The prisoners were taken to Fredericksburg and next day to a place near Aquia Creek and placed in a bottom or hollow place that put me in mind of a place they called "The Devil's Punch Bowl" that I read of in a book when a boy. There we were kept two or three days, then were taken to Point Lookout at the mouth of the Potomac River on the Chesapeake Bay. There we were kept in a prison guarded by white and negro troops. There was water on three sides of us and no shade at all. As well as I can remember, there was no shade trees at all and the water we were forced to drink as bad as could be, as it was full of copperas, and very little to eat and plenty of salt in what we did get. The officers of the prison were in another stockade, near to ours, but we never could see each other. From our prison camp we could see across Chesapeake Bay to the eastern shore of Maryland on a very calm morning. Men-of-War lay out in the Bay as guards, as also infantry and batteries of artillery were posted to guard the prisoners. Around the prison a plank wall twelve or fourteen feet high was built with a platform about four feet above the top, on the outside, for the guards to walk day and night. While at this prison, I learned through letters from my mother that one of my cousins on her side was there guarding prisoners and belonged to a company attached to the 144th Ohio Regiment. He also learned through his people that I was there a prisoner, and they made arrangements with the officers to send for me. I went to the gate and was taken down to the landing where I met him. His name is John Hemphill, a first cousin. We talked for one hour, I suppose, and the general drift of the conversation was to advise me to take the oath of allegiance to the United States and not go back South to the army. I would not do so and went back to the prison. I was to go back the next day to the same place to meet him as he promised to get me some things I needed, as I lost everything in way of clothes when captured in the works. I went to the place two or three days but did not see him there. When I did see him afterward on guard duty, he told me that he had got into the guard house for some insubordination and could not go. I thought that he was not telling me the truth and did not try to see him any more, and rather than be troubled and worried by him and some officers of the prison about taking the oath, I went to another prison camp in New York as soon as I got the chance. I did not let him know that I was going and he did not find out until I was gone.
While in prison at Point Lookout, I saw a negro soldier, who was walking a beat near the eating houses, fire into a crowd of prisoners going and coming out of the eating houses and were crowded in his path. His ball mortally wounded two and one slightly in the hand. The negro was removed from the camp and we were told that he was tried by a drumhead court
Part 6 - 19 October 1984
During my imprisonment there, I received letters from my home and also from my uncle and aunt in Ohio and Illinois, all wanting me to take the oath and go to their home until the war ended, if I would not go to Louisiana. A certain Doctor, named Green, a citizen of Elmira, who was engaged by the United States Government to attend to the sick in certain wards in prison, was after me nearly every day when he came to prison to make application to take the oath and go to his house and live with his family until the end of the War. I would not.
During the political campaign in the fall of 1864, when Lincoln was elected the second term, there was a large mass meeting and speaking in Elmira one mile from the prison. After the meeting was over and the cannon had ceased to fire salutes, and were returning to their position near the prison, some rascal put a rock in the gun when near the camp and fired it through the roof of our ward near where I lay. The rock came through the roof and struck a hat on the opposite side of the house, cut the hat badly and dropped down in the bunk where two prisoners were lying.
During the winter of 1864, I received several letters from Uncle Paul Jones in Illinois. I kept them and brought them with others back to North Carolina when I left prison and left them with your mother when I went off. She let your Uncle Willy Gardner have them to read and he lost them and they could never be found afterwards. I would have given much for some of them. I would have been glad for all my children to see and read at least one of them from Uncle Paul. I do not think that I can repeat it accurately, but nearly so. He wrote as follows: After speaking of mother and family matters, he wrote me thus -
- Letter -
"And now, William, I hear that you have been wounded and are now a prisoner. How is it? Have you like thousands of others, been made the victims of a few designing slave holders who have, by their peculiar cunning, made you believe that the Constitutional rights and Liberties of the South had been, or were going to be, taken away by the Republican party, who were just then coming to power? If so, read the history of the country and you will find that the Rebellion has been secretly contemplated for almost thirty years, at almost every presidential campaign. Reading the records of the country, will, no doubt, reveal to you the facts in the case, that their intention was to destroy the Union and on its ruins to erect a government with slavery in place of freedom as its chief corner stone and then having used the poor white trash to accomplish their undermining schemes, they would enjoy about as much Liberty, Freedom and Peace as the serfs of Russia did or the peasantry of Ireland do. Such miserable mudsills of society, as you and I, could get employment only when a negro could not be hired and then only at such low rates of wages as they saw proper to give or not being able to own so many acres of land, or so many human chattels, would be debarred from holding any voice or office in government. This may sound ridiculous to you, but it is the inevitable result of carrying out their pet principle, that capital should own labor; that they abhor and detest the laboring class, is evinced by almost all their orators and editors, for they seem to take great delight in calling us by such names as "small fisted farmers", greasy flinty mechanics, "Hot house wifery & Co.", which you, no doubt, have seen posted in their speeches and editorial columns. What better evidence do we need, that they hate us and would continue to hate us even after we had fought their battles and shed our blood to gain their independence? But space tells me to close." etc. (signed) Your Uncle, Paul Jones.
