exterminate them!

A Seneca County, New York newspaper in 1864 said it was skeptical about reports of the horrible conditions in Southern prison camps – until it spoke with a couple native sons who had survived the experience:

RETURNED PRISONERS. Lieut. CORT. VAN RENSSELAER and Sergt. CHARLES B. RANDOLPH, of the 148th, who were taken prisoners by the rebels last Summer, arrived home a few days since, having been paroled for exchange. The former was last confined at Columbia , S.C. and the latter at Andersonville, Georgia. Both confirm the statements which have been published of the barbarous and inhuman treatment received by the prisoners at the hands of those who have charge of them, and they say that half of the truth has not been told concerning the horrors of the prison-pens at the South. It is no wonder that so large a number die in these prisons, but is a wonder that so many survive the brutality that they have to suffer from those who seem lost to all feelings of humanity, and whose barbarities are not exceeded even by savages. People can hardly give credence to the printed statements they read describing the treatment of Union prisoners, but when they come to hear from the lips of the poor sufferers themselves what they have endured during their captivity, there will be a feeling of terrible indignation aroused throughout the North, and the avenging cry will go forth, not to be hushed until every Union captive is set at liberty, and their fiendish tormentors exterminated from the earth.

From the 148th roster at the New York State Military Museum:

Cortland Van Rensselaer

Cortland Van Rensselaer

Charles B. Randolph (NY 148th)

Charles B. Randolph (NY 148th)

Posted in 150 Years Ago This Month, Civil War prisons, Northern Society | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

prison necrology

From The New-York Times December 17 1864:

THE PRISON PENS IN THE SOUTH; Necrology of the Union Captives. The Dead at Savannah, at Florence and at Andersonville. Leaves from a Diary Kept at Florence, South Carolina. Glimpses of Life in the Hospital and Life in the Stockade.


In fulfillment of the promise made in the closing paragraph of my last letter, I send herewith a long list of names of the soldiers deceased at Savannah, Florence and Andersonville. I have no heart, for the present at least, to write further details of the revolting cruelties practiced upon our captives in the South, and shall thus spare your readers for a time the perusal of what must be a dismal, soul-sickening record. Surely the facts already presented have been convincing enough even for the most charitably inclined persons, to believe that the deliberate charge of “barbarity” I have made against the rebel authorities was founded in truth.

Posted in 150 Years Ago This Week, Civil War prisons, Northern Society | Tagged , | Leave a comment


trap-door style

From a Seneca County, New York newspaper in December 1864:

A DESERTER named “French Bill” was hung at Harper’s Ferry a short time ago. The gallows was one of the old fashioned kind, with trap-door, &c. Three thousand soldiers witnessed the sight. The culprit made a speech, in which he said he would pursue the same course under the same circumstances, if he could escape; although “life was sweet to all,” he was not afraid to die; that he was twenty years of age, and his face was the same then as fifteen years since; he died “a Southorn [sic] soldier, a brave man and a christian.” His hands and feet were then bound, the noose adjusted, and the cap placed over his head. A gauntlet was dropped to the ground as a signal, and the Assistant Provost Marshal immediately severed the rope sustaining the trap, when “Bill” fell some four feet, breaking the rope in his descent, falling to the ground. The Provost Marshal immediately ordered four men to carry him to the platform; the rope was knotted, and he was again hung, the whole operation from the time of the breaking of the rope to the final hanging of the culprit not occupying over a minute and a half.

