George S. Bixby
........his narrative on Prison Life in the Civil War
FOURTH REGIMENT - Company H
From the GAR Post 66 Personal War Sketches Book, Epsom Library, NH
Comrade George S. Bixby of Epsom, NH relates the following experience of Prison Life. Not only did out Government adopt the non-exchange policy" during the last year of the war; but the Southern Confederacy Adopted the "deliberate and diabolical system" of exposure and starvation towards the prisoners of war in their hands; so that if any should live to get out of their hands, they would never be able to enter the Army against them. This was the plan as stated in a conversation between the Commander of our prison and General Winder, who visited us at Salisbury N.C. December 12th 1864. I was captured together with 21 others of Co. H 4th N.H. Vols at Deep Bottom, VA the 16th of August 1864 and taken to Libby Prison, Richmond. Our blankets, overcoats and everything else but the clothes we had on were taken from us, they compelled us to disrobe, our clothes were searched and what money we had was taken from us, with everything else. We were kept here three days and two nights; then taken to Belle Isle the 19th of August where we were kept two months. Here we were used better than at our next place for we had tents to sleep under, and a chance to go to the James River under guard to bath and wash our clothes. We got two meals a day, sometimes it would be cooked for us and sometimes we had to cook it ourselves. Our rations were a pint of cob meal a day; when cooked for us it was made in a loaf of bread. We left this place in Box Cars under guard and arrived at Salisbury N.C. the 19th of October; we were turned into an enclosure of four or five acres surrounded by a fence ten feet high containing a large building which had formerly been used as a factory and there were four smaller buildings. Until our arrival it had been used as a Military Prison to confine Union Citizens, deserters and a few Officers. Here we were kept without shelter until the 24th of October when they gave us a Sibley tent for each one hundred men. Those who could not crowd into the tents burrowed in holes dug in the ground or crouched together without shelter with nothing beneath but the ground and the heavens above us. The weather thought for a great part of the time was pleasant with hot sun shiny days followed by cold chilly nights, yet from Nov. 22nd to the 25th - December 22nd to the 27th - January 1st to the 4th - and January 5th to the 30th, the ground was frozen quite hard and from December 9th to the 13th and February 7th to the 10th three inches of snow fell and remained through these days. These cold spells were preceded by rains which wetting the garments of the men and then turning cold, froze them to their bodies causing intense suffering. Our rations consisted of corn bread and a little rice, soup; and those who did not have a tin dipper to get their soup in the rations were served would take off their shoe (if they had any on) and have their soup turned into the heel part of the Shoe. We frequently went without food for thirty-six hours and at one time seventy two hours, this time being the 25th of December, one of our holidays here at the North, when we used to get something extra on those days at home. They thought it would be a great punishment to go without. We could not keep home and friends out of our minds on these days above all other days.
No tongue or pen can describe what we went through. My Chum who was with me from the first, went through it all till sometime in January 1865 when he was called to answer the last Roll Call. This was George H. Hoyt (the one Post #66 is named for). His constitution was not strong enough to hold out - long at the last of his life he would say every night when I went in to see him and say good night "I shall not be here tomorrow." I would try to cheer him up and say don't give up. "Hen" ( for that was the name he went by in the army) Keep up good courage and we will see New Hampshire once more." But I could see he was failing fast and one morning when I went into the building to see him he was gone. I asked the one that lay next to him where he was; he told me he died sometime in the night and was taken to the dead House where they were put till day light - then the Dead Cart came round and the dead were all thrown in and hauled off and all dumped together into a trench they would have dug. I was confined in these three Prison 197 days. The question has been asked was the suffering from exposure and starvation as great as has been represented. Let us look into the dead house this morning: one, two, ten, twenty, thirty aye forty of them. Here is one man with his nose gone, one with but one ear, a finger or a hand; one has toes another with feet frozen and gone. We look still farther & we see men on their knees striving couching and kicking in the dirt for the crumbs that have been swept from the cook house door. See that man hatless, shoes gone, his (rainunt?) in tatters - see the Vermin he is alive with them; the lice have eaten the skin from his hand, his scalp is gone.
Can the Government ever recompense the few survivors for what it caused them to pass through; can it bring back to health the physical wreck; the fruits of the Hell Pins of the South; and can it compensate for the suffering caused by being without shelter, drenched by rains and frozen by cold or still more those unfortunate who escaped. From these fearful tortures with mind weakened almost to imbecility and in many cases with reason dethroned! I have learned that the fall and Winter of 1864 & 5 were the coldest that had been experienced in South Carolina since 1856 & 7. Every night ice formed varying in thickness from a quarter to five eighths of an inch and as the Prisoners were very scantily clothed they suffered severely from the bitter blasts of winter.
After being in the Hospital recruiting four weeks I was able to take the journey home. I was weighed in Concord on my arrival there and my weight was 94 lbs. I was in the Army 46 months and 12 days and I received an Honorable discharge at Concord, NH July 11th, 1865.