REMINENCES OF LIFE IN THE ARMY AND AS A PRISONER OF WAR
by J. S. McCulloch

Contributed by Mary Love Berryman

Copied from the files in the East Texas Family Research Center Ralph W. Steen Library,
Stephen F. Austin University, Nacogdoches, TX
MCCULLOCH, JOHN SCOULLER. REMINISCENCES, 1877. 1 ITEM. (A-56)

The following manuscript is a photographed copy of J. S. McCulloch's experience while a prisoner of the Confederate Army, at Camp Fore, Texas, during the last year of the Civil War.

John Scouller McCulloch was born Sept. 5, 1829. He graduated from Jefferson college (now known as Washington and Jefferson) in 1854 and from the Associated Reformed Theological Seminary at Allegheny, Pa. In 1858. He was licensed April 9, 1957 by the Associated Reformed Presbytery of Big Spring, Pa., and ordained Aug. 23, 1857.

He became pastor at Peoria, Ill. in 1857 and remained there until 1864. On March 24, 1859 he married Mary Craig Fulton (born March 24, 1830, at Big Spring, Pa.) To this union were born five sons and one daughter: Ewing (died young),Ida, Bruce, Craig, Paul and Ralph.

In 1864 Rev. McCulloch was called as chaplain to the 77th Regiment of Illinois Volunteers. When this regiment was taken prisoner, the men were incarcerated at Camp Ford. Set free after about four months, by Yankee soldiers, the former prisoners walked to the Mississippi River, and Mr. McCulloch returned to Peoria by boat.

His next pastorate was in New York City, from 1865 to 1877, at the Harlem church on 116th St. Then from 1877 to 1899, he was president of Knoxville (Tenn.) college, one of the earliest colleges for the lately freed negroes.

Monmouth College at Monmouth, Illinois conferred the degree of D. D. on him in 1879.

From 1900 until his death in 1910 he resided in Omaha, Nebraska, preaching occasionally at the Central United Presbyterian Church. Mrs. McCulloch preceded him in death in 1904.

NOTE: The first pages are not copied here. It begins after he is captured. MLB

 




We were hurried to the rear beyond Mansfield, and turned into a corn-field to camp for the night. I was without an overcoat or blanket, and the temperature was not far from freezing point. Not one quarter of the men had any covering for the night. The officers were separated from the men, and watched more closely. We gathered round the fire, and wondered what had become of this one and that one. My brother, who had gone into the fight, was not with us, and no one could give me any satisfactory account of him. The night came on, and the firing in the area ceased.

Then we gathered round the fire and said to the guard that we would pray before lying down, and with uncovered heads, we asked our heavenly Father to watch tenderly over our comrads, who still lay maimed and dying on the field. The guards looked on in mute astonishment until we were through, and then paced their beats while we tried to sleep. It would have greatly relieved my anxiety if I had known that my brother was in another sqad near by, a prisoner like myself, but safe and sound.

I shall not soon forget the kindness of Captain Stearns, who seeing that I had no covering, shared with me his rubber blanket and overcoat. I was still too cold to sleep much, but I was much more favored than hundreds of others, who had no bed but the bare ground, and no covering but the sky. Not one tent or blanket was ever furnished to us.

But some one says: "Medical officers and chaplains are not held as prisoners". That is what I thought, too, and that is the rule laid down in our army regulations; and so I applied at once to the officer in command to be sent to the hospital to care for our wounded men until I should be released, and others interceded for me, but the commanding officer said he had no authority to release me, and at 9 o'clock the next morning I was ordered to fall into line with about eleven hundred others, for a march of about a hundred and forty miles to the town of Tyler in the interior of Texas.

Many of us started out that morning without breakfast, and without any ration for dinner, and we were obliged to beg from those, who had their haversacks, and also from negroes and white people who came out to the road "to see the Yankees" as we passed.

At night after marching about fifteen or twenty miles we had our first ration. It consisted of about a pint of Indian corn meal, and some cured beef -- what the soldiers call "salt-horse". It was utterly impossible to get water enough. The guards were very strict lest any of us should escape, and many hired negroes and other citizens to bring them water, because they knew where to find it.

The corn meal was good, but how to cook it was the question. The beef too would have answered well, if there had be a few vessels to boil the salt out of it, but not one man in ten could do any thing of the kind. Hungry men, however will eat, cooked food if they can get it, but raw, rather than starve.

