Search billions of records on


The following article titled "Cold Cheer in Camp Morton," by Dr. John A Wyeth,
appeared in the April 1891 Century Monthly Magazine.

See Also: Reply to Cold Cheer at Camp Morton

Note: Best Viewed with Microsoft Internet Explorer



Cold Cheer-1.jpg
WAS captured by a squadron
of Ohio cavalry on Wal-
den's Ridge, near Chatta-
nooga, October 5, 1863,
and was exchanged in front
of Richmond, Va., March
1, 1865. When made a

securely guarded. It was so very dirty that I
objected to spending a night in such an atmo-
sphere, and asked him to allow us to sleep in
the open air, notwithstanding we were with-
out blankets. My objection was overruled by
an argument which was unanswerable. "Young
man," he said, "Jesus Christ was born in a
stable, and I guess you can stand it for one
night." As soon as it was dark one of the
three guards detailed to watch us said, "Boys,
if you will give us your word of honor that
you won't try to get away, you can come out
and sit around the fire with us." We did this,
and spent the night chatting with these true
soldiers until, overcome with fatigue, we fell
asleep. Several years after the war, in Jack-
sonville, Ill., I called upon one of these men
to show my appreciation of his treatment of
myself and comrades. They were then un-
tried soldiers, having never been engaged in
battle, but I was not surprised to hear of their
splendid record achieved in the campaign
from Missionary Ridge to Atlanta. It was
the general verdict in prison that at the front,
where the brave men were, a prisoner was
treated with the consideration due one man
from another. We did not often find such
soldiers doing guard duty around a military

On October 7 we started for Stevenson,
Ala., going by wagon down Sequatchie Val-
ley. For the greater part of this day we trav-
eled over the road where we had the running
fight four days before. For ten or fifteen
miles the way, here and there, was obstructed
by wagons partly burned, some of them still
smoldering. In places detours had to be
made to get at a respectful distance from
ammunition wagons whose places were readily
revealed by the occasional explosion of shells
or cartridges. The air was full of the sickening
smell of dead animals. With this train of more
than two hundred wagons we had captured
about one thousand mules and horses, and, not
being able to carry them away, had, by orders
of our commander, destroyed them.

On this day an amusing incident occurred.

sympathy for a foe in distress. The Texan asserted
his claim by saying, "Take off your boots." The pris-
oner took the boot from the sound foot and gave it to him,
but requested that on account of the wound in the other
foot his captor would split the leather so that it might
be removed without pain. The only reply was, " I'11
be —— if I spoil that boot"; and he pulled it off vi
et armis.

prisoner I was a private
soldier in Company I of the 4th Alabama
Cavalry, known as "Russell's Regiment."

As soon as I was disarmed my captors pro-
ceeded to divest me of the slender stock of
personal effects I possessed, such as knife,
pocketbook, blanket, and oil-cloth. Two com-
rades taken at the same time were put through
a similar process, but as they had surrendered
without resistance, they escaped some forcible
epithets which were addressed to me by one of
our captors, a sergeant. Under the excitement
of the moment I think he was excusable, for I
had come within an ace of shooting him only
a minute before. Nor was there any surprise
at being deprived of one's effects, because at this
period of the war it was a pretty general prac-
tice to consider everything your prisoner had
as your property, even to an interchange of
clothing when the best of the bargain was on
the side of the captor.1

On this occasion, however, we did not ex-
change clothing, but kept our slim and ragged
wardrobe of jacket and trousers, and one
change of undergarments. We marched un-
der guard into Sequatchie Valley, where at
dusk we were turned over to the 10th Illinois
Infantry. By a coincidence, almost strange,
the soldiers who stood guard over us this first
night of our captivity belonged to a company
of which my own cousin Avas commander —
Captain Thomas Smith, of Jacksonville, Ill.

