From the New York Herald, May 9, 1863
OUR CAPTURED CORRESPONDENT.
His Adventures in the Rebel Confederacy. The Experiences of Mr. J.H. Vosburg, One of Our Special Army Correspondents.
It has been remarked that the HERALD had correspondents in every place where it is possible that anything interesting may occur, but I believe that I have the distinction of being the first representative of that press in Libby prison.
[Vosburg goes on at length about his capture and subsequent trip towards Richmond. MDG]
REINFORCEMENTS FOR LEE.
On Thursday morning there passed through Gordonsville a train loaded with soldiers, composed, as I learned, of men from four batteries intended only for home defence at Richmond, but who had been formed into an infantry battalion for this emergency. We took the train at one for Richmond, and on the way met two more trains loaded with troops, artillery and horses. Altogether, I think I saw pass on this road about two thousand infantry and two batteries of artillery.
ON TO RICHMOND.
On this train we had comfortable seats and more pleasant surroundings than on the day previous. We reached Richmond about nine P. M. Owing to the darkness, which overtook us before we reached town. I was able to see but very little of the city, and got no glimpse of fortifications before reaching it.
We were marched to Carey street and halted in front of Castle Thunder - a not unattractive building externally - where our conscripts were left. The "Yanks" were taken to Libby prison, about a block above and on the same street.
THE LIBBY PRISON AND ITS OFFICERS.
The Libby was formerly the tobacco warehouse of Messrs. Libby & Son. It is a substantial looking brick building, three stories in height, and was a mercantile warehouse of medium description. We were first ushered into a whitewashed passage-way through the building, and then singly into the office, on the walls of which are festooned several flags taken from our troops in different engagements. Here a record was made of our names and positions, and our money was taken from us, and a receipt, stating that it would be returned on our release from the prison, was given in exchange.
Captain Thos. H. Turner the Superintendent of the prison, and a young man with rather a pert, Southern air, entered into conversation with me, and seemed disposed to render himself agreeable. I afterwards learned that Captain Turner was particularly obnoxious to our officers in his hands, treating them invariably in a very insulting manner. Mr. Ross, clerk of the Libby prison, was formerly in the employ of a mercantile firm in New York - if I remember rightly, that of Messrs. Carter & Co. - and is a rather gentlemanly young man, of whom I heard no complaints. Mr. Ligum, an assistant, is very pleasing and courteous in his address, and was liked by all our officers.
Captain Schoenofski and I were conducted to the third door and ushered into a room where, at that time, was confined one hundred and four officers. We had daily accessions afterwards. A majority of the prisoners had lain down and many were surrounded by interested crowds anxiously inquiring the news from Hooker's Army. "Is Hooker coming?" "What force has he got?" "Will he give them bail?" And other questions were asked much more rapidly than they could be answered. Having at that time faith in Hooker and entire confidence in the strength and character of his forces, I was able to give such answers to these questions as to elicit expressions of delighted confidence. "If Hooker only whips Lee the confederacy is gone," was the expression and apparently the unanimous opinion of these officers.
THE OFFICERS' ROOM,
where I now was, presented at this time a picturesque appearance. There were enough, "made of boards and raised about two feet, to accommodate half the inmates. The remainder were compelled to lie on the floor, but this difference in the accommodations was very slight, the only advantage of the cot being that it was somewhat out of the dirt and sawdust with which the floor was strewn. When all were couched one could hardly traverse the length of the room without treading upon more than one sleeper or would be somnolent.
The apartment was formerly used as a storeroom, and is the loft of one portion of the warehouse. Its dimensions are about fifty by one hundred feet. The long roof is supported by heavy, upright posts, intersected above by cross beams and joists. As this portion of the building is of more recent - possibly older - construction than the remainder, its four walls are of brick. At the eaves the room is about six feet in height, and above we have a view of the network of cross beams and joists, and of the rafters to the apex of the roof. The room fronts northeast, and from the five square windows we had something of a view of the town. To the right, across the street, is a large warehouse occupied as barracks by the City Guard. Back of this is another large building, used as a hospital and kept constantly guarded on all sides; for even sick, and especially convalescent Confederate soldiers, are not free from the suspicion of desiring to escape on the first opportunity. To the left Castle Thunder could be seen.
The windows on the right hand side look across a narrow street, and upon a tobacco warehouse and manufactory, where, during the day, negroes, mostly females, could be seen at work with the fragrant weed.
The back windows overlooked the canal, the James river and the three bridges across it, Manchester, and a delightful stretch of country south of the James. Rockets is barely discernable on the left.
