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Lieutenant Colonel John W. Inzer "Tales from a Civil War Prison"
August 30, 1999

The Making of a Statesman

Lieutenant Colonel John W. Inzer was the youngest member of the Alabama secession convention held in Montgomery on January 7, 1861. He was a member of the 58th Alabama Regiment during the War for Southern Independence. He was captured during the Battle of Missionary Ridge and held prisoner at Johnson's Island. He was released on June 27, 1865. After the war, he was active in state politics. In 1907 he was elected Circuit judge. He died in 1928 at the age of 94. At his passing newspapers throughout the state carried the story of Alabama's "Grand Old Man," who spent his long life devoted to service.

The Classic Revival home of John W. Inzer was built in 1852. He acquired it in 1866 after returning home from the War. With its original furniture and memorabilia preserved, it is a historical treasure for all of Alabama. The house is on the National Register of Historic Places and is part of the Bicentennial Trail. Recently we have received funding from the State of Alabama to restore the home and open it as a museum.

Benjamin M. Hestley,
Chairman, Board of Directors,
The John W. Inzer Museum, Inc., Ashville, AL

Prison Life

These excerpts from the diary of John Washington Inzer, 1834-1928, flesh out the picture archaeologist Dave Bush paints in ARCHAEOLOGY's "Doing Time" of declining conditions as the war escalates. He writes, "By mid-1863 accusations of the mistreatment of prisoners abounded, and Northern and Southern prisons responded by cutting rations and limiting purchases from the sutler, the prison store."

Friday, July 1, 1864
Very warm day--thunder and rain in the evening. Am feeling tolerably well. Purchased four stars from L.C. Gentry at $4.00. Maj. Lloyd is sick.

Saturday, July 2, 1864
News is good. Am feeling very well.

Man, however vile, whatever his perils, Whatever his destination, was born Free and loves Liberty.

Sunday, July 3, 1864
Received letter from Miss Lizzie Tendall. Pleasant day. Maj. Lloyd is still sick, carried him tea, biscuit, butter, etc. News good. Sherman repulsed. Wrote to Mrs. Nettie Viley.

Monday, July 4, 1864
Thanks to a merciful God that I have been passed to see this day. Yanks fired one gun this morning, and a nation salute of 35 at noon, and one at sunset. Am sure by the next 4th, they will fire less than 35 guns. Capt. Markham went to hospital today--diarrhea--he is quite sick. Three pleasure boats left Sandusky this morning, one in the evening for Kelly's Island. Wrote to Mrs. Thornton.

Tuesday, July 5, 1864
Pleasant day. Wrote to Miss Lizzie Tindall. Capt. McC. is still sick. Dig but deep enough and under all earth runs water, under all life runs grief.

Wednesday, July 6, 1864
Nice Day. Holerman and Burrows had a fight in the kitchen. Capt. McC. is improving. Am tired, have been cooking. The public man needs but one patron, viz: The lucky moment.

Thursday, July 7, 1864
Warm, thunder showers. Commenced cooking. Am quite well. Capt. Markham has bilious fever. Holerman is improving. Hill has, again, consented to allow us to resume work on the graveyard.

Friday, July 8m 1864
Nice day. Have been busy cooking. Slight attack of diarrhea. Prisoners arrived. Markham is quite sick.

"Praise the Lord all ye nations: praise Him all ye people. For his loving mercy and kindness is great toward us: and the Lord endureth forever. Praise ye the Lord." (117 Psalm)

Saturday, July 9, 1864
Warm day. Markham is quite sick. Holerman is getting well. Exciting reports announcing the invasion of Maryland and Penn.

Sunday, July 9, 1864
Warm, thunder showers. Am feeling pretty well. Lt. Cook took tea with us.

Monday, July 11, 1864
News good--weather warm.

Documentary evidence, particularly diary accounts, have been an invaluable tool for Dave Bush and his archaeological team. In past seasons, Bush focused on finding the latrines (sinks). They had a Union map, but needed they get their bearings. Several prisoners' diaries describe a ditch being dug in conjunction with the expansion of the coupound to the northwest on July 12, 1864. So archaeologists knew to look for a long, dark stain. Bush writes, "Exposing the subsoil, we immediately recognized the six-foot-wide ditch. We used a soil corer to track it around the entire circumference of the prison. Now we could reconstruct the deadline [the staked line beyond which prisoners were forbidden], established by William S. Pierson, first commandant at Johnson's Island, in March 1862. Pierson had issued ten general orders, the ninth of which read,

No prisoner will be alowed to loiter between the buildings, and the north and west fences [outer walls], and they will be permitted north of the buildings, only when passing to and from the sinks, nor will they approach the fences anywhere else nearer than thirty feet, as the line is marked out by stakes.