The men of this company treated us with
great kindness. They were on very short ra-
tions, for we had destroyed their train only
three days before, yet they cheerfully and gen-
erously divided their slender supply with us.
An officer— I was informed that he was adju-
tant of this regiment — ordered us to be placed
in a stable near by where we could be more

In one instance, which I shall never forget, this
enforced swapping was carried to a cruel extreme.
After one of our charges at the battle of Chickamauga,
in which the Federal cavalry were driven from the field,
a number of prisoners were taken, among these an
officer who had on a splendid pair of Wellington boots.
He had met with a double misfortune in being shot
through the foot and captured by a man who had no

Cold Cheer-2.jpg
As our wagon stopped for the guard to speak
with a group of Federal soldiers one of these
addressed me, saying, "Hello, we 've got you
this time!" I recognized in him a man I had
captured three or four days before, under the
following circumstances. Having been dis-
mounted in the fight of October 2, and cut off
from my command by a squadron of Federal
cavalry, which came upon us unexpectedly, I,
with three comrades, escaped capture by scram-
bling up the cliffs of Walden's Ridge. Here we
spent the remainder of that day and night,
nearly famished for water, the desire for which
was not made less extreme by hearing, every
time we were awakened, the sound of water
rushing over a mill-tail at the foot of the moun-
tain. At daylight we concluded to descend to
the mill to get water and try to find something
to eat. From the mill I followed a footpath
which led up to a double log cabin. It was
near sunrise, and as I reached the open door a
soldier in blue uniform appeared at another
door opposite my position. Covering him with
my army six-shooter I requested him to sur-
render, which he did, seeing he could not reach
his gun, which was standing against the fire-
place, at one end of the room. After I had
secured his Springfield and cartridges, he
asked me what I was going to do with him, and
informed me that he had taken refuge in this
house during the capture of the train. I told
him he was free to go where he pleased, said
good-bye to him, and rejoined my comrades.
On the day after this we were taken, and by

a strange coincidence my former prisoner and
I again met.

We were confined at Stevenson, Ala., for sev-
eral days, meeting with kind treatment; thence
we were taken to Nashville, where we spent
several very weary days in the State peniten-
tiary, being forced to associate with a miserable
lot of Union deserters, bounty-jumpers, and
criminals of various sorts, most of whom had a
ball and chain attached to the leg. I was con-
fined in a narrow stone cell which was damp
and chilly, and, being without blankets, bed-
ding, or heat, was uncomfortable enough.

By way of Louisville we traveled to In-
dianapolis, arriving in the prison grounds at
Camp Morton about ten o'clock at night,
where, no provision having been made for us,
we slept, or tried to sleep, through the cold
night, in the open air and upon the ground.

During the night I was seized with a vio-
lent chill, which lasted for several hours, the
prelude to an attack of pneumonia, from the
effects of which I did not recover for many
years. As soon as it was day a comrade begged
the officer in charge that I be taken to the hos-
pital, or given shelter. The few tents used as
hospitals were all full, and the answer came
back that there was no room, but that I should
have the first vacancy. The vacancy occurred,
as the hospital steward afterward informed me,
at 2 P. M., and I was in the dead man's bed
an hour later. I found myself in kind hands,
and under the direction of a physician to whom
I shall ever be grateful. During my prison life,

Cold Cheer-3.jpg
broken down in health by exposure and hun-
ger, and by this illness, I spent several months
in the hospital at Camp Morion, and bear wit-
ness to the conscientious attention and kindly
treatment accorded to myself and comrades by
the physicians and hospital authorities.

It is true that in 1863, and as late as the
summer of 1864, the facilities for treating the
sick were wholly inadequate, and many deaths
were doubtless due to this failure to provide
the necessary quarters; but later on some
wooden pavilions with plastered walls and
ceilings were erected, and by the fall of 1864
these were increased to a number and capacity
equal to all ordinary requirements.

Camp Morton, the military prison, was,
in 1863, a plot of ground formerly used as a
fair-ground, in shape a parallelogram, con-
taining, as well as I could estimate, about
twenty acres of land, inclosed by a plank wall
about twenty feet high. In its long axis this
plot was bisected by a little rivulet, which the
prisoners christened the "Potomac." On each
side of this branch the barracks were situated.
These barracks had been erected as cattle
sheds and stables : they were about twenty feet
wide, in height ten feet to the eaves, fifteen feet
to the middle of the roof, and eighty feet long.
The sides were of weather-boards ten to twelve
inches wide, set on end and presumably touch-
ing one another, and covered with strips when
first put up. When they served as shelter for

