Saturday, January 26, 2008

The last words of Henry Wirz: a letter to his lawyer, Louis Scahde

Note: This passage originally appeared in Page, J.M. (1908). The True Story of Andersonville Prison: a Defense of Major Henry Wirz. New York, Neale Publishing Company.

On the morning of November 10, 1865, a few hours before he mounted the scaffold, Major Wirz penned the following pathetic letter to his faithful friend and counsel:

Old Capitol Prison

Washington, D.C., november 10, 1865

Dear Mr. Louis Schade,

It is the last time I address myself to you. What I have said often and often I repeat -- accept my thanks, my sincere, heartful thanks, for all you have done for me. May God reward you. I cannot.

I still have something more to ask of you, and I am confident you will not refuse to receive my dying request. Please help my poor family, my dear wife and children. War, cruelest, has swept everything from me, and to-day my wife and children are beggars!

My life is demanded as an atonement. I am willing to give it, and I hope that after a while i will be judged differently from what I am now. If any one thought to come to the relief of my family, it is the people of the South, for whose sake i have sacrificed all. I know you will excuse me for troubling you again.

Farewell, dear sir. May God bless you.

Yours Thankfully,
H. Wirz

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Words from the condemned -- part 5 of 7: the diary of Henry Wirz

Selections from the diary Captain Henry Wirz, commandant of the notorious Confederate prison called Andersonville, made in the days leading up to his November, 1865 execution. Originally appeared in the Boston Advertiser; reprinted in the November 15, 1856 edition of the New York Times on page 1, column 1.

Part 5 of 7: Henry Wirz diary entry of October 5, 1865. [See all entries in this series]

October 5, 1865

When I left the court-room to-day I heard a lady remark, I wish I could shoot out his eyes, meaning me. Foolish woman, the time will soon come, when my earthly eyes are shut up, are you in such a hurry. But it is very natural that people do think and pass such remarks. for weeks and weeks they have heard men testify to cruelties done by me, and now a very slim chance have I to contradict these statements. It seems to me as if Gen. Wallace had a personal spite against me or my counsel, or he would not act the way he does. If he has one against me, I pity him that he does not have more magnanimity of soul, than to crush me now in such an unheard of arbitrary way, if he has a spite against my counsel, it is a cowardly act to do as he does, for in the end I am the sufferer and not my counsel.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Captain Henry Wirz: ruthless villain of Andersonville, or innocent pawn? (part 3 of 5)

[Part 3 of 5 in a series of documents that suggest Wirz's innocence]

The following letter is from the Rev. Father F. E. Boyle, of Washington:

WASHINGTON, D. C., October 10, 1880


"DEAR SIR : . . . I know that, on the evening before the day of the execution of Major Wirz, a man visited me, on the part of a Cabinet officer, to inform me that Major Wirz would be pardoned if he would implicate Jefferson Davis in the cruelties of Andersonville. No names were given by this messenger, and, upon my refusal to take any action in the matter, he went to Mr. Louis Schade, counsel for Major Wirz, with the same purpose and with a like result.

When I visited Major Wirz the next morning, he told me that the same proposal had been made to him, and had been rejected with scorn. The Major was very indignant, and said that, while he was innocent of the cruel charges for which he was about to suffer death, he would not purchase his liberty by perjury and a crime, such as was made the condition of his freedom. I attended the Major to the scaffold, and he died in the peace of God, and praying for his enemies. I know he was indeed innocent of all the cruel charges on which his life was sworn away, and I was edified by the Christian spirit in which he submitted to his persecuters."

Yours very truly,


Captain Henry Wirz: ruthless villain of Andersonville, or innocent pawn? (part 2 of 5)

[Part 2 of 5 in a series of documents that suggest Wirz's innocence]

The following is an extract from a letter of Captain C. B. Winder to Mrs. Jefferson Davis, dated Eastern Shore of Virginia, January 9, 1867:

"The door of the room which I occupied while in confinement at the Old Capitol Prison, Washington, was immediately opposite Captain Wirz's door — both of which were occasionally open. About two days before Captain Wirz's execution, I saw three or four men pass into his room, and, upon their coming out, Captain Wirz told me that they had given him assurances that his life would be spared and his liberty given to him if he (Wirz) could give any testimony that would reflect upon Mr. Davis or implicate him directly or indirectly with the condition and treatment of prisoners of war, as charged by the United States authorities; that he indignantly spurned these propositions, and assured them that, never having been acquainted with Mr. Davis, either officially, personally, or socially, it was utterly impossible that he should know anything against him, and that the offer of his life, dear as the boon might be, could not purchase him to treason and treachery to the South and his friend."

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Captain Henry Wirz: ruthless villain of Andersonville, or innocent pawn? (part 1 of 5)

[Part 1 of 5 in a series of documents that suggest Wirz's innocence]

On April 4,1867, Mr. Louis Schade, of Washington, and the attorney for Wirz on the trial, in compliance with the request of Wirz so to do, as soon as the times should be propitious, published a vindication of his character. The following is an extract from this publication:

"On the night previous to the execution of the prisoner, some parties came to the confessor of Wirz (Rev. Father Boyle) and also to me. One of them informed me that a high Cabinet officer wished to assure Wirz that, if he would implicate Jefferson Davis with the atrocities committed at Andersonville, his sentence should be commuted. He (the messenger, whoever he was) requested me to inform Wirz of this. In presence of Father Boyle, I told him next morning what had happened. The Captain simply and quietly replied : 'Mr. Schade, you know that I have always told you that I do not know anything about Jefferson Davis. He had no connection with me as to what was done at Andersonville. If I knew anything of him, I would not become a traitor against him or anybody else to save my life.' Thus ended the attempt to suborn Captain Wirz against Jefferson Davis."

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Words from the condemned -- part 3 of 7: the diary of Henry Wirz

Selections from the diary Captain Henry Wirz, commandant of the notorious Confederate prison called Andersonville, made in the days leading up to his November, 1865 execution. Originally appeared in the Boston Advertiser; reprinted in the November 15, 1856 edition of the New York Times on page 1, column 1.

Part 3 of 7:Henry Wirz diary entry of October 3, 1865. [See all entries in this series]

Oct. 3, 1865

What a mockery is this trial. I feel at times as if I ought to speak out loud and tell them, why do you worry yourself and me too; why not end the farce at once, take me and hang me, be done with it. A few days I asked to arrange my defence; it was refused on the ground that I had ample time. Ample time indeed. May the day be far distant for Gen. Wallace when he may plead with grim death for a day, and receive answer No! I just received a note from my wife, saying she has tried in every way to see me, but impossible. She says she is going to her brother in Kentucky, and hopes to be able to do more for me there than in remaining here. Poor deluded woman, what do you expect to accomplish, what can you do for me, but pray? Oh, what a consolation it is to a person in a situation like mine, that there is in the wide, wide world at least one being that will pray for me. Yes, pray; but pray for thyself; the road thou hast to travel is a hard one. when thou findest out that when you pressed my hand two weeks ago, when thy lips touched mine it was in all probability the last time, then does thou need all the comfort prayer can give. May Ggod bless you and take care of the dear, dear children. I must end -- everything swims before my eyes. God, oh God, have mercy on me.

Monday, January 7, 2008

Words from the condemned -- part 2 of 7: the diary of Henry Wirz

Selections from the diary Captain Henry Wirz, commandant of the notorious Confederate prison called Andersonville, made in the days leading up to his November, 1865 execution. Originally appeared in the Boston Advertiser; reprinted in the November 15, 1856 edition of the New York Times on page 1, column 1.

Part 2 of 7: Henry Wirz diary entry of October 2, 1865. [See all entries in this series]

Oct. 2, 1865

Again a day has passed, I am tired and worn out, whichever way I turn my eyes every thing looks gloomy and dark, can it be possible that knowing what I do know, that I shall fall a victim. But why do I doubt, what right have i to grumble as if it was a thing unheard of in history that men suffered the death of a felon, as innocent of the crimes alleged as I am, and if I dare to make a comparison between our Saviour and myself, did not he also suffer death. True, he died as an atonement for a sinful world, true he died willingly, he had a holy mission to fulfil, but I? Why shall I die? I can only say because it's God's will. Oh God, our Heavenly Father, give me the grace, give me the power to bear the cross which thou seest fit to lay on me. Have I not sinned against Thee, and neglected thy holy commandments. If I suffer now innocently, can I dare say, I never offended Thee, therefore be calm, my poor heart. give thyself in His hands and say Abba, Father!

Sunday, January 6, 2008

Daniel Skelly: a boy's experiences during the battle of Gettysburg

[Note: Daniel Skelly was a Gettysburg teenager in 1863, employed as a clerk at a Gettysburg dry goods company. His experiences during the three days of the Battle of Gettysburg were exciting and unique. After retirement, Skelly wrote about his experiences as a young boy in a town filled with the sights and sounds of a war which, up to this point, had been very far away. He saw and met several famous people during the three days of battle, spoke with Confederate soldiers camped on the streets outside of his home, and afterward helped aid the wounded that filled the homes and churches in town. Published in 1932, A Boy's Experiences During The Battle of Gettysburg, is one of the more outstanding civilian accounts of the battle, from the perspective of an old gentleman who witnessed the true nature of war with its devastation and heartache, for the first time in his home town.]

"The month of June, 1863, was an exciting one for the people of Gettysburg and vicinity. Rumors of the invasion of Pennsylvania by the Confederate army were rife and toward the latter part of the month there was the daily sight of people from along the border of Maryland passing through the town with horses and cattle, to places of safety.More... Most of the merchants of the town shipped their goods to Philadelphia for safety, as was their habit all through the war upon rumors of the Confederates crossing the Potomac. The merchandising firm in whose employ I had been for a number of years (Fahnestock Brothers) kept a car chartered and whenever these rumors reached us, day or night, we packed up the goods and sent it to Philadelphia and went out of business for the time being, until matters became settled again along the border, when the stock was brought back and we resumed our routine.

