6th U.S. Cavalry
December 25, 1863
Here's cousin Charles'own story of how he spent Christmas, 1863, as a prisoner of war on Belle Isle in the capital city of the Confederacy.
Christmas was drawing near and the turkey was discussed, but alas we were not in a land of turkeys. My comrade and I talked a great deal about a feast on that day, and concluded that if the necessary articles could be procured, we would indulge. Therefore we filled out our requisition and handed it in to the Sutler, who, in due time furnished us with the following articles, which I give verbatim, quoting from my diary:
This of course was in Confederate money. It is needless to say that we tried to enjoy ourselves, and did ample justice to our Christmas repast.
Three days after this, the first, second and third squads were called out of camp, and required to sign papers. Not knowing whether it was the oath of allegiance, our death warrant, or the parole, we signed, but suspected and had strong hopes it was the latter, which it proved to be.
The Quartermaster, a very stern but sympathetic man (just then) expressed his regrets for not being able to provide more liberal rations for the men, and determined it should not be said that we went away hungry. He rooted out a barrel or two of meat and crackers, and said, "I'll satisfy you once, boys." Whether this human generosity came from true sympathy, or secret hate, hoping they would eat enough to kill them all, I am unable to state. Having fared unusually well for the past three days, and having a little undigested chicken left, I could not appreciate his kindness.
We were marched back on the road traveled nearly six months before, but not the same robust, vigorous band, neither were they all there. Those lettered slabs, the shadows which reflect from the bosom of that historic river, explain the sequel. We were placed on small boats holding 100 men each, and at dark taken in tow by a steam tug and started down the river, leaving the sands of Belle Isle and the domes and spires of Richmond, the Babylon of our captivity, behind.
As soon as the morning light appeared, every eye was strained to catch a glimpse of the noble craft which was to bear us to a haven of rest and plenty. Ere the sun had reached the meridian we were in sight of the Transport "City of New York" resting in port, the Stars and Stripes waving over her both fore and aft. Tears of joy started from our eyes, and the shores of the James River echoed and re-echoed with the hurrahs of the men.
Aboard the Union craft were 300 Confederates (prisoners of war) strong, robust men, well fitted for field service, to exchange for a like number of Union men, many of whom, (anxious as they were) were unable to walk up the gang-plank without assistance. The Confederates seemed as animated as we were, thinking of home and longing for the domestic Applejack, "Terbacker" and corn bread.
We were made comfortably warm in the cabin, given a half loaf of fresh white bread, and a pint of coffee which was indeed refreshing. The Confederates had turned their backs on us, and soon the clang of the Pilot's bell was heard. The ponderous wheels began to turn and splash, and with the ebbing tide we headed towards civilization.
In due course we arrived at Annapolis, Maryland, where I was immediately taken to a hospital. Medical aid and kind care so far restored me that I have thus far withstood the tempest of life. Soon after our release, all prisoners remaining on Belle Isle were transferred to more Southern prisons, where the sufferings and privations increased many fold.
My friend and comrade, Shortall, accompanied me on the return trip, and many and frequent were the reminders of his gratitude to me, believing the dollar paid for his berth in Squad 3 was the means of his present salvation and life.
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Written by Charles Frederick Miller, sometime before 1892, when he died at age 51.