us, however, the planks had shrunk, and many
of the strips had disappeared, leaving wide
cracks, through which the winds whistled and
the rain and snow beat in upon us. I have
often seen my top blanket white with snow
when we were hustled out for morning roll-
call. The roof was of shingles and did not
leak. Along the comb an open space about a
foot wide extended the entire length of the
shed. The earth served as floor, and the en-
trance was through a large barn door at each
end. Along each side of this shelter, extending
seven feet towards the center, were constructed
four tiers of bunks, the lowest about one foot
from the ground, the second three feet above
this, the third three feet higher, while the fourth
tier was on a level with the eaves. Upon these
long shelves, not partitioned off, the prisoners
slept, or lay down, heads to the wall, feet to-
wards the center or passageway. About two
feet of space was allotted to each man, making
about 320 men housed in each shed. As we
had no straw for bedding, and as each man was
allowed only one blanket, there was little com-
fort to be had in our bunks until our miseries
were forgotten in sleep. The scarcity of blankets
forced us to huddle together in cold weather,
usually three in a group, with one blanket be-
tween us and the planks, and the other two to
cover us with. The custom was to take turns in
occupying the middle place; but, on account
of rny small stature and boyish appearance, I


was allowed to sleep in the middle all the time.
The only attempt at h eating this open shed (Bar-
racks No. 4) was by means of four stoves placed
at equal distances along the passageway, and
only the strong man who could push or fight
his way to the stove, and then have muscle
enough to maintain his position, enjoyed the
luxury of artificial warmth. Up to Christmas
of 1864 I had not felt the heat from the stove.
To men the greater number of whom had
never been in a cold climate the suffering was
intense when with such surroundings the mer-
cury was near zero. A number were frozen to
death, and many more perished from disease
brought on by exposure, added to their con-
dition of emaciation from lack of food. I
counted eighteen bodies carried into the dead-
house one morning after an intensely cold night.
During these very cold spells it was our habit
to sleep in larger groups or " squads," so that
by combining blankets and body heat the cold
could be better combated. Another practice
was, just at sundown, when we were forced
to " go to bed," to dip the top blanket in water,
wring it out fairly dry, so that, being thus made
more impermeable, it would regain the warmth
generated by the body. Lots were drawn for
position, and woe to the unfortunate end men,
who, although captains of the squad for the
night, paid dearly for their honors in having
to shiver through the weary hours. And yet
all this was not without a strong suggestion of
the grotesque. The squad or file of men slept
"spoon fashion."

gust of the other, whose back by the change
was once more turned on a cold world. Of
course it was only in the winter months
that we had such intense cold, but no one
can imagine how long these days and nights
seemed unless he has gone through this
experience. The two winters I passed in Camp
Morton were the worst I have experienced,
although I had no means of recording the
depths to which the mercury descended.

When the bugle sounded, between daylight
and sunrise, we gladly tumbled out for roll-
call, for we were tired of our hard berths, in
which we were compelled to remain from
sunset until daylight. Our toilet, which in
winter consisted of putting on our hats (we
slept in our shoes and clothes), was soon over,
and we were in line to answer to our names.
If all were " present, or accounted for," we
were soon dismissed, and each man's first move
was to get something to eat.

At no period of my imprisonment was the
ration issued sufficient to satisfy hunger. It
seemed strange that human beings were actu-
ally starving to death in a country rich in the
necessaries of life, yet I was reduced to such
straits that I gladly paid fifteen cents for a
single ear of corn, and this in sight of fields of
this grain, not worth,outside the prison walls,
one dollar a bushel. During the first four or
five months of our life at Camp Morton pris-
oners who could obtain money from friends
outside were allowed to purchase certain arti-

No one was al-
lowed to rest flat
on the back, for
this took up too
much room for
the width of the
blankets. The nar-
rower the bulk to
he covered, the
thicker the blanket
on top. At inter-
vals all through
these intensely
cold nights, above
the shivering
groans of the un-
happy prisoners
could be heard the
order of the end
men, " Boys,
spoon ! " and, as if
on parade, they
would flop over
upon the other
side, to the gratifi-

Cold Cheer-4.jpg

cation of one end
man and the dis-


duty it was forcibly

Cold Cheer-5.jpg
to prevent these
men from mak-
ing hogs of them-
selves and bring-
ing shame unjustly
upon their com-
rades by such un-
manly practices.
We even went so
far as to inflict
bodily chastise-
ment upon several
who persisted in
feeding on this
filthy refuse, and
on one occasion
we ducked an
offender head fore-
most in the swill-

