Capt. Robert Emory Park was just 20 years old when he was badly wounded and captured at the third battle of Winchester, Va., on Sept. 19, 1864. In this, the third and concluding part of a condensation of his late-war diary, he remains a die-hard Southern firebrand as he moves from prison to prison and the war news turns grimmer and grimmer for his cause.
His reactions to Sherman’s March, Richmond’s fall, the surrender of the Confederate armies, the Lincoln assassination and the capture of Jefferson Davis are sharp and emotional. He struggles with his conscience over whether to take the loyalty oath required of rebel prisoners wishing to go home.
We begin just after New Year’s Day of 1865. Park, still suffering from his leg wound, is debarking a mail boat that delivered officers transferred from Point Lookout, Md., to the Old Capitol Prison in Washington, D.C.
Jan. 3, 1865 – We landed on the wharf at Washington at 9 o’clock A. M., and found it covered with snow and ice. In this uncomfortable place, with no shelter from the bleak wind, standing on the frozen snow, we remained under guard from 9 o’clock till 5 o’clock P. M. We had no fire, and only a few crackers and some wretched coffee for food.
|John C. Calhoun, one of Park's heroes.|
At dark we were carried in ambulances to the Old Capitol. This prison, situated on the corner of A and First streets, is an old brick building, erected in 1817, for the use of Congress, as the capitol building proper had been destroyed by fire by the British army under General Ross, August 24th, 1814. It was used by Congress until the capitol was rebuilt, and then fitted up as a boarding house.
Honorable John C. Calhoun, of South Carolina, died in it. This pure and illustrious patriot and statesman – twice elected Vice-President of the United States, and the greatest of the great “Triumvirate,” Calhoun, Clay and Webster, the only one who has left any enduring work to perpetuate his fame – never dreamed that his own room, in sight of the Goddess of Liberty on the dome of the capitol, would someday be used as a prison dungeon for the victims of rampant, fanatical abolitionism and the advocates of a higher law than the constitution which they had sworn to uphold and support. . . .
We reached Old Capitol at 7 o’clock P. M., and about two hours after, nine of us were assigned to “room 9,” second floor. This room is about twelve feet by fourteen in size, and contained in one corner five sleeping berths or bunks, like those used in canal boats, one above the other, and about eighteen inches apart. The bunks are made of rough plank, three feet wide and six feet long. . . .
The berths had each a tick, containing a scanty quantity of old straw, which no doubt had done service for years. Each one was also furnished with a dirty quilt or blanket, and vermin held high carnival among them. The dingy walls were festooned with cobwebs, and darkened by smoke from the very small coal grate in one end of the room. A bench and two boxes were used for chairs. We have none of the comforts we have been accustomed to at home. . . .
All my bright dreams of being exchanged and visiting my good mother were banished. The future looks dark and uncertain. . . .
Jan. 4 – I awoke early, looked out from my bunk, and scanned my narrow, crowded room more closely. It was used as a committee room of the old Congress, and had probably been repeatedly tenanted by Calhoun, Crawford, Webster, Forsyth, Tyler and other leading statesmen of their time. Phantoms of the past rose before me, and I fancied I could hear the voices of the departed orators, as they declaimed against the abuses and errors of the day, and gave their powerful aid to the sacred cause of personal liberty and State sovereignty. . . .
|The Old Capitol prison in Washington, D.C., a symbol of tyranny for Park.|
January 6-8 – Sunday has come and gone; and I, in common with most of my fellow prisoners, accepted an invitation given to hear Rev. Dr.—— preach in the mess-room. Dr.—— preached an ordinary sermon, which received polite attention from the prisoners, and afterwards walked into the open ground, 100 feet square, where we were allowed to exercise half an hour each day at dinner time, and began to distribute tracts to the prisoners.
He handed me one, at the head of which was a picture in colors of the “old flag,” that emblem of hate and oppression, called by Horace Greeley “a flaunting lie.” . . . What connection could there be between the stars and stripes and the pure religion of Jesus Christ? It was insulting, not only to us, but to the Almighty, to circulate such sacrilegious literature. . . .
