHER THINGS
We had in prison no regulations prohibiting the sutler, his name was Emory, from selling us stationary. We learned he was prohibited from selling anything else. I found this out in this way. After getting some money I went every day or so to the sutlers, his stand fronted on the most frequented plank walk way, to get such things as I needed. One morning I called in and found nothing in the room but a pine table, and pens, paper etc. around. Shelves etc. all gone, not a trace of what was there the day before, and the sutler looking as innocent as a young girl in the parlor with her lover when the old man comes in. I spoke to the sutler but he only shook his head. I went away and asked the reason of a fellow prisoner whom I had seen buying there. He said, "the inspector will be around to-morrow. The sutler and officials always get notice beforehand and they prepair (sic) to satisfy him that all is going on according to the regulations. You haven't got the ropes yet, I went there yesterday and got three days supplies." I said, "I suppose you had a wink." He replied, "Yes Emory is a good follow (sic)."
The next day the inspector came around with some officials and others, a sleik (sic), polite looking man, who seemed to feel that his bearing must be to correspond with the dignity of his position, but I must say it was generally believed that he, and others and the sutler were in accord. He walked around and was treated with great distinction by those in his company. But he did not converse with a prisoner, nor did one of us approach him as I observed. Our "Division" had been cleaned up, whitewashed, and all things were in order. A good many of the well fed and well clothed prisoners were around in the prison grounds enjoying themselves. The inspector would pause and look at them. But the destitute multitude were on their bunks or in their "Division" in their gloom and sadness, many wraped (sic) in their blankets sick and suffering. These he did not further inspect than to look in at the doors of some of the "Divisions" for a moment.
OCCUPATION AND EMPLOYMENT OF THE PRISONERS
We had among us commission merchants, who sold for us whatever we could spair (sic), to get means to buy from the sutler. Auctioneers who sold s a last resort for any price, taylors (sic) busy making and mending clothes, shoe makers, making and mending shoes, cloth and leather was sold to us in prison. Preachers for those religiously inclined. Prayer meetings, beer makers who kept restorants (sic). We were freely furnished with bibles, religious tracts, books etc. from the religious societies in the North.......
We had all sorts of schools, some primary, the attendants often paying a little something to the teachers. We had debating societies where all sorts of questions were discussed sometimes with great force, and essays and poetic compositions were read, some of high order. There as every where the orator was the champion. Among us were many Northern men, some of them but a short time resident in the South.
GAMBLING IN THE PRISON
We had card playing, rolette, Reno, farro etc. I knew a young man with whom the passion for gambling was so great, that he lost all the money he got while in prison a few days after he received it. He was nearly naked and had suffered greatly from hunger and cold, and a brother had managed to send a considerable sum of money, and so with others. So true it is that we cannot help or save those addicted to this or other bad habits, we may destroy ourselves in the effort, we cannot save them. The gamblers and black legs brought great misery on many of young and inexperienced boys, thus no doubt sending many to desease (sic) and death for wheresoever man is, there too is the temper and destroyer. "Have I not chosen you twelve and one of you is a devil."
THE FARRO BUNK
I said to a friend one cold night. Let us go to "Division No ----" and see the farro game. It is near midnight but we will go and see. We enter the door, darkness profound. No lights after 9 P.M. We pause and listen. We hear the weary hungry soldiers breathing heavily, some snoring, some muttering in their restless sleep. One in his dreams is in battle, he gives a quick yell, or half yell up yonder in his bunk. Another in fancy with his wife and little ones (many were such dreams) at his cabin away in the mountains or by running stream. This was my first visit. As we stood listening and looking we heard one sleeper exclaim, "Mary, oh my baby" and then all was still. We stood listening and perfectly still.
"Thoughts upon thoughts a countless throng
Came chasing countless thoughts along."
I looked at my companion, he said not a word. Presently a light, or rather gleam of light, flashed for a moment, away down at the end of the long passage between the bunks. I said, "Yonder is that hell." We approached softly. We did not want to awaken the sleeping soldiers. On the middle row of bunks, hung around with dirty blankets, our blankets had all become very dirty, extending across the "Division" we heard in a low voice "All ready." We tapped softly. Instantly a blanket was thrown over the light, and all was dark. We entered. "Go ahead boys we are not the sentinel." The candle was lighted. The cards arranged and the game went on. The bets were very small. But 10c there was equal to $10.00 in the world of sunshine and hope. We remained a while and went back to our bunks.
I will remark that we all knew the guard was ordered to fire into any bunk where light was burning at a given time after the signal for "lights out." Yet here were 15 or more otherwise noble men, given up to an insane passion under which they were risking desease (sic) and death, for money was life with them, as well as a bullet from the guard. This order for shooting into a bunk was altogether proper for otherwise we could not have had our sleep, from the annoyance of light and talk and games. For it will be found that in every company of men there are some, so depraved as to be utterly indifferent to the rights of others, even their right to their hours of rest and to that quiet so essential to the wearied body and mind. Such persons ought to be shot. We also played chess and backgammon, but not many could do so from the want of means to get the boards etc. But the greater number had but little inclination to any amusements. The result I think of prison life as it was.
INCIDENT OF TORTURE
As incident of torture occured (sic) about this time in which an adjutant was the sufferer. This youth was in my "Division" and from Stanton (sic) Virginia, where he is now living. We were allowd (sic) to send out letters without limit by putting them in the box prepaird (sic) for the purpose, for inspection.21 It was generally known among us that no letter would be mailed, that had anything in it disrespectful to the Government, or in any wise criticising (sic) anything pertaining to the prison, or to our terms of what was going on in the prison, thinking thereby to make more certain the mailing of their letters, for it was by letters we got money etc. The sentinels were forbidden to bring to us or take out anything -- letter or whatnot. This was altogether proper. This adjutant in some way got into correspondence with a friend (perhaps a fair maid) in Philadelphia, who was enthusiastic and perhaps tenderly so, in sympathy with us and with the South, and it may have been with the young soldier. He in some way got a sentinel to aid him in a clandestine correspondence, in which each could express to the other every emotion, and their true opinions. The adjutant was sent for one day by the prison authorities, and did not return in a reasonable time. It got out in a day or so that he was undergoing humiliation and punishment for not disclosing the name of a sentinel who had mailed a letter for him to his friend. After his return to the Division, it was the general talk that he had been terribly punished. That he had been questioned for the name of the sentinel and refused to give it. That he was threatened with torture and still refused. That his arms were tied behind him and he was swung up by the cord until he fainted. That this was repeated untill (sic) it was found he would die before he would betray the name of the sentinel. That on his partial recovery from this torture, he was again threatened and refused to betray the sentinel. We then put in the dungeon for some days, then in the hospital and finally returned to the prison. I have the information in a few days past on this matter, and I vouch for its truth.
MECHANICAL WORK AND INGENUITY OF SOUTHERN PRISONERS22
Put the white man where you many and he will adapt himself to his condition. His pride, his ambition, his aspirations, his burning desires to rise, to make the most of his lot, at once calls into play his unbounded ingenuity, and had we been doomed to remain at Fort Delaware, and the means given us with no restrictions from the outside world we would have framed a constitution, and wise laws without a book to guide us, we would have become a manufacturing community. We would there have made a little Tyre of that island, and with wives and children to grow up, around us we would soon have had fleets of merchantmen.
