George Peckham was a sergeant in the Company I, 1st NY Volunteer Division, 2nd Corps, 111th Regiment. The following are notes from his writings:
About the middle of August 1864 the first Div. Of the 2nd corps was sent to tear up the Weldon RR south from where the lines of the 5th corps crossed it about 5 miles south of Petersburg, Va. We went at the work without tools of any kind except our bare hands. I remember helping to roll over the first piece. A thousand or more of us took hold of one rail and the ties on one side of the track standing as close together as possible and we rolled over forty or 50 rods of track like a bug furrow
Then we tore the ties loose from the rails and piled them on the road beds cob house fashion, made kindling wood of the fences and put in the middle of the cob houses and laid the rails across the piles and then set fire to them. When the rails got red hot the ends of the rails would bend to the ground. Some of them were wound around trees and telegraph poles. We were divided into 3 reliefs. Each relief worked 2 hours and then rested 4 hours. The 4 hours of rest we spent in foraging for peaches, apples, melons, and green corn, potatoes, or anything else which was edible and in reach that is within half a mile or so of the RR.
Well we worked along in this way for 4 or 5 days until we reached Reamsís Station 10 miles south of Petersburg, and about 5 miles from where we commenced. Here we found some breast works which had been built by the cavalry on some raid and which we occupied. The next morning after we occupied the works we began to hear firing on the picket line and soon after the 111th was ordered to advance as skirmishers.
In front of the works a few rods was a dense forest. The edge near the works had been slashed. We went through the slashing and advanced into the woods. As the line of works were in the shape of a horseshoe and as orders to guide center we were soon disconnected from theÖ on both flanks. A recruit named Gifford and myself sent out to see if we could find any skirmishers on our left. We found no skirmishers of ours, but we ran across some of the enemies skirmishers and Gifford was shot through the side but got back out of the woods. I did some of the best running of my life and got back to our line and reported to Colonel Hyde of the 125th NY, that we were in danger of being flanked. He told me I was scared that I had seen bogies. I went back to the left of the line and went out to investigate again and soon reached a place where I could look through under the bushes and see a line of rebels passing through to our rear. I counted a hundred of [them] and then went to see Col. Hyde again. He was incredulous but while I was [talking] to him the Johnnies [caught] us from theÖ
was my luck to fall into the hands of the Confederates on the 25th day of
August, 1864 at Reamsís
Station, 10 miles south of Petersburg Va.
The next night I slept in the city of Petersburg on a little island in
the Appomattox River. I remember
that there wasnít a spear of grass on it and that we had neither shelter or
blanket. Sometime in the night was
a heavy thunder shower. We stood up
a while, the rain was falling, and then lay down in the mud and slept until
morning. After we had dried in the
sun we were a grotesque looking company. We
had neither breakfast nor dinner that day and after noon we got on the cars and
rode to Richmond, and just as the sun was setting we (there were 2600 of us in
the party) passed through the door of Libby Prison. And as I remember it now I felt at that time very much as I
would if I were going to jump through a hole in the ice into water.
A cold chill ran over me but the power that controlled me was as
irresistible as fate and in I had to go.
we found six or seven rooms about 40 by 120 feet in area with nothing in them
except a very few loose bricks. The
windows were barred with heavy iron bars but were destitute of either glass or
sash. We were turned into the
floor. We went supper less to bed
that night. We had nothing but the
soft side of a pine floor for beds and he was fortunate indeed who was lucky
enough to secure one of the bricks that I have mentioned for a pillow.
Those who had them had to carry them with them through the day to save
them from being stolen.
the next morning we were searched and what money we had was taken away from us.
They [were] telling us that that it would be given back when we were
exchanged and that they carried the farce so far as to write our names and
amounts taken in a book. Did we
ever get it back. Not much.
I have 22 dollars on deposit there yet.
about 2 oclock that afternoon we had our first meal which consisted of bean
soup, corn bread, and a very small piece of beef.