"I was absent from Gettysburg… from the beginning of June until the latter part of the month. I reached Hanover, Pa., on the afternoon of (June 26), expecting to get a train for home from there the same evening. But about 5 o'clock the last train out of Gettysburg, until after the battle, reached Hanover filled with people getting away from the Confederates. They included revenue officers and clerks, in fact all persons who had any office under the government.

"Early's Division had occupied Gettysburg that day and made demands upon the town which were not complied with. Consequently I was obliged to remain in Hanover all night. On the morning of June 27 White's Confederate cavalry passed through Hanover and remained long enough to get some packages from the express office, one of which was for my firm and which I saw them open. It contained gloves. They appropriated them. They also captured a jeweler with his stock loaded in a wagon, who was a little late in getting started out of town, and appropriated his stock also. On the afternoon of this day, Thaddeus Slentz, Edward Craver and myself secured a hand-car and started for Gettysburg on the Gettysburg and Hanover railroad, but when we reached New Oxford we found the bridge over the Conewago Creek had been burned. So we were obliged to abandon the car and walk the remaining ten miles to Gettysburg, reaching there about 5 P.M.

"The 28th and 29th were exciting days in Gettysburg for we knew the Confederate army, or a part of it at least, was within a few miles of our town and at night we could see from the house-tops the campfires in the mountains eight miles west of us. We expected it to march into our town at any moment and we had no information as to the whereabouts of the Army of the Potomac. We little dreamed of the momentous events which were soon to happen right in our midst.

"On June 30th two brigades of General Buford's division of cavalry reached our town, coming in from the south and I well remember how secure this made us feel. We thought surely now we were safe and the Confederate army would never reach Gettysburg. On the afternoon of this day about 4 o'clock, I stood on the Cobean corner on Chambersburg Street… while General Buford sat on his horse in the street in front of me, entirely alone, facing to the west in profound thought. I remember this incident very distinctly for it made a deep impression on (me). It was the only time I ever saw the general and his calm demeanor and soldierly appearance, as well as the fact that his uniform was different from any general's I had ever seen. He wore a sort of hunting coat of blouse effect. On the night of the 30th, the people of Gettysburg settled down in their homes with a sense of security they had not enjoyed for days and with little thought of what the morrow had in store for them.

"On the morning of July 1, about 8 o'clock, in company of my old friend Samuel W. Anderson… I walked out the Mummasburg Road north of the town just a short distance beyond the college building, where lay encamped in the fields, Col. Deven's Brigade of Buford's Division… which with Gamble's Brigade of the same division had come into our town on the previous day. While we stood at Col. Deven's tent an order was handed him… directing him to move his brigade west of the town, as the Confederates were then advancing on the town by the Chambersburg Pike. My companion and I went directly across the fields to Seminary Ridge, then known as the Railroad Woods by reason of the 'Old Tape-worm Railroad' being cut through it. Anderson went toward the Theological Seminary buildings expecting to get (to) the cupola of the building. I remained on Seminary Ridge just where the old… railroad cut through it. The ridge was full of men and boys from town, all eager to witness a brush with the Confederates and not dreaming of the terrible conflict that was to occur on that day and not having the slightest conception of the proximity of the two armies.

"I climbed up a good-sized oak tree so as to have a good view of the ridge west and northwest of us, where the two brigades of cavalry were then being placed. We could then hear distinctly the skirmish fire in the vicinity of Marsh Creek, about three miles from our position and could tell that it was approaching nearer and nearer as our skirmishers fell back slowly toward the town contesting every inch of ground. We could see clearly on the ridge … the formation of the line of battle of Buford's Cavalry, which had dismounted, some of the men taking charge of the horses and the others forming a line of battle, acting as infantry. Nearer and nearer came the skirmish line as it fell back before the advancing Confederates, until at last the line on the ridge beyond became engaged. Soon the artillery opened fire and shot and shell began to fly over our heads, one of them passing dangerously near the top of the tree I was on. There was a general stampede toward town and I quickly slipped down from my perch and joined the retreat to the rear of our gallant men and boys. I started for town (and) crossed… over a field to the Chambersburg Pike on the east side of Miss Carrie Shead's School and when about the middle of the field a cannon ball struck the earth about fifteen or twenty feet from me, scattering the ground somewhat about me and quickening my pace considerably.

"When I reached the pike, there galloped past me a general and his staff, who upon reaching the top of the ridge, turned into the lane toward the Seminary building. This I have always believed was General Reynolds coming onto the field and going to the Seminary where he had an interview with General Buford… before going out where the battle was in progress. The time was about 9 o'clock or near it, and our infantry had not come up yet. I was not long in reaching town and found the streets full of men, women and children, all under great excitement. Being anxious to see more of the battle, I concluded I would go up upon the observatory on the store building of the Fahnestock Brothers, situated on the northwest corner of Baltimore and West Middle Streets, and just across the street from the court house. The observatory was on the back of the building fronting on West Middle Street and… had a good view of the field where the battle was then being fought.

"In company with Mrs. E.G. Fahnestock, wife of Col. Fahnestock, Isaac L. Johns and Augustus Bentley, I went up through the store to the observatory… (that) had a railing and benches around it and was about eight feet or more square. We had been up there quite a little time when I observed a general and his staff coming down Baltimore Street from the south of the town. Upon reaching the court house, they halted and made an attempt to get up into the belfry to make observations, but they were unable to accomplish this. I went down into the street and going over to the court house told them that if they wished they could go up on the observatory of the store building. The general dismounted and with two of his aides went with me up onto the observatory. Upon reaching the house-top, the general, with his field glasses, made a careful survey of the field west and northwest of the town; also the number of roads radiating like the spokes of a wheel from the town.

In the midst of it a scout came riding up West Middle Street at a full gallop, halted below us (and) called up, asking if General Howard (Gen. Oliver Otis Howard, commander of the Eleventh Corps of the Army of the Potomac) were there. General Howard answering in person, the scout called to him that General Reynolds had been killed and that he should come onto the field immediately. This scout was George Guinn, a member of Cole's Maryland Cavalry, and was from our county. I knew him well and recognized him at once. Upon receiving this message the General, his staff officers and myself went down into the third story ware-room, when General Howard stopped and gave orders to one of his aides to ride back and meet his corps, which was then on the march from Emmitsburg, Md., ten miles from Gettysburg, and direct General (Adolph von) Steinwehr, upon reaching the field to occupy Cemetery Hill and fortify it. General Howard, as he came into Gettysburg, had noticed the prominence of this hill, and riding up to the cemetery was impressed with its commanding position. To his other aide he gave some directions regarding the bringing up of his corps. One thing which he said that I remember, was that the bands should be placed at the head of the columns and play lively airs as they advanced. General Howard was perfectly calm and self-possessed and I remember this made a lasting impression on me. And his orders became so fixed on my mind that I have never forgotten them.

"As we passed down through the house, we met Mrs. Samuel Fahnestock, then an old lady, who was very much agitated. The General stopped and spoke a few kindly words to her, which relieved her anxiety considerably. He then rode out to the front. After some little time had elapsed we heard a commotion down in the street (West Middle) and upon looking down saw a column of Confederate prisoners under guard of the Boys in Blue, being conducted to the rear. It proved to be the Confederate General Archer and several hundred of his brigade who had been captured by the Iron Brigade. We remained on the house-top until near noon, when it became a little dangerous to stay longer and we went downstairs again. But shortly after 12 o'clock another officer came along and asked to be taken up where General Howard had made his observations. He was a captain and belonged to the Eleventh Corps (and) remained only a short time. I learned after the battle that this officer's name was Frederick Otto Baron Von Fritche, and that he had written a book entitled "A Gallant Captain of the Civil War", in which he made mention of my taking him up on the roof and giving him some information in regard to the field and the battle then going on.

"After he had gone I walked down to our Centre Square and there met my mother carrying two buckets of water, looking for one of the improvised hospitals, to give it to the wounded. It was a striking irony of war that at that time two of my brothers, members of Company F, 87th Pennsylvania regiment, should be prisoners of war, having been captured at Winchester, Va., in an engagement while the Confederate army was on its way to Gettysburg. One of them was mortally wounded and in a southern hospital but a kind Providence withheld this from us until after the battle here. We went down Carlisle Street to the McCurdy warehouse, just below the railroad, where the wounded were being brought in… No provision had yet been made for their care in the town and they were laid on the floor. We remained there quite a while giving them water and doing what we could for their relief.

"I stood on the Cobean corner of Chambersburg Street as Schimmelfenning's Division of the Eleventh (Corps) passed through town on its way to the front. The day was hot and sultry and they were marching "quick time", all seeming eager to get to the front. All along Washington Street the people of the town were out with buckets of water and the soldiers would stop for a moment for a drink and then hurriedly catch up to their place in the line. They appeared to be straining every effort to reach the scene of conflict, and yet not an hour elapsed before the slightly wounded were limping back and those badly wounded were being brought back in ambulances to the improvised hospitals in the town. The hospitals were located in warehouses, churches, the court house and in various private homes. Many others were left dead on the field they were so heroically eager to reach such a short time before.

"As the afternoon wore away the churches and warehouses on Chambersburg, Carlisle, and York Streets nearest the line of battle, were filled with wounded. Then the court house, as well as the Catholic, Presbyterian and Reformed churches and the school house in High Street received the injured soldiers, until those places had reached their capacity, when private homes were utilized, citizens volunteering to take them in and care for them. In company… with Miss Julia Culp, a neighbor (who) had a brother in the Confederate Army who was killed on Culp's Hill and a brother in the Union Army, who survived the war, I went into the court house with buckets of water and passed from one to another of the wounded relieving them as best we could under the circumstances. Some of them were so frightfully wounded that a lady could not go near them. These I gave water to, while she cared for those who were not so severely wounded. Quite a number of our townspeople were there doing everything they could in the relief work as the wounded were carried in.