It is a warm day in February -- let us stroll around the prison yard. Yonder in the sunshine by that high long partition wall, sitting on folded blankets, or in Indian fashion, are hundreds of men; they are miserably clad; some with old blankets around them; they are, some of them, very much dejected, but they are very busy. Hunger and want and nakedness have nerved them to the exerting of their every ingenuity. They are working mostly with pocket knives, some badly worn; some with one blade left. They handle their knives, deftly, and patiently. One has a muscle shell; it has beautiful tints, blue and gold, shaded into each other, and by him trinkets, trinkets partly finished, also gutta percha, another sea shell and horn or jet. He is making a miniature bird, a snake, or something, as natural as life. It is so small, that he can set several in a ring or breast pin, etc. Another has a lovely finger ring set with these little miniatures, with great skill; he is looking at it, proud of the work of his hand. He has been working on it several days. It is completed. He will sell it tomorrow, perhaps for a dollar to the sutler, or a fellow prisoner, or some one in blue uniform, and at once he buys something to eat, or sugar or coffee, and for the time he is a happy man. Another is making a bracelet set with little gems, or perhaps shaped like a serpent, the eyes made of little bits of shell, the head also of the same, or horn etc. You may clasp it on your hand and the head will meet the tail, and the serpent will be biting his tail. These shells and horn, and jet etc. are worked into all sorts of shapes, and make many little delicate beautiful trinkets. It is wonderful how such lovely things could be made with a pocket knife. Here is a ring with two miniature doves set in it with their bills together. They are making love, oh how gently! A young soldier comes along, he is well dressed, from Tennessee, he takes the ring, a strange light comes into his eyes, he is fascinated: "What is your price?" "One dollar." He pays it, takes the ring. "How long did it take you to make this?" "About three days." The man rises, walks quickly; presently he is seen returning to his division, with a large loaf of bread, and a little bundle. That day the ring goes off in a letter to the mail -- to whom? Well, he would die before he would tell. There is another with a chain, link after link of varied shells and horn and jet. It is charming. There is another, by him, a tiny little toy, a finished wrist button. He is making another to match it. Another is making a bird, by my life, it is a humming bird with tinted wings and neck. It is perfect. He has been patiently working on it more than ten days. It is so small you can put it in a very small purse if you have one. He asks three dollars for it. Another has a breast pin. It is set with a silver quarter, beaten and polished as smooth as glass, and set in jet; On it is the coat of arms of Virginia, perfectly distinct, and in miniature letters "Sic semper Tyrannis." What is this designed for? It is Virginia in memory. What is your price? $3.00. It will take it. I supposed you are a Virginian? No, I was born in Massachusetts, came to Virginia a few years before the war. Are there many New England people in this prison? Oh, yes. Can't you beat these Virginians making trinkets? No. And so I might go on enumerating etc. etc. I will here remark that our trinkets were eagerly bought up by officials or others and by the sutler, as I have heard, and sold in the North at very high prices, as wonderful for Southern men to make, and there were many Northern born and Northern educated men, both officers and privates in our army and this prison. Some of them had been in the South but a short time before the war, and were of us in every thing.
Return of Prisoners that had been transferred to S. Carolina, and put under fire at Fort Sumpter (sic) in Charleston Harbor. Our mode of relieving their distress.23
A short time before I reached Fort Delaware, some of the prisoners perhaps four to six hundred had been sent to S. Carolina into Charleston Harbor, or near Fort Sumpter (sic). I am not familiar with the geography of the place. It was generally said that when it was announced that some of them were to be transferred to that place, there was a general eagerness to go. It was represented that it was a paradise as compared to Fort Delaware. So eager were they to go and that they might be exchanged that many gave their watches, chains, rings etc. clandestinely to be put on the list to go. I do not now remember the time. But we heard one day they were to be brought back, and in a day or two they arrived.24 The most miserable, dilapidated sorrowful set of men imaginable. They were suffering with scurvy, chronic diseases of the bowels, and other maladies. They could not eat the bread and beef on which we were fed, with some exceptions. Many had died. They, as all of us, had a horror of the prison hospital. We had a saying among us "All tracts go that way." Yet many of them as a necessity were sent to the hospital on landing. They craved raw Irish Potatoes, tea, coffee and onions. We appointed Committees to get subscriptions to aid them. Some gave tobacco; some clothing; some money. And these committees bought, and distributed to them things suited to their condition. But these things were so dear that our subscriptions were soon exhausted.
We then got permission to get up plays etc. for their relief and we were allowed the Mess Hall for the purpose. It was given out that many about the post, officials and others would attend, to aid us; In a very short time we were ready for the play. We improvised the necessary scenery, announced a play. The attendance was very large. Many outside of the prison attending. The play went off with great eclar. I think a play or so was composed. These plays and perhaps other amusements were kept up, and occasionally repeated until these unfortunates except those too far gone were relieved. Many of them however died. They said that while near Charleston they were sometimes put under fire, and greatly exposed to the burning sun, retaliatory, as was supposed -- that they were starved almost to death, suffered from thirst etc. etc. That occasionally quantities of cucumbers from the brine were brought in which were greedily devoured, though greatly increasing their thirst. I sicken at the narrative. I give it as I heard it. Let us if possible draw a veil over these things of horror. The people are not responsible, and none but the political mountebank, will seek to make them so.
Large quantities of Tobacco received, mostly by the Virginians. A Philadelphia merchant proposes to buy it . . . His visit, meeting called. His speech and offer -- our reply.
The Prison yard was in a hubbub. It was announced that in a great number of boxes of tobacco were on hand, for distribution. "Box call" rang all over the prison. Here was life and hope. The weather was terrible, our sufferings great.
A tobacco-merchant from Philadelphia, as he said, was talking with the prisoners. Some one proposed to call a meeting. We were at the time in my division No. 33, I think. A chairman was at once elected. The prisoner who had received the most tobacco, perhaps $175.00 worth -- the millionaire so to speak was made chairman. He said to the merchant, "We are ready to hear you."
Gentlemen, said he, I am no speaker. I heard there was a large quantity of tobacco here, perhaps several thousand pounds. That it was for sale. I have had nothing to do with this war. I thought you might not know the market value and sell it for less than it's worth. So I got a permit to come in and buy it, if you wanted to sell. You may know as well as I that this untimely war may be over in a few weeks. Perhaps you are not as well posted as I am, for we, dealers in cotton and tobacco have means of information in such matters, unknown to the public. It is in the line of our business. Tobacco in view of this, is falling in the market, and if you hold on to it for a rise, you may be heavy losers. You will need money, when you are released and sent hime (sic), which we, of my way of thinking, hope soon to see. Gentlemen, you are not as well provided for in the way of clothing as I hoped to see, and this is very sad and ought not to be so. Now I am no philanthropist but I could but note this sad fact, and I hope you will excuse me for the reference. I am here merely to trade with you as I live near by, and as a conscientious man to make you a fair offer, I have the money, gold if you prefer, allowing for the premium. It is going up every day, or I may...
"Come to the point," said a voice. "What will you give?"
As I was saying...
"Make your offer! Make your offer," from many voices, "How much a pound?"
Will you not let me explain a little more?
"No, no, no, no, your offer!"
Well gentlemen I will not take advantage of your distress, will bid a little over the market price, and take the risk. I will give fifty cents a pound for chewing tobacco and forty cents for smoking.
"I move we adjourn" -- second the motion -- a unanimous "aye" went up before the motion was put. And the merchant sneaked out. We know the tobacco was worth vastly more than the merchant had offered.
The officers morning retreat was perhaps 300 yards from the Division in the northern side of the prison yard, and about 50 or so from those on the southern side. The weather being intensly (sic) cold, and many suffering from various disorders, without overcoats, and compelled to rise frequently at night, (there were some 3500 of us) in the dark and stormy nights, when even the sentinel could not remain out, used the prison grounds. Many others, who were under no such necessities, did the same. The result may be easily imagined. We appealed to the authorities several times, and they finally sent us word to appoint a commandant from ourselves, and take these matters, under our own government, and the authorities would enforce our discipline if necessary. This was very acceptable to those divisions which suffered most from the nuisance, being far away from the retreat. Those prisoners near the retreat and but little annoyed, were satisfied with things as they were. They took no great interest in the matter, while some were violently opposed to the whole plan of self-government, while many individuals were likewise opposed as many thought for very capricious reasons. Some of these Divisions had very many more occupants than others. Under these circumstances, the Convention (for that is what we called it) was called, and the excitement from the conflict of opinions was high. Each Division sent one delegate. The Convention was convened in one of the largest Divisions, and it was crowded.
