The Official Site of Fort DeRussy, Louisiana
A Year in the Confederacy.
Account of the Special Correspondent of the Herald.
Graphic Description of his Capture and Imprisonment.
Thrilling Scenes in the Parish Prison.
Life and Death in a Dismal Dungeon.
The April Fool the Rebels Made of Mr. Anderson.
A Voice from the Iron Dungeon.
&c. &c. &c.
We give below the commencement of Mr. Anderson's account of his adventures during a year's imprisonment by the rebels. He spent two months of that time in Alexandria, Louisiana, locked in the parish prison, which was the scene of those touching incidents his pen has pictured in the following portion of his narrative.
Mr. Finley Anderson's Narrative.
At length I have been released. I have not been exchanged or paroled. I have been released. Mine is what can be called an "unconditional surrender." Major General Banks on the one side, and Major General Taylor on the other, have recently entered into an agreement by which all the citizen prisoners heretofore captured by their commands respectively would be released from custody. In accordance with the terms of that agreement I formed one of a dozen citizens who, on the 2d of February, were delivered under a flag of truce to Captain Ramsey, commanding a division of our naval squadron on the lower Mississippi.
A year is a long time to be a prisoner of war. I was a prisoner in the rebel lines
twelve months lacking twelve days. But I am in the hands of enemies no longer. I
am free. The graceful folds of our cherished standard are waving over me in the Empire
City of the North. Loyal citizens of the United States, who, in their own country,
have been so long as we have been deprived the familiar and inspiring sight of our
beloved banner, and instead have witnessed only an insulting substitute-
In the course of my captivity in jail, in military prisons and in camps I have been with many of the Union prisoners captured west of the Mississippi within a year. I have shared their joys and sorrows. I have also had considerable conversation with Southern citizens and soldiers. In the following narrative I will endeavor to relate the simple story of our experience, and give a plain, impartial statement of matters as we found them in the insurgent States. I know how difficult it is to be impartial. Some people, inclined to extremes in everything, deem impartiality impossible. I am not of their opinion. The facts that I will furnish reveal the dreadful conditions of affairs within the rebel lines. They show the energy and desperation of the Southern leaders, the sentiments of many of the Southern citizens, and demonstrate that the misery of the people is coextensive with the magnitude of the revolt.
And, first, permit me to observe that I have never entertained any antipathy to the people of the South. I had learned to look upon them and to love them as our common kindred. I had learned to love a land that is illustrious for the beauty of its sunny skies, the luxuriance of its sugar cane and cotton fields, the fragrance of its orange groves and gardens. I had learned to love the hospitality and grace of its imperial planters. I had learned to love the cool evening air you breathe from their broad verandas. Some people, North and South, make a practice of denouncing one or the other section of the country. This is a sad and dangerous error. It is an evidence of either prejudice or ignorance, or both, for when people of both sections commingle freely with each other, they invariably become more charitable and conservative.
It was the fancy I had for Southern scenes that made me pleased to accept an opportunity to transfer the locality of my correspondence from the Potomac to the Mississippi.
THE QUEEN OF THE WEST.
ON THE MISSISSIPPI.