"When our forces were being driven back through the town in the afternoon, I went home feeling that everything was lost and throughout my life I have never felt more despondent. One of the regiments of the Iron Brigade in falling back through town about 4 o'clock in the afternoon passed our house on West Middle Street. As they turned into (the) street from Washington Street, one of the lieutenants was wounded in the foot but kept up with his regiment until he reached our house. He was unable to go any further. He came into the yard. Separating the Bowen house next door and ours, there was an areaway used by both of our families and at the Bowen house was an old-fashioned cellar door standing open, He took off his sword and pistol and sword belt… hobbled down (the steps) and hid them in the cellar(,) then came up to get his sword, when the Confederates came into the yard and made him a prisoner, taking his sword away from him. My mother, standing in our kitchen doorway, seeing he was wounded, asked the Confederates to allow him to come into our house and she would care for him. They allowed him to come and then continued in pursuit of our retreating forces. My mother took him into one of the inner rooms and kept him there without the Confederates finding out. After the battle he was taken to one of the hospitals. In a week or more he was convalescent and came to see is on his way to join his regiment. He sent me over to the Bowen cellar to get his accoutrements and presented them to me, saying that when he got to Washington he would get a new outfit. We never heard from him afterwards.

"When I went out in front of the house about 7 o'clock in the evening, the Confederate line of battle had been formed on East and West Middle Streets, Rodes Division of Ewell's Corps lying right in front of our house. We were now in the hands of the enemy and in passing, I want to pay a tribute to these veterans of the Confederate Army. They were under perfect discipline. They were in and about our yard and used our kitchen stove by permission of my mother... gentlemanly and courteous to us at all times, and I never heard an instance to the contrary in Gettysburg. We settled down quietly this night. There was no noise or confusion among the Confederate soldiers sleeping on the pavement below our windows and we all enjoyed a good night's rest after the feverish anxiety of the first day's battle."

"Day dawned on the second of July bright and clear, and we did not know what to do or expect; whether to remain quietly in our homes, or go out in the town as usual and mingle with our people. But we were soon assured that if we kept within certain restrictions we could go about the town. It was hot and sultry and the lines of battle were quiet with the exception of an occasional exchange of shots between pickets or sharpshooters. Some time during the morning in front of my home on West Middle Street… I was in conversation with one of the Confederate soldiers, whose regiment lay along the street in line of battle, when he asked me if I had ever seen General Lee. I replied that I had not. 'Well,' he said, 'here he comes up the street on horseback.'

"The general rode quietly by unattended and without any apparent recognition from the Confederate soldiers along the street. (H)e reached Baltimore Street, about a square away at the court house, (and) turned into it going up to High Street. I was later informed… that he had gone to the jail, presumably for conference, but with whom has only been surmise(d). The afternoon… I spent in the yard back of the Fahnestock store on West Middle Street. There was a high board fence the length of the lot, extending to an alley at the end. There were two large gates opening to the street along which the Confederate line ran. A Confederate major of one of the regiments was my companion. I do not remember his name or the regiment to which he belonged, but he told me he was originally from Pittsburgh, going south years before the war. Our conversation was about the war and the causes leading up to it and the result thus far on both sides. He was a fair minded man and reasonable in his opinions, there being no rancor or bitterness evident in any of observations on the progress of the conflict. About 4 o'clock an interruption was caused in our conversation by a terrible cannonading off to the southwest of town and we separated, he joining his regiment in the street and I going to my father's house near the Fahnestock store. Our town being in the hands of the Confederates and cut off from all communications with the outside world, we knew nothing about our army and were completely in the dark as to how it was located and how much of it had arrived on the field. The Confederates maintained a clam-like silence on all matters concerning the battle, hence we did not know the significance of this tremendous cannonading until after the battle was over… But for the present it sent everyone to the cellars as a matter of protection. Mr. Harvey D. Wattles lived close to my father's and under his house was a large dry cellar. During the cannonading the neighbors congregated in it as a place of safety. My mother and the rest of the family were there during the afternoon and I was there at intervals while the period of uncertainty caused by this artillery fire existed. An incident that occurred in this house… will give some idea of what families were exposed to while the fighting was in progress. A neighbor had come into the house to take refuge and had brought with her a band-box containing a bonnet. When the cannonading began, she went to the cellar, placing the box on the chair upon which she had been sitting. When she came from the cellar she found the box where she had left it, but a minie ball had passed through the box and the bonnet.

"About dusk, Will McCreary and I were sent on some errand down on Chambersburg Street and as we were crossing from Arnold's corner to the present Eckert corner, we were halted by two Confederate soldiers who had a lady in their charge. She was on horseback and proved to be the wife of General (Francis) Barlow who had come into the Confederate lines under a flag of truce looking for her husband, who had been severely wounded on July 1, and as she was informed, had been brought into the town. She informed us he was with a family 'named McCreary' on Chambersburg Street. We directed her to Smith McCreary's residence (though) she did not find the general there… for he had been taken from the field to the farmhouse of Josiah Benner on the Harrisburg Road just where the covered bridge crossed the creek. The night of the second I slept in a room above the Fahnestock store with a number of other boys. Not making any light we would remain quietly at the window trying to catch the conversation of the Confederate soldiers who were lying on the pavement below the window. We were eager to catch something that would give us some clue to our army and how they were fairing in the battle…, but did not learn much from them. We finally went to bed and settled down into a sound sleep as boys do who have few cares and sound health.

"At intervals during the night I was awakened and could hear the rattle of musketry fire off to the southeast of town, and it did not seem very far away. When we got up in the morning of the third of July this firing was a lively as during the night, with the addition of some artillery fire and continued until about 11 o'clock in the morning. About that hour I was down at my father's house and quite a number of Confederate soldiers came into the yard to the old 'draw well'. They were all begrimed with powder and were 'washing up'. Their remarks about a hill they were butting up against were neither moral nor complimentary. Of course we were in the dark as to the cause of their discomfiture. The balance of the morning passed quietly and until about 1:30 P.M. there seemed to be a lull in the activities on the field. At least it seemed so to us, confined to the limits of the town. About 1:30 however, pandemonium broke loose along the lines of battle and for one hour there was a din of cannonading, unprecedented on the continent. And then an ominous calm ensued. What did it mean? We did not know. Nor could we surmise. But I ventured out cautiously from our retreat which was our place of safety during the cannonading, and walked up to the Fahnestock corner. However I could learn nothing then about the conflict.

"The alleys and street leading up toward the cemetery were barricaded and the Confederate soldiers behind them in line of battle, were prepared to defend (against) any attack from Cemetery Hill. There was a long calm, perhaps an hour, when again the artillery opened up from Cemetery Hill, all along the line of battle to the Round Tops and the rattle of musketry then all over the line except for intervals when great cheers went up from the mighty hosts of the Boys in Blue. But there were no rebel yells such as we heard from time to time during the three days' battles. This demonstration occurred, we learned later, when Pickett's charge failed. But we were to remain ignorant of what the great conflict of the day would bring to us, who were still in the hands of the enemy. On this night, I went to bed restless and was unable to sleep soundly. About midnight I was awakened by a commotion down in the street. Getting up I went to the window and saw Confederate officers passing through the lines of Confederate soldiers bivouacked on the pavement below, telling them to get up quietly and fall back. Very soon the whole line disappeared but we had to remain quietly in our homes for we did not know what it meant.

"About 4 A.M., there was another commotion in the street, this time on Baltimore, the Fahnestock building being at the corner of West Middle and Baltimore Streets. It seemed to be a noisy demonstration. Going hurriedly to the window I looked out. Ye gods! What a welcome sight for the imprisoned people of Gettysburg! The Boys in Blue marching down the street, fife and drum corps playing, the glorious Stars and Stripes fluttering at the head of the lines. They picked up the Confederate soldiers who had been left behind in the retreat and were marching them to the rear at double-quick. It was raining right briskly at this time. I got into my clothes hurriedly and went down o the front door but did not venture out. As the morning advanced, however, we went about the town mingling with our people, comparing notes and finding out how all had fared during the days we were in the hands of the enemy.

"We soon learned that part of the town was still not free from 'Our friends- the enemy'. They had thrown up formidable breastworks extending from the Railroad Woods clear out along the ridge to Emmitsburg Road and beyond it and they were occupied by Confederate soldiers to protect the retreat of their army. As my father's house was on West Middle Street, which extends in a direct line out to Haupt's Hill, which was along the embattled ridge, we were exposed during the whole day to sharpshooters' fire. The Confederates had built little works of stone and ground, just large enough to cover their heads and protect their bodies, extending down the hill in the direction of town. And they lay behind them all day with guns loaded ready to bang away at any suspicious object in the street. Sometime during the morning, several of our officers rode down the street and when about half the length of the square from Baltimore and Washington Street, one of them was hit in the fleshy part of his army by a bullet, evidently causing a very painful wound, for he yelled at the top of his voice.

"On this morning, the 5th, my friend 'Gus' Bentley met me on the street and told me that down at the Hollinger warehouse where he was employed they had a lot of tobacco. 'We hid it away before the Rebs came into town,' he continued, 'and they did not find it. We can buy it and take it out and sell it to the soldiers.' Like all boys of those days we had little spending money but we concluded we would try and raise the cash in some way. I went to my mother and consulted her about it and she loaned me ten dollars. Gus also got ten, all of which we invested in the tobacco. It was in large plugs- Congress tobacco, a well known brand at that time. With an old-fashioned tobacco cutter we cut it up into ten cent pieces and each of us took a basket full and started out Baltimore Street to the cemetery, the nearest line of battle. Reaching the Citizens Cemetery we found a battery of artillery posted there… The soldiers stopped us and would not let us pass, their orders being not to let anyone out of the town. We went back into the town as far as the Presbyterian church and went up High Street to the jail, where we turned into a path leading down to the old Rock Creek 'swimmin' hole'. On the first ridge we saw the first dead Confederate soldiers lying right on the path, two of them side by side, and they were buried there afterward until the Confederate bodies were taken up years later and shipped to Richmond for burial. We kept to the path down to the spring (,) then turned over towards Culp's Hill, ascending it at one of its steepest points. There were all kinds of debris of the battle scattered over the hill, but no dead or wounded soldiers, they having already been removed.

