This is the second in a series of articles about the civilians who were taken as prisoners of war by the Confederate Army after the Battle of Gettysburg in 1863.
When the Confederate Army left Pennsylvania at the end of the Battle of Gettysburg, they left with eight civilians. These men had done nothing wrong except be in the wrong place at the wrong time. They were captured at different locations around Gettysburg on the suspicion that they were spies for the Union Army.
They were ordinary citizens caught in the middle of a great battle.
The arrested men were George Codori, J. Crawford Guinn, Alexander Harper, William Harper, Samuel Pitzer, George Patterson, George Arendt, and Emanuel Trostle.
Samuel Pitzer was a Gettysburg farmer who had been arrested on July 2. He wrote that the prisoners were first sent to Castle Lightning prison in Richmond where all of their money except for two cents, their knives and their blankets were taken.
They were then moved to Libby Prison. Pitzer was upset that his hat was stolen there, which he said would have been worth $150 to $200 in Confederate dollars.
“The first thing we hear when new prisoners came in was ‘Fresh Fish,’ to which another would immediately reply ‘Scale him,’ and it was not long they had them all scaled,” Pitzer wrote.
The rations were poor, so much so that even the pigs ate better.
“They raise beans down there on which they fatten their hogs,” Pitzer wrote. “We got a broth with about a dozen of these beans and a little corn bread.”
After a time, they were sent to Castle Thunder Prison where the rations were even worse.
The commander there was a Union army deserter named George Edwards. He had a reputation for brutality. Pitzer wrote that he would make the prisoners stand around him while he swung his sword back and forth coming close to slicing the prisoners open.
After two months in Richmond, the prisoners were sent further south to Salisbury, N.C., where they were imprisoned in an old tobacco factory. At first, there were 500 prisoners in the factory prison, but during October 1863, that number swelled to 14,000.
What little food the prisoners received had a lot to be desired. In the beginning, their rations consisted of a little meat that was “strong and so full of worm holes that we could see through it,” according to Pitzer.
Other days, the guards simply threw a little beef and tripe into the garrison and let the prisoners fight over who got to eat it.
Sometimes the prisoners weren’t fed for two or three days at a time. It was a tactic used to encourage them to join the Confederate army so they could be sent to guard forts and camps.
The prisoners got to the point that they were eating just about anything they thought would fill them up.
“They ate rats, cats and dogs and I saw an Irishman eating the graybacks as he picked them from his clothes,” Pitzer wrote.
Within four months that 14,000 number had dwindled to 4,500 as men died from malnutrition.
“As regularly as the day returned from forty to sixty died,” Pitzer wrote.
The dead were buried in a common grave four bodies deep.
The Gettysburgians endured, though, not knowing when the end would come, but knowing that it would come eventually.
Here’s are the other parts of the story:
- Confederate Army takes civilian prisoners after the Battle of Gettysburg (part 1)
- Civilian POWs return home (part 3)