While the army under Major General Grant was investing Vicksburg, the upper gunboat fleet, under Rear Admiral Porter, was doing all that could be done to disconcert the operations of the enemy. On Monday morning, February 2,1863, the United States steam ram Queen of the West, Col. Charles R. Ellet commanding, astonished the garrison of Vicksburg by running the gauntlet of all its blazing batteries. She subsequently captured three steamboats laden with provisions for the enemy at Port Hudson, and sent them floating down the Mississippi without captain, engineer or pilot, each steamboat transformed into a moving conflagration. On Tuesday, February 10, the Queen started on her second adventurous voyage down the Mississippi river. By so much as the first was successful the second was disastrous; for, while the fruits of the former were the capture of several steamboats from the enemy, the result of the latter was the loss of the Queen herself. The night was wonderfully beautiful. Millions of stars glittered in the deep blue sky, and their reflection made millions more seem to sparkle on the water. We expected that the batteries at Warrenton would open on us; but we were disappointed. Probably the enemy could not see us in the darkness. So we passed the batteries at Warrenton in silence. Early Wednesday morning we paid a passing visit to the plantation formerly owned by old President Zachary Taylor. It is a son of that departed patriot and hero who is a major general in the rebel army, and now commanding the rebel forces in Lower Louisiana. The property in question now belongs to Jeff. Davis and his uncle Joe. At Natchez we saw hundreds of the citizens assembled on the hill. They stood gazing in amazement at us. We anchored near the mouth of Red river for the night
On the following morning, as we approached a plantation to make inquiries concerning the whereabouts of steamboats, a number of negroes, mostly old women and young children, came crowding to the shore. They must have imagined that we were coming to take them to their fancied earthly paradise, in accordance with Mr. Lincoln's emancipation proclamation; for they danced and shouted, fell down on their knees and clapped their hands in ecstacy, some of them exclaiming, "De day ob de Lord hab surely come; 0 bress de Lord, aha." When we asked why their masters had not taken them away one of the women answered, “Massa tot we was fit flowers for the grave, and so he left us here to die." We went a short distance down the Atchafalaya river, where we destroyed a number of rebel government wagons and some seventy barrels of salt beef. Our sailing master, James D. Thompson was shot in the leg and mortally wounded by guerillas. Next morning Colonel Ellet burned several houses on the Atchafalaya in retaliation. At noon, turning out of the Atchafalaya, we soon entered the mouth of the Red river, which we ascended, without further incident, to the mouth of Black river, where we anchored till the morrow.
During Friday night an Indian came to us in his canoe, and we took him on board the vessel. Early on Sunday morning we continued up Red river. The course of this stream is extremely serpentine. The waters are of a reddish color, from which circumstance it derives its name. In some seasons of the year the river, at portions or points, is nearly dry, while at other seasons it rises suddenly and inundates the surrounding country near its mouth. Two hours after starting the lookout alert saw a steamboat coming. We had heard that the rebel gunboats Webb and Grand Duke were in the river, and were ready to attack us. So our decks were cleared for action. The minute we hove in sight of the steamboat, which was coming round a bend, we saw her attempting to turn and escape from us; but a shell from the Parrott gun on the ferryboat De Soto, alongside of us, was fired at her. The shell went crashing through the kitchen, smashing the dishes and slightly wounding the negro cook. Then the waving of white handkerchiefs on board announced that the steamboat had surrendered. She proved to be the Era No. 5, laden with corn for the rebel army in Arkansas. She was bound for Little Rock. There were several citizens and soldiers on board. Among them was a person who had a large amount of rebel money. Colonel Ellet supposed him to be a paymaster or government agent; but he himself asserted that he was only a private speculator. A guard was placed on the captured steamboat. Colonel Ellet forced the pilot of the Era to go into our wheelhouse and assist the pilot of the Queen. At the first landing we came to the soldiers were paroled and set ashore with the citizens, whom he released. Afterwards the Era, with her crew and a guard aboard, was left at a convenient point, while we proceeded further up the river.
APPROACHING FORT DE RUSSY.
The object of our cruise in this quarter was both to capture steamboats and to ascertain the location and character of the battery and raft which were being constructed on the river. From different persons whom we picked up from skiffs we learned that the battery and the raft were at Gordon's Landing, about seventy miles from the mouth of the river. The enemy knew that we were coming. Twenty miles below we had seen a courier dash off towards the fort with the news of our approach. It was six o'clock in the evening when we neared the fort. The water battery consisted of three heavy guns, each inside a separate mound, and one gun en barbette. They were situated close to the water's edge, at a bend which gave them a sweep of half a mile either up or down the river. About a quarter of a mile in the rear, on the rising ground, there was a bastioned fort containing a battery of field pieces, placed in position to repel a land assault. It was subsequently named Fort De Russy, in honor of the old gentleman who superintended its construction. Before rounding the bend which brought us within range, we fired three shots across the point of land at a steamboat which was escaping from the landing. The negroes detailed to work upon the fort came out, frightened, from their quarters opposite, and set up a general waving of white rags, and handkerchiefs. Turning this point, we found ourselves only nine hundred yards from the guns of the water battery.
