Address before Pickett Camp Confederate Veterans, October 10, 1890.

[Richmond (Va.) Times, October 11, 1890.]

George E. Pickett Camp Confederate Veterans held a meeting which was largely attended last night. Past Commander Charles T. <shv18_114>Loehr read an interesting and valuable paper on Point Lookout, for which the Camp returned him hearty thanks. Following is the address in full:

"If it were not for Hope, how could we live in a place like this?--Point Look Out, June 3, 1865."

On a fly-leaf of a small New Testament appears these words, as well as the sketch of a cross and anchor, also the date, June 3d, 1865, and the place, Point Lookout, to all of which I acknowledge myself as the author.

In turning back to those dark days of our country's history, I do so simply to present facts and incidents in which I was a participant. I want to show how the Confederate soldier suffered even after General Lee had bid farewell to his army at Appomattox. The words "surrendered at Appomattox," so often quoted by our Southern orators to denote "the soldier who has done his duty," is but partly true. General Lee surrendered about 26,000 men, of whom only 7,892 were armed. A greater part of them were men that were on detail duty, or held some position which kept them safely in the rear. It is a fact that few, very few, indeed, of Ewell's and Pickett's men escaped from those that stood in battle line doing their duty on the evening of April 6, 1865, at the bloody ridge of Sailor's Creek; the men left there as a forlorn hope to do the fighting, with few exceptions, were captured or killed; and I assert without fear of contradiction that there were more fighting men at the close of the war in Point Lookout Prison alone, not to mention Fort Delaware, Hart's Island, Johnson's Island, Newport's News, and other questionable places of amusement, than there were in Lee's whole army at the surrender. I think the remarks necessary in justice to the Confederate soldiers who suffered and starved in the fearful prison-pens of the North, but did not "surrender at Appomattox."


To begin, on April 1, 1865, the battle of Five Forks was fought. Our thin lines were pushed back and broken by a force perhaps ten times as large, and many of our men were forced to surrender. Our position was about twenty miles west of Petersburg, and the enemy's infantry broke through our line between us and that city, while his cavalry's (Sheridan's) attacked our front, where, however, for a time they were easily repulsed, until our men were withdrawn to face the infantry columns advancing from our rear and left. This forced our thin lines to retire from the dense masses in blue. Many of our men were not made aware that the enemy had passed them until they found themselves within their lines of battle and prisoners. I, among the latter, was firing at a column which was across our works, when some one called to me "the Yankees are passing us; look behind!" And sure enough, certainly two lines had already passed us, and the third was but a short distance off. I started to run between these lines to get out, but was noticed, and found it impossible to get through alive. Seeing a pit where several wounded and scared Yankees were huddled together, I jumped in among them, they yelling at their men for God's sake stop firing. When the line reached us, I got up, and a very polite Federal stepped out of the ranks, saying, "Sergeant, allow me to escort you to the rear." His captain, however, told him, "You let him alone, he can find the way by himself"; but my new acquaintance insisted on taking my arm, and together we left the field of battle.


Hearing some one behind me, I looked around, and there was my friend and comrade, Sergeant J. H. Kepler. On my remarking "Halloo Kep; they have got you, too," he replied, nearly breathless, "Yes; confound them, they have got me again." He had just come back to us from prison, having been captured at Gettysburg. That night we remained on the battle field of Dinwiddie Courthouse, where the dead of the 31st of March were still lying unburied around. There were, perhaps, two thousand of us gathered together, captured in the day's battle. The next morning our march commenced towards Petersburg, and after a march of three days we reached City Point on the 4th, having nothing to eat until the night of the 3d. When near Petersburg we received a small amount of crackers and meat.

At City Point several transport steamers were lying, and we were ordered on board of them, each boat being packed with human freight to its full capacity.