I threw my tract upon the ground and stamped it with my crutch and heel, which the young men heartily applauded, throwing down their tracts also, and some of them crushing the emblems of sectional hate and Yankee fanaticism beneath their feet. The Yankee’s love for the flag is all sentiment, false and hollow, as they do not care at all for or regard the principles it was originally intended to symbolize. . . .
Jan. 9-11 – Our daily bill of fare consists of bread and tea for breakfast, and a small piece of pork, some beans and bean soup in a tin cup, with one-third of a loaf of bread, for dinner. Sometimes beef and beef soup is furnished in lieu of pork and bean soup.
Jan. 13 – This is my birthday, and I am twenty-one years old. This is an important epoch in a man’s life, when he “becomes of age,” a “free man,” and enjoys the privilege of voting. Its arrival, however, does not bring “freedom” to me.
Jan. 26-30 – A sentinel summoned me to the Superintendent’s office, where I found Mr. Clark, who directed me to a receipt for a box of clothing, just forwarded by express by my excellent friend, Mr. J. M. Coulter, of Baltimore.
The box had been opened and its contents examined by Clark, who ordered the guard to carry it to room 9, where I gladly looked at the welcome and much needed articles. It contained a gray jacket, a pair of pants, two over and two undershirts, two pairs drawers, two pairs socks, two silk handkerchiefs, one pair shoes, two bars of soap and two combs.
|Next stop for Captain Park was the Fort Delaware prison.|
At 4 o’clock we took the cars for Baltimore, arriving there at half-past 6 o’clock, and there took the train for New Castle, Delaware, via Havre de Grace. I am getting accustomed to being dragged about from prison to prison, and think I will soon know all about Yankee bastilles, and see also a good deal of the country, traveling at the Government’s expense.
Feb. 4 – We walked a mile from the depot, through New Castle, to the wharf. The noble ladies of the town cheered us by sympathizing looks and kind words, as we trudged along, several of us on crutches, and a few of them brought us tempting lunches of ham, chicken, biscuit, preserves and fruit.
These lovely Delaware women are our own kith and kin, and our cause is their cause too. Little Delaware is a slave State, and she has furnished some great orators and statesmen. . . .
We reluctantly left the good ladies of New Castle, and entered the boat bound for the dreaded fort, five miles distant. We reached it at 1 o’clock, landed, and marched on a plank walk (the street or road was mud itself), till we were near the entrance to the barracks, and then halted.
Here we were ordered to “front,” and a close search of our persons and baggage was instituted. Every pocket was emptied, and watches, jewelry, knives, greenbacks and Confederate money were taken possession of. My canteen, one I had captured in the Valley, was confiscated. I suppose the authorities feared I would use it as a buoy to aid me in swimming across the bay some dark night.
After the rigid search, we were ushered into the officers’ barracks yard, where, crowding near the gate, along the plank walk, and at the windows and doors of the nearest “divisions” (as the rooms of the barracks were designated), we were greeted by hundreds of fellow prisoners, all eager to catch a glimpse of the new arrivals. As the gate swung open and we entered, suddenly the shout “Fresh Fish” was raised, and the different “divisions” were speedily emptied of their inmates, who rushed eagerly toward us, inquiring “where we were from,” “the latest news from Dixie,” etc.
Feb. 5 – My sleep was a very cold and uncomfortable one last night, and I rose early to warm myself by the single stove in the “division.” The “pen,” as our quarters are called, embraces an area of near two acres. The building, a mere shell, unceiled and unplastered, is on three sides, with a high, close plank fence on the fourth side, separating us from the privates’ barracks. . . .
Each division is heated by one large upright stove, which the prisoners keep very hot when sufficient coal can be obtained. The room is so open and cold, however, that a half-dozen or more stoves would be required to heat it. Several poor fellows, who have no bunk-mates and a scarcity of covering, sit up around the stoves and nod all night. . . .
Feb. 7-8 – The majority of the prisoners are worn and feeble by sickness, want of necessary food, wounds, scurvy, personal care, anxiety and privation. Many are sadly depressed on account of long confinement and cruel delay in exchanges. Some are in complete despair. Others make Dixie and home themes of constant thought and conversation. They dream and sigh, and talk and long for home and its loved ones.