THE QUEEN CAPTURED.
The guns immediately opened on us. It was now fast growing dark, and we could see the position of the battery only by the flashes of its guns. When the enemy opened, Col. Ellet gave orders to back down the river. He did not go to fight the fort; he went only to reconnoitre. When the engines were reversed it was ascertained that the Queen had touched the shoal projecting from the point, and was fast aground. George Woods, the pilot of the Era No. 5, whom the Colonel had impressed, jumped overboard and swam ashore. The secessionists told me afterwards that this rebel pilot had purposely run our boat aground. Meanwhile the solid shot from the fort were plunging into her. Orders were given to throw off some cotton bales in order to lighten her, in hopes she would float off. It proved of no avail, however. While this was being done part of the machinery became exposed; a solid shot cut the steampipe and the vessel was soon enveloped in a cloud of steam. She was now completely in the enemy's power. Great excitement prevailed upon the Queen. Most of those on board attempted to escape, some went away in the small boats, some jumped into the water and swam ashore, and others floated down the river on the cotton bales. Colonel Ellet left the vessel at this time. It was apparent that the only practical course for the commander to pursue was to bring up the De Soto, put the crew aboard and then destroy the Queen. I supposed he had gone down to bring up the De Soto, for we could see her lights half a mile below. Standing on the hurricane deck, I watched the De Soto's light, which looked like a star of hope in the surrounding gloom. I watched it for an hour. It was our only hope. But it did not come. The fort continued firing an occasional shot. We did not reply, because our broadside guns could not be brought to bear, and because most of the men had left the ship. Presently Lieutenant Tuthill came up in a boat from the De Soto to take off our wounded sailing master, Thompson, and to burn the Queen. In the meantime several of our crew had been severely scalded by the steam. While we were moving Mr. Thompson an excited soldier came rushing from the gun deck into the cabin, shouting, "I saw three boats full of rebels coming to board us on the bow." The poor wounded man was dropped, like a hot potato, on the cabin floor; the word flew through the ship like wildfire that the rebels were boarding us; the little boat which had been brought up for the wounded officer was instantly cut loose, and was soon at the De Soto with the news that we were boarded. I went out on the gundeck to receive the rebels; but not a rebel was there to receive. The abnormal imagination of the excited soldier must have created boats and human beings out of the shadows on the water of overhanging bushes on the shore. It was too late to get the wounded off, for the little boat had gone; and soon afterwards the De Soto was steaming down the river with Col. Ellet and a portion of his crew. It was now impossible for those on board the Queen to get away. What grieved me most was that we could not get the wounded off, so as to destroy the vessel. Why did I not jump into the river and get upon a cotton bale? Because I was the guest of the commander; because I was every moment expecting him back on the De Soto, and I thought that to stand by his ship till his return was the part of duty and the part of honor. But he did not return, and that was the reason we were captured.
Had he remained aboard the Queen, or had he returned, he could not have saved his vessel, but he could have burned her. But since then death has removed him forever from all earthly scenes of activity and danger. His death occurred while I was yet a prisoner. Let no one desire to disturb his silent slumber. Let him repose in peace, for if he was not a judicious, he was at least a gallant officer.
THE REBELS TAKE POSSESSION.
