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2nd Vermont Infantry
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
THE CALEDONIAN: MARCH 6, 1863
While confined in "Black Hole" we were paid an unwilling visit by many of our officers from McClellan's army.
After the battle of Williamsburg, many were thrown in among us, among them was Lieut. Col. Benedict, of the 1st Excelsior Reg't, New York, a well known politician and an able man. He was questioned by Lieut. Emack, the Adj't of the Post, and not seeming to answer very readily, or give any information, was called a "grey-headed" son of a female dog, and told he would be locked up. Having only about 6 feet by 3 a piece, and under close guard, we wondered how it was we could be "locked-up" any more than we were.
I must not fail to mention a Court martial which one Norton of the 3d Vermont went through. I learned the facts from the wag of a Captain who heard it, and was greatly amused by it. This Lieut. Emack is a renegade Marylander, and his father stays in Washington most of the time, writing to Richmond what news he can get.
He wished to make up a guerrilla company of renegades as desperate as himself, and so was taking every prisoner who came in under suspicious circumstances, making them pass an examination, offering them great inducements; telling them they are put down as deserters &c.; and winding up by enrolling or sending them back to prison, according as he succeeded, well or ill.
Young Norton had been spoken of as a "dead-shot" by the officer who who first brought him in, and Emack was "bound to have him".
Norton was summoned into the office.
Emack: "you were taken as a spy, and you will be shot."
E: "no help fro it I recon"
N: "the devil"
E: I have orders to hang you
E: What do you say for yourself?'
N: "you're another"
E: 'Look out, I will string you up in ten minutes.
N: "Go there yourself."
By this time the other officers were convulsed with laughter at the cool impudence of the "Yankee boy," and the failure of Emack, whom they secretly despised, to frighten him.
E: If I will not hang you will you join my company of guerilla's?"
E: "would you rather be hung?"v N:" yawpy, yawpy, betterish,
E: "I'll stand no more! Bring me the rope --- hang the d---d Yankee!"
N: "praps so, praps no"
Capt. J. coming in asked the "Yank" "if he had really been a spy."
"No sir" said little Vermont, and this fellows knows it. He thought to frighten me into a traitor, but he couldn't come it. I went out the day I was taken, shot a secesh and a pig --- I'm sorry I killed the pig, --- I had on my uniform and had my gun, spies don't go that way.
"No" said the Captain "and you are a true man, if you are a Yankee boy. Go to your quarters. I think the Lieutenant is sufficiently amused."
I hope the reader will pardon me if I here add that I had sent a note up through a crack in the floor, telling Norton I had heard he was to have a sham trial, and that he would oblige me, a brother Vermonter, and the only Vermont officer there, if he would be as saucy as possible --- it being also the best way to get rid of his tormentors. From the many jokes the rebel officers gave Emack about "swearing a Yank into a Reb" I am satisfied he behaved as well as I could have wished. As the men were soon after sent home, I did not see him again, but if he should see this account, he will accept my thanks for teaching those renegades that Vermonters seldom get frightened into enlisting.
The rebels always spoke of Vermont troops in terms of praise. The gallant charge of two companies across a creek into the 21st N. C. regiment, was called by the Richmond Examiner, "as brave an exploit as ever was enacted."
They killed 101 rebels, wounded 232, 1 colonel, 1 major, 3 captains, 5 lieutennants, and the color bearer. This I learned from a rebel colonel who led a regiment up to drive them back.
He explained the defeat of the N. C. regiment, by saying they were at dinner and entirely unprepared; that the Vermont boys drove them out of camp and with terrible precision in shooting seemed to make almost every shot tell. The colonel also said that the men from Vermont, New Hampshire, Wisconsin and Minnesota, were the best shots in the army. Said he:
"One of your Vermont sharpshooters, the other day, got a "squint" at my nigger as he went to water my horse, and pop went a ball through his cap." After that, whenever it was time to water the horse "Sam" was no where to be seen. So I sent a soldier, and do you believe, that abolition son of a b---- who would only shoot through a niggers cap, put a ball slap through a white mans head. We found the spring was so guarded by three devils in the unknown distance that we had to give it up.
Another one said to me "One day my "darky" was brushing my coat at the door of a house I lived in, when a ball came tearing through it. I saw at once the fellow who made the shot must be in a very tall tree, as the negroes back was in the direction and it had come over his shoulder, passed through the coat and lodged in a post beyond. My "nig" was a crack shot and a brave fellow, and I told him to take a rifle and crawl along to the nearest tree, which was some 200 yards distant and some 300 yards from the woods where the Yankee sharpshooters were. He did so, making his way through the grass, unseen as I supposed, and climbed the tree. I saw him looking out from his hiding place toward the woods already for a shot. Now, thought I, we shall see "Jim" finish an abolitionist, when bang went a rifle, right under "Jims" tree, and down fell the nigger. I'll be d---d if one of those cussed Yankee sharpshooters hadn't seen him crawling up the tree, and had slipped down from his own, snaked through the grass right up under the tree, and did me out of $1,000 at a single pop."
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Transcribed by Deanna French.