Some of the boats landed their unwilling passengers at Newport's News, while most of them, and the one I was on, reached Point Lookout on the morning of the 5th. Landing at the wharf, we were formed in open line for inspection; that is, we had to empty our pockets and lay our baggage on the ground before us, while the Federal sergeants amused themselves by kicking overcoats, blankets, oilcloths, canteens, and everything that had a U. S. on it, into the bay. This left us in a sad condition, for there was very little in our possession that had not been the property of the United States, at one time or another, and became ours by the many victories and captures we had helped to gain. After putting us in light marching order, we were marched into the prison-pen, or "bull-pen," as it was called. The prison consisted of a space of about twenty acres, surrounded by a high board fence, on the outside of which there was, near the top, a platform for the guard to walk upon. The guards consisted of negroes of the worst sort. Inside of the grounds, about fifteen feet in front of the fence, was a ditch called the "dead line." The sentry fired upon any one who crossed it. The camp was laid in regular rows of small tents, each double row being a division, of which there were ten. These were again subdivided into ten companies of about two hundred men each. Through these streets or rows there ran small ditches; but the land being very shallow, the drainage was very imperfect--Point Lookout being a tongue of land where the Potomac joins the Chesapeake Bay, barely over five feet high at its highest point; and herein was the worst feature of the prison. There was no good drinking water to be had; the water was impregnated with copperas, and tasted quite brackish. To this source was a great deal of the fearful mortality that occurred there traceable.


When we came there the prison was already full, and the small tents were totally insufficient to accommodate us. Many were without shelter of any kind, and exposed to the bad weather which prevailed for the greater part of our stay. We had but few blankets, and most of us had to lie on the bare ground; so when it rained our situation became truly deplorable. Our rations were just such as kept us perpetually on the point of starvation, causing a painful feeling of hunger to us helpless, half-starved prisoners. Four small crackers, or a small loaf of bread per day, and a cup full of dish-water, called pea-soup, horrible to taste, and a small piece of rancid salt meat, was our daily fare. So hungry were the men that they would eat almost anything they could pick up outside from the sewers; potato peelings, cabbage stalks, or most any kind of refuse that hardly the cattle would eat, was greedily devoured. The scurvy, brought on by this wretched diet, was prevalent in its most awful form.
It was not unusual to hear it stated that sixty or sixty-five deaths had occurred in a single day; and it is said that eight thousand six hundred dead Confederates were buried near that prison pen.


It is wonderful how much a human being can stand. I myself, who was never sick during the whole war, was taken down with the erysipelas. It was a bad case, so the Federal surgeon said who examined me. "Entirely too late to do anything for him; neck and face swollen black and green." Those who did the packing up, that is placing the dead bodies in rough boxes, seeing me, one of them said, "there goes a fellow we will have to box up to-morrow." I was removed to the hospital pen, and with two of my company, Alexander Moss and John Harris, both of whom I saw stretched out in the dead house on the following day. The hospital could only accommodate about twelve hundred sick, and there were no less than six thousand sick and dying men lying within the main building and in the tents surrounding it. Being assigned to a tent where there was room for about sixteen, but which had no less than forty in it, I was placed on the damp ground, only one thin blanket being given me. The two nights I spent there were simply horrible. The praying, crying, and the fearful struggles of the dying during the dark night, lit up by a single small lantern, was awful. The first night about five or six died, and the next morning found me lying next to two dead comrades. The second night was a repetition of the first; and that day, though just in the same condition, I asked the Federal surgeon to allow me to return to camp, which he at once granted, thinking I might just as well die there as anywhere else. But I got better, how I cannot explain; perhaps it was my determination not to die there in spite of them, that kept me alive.


Great as the sufferings of the men were from want of sufficient food and medicines, they were much increased from want of clothing. Some were nearly naked, only one ragged shirt to wear, and this covered with vermin. On an occasion of Major A. G. Brady's (the provost marshal) visit to the camp, which happened on an unusually bright day, the men were seated in the ditch in front of their tents, busy hunting for their tormenters, having their only garment off, using it for the field to hunt in. He smilingly remarked to some who through modesty attempted to hide, "Don't stop, I like to see you all busy." Talking of Major Brady, no one can say that he was not always polite, and he appeared to be very friendly towards the prisoners, yet it is said he made more than $1,000,000, outside of his pay, from his position. Having charge of all the sutler establishments, and all the money, boxes, letters, and presents passing through or in his hands, his position must have made him a rich man.


