From the New York Herald, November 28, 1863
THE RICHMOND PRISONERS.
The following statement, by the surgeons just released from the Libby Prison, at Richmond, of the treatment of our prisoners there, will be presented to the War Department to-day: -
WASHINGTON, Nov. 27, 1863.
We, the undersigned, surgeons of the United States Army, and recently prisoners in Richmond, Va., consider it our duty to publish a few facts that came to our knowledge while we were inmates of the hospital attached to Libby Prison. We enjoyed for several months daily access to the hospitals where the sick and wounded among our Union soldiers received treatment. As a result of our observations, we hereby declare our belief that since the battle of Chickamauga the number of deaths per diem has averaged fully fifty. The prevailing diseases are diarrhoea, dysentery and typhoid pneumonia. Of late the percentage of deaths has greatly increased, the result of causes that have been long at work - as insufficient food, clothing and shelter, combined with that depression of spirits brought on so often by long confinement. It may seem almost incredible when we affirm, of our personal knowledge, that in the three hospitals for Union soldiers the average mortality is nearly forty per day; and upon the most reliable testimony we are forced to believe that the deaths in the tobacco factories and upon the island will raise the total mortality among all the Union prisoners to fifty per day, or fifteen hundred monthly.
The extremely reduced condition of those brought from the island argues that hundreds quite sick are left behind who with us would be considered fit subject for hospital treatment. Such, too, is the fact, as invariably stated by scores we have conversed with from that camp. The same to a degree holds true of the prisoners in the city. It would be a reasonable estimate to put the number who are fit subjects for hospitals, but who are refused admittance, at five hundred. A thousand are already under treatment in the three hospitals, and the rebel surgeons themselves say the number of patients is only limited by the small accommodations provided. Thus we have over ten per cent of the whole number of prisoners held classed as sick men, who need the most assiduous and skilful attention; yet, in the essential matter of rations, they are receiving nothing but corn bread and sweet potatoes. Meat is no longer furnished to any class of our prisoners except to the few officers in Libby hospital, and all sick or well officers or privates are now furnished with a very poor article of corn bread in place of wheat bread, unsuitable diet for hospital patients prostrated with diarrhoea, dysentery and fever, to say nothing of the balance of startling instances of individual suffering and horrid pictures of death from protracted sickness and semi-starvation we have had thrust upon our observation.
The first demand of the poor creatures from the island was always for something to eat. Self respect gone, hope and ambition gone, half clad and covered with vermin and filth, many of them are too often beyond all reach of medical skill. In one instance the ambulances brought sixteen to the hospital, and during the night seven of them died. Again, eighteen were brought, and eleven of them died in twenty-four hours. At another time fourteen were admitted, and in a single day ten of them died. Judging from what we have ourselves seen and do know, we do not hesitate to say that, under a treatment of systematic abuse, neglect and semi-starvation, the numbers who are becoming permanently broken down in their constitutions must be reckoned by thousands.
We leave it for others to say what is demanded by this state of things. The rebel daily papers in general terms acknowledged the truth of all we have affirmed, but usually close their abusive editorials by declaring that even such treatment is better than the invading Yankees deserve. The Examiner, in a recent article, begrudged even the little food the prisoners did receive and the boxes sent to us from home, and closed by eulogizing the system of semi- starvation and exposure as well calculated to dispose of us. All this is true; and yet cold weather has hardly commenced. We are horrified when we picture the wholesale misery and death that will come with the biting frosts of winter.
Recently several hundred prisoners per day were being removed to Danville. In two instances we were standing in view of them as their ranks filed past. It was a sad sight to see the attenuated features and pallid faces of men a few months since robust and in vigorous health. Numbers were without shoes, nearly all without blankets or overcoats, and not a man did we see who was well and fully clad. But, to the credit of the prisoners, in Richmond, of all ranks, be it recorded, that all along they have showed heroic fortitude, and, under suffering, and spurning the idea that their government had forgotten them, they have held fast their confidence in the final and speedy success of our cause.
In addition to the above statement, we wish it to be distinctly understood that the rebel medical officers connected with the hospitals referred to - Surgeons Wilkins, Simmons and Sabal, and the hospital steward, Hallet - are not in any way, so far as our observation has extended, responsible for the state of things existing there, but, on the other hand, we are bound in justice to bear testimony to their kindness and faithful performance of their duties with the limited means at their disposal.
Surgeon, United States Volunteers.
C. T. SIMPERS,
Assistant Surgeon, Sixth regiment, Maryland Vols.
J. L. BROWN,
Assistant Surgeon, Ohio Hundred and Sixteenth Ohio Volunteer infantry.
A. M. PARKER,
Assistant surgeon, First Maine cavalry.
Twenty days leave of absence have been granted to the surgeons recently returned from Richmond. As the whole of this time will be required to enable some to proceed without stopping by way of their homes to Chattanooga, while others reside upon the direct route, no little dissatisfaction has been occasioned, and an effort is being made to modify the order so as to secure leaves from fifteen to thirty days.
TESTIMONY OF SURGEON MYERS.
Surgeon W. W. Myers, of the United States steamer State of Georgia, who was captured on the 14th of May last by a band of North Carolina rangers, in the Chesapeake and Albemarle Sound, and for a long time closely confined as a hostage for one Dr. Green, of the rebel army, has just made an official report to Secretary Welles. For a long while, he says, he had access to the hospitals where the Union prisoners were confined, and since the battle of Chickamauga the number of deaths average some fifty per day, the most prevalent diseases being those of the respiratory and digestive organs. Lately they have increased alarmingly, caused by the bad food given as rations and insufficient clothing and shelter. The cases coming from Belle Island to the hospital all argue starvation. Ten per cent of the prisoners are sick men. Corn bread and sweet potatoes form the only food given to the sick and very little of that. In one instance the ambulance brought sixteen to the hospital, and during the night seven died. It is a sad scene to look at the gaunt and sharp visaged prisoners.