Anna Moffett's Civil War - 1 5
Charles & George are both prisoners of war, & being held in that awful place, Fort Wilmington. Elizabeth & I had a letter from George & she also had one from her brother Charles.
Here is George's letter.
Dear Mother & Elizabeth,
I don't want you to be worried about us, but you will want to know that I am safe & although I am now a prisoner of war, I am reasonably well. I am allowed to write & receive letters from you & I hope that you will be able to write to me. I need to ask you to send money, as it is important that I have money to buy some little extras that I will need. But it is better if you can send cash - in Yankee
greenbacks - as checks are dealt with in a different way here & are not as useful.
I will tell you a bit about the prison. It was made by creating an enclosure shaped like a parallelogram, with one long line of one story pine barracks which runs along the northeast & half of the south side of the fort. The other half of the south side is taken up by the cookhouse. We have mostly bread & meat at our meals, but can buy other food occasionally.
The rows of barracks are situated under one roof but separated into rooms called divisions. These rooms are number 1-40 & also named after the State that the prisoners are fighting under - so mine is one of the South Carolina Divisions. The barracks are made up of long planks standing on end in line which run around three sides of a square. The floors are rough as a stable, the roof leaks, the weather boarding is so open that I can put my hand between most of the planks.
Do not send me any blankets, as we can each have only one. But some warm clothing would
Do not worry over much about us, as God has kept us safe thus far & no doubt will
continue to do so.
Love from your son & husband,
We got together a parcel & sent some money & stamps immediately. George was trying hard to sound cheerful. He didn't mention Charles in his letter, assuming, no doubt, that he would write his own letters. Elizabeth worries that things are far worse than he is reporting & as she says & it does make sense, that the guards will read the outgoing letters & if there are negative things mentioned, so much worse for the prisoner who said them.
Dear Elizabeth & Mother,
Thank you for your letters & the money & stamps. I will put it to good use & hope you will be able to spare some more in subsequent letters.
We have lots of time on our hands & writing letters is encouraged. We are able to get stamps & paper, so that is not a problem.
I will tell you a bit more about the prison now. Each division holds 100 men. Officers are separated from the other men. There is a center aisle, which is 5 ft wide. The aisle contains a table & a stove in the middle. The stove has enough coal to keep it red hot & on cold days, we are packed like sardines around it. The other men walk the floor & wait their turn. The rest of the space is taken up with three tiers of shelves. The first tier is four feet off the ground & the others are four feet apart up to the roof. Each shelf on the tier is six ft wide. At night, 50 men on each north & south wall sleep on the shelves, side by side, heads against the wall, their feet towards the center. The men can only get up to the upper tiers by climbing up the support beams. Cross pieces are fastened to these supports to form a ladder but they are fairly worn. The larger prisoners have to be careful on these flimsy ladders in case they break, which would send them 10-15 ft to the floor, the table or onto the stove in the aisle.
One disadvantage of being on the lower level, is that debris from the men's boots as they climb higher falls onto us, as well as spills of water, coffee or ink. This is a real problem when someone is sick. I must reassure you that I am keeping well & we do our best to keep ourselves amused with playing games & sometimes we have very intellectual debates. I will tell you more about them another time. It is good that Charles is here with me.
I hope you & the others are managing to keep cheerful. We hear rumours that the war is
likely to be ending fairly soon now.
Much love from your husband & son, George.
Dear Mother & Elizabeth,
Thank you again, for your letters & the money. I hope it is not too difficult for you to get hold of the money for us. I know you are finding things difficult as well. I am pleased to hear news of the children & that you are all well. What do you hear of Alex & James?
You asked how we get news of what is going on. We see newspapers occasionally. &
whenever there are new prisoners brought in, we all rush around to hear their news.
As far as how our letters get in & out of the prison, there is a very regulated method. There is a small box near the entrance which is for us to deposit our letters for mailing. Each division assigns one man to be their postmaster. Every evening, when a signal is given, the postmasters go to a hole in the wall on the west side to collect the incoming mail. If the letters have money in them, the envelope is delivered to the addressee & the money is exchanged for checks that can only be given to the sutler, who has various things for sale. If a check is sent, even if it was marked as good by a bank, it is held & sutler checks are given minus a ten per cent fee for collection.
There is also an opening nearby called the surgeon's window. It is here that the doctor comes once every three or four days to check on the prisoners. But the line is so long that the patients often have to wait for hours. We try to fix up anyone hurt in our division by ourselves if we can. But we have to have all lights out by 9 p.m. so if anyone gets injured at night, it can be a problem trying to put bandages on, etc.
I met up with one of my friends from Charleston the other day, Captain John Swann. He has
been in here since September last year. He is in one of the Virginia divisions as he lives there now, but we enjoyed swapping stories.
