Civil War Saturday: Maggots, shinplasters, and spooning at Libby prison

Gail Dever - Genealogy à la carte

Gail Dever -Genealogy à la carte

Last week’s Civil War soldier’s story came from Gail Dever. Gail is a Montreal-based genealogy news blogger on Genealogy à la carte where she writes daily about family history resources and issues facing the genealogy community. She also manages the website for the British Isles Family History Society of Greater Ottawa. This week is the conclusion to her great-great-grandfather’s story.

More than 40 years after the American Civil War ended, my great-great-grandfather James “Jimmy” Young wrote a memoir about his experience with the 6th Connecticut Volunteers, Company K, and the months he endured in Andersonville prison. He was originally from Aberdeen, Scotland. In 1855, when he was 14 years old, Jimmy immigrated to Montreal, Quebec with his parents Robert Young and Mary Fyvie and nine siblings. On August 21, 1863, at the age of 24, he enlisted in New Haven, Connecticut.

When none of the guards was looking his way, Private Jimmy Young of the 6th Connecticut Volunteers put his hand inside his haversack and wrapped his fingers around the handle of his knife. The guard had just ordered the other prisoners and him to hand over their money to the prison clerk. He pulled out the knife. This was probably his last chance.

Libby prison

Less than 24 hours earlier, Jimmy had been a free man, manning a post that was little more than a mound of earth in an open field at Drewry’s Bluff, south of Richmond, Virginia. Soon after daybreak that morning, he and four other Union soldiers had been captured by the Confederates and transported down the James River to Richmond.

When their boat docked a short while later, the prisoners were greeted by a “motley crowd of men, women and children, white and black.” Some of the women spit in the men’s faces as they marched toward Libby prison.

Libby Prison

Libby Prison, north side, Richmond, Virginia, April 1865. Library of Congress.

Before the war, the three-story prison had been a food warehouse, leased by Captain Luther Libby and his son. Its location on the waterfront made it suitable for holding prisoners. Years later, Jimmy wrote that the building looked desolate.

Upon arrival, Jimmy and his fellow captives were led into one of several large rooms in the prison. The room was filled with prisoners. The only furniture he could see was a row of tin wash basins and a wood trough for washing. Jimmy would soon learn water was scarce.

They were told to deposit their money with the clerk and to prepare to be searched by the examiner who would confiscate their valuables.

Jimmy ignored the order to give up his money. From his haversack, he pulled out his knife and cut through several threads on the waistband of his pants. After making a tiny opening, he tucked $30 inside the waistband and stitched it closed. He still had a bit more paper money, 75 cents in shinplasters, and hid it in his clothing or perhaps somewhere on his body. That was all the money he owned.

Then the order came for the prisoners to go downstairs where the examiner would search them for valuables. Jimmy fell into line and headed toward the stairs.

Shinplasters

When it was Jimmy’s turn, the examiner made him remove his boots to check inside for any valuables. He found none. He searched the lining of Jimmy’s cap and examined what he thought was every part of his clothing. He even removed the top of each brass button on Jimmy’s shirt, looking for hidden money. He still found none.

Private Albert H. Davis of Company K, 6th New Hampshire Infantry Regiment, carries a haversack. Library of Congress.

Private Albert H. Davis of Company K, 6th New Hampshire Infantry Regiment, carries a haversack. Library of Congress.

By the time the search was over, the examiner had confiscated Jimmy’s knife, quart cup, haversack, photographs of friends, rubber blanket, and other small items. But, he had found no money. The examiner remained suspicious and questioned Jimmy. To convince the examiner he only had a small amount of money on him, Jimmy pulled out the shinplasters from some deeply hidden place and handed them over. That was good enough for the examiner. He looked no further.

When the examiner started searching the next prisoner, Jimmy pulled on his boots and thought about how to retrieve his possessions. Without drawing attention to himself, he walked toward the end of the room. As he passed a window, he saw his photographs, knife, and cup and quickly gathered them up. Thinking no one was watching, he walked over to the pile of confiscated goods, pulled out his haversack, and moved on. When some of the prisoners saw him helping himself, they tried to do the same, but the examiner caught them and ordered them to return everything. Jimmy was lucky. Somehow, he managed to keep most of his money and possessions.

Lively with maggots

Jimmy soon learned that the daily food ration was usually six ounces of corn bread with a small piece of ham that was “lively with maggots.” Despite the dire situation, he was amused at the ingenuity of the men. Since few of the men had plates or utensils, they would take whatever food they could hold in the hollow of their hands or eat it from their boots.

Beans were considered a special meal at Libby and served late in the day. After one of these meals, Jimmy looked inside the kettles that had been used to boil the beans. It appeared that rice had been boiled in them. Upon closer inspection, however, he discovered that the bottoms were covered with almost two inches of maggots. Jimmy could see that the number of maggots varied from kettle to kettle. He figured the amount depended on how deeply they had scooped out the beans.

Spooning at night

Nighttime provided little relief. The room where Jimmy was held was so overcrowded that the men had to sleep on the rough plank floor “dove-tailed in like spoons.” Lice and “other vermin” kept them awake.

