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Bulletin Board: In Their Own Words 1999

Re:Reply to David Bush

Posted by Hank Moncure on September 18, 1999 at 03:15:09:

I gather from your response to my inquiry regarding the difference between your figure of 65 P.O.W. facilities and those of such references as Speer's Portals to Hell which lists about 150 is that you included in your list only those you consider to be main facilities as defined by their having been mentioned in the OR. Fair enough, but I think accuracy would have been better served by a statement to the effect that " there were 65 principal P.O.W. camps in use during the war and a number of lesser ones." You indicate in your reply that ,"Its hard to argue with ...the Official Records". Since the OR is a compilation of the records of the Union and the Confederacy as known to its compilers in the 1880-1901 era, mention in it implies the existence and availability of a primary document but the lack of mention does not signify the non-existence of such a record or facility , only its unavailabilty to the compilers. The absence of any mention of about 85 P.O.W. facilities known from other sources would seem to witness the incomplete nature of the OR on this subject and leave it quite open to argument.

Your comments regarding the use of Johnson's Island as an Officers prison are at odds with Speer's research. Speer( Portals to Hell page 77 ) has Johnson's Island receiving its first contingent of 600 prisoners on February 24,1862 and being designated as an officers prison in mid-June 1862. That's a span of about three and a half months for it to receive prisoners other than officers including at least some of the original 600. Speer ( page 79 )goes on to say, "From then on, the Johnson's Island Military Prison was officially designated as a prison for Confederate Officers, although any number of enlisted men and political prisoners could be found confined there."

He cites the OR Vol. VI 206-7 as his reference. This would indicate that despite the designation as an officers prison there were non-officer prisoners there from the start and throughout its existence. My question regarding Southern gentlemen/officer assumptions in your article was in reference to your statement "Excavation has demonstrated that the POW experience on Johnson's Island was hardly uniform. Despite their similar backgrounds as Southern gentlemen, prisoners responded differently to their plight, many choosing to suffer on for their cause despite being a signature away from better treatment."

The letter of Captain William Peel included with your article indicates that in February of 1865 the number of turncoats who had signed the oath of allegiance to the Union was about 55. That's 55 out of around 9,000 prisoners or about six tenths of one percent. And, unless you have some record of who those 55 were we can't be sure that all were officers. I would say that those who did not sign, the overwhelming majority, behaved the way they did because honoring their oath to the Confederacy meant more to them than obtaining better treatment by disavowing that oath and dishonoring themselves, and that they showed a remarkable consistency of response.

I can empathize with your frustration at the slow pace of the refereed journal route to publication. No doubt the editors of Historical Archaeology have had some difficulty in finding reviewers capable of and willing to critique a piece on Civil War prison sinks. HA,in my opinion, started out publishing a fair percentage of articles which were of immediate use to field archaeologists and lab analysts working in the field of historical archaeology but gradually became another outlet for publishing obscure studies addressing subjects so fine grained site specific and so full of subjective opinion that applicability elsewhere is often quite severely limited. I still read it but at the local university library and with great selectivity.

After viewing your web site I see that your investigation of the sinks is already extensive and is continuing. Bravo! I hope you will find time to look at the sink associated with Block 12 and the sink or sinks associated with the guard barracks. I envy you the opportunity you have had and continue to have to investigate this site over time. Far too many sites are under severe time constraints with investigation taking place with idling developer's bulldozers providing background noise. The rest of your program, as revealed on your web site, is extremely praiseworthy and hopefully will be emulated elsewhere.

I gather from your response that the statement "One pastime unique to Johnson's Island ..." would have more accurately expressed your intentions if it had read ,"The site and the collections already made offer a unique vehicle for investigating the craft industry at a Civil War prison." Its the result of your efforts and not the fact that a craft industry was extant at the prison that is unique.

I want to thank you for the immense effort you and your cohorts have put into this project. My interest is both professional ( my last project before I retired, was, coincidentally, a WW II POW prison in Texas ) and personal. My great grandfather 1Lt Charles Braxton Trevillan, Company F, 4th Virginia Volunteer Cavalry, was captured at Greencastle, Pennsylvania ,July 5, 1863 and originally imprisioned at Fort Delaware. At some point he was transferred to Johnson's Island and remained there until sent to Fortress Monroe for exchange on January 27, 1865. One quote which came down to me through my father is, "There is nothing worse than a Yankee prison except a Yankee hospital." I don't know whether his reference was to the hospital at Fort Delaware or the one at Johnson's Island.

Hank Moncure

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