Southern Historical Society Papers.As to the question as to the comparative treatment of prisoners in Northern and Southern prisons is up and as you have requested me, I will give some incidents of my experience at Point Lookout, Maryland. It will certainly show that all the sinners were not in charge of Southern prisons. There is one fact I wish to note, and that is the men at the front, as a rule, were kind and thoughtful of our comfort, and, on the other hand, men who had stayed all the while away from the front were, as a rule, without much sympathy.
Vol. XVIII. Richmond, Va., January-December. 1890.
Prison Life At Point Lookout.
[From Prosperity, Press and Reporter, July, 1891.]
BY REV. J. B. TRAYWICK.
I was captured at Fisher's Gap, near Strasburg, on September 22, 1864. After some delay at Winchester, Harper's Ferry and Baltimore, I was carried by steamer to Point Lookout, Maryland, arriving there on October 3, 1864. On entering the prison we were divested of everything except personal wear and blankets. Not long after our arrival an inspection was held, and in every case where prisoners had more than one blanket, unless concealed, they were all taken except one to each man, and then those who did not have any were supplied with blankets that had been taken from their fellow-prisoners. Barefooted prisoners were supplied with shoes, and a scant quantity' of clothing was given to the most destitute.
The tents were mostly bell or round-shaped. They had been refused for use in the Federal army and generally leaked. The rations as to quality were, as a rule, good. Pork two out of three days, the third day beef, but occasionally the ribs of beef were round, which showed that it was mule-beef. Hungry prisoners ate it all the same. The bread was served in pound loaves daily, one loaf to be divided between two prisoners--it was short weight. A pint cup of soup went with each loaf of bread. Two days' rations were issued on Saturday, and so small was the quantity that men frequently ate all given at one time.
The ration for a day was about sufficient for a well man one meal. It was said by the prison authorities to be one-half ration, allowing three meals per day. I would consider it one-third ration a day. The pork was very fat, and always boiled. The prisoners never got the lard that came out of the pork, and it was commonly reported that the provost marshal and other officers there realized a vast amount from the sale of this grease to soap-makers and lard-refiners. The water used by the prisoners was mineral, giving the sharpest of appetites with so little to eat. Our suffering from hunger was indescribable.
I have heard men pray to be made sick that the appetite might be taken away. The prisoners being so poorly clad, and the Point so much exposed to cold, it caused them great suffering. Every intensely cold night from four to seven prisoners would freeze to death. Almost no wood was furnished. About a cord of green pine to one thousand men for five days. It was a mockery.
The post was commanded by General Barnes. His nephew, Captain Barnes, was assistant provost marshal. These were kind and considerate officers, but the former never was brought in contact with the prisoners. They were under the immediate charge of the provost marshal, Major Brady, of New York State. He was a shrewd man, of powerful administrative abilities, but withal a cruel, heartless man. His whole conduct toward the prisoners impressed me that he enjoyed two things immensely--first, the suffering and humiliation of the prisoners; secondly, the fact he was their despot.
The prison was enclosed by a strong stockade of heavy plank fourteen feet high. Four feet from the top on the outside was a parapet extending all around. On this the guards walked by day and night. They were all negroes, commanded by white officers. The night police inside the prison were negroes, but their barbarity was so great that through the earnest entreaties of the prisoners they were removed some time in January, 1865. I recollect one sick man who had not been carried to the hospital. His complaint caused him to leave his tent about 3 o'clock A. M. While out he was set on by a large negro guard, who double-quicked him, in his night clothes and weak condition, up and down the streets between the tents for an hour. When the brute ordered the sick man back to his tent he made fifteen other prisoners come out in their night clothes and run up and down like a herd of cattle.