THE FEDERAL OFFICERS
confined here represented nearly every portion of our army and many a well fought field, while there were some from the navy. Here were General Willich, captured at Murfreesboro; General Stoughton and Colonel Coburn, of Indiana, whose brigade was captured after a desperate resistance against overwhelming numbers at Thompson Station, Tennessee, on the 5th of March last. There were also Colonels Utley, Gilbert, Buell, Wood and Fletcher; a number of lieutenant colonels, majors and subordinates too numerous to mention, and the officers of the gunboat Columbia.
Many had been confined as long as five months, and there were men from every prison in the Southern confederacy. The treatment which some of them had received before reaching Richmond had been barbarous. Both officers and men of Col. Coburn command had been deprived of their overcoats by Gen. Bragg, and had been obliged to march and to lie in the cold and wet. Many of them had perished under this treatment.
CONDITION OF THE CONFEDERACY.
Accounts from all portions of the confederacy were of rapidly approaching starvation, of general disaffection among the people, and of returning Union sentiment. In Georgia are some two thousand in the mountains who have so far successfully resisted the conscription, defeating a force sent to take them. In many places in the South our prisoners found Union people, who, in some cases, clandestinely offered them money. In nearly all the Southern jails are individuals confined and treated with great cruelty on the plea that they were still entertaining Union sentiments. In Knoxville particularly the Union sentiment predominates, and here citizen prisoners are treated with most atrocious severity.
Confederate officers in Richmond confessed to some of the prisoners that if Lee's army was once in retreat there were no bayonets enough in the Southern confederacy to stop it.
THE HERALD REPRESENTATIVE.
I found that my own arrival at Libby was expected, my capture having been heralded by the Richmond journals. The officers expressed themselves delighted to have me among them, as they presumed I would give the public an account of the treatment they were receiving. The confederacy appeared to be excessively tickled at having captured a correspondent of the HERALD - may it never achieve a more important success - and notices of my arrival appeared in the Richmond papers. The following is from the Enquirer of May 2: -
PERSONAL - ARRIVALS FROM THE NORTH. - Newspaper
will be interested to learn that Mr. J. H. Vosburg, army correspondent of the NEW YORK HERALD - not the World, as before reported - has arrived in this city, and is stopping for the present at the "Libby." He was encountered at Ellis' Ford, on the Rappahannock, some days ago, by a number of Stuartmen, who insisted and finally prevailed upon him to pay a visit to Richmond. Capt. Joe Schoenofski, aid-de-camp to General Schurz, of the federal army, has arrived from KellyFord, and is stopping at the same hotel.
THE FARE at Libby prison was not exactly ambrosial, nor was it always quantum sufficit. The prisoners were furnished with half of moderate sized loaf of good enough bread and less than half a pound of salt beef daily, with occasional rations of small black beans or rice.
The beef was never good, and was often so bad - though this did not occur during my stay - that they were obliged to throw it away, but no more was furnished in its place. They were allowed to purchase small supplies at fabulous prices. Eggs $1.50 per dozen, dried apples $1.50 per pound, and what was sold for coffee - undoubtedly rye (O Rio) - $1 for a half-pound package. They were permitted to draw their money in small quantities to make these purchases. They were compelled to do their own cooking and to scrub the room they occupied. The blankets furnished had been used in hospitals, and were of the filthiest descriptions and swarming with vermin.
They who brought in the rations and ordered us, morning and evening, to in for roll call, was employed to make purchases of needful articles. For he allowed a premium of fifty per cent in Confederate notes, though it was well known that they sold readily for one hundred, and they were once quoted in a Richmond journal at three hundred and fifty. It was believed, also, that he exacted from prisoners a much greater price than he paid for articles in town; but there was no redress. Opinions differed as to the character of this man. His manners were certainly not pleasing, though he may have had some cause for ill-nature in the mimicking of his whining voice by our officers, and in remarks not flattering to his self-love. The pursy adjutant who superintended the semi daily roll call looks sufficiently good-humored, but he was by no means a favorite. Neither he nor the sergeant seemed to consider it proper ever to address a Yankee prisoner as a gentleman.
A guard from the City Battalion was kept at the head of the stairway within the room. By conversing with these men we learned that many of them entertained Union sentiments, and that all were heartily tired of the Jeff. Davis rule.
OTHER PORTIONS OF THE PRISON.
Over two hundred officers had been confined in this single room, but before I came another had been fitted up, and the captains transferred to that. This lower room, which I did not see, was said to be much less pleasant than the one I occupied, being poorly ventilated, and the windows boarded up, so that little could be seen outside, while there was not sufficient light within. Another apartment was used as a prisoners' hospital. The enlisted men were on the lower floor, and their quarters are represented as anything but commodious. Still another room was devoted to the incarceration of civilian prisoners and deserters from our army. Of the civilian prisoners many were sutlers, and it is said that some of them, as well as some deserters, have been confined over a year and a half. Deserters are kept in prison on scant fare, and subjected to harsh treatment until they take the oath of allegiance to the Confederacy, when they are conscripted.
visited us on Friday, taking a survey of the prison. He is a venerable looking man at first glance, with gray hair, but when one notes his sharp features, with high cheek bones, his cold, cruel gray eye, and his haughty, insulting air, you readily believe him to possess the unrelenting heartlessness attributed to him, and feel that you would like to see his arrogant spirit broken with his neck.