I am satisfied that I have not quoted all of the letter, I cannot remember it exactly. That letter was the first I received from him and was written in the fall of 1864. I received another from him though, shortly. We received notice from the prison officials that in writing to relatives or friends that we must not write more than one page of note paper in an answer. I have seen some comrades receive letters torn in two and only get a part of a letter. That with the signature of my uncles letter was 4 1/2 pages of foolscap and came to me marked in red ink across the letter "Examined, too long, notify your party not to write so long", but I think that the contents of Uncle Paul's letter to me suited the examiners too well to be torn in two, as it might have more effect on me, a rebel, than several personal visits to me while a prisoner. I wrote him that I was not in a position to answer his letter; that all letters were examined and any answer from me to his letter would not leave the prison and so would not undertake it. I also received one, I partly remember, from Aunt Aggie Nichols, of New Richmond, O. She told me that they dwelt in a large brick mansion, owned a large farm, and wanted me to come over some evening and sup with her and get some nice biscuits made of wheat grown on their land, some nice young chicks, some nice milk and butter of her own making and many things of the kind that were good and would have been very good to me then. I simply wrote here I could not go and that when I did leave my present home that I should strike for Dixie. I received letters from others somewhat of the same strain.
The last of February, 1865, I with others was called out to be sent South to be exchanged and I know that I was glad of it, as I had been confined a prisoner since the 12th of May, 1864, and also glad to get out of hearing of some of these people. We were placed under guard and took the train at Elmira, N.Y. and traveled to Little Fork, Harrisburg, Pa., to Baltimore, Md., then took the boat from Baltimore, Md. by Fortress Monroe and Newport News, to the mouth of the James River and up the James to the landing twelve miles from Richmond, Va. As we passed Newport News, we could see the masts of the man-of-war "Cumberland" sticking up out of the water where she was sunk by the Merrimac early in 1862. We got to Richmond March 2nd, 1865, and then learned that the cartel was broken and that we would not be exchanged. I never was anything after but a paroled prisoner. I stayed in Richmond several days and then came down in North Carolina and stayed about ten days and started for Georgia, intending to stay there until exchanged, then return to my Company, but when I got to Raleigh, N.C., I learned that Gen'l Johnston's army won fighting Gen'l William Tecumseh Sherman's army at Bentonville, only a short distance from Raleigh and that Johnston's army was retreating. I could not get by Sherman's army and being a paroled prisoner, did not want to be taken by Sherman's troops a prisoner again, so after staying in Raleigh and vicinity, returned to Edgecombe County. After staying there a while, I went down in Martin County to spend a week and while there learned that Gen'l Lee had surrendered at Appomattox Court House, Virginia. I did not believe it at first hearing, but after I had gone back to Edgecombe County found that it was so.
I soon had to go to Goldsboro to get more papers to enable me to go about without being molested by the United States troops. That was the end of the War for me. I carried those papers for several years and would not take the oath of allegiance to the United States until Gen'l Lee had published a letter advising all his army comrades to take the oath so that we would be entitled to rights of citizenship. Before and election held in 1867, I went before a negro registrar in Greenville who was very ignorant, could scarcely read, and with many mental reservations swallowed what he read. I then voted against changing the Constitution of North Carolina and my name and all others who did so were sent to Gen'l Edward Richard Sprigg Canby who was in command of the Department, but we never heard any more of the matter. Since then I have always voted the Democratic ticket and shall always do so, I hope.
I do not know anything of the work of the Company after I was taken prisoner, excepting from information, but have learned that they fought Sept. 19th, when Col. Jim Williams was killed and Col. York lost the very horse that he rode in the battle, a shell going through him. They fought in the 2nd
I will now close this account of our work for the Confederacy and hope it may interest you. I could have written more, as I have written nothing of our marching and fighting and very little of camp life, particularly as to how we spent our time while in Winter Quarters, such as playing ball, singing, etc.