From Nash, Captain Eugene Arus; A History of the Forty-fourth Regiment New York Volunteer Infantry in the Civil War, 1861-1865. Chicago, R. R. Donnelly & Sons Company, 1911. pp. 267-273
CAPTAIN GRANNIS IN LIBBY PRISON.
His Interesting Personal Reminiscences Constitute a Valuable Review.
(From Kalamazoo Daily Telegraph, Feb. 23d and Feb. 25, 1901.)
(“The following narrative of civil war recollections was prepared by the late Capt. Charles D. Grannis, at the instance, as is supposed, of Capt. C. A. Woodworth.
“The original draft, from which our copy was made, was in pencil on loose sheets of paper.”-Ed.)
“At about 9 o’clock on the morning of the 27th of June, 1862 (second of the seven days’ fight on the peninsula), our corps, the Fifth, moved into position and began preparations for battle. The day before there had been considerable fighting near Mechanicsville bridge across the Chickahominy river, but we did not participate. I think that none of our corps were engaged on the 26th. While we were getting into position on the 27th, we could hear evidences of sharp fighting, continually growing more distinct, so we knew our troops were falling back. Our position was a good one, well chosen for defence, being along the north side of a ravine with moderate slope to the sides, that on the south side being some steeper, and rising considerably higher than on the side occupied by our troops. At the bottom of the ravine was a small creek which had cut a channel about five or six feet in depth.
The ravine and creek were crossed by a highway just at the right of our regiment. We destroyed the bridge, and felled all of the timber growing in our front, tops to the south. Some of the larger trees lying across the channel were trimmed so as to admit of our skirmishers passing back and forth on them. Some of our men having been engaged in building a dam a short distance below the left of the regiment, it was not long before the water was rising in the channel, and by night it was banks full. Our regiment was the extreme left of the infantry on that side of the Chickahominy, an almost impassable swamp free from timber, extending from near our left to the river. Of course, the greater part of our force was engaged in throwing up works, and by the time we needed them our pits were very good protection.
Across the ravine to our front the ground rose to a point I should guess to be forty feet higher than our position, with very little timber. Beyond the brow of the hill were extensive wheat fields reaching across to timber, which must have been nearly a mile from our position. Our skirmishers were well advanced in this cleared country. It must have been about noon when our skirmishers were first driven in, and the first attempt made to dislodge us. The Confederates came with a rush, but as they showed themselves on the brow of the hill in our front, as I recollect not more than fifteen rods or so distant, our fire was too much for them and back they went, and all along our line they met an equally hot reception. My recollection is that they tried us four times during the afternoon without success, their fifth and successful assault being away to our right, directed against the second division, the regular division of our corps.
This must have been at about 6:30 or 6:45 p. m. It had been very quiet in our front for some time, and Lieutenant Colonel J. C. Rice, who was then commanding the regiment, happening to be near Company H, of which I was then first sergeant, instructed me to go out to the skirmish line (which, by the way, was entirely out of sight from our position), and get what information I could. So shouldering my musket I started. I remember Lieutenant Jones, of Company D, was in command, and from him learned that the skirmish line in his front, with whom his men were exchanging shots, comprised all the force that he knew of. Not long after I reached the front, a tremendous musketry fire set in back of our lines, but knowing it could not be our brigade, I did not think much of it. More especially the case, as just then the Confederate skirmish line made an attempt to advance, which, of course, I took a hand in resisting. The fighting behind us grew heavier if anything, and it was not long before we discovered a line of battle bearing down on us, crowding close up to their skirmishers. Of course we accepted the invitation to retire, but did so slowly, supposing the assault would result as the others had done. Before reaching the brow of the hill, the heavy firing we had been listening to had pretty much stopped and I remember thinking that another repulse had been dealt them, and that the troops following us would probably go back without assaulting. It was getting towards dusk at this time, and a very dense smoke made it seem still darker. The line of battle in our front halted for a few minutes, perhaps to align and get closed up ready for action, and then again drove ahead. When we broke over the top of the hill, the Confederates were so close to us, that we thought it advisable to get inside our works as soon as possible, so made a run for it, and jumped over our works to find them occupied by a thin line of rebels and ourselves prisoners. If we had discovered that the rebels had our works, I think we could have crossed the swamp to the river, crossed that, and soon found our friends. My recollection is that thirteen others were captured with me, and as many more of our regiment further to the right. I had often said I would never be taken alive, but when it came to the pinch I changed my mind. I thought at the time that I might possibly shoot two men, bayonet another and then die myself, and I thought it not worth while.