We know from this order that the deadline was 30 feet in from the ditch, and that the sinks were located just inside the deadline." Once they'd established the location of the ditch, they were able to locate the sinks. In the following journal entry, Inzer notes the extension of the fence.

Tuesday, July 12, 1864
Ended my week of cooking this morning. Am well. Markham is convalescing. Warm day. The yanks moved out the west side of the fence 46 feet. Had pleasant walk with Col. McSpaden this evening.

Wednesday, July 13, 1864
Received letter from my friend, Miss F. Wallace. Pleasant day. Fine dinner: snaps, onions, cucumbers, beans, preserves, pies, cakes of various kinds. Capt. M. is getting well. Wrote to Miss Lizzie Tendall.

Thursday, July 14, 1864
Warm day. Markham is not doing very well. Wrote to V.C. Montgomery, sent him 7 stamps. Not much news. I always feel badly when the news is bad, and good, when the news is good.

Friday, July 15, 1864
Received and answered letter from Miss Nettie Viley. She sent some flowers. Pleasant day. News not very good. Markham has returned to his room.

Saturday, July 16, 1864
Very warm. Went to bath house--had a good bath. Am feeling well. Had a splendid dinner.

Sunday, July 17, 1864
Nice, warm day. Am feeling pretty well. Took long walk this evening. Wrote to my parents. Attended prayer meeting. Capt. Markham is mending slowly. Not much news. Gun boat Michigan has been in the Bay for several days past.

Monday, July 18, 1864
Pleasant day. Vary warm in the evening. Wrote to Mrs. Ada Egerton, 194 Preston St., Baltimore. Newspapers report Atlanta in the hands of the Federals. We know that to be false.

Tuesday, July 19, 1864
A member of one of the ball clubs [hollered] for the club to turn out--all the Yanks made for their arms--such fools. An awful hot day. Wrote to Mrs. Louisa W. Henderson, my sister. Am feeling tolerably well.

Wednesday, July 20, 1864
Nice, cool day. Some exchange news today. It does not amount to much. Am not very well. Col. Woods told me that my lady friend, Miss Emma McCaw, Lexington, has been banished to Toronto, Canada. An awful affair--shameful. Wrote to L.H.P. Sent him 6 stamps.

Thursday, July 21, 1864
Gentle, cool weather. Received letter from Mrs. Thornton and answered same. Am feeling tolerably well. I am uneasy for Atlanta. The yanks fire on us every night. I cannot understand what they mean.

Friday, July 22, 1864
Purchased ten pounds of coffee $11.00, twelve pounds of sugar for $4.80--awful high. Waldrope is cooking in Goodwyn's place this week.

Saturday, July 23, 1864
Wrote to my parents. Only tolerably warm. Cloudy in the evening. Claw and Holes got the advantage of Lincoln on their peace mission. "Lover and friend has Thou put far from me and mine acquaintance into darkness." Psalms 89 chapter-18 verse.

Sunday, July 24, 1864
The yankees here guarding us have been keeping up a regular fire on us a large portion of the time since we came here. For the last two weeks the fire has been awful. Last night, two officers in Block 5, Dillard of Va., and Ingram, were seriously wounded. Such shameful cowards the yankees are.

Thursday, December 22, 1864
Some three hundred prisoners arrived this evening. No news today from Hood. Lake still frozen over. Wrote to Mrs. Thornton.

Friday, December 23, 1864
Seventeen prisoners arrived this evening, 10 from the 18th Ala. Not much news. Cold--very cold. Sleighs can pass over the ice. The prisoners contributed clothes for the late arrivals. Capt. Markham is sick. I am not well.

Saturday, December 24, 1864
Cloudy morning. Clear evening. Not so cold as yesterday. Lake still frozen over. I would like to be with my parents this evening. Small pox in hospital. Capt. Markham went to hospital this morning. Not much news today.