The entire ration
for one day was not
enough for a single
meal. The more
improvident de-
voured their scanty
loaf of bread as
soon as it was is-
sued, and usually
the bread came in
first. I have often


seen great crowds of prisoners watch-
ing for the opening of the gate and the ar-
rival of the bread-wagon, shouting piteously,
"Bread, bread!" and when it came their
shouts would rend the air. The small piece
of meat was in like manner eaten when re-
ceived, and then there was nothing to do but
suffer and wait until the next day. The more
sensible men restrained their appetites until
the entire ration was received, and then di-
vided it into two portions, for a morning and
an afternoon meal. The mess to which I be-
longed was composed of seven men. A ration
of meat for the entire mess was received and
divided into seven portions, so equally distrib-
uted that each member expressed himself as
entirely satisfied before lots were drawn. Then,
in order to prevent partiality, one member
turned his back, and as the chief of the mess
touched one portion with, "Who gets this?"
the arbiter would call the name of the person
to whom it was allotted. There was no appeal
from this decision.

As a rule vegetables were not issued to the
men directly, a pint of vegetable soup being
given instead as soon as morning roll-call was

For the last year in Camp Morton, although

cles from the prison sutler, tickets, worthless
except with this man, being issued to the pris-
oners in return for greenbacks placed to their
credit at headquarters. Although the prices
paid were outrageously high, we never ceased
to regret the order which closed this source
of supply.

I know from personal observation that many
of my comrades died from starvation. Day
after day it was easy to observe the progress
of emaciation, until they became so weak that
when attacked with an illness which a well-
nourished man would easily have resisted and
recovered from they rapidly succumbed. One
feature of this miserable process of starvation
by degrees, far sadder than death itself, was
the moral degradation to which many of the
prisoners sank. Beings who had proved them-
selves men in the trials of battle, who had
borne reputations for honesty and soldierly
conduct, not only practised stealing from their
comrades, but so far forgot their manhood as
to feed like hogs upon the refuse material
thrown into the swill-tubs from the hospital
kitchen, and even went farther in degradation
than I can describe on this page. I was
an active member of a committee whose

I could command all the money I wanted, I
could not use it, since I was not allowed to
purchase food; and when at last I was ex-
changed I was so broken down that I could
walk only a short distance without resting, and
so emaciated that I was not recognized by my
mother and sisters when I reached them in
their refugee home in Georgia in March, 1865.

Moreover we had no way of letting those
ready and willing to send us food know of
our wants. Every line written was scanned
by the camp post-office department, and a
letter containing any suggestion of lack of
food, or of maltreatment, was destroyed. For
a short time I acted as "camp messenger" at
headquarters, and while there I witnessed the
method of "going through the mail." The
postman would come in from the prison bar-
racks with a pile of unsealed letters collected
from the various barracks. These would be
placed upon a table in the headquarters
building, and several attaches would imme-
diately begin to search them. Many of the
letters would contain little pieces of jewelry,—
rings, breastpins, etc., made by the prisoners
and sent by mail to friends,—and such of these
as were suited to the tastes of the searchers
were appropriated. On one occasion I saw a
clerk take a ring from my own letter, addressed
to my uncle, a major in the Union army.

Of course men in such wretched surround-
ings were always on the alert to escape, and
many took desperate, and some fatal, chances to
gain their liberty. The prison wall was so high,
the sentries so close together, and the approach
so well lighted, that an attempt to scale the
parapet was virtually inviting death; and yet
a number took this risk. In 1863 and early
in 1864 there was no ditch between the prison
yard and the wall. The wall was about twenty
feet high and of smooth surface. The sentries
were above and so concealed that only their
heads and shoulders could be seen; and at
night strong lights with reflectors were so
placed that, while the yard was well illumi-
nated, the sentries and walls could with diffi-
culty be distinguished. Later on we were
forced to dig a ditch sixteen feet wide and ten
feet deep to prevent ourselves from escaping.