"The breastworks were formidable looking, about three feet or more high, built of trees that had been cut down by the soldiers for the purpose of throwing up these fortifications. A shallow trench was dug in front of the works and the ground thrown up on it. The soldiers helped us over the breastworks with our baskets and in a short time they were empty and our pockets filled with ten-cent pieces. The soldiers told us to go home and get some more tobacco, that they would buy all we could bring out. We made a number of trips, selling out each time, and after disposing of all our supply, and paying back our borrowed capital, we each had more money than we ever had before in our lives.

"On Monday, July 6, I made my first trip over our line of battle out to the Round Tops. Fences were all destroyed and the country all open so that we could drive or walk across country instead of having to take the Emmitsburg or Taneytown Roads. The whole countryside was covered with ruins of the battle. Shot and shell, guns, pieces of shells and bullets were strewn about the fields in every direction and everything that the carnage of battle could produce was evident. Ziegler's Grove showed the effects of the Confederate artillery fire. Good-sized trees were knocked off and splintered in every imaginable way. The bodies of horses that had been killed were lying about.

The sight around Meade's headquarters along the Taneytown Road was terrible, indicating the exposed position it occupied, subject to every shot and shell that came over the ridge above it. Around the house and yard and below it lay at least 12 or 15 dead horses, shot down no doubt while aides and orderlies were delivering orders and messages to headquarters. A short distance below the house there was a stone fence dividing a field. Across this was hanging a horse which had been killed evidently just as he was jumping the fence, for its front legs were on one side and the hind legs on the other. In the road a short distance away was another horse which had been shot down while drawing an ambulance. In the front room of the house was a bed, the covers of it thrown back; and its condition indicated that a wounded soldier had occupied it. I was told that General Butterfield, Meade's chief of staff, who had been wounded, had been placed upon it before being taken to a hospital.

"The Trostle house was entirely deserted. In their kitchen the dinner table was still set with all the dishes from the meal, and fragments of food remained, indicating that the family had gotten up from their meal and made a hurried getaway. On the Codori farm there were still some dead Confederates who had not been buried. They were lying on their backs, their faces toward the heavens, and burned as black as coal from exposure to the hot sun. One of the saddest sights of the day's visit on the field I witnessed near the Devil's Den, on the low ground in that vicinity. There were twenty-six Confederate officers, ranking from a colonel to lieutenants, laid side by side in a row for burial. At the head of each was a board giving their names, ranks and commands to which they belonged. A short distance away was another group of thirteen arranged in the same way. They had evidently been prepared for burial by their Confederate companions before they had fallen back, so that their identity would be preserved, and they would receive a respectable burial. Among the hundreds of graves on the battlefield there was but one whose headboard had the Masonic emblems on it. I saw it for the first time this day and often stopped to look at it afterward. It was close to the southern end of the Codori barn along the Emmitsburg Road (and) was the grave of a Confederate colonel. (Skelly was later informed that this was the grave of Colonel Joseph Wasden, 22nd Georgia Infantry, killed on July 2.)

"This, my first sight of a great battlefield, with all its carnage, ruin, suffering and death- and witnessed the day after the conflict- made a deep and lasting impression on my young mind, stamping war on my memory as too horrible to even think about.

"During the several days our town was in the hands of the enemy, our wounded who had been brought in while the first day's battle was in progress and placed in churches, schools, and in many private homes, were well cared for. The people of the town responded wonderfully in this emergency service. Mothers and daughters acted as nurses in the hospitals nearest their residences, and also provided all kinds of food and delicacies for the wounded. In the days following the battle, the firm of Fahnestock Brothers received numerous inquires about wounded soldiers who were scattered over the field in the hospitals hastily set up at points most conveniently located to take care of the casualties. With Mrs. E.G. Fahnestock, I frequently rode back and forth among these stations, either in buggy or on horseback, looking for wounded men about whom information was sought. Sometimes it was difficult to locate them. We made other trips to the hospitals in the college and seminary buildings also. Frequently on these trips were included supplies of delicacies for the men. So it was that the people of Gettysburg assisted in every way in solving the problems that arose incident to the great battle. The months following the conflict found many extra burdens placed on the town, but there was a willing response on the part of its citizens on all occasions and the confusion that might be expected as an aftermath of such a staggering calamity was reduced to a minimum."

Daniel Skelly

Gettysburg, Penna., 1932.

Saturday, January 5, 2008

My escape from Richmond: John Bray's account of his escape from Libby Prison

Federal soldier John Bray of the First New Jersey Cavalry shares his recollections of his capture, confinement, and escape from Libby Prison. Originally appeared in the April, 1864 edition of Harper's New Monthly Magazine on p. 662-665.

My name is John Bray. I belong to the First New Jersey Cavalry, and have shared in the perils of every Virginia campaign. In November last I was at Warrenton, with a detachment of comrades, performing picket duty. On the night of the twelfth of that month we were suddenly surrounded by a band of Mosby's rough-riders, and before we knew it were prisoners, the darkness enabling the assailants to come upon us unobserved.More... We did not enjoy, as you may suppose, the prospect of a protracted imprisonment in Richmond, which we knew would be our fate; but there was no door of escape, and we submitted as gracefully as we could. Our captors, though rough and shaggy fellows, were by no means the savages they have sometimes been painted; on the contrary, they treated us kindly, respecting all our rights as prisoners, not even appropriating any of our effects, as it would have been natural for them; as guerrillas, to have done. We were, of course, put under guard, and were disarmed; but we were not altogether excluded from the chat of the camp to which we were carried; and the night, though starless and cold, was by no means the dreariest we had Known in our long and varied experience.

In the morning, under an armed escort, we set out on foot for Richmond, moving by easy stages and a circuitous route to Salem, Sperryville, Orange Court House, and Gordonsville, whence we went by cars. At Sperryville, where we were handed over to the Fourth Virginia Cavalry, we had a taste of the "chivalrous" manners of the true Virginian. These cavalrymen, representing probably the First Families, the moment we were placed under their control, helped themselves unceremoniously to our caps and overcoats, and, regardless of common decency and humanity, attempted even to take our blankets, notwithstanding we were shivering with cold and suffering greatly from exposure. In this intention, however, they were finally restrained by their officers, who had yet some scruples of conscience remaining, and for the rest of the way we continued in the enjoyment of the little protection the blankets could give us.

We arrived in Richmond on the 17th, and were at once conducted to the "Pemberton Factory Prison," where we had a speedy introduction to all the repellent features of prison life. The prison is a building twenty-five by one hundred feet, four stories high, occupied originally as a tobacco manufactory, but appropriated for the last two years to its present use. Each floor contained 280 prisoners, making 1120 in all in this single building. The building was filthy to the last degree; there was not a clean spot any where; the hold of a slave-ship could not have been more offensive. The mere appearance of the place was sufficient to sicken sensitive stomachs. Some of the prisoners who had been exhausted by their long journey did actually faint upon entering their quarters. As for myself, I had become hardened to the utmost rigors of camp life; two years or more in the saddle had effectually emptied me of all refinement of smell or taste, and, as a consequence, I got along in my new situation with comparatively little inconvenience.

Of course there was little amusement in sitting, day after day, on the floor of our prison and looking into one another's faces like so many gaping imbeciles. Isolated from the world, hardly permitted to look from our small windows into the streets without, we could only find within ourselves the diversion we needed, and our thought was far too monotonous to suggest any variety of entertainment. We had one amusement, however, which somewhat relieved the daily monotony, and that was "skirmishing." This was an indiscriminate scuffle, in which every man received a thorough shaking, all entering into the "engagement" with the zest of country boys into a husking frolic, but all in good-humor, and for a benevolent and proper sanitary purpose. The object of this wholesale scrimmage was the rout and dispersion of the vermin which moved upon us in dense and threatening columns at every opportunity, surrounding us, assailing us, actually, at times, "occupying, holding, and possessing" our persons. But for the skirmishing in which we indulged, and the "demoralization" thereby of the vermin forces, many of us would have been inevitably overcome, and probably carried out piecemeal at the keyholes, or dragged bodily to the dens of the persecutors.

Our food was of much better quality than we had expected to receive, but the quantity was any thing but satisfactory. Each man received daily half a loaf of bread, the loaf no larger than an old-fashioned country "rusk," a piece of fresh meat about two inches square, and a pint of bean soup, all without salt, not a morsel of which was ever seen in the prison. This food was obtained every morning by a detail of our own men under a sergeant, who, with pails and tubs, were marched down into the yard and there furnished the allowance for the floor to which they belonged by the cooks in charge. Occasionally, some of the men, by the sale of parts of their clothing, obtained a little money with which they were able through the guards to purchase articles outside, thus reinforcing their strength and making up for deficiencies in the regular supplies. On one or two occasions I indulged myself in this way, once selling my cavalry boots, for which I obtained seventy-five dollars in rebel money, and at another time disposing of a threadbare, dirty blanket for twenty-five dollars, the guards eagerly purchasing in both instances, and seeming to imagine that they had made excellent bargains.

After a month's confinement I determined that I had long enough submitted to the hardships of prison life, and that, if possible, I would make my escape. I broached the subject to my comrades, suggesting that we had better act in concert; but they regarded the risk as too great, and unanimously declined to unite in the undertaking, some of them even endeavoring to dissuade me from my purpose. But my resolution was fixed; I longed to be free again, and to fill the saddle I knew to be awaiting me in the ranks of the gallant First. Many things, however, had to be considered, and many preliminaries arranged before it was possible to attempt the execution of my purpose, at least with any hope of success. The first thing necessary was to possess myself of a rebel uniform, which would enable me to pass the guards. So, one day, just after we had received a batch of new clothing from our Government, I said banteringly to Ross, the officer having chief charge of our floor, "Ross, how will you trade coats? Mine is bran-new, but I must have some money, you know; so, if you'll trade right, I'm on hand for a bargain."

