Gratiot Street Prison
“Camp and Prison Journal”
by Griffin Frost
The journal of Captain Griffin Frost was written throughout the war, much of it while Frost was a prisoner at Gratiot Street Prison and Alton Prison and is one of the very few published primary sources available on Gratiot. He published it in 1867 in response to the outcry against southern treatment of prisoners in places like Andersonville. Frost hoped to make it clear that northern treatment of prisoners was just as bad as southern. In this perspective the book was a failure for though deathrates were comparable in northern and southern prisons, the conditions in Gratiot were entirely unlike those in Andersonville, something that becomes immediately and abundantly clear when reading his narrative.
Frost was a newspaper editor and may have rewritten or enhanced some portions of his journal before publication. The portions that leap out in this regard are the occasional pro-southern/anti-northern mini-rants he indulges in which stand out jarringly at times from the flow of the rest of the narrative. On the other hand, Frost was a writer and he was bored with the tedium of prison life so may have unleashed his writing exuberance at times in his journal. He clearly is a skilled writer and writes a lively, interesting tale even in short entries. His information about events taking place around him is not always correct–something that may surprise a reader taking a journal written at the time as being a wholly reliable source. But Frost was limited by his perspective and the information he got and so sometimes reports as fact things that were only rumor. Annotations throughout will try to clarify these moments.
Points in Frost’s writing that grate most on the present-day reader (or so one hopes) are his occasional racial comments. They are harsh and wholly insulting yet will be included here without editing as they do reveal an important aspect of the times and the thought processes that needs to be faced squarely and not glossed over. Try to view these passages in their historical context yet also be aware they do not represent the views of all people at that time, yet by the some token were shared by a number of people from both sides of the conflict.
Though Frost’s narrative covers his entire wartime experience, only those portions that take place in Gratiot or Alton will be presented on this website.
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December 1863 – January 1864
Dec. 3, 1863.—Judge Sowards of Canton, has been released, but I have not heard on what terms, of course he had to accept such as were offered, whether they were dictated in the spirit of justice, humanity, or spite. He was an agreeable and gentlemanly fellow prisoner, and we would mourn his exit, but we know that our loss is his gain; so with resignation we pronounce, “may the bunk which has known him here, know him no more forever,” and so mote it be, with some of the rest of us. I trust we are fully prepared for such a change.
A Federal revenue officer has been put in with us, for stealing. Such arrangements are very distasteful to our circle, as almost the only privilege we try to exercise is that of being select in our associations; and it is exceedingly offensive to have to come in contact with plebeanism of this style. We consider it quite a sufficient condescension to have intercourse with the better class of that party without having their thieves thrust in among us.
|It’s interesting that for all his admiration of those who escaped and attempted to do so, Frost, himself, apparently never considered escaping.
Prison life is dull and disagreeable at the best, with all our efforts to keep a stiff upper lip, and looking at the bright side, we will have heavy gloomy days. Maj. Brasher has received a lot of novels and magazines, with which we while away some of the tedious hours, and the revenue officer, after all, affords us quite a fund of amusement. He is almost frantic over his imprisonment; thinks he will go crazy if it lasts long. One of the boys remarked he wouldn’t have far to go. Letters drop in occasionally advising me to “take the oath.” My sister at Cairo speaks to day. I would like to say, once for all, and once to all, that first; I don’t know that I would be permitted to take the oath, as I was captured this time under peculiar circumstances, and, second, I have no wish to leave prison in that way, if I can escape by a more honorable route. I shall await the result of my trial; if I am booked a prisoner for the war, without hope of exchange, I will begin to consider what is best to be done. Meantime I am truly thankful for the interest manifested by my friends, and grateful for their efforts in my behalf. Brasher, the noisy fellow, is trying to fill our cage with the melody of his song he is rattling off.
“We met, ’twas in a crowd, I thought he would shun me,
He came, I could not breathe, for his eyes were upon me,
He spoke, his words were cold, and his smiles were unaltered,
But I knew how much he felt, for his deep toned voice faltered.
I wore my bridal robe; I rivaled its whiteness,
Bright gems were in my hair, how I hated their brightness;
He called me by my name, as the bride of another,
Oh thou hast been the cause of this anguish my mother.”
We receive a free lecture every now and then from Capt. Masterson, and it is amusing indeed to hear him; talks as though he was lord and master of all he surveyed. He has such a beautiful way of delivering his remarks; always comes up with one eye closed and a grin on his face, and commences: “Now boys, didn’t I tell yees so, and so, and why in the divil don’t yees mind me.” After lecturing us some five or ten minutes, he starts off grumbling, saying “its no use talking to rebels—they are a hard set.” We think so too.
MONDAY, Dec, 7, 1863.—I was notified on Saturday last, to be ready for trial to-day. The following is the General Order, which they say I have violated:
HEAD QUARTERS, DEPT. OF THE MISSOURI.}
ST. LOUIS, Aug. 25, 1863.}
General Order, No. 86.
Large numbers of men are leaving the broken rebel armies in the Mississippi valley, and returning to Missouri—many of them doubtless, with the purpose of following a career of plunder and murder, under the form of guerrilla warfare while others would gladly return to their homes as peaceful citizens, if permitted to do so, and protected from violence. It is the desire of the commanding General, that all those who voluntarily abandon the rebel cause, and desire to return to their allegiance to the United States, shall be permitted to do so under such restrictions as the public peace shall require. All such persons may surrender themselves and their arms at the nearest military post and will be released upon taking the oath and giving bond, &c.