(Now I am giving these proceedings as they will illustrate what might be termed the inanity, but what was really the genius of the times and also showing the moral and political opinions of the confederate solders and their skill and ability in debate.) The first question raised was whether the Chairman should be elected viva voce, the delegates voting as a whole, or by Divisions, and if by Divisions, whether the vote of a delegate should be counted one, or according to the number in the Division. We appointed a temporary Chairman viva voce to hear and determine this controversy.
There are several speeches for and against. I will give the argument. It is instructive, and food for reflection, as illustrating the genius of the times. For one generation will make war and risk everything for that about which another generation will care not, nor ever consider. Such is man.
I consider sir, that the occasion that brings us together, in this dungeon of death and torture, is of great moment to us at least. That something must be done, and that at once. Though we be prisoners, and deprived of every right, yet a privilege has been granted us, by our keepers, to govern ourselves. He would have us take responsibilities more pertinent to himself. I care not to criticize his motives. But sir imprisoned here for the maintenance of a sacred right, I shall not abandon it here or elsewhere. That right sir is the equality of the States and their Sovereignty. We are here to determine, whether we will appoint a central head with unlimited powers, and if so appointed, how to be appointed. I sir, regard each Division as a Sovereign power, independent of every other, and therefore, the equal of every other, regardless of numbers. This, sir, is one of the principles that has been assailed by the Federal Government. It is a principle sacred to every friend of true liberty. For the defence of which we have breasted the storm of battle, and are now suffering here, death lurking wherever we move. My Division has a small population. It does not matter, sir. In the name of the principle for which we are fighting or rather starving I demand that my vote as a delegate be counted one. I come here in my representative character -- the peer of any. I maintain this to be the true principle of liberty, and I will yield it no where. No, sir, not even in the walls of a dungeon, nor to save that life which to one is nothing if I debase it by yielding the principle. A low murmur of applause followed this argument. Next speaker --
I have no question to make with our comrade who has addressed you, with so much power and force on the principles of State Sovereignty he has seen fit to raise, nor do I think it a matter of the slightest moment. But, sir, I am apprehensive from what I have learned that our purpose may be defeated, if we act on his principles in the organization of this convention. I will admit, if it will satisfy him, that each Division is a Sovereign community, with rights too sacred to be rudely assailed, much less violated. I regard the Sovereignty of the States as the jewel of a chaste maiden. If she yields to anything, all is lost, (murmurs of applause). Yes, Sir, I will admit that each Division is a Sovereign power, although neither has laws, a Governor or any pretense to Government whatever. It has in fact no single element of Sovereignty, or of whatever constitutes a community. It has, it is true, what is called a Chief of Divisions. But he holds a power, insignificant in the extreme, under a foreign Government, and really has no power worthy of the name, and therefore the Divisions do not rise even to the dignity of clans. I trust, sir, that State Sovereignty will not be invoked for discussion here. Here as a practical question, we need centralization of power in one head. You may give that head a council or Cabinet, pardon me Sir, for using these names in a matter so inappropriate. But Sir, in a proper field and on a proper occasion, every one here is willing to risk life and liberty, our very presence here is proof enough, in defence of State Sovereignty, secession or nullification, as against unwarranted and non-delegated central exercise of powers even though the smallest State should be the victim. But, sir, the Supreme Wisdom has made nothing without a head, nay, not even a worm or fly. And he who expects to govern or to guide anything, man or beast or creeping thing, without a head, will fail; and the thing, State or Empire, union or confederacy, bug or beast without a supreme head will be just as apt to go tail foremost as in any other direction. I do not mean this as ridicule. No, sir, my respect for my able comrade is too profound for that, but as a means to give this matter a practical direction, and bring us to a speedy and common sense conclusion: that we may act at once, and save ourselves from the terrible nuisance under which we are suffering. This produced merriment, and the solemnity of the argument on State Sovereignty gave way a little.
We then elected a President viva voce, who took the chair that is a broken tobacco box, which broke down and landed him flat. After he got up, and steadied the box, with a piece of rubbish, maybe a broken brick, a motion was made to proceed to business.
Gentlemen, said the Chairman, we all know the necessities that bring us here. The first order of business is to elect a Commandant of the prison, nominations are now in order. Nominations were made. "Gentlemen, the Convention in Committee of the whole is open for debate."
1st Speaker, Mr. President:
It is a matter of little consequence to me personally, what the Convention may do. I am here a delegate to represent my Division. I believe in State Sovereignty and the sovereignty of my community, except so far as they may concede a part of their sovereignty for the general good. My Division is opposed to this whole movement. Indeed I have reason to believe that Division will not submit to be governed by any Commandant you may elect. They, sir, will nullify your action. Or if I find you are determined to force upon them the government you propose, I will, in conformity to what I believe their wishes to be, secede from this Convention, and appeal to them for the approval of my action and they may appeal to the authorities not to enforce any orders or penalties of the Commandant you may elect; I have good reason to believe there are some other Divisions that may do the same. We claim this as a right. We do not think you will attempt to co-erce us for that would be the same sort of despotism as that we have been combatting on so many battle fields. It may be that some of the Divisions, are greatly annoyed by certain disorders, but better that than coercion on a sovereign Division, for not submitting to a form of Government distasteful and obnoxious to it. I, sir, in this matter am acting on a principle. Again, Sir, allow me to say that in very many cases our suffering comrades, half naked, with no overcoats, and thin blankets, and chilled from the want of food sufficient to keep up their vitality, cannot stand the exposure of walking 200 or 300 yards. Sometimes several times a night. We must try and find out other ways of correcting this nuisance, than their punishment -- the poor unfortunates. And surely, sir, there is no man in this prison, for the vain distinction of the brief honors of being Commandant. Some people, I know, would do anything for a little brief authority. None such here, I trust. (This was a hit) Surely, Sir, no many under these trying circumstances, or call on the Federal authorities to aid him in enforcing a penalty. What, Sir, we confederates to call on such necessities as force him to do what he himself is mortified to be obliged to -- Never, Sir, Never. (Sensation)
Next Speaker --
Mr. President, Sir, I as another has so well said, regret that State Sovereignty has been so untimely invoked in this discussion. It is wholly inapplicable and inappropriate. If any gentleman in his representative capacity chooses to resort to such an argument, to defeat a measure dictated, when you look at it rightly, by humanity, I must say his constituents have not looked at the matter well or wisely. While I am a secessionist, as well as a nullifier, I was not so for frivolous causes, or rather I should say, for what I so consider. Nor, Sir, do I think we alone are the champions, so to say, of this doctrine. I, Sir, will say, that all and every one of the States, even the North, would if the provocation was sufficient, resort to Secession, or even nullification. It is in the very nature of a Confederate community. Why, Sir, there was secession between Abraham and Lot. They were too wise to fight. Neither wished to prey on the other. The New England States were once getting ready to nullify or secede. And, Sir, if the Central powers at Washington, through Genl. Jackson had not ended the War of 1812 at the battle of New Orleans -- if that war had been prolonged much longer, we have unmistakable cause to know those States would have seceded. Again, Sir, many, perhaps most of the free States, nullified the Fugitive Slave Law, though its constitutionality was not ever controverted. Under a change of conditions, you may have found the Northern States, the seceders, and the Southern States, the coercionists, and Old Time in his whims and changes may bring that about as his wheel goes on in its revolutions. Had we had the power, had we been preparing to force slavery on them, or had we elected a President, with avowed purpose, with a greater power to sustain us than they to defeat us in the Union, or for the purpose of robbing them, or in any wise making them unsafe or insecure, can any one doubt they would have seceded, and if invaded resisted arms for arms, or that we would have attempted to coerce them, had we been moved by self interest, or the lust of empire. Sir, permit me to say, this thing of nullification, secession, centralization, coercion, the glorious Union, and all that is at least nothing but a question of interests, or national pride, extent of empire. If we could have convinced the Northern people that our Secession, and confederacy would have been to their profit and advantage, I must be allowed to say, and I am not afraid to say it, though I believe they have listeners on the outside or in here in our midst, I must be allowed to say their fanatics, and abolitionists could not have raised an army strong enough to invade the South, and the negro, and so called slavery would not have been a quantity.