A few constitutional cowards, who have a mortal horror of the battlefield, seem contented here. They prefer to risk the annoyances, inconveniences, hunger, insults and diseases of prison to the lesser but more dreaded dangers of the field of battle. This class of persons is very limited. Over 2,000 officers and 7,000 non-commissioned officers and privates are in the two prison pens.
Brigadier-General A. Schœff, a Hungarian, is in command, and has two very unpopular and insolent officers, Captain G. W. Ahl and Lieutenant Woolf, as his adjutants. . . .
Feb. 9 – A few officers were paroled to-day for exchange. Why am I not among the number? Very few here are more helpless than I, and the fortunate parties are strong and well. It is difficult to be patient and calm under such treatment.
Feb. 10-12 – There is a tent of sutler’s supplies near the mess hall, kept by an avaricious Yankee, named Emery, who is believed to be a partner of General Schœff. Tobacco, matches, oil for cooking lamps, stationery, baker’s bread, pies, cakes, apples, onions, etc., all of very poor quality, are kept for sale, and from 500 per cent, to 1,000 per cent, profit is charged.
February 13-16 – The privy is on the beach, where the tide comes in, 150 feet or more distant from the nearest division. It is open and exposed in front, and is in sight of Delaware city. . . . The sea water proves no disinfectant, and the constant frequenters of the place are sickened by the offensive odors which are wafted to their sensitive olfactories.
Diarrhea and dysentery are so prevalent, and the pen is so crowded, that parties are very often compelled to wait an hour or longer before they can be relieved. The floor and seats are too filthy and nauseating for description; yet very many who suffer from the diseases mentioned visit the foul place dozens of times, day and night, in rain, wind, hail, sleet and snow, and in spite of the most intense cold and blackest, most impenetrable darkness, pollution is scarcely avoidable on such occasions.
Feb. 21-24 – The newspaper accounts of Sherman’s march from Georgia through South Carolina are heartrending. . . . Would that the prisoners at Fort Delaware could be exchanged and sent to confront this ruthless, heartless destroyer of the homes and subsistence of helpless women and children. We would teach him a wholesome lesson.
Feb. 25-26 – The terrible reports of Sherman’s cruelty during the burning of Columbia, and of his subsequent march into North Carolina, are appalling and disheartening to us all. The Carolinians are specially grieved and indignant.
Sherman’s whole course in the South is in bold and dishonorable contrast with the gentle and generous conduct of Lee and his veterans in Maryland and Pennsylvania. I well remember that memorable march into the enemy’s territory, far more daring and heroic than the unopposed marches of the brutal Sherman through Georgia and Carolina. . . .
Feb. 28 – One hundred and three officers, of those earliest captured, were paroled to-day for exchange. We are growing hopeful of a speedy return to our homes and all are in fine spirits.
March 3-6 – The parapet between our pen and that of the privates, on which the sentinels walk, had several ladies and gentlemen walking upon it a day or two ago, and they looked kindly and compassionately upon the emaciated, ragged, suffering Rebels in the two pens. One of the ladies carried her handkerchief to her eyes to wipe away the generous tears, as she gazed pityingly upon the abject misery and wretchedness before her. . . .
|Prisoners at Point Lookout line up to take the oath of allegiance. Park resisted it, seeing the rebel cause as 'just and holy.'|
These weak and cowardly men are willing to betray their own country and people, and swear to support a government which they can but detest. Such men could not have been of any real value to the South, but rather skulking nuisances, and they are to be pitied as well as despised.
March 16 – Miss Eliza Jamison, my fair unknown friend of Baltimore, sent me five dollars, promised to correspond with me herself, and enclosed a bright, sparkling letter, full of wit and humor, from a young lady friend of hers, signed “Mamie,” offering to “write to me once in awhile to cheer me in my prison life.” . . .
Mr. J. W. Fellows, of Manchester, New Hampshire, writes he has sent me twenty-five dollars, but it has never been received. Such a handsome remittance would be a God-send to me now. I suppose the letter examiner pocketed it. . . .
March 19 – To my surprise I received a letter from Abe Goodgame, a mulatto slave belonging to Colonel Goodgame of my regiment, who was captured in the Valley, and is now a prisoner confined at Fort McHenry, having positively refused to take the oath. He asks me to write to his master when I am exchanged, and tell him of his whereabouts, and that he is faithful to him. I replied to Abe in an encouraging way, and showed his letter to several officers of my brigade.
