J.D.R. Hawkins

One bullet can make a man a hero… or a casualty.

Confederate Heritage Month

April has been signified as Confederate Heritage Month by many Southern states. The month is significant to the Southern cause in that the Civil War started and, for the most part, ended in April. In recognition, memorial services are held at Confederate cemeteries throughout the month. I have attended several of these ceremonies. They are poignant and beautiful remembrances of ancestors who suffered and died to protect their homes.

There were many atrocities that took place during the war. One of the worst was the conditions of Confederate POW camps. My novel, A Rebel Among Us, specifically discusses the conditions that took place at Elmira Prison Camp toward the end of the war.

PRIVATIONS, SUFFERING AND  DELIBERATE CRUELTIES 

“Starvation, literal starvation, was doing its  deadly work. So depleted and poisoned was the  blood of many of Lee’s men from insufficient and  unsound food that a slight wound which would  probably not have been reported at the beginning  of the war would often cause blood-poison,  gangrene, and death. 

Yet the spirits of these brave men seemed to rise as their condition grew more desperate . . . it was a harrowing but not uncommon sight to see those hungry men gather the wasted corn from under the  feet of half-fed horses, and  wash and parch and eat it to satisfy in some measure their craving for food.”  

General John B. Gordon,  

“Reminiscences of the Civil War” 

Elmira Prison Camp, Elmira, New York

“Winter poured down its snows and its sleets  upon Lee’s shelterless men in the trenches. Some of  them burrowed into the earth. Most of them  shivered over the feeble fires kept burning along the  lines. Scanty and thin were the garments of these  heroes. Most of them were clad in mere rags.  

Gaunt famine oppressed them every hour. One  quarter of a pound of rancid bacon and a little meal  was the daily portion assigned to each man by the  rules of the War Department. But even this  allowance failed when the railroads broke down and  left the bacon and the flour and the mean piled up  beside the track in Georgia and the Carolinas. One sixth of the daily ration was the allotment for a  considerable time, and very often the supply of  bacon failed entirely. 

At the close of the year, Grant had one hundred  and ten thousand men. Lee had sixty-six thousand  on his rolls, but this included men on detached duty,  leaving him barely forty thousand soldiers to defend  the trenches that were then stretched out forty  miles in length from the Chickahominy to Hatcher’s  Run.”

Henry Alexander White, “Life of Robert E.  Lee.” 

“When their own soldiers were suffering such  hardships as these in the field, the Confederate  leaders made every effort to exchange men so that  helpless prisoners of war would not suffer in  anything like equal measure, offering even to send  back prisoners without requiring an equivalent.  Hence, the charges brought against the Confederate  government of intentional ill-treatment of prisoners  of war are not supported by the facts. 

[In the South] the same quantity and quality of rations were given to prisoners and guards; but that  variety in food could not be had or transported on  the broken-down railway system of a non manufacturing country, which system could not or  did not provide sufficient clothes and food even for the Confederate soldiers in the field. 

[The] control of the prisons in the North was turned over by Secretary  Stanton and the vindictive and partisan men (who  were later responsible also for the crimes of  Reconstruction) to the lowest element of an alien  population and to Negro guards of a criminal type,  and such men as President Lincoln, Seward,  McClellan, and the best people in the North were  intentionally kept in ignorance of conditions in  Northern prisons while officially furnished with  stories as to “the deliberate cruelties” practiced in  the South.” 

(The Women of the South in War Times, Matthew Page  Andrews, Norman, Remington Company, 1920, pp. 399-406) 

(Article courtesy of The Southern Comfort, Private Samuel A. Hughey Camp 1452, Sons of Confederate Veterans; President Jefferson Davis Chapter, Military Order of the Stars and Bars, vol. 45, issue #4, April 2021 ed.)

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