Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Rebels at Elmira - October 1864

The following Letter to the Editor was published in the New York Times on October 9, 1864.

The Rebels at Elmira.; A LETTER FROM ONE OF THE GUARD, GUARDING PRISONERS OF WAR AT ELMIRA, N.Y. CAMP CHEMUNG, NEAR ELMIRA., N.Y.

Monday Evening, Oct. 3, 1864.

To the Editor of the New-York Times:

The officers and enlisted men of the "Provisional Brigade," stationed at Elmira guarding prisoners of war, have been disgusted at the maliciousness of an article from the columns of your Copperhead cotemporary, the New-York Express, and republished in the Gazette, a vile little sheet issued in this city. The article in question is full of untruths, no doubt purposely so written merely to make a point against "the Administration," which is such a pest in the nostrils of that paper, that it is willing to compromise the honor of us sodiers, who have left our homes at the call of the authorities of the State and Nation, with the sincere hope of doing some good for that country we love. The Express says:

"One of the most wide awake places out of New-York is the City of Elmira, where there are nine thousand rebel prisoners confined within one enclosure, and an encampment of six thousand Union troops."

The compliment paid to the city is well-merited and just, but the inference that the Copperhead would have drawn from the latter part of the statement is that the Government pays six men to take care of nine. Here are the facts: There are seven regiments of militia, composed of the Fifty-fourth, of Rochester, N.Y.; the Fifty-sixth, of Brooklyn, N.Y.; the Fifty-eighth, of Mount Morris, N.Y.; the Seventy-seventh, of New-York City, the Ninety-eighth, of Ulster County, N.Y.; the Ninety-ninth, of New-York City, and the One Hundred and Second, of New-York City. These are to guard the prisoners, and for other purposes -- such as escorting recruits to the front, etc. The combined force of these regiments, officers and men, is 2,403; the effective force to-day. officers and men, is 1,844 -- the remainder being away in squads, detached for the purpose of taking recruits to the front. The other day the effective force was 1,300. The number of rebels is about 10,000.

"The rebel prisoners are guarded by one hundred days men, selected from the New-York militia. Their camps are in front of the rebel quarters, which are pleasantly located on the plain, just upon the river. We regret to hear that many of these men die daily. No less than twenty-seven (an unusual number) were reported on Saturday, and eighteen on Wednesday."

All our camps are not located in front of the rebel quarters, but on the two sides of the fence inclosing the rebel prison, and the remainder across the road from the front of the same. The paragraph being a mixture of the "King's English," it is difficult to understand whether the untruthful writer of the above means that many of our men "die daily," or the prisoners. The average deaths among the rebels is twelve a day. I have my information direct from the Surgeon in charge.

"They have shelter tents, with a few wooden barracks and hospitals, but so miserably clad are most of these men, that they will freeze to death, if not better sheltered and protected before the Winter sets in."

They have exactly the same kind of tents that we United States soldiers are using. They are what are termed "A" tents, and will accommodate four men nicely. In the same kind of tent five of our men are sometimes placed, and in most instances four, which is the number allotted to each tent in the rebel prison. The barracks are as good buildings as the most of temporary buildings used for the accommodation of soldiers. The rebels have been sufficiently clad so far; they have woolen and rubber blankets to sleep in, and there is no fear [???] men" freezing to death, because our Government takes far too good care of them, when we take all things into consideration, and is now making provision against the coming cold weather. What more does your Copperhead cotemporary desire? Shall we furnish them with brown-stone houses, ice cream and feather beds? The rebels are far better provided for against the elements than are those who wear "the blue." During the days of stormy weather -- which, thank God, have now passed -- our large guard, composed of 335 privates, 22 corporals, 10 sergeants and 11 commissioned officers, were without shelter of any kind, excepting at the "main gate," or entrance to the prison. The long period of twenty-four hours -- which is often made twenty-six by the delay in mounting guard -- had to be spent amid those miserably cold storms with which we have been visited for some time, while the Johnnies were smugly stowed away under cover, and needed not to wet their shoulders. It is probably well known to you that guards serve "two hours on and four off" during their period of twenty-four hours, and that in those "four hours off" they are supposed to rest, but I assure you, but little rest could be had while the heavens are discharging floods of rain.

"Although but two have escaped, the chances are that hundreds will escape, if not better guarded or provided for. It is no excuse, that our prisoners are worse off at Andersonville, Ga., where 8,004, we are assured on rebel authority, died in the months of July and August."

Only two out of ten thousand, and yet they are not well guarded! The two in question escaped by artifice, and not through the weakness or inattention, of the guard. Unless better "guarded or provided for," indeed! This is a direct insult to the guards stationed here, who in every instance do their duty through sunshine and storm, through the night and during the day. The writer of the article in question would think himself well guarded if he was where he ought to be -- inside the rebel fence -- and where, there is not much doubt in my mind, I shall some day see him, and have the pleasure of being his sentinel.

"The negro prisoners at the South are put to labor, and even in their occupation find a solace and satisfaction denied to white men."

This, like all the other paragraphs, is as false as the Evil One in regard to our treatment of prisoners. The rebels here, now working upon some buildings being erected for their own comfort, to be used as Winter quarters and hospitals, receive from the Government ten cents per day and extra rations. Those doing laboring work, such as shoveling, etc., receive five cents and extra rations. Their day's work ends at 3 o'clock in the afternoon. Besides this, they make many little things, such as rings, watch-chains, toothpicks and fans, which they sell to the officers and men comprising this brigade. Thus, Mr. Editor, you perceive that we treat our prisoners as men and not as brutes, and that "even in their occupation they find a solace and satisfaction denied" to our brave men in rebel lands, while our-soldiers wearing a darker skin they enslave like beasts.

I will conclude by affirming that we take good care of their sick, in buildings which are secured against sun and shower, wind and cold, and feed them upon butter and toast, tea, soups, fresh meats, fresh milk, and other delicacies necessary to the patient. Respectfully yours.

A PRIVATE OF THE GUARD.

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