Elmira Prison Camp OnLine Library
[The following document comes from the Confederate Veteran, a magazine published throughout the South from the 1890s until the 1940s. It comes from Volume XX, which contains writings from the year 1912, page 327.]
by Dr. G.T. Taylor, Co. C, 1st Al Bat of Heavy Artillery
I belonged to Company C, 1st Alabama Battalion of Heavy Artillery, and served on the Gulf Coast most of the war of 1861-65. I was captured August 23, 1864, at Fort Morgan and was taken to New Orleans and placed in Cotton Press No. 3 on September 18 (?). About 300 of us were sent on board a ship for New York City and placed in Castle Williams, on Governor's Island. We were kept there until December 4, when were sent to the Elmira (N.Y.) Prison. While in New Orleans, we fared fairly well under the circumstances. While on Governor's Island a corporal (I think his name was Toby) stole our rations, and we suffered hunger until Colonel Bumford, in command of the prison, removed the man, who was making money while we were starving. While there I took small pox, as did several others, and we carried the disease to Elmira, where a number died of it.
Talk about Camp Chase, Rock Island, or any other prison as you please, but Elmira was nearer Hades than I thought any place could be made by human cruelty. It was a bend of the small river, surrounded by a high board enclosure, with sentinels walking some fifteen or twenty feet on the inside; and if prisoners went near the line, a wound or death was the invariable result. Snow and ice several feet thick covered the place from December 6 to March, 1865. We were in shacks some seventy or eighty feet long, and they were very open, with but one blanket to the man. Our quarters were searched every day, and any extra blankets were taken from us. For the least infraction, we were sent to the guardhouse and made to wear a "barrel shirt" or were tied to by the thumbs for hours at a time. There was one Major Beal who, I believe, was the meanest man I ever knew. Our rations were very scant. About eight or nine in the morning we were furnished a small piece of salt pork or pickled beef each, and in the afternoon a small piece of bread and a tin plate of soup, with sometimes a little rice or Irish potato in the soup where the pork or beef had been boiled. We were not allowed to have money, but could make rings or pins or buttons and sell them for suttler tickets and buy tobacco or apples; but we were not allowed to buy rations. After the surrender of General Lee, we thought it would be better, but were mistaken.
In May they commenced to liberate prisoners, sending three hundred every other day. I got out on July 7, 1865, and started for my home in Alabama. Upon arrival in New York City I secured my first "square meal" in over ten months. My experience was that when you met a Western man you met a gentleman or soldier; but when you met a "down Easterner" or a Southern renegade, you meet the other fellow.
If any of the 1st Battalion of Heavy Artillery of Alabama or any of the 1st Tennessee Heavy Artillery or any of Captain Butt's company, 21st Alabama Infantry sees this, please write me.