Nathan Bradley
1st New York Dragoons
October 24, 1863
Richmond, Virginia

A week after his capture, Nathan arrived in Richmond. He had an ugly pus-ridden lump on the side of his head, and he couldn't hear on that side. He'd been made to ride a mule part of the way to Richmond; the mule's front-to-back ride had been very rough on Nathan's groin. It had been a long, bumpy, and painful ride. But the most serious thing was that he'd come down with dysentery. The receiving officer in Richmond could see how sick Nathan was, so instead of prison, sent him straight to Hospital 21, at the corner of 25th and Cary. Nathan's head wound was cleaned, and a clot of blood removed from his ear canal, after which his hearing returned. For the dysentery, he was given fresh food. And daily turpentine. In spite of this treatment, Nathan's condition improved after three days.

Released from the hospital with some other prisoners, he was taken to the Crew & Pemberton building, an old tobacco factory now used as a prison for captured Union troops. It was a four-story brick building at the corner of 21st and Cary (four blocks down). Nathan stood in line with the other prisoners. A bespectacled Confederate corporal sat at a desk with a ledger and an ink pen, noting down the particulars of each prisoner entering the prison.

"Last name, first name."

"Bradley, Nathan."

"With an E-Y?"

"Yeah."

"Regiment."

"First New York Dragoons." Just as Nathan was saying "Dragoons," there was a rifle shot. A guard outside was heard to shout up at the prisoners, "Stay away from the windows, y'hear?"

The clerk glanced out the door, then looked at Nathan (for the first time) and saw the yellow piping of cavalry. After "1st N.Y." he wrote "Cav." and said, "Next."

Inside the building, Nathan was herded up the narrow and steep stairway to the second floor. Atop the stairs there was a thick wood door, chained and bolted. The door had two openings through which the guards could fire into the prison population if need be.

A guard unchained and unbolted the door to let the new prisoners in.

As soon as Nathan was inside, he and the other new boys were greeted with a barrage of questions.

"Hey, fresh fish! Where were you captured?"

"Got any news of the war?"

"Got anything to trade?"

"Got any greenbacks?"

"Heard anything about exchange?"

"Come on, boys, give'em a chance to come in."

"What state you from?"

When Nathan could get a word in edgewise, he told his story. "New York. I was captured at Manassas, by Mosby's men. Been in hospital a few days. Haven't heard any news. What have you heard?"

"Heard Grant was going to Chattanooga."

"Heard the fighting around Bristoe and Manassas has stopped."

"I read something in the reb newspaper about a boat sinking in Charleston harbor."

"Nothing about exchange?"

Introductions having been made and the crowd dispersing, Nathan went looking for a place to park himself. The second floor was crowded and there were a number of tobacco presses occupying the center of the space. He went upstairs.

The third floor had no furniture. Men just sat, laid, and milled around. A lot of men. He went up to the fourth floor.

It was a little less crowded there. Some sailors were there, playing cards. Nathan introduced himself and got the scuttlebutt. Along with an explanation of the word.

"Scuttlebutt? What's that?"

"The latest rumors. I was offering to tell you about the lay of the land here. As landlubbers say."

"I'm all ears. As elephants say."

"How about that? The rebs haven't beat the humor out of this one yet!"

So the Navy men told him the facts. There were about 500 men in the prison. They got food in messes of 10 men each, and the food was bad. Real bad. There used to be cooking gas, but the rebs turned it off some time back. There was plenty of water, though: two faucets on each floor, by the sinks (latrines). Stay away from the windows or you'll be shot. Lights out is at nine p.m. If you need a pillow, take a brick out of one of the bricked-up arches on the third floor. For sleeping, find a spot where the wall isn't marked with a number, and mark it with your own number in chalk. And make sure to sleep on the soft side of the plank. That's a joke; the planks don't have a soft side. Roll call every morning at 8 a.m.

The sailors, and some marines who were also there, had mainly been captured in a failed assault on Fort Sumter, in September. It was disheartening to Nathan to contemplate the prospects. These men had been here almost two months. And no word of exchange.

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© 2019 Tom Sloper. All rights reserved. May not be re-published without written permission of the author.