Next our guards. As already stated, they were negroes who took particular delight in showing their former masters that "the bottom rail was on top." On one occasion one of the North Carolina men, who have a habit, which is shared by our Virginia country cousins, in whittling every wooden object they come across, was enjoying this sport on the prison gate, when one of the colored soldiers snot him down, nearly blowing his head off. This created some little excitement, but what the result was I never learned. During the day we had access to the sink built on piles in the bay, but at night the gates were closed, and boxes were placed in the lower part of the camp, to which the men were allowed to go at all hours of the night. There were hundreds of sick in camp, cases of violent diarrhœa, reducing the men to skeletons. As these men were compelled to frequent these boxes, the negroes would often compel them at the point of the bayonet to march around in double quick time, to carry them on their backs, to kneel and pray for Abe Lincoln, and forced them to submit to a variety of their brutal jokes, some of which decency would not permit me to mention.


The white sergeants in charge were hardly of a better class than their colored brother. They belonged to that class of mean cowards who dare not face the foe on the battle-field, whose bravery consisted in insulting and maltreating a defenseless prisoner. Often I have seen them kick a poor, sick, broken-down prisoner, because he was physically unable to take his place in line at roll-call as quickly as the sergeant demanded. Prisoners were sometimes punished by them too horribly to relate. Men were tied, hand and feet, and had to stand on a barrel for hours; others were bound and dipped head foremost in a urine barrel--all this for some trifling offence, such as getting water from a prohibited well, stealing perhaps something eatable, or some other small affair.

But most things, whether good or bad, will come to an end. More than two months had passed since Lee's surrender. The Confederacy was no more, and then the Federal Government took courage. About the middle of June it commenced to release those that were still living, but, in consequence of the inhuman treatment they had received, too feeble to fight again. Then we were duly sworn not to fight them again, to support the Constitution and amendments. Also registering our good looks, weight, height, &c., and getting our signatures made us free men again.


Having thus been properly whitewashed, we were sent to the pen for paroled prisoners. This was an enclosed space adjoining the hospital on the east, wherein nothing but sand and some rank weeds could be found. Here the released prisoners were stored until a sufficient number were on hand to make up a boat-load. After spending a day or two without shelter or rations there, we were ordered aboard an old transport--one of those second-handed New York ferry boats. Meanwhile, a fearful storm was raging, the waves were house high in the bay, and when the boat started and reached the open bay the captain found it impossible to proceed; the boat had to return and anchor near the wharf. The next morning a similar start was made, with the same result. That evening Major Brady, the provost marshal, came out in a tug-boat, and ordered the captain to leave at once. On the captain's stating that the boat could not stand the storm, he was again told he had to go; the Government could not afford to pay $500 per day and allow the boat to lie idle. After finishing their talk, our men on board commenced: "Major, give us something to eat; we have had nothing for three days." The Major promised to attend to this; and sure enough he sent four crackers and a small piece of salt meat to each of us. Then the boat started with its three hundred and fifty human beings into the angry waves. All night the waves were dashing overboard. Sometimes the machinery would stop, while we were ordered from right to left to balance the ship. Thoroughly soaked to the skin, we finally reached Old Point and safety in the morning No one, perhaps, breathed freer than our captain of the boat. Leaving Old Point after a short stop, we reached Rocketts that afternoon.


Could a picture have been taken of the men who arrived in Richmond from the prison-pens during those days, it would not be believed that the men who walked from the boat in Rocketts in June, 1865, were the proud soldier boys that left here in April, 1861. Silent, friendless, and sorrowful each one went his way. No welcome, no cheer awaited their return to this city and to their homes. Oh how few could boast of having homes! Nothing but ruins everywhere; but the man who was a good soldier generally proved himself to be a good citizen. The ruins are gone, war and desolation have passed--may it never return.

I close with the following interesting statistics: The report of Mr. Stanton, as Secretary of War, on the 19th of July, 1866, contains the following facts: He states that the number of Federals in Confederate prisons was two hundred and seventy thousand, of which twenty-two thousand five hundred and seventy-six died; while the number of Confederate prisoners in Federal prisons is put down as two hundred and twenty thousand, of which number twenty-six thousand four hundred and thirty-six died. According to these figures the percentage of Federal prisoners who died in Southern prisons was under nine, while that of the Confederates in Northern prisons was over twelve. These figures tell their own story. We of the South did what we could for the prisoners that fell into our hands. Our poverty and the destruction of our means of supplies plead our cause of not being able to offer better accommodation to them. We, the soldiers of the Confederacy, fared no better; but the Federal Government--it can only offer expediency as an excuse.

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