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6. Federal Policies at the Major Ohio Prisons

James M. Gillispie University of North Texas Press ePub

6

FEDERAL POLICIES AT THE MAJOR OHIO PRISONS

Johnson’s Island

Johnson’s Island opened as an officers’ prison in 1863 and operated as such for the rest of the war. Located in Sandusky Bay in Lake Erie, this facility was described in terrible terms after the war by ex-prisoners. In February 1904, James F. Crocker spoke of his experiences at Johnson’s Island before a United Confederate Veterans meeting in Virginia. “My God,” he exclaimed, “it was terrible.” He explained to the gathering that prisoners there were intentionally starved by the Union officials as a matter of policy. “It was a cruel, bitter treatment,” he said, adding to the postwar argument that the North’s superior resources ought to have made Yankee prisons oases, “and that too, by a hand into which Providence had poured to overflowing its most bounteous gifts.” In 1917 ex-prisoner Henry E. Shepherd recalled life in Johnson’s Island as a “grim and remorseless struggle with starvation. . . .” This was not just his experience; Shepherd claimed that for all prisoners on the Island, “relentless and gnawing hunger was the chronic and normal state.”1

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7. Point Lookout, Fort Delaware, and Elmira

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POINT LOOKOUT, FORT

DELAWARE, AND ELMIRA

I followed old mas. Robert

For four years near about,

Got wounded in three places,

And starved at Pint Lookout.

SO WROTE THE AUTHOR OF THE POPULAR SOUTHERN TUNE, “I’m a

Good Old Rebel.” In all likelihood the writer did not intend to single out

Point Lookout so much as to use it to represent the hardships Confederate prisoners endured in all Yankee pens because it was easier to rhyme with than Fort Delaware or Alton. Other writers over the last century and a quarter, however, have pointed to that particular prison as especially nasty.

Anthony M. Keiley, an unreconstructed Rebel politician from Virginia who was no more above waving the bloody prison shirt than were others in and outside of his region, said the food was awful at Point Lookout and there was never enough of it. Prisoners were, according to Keiley, abused physically and denied adequate clothing and shelter as a matter of policy. He claimed that to get decent treatment one had to appeal to guards’ greed—a congenital defect found in Northern character. Bribery was the only effective way to assure humane treatment in Federal military prisons because, according to Keiley; “Yankee soldiers are very much like ships: to move them, you must ‘slush the ways.’”1

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1. Servants of the Devil and Jeff Davis

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SERVANTS OF THE DEVIL

AND JEFF DAVIS

THE NORTHERN VERSION OF THE POW EXPERIENCE,

1865–1920

ON APRIL 9, 1865, GENERAL ROBERT E. LEE surrendered the South’s principle army and best hope for victory to General Ulysses S. Grant at

Appomattox Court House in Virginia and signaled the beginning of the end of the Confederacy. Northerners everywhere were jubilant. The Civil War, which was not supposed to last so long or cost so much in lives and treasure, was finally, mercifully, over. What was not over, what in fact was only beginning, was the work of explaining to themselves, and more importantly, to future Americans, what this late conflagration meant and symbolized. Northern veterans began writing and talking about their experiences in the greatest event in American history since the Revolution almost as soon as the guns fell silent. Between 1865 and 1920 Northern writers churned out a massive body of work about the Civil War. Accounts of battles are, of course, numerous but many veterans also focused on the other aspects of soldier life—camp life, marches, forms of recreation, and the like. One area that received close attention was how Northern soldiers suffered in Confederate military prisons.

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3. Continuity and Change: Modern Writers and the Issue of Federal Treatment of Confederate Prisoners

James M. Gillispie University of North Texas Press ePub

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CONTINUITY AND CHANGE

MODERN WRITERS AND THE ISSUE OF FEDERAL TREATMENT OF CONFEDERATE PRISONERS

Since the war generation and its immediate descendents left the stage in the first third of the twentieth century, fewer people were willing to deal with the controversial issue of prisoners of war. Many probably thought there was little left to say on the topic given the rather large amount of material Northern and Southern writers produced in the half-century after the war’s conclusion. Some were probably reluctant to reopen old wounds. Others likely had an understandable reluctance to touch a topic that continued to generate heated debate by partisans on both sides of the issue. It was far more comfortable to leave such issues alone.

Over the past century, though, a few writers have stepped forward and addressed this particular topic. Most of the writing is fairly recent, perhaps a response to James McPherson’s 1998 comment in Writing the Civil War that this topic has been neglected relative to the voluminous attention other aspects of the war years have received. “Although good books and articles on individual prisons (especially Andersonville) have appeared in recent years,” McPherson wrote, “only one general study of this important matter has been published since 1930.” Since then two general studies have been published, the most recent, While in the Hands of the Enemy, on a major academic press. Still, compared to other aspects of the war this area remains an under-explored topic.1

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