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´╗┐Title: Battle of the Crater and Experiences of Prison Life
Author: Shearman, Sumner Upham
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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      PERSONAL NARRATIVES

       OF EVENTS IN THE

      War of the Rebellion,

   BEING PAPERS READ BEFORE THE

 RHODE ISLAND SOLDIERS AND SAILORS
       HISTORICAL SOCIETY.

      Fifth Series.--No. 8.


          PROVIDENCE:
   PUBLISHED BY THE SOCIETY.
             1898.


   SNOW & FARNHAM, PRINTERS.



    BATTLE OF THE CRATER

              AND

 Experiences of Prison Life.

              BY
     SUMNER U. SHEARMAN,
 [Late Captain, Fourth Rhode Island Volunteers.]


         PROVIDENCE:
   PUBLISHED BY THE SOCIETY.
            1898.

[Edition limited to two hundred and fifty copies.]



Battle of the Crater; and Experiences of Prison Life.


I have been asked by the Society under whose auspices we are gathered
to-night to tell you something of my personal experiences in the Battle
of the Mine, or of the Crater, as it is sometimes called, and to
supplement those experiences with some account of my life in a Southern
prison.

At the time of the battle I was captain of Company A, Fourth Rhode
Island Volunteers Infantry. The regiment to which I belonged was a
portion of the Ninth Army Corps, under the command of General Burnside.
The battle was fought on the 30th of July, 1864. But some months
previous, as far back as January, 1863, the regiment, as also the
corps, had been detached from the Army of the Potomac. Burnside, as you
know, succeeded McClellan after the battle of Antietam in command of
the Army of the Potomac; but he himself was removed from that command
in January, 1863, and taken away from the Army of the Potomac. But
the regiment to which I belonged ultimately became separated from the
corps, and was on detached duty in the city of Norfolk, Virginia, and
afterwards at Point Lookout, Maryland, where we were when the order
came for us to rejoin the Ninth Corps, which had been brought back to
the Army of the Potomac.

We arrived in front of Petersburg, at a point on the line where the
Ninth Army Corps was stationed, on the Fourth of July, 1864. The two
lines, our line and the enemy's, were at this point very near each
other, from one hundred and fifty to three hundred yards apart, the
distance varying according to the line of the works. We were ordered to
encamp in some woods in the rear of our line of rifle-pits, and not far
from them.

Shots from the enemy were continually coming into our camp, being fired
at the men in the breastworks in front. We had to erect a barricade in
the camp to protect ourselves, behind which we lived. Men of course
strayed more or less away from the barricade, and every now and then
some one would be wounded. Every three or four days it became our turn
to take our places in the rifle-pits, where we had to stay forty-eight
hours, and sometimes longer. We never went into the rifle-pits without
some one being killed or wounded.

While we were encamped in this way, we heard of the plan of
Lieutenant-Colonel Henry Pleasants, of the Forty-eighth Pennsylvania
Infantry, who was a practical miner, and his men were largely men who
had worked in the coal mines of Pennsylvania. He conceived the idea of
building a mine under a certain portion of the enemy's works, with the
purpose of blowing them up. At a certain point in the enemy's line,
opposite the point where we were located, was a very strong earthwork,
mounting several guns of large calibre, which did very much damage
to our fortifications and troops. It was but one hundred and fifty
yards from our line to that point. Back of it, on higher ground, was a
hill called Cemetery Hill, regarded as a strategic point. If we could
capture that hill, it was believed that much would be done to force
General Lee out of Richmond. This fort stood in the way. Colonel
Pleasants believed that he could remove it by his plan of blowing it
up. The idea was that, if the fort could be removed by the explosion,
the enemy being taken by surprise, opportunity would be afforded for
our troops, already in position, to charge in through the open space
thus made, and, taking advantage of the surprise on the part of the
enemy, to push on to the crest of Cemetery Hill.