After enduring a few days at Libby, Jimmy and other prisoners were transported by rail to the prison in Danville, about 140 miles away. Their departure provided temporary relief to the overcrowding at Libby until the next shipment of prisoners arrived.

Jimmy would remain in Danville for some time until arrangements could be made to transport prisoners to the new Andersonville prison in Georgia.

Thank you Gail for sharing your Civil War ancestor’s story here on Civil War Saturday. May Jimmy always be remembered.

You can learn more about Gail Dever at:

Blog – http://genealogyalacarte.ca

Twitter – @geneaalacarte

Genealogy à la carte Facebook group – https://www.facebook.com/groups/GenealogyALaCarte

Genealogy à la carte on Pinterest – https://www.pinterest.com/geneaalacarte/

 

Sources

Young, James. Reminiscences of the Prison Life of James Young. ca. 1920.

Image of Libby prison, North side, Richard, Virginia, April 1865. Prints & Photographs Online Collection, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C. Online <http://www.loc.gov/pictures/item/cwp2003005118/PP/&gt;.

Image of Private Albert H. Davis of Company K, 6th New Hampshire Infantry Regiment in uniform, 1861. Prints & Photographs Online Collections, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C. Online <http://www.loc.gov/pictures/item/2010648376/>.

 

Research notes

Since I do not own a photo of James Young in civil war uniform, I posted a photo of Private Albert H. Davis. It is possible my great-great-grandfather’s gear looked like Private Davis’ gear.

To see what a haversack looks like, scroll down this auctioneer’s website to see a couple of haversacks or Google the word.

Copyright © 2014, Gail Dever.

 

 

Civil War Saturday – How my Scottish-Canadian great-great-grandfather was captured during the US Civil War

This week’s Civil War soldier’s story comes from Gail Dever. Gail is a Montreal-based genealogy news blogger on Genealogy à la carte where she writes daily about family history resources and issues facing the genealogy community. She also manages the website for the British Isles Family History Society of Greater Ottawa. Gail has yet to find a photo of her great-great-grandfather James Young in his Civil War uniform, but she continues to look.

James Young

James Young, 1st Regiment, Prince of Wales Rifles of Montreal, Volunteer Militia, ca. 1862.

More than 40 years after the American Civil War ended, my great-great-grandfather James “Jimmy” Young wrote a memoir about his experience with the 6th Connecticut Volunteers, Company K, and the months he endured in Andersonville prison. Originally from Aberdeen, Scotland, Jimmy was 14 years old when he immigrated to Montreal with his parents Robert Young and Mary Fyvie and nine brothers and sisters in 1855.

By the time Jimmy decided to join the Union army in Connecticut, it was August 1863. A few weeks earlier, the Confederates had been defeated at the Battle Gettysburg and the tide of war had turned against the them. Jimmy was 24 years old, an unmarried brass finisher, and had been living in cramped housing in Montreal with his parents and most of his brothers and sisters. Like many young men in the city, he had served with the Volunteer Militia.

Jimmy replaced a conscripted man from New York, who likely paid him between $400 and $1,000. According to his obituary, Jimmy enlisted because he had been “fired with enthusiasm for the Northern cause and ready for the great adventure of life.” In reality, it was probably a combination of adventure, beliefs, and money that helped him decide to sign up.

Within a few months, Jimmy was doing duty at Port Royal in Hilton Head, South Carolina. In April 1864, his regiment was ordered to join the Army of the James under the command of Major General Benjamin Butler, who had received orders from Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant to attack west and cut Richmond, Virginia’s supply lines from the south.

March toward Richmond

By early May, tension had risen on both sides of the Civil War. Grant had been moving his army of 120,000 that included the 6th Connecticut Volunteers to face Confederate Robert E. Lee’s army that numbered 64,000. Soon after the Sixth and others landed at the town of Bermuda Hundred on the James River, they started their march toward Richmond. As part of Grant’s plan, they cut telegraph wires and ripped up the track of the Petersburg and Richmond Railroad, burning the ties and poles.

Less than a week later, on May 14, the Sixth was ordered to advance to Proctor’s Creek, near Drewry’s Bluff, south of Richmond. When they were unable to move any further, they stayed near the edge of a piece of woods where they could hear the enemy a short distance away. At this point, the war took an unfortunate turn for Jimmy.

Instant death”

During the evening of May 15, while Jimmy was manning a post, Captain Osborne of Company K crept along the ground to order him to change posts. The new post was in full view of the Confederate army. Jimmy told his captain it would be “instant death” for anyone who attempted to reach it. “Well, Cap, I don’t want to disobey orders, but if you will allow me to choose my own men, I will fill the position.” Osborne agreed, and Jimmy took two “tried veterans,” with him, William Gladstone and James Hine.

The three men made a bold dash for their new post. When they reached the post, Jimmy considered they were lucky to still be alive and uninjured. “The Johnnies were so intent firing into the woods where our boys were settling themselves for the night, that they overlooked us.”

