Saturday, May 16, 2009

January 1864: Frostbite, the Rumor Mills, and Moving Barracks

“ Fire and Ice
by Robert Frost

Some say the world will end in fire,
Some say in ice.
From what I’ve tasted of desire
I hold with those who favor fire.
But if it had to perish twice,
I think I know enough of hate
To say that for destruction ice
Is also great
And would suffice.”

308 prisoners died at Camp Douglas in January 1864. This feeble essay is dedicated to their memory.

On January 1st, 1864, the temperature at Camp Douglas was recorded as 18 degrees below zero during the day and 25 degrees below zero later that night. The snowfall was very heavy. In his diary, William huff recorded awaking with frozen ears, nose and chin. During the night, the moisture from the men’s breath had frozen and two inch long icicles hung from the rafters. Huff’s wrath over the conditions was so great he was determined to report it to Head Quarters. The Union guard atop the walkway on the fence had to be replaced every half an hour due to the artic atmosphere.

The prisoners made the best of the bitter conditions.

“Friday, January 1st, 1864. New Year’s day. Weather bitter cold. The snow in some places was four and five feet deep, and a regular gale was blowing it about in drifts so that it nearly took a man’s breath from him to go even a hundred yards. Six or seven of the guards froze on their beats last night and this morning, so that they had to be taken to the Yankees hospital. I put a pot of dried peaches to cooking on the stove to make a big peach roll for dinner. Near twelve o’clock a guard was put at every door in the barracks and no one allowed to go out except for fuel, water or a case of absolute necessity. The severity of the weather remains unchanged, and I think these guards were taken from the fence to keep from freezing and put at the doors to prevent our escaping. I and Henry White [ate] our peach roll by ourselves. I intended to invite Pa and others in his barracks to take dinner with us, but the blockade cut off my communication. The men had to carry all the fuel and water they used, and some came near freezing at it. They had to go about four hundred yards to the wood yard by details. The wood and coal had always been hauled to us till today. At dusk an officer came around and notified us and the guards that in half an hour no one would be allowed outside of out barracks under any pretext whatever until daylight. The night was very cold, but the guards kept the coal stoves red hot all night, which kept the barracks warm, and we slept well.”

~ Curtis R. Burke, Co. B 14th Kentucky Cavalry [i]

“In each barrack there was only two stoves to two hundred men, and for a stove to warm one hundred men, it was frequently red hot.”

~ T. D. Henry, Company E, Duke's Regiment, Second Kentucky Cavalry[ii]

In contrast, the freezing weather brought the fury the camp leadership felt toward the escape attempts to a head. General William W. Orme placed new regulations in effect. Curtis Burke noted them in his diary:

“January 3rd, 1864. Weather cold, but moderated a little since yesterday. The snow lies mostly in drifts, some of them five feet high and so hard that a man can stand on them. A Yankees Sergeant came around to all the barracks and read a long list of new rules or orders signed by brig. Gen. Orme and H. Burr, Assistant Adjutant Gen. Commanding Post of Chicago. Co. De Land and the other officers at headquarters still remain in office. The substance of the new orders are as follows: 1st that we must only write every thirteen days and then only one letter of two pages of note paper each. The whole number of prisoners in camp was divided into thirteen squads each having a certain day to write. 2nd That we can not visit other squares unless we get a pass from the officer of the day. 3rd That we must be in our barracks by five o’clock p. m. and put out all lights and fires out at the beating of the drum at eight o’clock p.m. and no one allowed out side of the barracks till day, except to go to the sink. A man in F. Cluke’s’ eight Kentucky badly cut a comrade in a personal quarrel.”

~ Curtis R. Burke, Co. B 14th Kentucky Cavalry[iii]

“We now write by "squad" of which there are 13 in the prison and one letter oneach day that the squad writes is allowed to each prisoner in it; so you see we are allowed to write one letter every 13 days.”

~ Robert W. Taylor, 10th Kentucky

“S. C. Crawford died Jan 4th 1864 of a protracted illness at Chicago”

~Ezekiel A. Brown, CO. G. 62 NCI[iv]

The new regulations did not seem to matter. Burke reported that guards found more tunnels on January 6th.

“Friday, January 8th, 1864. Weather cold. We have had rumors for several days that prisoners of war were ordered to Point Lookout, under gen. Butler’s jurisdiction to be kept till the Confederate Government will consent to recognize Butler and exchange negro soldiers captured. As far as I can learn, most of the prisoners would rather remain prisoners a year longer than be exchanged through Beast Butler (as we call him) for negro troops.”

~ Curtis R. Burke, Co. B 14th Kentucky Cavalry[v]

Confederates first began to refer to General Benjamin F. Butler as “Beast Butler” on May 15th, 1862, when he issued General Order No. 28 which directed Union soldiers in New Orleans to treat “as a woman of the town plying her avocation’ any female who insulted in any way an officer of the United States.[vi]

“Saturday, January 9th, 1864. Weather cool. The ground has thawed some leaving standing water. There is a foolish rumor circulated through camp by some mischevious person to the effect that the whole number of prisoners in camp had to draw beans to get ten black beans. The persons getting the black beans to be shot, in retaliation for ten men reported shot at Richmond, Virginia. Absurd rumors of various kinds circulated through camp.