Sunday, December 25, 1864
Sun shined early in the morning, cloudy the balance of the day. Some rain late in the evening. Two bites of beef, bread, tea, no sugar, for breakfast. Hog and hominy for dinner. Rather warm tonight. Wrote to Mrs. C.J. Viley.

Monday, December 26, 1864
Col. Hill issued an order today, prohibiting the New York News, Cincinnati Enquirer and Chicago Times, from being circulated in the prison. Close, cloudy day, warm. No news. Small pox spreading in prison.

Tuesday, December 27, 1864
Wrote to Mrs. Lucy C. Thornton. Received letter from Miss F. Wallace and S.S. Kelley. He is at Camp Chase. Cloudy day--rather warm. Ice melting. Lake still frozen over. Lt. and staff being sent to another prison.

Wednesday, December 28, 1864
Close, cloudy day--tolerably cold. Made a number of calls. Capt. M. is quite sick. News rather gloomy. Met and agreed to organize tomorrow, Ala. Relief Association.

Thursday, December 29, 1864
Wrote to my parents. Capt. M. is getting better. Close, cloudy day--quite cold. Lake still frozen over. Not much news. Gold 2211/2. Times have no rations save a small quantity of beef and bread.

Friday, December 30, 1864
Sun shown a part of the day. Quite cold. News tolerably good. Capt. Markham is mending. Repaired my bunk so as to give more room. Some snow.

Saturday, December 31, 1864
Sun shown a part of the day, quite cold--some snow. Lake still frozen. News good. Gold 230. O, Lord, Thou hast been kind to me during the past. Be pleased. Merciful Father, to guide and protect me through 1865 & future life, and may Thy will enable me to see home in 1865.

Sunday, January 1, 1865
The New Year [?] its advent. In the year 1864, I read most of the New Testament and the Bible down to the 100 Psalm, which Psalm was the last word I read last night at 7 o'clock. I commenced early this morning with the 101st Psalm. I must finish the Bible this year. Sun shown a part of the day.

Friday, January 13, 1865
Pleasant, cold day. News bad on the subject of peace [?] as I fear. I am not well pleased with the signs of the times. Gold 221. The Yanks are now giving us better rations than usual.

Saturday, January 14, 1865
Close, cloudy day. Lake still frozen over.

Sunday, January 15, 1865
Close, cloudy day. Received letter from Mrs. Maggie R. Webb, Louisville, Ky. Attended divine worship. No news, but grape.

Monday, January 16, 1865
Wrote to Commanding Officer at Camp Chase, asking him about M.L. Inzer. Pleasant, cold day. News scarce. I am only tolerably well. Name and address of my Louisville correspondent, Mrs. Maggie K. Webb, care Cook, Webb & Co., Louisville, Ky.

Tuesday, January 17, 1865
Nice snow last night and this morning. Cloudy day. Mulford returned yesterday. Do not know what he did on the subject of exchange. Yankee Congress is trying to retaliate on prisoners. Shame to the Government. Infernal scoundrels should be severely punished as we are by starvation. Answered Mrs. Maggie K. Webb, Louisville, Ky. I am on cooking detail this week. Not much news. Lake still frozen over. Yankees are scared, they believe the prisoners intend to make their escape some night.

Wednesday, January 18, 1865
Pleasant, cold day--some snow. Bad news. Fort Fisher has fallen, but I am glad to know that it cost them heavily. I am only tolerably well. The Yankees shoot in the prison almost every night--miserable cowards. Maybe we will get a lick at them someday.

Thursday, January 19, 1865
Another cold day. No news. Gold 215. Seventeen prisoners arrived from Miss. Capt. Lee received $30.00 coin check from Mrs. Thornton. Saw Maj. Winchester this evening. He invited me to breakfast tomorrow. I expect to attend.

Friday, January 20, 1865
Wrote to Sister Lou. Cold day. Some peace rumors. All Stuff.

Saturday, January 21, 1865
Received letter from Sister Lou, written Oct. 30th. Mailed Ft. Monroe January 16th. Not quite so cold. Hill Yankee, published an order this morning, ordering the small rooms, the best quarters, or enough of them to be evacuated by the present occupants, to accommodate the oath takers and men who do not wish to go South on exchange. It is hard to be thus imposed on by traitors and scoundrels. A man must be very corrupt, indeed, to be a member of this villainous crowd. I fear we will have to move. I never expect to get my consent to swallow the oath. I am tolerably well.


© 1999 by the Archaeological Institute of America