I’m a couple weeks late with this story. The Wheeling Daily Intelligencer (at West Virginia Archives) reported the story on December 8th. How could a Southern man desert from a union regiment? He did not exactly desert to help his wife and kids harvest their crops. According to Google Books[1] he was a recent immigrant from France who joined a New York regiment after the war started. He deserted to Mobly’s [Mobley’s] band and “became a terror to the people of Loudoun [County].” Earlier this month the National Park Service commemorated William Loge’s December 2, 1864 hanging – exactly two years after John Brown was hung following his raid on Harper’s Ferry. A couple of John Brown’s accomplices were hung a couple weeks later:

The Execution of Cook and Coppock ... [Charlestown, W. Va., Dec. 17, 1859; panoramic view of soldiers surrounding gallows from which 2 of the Harper's Ferry Raiders are hanging]

“The Execution of Cook and Coppock … [Charlestown, W. Va., Dec. 17, 1859; panoramic view of soldiers surrounding gallows from which 2 of the Harper’s Ferry Raiders are hanging]” (Library of Congress)

  1. [1] Barry, Joseph The Annals of Harper’s Ferry: With Sketches of Its Founder, and Many Prominent Characers Connected with Its History, Anecdotes, &c. Harper’s Ferry: “Berkeley Union”, 1872. Print. page 86.
Posted in 150 Years Ago This Month, Military Matters, Northern Society | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

“Yankee exploding ball”

From the Richmond Daily Dispatch December 15, 1864:

Accident from fire-arms.

–Yesterday afternoon, a little free negro boy, named Lewis Harris, was seriously injured in one of his hands by the explosion of a Yankee exploding ball, in the Second Market. He had the missile in his hand and was pecking carelessly against a fire-plug, when the accident occurred, making a noise equal to that of a heavy musket discharge, and creating much alarm in the neighborhood.

This sounds like it might be something like a hand grenade, which made History’s list of “8 Unusual Civil War Weapons”. Buffalo’s William F. Ketchum patented a dart-like design, which you can see at the Smithsonian

Richmond 1864

explosion at Second Market (Marshall and 6th)

Posted in 150 Years Ago This Week, Confederate States of America, Southern Society | Tagged , | Leave a comment

leaden sky ledger

Richmond, Petersburg, and vicinity Genl. Grant's campaign war map 1864 (LOC: http://www.loc.gov/item/001-ocm19089315/)

“defensive lines and cautious policies “?

As a Richmond paper tallied the military balance sheet for 1864, the conclusion was inescapable – the South had had a great year.

From a Seneca County, New York newspaper in 1864:

The Military Account Current Between North and South for 1864 – Alleged Large Ballance [sic] in Favor of the Rebels.

The military balance sheet for 1864 will be greatly in favor of the Confederate states. If results had only shown an equipose [sic] as between the two beligerants [sic], the advantage would have been nevertheless largely with us; because, with the enemy, mere failure is disaster and defeat, while to us to hold our ground is a victory. They have set out to accomplish a great positive result. It is not to be attained by defensive lines and cautious policies and negative advantages. These are all on the side of their adversaries. When they make no advance, they are retrograding. Delay does not merely disappoint and dispirit them, it undermines their strength. Each day they become weaker, so severely have they strained their resources, and so vast and rapidly increasing is the debt they have incurred.

General Grant's headquarters at City Point, Va. (photographed between 1861 and 1865, printed between 1880 and 1889; LOC: LC-DIG-ppmsca-33024)

Little Mac could have gotten this far (“General Ulysses S. Grant at City Point in 1864 with his wife and son Jesse.”)

But we have done more than maintain ourselves. We have inflicted positive as well as negative blows. In Virginia we have lost nothing, while we have destroyed a host of our enemies. Grant might probably have gained his present position as a starting point for his campaign. He has been driven there by necessity; but his army has melted away in the Wilderness, and at the close of the campaign, with nothing accomplished he is begging for men to fill the places of the multitude he has lost. In the trans-Mississippi States, we have gained astonishly [sic], and the invaders have been almost entirely destroyed or driven off. In Georgia, the campaign is still afoot, and the result undecided, but we have hope of closing the year without damage, as compared with its commencement.

herman's march from Atlanta to the sea. Drawn from official map of Brig. Genl. O. M. Poe, Chief Engineer. (by Robert Knox Sneden; LOC: http://www.loc.gov/item/gvhs01.vhs00040/)

“In Georgia, the campaign is still afoot”

While such are the military results of the year now closing, as to its leading operations, are enemies have, indeed, constantly claimed victories. Secretary Stanton’s war bulletins, if the fourth of what they declared were true, have announed [sic] successes sufficient in magnitude and number to have ended half a dozen wars; but the striking commentary upon them all is, that his armies have made no advance, or have been driven, and he is farther from conquest now, when the sky is again leaden and wintry, than when the spring of 1864 first gave us its smiles. The deceptions which he has practiced in the particular instances are now made manifest and palpable by the aggregate result. As no array of victories could add up a defeat, so the unfavorable position in which President Lincoln finds his fortunes, at the close of the campaign, exposes the frauds by which his people have been constantly assured of their prosperous progress.