The first attempt at escape I witnessed was,
I think, in January, 1864. A daring young
Texan about twenty years of age, who was
captured when I was and had been brought
to prison with me, quietly remarked, one
evening after we had gone to bed, "Boys, I
am going to go over the fence, or die in the
attempt. If I am killed, write to my folks and
let them know how I died." He took down
from his berth, where it had been concealed,
a slender ladder, made by tying fragments of
planks together with twine and twisted cloth-

ing, and started towards the door of the shanty.
Despite the snow which was falling, he was
able to observe the movements of the sentries
just opposite his position, and only about
seventy yards distant. As these two guards,
having approached each other in their beat,
turned their backs and marched away until
they were about a hundred and fifty feet apart,
he rushed to the wall, placed his ladder against
it, and in another moment was over the fence
and free. The sentries did not see him, and
the ladder was not discovered until daylight.
In a few weeks we had a letter which, although
not signed by his real name, informed us that
he was in Kentucky making his way to "Dixie."

Soon after, encouraged by this success, seven
men, about nine o'clock at night, made a rush
together to scale the wall. Two were killed, one
wounded, and four captured. These four brave
fellows were tied up, their backs to a tree, the
rope lashed to the wrists and arms at full length
above their heads, all through the remainder
of the night. I saw them taken down the next
morning in a most pitiable condition of exhaus-
tion, their hands blue with stagnated blood, and
showing deep furrows where the rope had buried
itself in the skin of the arms and wrists.

But this disaster did not deter other efforts,
even after the great ditch was made. One of
the most daring and successful attempts fol-
lowed. Between thirty and forty picked men
quietly organized themselves, selected their
leaders, and agreed upon a plan. Ladders were
hastily constructed by splicing bits of plank,
taken from the berths, with strips of blankets
and clothing. Armed with stones, pieces of
wood, and bottles filled with water, just as the
bugle sounded to bed, and before the patrol
had reached the prison yard, they rushed in
a solid body towards the fence, overturned a
privy-shed into the ditch, which filled it and
served as a bridge, over which they swarmed,
and placed their ladders against the fence,
while some pelted the sentries with stones.
One gun was fired without effect, and one cap
exploded without igniting the charge. The
guards ran away, and the entire assaulting
party gained the outside. Some few were recap-
tured the next day, but the majority reached
Canada or the South.

Other methods of running the gantlet were
tried by the detail composed of prisoners
selected to accompany the garbage wagons to
some distant point outside the walls, where
they were unloaded. On one of these occa-
sions five prisoners, at a preconcerted signal,
seized the two guards, disarmed them, and es-
caped. At another time one member of the
detail broke away and was killed. On one
occasion two men who did not attempt to es-
cape were mortally wounded by a ball fired

by a guard from behind, the assassin doing his
work so well that the same ball passed through
both bodies. I staid by one of these men as
he was dying and heard him solemnly assert,
in the presence of death, that he had made no
attempt to escape, and that he and his comrade
had been deliberately murdered. On several
occasions shots were fired into the barracks
at night. In Barracks No. 7 a prisoner was
severely wounded while asleep, and in the
"Louisiana" barracks a Creole while sound
asleep was shot through the pelvis. He died
in the same ward in the hospital where I was
ill. The depth of the ditch around the prison
made tunneling exceedingly difficult and la-
borious. I think only one successful escape was
made in this manner, and this was followed by
a cowardly murder. On the night of its com-
pletion several prisoners escaped. The next
night others, foolishly hoping the outlet had not
been discovered, essayed the same route, and
as the leader stuck his head out, the guard,
standing at the hole, placed a gun against his
head and blew the unfortunate man's brains
out. Those behind him in the tunnel lost no
time in crawfishing back into the prison.

I was interested in two tunnels, one of which
had to be abandoned on account of filling with
water. The other was completed, but on the
day preceding the night we were to cut it
through on the outside an informer laid our
scheme open to the guards, and received the
usual reward for such conduct in being taken
within the protection of headquarters and re-
ceiving comfortable quarters and plenty of food.

