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2nd Vermont Infantry

Prison Memoirs


As experienced by one who spent thirteen
months in Richmond "black hole," Charleston
jail, Castle Pinckney, Columbia jail,
Richmond hospital, Salisbury prison, Bell
Island, and a few other holes.

By Capt. J. T. DREW



From the march to the field to our imprisonment in Beauregard's barn.

At 2 o'clock on the morning of the 21st of July, 1861, the long roll roused up the slumbering hosts of the Union army, and the march to Manassas commenced. Five minutes from the first sound of the drum our regiment was in line; and filed out into the road and marched about two miles, then halted on the high ridge of hills to the left of Centerville, there to wait until the divisions in advance had moved further on.

As the sun arose we could see long lines of glittering bayonets --- dense masses of infantry, and swiftly moved moving battalions of cavalry, heavy- rolling artillery and dust- raising baggage trains --- all moving along through the quiet plain below. It was a grand sight and one that gave strength and confidence to our men.

Soon we were on the march again and not long after began to feel the intolerable heat of the sun and the choking sensation from dust and thirst. The men began to throw away blankets, coats, some even shirts, so suffocating was the air.

There was no one cause that contributed so much to the rebel success that day, as the heat of the sun. Most of our regiments were composed of young men, who had come from cool, bracing, and genial climate. Here they found themselves under the scorching heat of a Virginia sun, without water, food or stimulants of any kind, with the dust from thousands of tramping feet making more suffocating their tiresome march. Hundreds fell out --- never to rise again.

But it is not my object to give a history of the fight; but I have mentioned this much to show you the kind of men who were made prisoners. I think I may safely say that everyone that could run, after the retreat was ordered, did run, and most of them got away. The prisoners were wounded or exhausted men, unable to escape from the field.

My own capture was owing to exhaustion by sickness and fatigue. I had been sick with billous-fever for three days, and went to the field with hardly strength enough to walk. After marching as long as I could alone, my old friend, Capt. Eaton, who seemed never to grow tired or fatigued, helped me on until we began to fall behind, and then the Major of the 5th Maine regiment gave me his horse. I rode this until no longer able to ride, and then was carried on the field by an ambulance. Left at Sudley Church to rest for a while, I soon made my way on the battle-ground, but only to find the troops all falling back. I sat down again until some of the Vermont boys came along and helped me off a short way, and then of Gen. Wilcox's ambulances picked me up.

Ten minutes after, not one mile from the field, I was taken by Stewart's Cavalry --- They fired into the ambulance and killed the man by my side after the driver had surrendered all, because I fired my revolver at them and killed a horse. My sword I broke in the wheels of my revolver I threw in the mud as soon as I had fired, so they got no arms from me. The first words said to me were, "You d--d Yankee, I helped hang John Brown." I told him that he had the looks of a hangman, and doubtless crown his glory by murdering unarmed prisoners. "No", said he, "I'll keep you for the gallows."

Within half an hour from the time of our army retreat, the rebels were falling back on their old work at Manassas, and only a few regiments were moving after our men --- The Black Horse Cavalry was scouring the fields picking up exhausted and wounded men. I saw them blow out the brains of several of our men after they had surrendered. I saw a wounded officer of the N.Y.79th shot by a New Orleans Tiger, and then robbed. All over the field might be seen the stragglers of the rebel army, rushing here and there, yelling like savages and plundering the dead.

I was a sickening sight, as I was taken over the field, to see the dead and dying lie in bloody heaps or sheltered among the corn and grass, hand hovering over them these rebel wolves and southern vultures.. If anyone that was wounded at the battle, and was left on the field by our troops, now lives, I should like to know it, for all of the prisoners are of the opinion that, save those who were collected into the hospitals by our own troops, not one escaped the murders search. The rebel soldiers boast, to this day that they went over the field "exterminating Yankees", after our army had retreated --- It is a significant fact that a rebel general was heard to say: "It is no matter we have more wounded than we can care for, it puts the poor fellows out of suffering; we cannot stop to pick them up".

On our way down we were left for a while in charge of some privates; who at once robbed us of watches and money. And so with our money and watches stolen, our mouths marched with thirst and gloom in our hearts; we were placed in Gen. Beauregard's barn, to lie on the dirty floor and think of that bloody day, and all its horrors, and dream them over again.

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Transcribed by Deanna French.