The prisoners were divided into squads, seven of us being placed in charge of five men with instructions to take us to Richmond. We soon started, and though we marched nearly all night did not cross Mechanicsville bridge till just before daylight. I think our guards lost their bearings, and wandered around some. Soon after crossing the bridge, we joined quite a large body of prisoners and with them went into Richmond. At first I was placed in what was called the “prison room;” that was the top floor of the up river end of the building, Libby prison, a room 40 x 80 feet, in which were confined 356 men. When we lay down at night it was necessary to do so in rows in order to give all a chance, While here our rations were very insufficient, and were issued at irregular intervals, and we became hungrier all the time. A small ration of sour bread, one very small ration of fresh beef, boiled without salt, and a ration of blackeyed pea soup, cooked so little that when poured from one dish to another the peas would rattle, constituted our daily supply of food. I think I remained in this room ten days. Two or three days previous to my change of quarters, I learned by a Richmond paper that Charles A. Woodworth, first lieutenant of Company H, Forty Fourth, was captured at Savage Station, badly wounded, and was brought to Libby prison hospital. I was very anxious to get to him and every time a prison official came in sight I importuned him for permission to go, but with no result, and was giving it up as impossible, when one morning a transfer of some prisoners was to be made and the doors, leading down through the building from one end to the other, were opened, a guard being placed at each.
I soon observed two or three fellows moving about, each with a towel tied about the waist. Speaking with one, I found he was a nurse in the hospital, which was on the lower floor, at the other end of the building, and said he had been given permission to come up there and see if he had any friends among the prisoners. After a little hesitation, I tied my towel about my waist, wandered around in sight of the guard for a while, then approached him with all the confidence I could muster, said “nurse in hospital,” and passed him as though it was a matter of course. I had no trouble with the other guards, and soon found myself in the hospital room. Much to my surprise, I found Dr. Bentley, our assistant brigade surgeon, in immediate charge of that floor. He was captured at Savage Station, with a large number of wounded men, I suppose at the same time Lieutenant Woodworth was taken. I at once told Dr. Bentley how I came to be there and asked that I be detailed as a nurse. He assured me I should remain there as long as he did, anyway. I soon found Lieutenant Woodworth, and in order that I might give him special attention, was given day duty in his ward.
The hospital floor was about the same size as the prison, 40 x 80 feet, with a small room partitioned off in one corner for a drug room, which was presided over by two hospital stewards, prisoners. I never saw a man more pleased than was Woodworth when he heard my voice. Poor fellow! His face was covered with a bandage, and with that off he could see nothing, but how glad he was to talk. I forget at first how many men I had to care for, but I think about twenty, some of them amputated cases. About two weeks after I entered the hospital, a large lot of the patients who could stand moving, Woodworth among the number, were sent north, Dr. Bentley going also. I tried hard to get away with the others, but I was too healthy. A Confederate surgeon, named Brock, then took charge of the hospital, and I must say that our men were more carefully looked after and more kindness shown them in every way than had been the case under Dr. Bentley. Dr. Brock was a gentleman in every sense of the word. I continued doing nurse duty about ten days under Dr. Brock and then he made me what they called “sergeant of the floor,” giving me a sort of general supervision of the floor with authority over all other nurses in his absence. I had forgotten one point.