Many hours elapsed before the rebels really knew that the Queen was already captured. The enemy, surprised at our silence, and supposing that under cover of the darkness, we were landing troops for an assault upon the fort, blazed away at us with grape and canister. Just then a tremendous thunder storm arose. The showers of rain fell on the deck as gentle dew compared with the showers of grape and canister; the flashes of the lightning and the flashes of the guns were sometimes simultaneous, the sound of the cannon and the noise of the thunder could scarcely be distinguished. The situation was fearful, but the sight magnificent. At length the firing ceased. I afterwards ascertained from the commander of the battery that he had been firing at random, because the darkness of the night had shut out from view the precise location of the Queen. At midnight, however, the enemy set fire to a warehouse on the opposite side of the river, so that the brilliant light it shed illuminated that portion of the stream, and revealed the position of our vessel. It also revealed the white flag which some of the crew had run up meanwhile. We could see a crowd of men about the burning building. An hour afterwards a boat came from the fort, and Captain Hutton, of the Crescent artillery, received the surrender. The unpleasant duty of making it was performed by Dr. Boothe he being a commissioned officer.
Captain Hutton was a very gentlemanly officer. He treated us with great respect and courtesy. He had been in the regular United States Army before the breaking out of the rebellion. During the attack upon New Orleans by the Union fleet he was attached to one of the rebel gunboats, and, being captured by our forces and taken North, was four months a prisoner in Fort Warren. He spoke of the kindness he had received from people of the North, and said his wife was still sojourning there. I saw the Captain subsequently, when he told me that since he had seen me last he had received a letter stating that his wife was dead. Captain Kelso, commander of the post at Fort De Russy, also came on board. Captain Hutton introduced his superior officer, Captain Kelso. I shook hands with him and said, "I'm very sorry to meet you under the present circumstances." “I'm damned glad to meet you under the present circumstances," retorted Captain Kelso. After writing to General Taylor's Adjutant an official announcement of the capture, he returned ashore. Captain Hutton remained aboard all night. Next day was Sunday. The storm continued. Several visitors came off to see the prize.
By noon the rebel gunboat Webb had come down from Alexandria. She was going in pursuit of the steamboat that had escaped with Colonel Ellet and some of the crew of the Queen aboard. The Webb is a beautifully modeled and a fast sailing steamer. She was originally one of the superior class of tugboats of this city. She has double engines, and is perhaps the swiftest craft on the Western waters. I was introduced to her then commander, Lieut. Colonel Lovell. He is brother of Mansfield Lovell, who, before the commencement of the war, was Deputy Street Commissioner in New York, and is now a superannuated major general in the rebel army. Lieut. Colonel Lovell asked me if the Union gunboat Indianola was at the mouth of Red river. I answered, "I do not know, sir." Her insisted as politely as possible that I should give him positive information. I then replied, "I have already stated that I do not know; and if I did know her precise position I should certainly not tell you." "Well," he said, "that's right. So far as you yourself are concerned you shall be treated well; but if I catch Colonel Ellet I'll put him down below," pointing to the hold of his vessel. We then exchanged parting complements, and he stepped aboard the Webb, which went cutting down the river.
THE CAPTURED QUEEN AT ALEXANDRIA.
On Monday morning the Queen of the West was towed up to the forts. There we had a number of other visitors. Among them was a lady, apparently a spinster, some what advanced in years, who had weapons of war bristling on the belt around her waist. In the afternoon a steamboat started, with the Queen in tow, for Alexandria, a distance of sixty miles. On the river we passed the splendid steamboat General Quitman, having on board some United States regulars, captured in Texas at the commencement of the war, and who were then on their way to be exchanged. On the following afternoon, as we were nearing Alexandria, a salute was fired on board the Queen, and the people in town came running down to the levee to see the gunboat, the recital of whose exploits had spread so much consternation through that portion of the Southern country. And there also we had quite a number of visitors come aboard. In the evening Capt. Hutton informed me that the other prisoners on board, fourteen in number, would be paroled and sent back within our lines immediately, but that I would be retained. I asked him, "Why do they make a single exception in my case?" He said, "I do not know exactly; but I believe, from what I heard, that some person has been to General Taylor's headquarters and told his Assistant Adjutant General some story about your endeavoring to destroy the vessel." "What story?" "A story to the effect that some person prevented you burning her." "Why," I answered, "you know yourself, that that story is not true." "Yes," he said, "I knew it is not true, and I will endeavor this afternoon to get you an interview with the adjutant." "Well," I said, "you may see him yourself if you choose; but I shall not ask any interview with him. I am sorry that the Queen was not destroyed; and had it not been for the wounded men we had aboard we would have burned her." He answered, "That would be no more than we did with our gunboat when the federal forces were taking possession of New Orleans." "However," I said, in closing the conversation, "The Confederate authorities may dispose of me and treat me as they please; I shall never ask any favors of them;" for I had determined to never ask a favor of a rebel.