The soup was made from a small dark colored bean that grows in the south
and which has the peculiarity of getting buggy the same as peas do here.
And the cooks didnít have time to bug them at least I suppose that to
be the case as the bugs were all in. The
taste was the same as you might imagine that the taste of a bumble bees nest
would be. But half a pint of it
wouldnít hurt anyone and that was all that we could have.
bread was made from unboiled corn meal stirred up with water and baked.
Make some for dinner some Monday and see how your people will relish it.
meat was indescribable. After the first day we had two meals each day with a few
exceptions when we had one meal of double the usual quality, one at 10 A.M.
& the other at 4 P.M. They were
served in rather a primitive fashion. The
meat and bread were turned out on the floor and cut up into as many pieces as
there were men in the room. Thus
each man was allowed to pick up a piece of each.
a pint of soup was given to every man that had anything to get it in.
This taxed the ingenuity of those who had been unfortunate enough to lose
their cups. One man had an old shoe
the heel of which would hold just about the required amount.
hung heavy on our hands as there was nothing to do and nowhere to go.
For five weeks we did not go out of the room in which we were confined. We were not even allowed to look out of the windows unless we
kept back out of sight from the sidewalk.
were told that if we got near the windows we would get a taste of cold lead and
bullet holes in the roof showed us that their word was to be relied on.
was one book in the room. Domby
& Son. And what had once been a euchre deck but the latter had long
ago forgotten its original colors. Speaking
of cards reminds me of a fact which is that not more than one in a hundred
soldiers would carry a pack of cards into a battle. When the rifles began to crack ahead the cards might be seen
flying to the right and the left. But
as soon as the smoke of battle cleared away everyone was ready for a game of
any of you think that you are overworked and that you would like to flee to some
place where there is nothing to do and you should happen to have an offer of
such a place, think twice before you accept it.
I believe that the monotony was almost as bad for us as the lack of food.
something happened to vary the monotony. One
day one of the guards accidentally shot himself and was carried off howling
while some of the prisoners asked him how he liked it &c.
spent nearly the whole of one night watching a fire in Manchester, a town on the
opposite bank of the James from Richmond, and one day our skirmishers were so
near us that we could see them all day.
man thought he would like to have an onion.
After two or three days of negotiation he received one through a hole in
the floor and the price that he paid for it was one dollar.
was a scarce article and those who had it practiced the most rigid economy in
its use, first chewing and then drying and smoking it.
The drying process was rather tedious as it had to be done on the floor
where the sun shone through the windows, and to take your eyes off it was to
lose it. When a man had dried
enough to fill a pipe he loaded one and waited until a man who had a few matches
but who would light but one a day would sing out fire!
And then he would have a smoke.
day the Dr. came in and said he must have 50 men from our room to send home and
that he would examine us and pick out the sick ones.
I never wanted to be sick so badly in my life and I looked as sickish as
possible but he didnít look at me the second time.
We were formed in line around the outside of the room and whenever the
Dr. found a man that suited him he would send him to the center of the room
where his name would be taken down by a sergeant.
While the Dr.s back was turned a man [ran] to the center and got his name
down. In less than a minute about
30 started at the same time to do the same thing.
Of course they were all detected and some of them were kicked back to
the latter part of Sept we had some cold weather, cold enough to whiten the
grass along the river with frost. In
order to keep warm on such nights we would lie down in rows all upon one side as
close together as possible. When
the upper side would get uncomfortably cold someone would call out spoon and all
would turn the other side up. We
didnít sleep very soundly.
night I saw a fellow lie down where the moon shown on the floor.
After a few minutes he got up swearing and said that he didnít believe
there was any heat in the moon.
day one of the men was sick and couldnít eat his dinner so he thought he would
keep it for the next day and then have a good square meal.
But alas for human expectations the mice ate it during the night although
he had it under his head.
But all things come to an end and one day order came to take us to Belle Isle a prison camp about a mile from Libby Prison, and thus ended my sojourn in Libby.