Colonel Pleasants met with no encouragement on the part of General
Meade, in command of the Army of the Potomac; nevertheless, as General
Burnside, his corps commander, approved of it, he was allowed to
undertake it. No assistance whatever was afforded him by the Engineer
Corps of the Army. He had to devise such methods as he could to
accomplish his purpose, working at a great disadvantage all the time,
but he finally accomplished the task. He began the work inside of our
lines, under cover of a hill, at a point where the enemy could not
perceive what was being done, and carried his tunnel through the earth
the whole distance of one hundred and fifty yards, until he reached the
fort. It was twenty feet beneath the surface of the ground at the point
he reached. From thence he made a branch at right angles on either
side, making it in the form of a letter T, as it were, at that point.
In these branches he placed large wooden tanks in which powder was to
be put. Four tons of powder were placed in these wooden boxes, and
connected by a fuse at the entrance of the mine.

The 30th of July, 1864, was fixed upon as the time for the explosion to
take place. It was intended to have it take place somewhere about three
o'clock in the morning. Troops were gotten into position the night
before under cover of the darkness, ready to charge as soon as the mine
should be exploded.

I had been engaged for some days previous at the headquarters of the
Third Division of the Ninth Army Corps, General Potter commanding,
as judge advocate in connection with a court-martial. On the evening
before the battle, the evening of the 29th, an order came to me to
report to my regiment. I did so, and found that it was about to take
its place in line of battle, ready to join in the charge on the morning
of the next day. I had my supper in camp as usual, and we started to
take up our position, carrying with us no food, nor anything in the
way of clothing, except the clothes we had on.

The time arrived when the explosion was expected to take place, but
no explosion occurred. It was learned that the fuse had gone out. An
officer of the Forty-eighth Pennsylvania volunteered to go in and
relight the fuse; and, as I remember, it went out a second time,
and was relighted. Shortly before five o'clock, just as the sun was
rising, a sound as of thunder was distinctly heard, and in a moment
the earth at the point where the mine had been constructed was thrown
upward, slowly mounting into the air to a height of some two hundred
feet, and then, spreading out like a fan, fell back again into the
excavation made by the explosion. The soil was of a clayey character,
and enormous boulders of clay were thrown up and fell back around the
opening, resembling in some respects the crater of a volcano; hence the
battle has sometimes been called the Battle of the Crater. The men who
were in this fort, and the artillery, and everything pertaining to the
fortifications, huge timbers, ammunition, tents, and everything that
would be naturally located there, were all thrown heavenward. The men,
of course, were either killed or wounded, with hardly an exception. A
large number of men were in the fort. It has been estimated by some
that there were a thousand.

As soon as the explosion took place, the artillery all along the line
on our side, some one hundred and twenty pieces or more, began firing
at that point. The firing lasted some moments, and then the troops were
directed to charge. It had been the plan of General Burnside to have
his division of colored troops lead the advance. There was in the Ninth
Corps at that time a division of colored troops. They had been drilled
with the idea of taking the advance, but General Meade overruled
Burnside's plan, and thought it best that the colored troops should
not be put in that position. So General Burnside called together his
division commanders, and told them of the change of plan on the very
night before the battle, and allowed them to draw lots to see which
one should take the lead. The lot fell to General Ledlie, the least
efficient of the division commanders in the Ninth Corps.

When the Third Division, to which my regiment belonged, charged
over our breastworks and across the space between our line and the
enemy's line, they came upon the enemy's works to the right of the
crater; but by that time the enemy had recovered from his surprise,
and was concentrating a terrible fire upon all that region. The men
instinctively sought shelter in the excavation made by the explosion,
but when we arrived at that point we found the crater filled with
troops of General Ledlie's division. There seemed to be complete chaos
reigning there. The lieutenant-colonel of our regiment, who was in
command, Colonel Buffum, tried to rally the men, as did officers of
other regiments, and to push on to Cemetery Hill; but General Ledlie,
who should have been with his command, remained behind in a bomb-proof.
I remember seeing him, as we passed the front, secure in a bomb-proof.
His troops had fallen into confusion in the way I have explained, and
he was not there to remedy the situation. It seemed impossible for the
officers to accomplish anything in the midst of the reigning confusion.