SCENES IN THE PARISH PRISON.
ROMANTIC JOURNEY TO THE JAIL.
At eight o'clock that evening a rebel captain, with a guard of soldiers, came to
me and said, "You will now go ashore." I immediately comprehended how much meaning
those few words contained. He procured a lantern, and a man named Nathan A. J. Smith
and myself were walked ashore. The night was dark and dreary. After wading through
several streets, knee-
Before we were taken to the jail a rebel officer told me that this Mr. Smith was
going to be hanged. An hour afterwards I found my fortunes, for the time being at
least, closely united with my own. Therefore when the jailor took the light away,
and left us in silence and in darkness, there were no very pleasant anticipations
for either of us. In brief, from the way the rebels talked to us we did not know
but that they might hang us in the morning. I had seen murderers and pirates hung,
and had described the hanging scenes in the columns of the HERALD; but now I had
the strongest kind of conscientious scruples against the right of capital punishment.
It was pleasanter to be of the opinion that the old Mosaic law had been superseded
by the New Dispensation. It was no wonder that our first night in prison would have
been a sleepless one-
DEATH IN A DUNGEON.
In the morning the jailor told me that if I chose I could be confined alone. I was pleased with the opportunity. I did not like the idea of being longer confined in the same room with a man they were going to hang. So I said I would prefer to be alone. Accordingly Mr. Smith was moved to another room. I did not then know to what place he had been moved; but I afterwards ascertained by practical experience how gloomy was the place to which he had been moved, and how dismal was the dungeon in which he died. He had been suffering with pneumonia. The disease, together with his imprisonment within those cheerless walls and its accompanying apprehensions, shortly put an end to his existence. One Tuesday morning, just two weeks from the day on which I had been imprisoned, the jailor casually said to me "That man who was put in with you the first night you came here is dead." "When did he die?" I asked. He answered, "Early this morning, but I don't know what time. The negroes said they found him dead at daylight." Upon further inquiry I learned that he had been taken from the debtor's room to the iron dungeon, and after his sickness became serious the iron dungeon was then so cold he was moved into the dungeon with the negroes, where, after lingering a few days, he died; so that when the jailor unlocked the doors that morning all he found of Mr. Smith were his remains. The prisoner was not there. The body was lying in the dungeon; but the spirit had departed; for the soul cannot be confined by solid walls and iron doors. I was deeply impressed with this touching incident. Being suspected of nothing but loyalty to the government under whose protection he was born, this poor man was thrust into prison by inhuman men; the apprehensions of what they said would be his doom and the recollections of his helpless family at home preyed upon his mind until at last death unlocked the dungeon doors, and his spirit was released from suffering.
On the day after Mr. Smith had been moved away I found myself alone in what I henceforth
called my room. When the jailor brought in my breakfast he apologized for its frugality.
He said it was impossible to purchase flour in Alexandria, in consequence of which
the bread stores had been compelled to close. I said no apology was needed, as under
the circumstances corn bread and beef were very good. I soon became accustomed to
prison life and prison fare. Mr. McKinney, the jailor, was uniformly kind to me.