Ross was an easy, good-natured fellow, and was particularly ragged, having scarcely a whole, garment in his entire wardrobe. Of course he was only too anxious to "trade," and we soon struck up a bargain, Boss agreeing to give me his coat for mine and thirty dollars to boot. Thus I secured a gray coat, a necessary part of the disguise in which I intended to escape.

Some days after, upon pretense that I was again out of funds, I bantered Boss to trade pantaloons, offering mine, which were new, for his old ones and ten dollars in money. He knew that the prisoners often obtained in this way the means of purchasing supplies, and my offer therefore excited no suspicion. He at once closed with my offer, and making the exchange on the spot, I became, to all appearance, a rebel soldier, having a suit of gray precisely like those of the guards.

The day after this last transaction I determined, if possible, to put my plan in execution. Accordingly, when the men passed down into the yard to draw their rations I went with them, resolved to seize any opportunity that offered to get away. But my time had not yet come. Every avenue of escape was guarded; sentinels stood at all the gates with vigilant eyes; and I was obliged to return to my quarters, still a prisoner, but still firmly set in my purpose. A circumstance which happened on the same day served to confirm me in my determination. One of the tyrants in charge of the prison — they were all despots in their way except Boss and one or two others — threatened, because of some caper of the men, to starve us in punishment, heaping upon me especially all sorts of abuse. Having something of Yankee grit in my nature, I resented the insult, telling the fellow I would throw him out of the window unless he at once desisted. The coward at once reported me at head-quarters, no doubt with many exaggerations as to my offense; and a few hours after I was removed to Libey Prison for punishment. This consisted in "bucking" and "gagging," a process by no means calculated to inspire one with admiration for rebel tenderness or humanity. Tying my hands together with strong cords about the wrists, my persecutors drew the arms thus united down over the knees, where they were securely pinioned; my mouth was then gagged, and having been placed on the floor, I was left for eight hours to my fate. Of course, in such a predicament, it was impossible to sit, and to lie down was equally inconvenient. Aside from the suffering, one could not resist a feeling of humiliation mingled with anger that he was made to occupy so ridiculous a position; I think I would not have had a comrade see me as I lay on the floor of Libey, knotted info the most grotesque sort of tangle — rolled up, as it were, into a little heap — for a whole year's pay and all the medals I may ever win.

My punishment ended at last, and I went back to my prison only more intent than before on getting away. The next day I again attempted to put my scheme into execution, but was again unsuccessful.

On Sunday morning, January 10, I made my last and final attempt. Arranging necessary preliminaries with a comrade, I passed down stairs with the detail sent for provisions, wearing my blanket, and keeping as much as possible under cover of those whom I was about to leave. Beaching the yard, which was filled with rebel soldiers, I suddenly, upon a favorable opportunity, slipped the blanket from my shoulders to those of my chum, and, stepping quickly into the throng, stood, to all appearance, a rebel, having precisely their uniform, and looking as dirty and ragged as the worst among them. But I was not yet free. The point now was to get out of the yard. To do this it was necessary to pass the sentinels standing at the gates, all of which were thus guarded. My wits, however, difficult as I knew my enterprise to be, did not desert me. With an air of unconcern, whistling the "Bonnie Blue Flag," I sauntered slowly toward the nearest gate — paused a moment as I neared it, to laugh with the rest at some joke of one of the guard; then, abstractedly and with deliberate pace, as if passing in and out had been so customary an affair with me as to make any formal recognition of the sentinels unnecessary — passed out. That my heart throbbed painfully under my waistcoat; that I expected every moment to hear the summons, "Halt!" you need not be told. An age of feeling was crowded into that moment. But I passed out unchallenged. Whether it was that my nonchalant air put the sentinels off their guard, or that they were for the moment absorbed in the joke at which all the soldiers were laughing, I can not tell; nor does it matter. I was free; the whole world was before me; and my whole being was a-glow with that thought. I had still dangers, it was true, to encounter; but the worst was past, and I felt equal to any that might lie before.

The sun was at its meridian as I passed the prison gate. In an hour I had struck the line of the Chickahominy Railroad. The weather was bitterly cold and the ground covered with snow; but I thought of nothing, cared, for nothing but effecting my escape. Of course the utmost vigilance was necessary as the whole Peninsula was full of pickets, mostly mounted, and while, therefore, pressing forward with all the rapidity possible, under the circumstances, I kept my eyes on constant duty, scanning closely every marsh and thicket lest some enemy should unexpectedly appear and arrest my flight. No enemy, however, that day crossed my path, though I frequently saw cavalry-patrols in the distance, causing me to seek the shelter for a time of some friendly tree or fence.

At eleven o'clock that night I was within nine miles of New Kent Court House, having traveled a distance of twenty-one miles since noon. After nightfall the stars formed my only guide, and, having quitted the line of the railroad, I very naturally lost somewhat my reckoning. Besides, for the last few miles my strength had rapidly failed me, and much as I desired to get on I found that it would be impossible to continue any further. My feet were sore, my legs weak and limp, and withal I was chilled through and through, having neither blanket nor overcoat to protect me from the keen, piercing wind. Accordingly, utterly exhausted at last, I dropped upon the snow in the swamp, and in a moment was asleep.

When I awoke at last, with a stinging pain in my hands and feet, it was daylight. I endeavored to rise, but for a time was unable. My feet were like lumps of ice, my face smarted with pain, my hands were red and without feeling; I had barely escaped freezing to death. After considerable effort, however, I got upon my feet, and with slow and difficult motion, and appetite clamoring for food, resumed my journey. As the blood in my veins warmed and strength returned I increased my pace, going in a northeasterly direction, seeking an outlet from the swamp in which I had spent the night. After a while, pursuing my devious way, a negro suddenly confronted me. Whence he came I knew not; I only knew that he stood before me with a look of inquiry in his eyes as much as to say, Who are you, Sir ? I was, of course, startled; but I remembered that I wore a rebel uniform, and met him accordingly. But he was not to be deceived.

"Yer can't come dat game on dis chil'," he said, with a sparkle in his eye; "I knows yer, Sar; you'se a Yankee pris'ner 'scaped from Richmon'." Then, as if to reassure me, he hurriedly added, " But, Lor' bless yer, massa, I won't tell on yer; I'se real glad yer's got away."

I saw in a moment the fellow could be trusted — I have never seen a negro yet, in this war, who could not be trusted by the Union soldier; and so I unbosomed myself to him at once, telling him the whole story of my escape, that I had lost my way, that I had not eaten a morsel of food in twenty-four hours, and that if he could help me in any way I would be more indebted than I could describe.

"Dis chil' glad to help yer," he replied, in a tone of real pleasure and with a bright look in his eyes, and at once started off at a rapid pace, leading me across the fields, a distance of four miles, to the house of another negro, to whom he explained my situation and wishes. Here I was given something to eat, both the man and woman treating me with the greatest kindness; and after a short rest again set out, this time with my host as guide, for the main road, from which I had wandered. This was soon reached, and parting with my black friend, I pushed on, keeping the road as nearly as I could. The road was thick with pickets and scouts, and I was obliged at almost every turn to dodge aside to avoid discovery. For miles I succeeded in "flanking" all I met; but at last a sharp bend in the road brought me within twenty-five feet of a soldier on horseback looking squarely toward me. How my heart leaped at the sight! "Who are you?" was the instant salute; but without stopping to answer I leaped into the swamp and plunged into the depths of underbrush which overrun it. My leap was followed by a shot from the soldier's pistol, the ball whistling shrilly after me, but fortunately missing its mark. As if determined not to be balked, the soldier dismounted from his horse, and for two hours hunted for me in the swamp, often passing close to my retreat, and keeping me in constant trepidation lest I should be discovered. But Providence again favored me; the scout tired at last in his vain search and moved away, and I once more started for the Canaan of my hopes.

All that day I traveled on, dodging the pickets, hiding in the swamps, lying under thickets, wading through bogs and water, until night again found me exhausted and incapable of going any further. But I was not to be permitted to sleep without one more fight. Making my way in deep darkness through the underbrush, crackling the brittle twigs under my feet, a "What's that?" uttered in a sharp, strong voice, suddenly warned me of danger. A moment after I heard men talking, the words "spy" and "Yankee" being conspicuous in their discussion. Then, crouching down, I heard them moving to and fro all around me, and once one of the number passed so close to where I lay that I could hear him breathe. For an hour or more they kept up their search, discussing among themselves the probable cause of their alarm, when, apparently concluding that they had been unnecessarily startled, they abandoned the field and left me to my thoughts. For some time, however, after their departure I did not dare to stir, not knowing at what moment they might return, or how near they might be to my retreat; but fatigue finally overcame me, and finding a soft place I threw myself on the ground, and pulling over me such leaves and brush as I could reach, very soon found oblivion in sleep.

Of my adventures the day following, which was Tuesday the 12th, I need not speak at length. They were numerous, many of them perilous in the extreme; but fortune was still on my side, and at eleven o'clock that night I reached the suburbs of Williamsburg, the goal of all my wanderings. It was a long time, however, before I could make up my mind, after I saw the lights of the town, whether it was the place I sought. My many escapes had made me, if any thing, unduly cautious; I had come so far, had suffered so much, and had so much to fear from capture and return to my prison, that I felt it would be terrible, now that the Promised Land was in sight, to lose all by a want of vigilance or a premature discovery of myself to the pickets. Consequently, I determined, if possible, to get through the lines into the village without discovery, and I had nearly succeeded when a sharp challenge brought me to a halt. Again, however, the darkness favored me, and though an immediate hunt was instituted, I once more escaped, this time from our own pickets. At length, quiet having been restored, I managed to creep through, and shortly after was in the village. Seeing a light in the windows of a large building on the principal street, I cautiously crept up, designing to peer into the apparently occupied room, and learn from the uniform of the occupants whether I was really among friends or foes. I had reached the window, and was raising my head to look in, when, suddenly, a hand was laid heavily on my shoulder, and a loud voice exclaimed,

" Hello, here! — who is this ? A spy ?"