The blatant Abolitionists of the North would scarcely be convinced of the truth of this negro slave’s fidelity to his master, if they were to see it. They are totally ignorant of the real status of the divine institution of slavery, and would be shocked at such an evidence of love for and faithfulness to his master as this slave exhibits. . . .
March 25-26 – Deaths from smallpox, pneumonia, scurvy, fevers, dysentery, and various other diseases, are alarmingly frequent. There is honor and glory in death on the field of battle, amid the whistling of bullets, the shrieks of shells, the fierce roar of cannon, and the defiant shouts of the brave combatants, but the saddest, most solemn and painful of deaths is that within prison walls, far from home and loved ones. . . .
April 2-3 – The appalling news of the evacuation of Richmond and Petersburg has reached us, and the Yankee papers are frantic in their exultant rejoicings. We have feared and rather expected this dreaded event, for General Lee’s excessive losses from battle, by death and wounds, prisoners, disease and desertion, with no reinforcements whatever, taught us that the evacuation of the gallant Confederate capital was inevitable.
I suppose our peerless chieftain will retreat to Lynchburg, or perhaps to North Carolina, and there unite his shattered forces with the army of General Joseph E. Johnston. “There’s life in the old land yet,” and Lee and Johnston, with their small but veteran armies united, having no longer to guard thousands of miles of frontier, will yet wrest victory and independence for the Confederacy from the immense hosts of Yankees, Germans, Irish, English, Canadians and negroes, ex-slaves, composing the powerful armies under Grant and Sherman. . . .
April 10 – The news to-day is dreadful indeed. “General Lee has surrendered” is repeated with hushed breath from lip to lip. No human tongue, however eloquent, no pen, however gifted, can give an adequate description of our dismay and horror at the heart-rending news. . . .
After four long weary years of battle and marches, of prayers and tears, of pain and sacrifice, of wounds and woe, of blood and death, such an ending of our hopes, such a shocking disappointment, is bitter, cruel, crushing. . . . We feel deep, unutterable regret at our failure, but no humiliation. We have done nothing wrong. Our rights were trampled upon, our property stolen, and our liberties attacked, and we did but our sacred duty to defend them as well as we could. . . .
The Yankees of New England first practiced and taught us the doctrine of secession, and then by force forbade us to apply it peaceably. The heroic men who fought, bled and died, are in prison or in exile for this principle, this inherent right, ought not and will not be known in history as traitors.
|Some prisoners cheered news of the|
assassination. Captain Park expressed
ambivalence about it even though
he considered Lincoln a scoundrel.
“ASSASSINATION OF PRESIDENT LINCOLN,
John Wilkes Booth the murderer.
ATTEMPTED MURDER OF SECRETARY SEWARD,
John Howard Payne the Supposed Assassin.”
I called aloud to my hospital comrades, and as I read, they left their bunks and crowded around me, listening with awe to the tragic recital. One of them remarked that he would gladly divide his last crust of bread with the daring Booth, if he should meet him in his wanderings. I said I looked upon Lincoln as a tyrant and inveterate enemy of the South, and could shed no tears for him, but deprecated the cruel manner of his taking off. While we were eagerly and excitedly discussing the startling news, the young galvanized renegade Curry came to my bunk and took down my card, saying, “the doctor says you must go to the barracks.” . . .
Protesting against the inhumanity of his order, I crawled on my hands, right foot and hips to the door of the ward, and nearby, in a small ante-room, put on my old suit of clothes, laying aside my hospital garb. I was then directed to the door of the hospital, down a long, bleak, windy passage, near the gate to the officers’ barracks. Here I waited for my crutches and further orders. . . .
Many who were quite sick – some of the scurvy afflicted among them – hobbled slowly and painfully out of their wards, and the long, cold hall was soon crowded with the sick, the lame and the halt. . . . The plank walk near and space in front of the gate were filled with anxious and curious Confederate officers, who eagerly asked the news. . . . I headed the long procession, and repeated, as I walked, “Abe Lincoln was killed last night.”
