Legacies: August 2011

Monday, August 15, 2011

If there ever was a hell on Earth, Elmira Prison was that hell

Confederate Monument Elmira NY

"I speak in all reverence when I say that I do not believe such a spectacle was seen before on earth...On they came, a ghastly tide, with skeleton bones and lustreless eyes, and brains, bereft of but one thought, and hearts purged of but one feeling -- the thought of freedom, the love of home." Comment by a resident of Elmira, N.Y. seeing the prisoners arrival.

If there ever was a hell on Earth, Elmira Prison was that hell, but it was not a hot one, for the thermometer was often 40 degrees below zero. There were about six thousand Confederate prisoners, mostly from Georgia and the Carolinas. We were housed in long prison buildings, say one hundred and twenty feet long and forty feet wide, three tiers of bunks against each wall. A big coal stove every thirty feet was always kept red hot; but for these stoves, the most of us would have frozen. Around each stove was a chalk mark, five feet from the stove, marking the distance we should keep, so that all could be warm. We were thinly clad and not half of us had even one blanket. Our rations were ten ounces of bread and two ounces of meat per day. My weight fell from 180 to 160 in a month. We invented all kinds of traps and deadfalls to catch rats. Every day Northern ladies came in the prison, some followed by dogs or cats, which the boys would slip aside and choke to death. The ribs of a stewed dog were delicious, and a broiled rat was superb.....From the Confederate Veteran