I started as if a ball had struck me. Was I again a prisoner, or was this the grasp of a friend deceived by my uniform ? But instinct was true, and I answered at once,

"I'm a Union soldier escaped from Richmond."

That was enough. Before I knew it I was within the lighted room, which proved to be the head-quarters of the post commandant; an armchair was placed before the fire, and I was thrust into it; my shoes were drawn off, and I was as cozy as kindly hands could make me. Of course, the moment my story was told I became a hero; that part of it relating to my skirmishing with our own pickets affording especial delight to the merry fellows of the One Hundred and Thirty-ninth New York Regiment who thronged headquarters.

I remained at Williamsburg until Thursday morning, when I proceeded to Yorktown, going thence to Washington, where Secretary Stanton gave me a furlough of a fortnight. And this is the story of "My Escape from Richmond."

But some day I hope to ride into it with my comrades of the New Jersey First, with the old flag streaming over us — expelling before us as we go the miserable traitors whose hands would drag that flag, if they could, in the dust, and put out forever the lustrous promise shining on its folds. When we march into Richmond I trust that there will be with us men Of darker hue than ours, who, having fought their way from a prison-house worse than the Libby, will have won the right to rejoice in the triumph of the Stars and Stripes.

Friday, January 4, 2008

Escape from Fort Warren

Fort Warren is strategically located on Georges Island, midway between the northern and southern arms of Boston Harbor. The National Park Service calls Fort Warren the most important Civil War site in New England, as it served as a prison for Confederate leaders and officers, including vice president Alexander Stephens. Battery Jack Adams, an unusual single gun battery within the Fort, was considered to be a key part of Boston Harbor's defense system during the Spanish-American War. Confederate Captain J.W. Alexander led an escape from Fort Warren 1n 1862. His account of the event, included below, originally appeared in New England Magazine,Volume 13, Issue 2, October 1892. pp. 208-212


By Capt. J. W. Alexander

In the month of November, 1862, I was detached from the James River Squadron and ordered to Savannah, Georgia, as executive officer of the new iron-clad Atlanta, being constructed for the Confederates at that place. On arriving, I found the Atlanta at the lower end of the city, still in the hands of the contractor ; but her guns were on board, and there only remained some finishing to be done before she was turned over to the government.More... Captain McBlair was in command, and the other officers reported for duty about the same time as myself. The Atlanta was an iron steamer, built in Scotland, and had run the blockade into the Savannah River and been purchased by the Confederate government. Her upper works had been removed and she had been cut down, and a shield for the battery constructed upon her iron hull after the pattern of the old Merrimac, with sloping sides covered with two bars of iron, each two inches thick. These bars were bolted to the solid pine logs with which her shield had been constructed. It is not my purpose to give any detailed account of this vessel or her career, but only to state in a general way how she was eventually captured by the Federal fleet in Ossabar Sound. Her crew were mostly Georgians, volunteers from the army, and, with the exception of a few sailors, were totally unacquainted with the duties required of them; but they soon learned to work the battery very well, and with the few sailors that were on board made eventually quite an efficient crew. The vessel was at first commanded by Captain McBlair, but before her sailing, Capt. W. A. Webb had been placed in command. After the usual delay, we dropped down to the obstructions in the river and began exercising and drilling the crew; and it was not until June, 1863, that it was thought the vessel was ready for action.

Sometime before this we passed through the obstructions in the river and dropped down to Fort McAllister, which was on one of the mouths of the Savannah River. On the night of the 16th of June, we dropped down to the bar at the entrance of Ossabar Sound, where the Federal fleet, consisting of two monitors and some wooden gunboats, was lying, awaiting the expected attack. The next morning we were under weigh before day, and steaming down so as to get over the bar at high water. At daylight the Federals were under weigh and coming to meet us, and not long afterward, in attempting to cross the bar, we ran hard and fast aground, and notwithstanding every effort, here we remained, not able to move. The two monitors came up within close range, and taking positions where our guns could not be brought to bear on them, they opened fire on us with their heavy guns. Nearly every shot hit, and it was only a short time before one struck the pilot house, wounding both pilots and Captain Webb; another struck the shield on the starboard side forward, and the effect was to stun nearly every man in that part of the ship, wounding several severely. The woodwork to which the iron plates were bolted was completely shivered, and many men were struck by the splinters. The shot did not come through, but wherever a shot struck the woodwork was broken and splintered. In a very short time it was evident that to continue the contest would only result in the destruction of the crew. The tide had fallen so low that all hopes of getting the vessel afloat had to be abandoned. No resistance could be made, as our guns could not be brought to bear on the enemy, they having taken positions on our bow and quarter. Captain Webb reluctantly gave the order to haul down the flag, and in a few minutes we all found ourselves prisoners of war on the different vessels of the Federal fleet. We were carried first to Port Royal and then to New York, and were, for a time, confined in Fort La Fayette. From this place we were taken to Boston and placed in Fort Warren, on one of the islands about seven miles from the city.

Fort Warren was commanded by Colonel Dimmick, and was garrisoned by some local Massachusetts troops. The officers and men always treated us kindly. At first we were allowed to purchase anything we wished, and for a while our friends in Baltimore and some in Boston sent us many things, clothing and eatables; but after a time, acting under orders received from Washington, we were not allowed to buy anything, and had only the rations usually allowed prisoners, which were neither plentiful nor inviting. The privilege of purchasing provisions was taken from us, it was said, in retaliation for the treatment the Federal prisoners received at the hands of the Confederates ; but this matter has been fully discussed, and will not be dwelt on here. After this the underground railway brought us such things as we were able to pay enormously for.

Besides the prisoners taken on the Atlanta, there were the officers and crew of the Tacony and some political prisoners and blockade-runners confined in Fort Warren. We were kept in the casemates under the main battery. In the daytime we were allowed to take exercise on the pavements in front of our quarters, but after sundown we were locked in the casemates and sentinels placed in front of our doors. Four of us, Lieutenant C. W. Reed of the Tacony (a prize vessel converted into a Confederate naval boat), Lieutenant of Marines James Thurston of the Atlanta, Reed Sanders, a political prisoner from Kentucky, and myself determined to escape. Many plans were suggested and discussed, but none seemed feasible. Indeed, situated as we were on an island, and strictly guarded day and night, with sentinels stationed in front of our doors, confined within solid masonry constructed to resist the shot from the heaviest guns, it seemed impossible to escape; and yet the escape was easily accomplished.

In the basement under the room in which we were confined was a pump where we obtained our water, and in the outer wall of this basement were two openings called musketry loop-holes. These were something over six feet high, two or three feet wide at the inside of the wall, and gradually sloping to a point, so that at the outer side of the wall they were only a little over seven inches wide. One day, while bathing, the thought struck me that I could get through this hole, — and I immediately tried it. I found that by turning my head so as to look over my shoulder, I could get through, but with my clothes on I could not get my body through. Stripping off my clothes, I tried again, and found I could squeeze through, though it was hard to do it. This discovery was made known to the other three, and each one found he could get through quite easily, as I was the largest one of the party. No time was lost after this in getting ready for our escape.

Waiting for a dark night, we one by one squeezed through the loop-hole, and lowered ourselves down into the dry ditch between the main and water batteries. We made our way cautiously over the water battery and then through the grass towards the sea-wall, where we found, as we expected and feared, that sentinels were posted. These would walk backwards and forwards on the wall, and when they met they would turn and walk off in the opposite directions. Keeping close to the ground we would approach the walls when they were walking from each other, and remain quiet after they turned and were coming together. Finally we succeeded in passing between them while their backs were towards us, and got into the water close to the wall, lying down with our heads against the wall, and our feet in the water. Finding the sea very rough and the wind high, after a considerable time we concluded it would be very dangerous to try to swim off at that time; so we watched our chance and succeeded in regaining our quarters, as our friends inside, by our direction, had left the rope hanging down from the loop-hole so that we could go back if for any reason we could not succeed in getting off the island. Only a few of the prisoners knew we had been out. Most of them ridiculed the idea that any one could get through so small a hole. A smart little midshipman, seeing our wet clothes, tasted, and, finding them salt, was convinced.

The failure of our first attempt did not discourage us. Lieutenant Reed suggested that two of his men, good swimmers and very reliable, be allowed to go with us. He talked to them, and they readily agreed to accompany us. The plan was for these two men to swim over to the adjoining island, procure a boat and return to within a short distance of the shore, and we would then swim out to them.

We made the second attempt the night following the first. At the time agreed on we lowered ourselves down into the ditch, and were here joined by the two sailors. Proceeding as before, we stopped in the grass, between the water battery and wall, while the sailors, crawling on, passed between the sentries, and getting into the water swam off, and we never saw them again. I heard that they finally made their way back to the Confederacy, but I am not certain that this is true. Waiting, as it seemed to us, for hours, and the sailors not returning, Thurston and I determined that we would swim over to the island on which the lighthouse stood, get a boat, and return for Reed and Sanders, neither of whom, being poor swimmers, were willing to run the risk. Close to the shore where we passed to the water was a target, made of white pine and very light. The garrison used this target to practice on, and after consulting together we, Thurston and I, determined to use it to float our clothes over on, shoving it ahead of us as we swam. Watching our chance, we pulled it down and got it into the water while the sentinels were on their outward trip; and it came very near being the means of defeating our plan; for before we could get away they came together again, right over our heads, on the sea-wall, and began to talk on indifferent subjects, and continued for some time.

Finally one said to the other, "Where is the target? Wasn't it here when we came on post?" "Yes," was the reply. "Where can it be ?" They came to the edge of the wall, and looked over. It was very dark in the shadow, and we lay close together, barely breathing.

"I believe I see something down here in the water," said one. "Stick your bayonet into it and see what it is," said the other. The sentinel lowered the muzzle of his musket, and shoved it slowly towards Reed's breast, directly under him. The point finally rested on his chest! He never moved a muscle, but remained perfectly quiet. That was the bravest thing I saw during the four years of the war.