The Fourth Rhode Island, the few of us that were together at that time,
followed the colonel and the color bearer out beyond the enemy's
works towards Cemetery Hill, but we encountered such a hurricane of
shot and shell that it was impossible to face it, and we were driven
back again into the shelter of the enemy's works, where we remained.
The attempt to capture Cemetery Hill had proved a failure. Many of the
men and officers tried to get back to our own line, but the enemy by
that time had a raking fire over the space between their line and our
own, and it was almost sure death for any person to undertake to cross
it. Very few of those who did, escaped being killed or wounded. The
space between was so covered with the dead and the wounded that it was
possible for a person to go from one line to the other without stepping
on the earth. I have learned since that an order was issued for the
troops in the crater to return to our own lines, but I myself did
not hear of such an order, neither did Lieutenant-Colonel Buffum. We
remained in the crater. It was on the 30th of July, as I have said, and
one of the hottest days of the summer. The enemy had gotten range upon
the crater, and were dropping mortar shell into our midst, but we held
them at bay until our ammunition gave out. Finally they made a charge,
and succeeded in reaching the crater, and were firing directly down
upon us. General Bartlett, the highest officer in rank in the crater,
a general from Massachusetts, gave the order for us to surrender.
An officer of my regiment, a lieutenant of the Fourth Rhode Island,
Lieutenant Kibby, tied a white handkerchief on his sword, and held it
up in token of surrender. The enemy ceased firing.

I may mention that General Bartlett in a previous battle had lost a
leg, and it had been replaced by a wooden one. A shot struck him and
his leg was broken, but it proved to be the wooden leg.

During all this time we had no water to drink, and we were parched with
thirst. I had the feeling at the time that if I had a thousand dollars
I would give it cheerfully for a drink of water. The sun beating down
upon us as it did, exposed as we were, and having neither water to
drink nor food to eat, I became very much prostrated. I have always
believed that I came very near having sunstroke, from the after effects
upon me.

When we surrendered, I, in common with others, began clambering out of
the excavation, up over the boulders of clay to firm ground, and as I
reached the surface, a Confederate soldier confronted me, saying, "Give
me that sword, you damn Yankee!" I of course immediately surrendered
my sword, giving him sword and belt and pistol. I was walking with the
colonel to the rear, under the escort of Confederate soldiers, when
another soldier, without any ceremony, took my colonel's hat off his
head, and put a much worse one in its place. The colonel wore a felt
hat, and they seemed to be desirous of hats of that description. I had
on an infantry cap, and my head was not disturbed. We had gone but a
few paces when another Confederate soldier took off the hat that the
colonel now had, and put on a still worse one. It seemed very strange
to me to see my colonel treated with such disrespect, but he endured it
without protest.

I felt very weak, and I suppose was not able to walk with my usual
steadiness, for I heard one Confederate soldier say to another,
pointing to me, "I wish I had the whiskey in me that he has." If I only
could have had a little at that time, I think it would have been good
for me.

We were taken to the rear of the enemy's line to a field just outside
of Petersburg, where we were placed under a Confederate guard, and
remained there all that afternoon and all night. It was about two
o'clock in the afternoon when we surrendered. A mounted officer rode up
during the afternoon to take a view of us, who I was told was General
Lee. If it was, it was the only time I ever saw that famous officer.