Harpers Weekly 12-17-1864 robbing-cradle

SOUTHERN MATRON. “Well, father, you’ve got to go, I see. JEFF DAVIS had better take little PETE along too. You’d both be jest the age for two soldiers. You’re sixty-nine years old, and he’s one. That’s zactly thirty-five on an avridg.”

All have not been deceived. There are some who, convinced of the folly of his undertaking, and the impossibility of subjugating a people so numerous, and in a territory so vast, have scrutinized the stories of victory and triumph, and compared them with the developments that followed. They have seen great drafts follow on the heels of great victories. They have seen the demoralized and despairing rebels, after having been scattered to the winds a dozen times, swiftly falling upon their foes and inflicting defeat. They have been promised the immediate capture of Richmond times innumerable; but they have never seen it captured. “More men – five hundred thousand more men” – is the word they get from Grant after a series of battles, in every one of which he had inflicted enormous losses and a crushing defeat on the rebels, and which had driven them to the last ditch and to a robbery of the cradle and the grave. They want to hear him announce the fall of Richmond, but instead of this there comes the demand for vast re-enforcements and renewed supplies.

Hannibal Barca counting the rings of the Roman knights killed at the Battle of Cannae (216 BC). Marble, 1704. (by Sébastien Slodtz at Musée du Louvre)

Hannibal Barca counting the rings of the Roman knights killed at the Battle of Cannae (216 BC).

Hannibal’s enterprise against Rome was very strongly opposed by Hanno, a prominent Senator of Carthage. The wonderful successes which at first attended the Carthagenian arms produced no change in his sentiments. After the great victory at Cannae, Hannibal sent Carthage a bushel of gold rings, taken from the fingers of the Roman nobility that fell in the battle. He accompanied his glowing accounts of his triumphs by a request for re-enforcements. Carthage was thrown into an ecstasy of joy by the glad news, and Hanno was reproached by a Senator of the opposition party who asked him if he still opposed Hannibal and the war. Hanno answered “that the victories they vaunted of, supposing them real, could give him joy only in proportion as they should be made subservient to an advantageous peace; but he was necessarily of the opinion that the mighty exploits of which they boasted so much were chimerical and imaginary. [‘]I have twice seized the enemy’s camp, full of provisions of all kinds; send me provisions and money.’ – Could he have talked otherwise had he lost his camp? He tells us the Romans have made no proposals of peace, from which I perceive that we are no farther advanced than when Hannibal first landed in Italy,” Thus spoke Hanno, and his conclusion was that Hannibal should be re-enforced, and that the war should be abandoned. – Richmond Sentinel.

The Sentinel did not appear too concerned about the idea of total war – it mentioned the trans-Mississippi but not the Shenandoah Valley.

The political cartoon appeared in the December 17, 1864 issue of Harper’s Weekly, which we can read thanks to Son of the South.

agnus' historical war map. One hundred & fifty miles around Richmond.  (New York, Washington, Charles Magnus, [1864] ; LOC: http://www.loc.gov/item/99446360/)

bullseye Richmond? (150 miles around Richmond, 1864 http://www.loc.gov/item/99446360/)

Posted in 150 Years Ago This Month, Confederate States of America, Military Matters, Southern Society | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

no relief

Secretary of State William H. Seward was not going to let the British distribute aid to rebels in Union prison camps. From the Richmond Daily Dispatch December 12, 1864:

The British Relief Fund for Confederate prisoners — Seward Refuses to Allow its Distribution.