But it was only for a moment. The man pulled his gun up, remarking, "I am not going to stick my bayonet into saltwater." After this they stood for what seemed to us an age, and discussed the disappearance of the target, finally concluding that the "spirits had taken it away." Then they separated and moved off, widening the distance between us.

Now was our chance. Tying our clothes to the target, we pushed it off and headed for the shore of the island, which lay some distance from the fort. Though it was August the water seemed as cold as ice. Want of exercise had weakened us, and though we made apparently good progress, it seemed hours that we were in the water, and the tide swept us down all the time. There was a lighthouse on an island opposite the lower end of the island on which the fort was built. We kept this light a little to the right of us as we swam, and finally, after a long time, -- it seemed hours, -- we stopped for a moment, letting our feet sink under us. We both touched bottom at the same time, and, straightening up, we waded ashore, pulling the target after us. We were almost frozen, but as soon as we had put the target some little distance from the water we set out along the shore to look for a boat, keeping together for fear we might not be able to find each other without a noise, if we separated, and not knowing whether or not anyone lived on the island.

After a long time we came upon a small fishing boat, which had been dragged up on the beach, and anchored so as to keep it in place. We pulled the anchor up to the bow of the boat, and secured it; then we tried to shove the boat into the water. It was so small that we ought to have launched it easily; yet after moving it a certain distance, we could get it no further. I cannot tell how long we were at this business, but it was a long time. Finally, trying to see what kept the boat from moving, we found there was a second anchor over the stern. Cutting the rope which held the boat, we shoved it into the water, and getting on board we hoisted the sail and steered over towards the fort, intending to take down the sail when we got nearer and pull in for Reed and Sanders.

It had been getting lighter for some time, but was not quite daylight. We stood on, but did not go too near, for fear of exciting the suspicion of the sentinels, whom we could see very plainly. Finally, as it got lighter and lighter, we reluctantly turned the boat's head toward the sea, as we could plainly see that Reed and Sanders had left and were perhaps back in the casemates, having given us up. It was a sad disappointment to us. I believe we could have got them off, if we could have launched the boat without delay. I afterwards learned that, waiting till nearly daylight, they attempted to return to the casemates; but they waited too long, and were discovered and put in close confinement. Thurston and myself sailed by the fort, in plain view of the sentinels on the sea-walls, and after getting outside to what we considered a sufficient distance from the land, we headed up the coast, intending to land in New Brunswick. All that day we sailed with a light breeze ; and towards night we ran close in shore to see if we could get something to eat. We had no clothes except our hats and shirts, and we were very hungry and thirsty.

Just about dark we were close in to the beach. Near the shore we saw a house and a man standing in front of it. We hailed him and asked him to come off, which he proceeded to do in a small boat. He looked at us very suspiciously, but listened to our tale calmly. We told him we had sailed out from Portsmouth for a lark, and had gone in bathing, and that while in the water our clothes had blown overboard, and asked him to get us some clothes if he could, and bring us some water and something to eat. He went on shore, and soon returned with some old clothes, a good supply of plain food, some tobacco, and a small bottle of cherry brandy. I am satisfied he knew what we were, but we said nothing, except to thank him for his kindness, telling him we would remain where we were till next day ; but as soon as he was out of sight, we hoisted our sail and stood on up the coast towards Eastport, intending to land in New Brunswick. Had the wind held we should have reached there before morning; but it was nearly calm.

Thurston slept some in the first part of the night, and at midnight he took the helm and I lay down to rest. For two nights I had had no sleep, and I was very tired. I slept soundly. When I woke it was broad daylight; indeed the sun was up, and the breeze was very light. We were not heading our course, but we afterwards did so. For the greater part of the forenoon the wind was light, and we made little progress. We noticed about eight or nine o'clock, what appeared to be a good sized schooner, which was sailing around; and from the fact that it changed its course frequently and was apparently running towards different sails — several being in sight,— we concluded that the vessel was hunting for us. This proved to be the case, for towards noon she came sailing towards us. The officers in the boat hailed us, and coming alongside asked us a number of questions, we telling pretty much the same tale we had told at Rye Beach. I think they were about to let us go, when someone suggested we had better be searched. This was done, and finding some Confederate money on one of us they at once told us that they knew who we were, and that we must go on board the revenue-cutter, which the vessel proved to be.

I think the Captain's name was Webster. He treated us very kindly, and told us he had been looking for us both that day and the day before, and that several other boats were out after us. He carried us into Portland harbor, and before we had been there very long the United States marshal came on board, and Captain Webster delivered us into his charge.

As soon as we had passed into his boat, which lay alongside the revenue cutter, he put his hands into his pockets, and, pulling out a pair of handcuffs, proceeded to put the cuffs on to my left wrist and on to Thurston's right wrist, so we were handcuffed together, which made me feel very queer. We must have presented a sorry spectacle on landing, for a little newsboy seemed to have felt very badly about us. He ran off somewhere and came back with two apples, which he gave us. A crowd was collecting about us, and the marshal put us into a cab and carried us to the city jail and delivered us over to the jailer, who took us upstairs and put us into cells adjoining each other. We could talk, but could not see each other. The food furnished us in this jail was certainly the most disgusting ever offered to men. After a few days our friends in Fort Warren sent us some clothes, and we heard that Reed and Sanders were well, but were in close confinement. We were kept locked up in our several cells at night, but in the daytime we were allowed to be out for a short time in the morning, being afterward locked up in the same cell for the balance of the day.

Our capture evidently caused great excitement in Portland. The jail was crowded with visitors to see the two "Rebel" prisoners, — or pirates, as we were generally called. They would come and stand at the doors of our cells and discuss us as if we were a species of wild animals; and I suppose we were a kind of menagerie to them. After a while we got used to being stared at and paid no attention to them. One day, I remember, there was a large crowd peeping at us through the bars. One young and quite pretty girl said, looking at me: "Oh, Susan, he is reading ! "To which Susan replied, "Pshaw! this one's writing." Several of the visitors were evidently very sorry for us, and some few books were sent us by some kind people of the city; but, as a general thing, the people were very bitter, and told us plainly that they thought we ought to be killed.

We remained in Portland jail about one month, and while there formed plans for escape. We were confined in cells on the second story of the jail. The doors of the cells were of iron bars about one inch in diameter. We determined to saw through these bars, and once out of our cells we could go down to the lower floor, where we were permitted to go for a short time to wash. The windows of this wash-room had the usual iron bars; by removing one or two of them we could get through, — and once out we determined to make for the water or the country, as seemed best, and get up into Canada.

It took some time to get the instrument to saw the bars with, but we finally succeeded. Before we could make much progress, however, we were again transferred to Fort Warren, and found our two friends, Thurston and Reed, confined in a room on the opposite side of the fort from the other prisoners, and closely guarded. We were put into this room, and some time afterward we were joined by Samuel Sterrett, a son of Captain Sterrett of the C. S. N. Sterrett was a native of Baltimore, and had been arrested as a Southern sympathizer and sent to join the other political prisoners in the fort; but being regarded as a dangerous prisoner, he was put with us into close confinement. He was a real acquisition, for he came in provided with many things by friends, and was generous, dividing liberally with us all he had and everything that was sent to him from Baltimore by his friends.

We were kept in close confinement for several months. The colonel commanding offered to put us with the other prisoners if we would give our parole not to attempt to escape ; but this we declined to do. We had formed our plans to get out of this room; but before we could make any beginning, we were put back with the other naval officers in our old original casemates.

Never losing hope, we began to look around at once to see how we could get out of the casemates. There were two chimneys in our room, and both were stack chimneys — that is to say, there were two flues in the chimney, one for the fireplace in our casemate, and one for the fireplace of the adjoining one.

We determined to move the partition in one of these chimneys and get out at the top. This would be a work of months, but we commenced at once. The fireplaces were closed and only a hole for a stovepipe remained. We took down enough of these bricks to let one man get into the fireplace, and he commenced removing the partition between the fireplaces, or rather enlarging the flue so we could pass up. The bricks removed from the inside of the chimney were beaten into dust and carried out in the slops every morning. After working nearly all night, taking turns and being helped by another prisoner, Morrell, an engineer on the Atlanta, we would put back the bricks we had taken down, using bread made into dough for mortar, and whitewashing the brick over every night before we went to bed.

This work went on for several months; but when we could see that our work was getting to a point where we could begin to see the end, we ascertained that a sentinel was posted at the top of the chimney and that all our work was thrown away. It was a bitter disappointment to us; but we did not have to bear it for a very long time, for in September, I think it was, we were ordered to get ready to go to City Point for exchange.

While in the fort I had a beautiful little English terrier named Fanny, which had belonged to one of the sons of Captain S. S. Lee, and was turned over to me when Lee was ordered abroad. This little dog gained the affections of one of the sergeants attached to the commissary department in Fort Warren, and he used to bring fresh beef every day it was issued to the garrison as a present to the dog. Of course we took charge of the meat and the little dog was given the bones, and this meat was a great addition to our larder. This little dog was with me until the close of the war, and was carried to my home in Lincolnton, North Carolina, where she lived to a good old age, and raised many sons and daughters.

The exchange was a special one, arranged between the navy departments of the two governments. We were sent in a steamer to City Point, on James River, where General Grant had his headquarters on a large river steamboat. We remained here some time, and we learned that the reason was that the Confederates refused to treat with General Butler, the Federal agent for the exchange of prisoners. The Confederates had outlawed General Butler on account of his conduct in New Orleans, and refused to hold any communication with him. Then Captain Webb, the senior captain present, asked for and obtained an interview with General Grant, who listened to what he had to say, said nothing himself, -- but on the following day we were sent up the river, and meeting the Confederate flag of truce about nine miles below Richmond, we were put on board that vessel, and the Federal naval prisoners sent down to be exchanged for us took our places in the one we left. After a short time the two vessels separated, and our boat steamed up the river. We had not gone very far before we saw a Confederate picket standing among some bushes near the bank of the river, and we knew we were once more inside the Confederate lines after having been prisoners for seventeen months. I think that was the happiest day of my life.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Salome "Sallie" Myers: how a Gettysburg schoolteacher spent her vacation in 1863

[Note: In 1863, 21 year-old Elizabeth Salome "Sallie" Myers was on summer vacation. The Gettysburg native was in her fourth week off from teaching in the town's public school when, with little warning, she found herself faced with a terrible decision, to hide in the cellar of her home or help the injured and dying. Forty years later, she authored "How A Gettysburg Schoolteacher Spent Her Vacation in 1863", first published in The Sunday Call newspaper in San Francisco, California. Myers was later interviewed for a news article in the July 4, 1909 Philadelphia North American.]