He took away the fodder and swept the floor. Afterwards I had a broom bought for
myself, and I gave the place a thorough cleaning-
I had been a week in prison when one morning I received a visit from two gentlemen
connected with the Southern press. One was Mr. E. R. Boissat, editor of the Alexandria
Democrat; and the other was Dr. Gilbert, correspondent of the Houston Telegraph.
The burden of Mr. Boissat's conversation was the conduct of General Butler in New
Orleans, of which he spoke in terms of the bitterest denunciation. The leading secessionists,
smarting under the vigorous and decided policy of Butler, have magnified and misrepresented
his actions for the purpose of inflaming the minds of the Southern people. In allusion
to the press of Texas, Dr. Gilbert told me that most of the newspapers in the Lone
Star State had discontinued publication on account of the scarcity of printing paper.
Mr. Boissat told me that Mr. Thompson, who had been wounded on the Queen of the West,
had been brought ashore, and was being cared for in a private family. All the other
prisoners had been paroled and sent within our lines. "We will not treat you," he
said, "as you people have treated our prisoners; we will treat you well." A few days
afterwards I ascertained that the Queen of the West had been of the greatest service
to the rebels in assisting them to sink the Indianola. Next day Mr. Hines-
On Sunday morning, March 1, Mr. Calvert, Deputy Sheriff, in making his weekly visit to the prison, asked me whether I got enough to eat and whether I needed anything to make me comfortable. I told him I wanted nothing. In the afternoon I formed the acquaintance of two Union gentlemen, who never failed to make me a weekly visit of friendship and sympathy on each succeeding Sabbath. One was an English gentleman, who still owed allegiance to her Majesty Victoria, and the other was a native of New York. They were in Louisiana when the war broke out, and when they wanted to go away they found it impossible to get North. They were anxiously awaiting the time when the advance of the Union forces would enable them to depart. They inquired with the deepest interest concerning the sentiments of the people of the North. They said they could not obtain any reliable information from the Southern newspapers, and that the secessionists studiously concealed the real condition of affairs and circulated falsehoods among the people of the South. On the following Sunday the English gentleman told me that during the previous summer he had travelled over a large portion of the Southern States. He was satisfied at that time that the Davis government did not rest on a solid basis; that it was rotten to the core, and that in his opinion, from what he saw, the whole confederacy must eventually tumble to the ground. He said that if the Union forces had taken possession of the Mississippi river during the previous summer, as they could easily have done, they would have prevented an immense amount of supplies going eastward to the rebels; for in the spring he had known of two hundred and fifty thousand head of cattle having been sent across to the rebels east of the Mississippi. The other gentleman spoke in terms of the highest respect and the tenderest affection of the American flag and the American Union. He said there were many Union men in Alexandria, who, amid the storm of secession which swept over them, stood by the Union still, and would stand by it to the end. They had to be very cautious in their conversation, he said; but they knew each other well. His indignation was aroused when he spoke of the mean and sneaking course of the secessionists around him, and tears rolled down his manly face when he discoursed of the blessings which all Americans have vouchsafed to them under the government of the Union. He said he had been conscripted into the rebel army, but, being a mechanic, had been detailed to work at his trade in Alexandria. "But," he added, lifting his arm and speaking with emphasis and feeling, "may this right arm wither whenever it shall be raised to fire a shot at the Stars and Stripes." He could say no more that day. With his eyes suffused with tears, pressing my hand like a faithful friend, he bade me an affectionate adieu. Next Sunday these two gentlemen called again. Rain or shine, they always came to see me, and after telling me the news they would recur to their favorite theme and renew their expressions of devotion to the Union.