As I have said, I was completely prostrated, and lay upon the ground,
with no desire and scarcely the strength to get up. A fellow-officer
brought me some water, which I drank, and bathed my head and forehead
and breast, in order to restore me, if possible, from the fainting
condition I was in. As the sun went down and the night came on, it
became cooler, and I began to revive and feel renewed vigor. The
Confederates gave us nothing to eat. An apple was given me by some one,
and that was the only food I had that day. The next day was Sunday. In
the morning the Confederates took the officers and the negroes who had
been captured in battle and arranged us in an order like this: four
officers, four negroes, four officers, four negroes, and so on, until
all the officers and negroes were formed into a line of that character.
Then they marched us all over the town of Petersburg, through the
streets, to show us up to the inhabitants. The idea they had in view,
I suppose, was to humiliate the officers. We passed one house, in the
doorway of which stood a white woman, with a colored woman on either
side of her, and as we passed I heard her say, "That is the way to
treat the Yankees; mix them up with the niggers, they are so fond of
them, mix them up." I thought to myself that she was very much in the
same position that we were. Another woman whom we passed, called out,
saying that if she had her way she would put all those Yanks in front
of a battery and mow them all down.

A man said to me as we marched along, "They are going to take you down
to Andersonville. They are dying down there three or four hundred
a day; you will never live to see home again." I thought to myself
that his welcome was not, to say the least, hospitable. The guard who
was marching along by my side said to me that he did not believe in
insulting a prisoner; that he had made up his mind never to insult a
prisoner, because he had the feeling that he might some time be in the
same position.

We were taken to an island in the river Appomattox, the officers at
last being separated from the colored men. About eight o'clock Sunday
evening eight hard crackers and a small piece of uncooked bacon were
given to each of us. I had had no food except the apple that I spoke
of, since the Friday night previous in camp; I went from Friday night
to Sunday night without anything to eat. I ate part of the crackers and
the bacon, thinking that I would make them go as far as possible, not
knowing when I might receive any more. It was dark when they gave us
the crackers and the bacon, and in the morning I discovered that the
bacon was alive with maggots and that I had been eating it. I scraped
off the maggots, and ate the rest of it.

On Monday morning they put us aboard box freight-cars. There were no
seats in the cars, and we were packed in like so many cattle, and
started on our journey to Danville, Virginia. Arriving there, we were
imprisoned in a tobacco warehouse, where we remained two or three
days. This warehouse the Confederate government had improvised as a
place in which to incarcerate prisoners of war, and a very large number
of men were confined here. We saw some most revolting sights, men
reduced to skeletons and so weak that they could scarcely crawl about.
Here we were given boiled bacon and hard crackers for our food.

The enlisted men remained here, but the commissioned officers were
taken on board freight cars again, and carried in the same way as
before to Columbia, South Carolina. It was a very tedious and trying
journey. It was insufferably hot, and very little food was supplied us.
We arrived at Columbia after dark in the evening, and marched directly
to the county jail, situated in the city of Columbia.

We were placed in rooms in the jail. The one in which I was had nothing
in the way of furniture in it. We simply lay down upon the floor just
as we had come from the freight cars. The next day we were distributed
around in the rooms on the floor above that on which we were first
placed.

The jail stood on one of the principal streets of the city, close to
the sidewalk and adjacent to what I took to be the city hall. In the
rear of the jail was a yard, surrounded by a high fence and containing
out-houses. It was a small yard. In it was a small brick building
containing a cook-stove. A pipe from a spring led into the yard, with a
faucet from which we drew water, which was of very excellent quality.

The room in which I was placed I should think was in the neighborhood
of twenty feet square. There were, as I remember, seventeen of us in
that room. There were seven similar rooms, four on one side and three
on the other side of a hall running the length of the building. The
side of the room towards the outer wall consisted of an iron grating.
Between that grating and the outer wall was an alley-way perhaps three
feet in width. There were windows in this outer wall, which were also
covered with gratings. The room contained nothing whatever in the way
of chairs or beds or anything for our comfort. It was absolutely empty
of everything, except lice and bedbugs, until we entered it. All along
on the angle made by the walls and ceiling were rows of bedbugs, and at
night they came down upon us.