Mr. Speaker, I wish to act practically, and with all humanity. My comrade, I know him to be brave and devoted, does not seem to reflect that if one of us shall be brought to trial for committing a nuisance, and stated he was suffering from disease, that he would be excused and perhaps means taken for his relief. Even the want of clothing would be an accepted excuse. If our Commandant attempted to inflict a penalty on such a one, I would be for mobbing him under the very guns of the sentry. I apprehend nothing of the sort. Our object is to put restraints on those in comparative health, or so lazy or indifferent to the health and comforts of their comrades as to avail themselves of these dark nights to save them of a short walk. What, Sir, will be the condition of these prison-grounds to those of us who may survive to see another summer's heat, bringing up deadly gases. How many will die then of the remnant that may be left. Let us look at this matter more, and at State Sovereignty less, under all circumstance, (murmurs of approval).
After some confusion we adjourned sine die, and all, of our own accord remain under the Federal authorities. Some days after a large tub was sent to each Division and the disorders were at an end.
So we were saved by a little humanity, and good sense, and by a very small thing.
Here is food for reflection, the same thing might have prevented our great conflict, and brought it to a happy issue and national unity. Of this perhaps hereafter.
1. Confederate Military History, ed. by Gen. Clement A. Evans (12 vols., Atlanta, 1899) II, 274. A record of Capt. Swann was prepared by the Graves Registration Survey, W.P.A.
2. Charleston (W. Va.) Daily Mail, April 17, 1938.
3. They were L. Ruffner, S. A. Miller, Thos. L. Broun, Benj. H. Smith. See also Kanawha Republican, January 30, 1867.
4. An act for the creation of a commission to make a geological and economic survey of West Virginia was passed on February 26, 1897. Virgil A. Lewis, West Virginia Hand Book (Charleston, 1904), p. 192-193.
5. Kanawha Valley Star, December 26, 1859.
6. History of the Kanawha Sharp Shooters, ms in West Virginia Department of Archives and History.
7. Kanawha Valley Star, January 23, 1860.
8. Ibid., February 13, 20, 27, 1860.
9. Ibid., February 27, 1860.
10. Later General McCausland.
11. Kanawha Valley Star, May 14, 1861.
12. Ibid., June 4, 1861.
13. For reports of this battle see The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies (Washington, 1893), Series I, XLIII, passim. H. A. Du Pont The Campaign of 1864 in the Valley of Virginia (New York, 1925), pp. 107-129. Includes maps.
14. The prison was on an island in the Delaware River. Although U. S. Commissary-General of Prisoners W. Hoffman pronounced the island "a very suitable place for the confinement of prisoners of war," medical inspectors thought otherwise. One of the latter wrote: ". . . this post is utterly unfit location for a prison much more for a hospital. Lying so low, its level being some six feet below high tide, it is impossible to properly drain it or to prevent its surface being constantly marshy and wet." W. Hoffman to E. M. Stanton, June 15, 1862, O. R. Series II, IV. 23: Report of A. M. Clark, Surgeon and Acting Medical Inspector Prisoners of War, Ibid., VI, 516-18. The British pro-consul at Philadelphia went so far as to call the attention of the State Department to the unhealthy conditions at Fort Delaware. W. H. Seward to E. M. Stanton, Jan. 27, 1863, Ibid., V, 216-17.
15. Even George W. Ahl whose weekly reports were suspiciously favorable admitted that the prisoners were "too thinly clad." Ibid., VIII, 143.
16. Josiah Randall and his son Samuel Jackson Randall. A sketch of the former, who was a leading Philadelphia lawyer, may be found in Encyclopedia of American Biography, I, 405. For Samuel J. Randall, Congressman and Speaker of the House of Representatives, see Dictionary of American Biography, XV, 350. Josiah Randall spoke at Charleston on May 10, 1859. In his speech he praised the Buchanan administration and accused the American party of inconsistency in its stand regarding the Fugitive Slave Law and the Annexation of Cuba. Kanawha Valley Star, May 10, 1859.
17. Brigadier-General Albin Schoepf, a Hungarian refugee, The Photographic History of the Civil War, ed. by Francis T. Miller (10 vols., New York, 1911) VII, 65.
18. Now Charleston, West Virginia.
19. Col. E. Pope Jones, 109th Virginia Regiment, was mortally wounded by a sentry and died July 9, 1864. An inquiry was held at Headquarters and Private Douglas, the sentry, was exonerated from all the blame. O. R., Series II, VII, 452-54. See Special Order No. 157 in ibid., p. 1256.
20. A Confederate report states that Col. Jones was both lame and ill at the time he was shot. Ibid., VIII, 342.
21. According to two special orders issued in August 1864, the prisoners at Fort Delaware were limited in their letters to ten lines. None could be sent except to members of the immediate family. Ibid., VII, 809-811.
22. Compare this with Rev. George W. Nelson's narrative of his prison life printed in Southern Historical Society Papers (Richmond, 1876) I, 243-256. Rev. Nelson wrote: "Schools, debating clubs, and games of all kinds were in vogue. There were all kinds of shops. Shoemaker, black-smith, tailor, jeweler, storekeeper, were all found carrying on their respective business."
23. Rev. Nelson was one of the prisoners sent to South Carolina and back again to Fort Delaware. Concerning the condition of the returning prisoners Rev. Nelson wrote: "I had no idea what a miserable looking set of men we were until contrasted with the Fort Delaware prisoners -- our bold companions. I thought they were the fattest, best dressed set of men I had ever seen." Ibid., p. 256.