SIX WEEKS IN THE DEBTORS’ ROOM
During all the time of my incarceration there was no reason given for putting me in prison. At best the weeks passed wearily enough, especially as there was no immediate prospect of release. My waking hours were devoted mostly to exercise and reading. The jailor furnished me a plank, out of which I made a pole and Indian clubs for gymnastics exercises. The jailor loaned me "Chambers' Information for the People," one of his little daughters let me have her Testament, and I myself had a copy of the Iliad; so that from the pages of a scientific essay I could turn to the teachings of Christ and His apostles, or mingle with the ancient heroes in the inspiring scenes and battles immortalized by Homer. The only other amusements I had was playing with the children. They would play with me through the iron bars. The jailor's youngest daughter would sit for hours outside on the window sill and delight to talk her childish prattle. One day, after a long and thoughtful silence, addressing me by name, she asked, "Who put you in there?" And when I answered, "The soldiers brought me here," she said, "The soldiers were naughty to bring you here. Won't Pa take you out?" "No," I said, "your Pa would like to take me out, but he is not allowed." "I think," she added, "that Pa will let you out for me."
The weather was generally beautiful, and in the evening the sun shone through the
northwestern window where I would sit and watch it till it sank from sight. Then,
when the twilight deepened into darkness, I would roll myself in my blankets and
sleep soundly until morning. The children used to bring me flowers. I was seldom
without a bouquet when flowers could be found. Of course I prized them very highly;
but I would often think a prison was a strange place for flowers-
IN THE IRON DUNGEON.
Looking at the brightest side of things, I might say that at that time, although I was locked up in jail, I was comparatively comfortable. But soon there was a change. On the afternoon of Wednesday, 1st of April, the deputy sheriff, a corpulent old constable and the jailor came to my door, and after the jailor had opened it the sheriff said to me, "You must go up stairs," observing, as an excuse for moving me, "the Confederate government wants your room." I said nothing, but went up stairs with them. Passing from my room into the prison yard, we ascended a staircase on the outside of the building. On the platform, at the head, we passed a moment while the jailor unlocked two great iron doors. This opened into a passage, which, for a window, had an opening with an iron grating at the further end. The passage was occupied by a runaway negro woman. To the right is the dungeon for the negroes, and to the left the dungeon for criminals. It was at the latter that we paused again while the jailor unlocked two more great iron doors. The massive chains fell with a doleful noise on the iron floor, and the doors rolled back with a grating sound upon their heavy hinges. The jailor did not search me, but, with becoming delicacy, asked me for my pocket knife, remarking, as I gave it to him, "According to the rules of the prison and the orders that I have, no knives are allowed in there." The dungeon doors were open wide; it almost seemed as if the jaws of death had opened and were impatient to receive me. There is a silence more eloquent that spoken language. Not another word was uttered by the sheriff, the constable, the jailor or myself. But the dungeon doors were open wide; it was a silent but most impressive invitation to walk in; and of course the invitation was accepted. A few paces, and I was inside the iron dungeon. I heard the rusty dungeon doors close after me, heard the outer doors close with a more distant sound, and heard the jailor's footfalls on the staircase growing faint, and fainter still, as he descended, and I heard their sound no more. I was standing as if I was fastened to the floor. Coming out of the blazing sunshine, where my eyes were dazzled, and then into the dark and dreary dungeon, I was struck with a partial momentary blindness, so that for a time I could not tell what was the size of the apartment or who were its occupants. Gradually, however, my eyes became accustomed to the gloomy aspect of the place, and I could see chinks in the walls where a glimmer of light stole through, and, by the aid of the little light that came through the skylight in the ceiling, I could distinguish that grotesque looking figures were sitting and lying on the floor. To my left I first discovered something strange looking lying close to the wall, near the iron door. It seemed darker even than the dungeon was itself. For a while I could not distinguish the outlines of the figure. I walked up and down, gazing at it; but there it lay, still and silent, apparently in the impressive immobility of death. I was determined to know what the figure was. So I stopped in front of it, and stood a while, down close to it, and as I stooped it moved. I suppose I shuddered; but I felt relieved to know that, whatever it might be, it was a thing of life. Presently it arose and walked across the room, the chains with which it was manacled clanking on the iron floor. As it passed under the skylight I saw that it was a negro. By this time some of the prisoners had spoken to me, and one of them told me that the negro had been sentenced to be hung on the preceding Friday for striking his overseer with a gun and cutting the throat of his master's mare. He had not been hanged because his master had succeeded in procuring an order for another trial.
