Thursday, June 4, 2009

Coping in a Civil War prison: a Union officer describes his captivity in a Confederate prison

In earlier posts, we heard bits and pieces of the very bleak existence in the Civil War prisons. In this entry, George Haven Putnam, 1st Lieutenant in the 176th New York volunteers, describes the amnner in which he coped with life in the Danville Penitentiary.

On December 18th, 1864, Putnam writes:

Dear Mother,

I don't know how succesful my former letters have been in reaching you, but in spite of the chance of its being perhaps useless, I continue to write because the act itself seems to bring me nearer home, an is in itself a comfort. My circumstances have somewhat improved lately. I have borrowed some little money from an officer lately arrived., whom I had formerly known, and am able therewith to purchase some small additions to my rations which are very acceptable. I have had for a chum since my capture a young fellow named VenderWeyde, with whom I get along very well. He contributed to the partnership a blanket, cup, plate, and knife, I a plate, fork, spoon, cup, blanket and canteen; for the last two months we have marched, hungered, feasted, slept, and lived in common. Two blankets make a better bed than one, and the majority of our officers have formed such partnerships. It would be interesting to you to be able to look into our "apartment," and observe the various ways in which our men manifest themselves in captivity. Many are engaged in the laborious task of splitting wood with table knives and wooden wedges, some are playing chess, cards, or checkers; some unfortunate ones who have obtained books are reading or studying; a few like myself are engaged in the pleasing occupation of writing home, while some unfortunates on whom imprisonment has acted hardly, are sitting gazing vacantly, stupidly, desolately into nothingness -- waiting for brighter days. The floor serves as seats, bedstead, and table for us all. We are hoping that boxes from home will reach us by New Year's. I have sent several lists of wants. Money is the principal one. Reciprocations are sometimes effected with the friends of Southern prisoners North.

Yours trustfully


Monday, June 1, 2009

A civil war drummer boy cares for the wounded: "I never want to go into a hospital again"

In a previous post, we heard David Auld, drummer boy for the 43rd Ohio volunteers, discuss the horrors of battle and the role the drummer boys played in caring for the wounded, dead, and dying. Here, Charles William Bardeen, drummer boy for the 1st Massachusetts Volunteers, company D, discusses his experiences during the Battle of Fredericksburg.

Bardeen writes:

Dear Mother,

When I closed my last it was Sunday Morning. I will relate what has passed since then. I believe I mentioned that there were several wounded Rebels brought in. As they were suffering badly, I made a Coffee pot full of coffee, giving it to all of them who wished. Most of them were in Georgia Regts, particularly the 61st & 62d & 60th One was the Adjutant Gen'l of Erwin's Brigade, under Jackson, and in the absence of Erwin he led the Brigade in a charge upon one of our batteries. Our infantry in front united to give the batteries a chance to open with cannister, which, as soon as the enemy were near enough, they did, with terrible effect. Our infantry then advanced and took many prisoners. This Adj-Gen'l was wounded in the Groin and was in great pain. In company with all of them, he expressed great surprise at the kind treatment he received at our hands. He said he was treated as well as our own boys. All day I staid there, doing all I could for all of them. At night we went out a little way from the Hospital to sleep. I saw many legs & arms taken off, and the sight was awful. The men say that it is not battle but butchery, as the rebels are well protected by breastworks. Monday morning we were ordered back across the river, as the Div. Hospital had been established there. So the drummers were put in reliefs of six hours each to attend to the wounded. My relief is on at dark. The following were the instructions given to me by the Nurse, in the tent assigned to me. "The men on the left side will not require much attention. That man in the corner is wounded through the temple and is insane. You will have to hold him down if he attempts to get up, and you must keep close to him and keep him covered. The one next to him is crazy also. Every time he wakes up you must give him some water & look out that he does not get up. The one in this corner has got the Dysentery and will require the Bedpan often—You must pay strict attention to them all, and not let the crazy men get the upper hands of you." So off he went and left me alone with two crazy men and 6 or eight wounded ones to attend to. It was a hard place, but I did my duty as well as I was able 'till my six hours were up. I never want to go into a Hospital again.