Two days before this occurred, Ross, the prison clerk, the most contemptible scoundrel I ever knew, gave orders that the day nurses should scrub the floor every morning, before going on regular duty. A part of them went at it; but a man named Warner and myself refused, and were at once hustled into a prison room in Castle Thunder, I presume without Dr. Brock’s knowledge. Anyway, pretty early in the morning of the third day we were taken back to Libby and I received promotion. Ross, the clerk, and I had for some time been on bad terms, owing to his abuse of prisoners, which I always resented; and I know that after this he was always watching for some chance to play me some meanness. As quite a large number of amputated cases had very lately been received, a part of my duty was to assist Dr. Brock what I could in dressing them twice each day, and I became moderately skillful in winding a bandage. As I endeavored to do my duty faithfully, I, of course, became stronger with Dr. Brock every day and to good purpose, as but for that Ross would have come out ahead once at least. One afternoon, he, Ross, came into the hospital with several young fellows, Middies, I suppose, from some gunboat lying near Richmond, who wanted to see the Yanks. These chaps were nicely dressed in their light gray uniforms, with all the gold braid the law allowed, and were nice, clean, pretty fellows anyway. Ross saying that he was too busy to accompany them, asked me to show them around. We started along through the hospital, and finally stopped near the back end. Right there was a bunk on which a man had died not long before, whose body had been removed to the dead room in the basement, but no change had as yet been made in the covering of the cot, and a person looking at it carefully would not fail to see numerous creepers moving about. Everything about the hospital was well populated with vermin. Well, one of these nice fellows sat down on that bunk, and I did not warn him of the consequence. In fact, I really enjoyed seeing him there, for I knew he wouldn’t have to stay there long to get “salted” as we used to say.
Well, while he was still seated, Ross returned and at once told him his danger. The young fellow was on his feet instantly and made very lively efforts to brush himself with his hands. Of course I laughed. Ross turned on me with an oath, and questioned why I didn’t caution the man. I replied that “I didn’t think lice would hurt him any more than they did me, and I was lousier than thunder.” He appeared to be very angry, and after considerable abuse he started out, soon returning with a corporal and four men, who, under his orders, seized me and proceeded to buck and gag me. After a while they succeeded in tying me, and were preparing the gag, when Dr. Brock appeared on the scene and ordered that I be released, saying that I was one of his men, and he would not allow me to be punished. Ross made a strong effort to carry his point; but the doctor was firm, and I was untied at once. This did not increase the love Ross and I felt for each other, and I may have presumed a little on the doctor’s friendship for me, in my treatment of Ross.
The water supply for the building was taken from the James river; brought in through pipes. Just where this was taken from the river I never knew, whether from above or below Belle Isle, but I presume from above, for I do not think there was much sickness caused by the use of that water which would have been the case had it been contaminated. I never saw Belle Isle but once, and my remembrance of it is an island of perhaps three acres extent, low and sandy, with a few trees. I think there were a few tents erected on the island, but as a rule the hundreds of men who were kept there found any sort of, shelter they could, and through exposure and insufficient food, sickness and death prevailed. Our rebel hospital steward asked me one afternoon for a detail to accompany him and carry some medicines to Belle Isle. Thinking that I would be allowed to go on to the island and perhaps see some friends or acquaintances, I offered to go myself; so taking a two gallon jug of some sort of compound in each hand and promising him that I would make no effort to escape, we set out without a guard. Carey street, on which Libby stood, was the river street of the city, and our route was directly up river. It was a hot afternoon and it had been several weeks since I had been out in the sun, and I remember the tramp as a pretty tough one. Arrived at the ferry, which was simply a landing for an ordinary sized skiff, I learned for the first time that I would not be allowed to visit the island; It was strictly against orders. The single sentinel on guard had no shelter from the sun, and the prospect of staying there two or three hours with him was not pleasing. The steward taking pity on me, gave me the choice between waiting there for him, or going back to Libby alone, the latter on very faithful promises on my part that I would go back. Nothing was said as to the route I should travel, and I took advantage of that to see as much of the city as possible, occupying at least two hours on the return trip, and arriving at Libby just as Ross, the clerk, was entering the building to “call the roll,” which was in reality a count of the men, trusting to men answering to names not being allowed. While I was wandering around I met a good many curious looks. I was in our uniform, and to see one of our fellows out without a guard was something of a curiosity, I guess, to most of the people I met. I was not molested, however, and reached Libby in time to exchange salutations with Ross and be counted. The river water brought into the building was so warm and insipid, squads of men under guard were allowed to go once daily with pails to a big pump, which was, I think, about one-eighth of a mile from Libby, for water to use in the hospital. This was very good water, cool and nice when fresh, but without ice it soon got warm. It was a ridiculous spectacle to see six or eight stalwart Federals in charge, perhaps, of