"I was not an enlisted nurse. At the breaking out of the war I was a teacher in the public schools of Gettysburg, my native place, and the home of my maternal ancestors who were its first settlers. On may 31, 1863, I finished a nine months' term as second assistant to the principle of our schools. Of the experiences of the inhabitants of the Southern border counties of our state that Spring and Summer, I need not speak.More...

Business of all kinds was paralyzed and the daily reports of the coming of the rebels kept us in a constant fever of excitement. On June 26 they came, spent the night and passed through... burning bridges and spreading consternation everywhere. Little we dreamed of the far greater horrors that were in store for us.

"On Wednesday July 1, the storm broke. We were brimming over with patriotic enthusiasm. While our elders prepared food we girls stood on the corner near our house and gave refreshments of all kinds to 'our boys' of the First Corps, who were double-quicking down Washington Street to join the troops already engaged in battle west of the town. After the men had all passed, we sat on our doorsteps or stood around in groups, frightened nearly out of our wits but never dreaming of defeat. A horse was led by, the blood streaming from his head which was covered. The sight sickened me. Then a man was led by supported by two comrades. His head had been hastily bandaged and blood was visible. I turned away faint with horror, for I never could bear the sight of blood. After a while the artillery wagons began to go back and we couldn't understand that. The came the order: 'Women and children to the cellars; the rebels will shell the town.' We lost little time in obeying the order. My home was on West High Street, near Washington (Street) and in the direct path of the retreat. From 4 to 6 we were in the cellar and those two hours I can never forget. Our cellar was a good one and furnished a refuge for many besides our own family.

"The noise above our heads, the rattling of musketry, the screeching of shells, and the unearthly yells, added to the cries of the children, were enough to shake the stoutest heart. After the rebels had gained full possession of the town, some of our men who had been captured were standing near the cellar window. One of them asked if some of us would take their addresses and the addresses of friends and write to them of their capture. I took thirteen and wrote as they requested. I received answers from all but one, and several of the soldiers revisited the place of their capture and recognized the house and cellar window. While the battle lasted we concealed and fed three men in our cellar.

"Before 6 o'clock the firing ceased and we came up from the cellar. They had begun bringing wounded and injured into town. The Catholic and Presbyterian churches, a few doors east of my father's home were taken possession of as hospitals. Dr. James Fulton (143rd Pennsylvania Volunteers) did splendid work getting things in shape. From that time on we had no rest for weeks. 'Girls,' Dr. Fulton said, ' you must come up to the churches and help us- the boys are suffering terribly!' I went to the Catholic church. On pews and floors men lay, the groans of the suffering and dying were heartrending. I knelt beside the first man near the door and asked what I could do. 'Nothing,' he replied, 'I am going to die.' I went outside the church and cried. I returned and spoke to the man- he was wounded in the lungs and spine, and there was not the slightest hope for him. The man was Sgt. Alexander Stewart of the 149th Pennsylvania Volunteers. I read a chapter of the Bible to him, it was the last chapter his father had read before he left home. The wounded man died on Monday, July 6.

"Sgt. Stewart was the first wounded man brought in, but others followed. The sight of blood never again affected me and I was among wounded and dying men day and night. While the battle lasted and the town was in possession of the rebels, I went back and forth between my home and the hospitals without fear. The soldiers called me brave, but I am afraid the truth was that I did not know enough to be afraid and if I had known enough, I had no time to think of the risk I ran, for my heart and hands were full. One of our boys had lost a leg. He had been with us several days and had become very fond of my little sisters. Very frequently they sang for him, 'There is No Name So Sweet on Earth', at that time a popular hymn. He suffered from indigestion and one night in his restlessness, the bandages came loose. It was after midnight. The nurse, tired out, had fallen asleep and before we could find a surgeon he was so weakened by loss of blood that he died the next morning. A few days later his wife came. She was young and had never been away from home. When she heard of her husband being wounded, she started for Gettysburg, leaving a babe that he had never seen. She did not know of his death until she came to us and her grief was heartrending.

"I went daily through the hospitals with my writing materials, reading and answering letters. This work enlisted all my sympathies, and I received many kind and appreciative letters from those who could not come. Besides caring for the wounded, we did all we could for the comfort of friends who came to look after their loved ones. Many pleasant and enduring friendships were the result of this part of my work. It is a great pleasure to remember that during that long, trying summer, I was treated with the greatest courtesy and kindness by the soldiers, not one, in either army, ever addressing me except in the most respectful manner. They were men. They bore their suffering in the hospitals with the same matchless courage and fortitude with which they met the dangers and endured the hardships of army life. Their patience was marvelous. I never heard a murmur. Truly, we shall not look upon their like again.

"I would not care to live that summer again, yet I would not willingly erase that chapter from my life's experience; and I shall always be thankful that I was permitted to minister to the wants and soothe the last hours of some of the brave men who lay suffering and dying for the dear old flag."

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Words from the condemned -- part 1 of 7: the diary of Henry Wirz

Selections from the diary Captain Henry Wirz, commandant of the notorious Confederate prison called Andersonville, made in the days leading up to his November, 1865 execution. Originally appeared in the Boston Advertiser; reprinted in the November 15, 1856 edition of the New York Times on page 1, column 1

Part 1 of 7 : Henry Wirz diary entry of October 1, 1865. [See all entries in this series]

[explanatory note from the New York Times:]

"We print below the diary of Henry Wirz, which we received last evening from a correspondent at Washington. Several references have been made in our telegraphic dispatches and elsewhere to this singular document. Our readers will find in it little that bears upon his career at Andersonville, except his protestations of innocence. As to the general character of this diary, and the genuineness of the sentiments expressed in it, we shall leave our readers to judge. We have no desire, and it is hardly necessary to argue his case, now that the grave has closed over him."

Old Capitol Prison, October 1, 1865:

Everything is quiet around me, no sound but the measured steps of the sentinel in the corridor can be heard, the man who is sitting in my room is nodding in his chair.More... Poor, short-sighted mortals that we all are, this man is put in my room to watch me, to prevent any attempt I might possibly make to take my own life. My life, what is it worth to anyone except myself and my poor family, that they should be so anxious. I think I understand it very well, they are afraid I might cheat them and the public at large from having their revenge and giving, at the same time, the masses the benefit of seeing a man hung. If that is all, they are welcome, I have no desire to live, perhaps there was never a more willing victim dragged to the scaffold than I am, why should I desire to live. A beggar, crippled with my health and spirit broken, why, oh, why should I desire to live. For the sake of my family? My family will do as well without me as with me; instead of providing and taking care of them, I would be a burthen to them. And still knowing all that, why do I not put an end to my life? Because, in the first instance, what I suffer now is the will of God. God, how much is not in this word. What tower of strength, of consolation. Yea, Heavenly Father, if it was not thy will, I would not be a prisoner, I would not be looked at, spoken of as a monster such as the world has never seen and never will see, if that what I suffer now was not put on me by you for some wise purpose I would not be as free as the bird in the air. Thou and I, we two alone know that I am innocent of these terrible charges. Thou and I, we both know, that I never took the life of a fellow man, that I never caused a man to suffer and die in consequence of ill treatment inflicted by me, and still I am tried for murder, men have sworn that they saw me do it, they have called on Thee, to witness that they tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, and they told a lie, a lie black as hell itself, why did you not send a thunderbolt from the high heavens, why o God, why, because it is thy holy will, and in humility I kiss the rod with which thou seest proper to chastise me.

The second reason why I do not destroy a life which is a burden to me is because I owe it to myself, my family, my relations, even the world at large to prove that there never existed a man so utterly devoid of all humanity, such a fiend incarnate, as it has been attempted to prove me to be. I see very well that I have no earthly show, that I am a doomed man, but thanks be to God, that I am enabled to say with holy Stephen, Lord lay not this sin to my charge. They judge by what they hear and I must abide by it.

It makes me feel very sorry and at the same time I could almost smile, when I see men like Col. Persons and Capt. Wright give their testimony, how careful they first weigh every word; how afraid they are to say something which might perhaps implicate themselves. I pity them, a day will come when they will be sorry that they took not a more manly stand than they did. Perhaps one of the hardest things I have to bear is, when I hear such men speak now, and recollect what they have said and how they acted a year ago, then they did not say that they did not wish to associate with me, oh no, then they would visit my house and invite me to theirs. But enough, I despise and always have despised a coward.

My wife has tried again to see me to-day, but could not because Gen. Baker who by order of the Secretary of War has to be present at the interview is still sick. I think it is pretty hard, because a man is sick, I have been deprived now for two weeks of almost the only joy, to see my poor wife. It looks to me, that the hundreds of officials at Washington one could be entrusted with the fearful responsibility to let a sick prisoner see his wife, talk with her for thirty minutes about three dear children, their domestic affairs. But why should I grumbles or have any bitterness in my heart? I think I ought to be proud that a government like the Government of these United States considers me of such importance to take such extraordinary measures.

For four weeks have I asked in vain to have the permission to see a minister of the gospel, to get such consolation, as I thought I needed, part of that time I was at death's door, and finally on yesterday, I was allowed to see Rev. Father Boyle, but during the whole time, except during confession, the Officer was present. I think it is high time to blot out the eagle in the American escutcheon and substitute a buzzard. I have heard when I was a boy that the eagle was the king of birds, if he is how is it that he stoops so low to tear with his talons an humble captain, and is afraid to strike men such as I could name. Poor eagle I pity thee, thy arts are more like those of a buzzard.