Mr. Adams received instructions from Secretary Seward

Lincoln, on Thursday, sent a message to the Senate in reply to Mr. Sumner’s resolution calling upon him to furnish any information in his possession relative to a proposition of British subjects to give aid to the rebellion. Lord Wharncliffe informs Mr. Adams that the Liverpool Bazaar produced about £17,000, and asks permission for an accredited agent to visit the military prisons within the Northern States and distribute aid to their inmates. He denies that any political aid is aimed at, or any imputation that Confederate prisoners are deprived of such attentions as the ordinary rules enjoin. He says:

“The issue of the great contest will not be determined by individual suffering, be it greater or less; and you, whose family name is interwoven with American history, cannot view with indifference the suffering of American citizens, whatever their State or opinions.”

Mr. Adams replied that it has never been the desire of the Government to treat with unnecessary or vindictive severity “any of the misguided individual parties in this deplorable rebellion who have fallen into its hands in the regular course of the war, and that he should greatly rejoice if the effects of such sympathy could be extended to ministering to their mental ailment as well as their bodily suffering, thus contributing to put an end to a struggle which otherwise is too likely to be only procrastinated by their English sympathizers.” Mr. Seward replies as follows to the application received through Mr. Adams:

Department of State, Washington, December 5, 1864.


I have received your dispatch of the 18th of November, No. 807, together with the papers therein mentioned, viz: a copy of a letter which was addressed to you on the 12th of November last by Lord Wharncliffe, and a copy of your answer to that letter. You will now inform Lord Wharncliffe that permission for an agent of the committee described by him to visit the insurgents detained in the military prisons of the United States and distribute among them seventeen thousand pounds of British gold is disallowed. Here it is expected that your correspondence with Lord Wharncliffe will end. That correspondence will necessarily become public.

On reading it, the American public will be well aware that while the United States have ample means for the support of prisoners as well as for every exigency of the war in which they are engaged, the insurgents who have rushed into that coalition are suffering no privations that appeal for relief to charity either at home or abroad. The American public will be likely to reflect that the sum thus insidiously tendered in the name of humanity constitutes no large portion of the profits which its contributors may be justly supposed to have derived from the insurgents by exchanging with them arms and munitions of war for the coveted productions of immoral and enervating slave labor.

The pending conflict (Entered . . . 1863 by Oliver Evans Woods . . . Pennsylvania. Herline & Hensel, Lith. 632 Chestnut St. Phila.; LOC: LC-USZ62-17728)

John Bull holding clubs for rebeldom

Nor will any portion of the American people be disposed to regard the sum thus ostentatiously offered for the relief of captured insurgents as a too generous equivalent for the devastation and dissolution which a civil war, promoted and protracted by British subjects, has spread throughout the States which before were eminently prosperous and happy. Finally, in view of this last officious intervention in our domestic affairs, the American people can hardly fail to recall the warning of the Father of our Country, directed against two great and intimately connected public dangers, namely, sectional faction and foreign intrigue.

I do not think the insurgents have become debased, although they have sadly wandered from the ways of loyalty and patriotism. I think that, in common with all our countrymen, they will rejoice in being saved by their considerate and loyal Government from the grave insult which Lord Wharncliffe and his associates, in their zeal for the overthrow of the United States, have prepared for the victims of this unnatural and hopeless rebellion.

I am, sir, your obedient servant,

William H. Seward.

You can read all about the The Confederate Bazaar at Liverpool at American Civil War Round Table UK and get another look at Mr. Seward’s letter to Charles Francis Adams at Google Books[1]. An explanation of the political cartoon appears at the Library of Congress

Secretary Seward had been dealing with the British throughout the war, as can be seen by this cartoon regarding the Trent Affair:

The great surrender America surrenders the great commissioners - England surrenders her great pretensions - Jeff. Davis surrenders his great expectations. (New-York : Published by E. Anthony, 501 Broadway, 1862.; LOC: LC-DIG-ppmsca-35499)

Trent Affair

Trent Affair

Trent Affair

  1. [1] McPherson, Edward The political history of the United States of America, during the great rebellion …. Philp & Solomons, 1865. Print. page 268.
Posted in 150 Years Ago This Week, Civil War prisons, Foreign Relations, Lincoln Administration | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

grand idea

Actually, over two grand

From a Seneca County, New York newspaper in December 1864:

Arrested for Forgery.

