War Diary and Letters of Stephen Minot Weld.

Headquarters Porter’s Corps,
Camp near Harrison’s Landing [Aug., ’62].

Dear Father, — Here I am, thank Heaven, under the Stars and Stripes again, ready and willing to go at my duty. I reached here this morning at 7.30 o’clock, having left Aiken’s Landing on the James River at 4 o’clock A.M., coming down on board the steamer Ariel.

After many disappointments and delays we left the Libby Prison at Richmond yesterday at 12 o’clock. Though the sun was at its hottest heat, and pouring down its literally burning rays, and although we had to march fifteen miles on foot, I doubt if there was one officer among the one hundred and fifty who was not glad and willing to start at that precise moment in preference to any other, and undergo the fatigue and labor of the march for the sake of getting away from that vile prison. We started off at a smart pace, too much so indeed, but every one was anxious to get away as soon as possible. We marched steadily for three miles and then made a halt at a bridge. Almost every one was tired out by that time, and several were even in danger of being sun-struck. After going a quarter of a mile farther, the officer in charge found it necessary to halt at a house surrounded by trees, the officers being completely used up. He determined luckily to wait until five o’clock before starting again, by which time the sun would be less powerful. The field officers and the sick, who were in wagons, soon caught up with us, and got out to enjoy the shade. We waited till 3.30, when the sun became clouded, and the air cooler. I was completely used up, the skin being worn off my foot by the chafing of my boot. I got into one of the wagons and off we started again. Soon a strong wind came up, completely enveloping us in a cloud of dust, of a thicker and dirtier nature than I have ever known before. Soon, however, rain came, and made the travelling quite pleasant. We went by the Drewry’s Bluff road, and passed by some dozen works on that road alone, besides seeing as many more on the other side of the river. Our route lay along the river part of the way, although we were led some four miles away from our course, in order that we might not see some new works they were making. The country was rich and fertile, and was planted entirely with corn, which was in very good condition. By eight o’clock we reached Aiken’s Landing, and were transferred to the steamer without giving any parole, and without any conditions. Our exchange is complete at 12 o’clock to-day. We slept on board the steamer and started early this morning. I walked up to headquarters and was very kindly welcomed by the general and staff. The general has been very kind to me, having written me that you were all well, and relieved of all anxiety for me. He also sent me $25.50, which was very acceptable. $12.50 was in gold, worth about $25.00 in Confederate notes.

In regard to my treatment in Richmond, I met with very kind treatment from the officer in charge, Lieutenant Trabue. The first officer who had charge of us, Captain William Read, was as conceited a puppy as ever lived. He was impudent to the officers, and was consequently removed. Trabue then had charge of us and was very kind and obliging. He was removed, however, on account of the escape of five officers, three of whom made good their escape, and two were recaptured. We then were more strictly guarded and the privilege of getting spring water refused us, although this was partially restored to us again. Most of the officers who had anything to do with us, treated us personally in a very kind manner, but their government treated us quite harshly. The only food furnished us was sour bread, meat, and salt, and at times a little vinegar. The meat was made into greasy soup, entirely unfit for a human being’s stomach. If we had not had some money, we should have starved. I had only one dollar when I reached Richmond, but I met with an officer who lent me twenty-two dollars, and when that was used up, I sold my rubber coat, which cost me $6, for $15. Then I also received $25 from the general, $9.50 of which I gave to Harry Russell,[1] who was taken prisoner by Ewell or Jackson last Saturday. All Pope’s officers, 30 in number, taken on Saturday, were treated shamefully. They live in a room with the privates and are allowed nothing but bread and meat, and are not permitted to buy anything outside. No blankets are given them, but when I went away I sent Harry Russell my bed and blanket. I was not allowed to see him, but received a short note from him, in which he said he was well, and I also heard that he was well and uninjured from officers who saw him. I shall write Mr. Shaw about his being captured. Harry R. said in his note to me that Major Savage was wounded in arm and leg and taken prisoner. When I went away I sent Russell all the money I had. I will enclose the note, which I received from him. His order on Mr. Shaw was his own idea, of course, and not mine. I shall write Mr. Shaw and let him know that Harry is well.

I send you a list of the prices of articles of food in Richmond. Butter, $1 per lb. Apples, $.50 to $1.00 a doz. Eggs, $1.00 per doz. Molasses, $.75 per pint. Sugar, $.75 per lb. Cherries, 50 cts. per quart. Potatoes, 30 cts. per quart. Coffee, $2.50 per lb.; and rye coffee, $.75 per lb. Tea, $16.00 per lb.

On my way from Richmond I saw Merrimac No. 2, lying at the Rockets just below. She must be very nearly finished. She was covered like the roof of a house and will be a formidable antagonist if she ever succeeds in getting out. We were kept in the Libby Prison for a week, and were then moved to a building on 18th St., where there were splendid opportunities for escaping. I bought me a Secesh uniform and should have tried it if we had not received the news of the exchange. There were five or six Union families within a stone’s throw of our prison, and we used to converse with them by the dumb alphabet and by writing on boards, etc. The officers frequently went out nights through a hole made in a fence separating another building from ours, and came back again after walking about the city. I will give you an account of my imprisonment at greater length, in a few days.

General Porter has been away all the day and will not return till morning. Even if he should offer me a furlough I should not take it while there was any chance of a move. I think we shall move in a few days, but I think it will be towards Fortress Monroe. . . .

 


[1] The late Col. Henry S. Russell, for many years Fire Commissioner of Boston.


War diary and letters of Stephen Minot Weld

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