Charles Miller
6th U.S. Cavalry
July 20, 1863
Richmond, Virginia

In his previous entry, Charles had been marched south, up the Shenandoah Valley to Staunton, Virginia, along with other Gettysburg POWs. There the prisoners made do, waiting in an open field, guarded by Confederates who weren't afraid to shoot. Prisoners went, a trainload at a time, to Richmond, Virginia. The precise date of Charles' train ride is unknown; let's call it the 20th of July.

On to Richmond

This trip was not a very enjoyable one. It was made mostly at night in boxcars with no seats. It was yet dark when we arrived at the capital of the Confederacy. We were ordered into line and marched in two ranks along the streets until we filed into an old tobacco warehouse standing on the bank of the canal, opposite what was called Castle Thunder. We remained there but a short time.

During the forenoon our names, Company and Regiment, were taken and then we marched to Belle Isle. The march to the island seemed short and our minds and attention were occupied with the many objects of interest along the route. One of these was the famous Tredegar foundaries [sic], one of the most extensive in the Confederacy, in full blast turning out cannon, moulding shot and shell, and seemingly crowding the business to its utmost capacity.

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The only bridge to the Island was a railroad bridge, built for the accommodation of Belle's foundry, from which the Island derives its name. I never knew its extent. The greater part, extending up the river is abrupt and hilly. The prisoners' camp was on a level plot at the end of the island. A space of three acres was enclosed with a ditch and embankment. The ditch was the deadline, and outside the embankment, the guardes [sic].

Within this enclosure were as many as six thousand men, exposed in summer to the burning sun, without the shadow of a single tree, and in the winter to the cold damp winds from the river, with a few miserable tents, in which a portion of them were partially protected from the night fog of a malarious region, the others laid in the open air. The prisoners had no access to the river, and all the water they had was obtained by digging holes deep enough so it would leach in from the river. The quantity was altogether insufficient for their needs and was kept soiled and stirred up by their constant dipping.

On the opposite banks of the river, and on the elevation in the rear of the camp, were batteries, trained to sweep the camp, should there be an uprising or attempt on the part of the prisoners to break out, but few ever made this hazardous attempt. There was an open ditch running from the camp to the river. Over this ditch, close to the embankment were planks for the guards to pass over. Some of the men conceived the idea of tunneling through the embankment into the ditch, and in the darkness of night evade the sentry, swim the river and then made their way as best they could for the union lines. They did not, however, succeed in this undertaking. Some swam the river, only to be taken and returned to camp, others were discovered and shot in making the attempt.

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Sloper visited Belle Isle in July, 2017


By Charles Frederick Miller. As published in Historical Wyoming, January 1966. Image of Tom Sloper at Belle Isle: Sloper's collection.