DESCRIPTION OF THE DUNGEON.
Upon examining the dungeon I found that it was all of solid iron. It has an iron ceiling, an iron floor, iron walls, and iron doors. In the centre of the ceiling there was a skylight, having three separate gratings. I was told that before the commencement of the war some prisoners who had been confined in there for the commission of grave offences had cut their way out of the skylight when it had only a single grating, in consequence of which two other gratings, each of hardened iron, had been put in, one above the other, and no knives were allowed in there. There was a high, square cupola above the skylight; the glass in it was broken so that in stormy weather the rain came down, flooding the floor and increasing the dampness of the dungeon. On the north side and at either end there were small openings in the walls for the admittance of air and light. Oftentimes we had to stand with our faces to these openings in order to obtain free air. Oh! how grateful was a breeze outside when it blew a few spare blasts through the little openings in our dungeon walls.
THE COMPANY I KEPT.
It was not long before I knew the names of my companions and their alleged offences.
They were these, namely July, the negro, who was sentenced to be hung; Mr. Hamilton,
an old man who had cut open a Portuguese with a bowie knife-
JOYS WE COULD NOT REALIZE.
So these were my companions in the dungeon. In the daytime it was too dark to read
with pleasure. We could read a little by straining our eyes immediately beneath the
skylight. On a clear and cloudless day, when the sun was passing the meridian, a
single ray of sunshine would steal down through the skylight, and linger a while
upon the wall; and every day at noon we watched that single ray of sunshine with
a sort of sacred pleasure. It was to us a ray of hope also. It seemed a holy visitor
that came to cheer us for an hour. That single ray of sunshine was generally the
only cheerful thing that we would see all day. The light of Heaven never seemed more
beautiful to us than in that celestial visitor-
SYMPATHY OF THE CHILDREN.
When the children came home from school that day and did not find me in my room below, the jailor told me they were greatly disappointed. Next morning they came up to see me in the dungeon. They waited in the passage. When the doors were opened and their father called my name, I saw them stand in expectant attitude, with wondering eyes gazing into the gloomy place to catch a glimpse of me. They seemed to approach the dungeon with feelings of awe akin to those with which they would approach a sepulchre. Indeed their souls could not have been more utterly absorbed had they expected, at their father's call, to see me rise from the dead and come forth from the tomb. I went to the door, shook hands with them and spoke to them. They could scarcely say a single word; but the eloquent language of their eyes assured me that their little hearts were fuller of sorrow and sympathy for me than all their childish words could tell. I think I never saw so much expression in the human countenance as I witnessed on the faces of these children at that time. And ever afterwards, every day until I left the prison, they would come to see me. God bless all little children.
The scenes that I subsequently witnessed in other parts of the Confederacy, the sufferings of the other Union prisoners who afterwards joined me in Louisiana and in Texas, and the sentiments of the people with whom we came in contact, cannot be embraced within the limits of this article, which, I am admonished by its length, should now be abruptly brought to a conclusion.
Finley Anderson's Story
The Capture of Queen of the West,
and Prison Life in Alexandria
Finley Anderson was a Union war correspondent with the New York Herald. He was captured
while aboard the Queen of the West when she made her abortive raid on Fort Taylor
An original copy of the March 6, 1864 New York Herald is held by the Fort DeRussy Library. This article takes up most of page 8. It covers the Queen's capture and his stay in the Alexandria Jail. One would hope that there is another article out there concerning the rest of his prison life (in Camp Ford, Tyler, Texas and possibly other places), but if that article exists, it has not yet come to our attention.
Thanks to Vicki Betts for bringing this article to our attention.
[Since this article was written, the follow-