~Curtis R. Burke, Co. B 14th Kentucky Cavalry[vii]

President Lincoln met with Congressman Brutus J. Clay, of Kentucky, and a very frantic woman by the name of Mrs. Haggard. Mrs. Haggard’s nineteen-year-old son Edward was a prisoner at Camp Douglas and she wished to petition Lincoln for his release.[viii]

“Executive Mansion,
Washington, Jan. 14, 1864.

To-day Hon. Brutus J. Clay calls with Mrs. Haggard, and asks that her son, Edward Haggard, now in his nineteenth year, and a prisoner of War at Camp Douglas, may be discharged. Let him take the oath of Dec. 8. and be discharged. A. LINCOLN

Do the same for William H. Moore. A. LINCOLN”[ix]

On January 18th, 1864, the number of prisoners at Camp Douglas reached 5,616. Overcapacity was noted during inspection. Dr. Edward D. Kittoe, of the surgeon-general’s office, found the prisoners “filthy” and their barracks overcrowded. He concluded that the camp was unfit for use.[x] Dr. Kittoe is noted for his tireless efforts to institute more sanitary conditions and better medical procedures during the war. The work of this single individual likely saved thousands of lives, Union and Confederate.

“ ‘The [camp] is low and flat, rendering drainage imperfect,’ admitted Surgeon Edward D. Kittoe, U. S. Volunteers, ‘ [I]ts proximity to Lake Michigan and consequent exposure to cold, damp winds from off this large body of water, with the flat, marshy character of the soil, must of necessity create a tendency to disease…At [times] the ground is covered with snow and the frost is severe. When the frost gives way and fogs and usual dampness of spring succeed, in conjunction with the surrounding with large cattle yards, slaughter-houses and other offensive matter usual to the suburbs of large cities…disease will assume as a low or typhoid type, and per consequence, the rate of mortality will increase.’” [xi]

Endless months of hunger drove men to eat anything they could find. Near starvation, some prisoners, desperate for protein, killed and ate the rats that ran from under floorboards as one of the old kitchen buildings was demolished.

“I have seen men eat rats and pronounce the flesh good and palatable.”

~ R. T. Bean, Company I, Eighth Kentucky Cavalry[xii]

“Two of the men gathered them up to clean them and to eat them. I understand that rat eating is very extensively carried on in the other squares, but my curiosity has never made me taste any rats yet…[the men] clean them like squirrels and let them soak well in salt water.”

~ Curtis R. Burke, Co. B 14th Kentucky Cavalry[xiii]

General Orme, determined to bring of order to the camp, began moving prisoners from White Oak Square to the new Prisoner’s Square in an effort to tighten security. To keep cost low, the old barracks were moved to the new square and set above the ground on five foot legs to prevent tunneling.

“The arrangements of the prison were changed. The barracks were all raised and placed on posts about four feet high, thus putting an end forever to future tunneling. An extra thickness of lumber was put on the fence to the height of about eight feet from the ground, and I realized that escapes were at an end.”

~ R. T. Bean, Company I, Eighth Kentucky Cavalry[xiv]

Prisoners were moved and shuffled in and out of various barracks for several days as the moving took place.

"Tramp! Tramp! Tramp! or The Prisoner's Hope" (1864)
As sung by Edwin Kelly of Arlington Kelly & Leon's Minstrels.
Words and Music by George Frederick Root

In the prison cell I sit,
Thinking Mother, dear, of you,
And our bright and happy home so far away,
And the tears, they fill my eyes
Spite of all that I can do,
Tho' I try to cheer my comrades and be gay.

Tramp, tramp, tramp, the boys are marching,
Cheer up comrades they will come.
And beneath the starry flag
We shall breathe the air again,
Of the free-land in our own beloved home.

In the battle front we stood
When their fiercest charge they made,
And they swept us off a hundred men or more,
But before we reach'd their lines
They were beaten back dismayed,
And we heard the cry of vict'ry o'er and o'er.

Tramp, tramp, tramp, the boys are marching,
Cheer up comrades they will come.
And beneath the starry flag
We shall breathe the air again,
Of the free-land in our own beloved home.

So within the prison cell,
We are waiting for the day
That shall come to open wide the iron door,
And the hollow eye grows bright,
And the poor heart almost gay,
As we think of seeing home and friends once more.

Tramp, tramp, tramp, the boys are marching,
Cheer up comrades they will come.
And beneath the starry flag
We shall breathe the air again,
Of the free-land in our own beloved home.

Near the end of the month, the weather finally began to improve and the last of the barracks were rolled to their new locations.