Hence you might have seen groups of men sitting at the fire -- one holding a rail with a handful of moistened meal stuck on its flat side next the fire to bake it, another with a tin cup hung on the end of a stick, holding it over the fire to boil much, another still with a slice of salt beef on the end of a spit, holding it to the fire, which, in a few minutes, drew out the salt and left it on the outside, so as to parch the lips the moment it touched them.

All the cooking was done in primative style, and the few vessels that could be obtained were kept in use nearly the whole night, the men waking each other and eating in turn. The third night some eighteen or twenty of us clubbed together, and when we encamped, sent a man to a neighboring house, and borrowed a large pot. With this we parboiled the salt beef, and made it quite palatable. Was was plenty there also, and after the beef was done, we took part of the salt water, and stirred in our corn-meal rations, and soon had a grand feast of mush. We had no plates or bowls - not even spoons. Each guest made a little paddle, and stuck it into the pot, and after blowing it cool, ate what was on the paddle, and then reached back for another paddle full. This was getting supper under difficulties, but we had the satisfaction of knowing who the cooks were, and that everything was clean! We had not all done eating when a cold storm of wind and rain set in, and the few who had rubber blankets and shelter tents, covered themselves as best they could, and the rest sat by the fire, or walked about nearly all night until the rain ceased.

Such exposure, as a matter of course, made a long sick list in the morning, and not a few complained that they were too ill to walk, and threats were resorted to in some instances to compel them. Old Mr. Robb, chaplain of the 46th Indiana, gave out the third or fourth day, and he was allowed to ride a few miles in a wagon. He was sixty-four years old, and very weak from the effects of exposure, but he was compelled to get out and march when many of us thought that the courageous old man might at any step sink down and die. You might think, that we were a very sad and solemn procession, and it certainly was very trying to men who got sick, but the spirit that animated our soldiers was not easily broken. Scarcely an hour passed without a good general laugh or a hearty cheer. The batallion that guarded us were in constant anxiety lest we should seize their guns and make our escape, and hence many of the prisoners were very bold - perhaps impudent. Trading was freely carried on between prisoners and the guards. Paper and gold pens, and black hats, and sword-belts and haversacks were exchanged for blankets and old quilts and pieces of carpet - anything our men could get to keep them warm at night; so that in three or four days, perhaps half them had something to sleep under.

These transactions afforded not a little amusement as we marched along. Then the prisoners and guards would, in spite of all the efforts of the officers, get in to arguments on the most vital questions between the North and South. Some shrewd fellow would lead off, and others would cheer him whenever he made a good point. Of course our side always came off best in these wordy encounters.

In the town of Marshall, Texas, the citizens, mostly ladies, gathered out in great numbers on the porches and side-walks of the principal street, as we passed through. They were evidently in their best attire, and they did not try to conceal their delight at seeing so many Yankees deprived of their arms. Some of us felt our indignation stirred almost beyond endurance as we saw group after group wave their handkerchieves to the Colonel, who was riding in our front. At length, when we had reached the centre of town, my brother, who was marching at my side, could stand it no longer, and without consulting any one, he rand out in a clear voice.

The Union for ever.
Hurrah boys hurrah,
Down with the traitors,
Up with the stars.
For we'll rally round the flag boys
Rally one again
Shouting the battle cry of freedom.

The inspiration was irestible, and as fast as the sound was carried back the familiar words were caught up and sung with a will. We passed many planters, who had fled from Arkansas, and Louisiana and Mississippi, and wer on their way with their negroes into the interior of Texas. Some of them had quite a large train of wagons and servants and cattle, and they were obliged to camp out at night!

One morning, soon after we commenced our march, we found one of these nabobs almost ready to move from his camp. He was standing beside his grand old carriage. He would have been a splendid looking man, if he had not been quite so portly. He looked at us, with evident satisfaction, and seemed very glad to see us, but he did not have all the enjoyment to himself; for after fifty or a hundred of us in front had passed him quietly, one of the men with a keen sense of the ludicrous started the familiar song.

"Massa runned away,
Darkey stay at home."

A hundred voices chimed in at once, but when the singers came to the words.

"He's six feet one way three feet tother
And he weighs three hundred pounds."

the hit was so apparent, that the men couldn't sing for laughing. And they broke out in a general shout.

The rebel soldier, enjoyed the confusion of the nabob, almost as much as we did; for they said he was running away from the conscription.