Having been divided in these rooms, we organized ourselves into
messes, there being a mess in each room. Each mess detailed men from
its number to do the cooking. We appointed the highest officer of
our number in the prison, Colonel Marshall, as provost marshal. He
appointed a lieutenant as adjutant, who kept a roster and detailed two
men every day in each of the rooms to do police duty. Their duty was
to sweep the floor, and to scrub it when necessity required. No broom
was supplied us. We therefore had to purchase one. The men in the room
in which I was, clubbed together and bought a broom, of very inferior
quality, for which we paid five dollars in Confederate money. There was
a tub belonging to the room, very roughly made, in which we brought up
water from the yard below whenever we found it necessary to wash the
floor. We would dash the water over the floor, and then scrub it with
the broom.

We were allowed out in the prison yard each day, at daylight in the
morning for an hour, and again in the afternoon for an hour. During
the morning hour we all gathered around the one faucet in the yard, to
perform our morning ablutions. There were some one hundred and twenty
of us, as I remember, and of course we could not all engage in this
process at the same time.

The cooks were allowed to go into the brick house of which I have
spoken, long before daylight, where they built a fire with wood
supplied by the Confederate government, and proceeded to fill a
wash-boiler connected with the cook-stove, with water, which they
heated and stirred in the corn meal supplied us as the chief article of
our diet. This they afterwards baked in two dripping pans, these being
the only cooking utensils which the building contained. After they had
finished baking this corn-bread, they divided it into pieces about as
large as one's hand and perhaps an inch or two thick, and spread it out
on boards, which they brought up into the prison about eight or nine
o'clock in the morning. A piece of this bread and a tin cup full of
cold water constituted our breakfast.

When I entered the prison I had nothing with me but the clothes I had
on, and a tooth brush and a small pocket comb. At the time I was taken
prisoner I had some twenty or twenty-five dollars in greenbacks, and
this I exchanged for Confederate money, through one of the guard
placed over us, receiving, as I remember, some fifteen or twenty
dollars for each dollar of the currency of the United States. With
this money I bought me a pint tin cup, paying five dollars for it,
Confederate money. A naval officer who had been captured at Fort
Sumter a year previous to our imprisonment, and who was also in this
prison, gave me a small caseknife and a fork made of the handle of a
toothbrush. A fellow prisoner who was ingenious with the jackknife,
carved a tablespoon out of a piece of wood, of which he made me a
present. These articles constituted my kit.

The ration supplied us consisted of cornmeal, rice, and sorghum. The
rations were issued to last ten days. They amounted to about a pint
of meal a day, a tenth of a pint of rice, and a gill of sorghum. The
cornmeal was sometimes good, sometimes it was wormy, sometimes it
consisted of the corn and the cob ground up together. The meal was
cooked in the way I have described, and twice a day we had a piece
of the size I have mentioned. Sometimes we would save our rice and
sorghum, and have what we considered a feast. At other times we would
sell the sorghum, through the guard, to somebody outside the prison,
in exchange for cow-peas, and out of these peas a soup would be made.
Of course, it consisted of nothing but the peas boiled in water. We had
no meat and no salt. When such an exchange was made, we had the luxury
of a pint of this soup.

As I have said, I had no change of clothing, so when I indulged in
the luxury of washing day, I had to go without underclothing until my
clothes were dry. Of course, each man had to wash his own clothes.

Every now and then it came my turn to wash the floor, and clean up the
room as best I could. Retiring at night, consisted in sweeping the
floor. We went to bed, of course, upon the floor, wearing the clothes
that we had worn during the day. I was fortunate enough to procure a
log of wood out in the jail-yard, which I utilized as a pillow, folding
up my coat and placing it on top of the wood to make my pillow more
comfortable.