“Wednesday, January 27th, 1864. Weather pleasant. We had to move out before breakfast. The whole number of barracks three hundred feet in all in length have the rollers under them and a capstan[?] on each side near one end to pull them along. The yanks told us to lay hold and help them and some of the men did so, but were ordered around so roughly that they quit. Then the yanks swore that we should not sleep in the barracks while being moved because we would not work. I received a letter from home dated the twenty-fist inst. And a notice from headquarters of some things for myself and Pa at the express office. Six or seven of us passed the guards with Pa and got our goods, etc. I got nearly everything that my letter called for. There [were] some apples in my box and the examiner gave me one and Pa one and a Yank sitting by wanted one of them, till the examiner told him that there was more in the box. We were not allowed to have the boxes for fear they had false bottoms etc. with money or contraband news in them. In the evening a good many of the men took their things outside of the square on a grass plot and erected some sheds out of old timber to sleep under. A lot of us got up on the new hospital on the sly and saw the lake, city, and surrounding country. The country outside of the city as far as I could see was nearly level and thinly settled. Near dusk an officer came around and made us all move back in the old square, where the mud was six inches deep, to spend the night. I and Henry White took our blankets over to number eight barrack where most of the fourteenth KY were and slept in an empty bottom bunk. This barrack with barracks No. nine and ten will also be moved as soon as our five barracks reach their new position. I did not think that so long a string of building could be moved without breaking to pieces. The rats kept me awake most of the night running around my head.”

~ Curtis R. Burke, Co. B 14th Kentucky Cavalry[xv]

The above date, “the twenty-first inst.,” refers to the 21st of the current month. Thus the letter burke received from home was written on January 21, 1864.

On January 28th, 1864, Dr. William D. Lee, who had worked in the prison hospital, was arrested and charged in connection with bribery and an escape plot.

“William Lee, M.D. entered the Federal records in October 1863, when he was hired as a contract surgeon (a rank also called "acting assistant surgeon") at Camp Douglas, Illinois, providing care for the Confederate prisoners there. The following month, this Memphis-born physician took the Oath of Allegiance, and described how he and his family had been driven from his native Tennessee, because of his activities with the Union League.

A few months later, the city police in Chicago arrested a William R. Messick and found in his pockets many letters from John B. Messick (William's brother and a prisoner at Camp Douglas), a receipt that John had received $20 from Dr. Lee,... On the reverse is printed "D. F. Brandon, Photographer, Camp Douglas, Ill." Above that, in Lee's own hand, is: "Dr. W. D. Lee, M.D., Camp Douglas, Dec. 22'd, 1863." Lee's only defense was that he had known the Messicks before the war, through church, and was only trying to be helpful.

Lee was convicted of smuggling a total of $35 into the prison (enough to bribe a guard) and with smuggling letters out, also a serious offense. Hc was sentenced to two years of prison.

Incarcerated at Fort Delaware, Lee impressed Brigadier General Albin F. Schoepf, the prison's commander, and the post surgeon, Dr. C. E. Goddard. Schoepf wrote that Lee was a well-behaved prisoner and provided valuable health services to the Confederate officer prisoners. The effects of prison life and the deaths of his two children wore Lee down, and Schoepf recommended early release; Surgeon Goddard reported Lee to bc a "competent and useful doctor." In September of 1864, Lee was released and quickly applied for another Army post; his request was rejected on grounds of his previous conviction. Again, Schoepf intervened, sending a letter to the Surgeon General on Lee's behalf. By early 1865, Lee had another Army contract, this time signed in New Orleans. For the next eighteen months he worked at Baton Rouge, doing sick call and visiting the ‘cholera tents.’’[xvi]

[i] Diary of Curtis R. Burke, Co. B 14th Kentucky Cavalry
[ii] Deposition of T. D. Henry, Southern Historical Society Papers, Vol. I. Richmond, Va., March, 1876.
No.4. April - Pages 273 - 276
[iii] Diary of Curtis R. Burke, Co. B 14th Kentucky Cavalry
[iv] Civil War Diary of E. A. Brown
[v] Diary of Curtis R. Burke, Co. B 14th Kentucky Cavalry
[vi] Trefousse, Hans L. “ Ben Butler: The South Called Him BEAST!” 1957, p. 111
[vii] Diary of Curtis R. Burke, Co. B 14th Kentucky Cavalry
[viii] Basler, Roy P., Marion Dolores Pratt, and Lloyd A. Dunlap, eds., “The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln”
[ix] ADS-P, ISLA.
[x] Levy, George .“To Die in Chicago, Confederate Prisoners at Camp Douglas 1862-65,” 1999, Chap. 11, p. 183-184
[xi] Speer, Lonnie R. “Portals to Hell: Military Prison Camps of the Civil War” p. 136
[xii] Account given by R. T. Bean
[xiii] Diary of Curtis R. Burke, Co. B 14th Kentucky Cavalry
[xiv] Account given by R. T. Bean
[xv] Diary of Curtis R. Burke, Co. B 14th Kentucky Cavalry
[xvi] The sharp end, Jul/Aug 1999 by Beck, Michael, Valentine, Scott, Lyon, Robert, Fitzpatrick, Michael, Et al

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