24. This was around the middle of March, 1865.
The papers we read here daily say nothing about us, and so far as we know the Government at Richmond do not know of our existence. We do not want to murmur as long as we can suffer and endure. But there is a limit to all things. A comrade is taken to the hospital. The next we hear from him he is dead. Others are lingering here, afraid, as it were, to go to the hospital; and there are none to help them. It is impossible to suppose the authorities at Richmond ignorant of these things. We have no fear of death, for that brings rest at least. We die daily. We know many at Richmond and elsewhere, while we are perishing are thinking more about abstract nonsense, promotion, honors etc. than of us who have no further aspirations than to secure for our States liberty and self-government. The love of country is a passion with man. It is a sentiment beautiful and sacred. But it may be a sentiment at last. Nothing more. We have fought the battles of the Confederacy and struggled here with cold and hunger, death walking among and gazing at us with horrid front; wherever we move or look we confront the grim monster with steady eye and warn him to keep at a distance, that we may live to be again on the battle field. We have seen him on the battle field, but there his form is fascinating, here, too horrible to describe. We feel our suffering bodies and broken spirits can resist him no further here. We wish to live that we may again meet him on the battle field where we may meet him blow for blow, and die amidst the thrills of Confederate yells of triumph, with the consolation of falling in manly combat. But to die here is humiliating, is appalling! Let us demand our Government to take immediate steps for our restoration to the battle field, and warn the Congress and Government at Richmond to stop their idle wrangling about abstractions, their idle discussions about nice questions of State Rights and what they call honor, and take immediate steps in some way to liberate us. If that nest of imbeciles at Richmond were dispersed and our great soldier made Dictator, then there would be hope. But no cause can triumph under the lead of such men. We want a soldier at the head of our Government, and God has pointed him out to us. Let us make known our will to those at Richmond. Mere Wranglers -- that we may be unchained, and put into the field. Let us . . . Gentlemen I know not what to advise. What can we do? What shall we do?" (Sensation)
"I agree with my noble comrade in all he has said. We are in the midst of the greatest of wars, and charged with being rebels. Rebels against what? Against the Constitution? No! Against the spirit and genius of Constitutional liberty and law? No! Against the decisions of the United States Supreme Court? The constituted arbiter and adjudicator of the rights of the people of the States? No! Man has no rights in question for us. Against the rights of man? No! Man has no rights in these United States save those rights recognized by the law of the land. What rights have the States? and the people? None but those set forth in their Constitutions. Are we opposing them? What rights have the American people under the Federal Government? None but those plainly conceded in the Federal Constitution. Look into that Constitution, show me a single word or sentence that grants to the Federal Government the right to interfere with negro servitude in the District of Columbia, to interfere with or impair the right of the citizen of any State to go into the common Territory with his property, and to hold it under the protection of the Government! Is not property in negroes recognized by the Constitution of the United States? And the whole power of the Government pledged to its defense? Has not the fugitive slave law been practically nullified throughout the whole North? Where has the Federal Government been authorized to invade a State with armies to overthrow its Government by force? Do we not know that when that right was sought to be granted to it in the Convention of the fathers, by a clause to that end that but one vote was given in its favor! The true and only rebels are they who now claim that right and are visiting upon our States fire and sword, for resisting them, and maintaining our plain rights. We alone who resist them are loyal. Loyal to what? To the insane passion that has been called up by a Seward and demons of violence among them, a Woman's Rights fiend, with nothing of the woman but the outward form, and that by no means attractive. No, we are not rebels. We are the defenders of the Constitution and the law. Our Government itself does not understand us. How then can we expect the Northern people to comprehend us. To conquer us is but to postpone the issue to another, and it may not be a distant, generation when some of those who now make war on us may come to honor us. We are not fighting for slavery. No! No! We are fighting for Constitutional law, knowing that when our enemies have thrown down that wall, all horrors in multitudinous forms will enter in. Gentlemen, the Northern Soldiers in Southern Prisons, are in as bad a plight as we, perhaps from the nature of things worse, -- if there is such a thing as worse. We pity them. We commiserate their lot. Would to God we could get together from all the prisons, and some magic power would open our eyes and arm us. Then we might together visit Richmond and Washington as well, and cast the wranglers and traitors to our rights and to humanity into the sea. For they care not for their prisoners. But this is impossible. The frenzy of insanity is everywhere. But let us be just in our great provocation and excuse as far as we can.
Our Government, knowing that if we were released and returned to our army our enemies would go down before us, has made some exertion for our exchange. They at Washington, knowing the same, have determined not to exchange prisoners. They know full well the suffering, the mortality, the horrors in all prisons, North and South. `But,' they say, `let them suffer and die rather than have these Confederate prisoners in the field again. We can replace the dead with the living. They cannot.' The war on the part of those who rule the North is a war of speculation -- for a market for their products, with some fanaticism thrown in to give it sentiment enough to control a people whose masses are governed now by a sentiment and nothing more. I commiserate them. If the soldiers could get together, and keep away the devils that gather at Richmond as well as Washington, we could come to honorable terms at Richmond as well as Washington, we could come to honorable terms and again live, if not under a common government, at least under some sort of a Federation that would secure the rights and liberties of all. But this is impossible. It is useless to reason with these people, to protest, to murmur, or to complain. It would do no good anywhere, North or South. We are in the hands of wranglers, not patriots. Death stalks around in all the prisons. I care not to send up any complaint from this one. It will do no good. The prisoners in the South are perishing as we are. No murmurs or complaints from them is heeded at Washington. We, as they, must suffer and die. It is all we can do. The Great God at some time, and in his own way, let Him give the victory to whom He may, will fitly bring punishment upon whomsoever is responsible for the sufferings of prisoners, and for the war. To Him I look. Upon Him we must rely; for He, and He alone will hear us -- will hear the moans from the prisons everywhere. He will not forget the power in His terrible arm, nor when nor how to use it. Any action we may take on this subject can do no good, and may do harm, for it may be represented that we are in revolt against our own Govrenment (sic). We can die. We cannot surrender."
The matter was dropped.
RUMORS OF THE RECOGNITION OF THE CONFEDERACY, BY FOREIGN GOVERNMENTS
As I have stated, a plank partition, over which was a walk-way for the sentry, perhaps twenty feet high, separated the quarters of the privates and officers. We got to throwing over bits of paper tied to pebbles, with messages written on them. This was stopped by orders, but occasionally one would be furtively thrown over. One morning, standing at the door of my "Division," I was attracted by a slight commotion among the prisoners. It grew rapidly. A prisoners came up -- "Have you heard the news?" No! "The Confederacy is recognized." I don't believe it." "Well, wait till I get back." He went into a little crowd, and then came running back -- "Boys, the Confederacy is recognized by France," and England. We are one of the great powers of the earth -- no mistake -- The Federal Government has sent Commissioners to Richmond to make peace." Immediately we were all gathering in the prison yard. Hundreds of little missiles with bits of paper tied to them were flying over the partition in every direction, boldly, openly. The sentinels were looking on in amazement, at the great commotion. Then a Confederate yell came. It seemed to come from earth, air and sea. It was everywhere, filled everything. It was repeated with tenfold power. It was in the privates' quarters. Where else could it be? We took it up -- in a thousand different notes, each distinct yet forming one mighty whole. It came from everywhere, from earth, air, water; again it went forth. Then in one mighty whole from both quarters, wild, weird, unearthly, transporting, inspiring; the very walls of the prison quarters vibrated. It was not harmonious, or inharmonious. It was not a whoops. It was not measured. There were in it terror and power, victory coming out of defeat, in one wild rush of hope. It was not awe inspiring as the rattle or roll of many thunders; neither did it strike terror as thunder and lightning commingled. It was from us. It was ours, and of us -- we, the omnipotent. It was triumph, we come -- we come -- It seemed to lift us from the earth, and cast us will or nill upon our foe; a passing whirl-wind, and we ourselves the storm. It was impossible for any to hold his voice. Again, earth, air and heaven sent up the voice of that yell, and we moved as if about to rush on, over-run, storm, cast down every thing, and yet we did not move at all. We forgot our being. We had no bodies. The earth was ours; the air, heaven not too high to scale. The prison walls seemed to give way before us. Had the word been given we could have torn them down, cast the fragments behind us and rushed on. It was over and all was still. We stood looking as it were for something to confront us. In walked the officials. "What on earth is the matter? The guns will be turned on you." Again came the yell; it was taken up in the privates' quarters. The officials trembled and turned pale. The sentries around stood petrified. Some one said, "The Confederacy is recognized; they are making peace, we won't hurt you."
"Gentlemen there is not a word of truth in it. It is a hoax. For God's sake be quiet. The guns will be turned on you. It is reported outside that you are going to storm the fort. You will be massacred. For God's sake keep quiet." All was over. We returned gloomily to our quarters. All hope was dead. We afterwards heard that our yell had so appalled the guard and the garrison that had we made a rush we could have stormed and taken the fort.
GENL LEE'S SURRENDER.