The men discovered their post was not much more than a hole in the ground on a slight brow of a hill, built up by a little mound of earth with two rails placed in front. Through the night, they kept watch, staying low to the ground, hidden only by the darkness. Thinking back on the night, Jimmy wrote, “If they had had the slightest idea that we were in such close proximity to them, they would have lowered the muzzle of that gun and scooped us clean out of the ground.” At regular intervals, they heard the enemy fire shot after shot in their direction with many of the shots going close to their heads.

After several hours, three men from the 7th Connecticut Volunteers tried to crawl across the field to relieve them, but a volley of shots forced them to scamper back. Jimmy, Gladstone, and Hine were left on their own.

The attack

Just before sunrise, a thick fog covered the battleground. The rebels gathered their forces and charged upon them, shouting with that “peculiar yell so characteristic of the Johnnies.”

Jimmy wrote, “They were on us before they knew we were in front of them, and when we sprang to our feet I suppose they thought we came out of the ground.”

Because of the sheer number of Confederates attacking them, Jimmy, Gladstone, and Hine surrendered.

Captured

By noon that day, May 16, the war was over for Jimmy. The Confederates transported Glandstone, Hine, and him along with other prisoners down the James River to Richmond where they were marched to Libby prison.

Libby Prison

Libby Prison, Richmond, Virginia, August 23, 1863, A. Hoen & Co. Library of Congress.

Many thanks to Gail for sharing her Civil War ancestor’s story here today. Jimmy’s experience as a POW will continue with next week’s Civil War Saturday. See you then!

You can learn more about Gail Dever at:

Blog – http://genealogyalacarte.ca

Twitter – @geneaalacarte

Genealogy à la carte Facebook group – https://www.facebook.com/groups/GenealogyALaCarte

Genealogy à la carte on Pinterest – https://www.pinterest.com/geneaalacarte/

 

Sources — Books

Cadwell, Charles K. The Old Sixth Regiment, Its War Record, 1861-5. New Haven, Connecticut: 1875. Reprint, Salem, Massachusetts: Higginson Book Company, 1998. (Online version available through Internet Archive: <http://www.archive.org/stream/oldsixthregiment00cadwrich#page/n0/mode/2up>.)

Macdonald, John. The Historical Atlas of the Civil War. New York, New York: Cartwell Books, 2009.

Young, James. Reminiscences of the Prison Life of James Young. ca. 1920.

Sources — Newspaper

James Young dies, aged eight-four, Montreal (Quebec) Daily Star, 5 September 1923, page 2.

Sources — Online

National Park Service, Washington, D.C. 6th Regiment, Connecticut Infantry, Union Connecticut Volunteers, Regiment Details, Civil War. Online < http://www.nps.gov/civilwar/search-regiments-detail.htm?regiment_id=UCT0006RI >.

Sources — Photographs

Young, James. Portrait, c. 1861, Montreal, Quebec. Photographer unknown.

Libby Prison. The only picture in existence. As it appeared August 23, 1863. Prints & Photographs Online Collection, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C. Online < http://www.loc.gov/pictures/item/2013645219 >.

Copyright © 2014, Gail Dever.

 

Will you help me with something new at Genealogy Circle?

Civil War, 4th OVC, Jacob Seib, genealogy research

Civil War Reenactors – Photo Credit: Cindy Freed

Hey friends! Time for another Civil War Saturday! Usually you’ll find a post here about a particular event during the Civil War or the life of a soldier on Civil War Saturday. You’ve learned about men who fought with the 81st Pennsylvania, the 4th Ohio Volunteer Cavalry and the 42nd Virginia Infantry.

You know I feel very strongly about that. I think we need to share the lives of veteran Civil War soldiers. As the years creep by and the Civil War becomes “ancient history” our veteran ancestors’ stories get lost. They’re not handed down through the generations like they once were.

Let’s remedy that together! I would like to post the story of your Civil War ancestor here on Genealogy Circle. Every couple of Saturdays I’ll publish the story of Civil War veterans, Confederate or Union. I’ll need you to write up an article about the life of your veteran ancestor. It can be 300, 400, 500 words and if you have photos to include, all the better!

In this way your ancestor will have another chance to be remembered. That’s my ultimate goal to honor their memory but who knows what distant cousin may contact you because they recognize the name of their Civil War ancestor in a post on Civil War Saturday.

We’ll also get the chance, I hope, to read the stories about men who may have served in the same company, regiment or brigade our ancestor served in. I myself would dearly love to connect with the descendent of a soldier who fought with Co. A 81st Pennsylvania. That’s the regiment my great great grandfather served with.

So please send me your Civil War veteran’s story. You can email me at cindy at genealogy circle dot com or look me up on Facebook at Genealogy Circle. I’m also on Twitter @GenealogyCircle and on Google+ just look up Cindy Freed to contact me.

Let’s tell the stories of our Civil War ancestors. Let’s remember them, honor them and maybe learn about some of the men they served with.

I’m looking forward to hearing from you! Please contact me today!