He was approached by an officer, who asked for the return of a beautiful pistol belonging to General Rosecrans, and which the officer had in his possession when captured. General Winder said he did not feel like extending any courtesy to General Rosecrans or any of his command, he had issued orders that would disgrace a wild beast. He, however, promised to forward a letter to General Bragg about the pistol.
A darkey come into our prison every morning with the Richmond papers, shouting, in a peculiar and laughable manner, "Great news in de papers - Enquirer, Dispatch, Sentinel - news from everywhere." He sold these half- sheet journals to us at fifteen cents each, and said he paid ten for them. They contained very little news, and we gave little credence to their despatches, but derived no little amusement from the editorial columns.
Many of the officers busied themselves in making ornaments of the bones of the beef furnished us. These consisted principally of rings, brooches and vest chain ornaments, and some of them were beautiful and elaborate specimens of workmanship. Chess boards and chess men were manufactured; some sets of chessmen being carved in superior manner. Three or four packs of dirty cards were kept almost constantly in use.
On Sunday we were informed that the flag of truce boat had arrived at City Point, and that we should be released next morning. It will readily be believed that this announcement was hailed with delight.
We were all paroled, and about eleven were mustered and taken down stairs into the street. On our arrival there we received the information that the boat was not ready, and we were remanded to our quarters, but with the promise that we should certainly be set free on Tuesday morning. As the soldier guards had been sent away and their places supplied by convalescents, discharged soldiers and citizens, it was believed by some that giving us to understand we were going, and thus inducing us to give the parole, was a ruse to prevent an attempt to escape when we saw the prison so poorly guarded.
At roll call the Adjutant warned us not to go near the windows, as the men then on guard were not to discipline, and he could not answer for the consequences if we disregarded his admonition. Little heed was paid to this warning, and we amused ourselves with noting the awkwardness with which some of the citizens handled their muskets. One potbellied dandy in kid gloves excited considerable mirth.
OUT OF DOORS AGAIN.
We were to leave at four on Tuesday morning; but every one was ready at two - very little attention having been given to sleep during the night. The order to fall in and march down stairs was obeyed with alacrity. The sick from the hospital were taken in ambulances, and placed first on board the train. The battalion, consisting of over five hundred, was marched to the depot, packed in the cars, and in due time started for Petersburg and City Point.
LEFT IN PRISON.
A number of civilians are still in Libby prison: how many I could not learn, as we were allowed to have no communication with them. Four officers - two Virginians and two Kentuckians - confined in the penitentiary as hostages for the notorious Zarvoni were sent to Libby on Monday, and released with the others. They report as still in the Richmond penitentiary Captain Graham and Lieutenant Wade, of the Eighth Virginia cavalry, held as hostages for Captain Dusky and Lieutenant Varnes, guerilla mail robbers, who, I hear, are confined in the penitentiary at Albany; also Jos. J. Shuman, of the Fourth Main, captured at Manassas, who attempted to escape, and being found in the company of contraband negroes was accused of negro stealing.
We left in the Libby prison Capt. McKee, of Mount Sterling, Ky., whose feelings at seeing his friends depart are represented as being apparently and naturally very bitter. Capt. McKee was provost marshal at Mount Sterling, and a man named Ferguson, whom he had arrested as a spy, caused an article to be published in a Richmond journal stating that he had been badly treated by that officer. Hence parole or exchange was refused him. He is represented as a very worthy and brave man.
Several colored sailors, belonging to the Columbia and the Isaac Smith, were retained, but the officers of these vessels will make the proper representations to secure their release.
TO CITY POINT.
Between Richmond and Petersburg we saw many fortifications, but no troops. At Petersburg a crowd of mingled whites and blacks regarded us with evident interest while we marched from one train of cars to the other. Between Petersburg and City Point are some fortifications.
Arrived near City Point we caught sight of the Stars and Stripes on the State of Maine and the John Rice. This view was greeted with hearty cheers from our soldiers, and many a sentimental and joyous expression did I hear issue from the released prisoners at seeing once more the beloved banner of freedom.
of all those who have had an interior view of the Southern confederacy is, that its power is as rotten as its principles, and that if we can succeed in dealing it one effective blow at a vital point - say Richmond, Charleston or Vicksburg - it will soon crumble into ruins; and, unlike baseless fabric of a vision, leave a woeful wreck behind.