Civil War Love Letters: January 29, 1865 (letter 2)

29, January 2015

In this letter, James continues to write about the “deadly policy” of the United States government, most likely a reference to either the policy of stopping packages from home, or the persistent refusal to exchange prisoners. In early 1865, Confederate officials asked for a prisoner exchange because they needed the manpower, but Union officials refused, leaving Union prisoners to languish in prisons throughout the South. James still hoped for exchange, but realized that conditions in his prison for Union officers were far better than conditions at prisons, such as Andersonville, that housed only enlisted men. James mentions Captain Hescock of the 1st Missouri Light Artillery. Captain Henry Hescock was part of the same corps as James at the Battle of Chickamauga in September 1863. He was wounded and captured on September 20, 1863, a day after James suffered the same fate during the battle, and both men had been moved from one prison to another since their capture. By the time James wrote this letter, Hescock had contracted consumption, but he successfully escaped on February 17, 1865, and was mustered out of service a month later. Sadly, Hescock died from consumption at the U.S. Army General Hospital at Jefferson Barracks in St. Louis, Missouri, on April 28, 1865.    

Sheet music sheet for Sherman's March to the Sea, written in 1865James and the other prisoners at Camp Asylum sang this new song written by two prisoners at the camp. Samuel H. M. Byers, who served with the 5th Iowa Infantry and was captured at the Battle of Chattanooga, wrote the words. Lieutenant Justus O. Rockwell, who served with the 97th New York Infantry and was captured during the Battle of Gettysburg, wrote the music. "Sherman’s March to the Sea." New York: Wm. Hall & Son, 1865. Library of Congress.

Camp Asylum
Columbia S. Ca.
January 29th 1865

My Dearest Molly

The former sheet as you will perceive was written for the open mail and is full of half truths. I can still preach as you see, but I cannot practice resignation even yet and at times I feel as blue as of Old. We have at last got into a building but it is cold and poor comfort, not half enough firewood is supplied us for com­fort barely enough for two meals a day while the free air of heaven careers through a thousand cracks and crannies. Per consequence we are compelled to exercise to keep warm, and to wear all our clothes at once, numbers lay in bed half the day to keep warm. I am much better off than most. I am comfort­able just now in that great overcoat, I recd last spring from Wm. and I have yet got my watch left, with which I intend when next there is a partial Exchange to try to purchase my way out, that is the way (I have only lately found out) that half the Exchanges are procured here. I believe I told you before that I had a letter from Col. Martin dated in October last, stating that he had taken steps to procure me a Special Exch. but you see even his influence has failed to free me, and yet my name may be on the list here for months and I be oversloughed by others who have more money; so if I get a chance away goes my watch. It is evident to me that there is a Providential purpose in my detention, perhaps time is thus given me to repent of my past follies and sins, perhaps my life is to be thus saved for future usefulness. It was seemingly a mere accident by which I missed my Exchange on the field of Chicamauga, and many such accidents have seemingly detained me since. Gods knows how bitterly I relish it, and how much I would prefer fighting the battles of my Country in the field, but it is only too probable, I will now remain to the end of the War, and if God smiles on the cause during the present as he has during the past year, the closing scene of this wicked rebellion will be seen during the present Summer or Fall.

I have managed to keep some money on hand up to the present time. At present it takes nearly $5.00 Confed each per day to keep us from Starvation. Our rations (Corn meal and Sorghum) are not sufficient. I drew on William for $50.00 last Decr. but the Officer who negotiated it for me, went off with the proceeds, and I sent a note through to stop it. I hope it was in time. I may draw on him again, but better not pay until he hears from me, as rascality is at a premium here — and numbers have been swindled — as we only get about 10 or 12 cents on the dollar in this worth­less trash, and we are so desperately needy at times it is too bad to lose good gold besides I cant afford it as you know?