Lieut. H.C. Furniss, of Waterloo, is now under arrest at Elmira, charged with forging the name of Provost Marshal Knapp, of this district, to certificates of muster. These forged certificates to the amount of $2,200, were presented to, and paid, by the Supervisor of Fayette. Lieut. Furniss was arrested at the oil regions of Pennsylvania, and brought on to Elmira, where he will be tried by the military authorities.

I have not seen how the trial worked out. An undated clipping at the New York State Military Museum lauds Lieut. Furniss for his recruiting skills for the short-lived 11th New York Artillery Regiment:

11th Heavy Artillery.
We are pleased to learn that Lieut. H. C. Furniss is doing well in recruiting men. He has already recruited some sixteen men, and has been to work about three weeks. He is an industrious goahead young man, and has a good military education. He has passed an examination as to his capability for an officer, and gave good satisfaction. Young men could not do better than to call upon the Lieut. and see him before going abroad to enlist. This will be a fine regiment, and will not go out of the State. The Lieut. has an official notice that the regiment will be raised to garrison the forts in New York Harbor.—

Oil City, Venango Co. Pa.

on the lam in the PA oil region? (“Oil City, Venango Co. Pa.” c.6Nov1864.Library of Congress(

Posted in 150 Years Ago This Month, Military Matters, Northern Society | Tagged , , , , , | Comments Off

“true olive branch”

The December 10, 1864 issue of Harper’s Weekly (at Son of the South was impressed by General Sherman’s operations in Georgia. Here’s an excerpt:


THE campaign of General SHERMAN is striking and daring, but not more so than his advance from Chattanooga, of which it is a continuation. At Atlanta, with a slender line of railroad nearly two hundred miles long, exposed to the forays of the rebel cavalry, his position was uncertain. The advantages were not balanced by the risks. He has therefore made it useless for either party, and destroying as he goes, he carries a line of fire straight across the surface of the rebel section, cutting a terrible swath to the sea.

General SHERMAN does not play at war. ” War is cruelty,” he says, ” and you can not refine it,” and he believes that they who have brought war upon the country will justly feel its sharpest edge. Yet he only is wise who sees in SHERMAN’S flashing sword the true olive branch. When the deluded Southern people feel that the Government is strong enough to pierce their section where it will; that the national armies can march and countermarch at their pleasure; that the shrewdest plans of their own Generals are outwitted and baffled; and those Generals perceive that they have lost their supreme military advantage of interior lines, a moral victory is won. …

How Sherman's boys fixed the railroad

“How Sherman’s boys fixed the railroad” (Library of Congress)

Posted in 150 Years Ago This Week, Military Matters | Tagged , , | Comments Off

“virtual defeat”

Field works at Franklin, Tenn., occupied by the 23d and 4th corps during engagement of Nov. 30th 1864, Maj. Gen. J. M. Schofield, comdg.  (1864; LOC: http://www.loc.gov/item/2003627083/)

South is up at Franklin

A Democrat-leaning publication in upstate New York was skeptical about claims of a Union victory at the Battle of Franklin. From a Seneca County, New York newspaper in December 1864:

The Battle at Franklin.

The battle of Franklin, Tenn., on the 30th ult., between the Federal forces under Thomas, and the Confederates under the Hood, resulted as we predicted last week, in the virtual defeat of our army. It was a battle forced by the Confederates, and the falling back of our forces to Nashville, a distance of twenty miles, during the night and before hostilities had fairly ceased, bears us out in this assertion. The Confederates followed up their success, and are now besieging Nashville. The first report placed their loss at six thousand, and ours at only six hundred. A second report brings the rebel loss down to two thousand, and owns a loss on our side of fifteen hundred. If the truth could be known we venture to say that one side suffered quite as much as the other.