Rumors of these events were all over the prison. As was customary the sergeant or some one came in with newspapers. We began reading them in groups; the prisoners gathering around. We saw it was all over with the Confederacy, as we listened to the reading of the papers, in silence profound. We then, one by one, or in small groups, in silence went to our "Divisions." The prison ground became deserted. Had it been announced that every third man was to be shot in retaliation and we must prepare to draw lots, the gloom would not have been more profound. After a while some one began to express doubt. He was not listened to. I looked into the prison grounds. Here and there a prisoner was going along like he was lost. The prison was a graveyard. A Major came into our Division. We were nearly all Virginians from Trans-Alleghany. He said, "Gentlemen what do you think of the news?" No one spoke. He went away. After a while he returned, "Gentlemen, I don't believe the half of it. I want to give you my reasons." No one would hear him. He went away. The prison was desolation. Every man looked like the last man. That night a Marylander came in and said, "If Lee has surrendered that army, he is a traitor." "Don't use that word" came in a warning voice from several. "I did not know what I was saying." "Then be silent." Lee has surrendered and all is over. Next the papers came in with the terms granted Lee, and his army. We began to brighten up a little. Grant was called a generous man. Some of us thought he must have Southern blood. Some said we would soon be released. Grant would not allow us to be uselessly here, etc.
MR. LINCOLN'S SPEECH AND POLICY.
Mr. Lincoln's Speech came in. It was read aloud, all over the prison. A good man, a kind hearted man, was repeated again and again with many other expressions to the same effect. He will protect us. He will open the gates if the abolitionists don't kill him. And there is that damned Stanton, and his bloody gang. Lincoln and Grant are together, and the soldiers are with them. We will be protected. "God has filled their hearts with love," said a preacher. "Old Abe was born in the South. He loved the Union but he hated nobody. `With malice toward none; with charity for all. . . .' Who but a grand, good man could have said that? We honor old Abe for his noble speech. Let him send us arms if that Stanton crew attack him, and we will clean them out. We always thought well of old Abe." "He never was an Abolitionist," said an ex-politician. "I would like to see them try and impeach him." "I expect that that Stevens gang will assassinate him, and Andrew Johnson is not too good to help them," said a Tennessean. "But we'll take care of him. He is Commander in Chief, with Grant to back him. He can arm us, and put this post in our hands, and here is Little Delaware to help. We will take Philadelphia, for rations and clothes. Grant! what more could he have done? He did not conquer our Army. . (sic) hunger and cold did that; but he was generous, he would not have asked Davis about it either."
These and like expressions could be heard every where. Some few wanted to say bitter things but they had to keep silent. We felt great relief after reading Mr. Lincoln's speech. Some did not believe we were conquered. They believed, or rather persuaded themselves to believe, that the bulk of the army had gone off in squads and was not captured, and would re-form somewhere. That Johnston would soon be in the field with an army. That our soldiers would come to it in thousands, and began to take courage. But most of us gave up the Cause as lost. I did not at any time talk to any one that came into the prison grounds. But some did. Each Division had a chief who occasionally went outside, as we termed it, for one or another purpose. They noted a very different bearing towards them. A different everything all around them: recognition of citizenship, as it were. This they reported to us. The sentinels were now familiar. Seemed as if they thought the war was over; talked to us a little, and kindly. Their very looks were kindly. We saw manifestations of kindness everywhere. Feelings of forgiveness were rapidly growing. The sutler was ready to take orders for anything we wanted and send for them, clothing, shoes etc. It was rumored that all willing to take the oath of allegiance would be released, provided with necessary things, and sent home, by the Government. That such was the purpose of Mr. Lincoln, and General Grant we did not doubt. We thought this was dictated by a generous kindness and designed to save us from humiliation and mortification, by making us citizens at once if we wished to become so; and that the Federal Government thought the war was over. We did not think such an offer would be made unless Grant and Lincoln thought the war over. It would have been an insult, and we knew these men were wholly incapable of insulting us in prison. These things had a powerful effect on us. We felt that the generosity of Grant and Lincoln had silenced Stanton, Johnson, Stevenson and such, and this was true, beyond doubt. There are some things better learned from general appearances than from words. Words may deceive, but there is something eloquent, and unmistakable in the language of the countenance. Perhaps the language of the angels; and this was all around us.
The change in all the bearing of all the Yankees, from the highest down to the cooks was towards peace. "For like master, like servant" is true everywhere.
OATH OF ALLEGIANCE TENDERED THE PRISONERS
In a day or so after the rumor that the oath of allegiance would be tendered us, an official came on the prison grounds with a book or paper in his hands, and a table was placed in the midst of the yard, -- we were requested, not ordered, to form a line, and answer our names as they were called. We were told that all who were willing to take the oath of allegiance to the Government could answer, "I," and would be returned home. That those who answered "No" would be held prisoners of war. The tone and manner of the official was kindly. He looked as if he thought all would answer, "I." We formed a line. The call of the roll began. The first answer was a very distinct "No." The officer was evidently abashed. The next, "I," and so the call proceeded, until some 3,000 or more were given. A small majority "I's."
"Gentlemen," he said, "you will be sent home as soon as we can get transportation. We will do the best we can for you," or something to that effect. After this was over we dispersed, and there was a good deal of comment. Some kindly and charitable, some harsh; and some ridicule was gotten up by the wags -- caricatures representing a prisoner swallowing a "yellow pup." The oath was printed on yellow paper, and called The Yellow Pup. But this feeling wore away, and they who made the severe remarks became more charitable, and our harmony was restored. In the midst of this kindly feeling between us and our enemies, and of general pacification, we grew more cheerful.
EFFECT ON US OF THE TERMS GRANTED GENL LEE
As I have stated the terms of surrender granted Genl Lee and his army the speech of Mr. Lincoln, making manifest his generous policy had an all-powerful effect on us. The lion of war in our hearts was daily changing into the lamb of peace. To have given a Confederate yell would have been impossible, because that yell was the voice of the lion of war in our hearts that had been soothed into slumber. Nothing but the war passion could call it forth and that passion was gone. Not from the surrender of Lee's army but from the generous terms of that surrender. An act of peace and voluntary magnanimity coming from a great soldier, and the humanity of Mr. Lincoln. We felt the demoniac faction at Washington was cow'd and silenced, that they dare not oppose the great chieftain and kind President. We affiliated with the officials that came on the prison grounds and somewhat with the sentinels.
OUR TREATMENT AFTER MR. LINCOLN'S ASSASSINATION.
Our treatment after the assassination of Mr. Lincoln, and more particularly the slanderous vituperations and bloody tone of the Northern Press aroused the lion of war in our hearts again. Had Johnston gained a great victory over Sherman, we might in a paroxysm of that terrible yell have attempted to storm the fort, and perhaps succeeded. Had we been armed, though feeble from hunger and suffering long continued, and put before a Federal Army three times our number, we would have gone through it like a whirlwind. We knew of the movements of Genl Johnston's army from newspapers; some took courage but it was hope coming in the darkness of despair, and the indomitable will to resist our oppressors. It was hope and no hope.
SURRENDER OF GENERAL JOHNSTON
The announcement of the surrender of Genl Johnston had but little effect. It was expected. The terms were gratifying, and as we thought but reflected the policy of the dead President, and of Genl Grant. Had not the President been assassinated, in our opinion they would have been confirmed. Their rejection by the Administration caused much speculation and apprehension. All sorts of rumors, growing out of this, no doubt, got afloat; some horrible and trying.
We were to be decimated and shot. Banished -- to be declared prisoners of State indefinitely -- all over a certain rank were to be shot, or banished -- the lands of the Rebels were to be confiscated. On the other hand Genl Grant and Sherman at the head of the army would overthrow the Administration. Genl Grant and Mr. Stanton were declared open enemies. The Federal army were determined to protect us. General Lee and others were to be arrested and imprisoned. Grant's terms of surrender were to be set aside. Genl Lee was riding along the streets of Richmond, and the Federal Soldiers saluted him. "They shall not hurt you Genl Lee" etc. etc.