two boys who looked hardly able to carry muskets, and yet that was about the character of the guard frequently sent with the water squads. Of course it would have been folly for one to have tried to escape by daylight in the crowded streets, and we thought sending such a guard was a design to humiliate our men. I never went for water but once or twice, and we then had respectable guards. The men comprising prison guards seemed about the most ignorant, useless fellows in existence. I remember one who was stationed at the front door of the hospital, who, when he saw a bottle of ink, did not know the use of it. There was but one man shot by a guard while I was there. A man on the second floor, rear end of the building, was at a window and some way made himself obnoxious to the guard on the sidewalk below him. The guard suddenly raised his musket and fired. He missed the man he fired at, but the bullet entered the window and passed through the floor above, killing a man who chanced to be in its way. The guard way not molested for this act. I, one evening, surprised a guard, and it has always been a wonder to me that he did not shoot. As I have said, the hospital was in the lower end of the building on first floor above the basement. The basement doors opened onto a street, I forget the name. Carey street was higher and the first floor was on a level with it at front end. The “dead room,” as it was called, was in the basement, one door up river from the basement under the hospital. To go from our basement to the “dead room,” it was necessary to step out on the sidewalk and pass along for 30 or 40 feet to the next door. On this evening an ambulance had brought a very sick man to the hospital and we could not move him without a stretcher. We had but one, and that one had been taken to the “dead room” with a corpse late in the day, and left there, so I hurried for it. The guard on duty patrolling the walk there was green, and the instant I approached on the walk brought his musket to bear on me. I simply said “dead room” and passed along. I soon appeared with the stretcher, his musket was brought to bear on me and covered me until I disappeared in the door of our basement. If he had been on duty around there long, he would have better understood what I was after and not given me such a scare.
About two weeks before I left Richmond a lot of men in Libby prison, including those in the hospital who thought themselves well enough to make the trip, were allowed to sign a parole, preparatory to being sent north. There was quite a crowd about the table where they were signing in the hospital, and I was getting nearer to the table every moment, in fact had pen in hand, when some one took hold of me and drew me back. I was angry in an instant, and turned around ready to resent the interference, when I found that it was Dr. Brock. He explained to me that if I went north then I would probably go into some parole camp where I could be of no use to any of our folks, and I could do them good where I was. That if I went away some one would have to be broken in to take my place, etc. He finally said it would be a personal favor to himself if I would consent to remain until the next parole. Considering all his kindness to me and others, I could not refuse. My recollection is that within the next two weeks most of the serious cases in Libby hospital were either sent north or transferred to some other place, for at about that time another parole was made, and Dr. Brock made no objection to my going, and thanked me for having remained at his request. It was only two or three years after the close of the war that I. read an account of the collapse of a floor in the courthouse at Richmond, and among those killed I saw the name of Dr. Brock. He was certainly a good man, and I could but grieve at his untimely death. Leaving Libby, Clerk Ross, standing at the door checking us off, I stopped the procession long enough to give him an idea of what we thought of him, and also to make him one or two promises, which are still only promises, because I have never had the pleasure of meeting him since that time.
We started for Aiken’s Landing, fourteen miles below Richmond on the James river. I think it was about 8 p. m. when we started on our tramp accompanied by a few rebel cavalry. Our crowd did not need much guarding on that sort of a trip. I. remember that it was a very pleasant day, pretty warm, but none too much so to prevent the able bodied ones making pretty good time. About one mile from the river we crossed some high ground, and from that point could see our flag flying from the masthead of the transport that was awaiting our arrival. What a cheer went up! I can assure you the stars and stripes never before or since looked to me as they did on that day, and I think my companions experienced about the same feeling. The transport remained at the landing until the following morning, waiting for stragglers, some of them being brought in ambulances, sent out from Richmond to pick them up. We steamed down the river and were finally landed at Annapolis, where we were placed in a parole camp. I had no blanket nor could I get one. My only clothing was what I had on and was infested with vermin and I could get none to replace it. I slept on the ground under some horse sheds that had been used for cavalry. I would lie down and sleep until awakened by cold, then get, up and run until warm, then lie down for another nap, and in that fashion wear out the night. We had plenty to eat in this camp, but it seemed impossible to get either clothing or blankets. The last two or three nights spent there, I with one or two others went down into a swampy piece of timber in one corner of the inclosure, and picked what wood we could find, cut a lot of brush for beds, and endeavored to sleep there. Of course, we could warm only one side at a time, and the warm side was the one the little travelers preferred, and as they deemed it advisable to shift as often as we did, you can imagine about how much sleep we got.
[remainder of memoir not transcribed]