Another thing which kept up the spirit of the prisoners, was the hope held out that we would get into good barracks, and have plenty of cooking utensils. Hence, when we halted within half a mile of the stockade, we thought it very hard to lie out and shiver another night, when a few steps more would have brought us into comfortable quarters. But the next morning dispelled our delusion. We marched into a field of about ten or eleven acres, with a few trees, and a great many high stumps, and young sprouts. It was surrounded by a stockage fence, in some places fourteen feet high. We were still looking for the barracks, but after a few words with the old prisoners, we were assured that neither board, slab, tent nor blanket would be on two other implements, but I think I have given you the exact list. Imagine how a town of twenty-one hundred people could get along with such an outfit. And yet, in less than four weeks one half of those men had comparatively good shelter. They would all have had comfortable quarters in less than a week, if they could have borrowed or bought tools, but this was impossible and hence, we had to take turns with the tools, and sometimes wait for hours and days to get a chance to bore a hole, or split a shingle or clapboard. I belonged to a mess of sixteen, and in about two weeks, we had a shanty sixteen feet square, with a clap-board roof and a wooden chimney, plastered inside with mud. Here, we ate, slept and cooked. It was a rough place; and yet it was one of the best in the stockade. I have seen thirty-five men on several occasions, when it rained, spend the night in that shanty, and they were very thankful for the accomodations.

We made a table of clapboards, and our service of plate and china was not extensive. I made myself a wooden spoon, and with this, and my pocket knife, and my fingers, I got along. I was peculiarly fortunate in getting hold of a small empty tomato can, and with this I made a small plate, and left enought for another plate, and then we were just so much better off than some others of our mess. Trained as we were in these lessons of household economy, we feel ourselves quite competent to advise the ladies how to furnish a table in hard times.

There was a vast amount of trading done among the prisoners. I was very much surprised at this. Soon after we arrived in prison, a man came in one day with cornmeal and he sold out in a very short time at a dollar a pint, in greenbacks. The same day our mess bought twenty pounds of flour at a dollar a pound. There were men among the prisoners, who lived by their wits, just the same as anywhere else. They tried to keep up the price of provisions, and bring down the price of watches pens, pencils, rings, and other things that were much sought after in the South. I knew one man who made not less than $200 in a month in this way. Of course it came off his fellow prisoners, and some of them imagined he was doing them a great favor. Some bakers and barbers and potters no doubt made considerable money honestly, but there was much swindling and gambling too.

The Texans, also, were great traders. One of the guards soon traded me out of my hat, and they tried over and over again to trade me out of my boots.

The first two weeks we received full rations - a pound of corn meal unsifted, and about a pound of beef. In the following winter, however, the ratiion of beef was reduced to three or four ounces. Several times the rations were stopped for a short time, and threats were often made to do so, when some mischief had been done. Another way of punishing us was to allow no one to go out for wood. This was frequently done, but the importunity of the prisoners gerenally prevailed very soon to have the punishment removed.

A trivial offence was often made the pretext for punishing, forty-five hundred men for one or two days.

Escapes were frequent, and they were a constant source of annoyance to the authorities. These escapes were effected in various ways - sometimes by loosening a post in the stockade, & sometimes climbing over it, & sometimes by bribing the guard. There was very little difficulty in getting out. The main object was to keep the officers from finding it out, that any were missing, and many were the expedients at roll call, to excape detection. Sometimes a week would elapse before an escape was discovered.

A dark rainy night was the time to escape. This was to prevent the blood-hounds from getting the scent. As soon as it was known that a prisoner was gone, the horn was sounded for the dogs, and in a little while we could hear them howling after their game. To escape these faithful dogs was next to an impossibility. A good blood-hound was worth several men for guarding prisoners; and hence I have heard more curses and dreadful threats of bengeance against these poor innocent dogs, than against their guilty, inhuman masters.

Scores of men were caught, and brought back, and punished, for doing what they felt was duty - that is trying to escape. Some would be caught in a day or two, and others were brought back for two or three weeks.

The punishments were various, and some of them barbarious and cruel. Usually they were kept a few days in the guard-house, but in some cases they wer required to stand bare-headed in the sun for hours, or to stand bareheaded in the sun for hours, or to stand in some peculiar position under penalty of being shot.