COMMENTS AMONG THE PRISONERS FROM VIRGINIA
"We have no government now. Each State must act for itself. We are no longer confederated. We are adrift" -- The prisoners from Trans-Alleghany Virginia made these comments. The question with them being whether they should act with the Virginians, or for the State of West Va. A few of them like Philip of Macedon "despised the traitor, but loved the treason." Others said, "We will not recognize W. Va. The State was illegally formed. They who made the State, are by the Constitution of Virginia clearly guilty of treason. They were not true to the honor of the State. The U. S. Government, in organizing W. Va. as a State, has recognized the right of the people of one portion of a State to set up a State for themselves, in the teeth of the plain provisions of the Constitution of the U. States. And yet they have made war on us for asserting a similar and must (sic) less questionable right. We will not recognize an unlawful State. We were not consulted about it. It was made by a political faction. Very few voted for it. The majority were put under terror. The State was made by bayonet rule. In an honorable constitutional way, it may be best to have two Virginias. We don't believe that the United States Government will eventually hold the State to be lawfully made. It would be setting a dangerous example. It would be to sanction secession. We don't believe the State can ever stand the test of the Supreme Court. We will act together. We have fought for the Commonwealth of Virginia. We have fought and suffered together. We will now act together, and together abide whatever fate."
Finally the Virginia prisoners agreed to call a meeting to determine whether we would take the oath of allegiance if it should be again offered us, now that Genl Johnston had surrendered; and whether we would compromise the honor of the commonwealth by signifying our readiness to take the oath; whether this would in any wise look like asking pardon.
I will remark that on the surrender of Genl Lee, many Virginians and others had accepted the offer to take the oath, for then the amicable generous policy of Genl Grant, and Mr. Lincoln had calmed our war spirit. Now all was changed. Had not that policy been so benign they would not have consented to take the oath while Genl Johnston was in the field or we had an army. We who had then declined the offer were now to consider what we would do. Terrible rumors were all around us, and terrible apprehensions had grown out of them. The policy of the new Administration was dark and threatening. It had rekindled the war spirit in us. Would we make any concessions to mollify that policy? We would not ask forgiveness, for we had done no wrong. We would do nothing that could be construed into fear or weakness. We had a heart for any fate. We had defended the Commonwealth on the battle field. We had suffered all sorts of horrors in prison. We would die sooner than do any thing to compromise the honor of Virginia.
Such were the feelings and opinions that called the Virginians together to interchange views and opinions and to come to some conclusion, that should be binding on all.
The meeting was called. All the prisoners were waiting for the action of the Grand Old Commonwealth. The interest all over the prison was profound. We assembled in a large "Division," No. 34. It was crowded to suffocation. All who could get in were present: many on the outside, who could not get in where they could hear. The spirit and genius of the Commonwealth of Washington was there in all its glory and majesty. The spirit of Henry and Madison and Jefferson and Lee was there. A President and Secretary were elected, and the meeting called to order. President and Secretary were elected, and the meeting called to order. The stillness and solemnity became oppressive. No one offered to speak, no one moved. We felt our position. We were powerless to resist the hand that was upon us, the chains that had buried themselves into our souls,
"It was as of the dead could feel
The icy worm around them steal
Without the power to scare away
The cold consumers of their clay."
At last the argument began. I give its substance as well as I can, -- not its spirit, its life, its power, its grandeur or its glow, for that cannot now be given. The inspiration, now after 22 years cannot be called into life. I but give the picture, not the living, animating soul.
The first speaker was called.
His argument was that we must not under any conditions surrender, but must remain passive as long as there was a shadow of hope etc. He paid a high tribute of praise to Mr. Davis, and argued that we must await his fate, as it were. I do not give his speech because I did not thing his views or rather his manner of expressing them, reflected the sentiment of the meeting. And although we determined to remain passive, we did not mean thereby that we had any further hope. I think our action was the result of unusual pride, etc.
We are here to consult together, as to the course to be determined on, now that we have no army in the field. I am here not to advise, but to consult, and to hear an interchange of views and opinions of those among us who declined to take the oath tendered upon us, soon after the surrender of Genl Lee. I cannot see, if you will allow me to give an opinion, any rational hope of aiding a Cause now manifestly lost, by refusing the oath of allegiance if again offered us. The surrender of our armies by the advisement, made necessary by our Chieftains Lee and Johnston, Virginians as we are, animated as we by the true genius of the Commonwealth, is enough to advise us that hope is gone, and that there is nothing left but to accept such terms as the conqueror may choose to grant. The terms granted our two Christian warriors, so far from being humiliating were generous and kind and honorable and humane in the Generals who offered them. If it was no discredit to the soldiers who surrendered with arms in their hands, can it be a discredit to the Commonwealth for us to make known to the Government of the United States that we are now ready and willing to accept terms the same in substance as granted them? What can we do here? Nothing but suffer and die. If honor or the fame of the Commonwealth requires it, then we are ready to perish, even here. But does it require so great sacrifice? Had we a Government we might hesitate. But we have none. Go in search of the Confederacy, or of any insignia of Government. Can you find it? Is it the Congress? That is dispersed, never to meet again. It is the Cabinet? They are flying -- one here and another there, each in search of a place of safety -- no place of safety can be found. Is it the President? He is flying from place to place, not from city to city, or from town to town, but from swamp to swamp; and he dare not rest a day, and may be captured at any moment. No, I see no hope. Nothing before us but despair, dark and drear, so far as the Confederacy is concerned. But there are in our homes, desolate though they may be, yet not dishonored, those who now have claims on us. Shall we not return to them and do what we can to better their sad estate? I cannot advise, but I can take the oath of allegiance, if offered me, with a clear conscience, feeling no shadow on my fame as a soldier of the fallen Confederacy, or as a soldier of the old Dominion. My only hope now is to raise her up, to cheer those who love me; to comfort them who look to me in the bonds of blood. I feel it to be my duty to go to them, knowing I will find among them my peers in everything, who have accepted the decrees of the fates, and returned from the bloody battle fields of their surrender to do battle again on those blood stained fields, glorified by their triumphs in war, now awaiting the plow and the hoe of heroic sons to provide food and clothing for those who look to them and await their coming.
At the conclusion of this speech the stillness was succeeded by a little stir but the silence was unbroken. It was manifest we wanted to hear more.
