A publication of the Archaeological Institute of America
They Ate Rats and Horses
My great grandfather, Captain Charles Norvell of Lynchburg, Virginia, was a prisoner at Johnson's Island during the Civil War. Charles Norvell studied law at the University of Virginia and was an attorney, living most of his life in Lynchburg. He joined the 2nd Virginia Cavalry, serving under Charles Blackford as a private, was later appointed captain and served under General Stuart, taken prisoner at the second battle of Winchester, imprisoned first at Fort Delaware then at Johnson's Island for a period of two years. He was exchanged a short time before Lee surrendered at Appomatox. When he was exchanged he and several other prisoners were sent to Baltimore by train. My father recalls his grandmother telling him to eat everything on his plate because his grandfather had to eat horses and rats at Johnson's Island Prison. I have heard about it all my life. There is no mention in my great great grandmother's diary of my great grandfather being kept at Johnson's Island Prison, but there is a clear reference to George Bethell, my great grandmother's uncle, being taken to Johnson's Island. Given the garbling of history and remembrance, I would say my father may have heard his grandmother say her uncle ate horses and rats at Johnson's Island.
A Mother Prays
From the diary of Mary Mildred Jeffries Bethell. The original of this diary is in the Southern Historical Collection, Hill Library, University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill.
July 29, 1863
September 16, 1863
October 7, 1863
September 17, 1863
April 6, 1863
January 18, 1864
Baskets of Delicacies
Charles Norvell's son, on April 26, 1910, sent the following sketch of his father's Civil War days:
Charles Norvell joined the 2nd. Virginia Cavalry, as private, Capt. Charles Blackford Commanding, was later appointed Captain and served under General Stuart; taken prisoner at the second battle of Winchester, imprisoned at Fort Delaware and Johnson's Island for two years; exchanged a short while before the surrender of General Lee, at Appomattox. An amusing incident at the time of the exchange of prisoners is here related. Captain Norvell, with a dozen fellow prisoners from Johnson's Island left the train at the station in the northern part of the City of Baltimore, and, under guard, were marched down Charles Street, Baltimore, to the southern end of the City and placed in the guardhouse over night. The ladies, on the line of march, quickly recognized what was left of the stripes of the Confederate officers, and immediately sent down baskets of all kinds of delicacies, including a bountiful supply of champagne, with request that the Confederates be properly feasted. The Union officers, however, promptly confiscated the champagne for their own use, but were magnanimous enough to divide the spoils.