From the New York Herald, 12/23/1861
A CHRISTMAS DUTY.
We are put in possession of some interesting information relative to matters transpiring in the rebel capital, Richmond, by the arrival of a respectable person named Michael Martin, who resided in that city for the space of eighteen months prior to the present difficulties.
Mr. Martin is a seaman by profession, but has been employed on public works at Richmond for some time. He is a Union man, and, having come on to Norfolk, was transmitted to Fortress Monroe under a flag of truce. He left Richmond on the 15th instant, and arrived in New York on Thursday last, having blessed his stars for his fortunate and opportune escape from the hands of the rebels.
The principal information which Martin seems most desirous to impart is with regard to the condition and treatment of the Union prisoners at Richmond. This he describes as being the most brutal and savage known to modern civilization, and a speedy retribution is being earnestly called for upon the heads of those who thus transform themselves into the hideous double forms of human prosecutors and rebels. As each letter transmitted to the North by the Union prisoners is opened and read at Richmond before its transmission, that have not an opportunity of laying bare to their friends here the terrible sufferings to which they are daily subjected, and the taunts and sneers which are cast upon them at almost every step they take. By these statements of Martin it would appear that our noble soldiers are placed in a most frightful position. The rights of honorable warfare, not to mention those of Christian civilization and tender heartedness, are not, in the slightest manner, regarded, and our brethren of the South act towards their brethren of the North with a barbarity that can only be equalled by the saguinacy encounters of more ancient times.
There were at the time Martin left Richmond between nine and ten hundred Union prisoners confined in the tobacco factories of that city, most of them being situated on Main street. Among those were some of the Sixty-ninth, Fourteenth and Fire Zouave regiments of New York, as well as all those prisoners taken at Leesburg. They are crowded into small rooms from 150 to 200 at a time, and nothing in the smallest way provided for their comforts and convenience, so that their condition may be more easily imagined than described. They sleep upon the bare floors, without covering of any description, mist of them being nearly nude. The state of filth which necessarily ensues from this mode of living Martin describes as perfectly frightful. and the poor fellows present a truly deplorable appearance. By way of aggravating their sufferings, they are jested at and insulted by their rebel jailors. A favorite practice among the rebel soldiery is to stand around the prisons, and when a Union head is seen to poke itself out from a widow, they practise firing to a large extent, generally with an excellent aim. From this horrible practice it appears that several have lost their lives, and numbers are wounded from the bullets that come whizzing through the windows when no head has appeared to gratify the bloody intents of their captors. The food with which the Unionists are provided is also of the very worst description. They receive two meals per day, consisting of rice and potatoes, and from this low diet they bear more the appearance of specters than that of human beings endowed with life and mind. The feeling against those unfortunate men throughout the whole community is also savagely strong, and had the populace their free will they would massacre every one of them in cold blood. Added to all these horrible truths is the fact that numbers are expiring daily under this treatment; but of the nine hundred prisoners at Richmond more than one-half are prostrate from sickness produced by those accumulated barbarities. What most seems desirable at the present time among them is a number of experienced physicians, as all those at the South are away with the army, so that the sick have got to lie down and die without care, attendance or medicine of any sort. The only person among the rebels at Richmond who at all shows the prisoners any sympathy is a man called Quartermaster Warner, who does all in his power to alleviate the sufferings engendered from this terrible treatment. He has provided several blankets for their accommodation, and every point at which relief can be obtained, without being injurious to his position in the rebel service, he voluntarily keeps open to those oppressed martyrs to the Union cause. This specimen of generous humanity among an oasis of depravity and vileness is deserving of the highest commendation, and the name of Warner will be honored by all who may escape from the fangs of the rebels. The rebels have also refused to allow any nurses in the prisons, several pitying women having offered their services. A large number of the citizens of Richmond were in favor of making the Unionists work in the coal pits, and the matter was under serious consideration.
And now that this is the fearful condition of those men who have offered their lives and services in defence of our republic, they turn their eyes in supplication to the North, in order that they may be released from this barbarous servitude. They are big with hope that their friends in this region, for whose safety they left their firesides to do or to die, will not let them pine away in a foul and pestilential Southern prison without making the most strenuous exertions for their release. This hope it is which nerves them amid the gloom and horror of their cells; and though their patriotism may for a time receive a shock, yet, when once more restored to the air of the North, it will revive again and burst forth with more force and warmth than before.
The progress of rebellion in Richmond is pursuing the even tenor of its way with the usual fire and fury. Secession boils and bubbles, and carries with its turbid stream of rampant and maddening doctrine all those who come within its vortex.
There was in process of formation at the Tredegar Works in Richmond a machine intended to act against the blockading vessels. It was constructed of sheet iron, in the form of a segar, and was about from forty to fifty feet in length and six feet beam. It was to be propelled by air, manned by six persons, and would work under the water. It was considered by the people of Richmond to be a very formidable apparatus, and great things were expected of it.
Off Craney Island the rebels had taken away the lighthouse, and the spikes were cut off at low ware mark.
The number of rebel soldiers in active service at Richmond when our informant left was between three and four thousand, but the number of sick amounted to over fifteen thousand. These invalided rebel soldiers are also stated to be in the most distressed condition, without clothes, sufficient food or the requisite attendance to alleviate their sufferings. There were between twenty five and thirty factories filled with the rebel sick. A few days before our informant left there were five thousand sick sent down from Floyd’s brigade, the greater portion of whom died soon after their arrival. The reign of death is no doubt inaugurated in Richmond, and consternation casts its dark pall upon the fated city. From Yorktown there also came about nine thousand sick. Sheds were being built all over the city to accommodate these sufferers; but the rush was so great that one-half could scarcely be properly houses.
Troops, as fast as they could be concentrated, were being sent down to Yorktown, a report being around that there were 40,000 “Yankees” in that vicinity. The feeling manifested on reception of the news that Mason and Slidell were captured partook more of genuine satisfaction than otherwise. Nearly every person expressed the conviction that England would at once declare war and break the blockade, when the North would at once be annihilated. They expressed the conviction that we could whip them upon the water, but when it come to land encounters, the South was sure to conquer. Provisions were enormously high in the city. There were but few vessels in Richmond. The steamer Jamestown was lying up in dock and was armed, ready for departure, but could get no crew to man her.
On arriving at Norfolk, Martin was present at an unsuccessful attempt to launch the Merrimac. From Norfolk he was conveyed to Fortress Monroe, and thence to New York, arriving at the date above mentioned.