The words that have fallen from our comrade and fellow sufferer, I am sure meet the sympathy if not the approval of us all. For myself, I know not what to say, in this our hour of sadness, but not despair. Virginia has fallen. But above her defeat her fame and glory rise in light eternal. Let it shine, as it will shine, to guide her sons in the struggles to come for the ages as they come. Virginia is in mourning but not in despair. On her battle scarred front stands the same fine motto "Sic Semper Tyrannis." From the abyss of her humiliation comes the same prayer "God save the Commonwealth." Our comrades from the other Southern States honor us with their presence. They know the meaning of this meeting of Virginians. We are but reflecting here our principles of Government. For the Confederacy being now no more, each Southern State, being an Independent Sovereignty, must act for itself, and this brings us together as Virginians. We must now act for the Commonwealth. We are here because we refused the oath of allegiance tendered us by the Federal Government, on the surrender of Genl Lee. We may then have erred, and they who then agreed to take it may have been influenced by wiser counsels. Their honor is as clear as ours; their fidelity to principle as true. Their heroism and devotion to our cause, and to the Commonwealth stand above criticism. We are here to consider whether we are now ready to do what they then did. Let us be just. Then generosity of Mr. Lincoln, and the magnanimity of Genl Grant had allayed the war passion in our heart. Now all is changed, and our treatment and abuse by those coming into power under the new administration, silenced by the grandeur of the humane Lincoln, has aroused again the spirit of resistance if not of defiance. Let us rise above it. I am from our Alleghanies; my fathers sleep in our plains, and so with most of us from the West. But we know no West Virginia here, no East Virginia. We are sons of the Commonwealth of Washington. We have made her fame and her glory. We are the same in all that animates us, whether from her Blue Mountains, or from her Alleghanies, from her plains that smile down on her seas and bays, or from her rugged hills that frown down on the Ohio. Our bones lie mingled in a common honored dust on many a field of glory at Point Pleasant, at Yorktown, at Manassas, at Richmond, at Norfolk, on the Potomac, the James, in the East and West, North and South, wherever her rivers flow, her woods cast their shadows, or her plains their smiles, on a hundred battle fields marked forever as a Marathon or Thermopylae, for history, song, and story, whose light will glow more resplendent with time. We will do nothing to cast shadow on her fame. Rather will we abide in silence whatever fate. There is no terror for us. Today we hear we are to be decimated and shot; we are to be banished. Again we are to be declared prisoners of State. Our lands are to be confiscated. Whether these alarms be true or false, we are ready for whatever may be our doom. But the Commonwealth shall suffer no detriment from us, even though we may escape these jaws of death. If we are shot, we will be at rest. If declared prisoners of State, we can endure. If banished we will take with us our wives and little ones, outraged parents to bless and pray, and our chaste maidens will follow the young soldiers of their love ready to nestle in their strong arms. With these we can make a New Virginia. Like wandering Troy we can found a Rome and may be, in no time, a Rome conquering and to conquer. If our lands are confiscated, we will know in time how to regain them. We turn from these rumors. True or untrue we heed them not. We know not how long, they now in power, shall hold in their hands the reins about to be so gently held by their murdered President. They profess to honor his memory, while they dishonor all that made him worthy of that love and honor from the people which they gave him, for he was one of them. They are in more fear than we. Their revengeful, cowardly hearts tremble lest they awaken in their own people that ever abiding sympathy which, once aroused for us, may cast them from their place and the gratifications of their ignoble lusts, and hurl them into the dust. That hour will come sooner or later. Let them beware! Had Mr. Lincoln lived, this prison would have been emptied ere now of half its miserable occupants. Had that kind old man lived, the surrender of Genl Johnston would have been at once followed by a general amnesty, and a dagger not a bullet may have cut short a generous life. This untimely death gave to demons their opportunity. They have used it as demons ever use unexpected power. The Northern people sooner or later will turn upon them and protect us. Therefore I conclude that whether we express a willingness to take the oath of allegiance or not, our stay here will not be long. But in that time many a noble heart will be under the clods of this northern land, with the bleak winds for his requiem where gentle hands can strew no flowers, our soft Southern winds cannot reach, nor sunny skies warm his cold dust; where the mother cannot even mark the grave of her son; the wife cannot distinguish the spot of the loved dust, nor maiden tell her love to the grave of her soldier boy. There is not a day ah! not an hour that the gravediggers, in our sight but for those high walls, are not throwing up the clods. To leave here a month hence, is to leave hundreds for these graves, that might live for the Commonwealth and for those they love if we could sooner get away. It may be that for us to make manifest a willingness to take the oath these gates might be sooner opened. I can see no dishonor in it. The people who have overcome us in arms are a great people. They have fought for a centralization of power -- a nation --. We for State Sovereignty and true liberty as we understand it. So far as we can now see, they have, by the power of arms, established the Government of their choice, and we must submit -- That is all.
Here, from some cause now remembered, we adjourned until 4 P. M. It was Sunday. We met again at 4 P. M. The interest in our proceedings had become intense. The meeting on motion was opened with prayer. . . . Several resolutions were then offered and defeated. Other motions were made, but before acted upon the last above speaker was called for, and spoke as follows, on the resolution of Capt. Bumgarner.
When our armies surrendered, when we surrender, we but yield to an irresistible power, and to the will of that God who rules on earth as in Heaven. To resist longer would be to resist his decree, unless we are left without a God to govern the earth. Virginia may become great and happy under a Central Government from whose laws there is no appeal. Many of our fathers were used to say no other government could last, or stand, the test of a large and dense population. Perhaps it is so. But we wish to say here and everywhere, though bayonets gleam around us, that we have done no wrong. And to charge us with treason is but to show the ignorance of our conquerors, and the knavery of men in high places. A State cannot commit treason. They who create cannot commit treason to the creature. The States created the Federal Government, and they limited its powers by a Constitution, that no honest, intelligent men can possibly misconstrue. We have made war on no clause of the Constitution, but on a Government pledged to overthrow it in some of its provisions, and they, vital provisions. We have not declared that Constitution "a covenant with hell, or a league with death." But we have declared it a covenant before high Heaven, and a league with Sovereign States. We have defended our right, guaranteed to us by that Constitution, and adjudged by the Supreme Court to be our rights. In their defense we have fallen, and the time may come when they that struck the blow may call upon us to forgive and to save. We, or our children after us, will be ready to answer the call and to defend all, or any state that may call to us for help. Take from the States the right to nullify oppressive laws; the right, as a last resort, to reclaim delegated powers when abused, and their inalienable Sovereignty, and what is this Government, but absolute Monarchy without a name? Ours is the only Government where the people, as such, may change their national rulers, one and all by the peaceful mode of voting. When sectional combinations become oppressive to a State or a section, and too strong to be resisted by voting, and their right to leave the oppressor and become Sovereign again in all things, reclaiming all delegated powers, is admitted, a Union might be perpetual; for this itself would check sectional oppression. But give us over to the sword for the exercise of these rights, and the States or smaller weaker sections become mere provinces to be plundered and preyed upon by the stronger and more populous, combined together. What is this but despotism inserted in the Constitution? And therefore the Constitution itself becomes the source, not of safety and protection to the States, but of despotism, where the strong oppressed the weak at pleasure. We have but defended the true principles of liberty, and they who call us rebels are themselves rebels and their aim and object is to make merchandize of our fathers' principles -- of the rights of the weaker sections and States, and of the Constitution itself. To day sectional combinations oppress us of the South. We resist, and the sword of these sectional combinations, too strong for us, cuts us down. Tomorrow sectional combinations may make the East the victim. If they resist they are to be cut down. Again the West, or the Trans-Mississippi, becomes the victim. Cut them down, is the cry of centralization. What is this but despotism? Again we are told that some, yea many of us will be tried for treason. It will never be done. The wise demons at Washington, who in mock mourning profess to honor the remains of the dead President, have dishonored his policy and hence his memory, and are now, though in the midst of the drapery of their mourning people, seeking to silence Grant and Sherman. They will never try us for treason. For such a trial, they know full well, will not only result in our acquittal, but convict them. We do not know that anything we can do will open these prison doors any sooner. If any there be who think that any expression made here of our readiness to take the oath of allegiance will cast the slightest shade on the honor of Virginia, then let them remain silent, and prepare for whatever fate. But if we return to our homes we carry there strong hearts and our mother Commonwealth yet has a crust for her children until our arms become strong enough to go forth in her sunshine, and her showers to dig out of the kindly earth fruits for those who look to us. Are not our little families, our aged parents and all we love, imploring the God they worship to bring back their warrior sons to their desolate homes? If we conclude to take the oath we will keep it in good faith. If we return to our homes our flag now trailing will rise up again. But neither here or elsewhere will it suffer dishonor. I am for myself willing to take the oath whenever it is offered. Let me say to my comrades east of the Alleghanies: If Virginia and West Virginia are to be two separate States they will be the Castor and Pollux to move together -- to fight together, conquer together. And when the end shall come, for all things perish, to die together, and leave their fame and glory to the ages. We have made for the Commonwealth immortality. In this at least we are one forever.
Several other speeches were made, and finally we voted down every resolution offered, and adjourned without any expressed conclusion.
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