The Civil War: Grandfather Held Prisoner at Rock Island

Member of Confederate Army writes of loneliness, bad food, sickness while held prisoner during the Civil War.

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Grandfather was in the Confederate Army and was taken prisoner. I have a drawing of the prison at Rock Island where he was. It was drawn by a fellow prisoner and dated 1863. Following are excerpts from letters which Grandfather wrote home to his family.

Meridian, Mississippi, Jan. 2, 1863: I am tolerable well. We heard there had been a fight at Murfreesboro, Tenn., and we had taken 16,000 prisoners and 30 cannon. I hope it is so. 

Vicksburg, Mississippi, Feb. 7, 1863: We have had no fight here yet. The enemy is camped on the other side of the river. There was one gunboat went down the river. We shot at it like everything, but she went ahead. We haven't much chance with their gunboats. Provisions are powerful high. Pork without salt is worth 50 and bacon one dollar. Corn very high. I heard yesterday there had been another fight at Murfreesboro, and we whipped them. The talk is that the Yanks are leaving here going to re-enforce Rosencrans. 

Vicksburg, Misssissippi, Feb. 27, 1863: Times is as hard as you ever heard of. We are getting beef and corn bread, but the best kind of beef is so poor it reels as it walks. The corn is just hominy. There is nothing to sell and what there is so high a private can't buy anything to eat. Bacon is one dollar per pound, potatoes four dollars a bushel, chickens two dollars a piece and eggs a dollar twenty-five a dozen. 

The Yanks sent one boat down the river, and we took it about the mouth of the Red River and then they sent another one, and the one we had captured of theirs and another one of ours got after it and sunk it and took all the men. There was twelve guns on the two boats. 

Vicksburg, Mississippi, April 14, 1863: I have been sick about five weeks. I can just go about the camp. For about three weeks I could not go about at all. The boys waited on me the best they could but there is nothing a sick person can eat. The Yanks are still over the river. There is some cannonading occasionally. Tell the boys to work hard at home. Now is the time one man at home can make as much as ten in the army. I am very lonesome and sick. 

Rock Island, Illinois, Oct. 24, 1864: I have been here eleven months. I seen a very hard time. It is the worst part of my life so you can guess what kind of fare we have in prison. Some of the Roane County boys have joined the Union Army. I will give you their names. 

Among his letters and papers is one from the secretary of war granting a leave to paroled prisoners at Richmond, Virginia, March 12, 1865.

When he was a very old man, Grandfather was spry enough to dance a jig when they played "Dixie."

James E. Hall
Lamar, Colorado

Back in 1955 a call went out from the editors of the then CAPPER’s Weekly asking for readers to send in articles on true pioneers. Hundreds of letters came pouring in from early settlers and their children, many now in their 80s and 90s, and from grandchildren of settlers, all with tales to tell. So many articles were received that a decision was made to create a book, and in 1956, the first My Folks title – My Folks Came in a Covered Wagon – hit the shelves. Nine other books have since been published in the My Folks series, all filled to the brim with true tales from CAPPER’s readers, and we are proud to make those stories available to our growing online community.