Of course time hung heavy on our hands. We therefore tried to while it
away by engaging in games of various kinds. We clubbed together and
bought a pack of cards, paying fifteen dollars for them, and they
were very poor cards at that. Some one of our number made a checker
and chess-board out of a square piece of plank, and whittled out
rough checkers and chessmen. We used to tell stories, and indulged
largely in telling what we would like to have to eat, and what we
would have if we ever got out of that place. I often dreamed at night
of having magnificent banquets, and that seemed to be the case with
my fellow-prisoners, for we frequently told each other in the morning
of the splendid repasts we had had in our dreams. The naval officers
of whom I have spoken, some fourteen in number, having been there
for a year, and having received their pay in gold regularly, by an
arrangement made with the Confederate government on the part of Admiral
Dahlgren, had been able to purchase a good many things. They had
supplied themselves with a number of books. They had Sir Walter Scott's
novels, they had Don Quixote and Gil Blas. The two latter I borrowed
of them, and read them in the prison with great interest. Some of the
men in the room in which I was having learned that I knew something
of Latin, asked me if I would not undertake to teach them Latin,
so I obtained from these naval officers a Latin grammar and a Latin
Prose Composition, and established a class in Latin. So in one way and
another we managed to get through each day.

A portion of each day was occupied by each one of us in a critical
examination of our underclothing, in order to make sure that we
destroyed the crop of vermin which we found there each day. They were
not the kind that are found in the heads of school children, but seemed
to infest woolen clothing, and, as we all wore woolen clothing, we were
greatly annoyed by them. This process we called "skirmishing," and it
was one of our daily duties.

There were guards around the prison in the jail-yard and on the street
below at each side of the prison. At the front of the prison there was
a large window, which we were ordered not to approach after six o'clock
at night. The guard had instructions to fire at any prisoner who might
show himself at the window. We not infrequently tantalized the guard by
going near enough to be seen by him, and dodging back just as he fired.

We were allowed out in the jail-yard, as I have said, early in the
morning. A Confederate corporal would unlock the door, and shout out,
"Yanks all out!" Of course, we were counted as we went out, and when we
returned we were all drawn up in line and counted again, to make sure
that all that went out had returned.

The captain in charge of the jail seemed to be a very excellent man.
He was an elderly man, too old for active service in the field, and
the men under him were either old men or boys, some of them hardly old
enough to carry a musket. This showed to us, as we thought, that nearly
all their available men were at the front. The guard was frequently
changed; that is to say, the men who served for a few days would
disappear and an entirely new set take their places. They wore no
uniform, and we therefore concluded that they were rustics and others
in the neighborhood, temporarily serving as guards over the prisoners.

One day while I was waiting for the officer to let us return into the
prison, we having been allowed out in the yard, I was walking back and
forth in the lower hall. While doing so three young girls came up to
the sentinel on duty at the front of the building and spoke to him.
They were evidently of the class known in the South as "poor white
trash," who had come from the country. I heard them say to the guard
that they would like to see a Yankee. He immediately pointed to me and
said, "There's one." They replied, looking critically at me, "Why, I
don't see but what he looks just like other men." What they expected to
see I am sure I cannot tell, some monstrous being or other, I presume,
for there had been most surprising stories told at the beginning of
the war, among the ignorant white and colored people, of the horrible
appearance of the Yankees. It was declared that they had horns on their
heads, and altogether presented a very devilish aspect.

We used to talk more or less of the possibility of escape. We could
easily have gotten away from the prison, because of the inferior
quality of the guard. Whenever we were allowed outside, we could have
made a rush, and thus gotten away from them. Some of us, of course,
would probably have been killed or wounded, but a majority could have
escaped from the prison itself. The difficulty was to get to our
own lines, the nearest place being the seacoast at Charleston, S.
C. This long distance had to be traversed, travelling by night and
hiding by day. The Confederates were accustomed to hunt prisoners with
bloodhounds, so the chances of ultimate escape were very small.

Two of our number, however, determined to take those chances at the
first opportunity. So one night, when a severe storm was raging, the
wind blowing, and the rain pouring down, they tied some blankets
together as a rope by which they could be let down to the street.
Here I may say that some of the prisoners happened to have blankets
with them when they were captured, though I myself was not one of the
fortunate ones. We had discovered that the sentry on duty when the
nights were stormy, was in the habit of retiring within the porch over
the front door of the prison; therefore these two men thought if they
could reach the ground while the sentry was within the porch, they
might possibly make their escape under cover of the darkness.