One of the best men we had a most devoted and consistant Christian, escaped, and was caught, brought back, and cruelly punished. Colonel Borders tried to make him promise that he would never try to escape again, and that he would also use his influence to induce the other prisoners not to escape. He was a noble fellow, and he seemed never to fear the face of man. And he replied. "Colonel you know you would not consent to such a thing if you were a prisoner. Our government makes it our duty to escape if we can, and as I have sworn to defend that governement I cannot conscientiously comply with your demand". This was the substance of his reply. He was respectful buy very fire. soe the colonel determined to make him feel his power. He ordered him to be placed on a stump about seven or eight inches in diameter for several hours a day. The stump was cut as you have often seen with one side sloping down, and the other up so that one toe was inclined downward and the other up - a most painful position, and yet the sentince was ordered, if he should not stand on both feet all the time, or if he should step off, or fall off, to shoot him on the spot.

But no sooner had John Edwards got off than he commenced singing hymns, and patriotic Union songs, in spite of the guards.

When at length the time came for exchange, Colonel Borders came up to him, and said Well Edwards. You're going now. I have had a good deal of trouble with you and you may think I have treated you harshly sometimes, But you must remember, that when you took sick at Camp Groce, I sent two men, and had a straw bed made for you. "I know it Colonel said Edwards "abd U tgubj tiy fir ut," "And" said the Colonal "you must remember that I sent you some food from my own table when you were getting better." I know it Colonel, and I think you for it." Quite a crowd, by this time, had gathered rougn, both of his own men and prisoners. "Now, said the colonel I may be sent to the front, and some day fall into your hands, "and I have just one request to make of you - that if ever I fall into your hands as a prisoner, you will treat me as I have treated you.

"No sir!" said Edwards "Why, said the Col. What do you mean? And every man stretched his neck to hear better. "Why Col., said Edwards. "If ever you become a prisoner in my hands, I'll treat you so well that you'll be ashamed of yourself." The Colonel dropped his head, and shot through the crowd, while they enjoyed a hearty laught at his expense.

Another man for trying to excape was compelled to stand, with his bare heels on two sharp pins driven into the ground, for eight hours a day without his hat in a southern sun.

There is a long list of cruelties in connection with Camp Ford. Several of them resulting in death, which their inhuman perpetrators may well wish forgotton.

ROBBING PRISONERS

The robbing of prisoners was generally done on the battle fields or very soon after surrender. Some eleven hundred, captured when I was, were not robbed at all, except a very small number, while twelve hundred captured a few days after were nearly all robbed. Watches, knives, pocket books and money, combs, pencils and pens, and black cases, and when these men came in they were in a very destitute condition.

AMUSEMENTS

The amusements of the prisoners were very much like those of a regular army camp. Men could be seen every hour in groups playin chess and checkers, and cards. Others played base ball until the place became too crowded for this. The few books that could be found were mad read over many times, and many spent their time whittling & carving wood, but a large proportion of the time was spent in idle talk, and in sleep. There was one violin but there was no promiscuous dancing though there were many a hoe-down I have no recollection of seeing either a quadrille or a round dance, and I conclude that men don't like to dance with their arms around each other, and their chins over each others shoulders.

RELIGIOUS MEETINGS

The religious privaleges were all we could expect, and indeed, I believe the religious element of our camp, made a good impression in Texas,

Mr. Robb and myself were the only chaplains at first, but two others came in afterwards. We applied at once for the privalege of holding meeting, and we were permitted to hold three meetings on Sabbath, and one every night till nice o'clock. We felt very little restraint, and prayed as fervently for the success of our rms and the downfall of slavery and the rebellion as any of you in New York. The post commander, with his wife and a number of ladies came in one Sabbath, and listened with great apparent respect while I preached but he afterwards told two of our Captains, that I was a black-hearted abolitionist. Those meetings were not often dry and cold and lifeless. The men, who made up the audience were the very pith of the religious element of that large camp of 4500 men. The current of religious feeling, I may say religious enthusiam was strong, and I have no doubt that many men, and perhaps some of the rebel guards, date their first deep conviction of sin, and sense of pardon, from those meetings.

SANITARY CONDITION.

The health of the prison was remarkable, and disapointed many apparently well grounded fears. Had any one told me that I could live six weeks, when we were turned into that pen, I woiuld have thought him a fool. But out of a hundred and thirty men of our regiment, we lost only two in fourteen months. Others lost half their men, mainly because they allowed themselves to lose hear, and had such poor facilities for cooking their food. Many precious lives could, no doubt, have been saved, if the sick could have been removed to a hospital. Without any of the conveniences of a sick room, you may see that the sick man's comrads would be almost glad when he died, because it left them a little more room in their miserable hut, and relieved them of care.