The greatest cruelty perpetrated while I was in prison was on thirty-two inmates of one of the cook-houses. At the side of the prison, next to the gate, was located a number of long cook and eating-houses, where all the cooking except baking was done. There was only a street or roadway between these houses and the stockade where the guards walked continually. Between two of these houses, a little nearer one than the other, one of the negro guards fell from the parapet and was found dead. A contusion was on his head and a piece of brick near him. This discovery took place about sunset. No one saw him when he fell. No one saw who hit him.
The following night after taps, when every prisoner was in bed, a file of soldiers rushed into the nearest cook-house to the scene and hurried the thirty-two inmates out in the night. The weather was intensely cold--thermometer below zero. They had on nothing but shirt and drawers--two of them had on socks. They were placed in a block-house which had a door and a hole a few inches wide, without food, water or fire. They were told that one of them killed the negro guard, possibly all of them knew of it, and when the fact was so made known, then all the others could go back to their quarters, but if they did not come out and confess who killed the guard that the day following the next had been fixed as the time when all thirty-two of them would be shot. So in that bitter weather these innocent helpless men (not all men, for two of them were boys) passed that fearful night and next day in the block building, where they were continually jeered at through the little window by the negro guards who were off duty, they telling the suffering prisoners how delighted they would be to see them shot.
The awful hours rolled on, another night of indescribable suffering passed away, and the day of execution has come. To many of these men a quick death was to be preferred to the slow and cruel death they were then passing. The hour for the execution arrives. All the troops, mostly negroes, off guard on the Point were formed into the hollow square. The thirty-two almost naked, freezing, starving men were marched out in line into the hollow square. Major Brady, with the audacity of the wolf before eating the lamb, proceeded to ask each man if he knew who killed the guard. As he proceeded he received a very positive no from the heroic boys first, and then from the brave men. He had not gone far, however, when an alarm was heard in the direction of the gate. Four or five men were seen coming on horseback at full speed and yelling at the top of their voices. It was an officer who had found a young man, a prisoner and employ in the next cook-house, who could tell them something about who killed the guard.
But we must go back one day in the narrative. During that day of cruel mocking there was one kind man who visited the suffering prisoners. He was a commissioned officer and a Mason. Among the thirty-two prisoners there was but one Mason, and he gave a signal which will stir the deepest emotions of a brother. This officer lost no time, but set to work to ferret out the cause of the death of the guard. Major Brady, unfeeling monster as he was, attempted to find out the cause by torturing innocent men.
Of course the proceedings were stayed until the young man was heard from. He was placed on a box to testify, but he could not do this until Major Brady had indulged in some silly, irrelevant questions. He, however, stated that on the evening the guard was killed he was at the wood-pile gathering some chips for the fire when he was hit on the leg by the brick. Smarting with pain he threw the brick back and hit the guard on the head, and he fell off the parapet. Whether, said the young man, the brick or the whiskey in the guard caused the fall and death he could not say; for, said he, the guard was drunk that afternoon. Then the young man added, I am sorry that I did not know that you were bestowing this cruelty on these men, for I should have come forward and made known these things.
The thirty-two were immediately sent back to their quarters, where they were clothed and fed, but three of them died soon after from this exposure, and most of them had impaired health. As for the young man, he was never punished for what he did, but in a few weeks he was acting courier for Major Brady in the prison.
While I was not one of the sufferers, I was in the prison at the time, and much of it was related to me by a Mr. Jones, of Georgia, who occupied the same tent with me, and who worked outside daily on detail; also, Mr. Sam Puckett, of Laurens county, S. C., who was one of those who underwent that terrible ordeal of suffering, has a number of times related to me the whole story. He is a man of character and influence in his community. If any doubt this story of reckless cruelty let them write to Mr. Sam Puckett, Waterloo, S. C., who will endorse all I have written, and who has several times asked me to write it out for the papers. I was paroled, and left Point Lookout February 18, 1865. While free from any special sickness, I was reduced sixty-five pounds in weight, purely for want of sufficient food. What I have written is in no spirit of vindictiveness, but merely to preserve the facts of history.