The plan proved successful. We let them down from the window, and
saw and heard no more of them. Whether they were recaptured or not I
did not know for years afterwards. They were not brought back to the
prison, and I have since learned that they succeeded in getting away.
In order to deceive the officer who called us out in the morning, we
placed two dummies on the floor in place of the men who had escaped
during the previous night. This ruse deceived the prison officials, so
the men had a longer opportunity of making their escape; but it was
discovered at night when the roll-call was made that there were two men
lacking, and, of course, I suppose the two escaped prisoners were at
once pursued.

The windows in the prison were sadly lacking in glass, many panes
having been broken out. Glass was almost an unknown quantity in
the Southern Confederacy at that time, as they manufactured none
themselves, and the blockade was so stringent that they could import
but little. The consequence was, when winter weather came on, that the
prisoners suffered from cold. The captain of the jail fitted up the
vacant spaces with boards, and so many panes had to be supplied in this
way that it seriously darkened the prison. He also placed a stove in
the centre of the hall which I have spoken of as running the whole
length of the prison. It was very insufficient in its capacity to heat
the prison, nevertheless it was better than nothing. Of course the fuel
supplied us was wood.

An old colored woman was allowed to come into the prison whenever she
chose, to sell what the southern people call "snacks," to such as were
fortunate enough to have money to buy them. The lunches consisted
mainly of baked sweet potatoes and flour-bread or biscuit. A New
Hampshire officer had quite a little sum of money when he was taken
prisoner, and this he had husbanded to the best of his ability, and
had some of it left when the cold became quite severe. Through the
old colored woman, by paying her liberally for it, he obtained an old
carpet that had seen its best days. It was quite ragged and torn. This,
those who slept on my side of the room placed over them, and thus
had some little protection from the cold weather. We used to sleep
spoon-fashion under this carpet, and of course we all had to turn over
at the same time to keep the carpet over us. We appointed one of our
number to give the word of command whenever he was disposed to have us
turn.

Thus we lived week in and week out, until nearly six months had gone
by. One day, when I was engaged in teaching my class in Latin, I heard
shouts from some of my fellow-prisoners, calling, "Shearman! Shearman!
You are wanted!" Making my way toward the direction of the shouts, I
found that a Confederate corporal was at the prison door, who informed
me that he had good news for me. He took me down stairs, and there I
found a Confederate major, who told me the joyful news that I was to
be exchanged next morning. I could scarcely believe what he said to be
true, for I, in common with the other prisoners, thought we should be
compelled to remain there until the end of the war, and when that might
be we did not know.

I might say here that we were allowed to write letters home, but they
were limited to one side of a half sheet of note paper. The paper
and envelopes were of the poorest quality imaginable, and cost an
exorbitant price, reckoned in Confederate money. These letters had to
be read by the captain in charge of the prison, and forwarded by him
to their destination. In my letters I almost always asked my father to
do what he could to get me exchanged, but I had no hope that he would
be successful. It seems, however, that the two governments had made
an arrangement to exchange ten thousand sick men. The exchange was
to have taken place at Savannah, and five thousand were exchanged at
that point, when General Sherman arrived at Savannah, which compelled
a transfer in the place of exchange. The remainder were exchanged at
Charleston, South Carolina. Through the influence of General Burnside,
a friend of my father's, my name was included in the list of those
to be exchanged, although I was not sick. All this I learned after
reaching home.

After my interview with the Confederate major, I was taken up stairs
again into my portion of the prison, and told my fellow-prisoners of
my good luck. There were six others to whom the same glorious news was
imparted. Of course it was the topic of conversation from that time
on during the rest of the day and evening. Many of the prisoners took
advantage of the opportunity to send letters home by us, and wrote
much longer communications than were allowed, we agreeing to secrete
them about our persons, and carry them away surreptitiously. They could
thus write many things about themselves and their condition that would
not pass muster, going through the captain's hands.

