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Prisons/Prisoners

Florence, SC

Sketch Of A Southern Prison, By J. Albert Libby.

Soon after the war of the Rebellion, while spending a winter in South Carolina, it was my privilege to visit more than once the Stockade built by "Southern Chivalry" for the soldiers of the northern states who might be captured during the fraternal contest.

This prison yard was some two miles away from Florence R. R. Station, in an out of the way region; and here I was stirred with an interest which until this day has not wholly departed, for my mind took in a picture that hangs distinctly now on memory's wall.

The enclosed ground I was told, would measure eighteen acres; and the surface lay in two gentle slopes, edging down to a creek that ran sluggishly through the middle, looking much more like ink than water.

The land on both sides was swampy, but log bridges lay here and there, to connect the higher grounds. The log huts, though the timbers were hardly large enough to be called logs, stood thickly over all the waste, and being back from busy centres the desolation and the silence altogether, made the place seem like a city rudely built by pigmies, a great number for a temporary stay, and then deserted; this because the huts were so small, for many of the little houses were made for one, and many more for only two, and used I should judge to sit in, and for sleeping places, away from the sun and storms, and cold. I often noticed the marks of Yankee skill in the construction of these buildings, as I passed around. I was told that the soldiers had to buy the stuff for these shanties, and very many who had no means, and perhaps no courage and strength to build these enviable, yet pitiable abodes, made themselves burrowing places in the earth to shield them from the scorching southern sun, and from the horrid chill of the wintry nights; with all their best clothing stripped from them by rebel hands. Ah! we shall never know their sorrow.

There was pointed out to me the shanty of Florena Budwin, who fought for her country in male attire, and perished here. She was known only as a soldier boy, I was told, till the time of her death. I walked these grounds with an aching heart, while hearing the recitals of many woes.

The dead line was still visible, and the high posts stood in their strength, all around, banked outwardly nearly to the top with what was now solid earth. I shall not record here the most sickening scenes of this stockade described to me, and some of which my own eyes looked upon.

The last time I visited the place, the tongue of fire, was licking up within, all the marks of the once rebel prison, as they were preparing the grounds for a crop. I bore away some remembrances of the dreary spot, one was a grape vine root. It was the second day of April, and this beautiful little vine was running over, and clinging to one of the lonely huts, throwing out its sweet buds, as if no sorrow had ever been there; I tried hard to make it live at my home in Maine, but it pined away and died, perhaps like the poor boy over whose prison home it had begun to climb.

They said to me the dead cart was passing continually to and from this place. Let us go to the burial ground, it is an acre well inclosed, and thickly packed with northern men, low in their graves. We passed through the gateway around which climbing rose-trees clung, and walked above the nameless sleepers, whose rest is just as sweet as though taken near their far off homes, under the falling tears of their nearest friends.

I said nameless graves. So they were; the records of most of them were lost, before the government could place the head-boards; just here, however, is the grave of the one I spoke of, Florena Budwin, it is well cared for, and indeed all are. The guardian of the cemetery lives in a cottage close at hand, and has this for his business; but I should judge this grave has had around it the touch of affection's hand. The rose bush was there with its modest buds, and other things of taste and beauty. Under the inscription of the name, and home, was this significant verse:

"Asleep in Jesus, far from thee

Thy kindred, and their graves may be;

Yet thine is still a blessed sleep

From which none ever wake to weep."

I left this peaceful graveyard, having walked it through with a sense of melancholy, quite different from those feelings which possessed me as I sauntered over the stockade. There indignation mingled with my grief, for I was in the slaughter pen where raw pumpkins it was said were thrown and the boys ate them like pigs. The prison yard was where they slowly killed our soldiers; but the graveyard the place where we could say, with softened sadness, poor boys, it is all over now, take your rest till the trump of reveille rings out o'er all the fields of the worthy dead.

Castleton, Vt., June 1st, 1885.

Source: John M. Currier, Memorial Exercises held in Castleton, Vermont, in the year 1885, (Joel Munsell's Sons, Albany, 1885), pp. 55-57.