During the summer of 1864 the barracks
became so crowded by the influx of new pris-
oners ("fresh fish") that several rows of tents
were placed between Barracks No. 4 and the
fence. Our long tunnel was begun in one
of these, about two hundred feet from the
prison wall, the opening being covered over
with blankets. There were sixteen men in the
secret, and they worked in regular details. A
shaft about ten feet deep was sunk, and two
feet from the bottom of this the tunnel started,
running level with the surface of the ground
until the ditch was reached, where it dipped
down to avoid opening into this. One man
worked in the tunnel, cutting the loose earth
with a case-knife and then using his hands to
fill a sack at his side. This sack was attached
to the middle of a cord, and when full a slight
pull on the string was the signal for the man
at the opening to haul the bag out. This was
emptied, and the digger would pull in his end
of the string until the sack was again at his
side. On account of frequent inspection by the
patrol, it was impossible to conceal any large
quantity of fresh earth, and it became neces-
sary to dispose of it every day. Whenever the

picket on duty signaled that the patrol was
approaching, blankets were thrown over the
loose earth and the orifice of the tunnel, and
the men would lie down upon these, either
feigning to be asleep or innocently playing
cards. Towards sunset, and just before we were
corraled for the night, the earth was disposed
of in the following manner. Each man would
tuck his trousers into the legs of his socks,
then fill the trousers from above with as much
loose earth as he could waddle with, button
his breeches up, and make for the "Potomac."
Across this useful little branch planks were
placed, over which we passed, to visit the
various barracks on the other side. When a
dirt-carrier reached the middle of the plank
unobserved he would give his trousers legs a
sudden pull upwards, thus disengaging these
from the stockings, allowing the dirt to dump
itself into the little stream, the rapid current
of which soon obliterated all traces of his of-
fense. Of course this was slow work. We be-
gan in June and it was September before we
were ready to cut through. On this day our
Judas Iscariot was not wanting. Early in the
morning we missed one of our party. Upon
searching for him he was found within the
guard lines at headquarters, where he remained
to the end of the war. The experience of the
other tunnel, which was so fatal to the poor fel-
low who tried to escape, was not forgotten, for
we knew they were ready for us on the outside.
Fortunately for us we were not punished.

But worse than death, or the dangers in-
curred by efforts at escape, or even than the
slow process of starvation, from which we were
suffering, were the unnecessary and cruel in-
dignities to which prisoners were often sub-
jected. I speak only of those acts of which I
was personally cognizant, and of course these
form but a small proportion.

The non-commissioned officers in charge of
the prison patrol were chiefly to blame. I saw
one Baker (every prisoner at Camp Morton.,
up to the time of this cruel man's death, will
recall the name) shoot a prisoner for leaving
the ranks—after roll-call was ended, but before
"Break ranks" was commanded—to warm
himself at a fire only a few feet distant from
the line. He did not even order the man back
to the ranks, but calmly drew his pistol, say-
ing with profanity, "I'11 show you how to
leave ranks before you are dismissed," and
deliberately shot him.

For no offense, other than his handsome
and soldierly bearing, a prisoner (Scott) of the
famous Black Horse Cavalry was by this same
Baker and his patrol brutally maltreated and
beaten, his hair forcibly clipped off, the tail of
his coat cut or torn away, his hands tied be-
hind his back, and himself kept at "marking

time" for several hours to the great amuse-
ment of his tormentors. I knew Scott well,
and witnessed this attempt at his humiliation.

On various occasions I saw prisoners beaten
with sticks for no other provocation than that
they would not move quickly to get out of the
way, or cease talking when an officer or one of
the patrol was passing. On one such occasion
an officer seized a stick of fire-wood and
knocked down two men, striking them on the
head and leaving them unconscious.

At night, whether winter or summer, no pris-
oner, when obliged to go to the sink, which
was more than one hundred yards distant, was
permitted to wear a full suit of clothes. He
must leave trousers or coat behind. Two men
from my barracks on one intensely cold night
infringed upon this rule, trying to protect
themselves by putting on coat and trousers.
They were detected, and while the patrol shel-
tered themselves by the barracks, these poor
fellows were compelled to mark time in the
deep snow for more than an hour. One of
these men was frost-bitten, and lost both feet
from gangrene as the result of this exposure.
He was one of the first draft of five hundred
invalids sent for exchange in February, 1865,
and died from the effects of this inhuman pun-
ishment on the train just west of Cumberland,
Maryland, on the way to Baltimore and Ai-
ken's Landing. I helped to bury him at a point
on the Baltimore and Ohio road where our
train was delayed for several hours. It was a
favorite sport to beat prisoners, going to and
from the sinks at night, with their heavy rub-
ber cloths rolled up like a club.

Such cruelties practised upon helpless men
go to prove that the true soldiers were mostly
at the front, for none but a coward would mal-
treat a prisoner, though an enemy.