I did not sleep a wink that night. The excitement of the news which I
had received would not permit me to close my eyes. I might say here,
speaking of sitting up nearly all night, that we had no lights in the
prison, and when night came on, we had to sit in the darkness until we
were ready to lie down upon the floor. Occasionally we would indulge in
the luxury of a tallow candle of the poorest quality, for which we paid
a dollar in Confederate money. Sometimes a pine knot would be found
among the wood which the cooks used. This we would take up into the
jail and light in the evening. Of course it afforded light, but it also
filled the room with clouds of smoke which escaped through the broken
windows. Next morning our faces would be covered with soot.

To come back to the matter of my exchange, on the afternoon of the next
day I was duly liberated, with my six companions, and marched to a
freight train. I remember that it was a cold day for that region, and
that snow was falling. It was the only snow, as I recollect, that we
had during the time I was a prisoner. The train of cars soon started on
its way to Charleston, S. C. A large number of prisoners were gathered
at various points, coming from Andersonville and Florence. We reached
Charleston early the next morning, and were marched across the city to
the wharves.

Charleston was completely abandoned by its inhabitants because of the
siege on the part of our forces, and it was the most desolate looking
place I have ever seen in all my life. The damages inflicted by shot
and shell were to be seen on every hand. The grass had actually grown
in the streets of Charleston, although at the time we were passing
through, a light snow was on the ground, adding to the desolation of
the scene. General Toombs of Georgia had threatened before the war
began that the South would make grass grow in the streets of Boston,
and that he would call the roll of his slaves on Bunker Hill. Grass
actually did grow in the streets of Charleston as a result of the war.

Arriving at the wharves, we were placed on board of a steam vessel,
which proved to be a blockade runner, and were carried out to a fleet
of vessels under the walls of Fort Sumter, which our government had
provided for the transport of prisoners. I was placed on board a ship
called the _United States_, with a number of my fellow-prisoners.
Those of us who were officers were assigned by the captain of the
ship to staterooms. We found that there were nine hundred prisoners
on board from Andersonville and Florence, some of them in the last
stages of emaciation. Two or three of them died on the voyage from
Charleston to Annapolis, and their bodies were buried in the sea. The
Sanitary Commission had an agent on board, with an ample supply of
underclothing. I at once got rid of the clothing which I had worn so
long in the prison, throwing it overboard, and accepted with alacrity
the new and clean clothing given me by the agent of the Sanitary
Commission.

We lay at anchor one night in Charleston harbor, and the next
day sailed for Annapolis, Md. Arriving at that point, we found
each prisoner had been granted a thirty days' leave of absence. I
telegraphed my father of my arrival at Annapolis, and found, on
reaching home, that he could hardly bring himself to believe it.

We went from Annapolis to Washington to obtain our pay, which had been
accumulating during the period of our imprisonment. I purchased new
clothing, and then joyfully started for home. I had served nearly three
years, and my regiment had been mustered out of service during the
period of my imprisonment, its time having expired. Some of its members
had re-enlisted, and were consolidated with the Seventh Rhode Island;
but I felt that I had done my duty, and that I was entitled to withdraw
from the service, so I sent in my resignation direct to the Secretary
of War at Washington, accompanying it with a surgeon's certificate
of my health, and setting forth the facts of my service and my
imprisonment. I obtained the endorsement of the Governor of the State
to my application, and it came back in a few days accepted, and I was
out of the service. I have often felt that I would have been tempted to
return had I known that the war would end as soon as it subsequently
did, so as to have had the satisfaction of being in at the close, if
possible.

I have never regretted my being in the army during that most trying
and critical period of our country. I feel as did the Westerner who
said that he would not part with his experiences for a hundred thousand
dollars, and he would not go through with it again for a hundred
million.



TRANSCRIBER'S NOTES

Minor punctuation and printer errors repaired.

Italic text is denoted by _underscores_





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