A Sampler of Civil War Literature
»Aspects of Military Life

back to the Civil War Sampler Home Page


"In the 'Libey' " (56)
Harper's Weekly, February 20, 1864

go to the first article in this section


A Union soldier talks about life in the Confederate prison camp, Libby Prison. Confederate guerrillas capture Union soldiers from a hospital and take them to Libby Prison. At the prison, conditions are crowded, food is scant and the water brackish. Many men die from the poor conditions at the camp. The narrator looks for his brother, and one day, when a group of soldiers are brought to the camp from Belle Isle, the man’s brother is among them. Conditions at Belle Isle are worse, as there is little food and many there are starving. The brother is in the last stages of starvation. He dies, unaware that his brother is near him. The narrator and a friend decide to escape. After making their way out of the camp, they must hide along the road and avoid Confederate troops, moving only under the cover of darkness. They come across a black man, who offers to help them. Hiding among the slave quarters on a large plantation, the two men are fed, thanked, then led to the river. There, they wait for dark, then cross the river to safety. Though they escaped, their thoughts are haunted by the suffering and misery they left behind at the prison camps.

Harper's Text

"In the ‘Libey’ "
February 20, 1864, pages 122 (3) – 123 (2)


"The Escape from Libey Prison"
March 5, 1864, page 151 (4)

Military Background

"The Prisons at Richmond"
October 17, 1863, pages 667 (3) – 668 (4)


"Interior View of Libey Prison"
October 17, 1863, page 669 (1-4)

"The Prisons at Richmond"
December 5, 1863, page 781 (1-4)

"Escaping Union Officers Succored by Slaves"
March 12, 1864, page 164 (1-4)


"Rebel Cruelty" June 18, 1864, page 387 (1-2)

Rebel Cruelty - Our Starved Soldiers
June 18, 1864, page 385

The pictures which we publish to-day of the effect of rebel cruelty to our prisoners are fearful to look upon; but they are not fancy sketches from descriptions; they are photographs from life, or rather from death in life, and a thousand-fold more impressively than any description they tell the terrible truth. It is not the effect of disease that we see in these pictures; it is the consequence of starvation. It is the work of desperate and infuriated men whose human instincts have become inbruted by the constant habit of outraging humanity. There is no civilized nation In the world with which we could be at war which would suffer the prisoners in its hands to receive such treatment as our men get from the rebels; and the reason is, that none of them are slaveholding nations, for nowhere are human life and human nature so cheap as among those who treat human beings like cattle.

The Committee on the conduct of the war have made the most searching investigation of the condition of our returned prisoners, and their report of the cruelties to which they have been subjected is accompanied by the evidence. But no evidence is like these pictures. The Committee says:

"The evidence proves, beyond all manner of doubt, a determination on the part of the rebel authorities, deliberately and persistently practiced for a long time past, to subject those of our soldiers who have been so unfortunate as to fall into their hands to a system of treatment which has resulted in reducing many of those who have survived and been permitted to return to us to a condition, both physically and mentally, which no language we can use can adequately describe.

* * * * * * * *

"The general practice of their captors was to rob them, as soon as they were taken prisoners, of all their money, valuables, blankets, and good clothing, and that, upon their arrival at Richmond, they have been confined, without blankets or other covering, in buildings without fire, or upon Belle Isle with, in many cases, no shelter, and in others with nothing but old discarded army tents, so injured by rents and holes as to present but little barrier to the wind and storms.

* * * * * * * *

"In respect to the food furnished to our men by the rebel authorities, the testimony proves that the ration of each man was totally insufficient in quantity to preserve the health of a child, even had it been of proper quality, which it was not. It consisted usually, at the most, of two small pieces of corn-bread, made in many instances, as the witnesses state, of corn and cobs ground together, and badly prepared and cooked; of, at times, about two ounces of meat, usually of poor quality, and unfit to be eaten, and occasionally a few black, worm-eaten beans, or something of that kind. Many of our men were compelled to sell to their guards and others, for what price they could get, such clothing and blankets as they were permitted to receive of that forwarded for their use by our Government, in order to obtain additional food sufficient to sustain life; thus, by endeavoring to avoid one privation, reducing themselves to the same destitute condition in respect to clothing and covering that they were in before they received any from our Government. When they became sick and diseased in consequence of this exposure and privation, and were admitted into the hospitals, their treatment was little, if any, improved as to food, though they doubtless suffered less from exposure to cold than before. Their food still remained insufficient in quantity and altogether unfit in quality.

* * * * * * * *

"Your Committee, therefore, are constrained to say that they can hardly avoid the conclusion, expressed by so many of our released soldiers, that the inhuman practices herein referred to are the result of a determination on the part of the rebel authorities to reduce our soldiers in their power, by privation of food and clothing, and by exposure, to such a condition that those who may survive shall never recover so as to be able to render any effective service in the field. And your Committee accordingly ask that this report, with the accompanying testimony, be printed with the report and testimony in relation to the massacre of Fort Pillow, the one being, in their opinion, no less than the other, the result of a predetermined policy. As regards the assertions of some of the rebel newspapers, that our prisoners have received at their hands the same treatment that their own soldiers in the field have received, they are evidently but the most glaring and unblushing falsehoods. No one can for a moment be deceived by such statements who will reflect that our soldiers, who when taken prisoners have been stout healthy men, in the prime and vigor of life, yet have died by hundreds under the treatment they have received, although required to perform no duties of the camp or the march; while the rebel soldiers are able to make long and rapid marches, and to offer a stubborn resistance in the field."

We hope to be told that such pictures will make children shudder, for we should certainly be amazed if they did not. Such pictures are for parents to ponder. This is the spirit which inspires the rebellion. How is it to be cast out? Can any thing which makes American citizens capable of torturing other American citizens in this fiendish manner be safely tolerated? Shall we lop off the branches, or shall we uproot the tree?


Website design © 1998-1999 HarpWeek, LLC
Images, logos, and all other content © 1998-1999 HarpWeek, LLC., unless otherwise noted.
Please report problems to webmaster@harpweek.com