With little to do, except to try to get some-
thing to eat, and keep from being eaten by
vermin, the hours and days were necessarily
long and weary. Men rarely talked of any sub-
jects to the exclusion of a "square meal," and
the hope of an exchange, which meant—home.
All the rats which could be caught were eaten,
and woe to the dog which ventured on our

By an order dated June I, 1864, the daily ration for
Northern prisons was fixed as follows: Pork or
bacon, 10 ounces (or fresh beef, 14 ounces); flour or
soft bread, 16 ounces (or 14 ounces of hard bread, or 16
ounces of corn meal). To every 100 rations : beans or
peas, 12l/2 pounds; rice or hominy, 8 pounds; soap, 4
pounds; vinegar, 3 quarts; salt, 3 3/4 pounds; potatoes,
15 pounds. Every other day the sick and wounded
were to have 12 pounds of sugar, 5 pounds of
ground or 7 pounds of green coffee (or one pound
of tea) to every l00 rations. The difference be-
tween the cost of the above rations and the regular
rations of Union troops in the field was credited to a
"prison fund" for the purchase of articles "necessary
to the health and proper condition of the prisoners."
The cost of the regular ration to prisoners was esti-

territory. One fat canine was captured by my
messmates and was considered a "feast."
It was boiled and then baked. I was invited
to the "dinner," and although the scent of the
cooking meat was tempting I could not so
far overcome my repugnance to this animal,
as an article of diet, as to taste it. Those who
ate it expressed themselves as delighted.1

Work for each other, barter or trade, all
meant a bit of bread or a piece of tobacco.
The staples of prison commerce were bread,
crackers, bones, and bone butter. The only
currency was tobacco, which it is scarcely nec-
essary to state was never issued to prisoners.
Those of us who had money to our credit at
headquarters got sutler's tickets for it, with
which we bought little black plugs of tobacco
and traded these for bits of bread and other
food with those who preferred to go without
something to eat for tobacco to chew and
smoke. In fair weather there was a regular
market-place where the dealers kept their
stands. The unit of currency was a chew (pro-
nounced "chaw") of tobacco, cut about one
inch square and a quarter of an inch thick.
A loaf of bread about three and a half inches
wide and deep by seven inches long was known
as a "duffer," a cracker as "hardtack." The
oil and marrow of beef bones, which were
carefully split into fine particles and boiled,
formed a luxury called "bone butter."

When the weather was inclement, and we
were huddled in our crowded and miserable
berths, the peddlers would stalk through the
barracks with their small stock of groceries.
"Who'11 give a cracker for a chaw of tobac-
co?" A response would come, "I'11 give
you half a cracker for a chaw." If a trade
was struck the parties met, and while one
measured the size of the "chaw" to see if it
was of standard gage, the other devoted his
attention to the inspection of the hardtack.

"Twelve chaws for half a duffer," would be
shouted by one tradesman;" Thirteen chaws,"
by a second; and so on until the highest bid-
der would get the half-loaf of bread.

The great prison luxury was bone butter, and
it took a good many "chaws" to get the regu-

mated at 13.63 cents ; to prisoners employed on public
works, 20.31 cents; to Union troops, 26.24 cents. The
above exhibits the cheapest ration, which was under
the order of June I, 1864; between that date and
April 20, 1864, the regular ration to prisoners had
cost 16.48 cents; and on January 13, 1865, though the
hard bread ration was reduced 4 ounces, the cost was
raised to 16.81 cents.— EDITOR.

It would be interesting to discover how many times
the contract to feed the prisoners at Camp Morton was
sublet. I have no doubt the government intended to
issue to each prisoner the regulation prison ration
above given as official, but I know it never was re-
ceived. I believe (in fact I heard while there) that it
dwindled away under the contract system.—J. A. W.