You asked for more information about the food we have here. In the morning, we hear the breakfast signal. We form into a line & march to the mess hall, in which are several long rows of plank
tables with pieces of bread & meat arranged along the sides at intervals of some two feet. When we are in place each prisoner takes one ration. The bread is made of rye & wheat flour, well cooked,
but the piece is very small. The meat a small chunk of beef. Some days the bread is substituted with crackers, which are not nearly as satisfying. We are permitted to take these rations to our bunks. When dinner comes the same thing is repeated, except there is occasionally a tin cup of what is called corn soup & is very tasteless & insipid, with little or no grease.
All that I have room for on this occasion.
Love from George.
Dear Mother & Elizabeth,
Thank you again for your kind letters & money. I did get your package with some warm
socks & a scarf in it, which was very useful.
I will tell you a story now that you may find shocking, but it is one way that we can increase our food intake. In the banks of the ditches & under the plank walkway are rat holes & numbers of rats. The sergeant comes around often with a squad of men with force pumps & hose & rat sticks etc. The hose is put in the rat holes, the force pump applied & the rats run out & are killed. Numbers are sometimes caught in this way. Not long after my arrival I heard a cry "Rat call! Rat call!" I went out to
see what this meant. A number of prisoners were moving & some running up near the partition, over which a sergeant was standing & presently he began throwing rats down. The prisoners scrambled for the rats like school boys for apples. Some of the most needy prisoners & the needy are the large majority, scramble for these rats. Of course few are lucky enough to get a rat. The rats are cleaned, put in salt water awhile & fried. I was curious & asked for a bite. Their flesh is tender & not unpleasant to the taste. I certainly never thought I would be a person to admit to eating rat.
You asked about the Sutler - his name is Emory. His main task is to sell us stationary.
The prison gets inspected now & again & it is important that they be pleased with what they find - & that the prison is sticking to regulations. The inspector doesn't speak to prisoners. But when he comes, each division has been cleaned up, whitewashed & all things put in order. A good many of the well fed & well clothed prisoners are around in the prison grounds enjoying themselves. He doesn't spend much time looking at the divisions.
We have among us commission merchants, who buy & sell whatever is available & needed & there are tailors, busy making & mending clothes, shoe makers, making & mending shoes, cloth & leather is sold to us in prison. There are Preachers for those religiously inclined. There are prayer meetings & we are freely furnished with bibles, religious tracts, books etc. from the religious societies in the North.
We have schools & debating societies where all sorts of questions are discussed sometimes with great force & essays & poetic compositions are read, some of high order. There as every where the orator is the champion.
Love to you both from George
Dear Mother & Elizabeth,
Thank you again for your letters & kindness in regards presents.
Let me tell you something positive. Here is a bit about what some of the prisoners have been doing. The extremes of the situation of hunger & deprivation have had the effect of exerting of their every
ingenuity. They are working mostly with pocket knives, some badly worn; some with one blade left. They handle their knives deftly & patiently. One has a muscle shell; it has beautiful tints, blue &
gold, shaded into each other & by him, other trinkets, partly finished. He is making a miniature bird, a snake, or something, as natural as life. It is so small, that he can set several in a ring or
breast pin, etc.
Another has a lovely finger ring set with these little miniatures, with great skill; he is looking at it, proud of the work of his hand. He has been working on it several days. It is completed. He will sell it tomorrow, perhaps for a dollar to the sutler, or a fellow prisoner, or some one in blue uniform & at once he buys something to eat, or sugar or coffee & for the time he is a happy man. Another is making a bracelet set with little gems, or perhaps shaped like a serpent, the eyes made of little bits of shell, the head also of the same, or horn etc. You may clasp it on your hand & the head will meet the tail & the serpent will be biting his tail. These shells & horn, & jet etc. are worked into all sorts of shapes & make many little delicate beautiful trinkets. It is wonderful how such lovely things can be
made with a pocket knife.
Here is a ring with two miniature doves set in it with their bills together. A young soldier comes along, he is well dressed, from Tennessee, he takes the ring, a strange light comes into his eyes, he is fascinated: "What is your price?" "One dollar." He pays it, takes the ring. "How long
did it take you to make this?" "About three days." The man rises, walks quickly; presently he is seen returning to his division, with a large loaf of bread & a little bundle. There is another, by him, a tiny little toy, a finished wrist button. He is making another to match it. Another is making a bird a humming bird with tinted wings & neck. It is perfect. He has been patiently working on it more than ten days. It is so small you can put it in a very small purse if you have one. He asks three dollars for it. Another has a breast pin. It is set with a silver quarter, beaten & polished as smooth as glass, & set in jet. & so I might go on enumerating etc. etc.
Love from George