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


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