The news spread like wildfire, and a few thoughtless fellows seemed overjoyed at it, throwing up their hats, dancing, jumping, and even shouting aloud. Their imprudence caused General Schoepff to order his guards to fire upon any Rebel manifesting pleasure at the news, and he actually had the huge guns of the fort turned frowningly toward us.
A large majority of the prisoners regret Lincoln’s death, and in the wonderful charity which buries all quarrels in the grave, the dead President was no longer regarded as an enemy, for, with the noble generosity native to Southern character, all resentment was hidden in his death.
April 24-25 – Captain Ahl came into the pen, arranged the officers in three sides of a hollow square, and had the roll called alphabetically, offering the oath of allegiance to all, with a promise of early release, if accepted. Nearly 900 out of 2,300 agreed to take it.
It was a trying and exciting time as each name was called and the response “Yes” or “No” was announced. I answered “No” with emphasis and bitterness. Born on Southern soil, reared under its institutions, nurtured upon its traditions, I cannot consent to take the hated oath. The very thought is repulsive in the extreme.
April 26-29 – The distressing news of the surrender of General Johnston to Sherman in North Carolina is announced in words of exultation by the Northern papers. The cup of bitterness and sorrow seems full.
Those officers who had declined the oath were again ordered out, the roll called a second time, and the oath again offered. Hundreds who had promptly and boldly replied “No” when their names were called after Lee’s surrender, now faintly and reluctantly answered “Yes.” . . . When my name was called, I promptly and defiantly answered at the top of my voice “No.”
April 30-May 4 – Another offer of the villainous oath, and only 165 of the entire number of officers in the barracks now continue to resolutely decline it. I again refused. . . .
The Confederate cause is right and holy, and I cannot swear not to aid or comfort it and its still faithful defenders. None but a base and cowardly despotism would force a man to swear against his own conscience, to do something he can only do through perjury. To swear under such circumstances is to suppress the noblest impulses of the heart.
May 5-10 – General Dick Taylor has surrendered to General Canby all the forces east of the Mississippi river. Everything grows darker and more hopeless. The Trans-Mississippi army, under General Kirby Smith, alone remains.
A few of us, “like drowning men catching at straws,” still hope for exchange and deliverance through this source.
May 19-31 – The mortifying news of the capture of President Davis, near Washington, Georgia, is received, and the false report of his attempt to escape in female attire is circulated and maliciously harped upon by the fanatical Yankee newspapers. While I feel sure the report is totally untrue, yet I confess I think he would have been entirely justified in it, if he had sought to escape by such means. . . .
The illustrious, undaunted head of our Confederacy is a manacled prisoner. Our honored, beloved President a chained captive, his Cabinet prisoners or fugitives, our cause lost, our country ruined, our native land desolated, our gallant armies surrendered. The grand head, the noble embodiment of our holy cause, the faithful friend and servant of the South, President Davis, is now shut up in the dreary prison walls of Fortress Monroe.
On the 26th my last, fond hope was completely crushed. General Kirby Smith surrendered his forces in the Trans-Mississippi Department to General Canby at Baton Rouge. . . . What shall I do? If the alternative of banishment from the country was offered, I would unhesitatingly accept it. But it is the hated oath of allegiance or perpetual imprisonment. Both are terrible, revolting. . . .
June 1-5 – I am collecting the autographs of the brave men who to the last have refused the oath of allegiance, nearly all of whom now, since the surrender of Kirby Smith and his army, are willing to take the oath when again offered, in accordance with the proclamation of President Johnson.
The faithful forty have at last most reluctantly come to the sad and painful conclusion that further resistance is useless, and will no longer refuse the oath if offered. . . .
June 13-15 – Transportation for all the crippled officers was obtained, and in company with Captain Russell and Captain Rankin, of Georgia, Adjutant Reagan, of Tennessee, and a large number of other wounded officers, I was escorted to the fort, where the oath was read to us, while we stood with our right hands raised aloft. I managed to drop to the rear and lowered my hand during its reading. Soon we took a boat for Philadelphia, and began to realize that the war was indeed over, and we on the way to our respective homes.
Next: A prequel: Capt. Park at Gettysburg
Next: A prequel: Capt. Park at Gettysburg