A little more firewood and something to read would make time pass quickly even here, half my time is passed in cooking, washing and Baking for be it known I am Baker to our mess. I am too rest­less to lay in bed more than 10 or 12 hours, and so I do much soli­tary promenading up and down quarter deck fashion.

An acquaintance of mine, Capt. Hescock of the 1st. Mo. Artil­lery has been and is very sick from Pneumonia or consumption, and I have been trying to keep up his spirits by staying with him a little. I fear he will not reach home as his lungs are in a bad state. He is a Virginian but an old resident of St. Louis. We are at present enclosed in a part of the grounds of the State Luna­tic Asylum closely guarded and no present chance to escape, but if from any cause we are moved, say Sherman or Kilpatricks progress thither wards – I will assuredly try again, in these escapades the niggers are invaluable, they guide us, feed us, hide us, and give us a chance to sleep warm when they can. They are now well posted as to the cause and result of the war, and will prove a bad in­vestment to their masters for the future I think let the war result as it may.

Much money has come to officers lately. I often wonder whether William sent me any or not. In exchanging it now we get Fifty-seven dollars Confed for one Dollar in gold – and still it depreciates.

Of course I did not get the last box sent me (in October). I suppose it must have been sent back from Hilton Head. None have been allowed through the lines since November by our Government as we understand it. I hope there is a good cause for this. I do not doubt it in the least, but our sufferings in consequence make us liable to be prejudiced against (Staunton say).

There are still nearly twelve hundred Officers here, besides Five hundred at Salisbury and Danville, and numbers of others scattered all over the Confederacy in solitary torture. The thou­sands of Privates who suffer and die from cold, hunger and exposure and torments unnamable and inconceiveable at various places I need not here enlarge on. Poor fellows they die unhonored and unsung; martyrs to a deadly policy, for which some one will have to answer at the bar of the nation and of God – better far better, had they died a lingering death from wounds or fever on the field. Our sufferings are pleasures in comparison; our prison sumptuous and comfortable to describe, when beside their lazar house. I subscribed in Libby for some Books descriptive of our life there. If they should come by Express I hope Wm. will receive them and pay charges. I have lately subscribed also for several Books and plates illustrating our life in Macon, Charleston, Savannah and here, which will give our friends North a better idea of our circumstances here than I can. I have kept a Diary however of my personal experiences and feelings of which I may read you extracts if I should ever be so fortunate as to see you again. The weather here must soon moderate, and when it does, we will be able to have a little enjoyment again at times. We have lately found it impossible to read or write or play cards even. Today is yet cold but a warm sun shines which has moderated the temperature enough to allow me to write this scrawl.

Sherman's progress has alarmed and scared the Rebs more than anything that has happened to them yet, and they all consider him our best General. I hope that nothing will stop his course, no diplomacy or orders from the North. I dont think any force the South can bring to bear can stop him, and that you will continue to hear of him proceeding conquering and to conquer until he has overan at least all South Carolina — which place we here hold responsible for most the miseries that have befallen us. The Niggers sing Hallelujahs for him every day, and so do we nightly. We have a new song set to new music both composed in camp, which is the latest sensation in that respect. It is entitled “Shermans March to the Sea”!! and we have enjoyed it much; while the Rebs are proportionably bored when they hear it.

All sorts of businesses and professions are carried on in camp. Our string band when the weather permits discourses most excellent music, while Carpenters, Shoemakers, tailors, cap makers, and mattress makers find plenty of work. We have numerous glee clubs, whist clubs, chess clubs, and Gambling Banks of every kind and description where monies are staked from 25 cents to over one hundred dollars. You know I dont indulge; an occasional game of chess, whist or backgammon is my only failing in that way, but even were I so disposed 1 have had to be too economical, to spread my little money too far to risk a cent, when I might lose a dinner thereby. We have preaching occasionally the last was last Monday, none to day (Sunday) as it happens probably from the inclemency of the weather during the past week. Since I commenced a small mail has come in, but no letters for me, and none later than the beginning of Decr.

With Prayers for your happiness & Welfare,

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