to Aiken's Landing on the James River, thence
on foot to Richmond. With what a yell did
we welcome liberty when our guards in blue
turned back and we rushed over the breast-
works and were once more among our own
"boys." I reentered the army early in April,
and was with the command surrendered to
General J. H. Wilson at the capture of Macon,
Georgia, but succeeded in escaping. Two days
later, while trudging on foot over the South-
western Railroad, I met a man who inquired
of me if it was true that the Yankees were
in Macon. I at once recognized by his ac-
cent that he was a Northerner, and upon my
inquiry as to his command he became con-
fused and evidently agitated. As Anderson-
ville was only a few miles off, I was convinced
that he was an escaped Union prisoner, and
upon so expressing myself he broke down com-
pletely, saying, "For God's sake don't take
me back to that place." I had taken my life
in my own hands just two days before rather
than go back to Camp Morton, and I could
appreciate this poor fellow's agony. He went
with me to a house near by where he signed
a parole and made oath on a Bible that he
would not "take up arms against the South-
ern Confederacy until regularly exchanged as a
prisoner of war." I shared my slender stock of
rations and Confederate money (more money
than rations) with him, told him Wilson was in
Macon, and if suspected and arrested to show
his parole for protection. He was by turns the
most scared, most surprised, and most grateful
human being I ever met.

I have waited to publish this unhappy ex-
perience until a quarter of a century has elapsed
since it happened. The Southern side of prison
life has not yet been fully written. The repu-
tation of the South has suffered not only be-
cause the terrible trials of Northern prisoners
in Southern prisons have been so fully exploited,
but because the truth of the Confederates' prison
experience has not been given to the world. My
comrades died by the hundreds amid healthful
surroundings, almost all of these from the ef-
fects of starvation, and this in the midst of
plenty. The official records show that at
Camp Morton 12,082 prisoners were confined,
of which number 1763, or 14.6 per cent.,
perished. Excepting the few shot by the
guards, the deaths from wounds were rare.
The conditions were not malarial, for Indian-
apolis was not unhealthy. There were no epi-
demics during my imprisonment of about fifteen
months, and little cause for death had humane
and reasonable care of the prisoners been exer-
cised. 1

John A. Wyeth, M. D.


lation slice of this delicacy. When beef was
issued the men who fell heir to the large joint
bones were deemed lucky, although there was
only a small quantity of meat attached. The
flesh was usually scraped off, cooked, and
eaten. The bone was then split into very small
pieces, put into a kettle, and boiled until all
the fat was driven out and the water evapo-
rated. The residue was filtered through a
piece of cloth to separate the fragments of
bone, poured into a plate, and allowed to
harden. It was then ready to be eaten. I
would not care to try Camp Morton bone
butter now, but twenty-five years ago it had
a taste more delicious than the best Berkshire
butter found in our New York markets.

The chief struggle, as I have said, was for
subsistence. The second in order was to keep
fairly rid of vermin. Crowded as we were, in
close personal contact with all sorts and condi-
tions of men, many of whom did not have a
change of clothing, with no place to bathe
in except the open air, and this for months in
a very cold atmosphere, and with slim accom-
modations for boiling our apparel, it is not to
be wondered at that all were infested with par-
asites. On a number of occasions our com-
mittee forced those who were negligent in
cleanliness to strip and boil their clothes, and
would clip the hair from the heads of others
who would not keep themselves clean of head-
lice. After a few weeks of prison life many of
the better class of prisoners in our barracks (I
answered to roll-call in No. 7, but slept in No. 4)
banded together and bought the upper berths
of one side of the shanty, but even with this
precaution we were not wholly rid of vermin.
Our association soon excited comment, not
always free from envy, and we were known as
the "top-bunk aristocracy." One of our "top-
bunkers" is now a United States senator.

In February, 1865, our hearts were glad-
dened with the assurance that a cartel had
been agreed upon and a draft of five hundred
prisoners was ordered for exchange. The selec-
tion was chiefly from those disabled by wounds
or sickness, and I fell in with this number.
We came by rail to Baltimore, and by steamer

1 According to the latest estimates of the War
Records Office the prisoners, North and South, who
died in captivity are estimated as follows:

U. S. prisoners confined by the Confederacy. ...196,713

" " died in " " . . 30,212
Percentage of deaths..........................................15.3
Confederate prisoners confined by the U. S..... .227,570
" " died in " " ...............26,774
Percentage of deaths................................... 11.7
The above figures represent the number of prisoners
captured and confined on each side. The total num-
ber of Federal prisoners captured was 213,381, of
whom 16,668 were paroled on the field; the total
number of Confederates captured was 476,169, of
whom 248,599 were paroled on the field.— EDITOR.


See Also: Reply to Cold Cheer at Camp Morton

This Century Magazine article page was designed by Tim Beckman, as part of the Camp Morton Web Pages


Return to the Camp Morton Home Page