Prison life, long continued, develops some of the worst traits of human nature, and never perhaps was selfishness more gross and intense then in the prisoner's hut where one was sick or dying.

RUMORS OF EXCHANGE

It was all important to the prisoners to keep up their spirits. If they once gave way to despondency, they were almost sure to die, and hence rumors of exchange had a good sanitary effect. Every few days a report came, that several hundred men had been exchanged. When I came away I carried more than two hundred letters with me, and in nearly every one of them, the hope of speedy exchange was expressed. I have seen sober sensible men, almost beside themselves with temporary joy, when these plausible reports came in. There was not a time, perhaps, when every man did not hope to be exchanged in three weeks. There hopes of speedy release, too, prevented many men from attempting escape. They kept thinking it would be only a few days longer and hence nothing would be gained by escape. For my own part, I was constantly, while able to keep my feet, planning and scheming how we could get away without of being caught, or overpowered and brought back.

After enjoying good health for six weeks, I was suddenly taken sick and for some time I familiarized my mind with the thought of burial in the adjoining sandhill more than two thousand miles from home. But in about two weeks the fever was broken, and in three weeks more I was able to preach a short sermone, as one of the most solemn meeting I ever attended. I had obtained my parole that day, and I bid them farewell, intending to start in the morning to report at Kirby Smith's head quarters at Shreveport. There were about twenty in all, of us released. Poor Chaplain Lamb was sent back because they found that he belonged to a colored regiment. Colonel Borders insulted him in the grossest manner and said. Wwe don't recognize nigger officers. You can go back into the stockade. Go off!"

When we reached Shreveport we found that we would have to wait two weeks for a boat. We drew our rations for two weeks, and turned them in to a boarding house, and strolled about the city. Here we became familiar with southern prices. In the market, small cups of coffee were freely sold at $2.50, in confederate money, water mellons at from ten to twenty dollars. Milk was one dollar a quart. Each boarder could have any extra dish by paying for it.

Ordinarily the prices were about from ten to fifteen times as hight as in New Orleans. The principal dining room in the city had a large run of custom, and the regular charge was $15 a meal.

I visited the stores. There were fine, large store-rooms, but many of them were closed, and of the others the array of empty shelves, proved that our fleet maintained something more than a "paper blockade".

At length about a thousand prisoners came on and overtook us, and we embarked for our lives. Our hearts thrilled, when our boat pushed off, floating the white flag. But it was a timid joy. So often had we been disappointed that we had learned not to be too confident. Four months had now elaspsed since I left home, and I had never heard a word, or seen a line from my family. As we came nearer and nearer to the Mississippi the suspense became painful. Some had heard no word from home for nearly a year - some more. What changes had come. Many of us revealed our secret fears, and hopes to each other, as we steamed along. When, therefore, we, at last, reached our lines, and were once more under the stars and stripes, now dearer than ever, and when a most unexpected letter, direct from home, was found on the cabin table, and when the first few lines revealed that wife and daughter and son were all alive and well, you must not think me weak if I wept for joy as I sought a secret place and gave God thanks that capture and imprisonment, is an epoch in my life, and I only speak the experience of thousands of others when I say that nothing of a merely worldly nature, ever impressed me half so much.

After that, whenever we went out to meet the enemy, my greatest dread was not so much wounds and death, but capture. Distressing dreams, even to this day, have almost invariably some unwelcome connection with being flanked and surrounded, And the most awful nightmare is when I think I am trying to escape, and I hear blood-hounds coming nearer and nearer, and yet I can neither run, nor swim, nor climb a tree.

I am satisfied - satiated with war. It originates in wichedness, and it develops wickedness at almost every step. The soldier, above all things, needs the truth of God, and the grace of God in his heart, that he may resist temptation, and honor his Christian profession; but when war becomes a necessity to resist encroachments, and drive back the invader, let the Christian Church do everything possible to mitigate its evils; for it is true that nowhere in Christian effort more fruitful in blessing than in the army.

I am obliged to you, ladies and gentlement, for your patient attention, I have detained you too long and I bid you good night.

116th St. April 16, 1877
Knoxville College Societies, Jan. 13th. 1888 (140)

 

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