Since Gen. Hood’s army crossed the Tennessee river, our forces have gradually retreated. The enemy has driven us from Decatur, Huntsville, Shelbyville and Pulaski. At Columbia, Hood attacked and defeated our army, and then Thomas retreated across the Duck river and made a stand at Franklin, a strongly fortified town. Here he was again attacked with great impetuosity by Hood, and here he again retreated. This, in brief, is the result of the campaign in Tennessee. Does anyone believe if the rebels were as “disastrously” defeated as reported, they would now be laying siege to Nashville?

Battle of Franklin. November 30, 1864-Union (Gen. Schofield) ... Conf. (Gen. Hood (Chicago : Kurz & Allison, Art Publishers, 1891; LOC: LC-DIG-pga-01852)

too good to be true

That’s virtually the same question a Southern newspaper asked. From the Richmond Daily Dispatch December 5, 1864:

Monday morning…December 6 [5], 1864.

From the Yankee accounts of their victory at Franklin over Hood, it must have been the strangest victory on record, except that gained by Banks over Dick Taylor last spring. It seems that Hood attacked Schofield works at 4 o’clock, nearly sunset, was at first victorious, carried the lines of the Yankees, and was then outflanked and beaten so badly that but for night coming on he would have been annihilated. In the little time that elapsed between 4 o’clock and dark, on the 1st of December, he lost six thousand men, killed and wounded, and one thousand prisoners! All this is truly wonderful! But the courtesy and urbanity of Schofield and Thomas are more marvellous than anything else.–After having defeated Hood so terribly, their politeness did not allow them to stay on the field and witness his humiliation the next day. So, in the night, they fell back to within four miles of Nashville, where they say they hold a splendid position. There they assert that the crowning battle is to be fought, and that Thomas is very confident. They had apologized before for falling back to Franklin. They said they did so because it was such an admirable position. Now they have abandoned it, after having gained a splendid victory!

Portrait of Maj. Gen. John M. Schofield, officer of the Federal Army (Between 1860 and 1865; LOC:  LC-DIG-cwpb-05934)

the urbane General Schofield

These lies are too gross for belief. Our opinion is, that Thomas has been badly beaten, and has fallen back because he cannot help it.

The numbers lost at Franklin was adjusted in another article from a Seneca County, New York newspaper in December 1864:

OUR LOSS AT THE BATTLE OF FRANKLIN. – Our loss in the battle of Franklin turns out to have been much larger than at first reported. It was over two thousand in killed wounded and missing. We lost nearly as many prisoners as we took – that is, about a thousand. This loss occurred when our lines were broken, early in the battle.

Posted in 150 Years Ago This Month, Military Matters, Northern Politics During War | Tagged , , , , | Comments Off

Samuel Oliver

Apparently 150 years ago this month the body of a soldier arrived home before word of his death.

From a Seneca County, New York newspaper in December 1864:

DEATH OF A SOLDIER. – The remains of Corporal Samuel Oliver of Canoga arrived her on Thursday morning. He was among the last recruits from this County, and belonged to the 15th. N.Y.V. Engineers. We understand his family knew nothing of his sickness or death until the arrival of his remains for interment. He leaves a wife and one child to mourn his sudden death.

Samuel Oliver

three months a soldier

City Point, Virginia. General Hospital (1864 Sept.; LOC: LC-DIG-cwpb-04119)

“City Point, Virginia. General Hospital” September 1864 (Library of Congress)

According to the New York State Military Museum 124 memebers of the 15th New York Engineer Regiment died due to disease during its four year service; five members died as a direct result of battle.

Officers of 15th New York Engineers (photographed between 1861 and 1865, printed between 1880 and 1889; LOC: LC-DIG-ppmsca-34209)

Officers of 15th New York Engineers, sometime during the war

Posted in 150 Years Ago This Month, Military Matters | Tagged , , | Comments Off