Following the American Civil War Sesquicentennial with day by day writings of the time, currently 1863.

Three Years in the Confederate Horse Artillery — George Michael Neese.

April 15 — The United States flags here were all floating at half-mast to-day. This morning when the Yankee sergeant came in to superintend the roll-call he tried to look sad, but from his snappish demeanor I at once saw that the biggest bunch of his grief was entirely composed of anger. After roll-call one of the prisoners in our company ventured the question: “Sergeant, why are the flags floating at half-mast this morning?” With a scowl-covered countenance the sergeant snappishly replied: “Some of you Rebels killed President Lincoln last night.” With quick repartee our man replied: “We did not do it, for we were here in this pen all night.” Ever since early spring we have been drawing raw dried codfish about twice a month for our meat ration. The way some of them look, smell, and taste, they must have been caught by Simon Peter when he went fishing with Jesus.

April 10 — It is reported that General Lee surrendered the last remnant of the Army of Northern Virginia to General Grant at Appomattox Court House; if that is true the war is over, and I expect there is no doubt about the surrender, as the Yanks had some more fireworks to-day, and fired two hundred and twenty-five guns in glorification of the last act of the great drama in Virginia.

April 5 — The Yanks say that General Lee has evacuated Richmond, and I expect it is true, as they fired one hundred guns to-day around the prison in commemoration of the wilting, withering event.

March 29 — The Second United States Artillery band from Washington was in our prison camp to-day and played for us. The members of the band are all finely uniformed, make a showy appearance, and play very well. After playing a few pieces some Rebel called for “Dixie,” and the band at once struck up old “Dixie” and played it as well as I ever heard it. As the first sweet strain swelled over the listening throng the prisoners all over camp gave a regular Rebel yell that shook the prison wall and made the welkin ring. As soon as the band got through with “Dixie” they quickly covered it up with ” Hail Columbia.”

March 28 — Worse and more of it. A telegraphic dispatch was received here at headquarters last night from General Grant, stating that there are no more prisoners to be exchanged until after the summer campaign, which means after the war is over, for if all accounts be true the star of the Confederacy will set in eternal night before the summer will be half over. Sherman’s march to the sea cut a deadly swath right through the heart of Dixie, which will cause the lifeblood of the Southern Confederacy to ebb quickly away.

March 27 — Another boatload — five hundred and fifty-five prisoners — was called out to-day for exchange. This time my name was called, and when I popped out through the prison gate my buoyant spirits boiled over and it was the happiest moment of my life; but alas! it was too bright to last. The clerk on the outside who made up the boat list had five hundred and sixty names enrolled, just five too many for the boatload, and I proved to be one of the unlucky overplus that had to be returned to the inside again. When I learned my fate despondency immediately chased my spirits down to the deepest place in the gulf of despair, where they are apt to remain until the next exchange day.

March 12 — Another boatload of prisoners was called out to-day for exchange. Nearly every time that prisoners are called out the call snatches a few cooks from the cook-houses, when new ones taken from the hungry host are put in to fill their places. To-day one of the new men that was made happy by obtaining a position as cook killed himself before dinner by eating too many undone beans. The poor fellow sold his life to his stomach, then set sail and drew out over the gloomy, pathless waters of Death with an overload of beans on board.

Surrounded with beans dread hunger flies —
With the pouch over-stretched the bean-eater dies.

February 26 — The lengthening days are beginning to furnish a little more sunshine and of a warmer brand, that has a slight touch of beautiful spring. According to expectation a boatload of prisoners was called out to-day for exchange, and as usual the call missed me all over.

There are acts and scenes transpiring within these prison walls which necessity rightly claims as its own true children, the divulgence of which may some day cause a blush of shame to creep over the cheeks of those who are directly responsible for the seemingly incongruous innovation of American usages in the steady light of this nineteenth century, even on the light and North side of the Potomac. Right now as I am writing these words there is a rat vendor going along the street carrying three large rats by the tail, and every few steps I hear him cry: “Here are your rats, fresh and fat! I just now caught them at the commissary department, and I warrant them to be in fine order. Three for five cents, cheap! here are your rats!” Talk about the heathen Chinee eating dogs,— here men buy and eat rats to satisfy craving hunger right under the shadow of the proud Star-Spangled Banner and in a so-called Christian country and in a land of plenty. I have been hungry for six months now, and I could and would eat rat or snake on toast if I just had it. Only he who has been hungry for a long period knows what hunger is. I saw a man fish a scrap of beef from a slop barrel and devour it as if it were a morsel from a king’s table.

One day I drew for my meat ration the upper part of a sheep’s head, his eyes still holding their old position and the eyelids decorated with cleanly washed hairy-like wool, cleansed nicely by boiling the meat. I shaved off the wool and ate the eyes, lids and all; the eyes were certainly delicious. Oh, you fastidious epicureans that love to feast on rich and rare delicacies dressed in the livery of champagne sauce, try sheep’s-eye boiled in bad well water and garnished with wool, and see whether it is not fit for a king! There are a great many prisoners here who are tobacco chewers, and the weed is a scarce article inside of prison, yet there is some little in the camp. I see it every day for sale, cut up in small square blocks about twice the size of a common dice. The little blocks are nicely arranged on a board and offered for sale at retail, a small slice of bread, weighing about an ounce and a half, buying one chew of tobacco. I have seen men walking along the street gathering up chewed cuds of tobacco for smoking purposes. They pick the little ground-up quids to pieces and spread them in the sunshine until dried, then smoke the virtueless debris. There is a great deal of scurvy in this prison all the time, and the direful effects of scorbutic blood is apparent all through the camp. I have seen men with their gums swollen even with their teeth. Scanty diet, diarrhoea superinduced by the use of deleterious water, and scurvy from the use of salty meat furnish the drift that floats constantly away from here on the stream of Death.

Oh, I wish Harriet Beecher Stowe would come here and spend a few weeks with us, and dip her able pen in the essence of human misery and privations that prevail here! The dear old lady could write a very interesting volume about Uncle Sam’s Starvation Shop, a volume that would make a fitting companion for “Uncle Tom’s Cabin.” Nor would she have to browse so dangerously near the precipice of pure fiction to find an extreme case in gathering thrilling material, as she did when she gathered up the “Cabin,” for there is an abundance of acts played here, subdivided into scenes, and conditions existing that would furnish some very interesting subjects and themes for a true delineator’s pen. The work would make a very readable book, although it might not prove to be as good fuel for an “irrepressible conflict” as “Uncle Tom’s Cabin,” but it would give an impressive lesson for thoughtful reflection on how cruel barbarism still revels in the lap of civilization, even in this so-called highly enlightened Christian land.

February 25— To-day we heard the welcome sound of the exchange boat whistle again, and the joyful tidings stirred up the whole camp. Hope that had dipped and held its torch so long in the cloud of dismal gloom kindled a new flame, and its roseate light flashed and played sweetly over many a pallid cheek as the fingers of thought swept nimbly over the harp strings of freedom that had slept so long. Every man here expects that he may get out to-morrow.

February 22 — The Yanks fired thirty-four guns today somewhere close outside of the prison wall, in celebration of Washington’s Birthday.