The above order is one of Halleck’s, and as I failed to comply with the terms offered, it is presumed that I had other intentions. I made no remark, but this morning obeyed the summons which called me before the Military Commission. That learned and august body soon disposed of my case to suit themselves, but have not, as yet, vouchsafed a knowledge of their conclusion to the humble object of their sage deliberations. I would like to know, but prisoners learn patience. After the trial was over, I asked for a guard and permission to go shopping, which being granted, I started out, went first to a picture gallery and got a glass for my little daughter’s picture, then went to a furnishing store for some toweling. While making my purchase, the merchant asked me what regiment I belonged to? I told him I belonged to Gen. Parson’s command, of the Confederate army, which seemed to surprise him. Six or eight ladies being present, one of them asked me if I wanted to go back South? I answered in the affirmative. She enquired if I did not think I ought to reform? I replied that when convinced I had done wrong, I should probably think of reformation. “Are you not convinced now?” said she. I confessed that I had not received sufficient light to comprehend my error. She smiled good naturedly, and as I passed out I heard a couple of her companions who had remained silent, saying in a half whisper, “he’s all right,” “he’s O. K.” They were rebel ladies. On our way back to the Hotel de Gratiot I was pleasantly surprised by meeting in front of the Planter’s House, with Samuel Anderson, of Palmyra. I would have enjoyed a good talk with him, but was only allowed a few words, and had to pass on. Dinner was awaiting my arrival; after it was dispatched, we were informed that our friends, would in future, be deprived of the permission which has heretofore been occasionally granted them, of sending in clothing, provision, &c., to relieve our necessities. I made a few remarks in the way of remonstrance which excited the dander of a self important little official, who politely invited me up stairs and locked me in the room where the condemned criminals are kept. Two of them are sentenced to be shot. I managed to communicate with my old quarters through a hole in the partition, learned that quite a little gust of anger had sprung up in consequence of my remarks. How sore they are where the truth hits. The sergeant came up about nine and took me down for my bed clothes. I shouldered and brought them up. So here I am with my tent pitched in the wilderness of sin. One of my room mates is named Fornchell, a young married man, who was in prison with me at Springfield; he also has been exchanged and recaptured, and is now wearing a ball and chain, it is said he is sentenced to be shot, but he denies in toto the charges against him. While he was in Jefferson City he had some photographs taken with his ball and chain on; it is rather a sad looking picture for his young wife to contemplate.
MONDAY, Dec. 14, 1863.—They only kept me one night in the condemned cell, but it was a night of horrors. I could hear the rattling of chains, and the thumping of balls, every time the poor fellows would turn over on their pallets of straw. They seemed cheerful enough when awake, but the moaning and groaning in their sleep told a story which their manly spirits could not hide. I was forcibly brought to reflect on the contrast—McNeal murdered ten men in Palmyra, and was promoted; Combs murdered Lasley, Price and Ridgeway, a cold blooded butchery, and is a hero; Haith Jones of Frankfort, Pike county, Mo., was foully assassinated at night by the home guards, and is unavenged; twenty seven prisoners, a surgeon, Dr. Davis, among them, shot down like dogs at Kirksville was a valorous achievement, and so on, name after name, murder after murder, might be added, committed with every attendant circumstance of savage brutality, endorsed, applauded and rewarded by the same Pharisacal hands that are now stoning to death these poor chained starving wretches. Sinners they may be, probably are, and God help the hypocrite, who pretends to be otherwise. Still death to them and honor to guiltier hands, is a bitter perversion of God’s eternal law of justice. Thank Heaven there is a court of appeals where the Chief Justice can neither be blinded, bribed nor brow beaten. My friend Major Brasher, exerted all his ingenuity to divert my mind and scatter its gloomy reflections; saluting me through the “hole in the wall” with questions and comments; before retiring he gave me a parting volley—would have my opinion of my new “posish,” &c. I do not know that my answers were particularly amiable, however they were a happy reflection of my mood. In the morning I told the sergeant I wanted my clothes, if I had to stay there. He started off, but soon came back and ordered me to load up my bedding and march for the old quarters. I obeyed without a murmur. Don’t know that I shall attempt to reason with these fanatics again, they give me the worst of the argument. Capt. Burns interposed for my release or I might have been there yet. We are not a great deal better off here, as we are not allowed to see friends, receive packages, buy provisions, or anything else. Having no stamps, I waited on Capt. Masterson, made my politest bow, and humbly enquired if I could procure some, as I wished to send a letter to my wife. He answered me, “no, not a d—d thing?” I retired in disgust. Newspapers are also forbidden, and we have to do our own washing. If they come down on the lower quarters in the same proportion they have on us, I don’t see what’s left for them, as they have never had any surplus in the way of provisions or privileges. We are told that Masterson is the cause of all our troubles; if so, he certainly delights in human suffering. The other morning before I got up, he bolted into our room and turned to me in a sneering manner, saying:
“Well friend Frast, yeer plaasure will now end, you’ll not enjoy yeerself any more when the ladies pass, in thrawing kisses, and wavin’ yeer handkerchief. I shell put a stop to all sich sports.” And sure enough the comical old monster had the windows weather boarded. When he had it all fixed to his notion, he delivered himself of a lecture. Great guns! I wish some of the scolding old women could have heard him, I think it would have shamed them out of the business. I think he must have inherited the virago propensities from forty cracked voiced old grandmothers. How he did come down on “proper places,” “looking out of windows,” and “other things in general.” If he ever lets us buy anything again we must vote him a night cap with a big ruffled border, and a calico recticule, with smoking tobacco and cob pipe. If he was an opium eater, like many old grannies it would enhance our peace and quiet. He has had all the Federal prisoners removed from here to Myrtle, so he could let himself out on us. We jogged along under the thumb screws, giving him as wide a berth as possible and being very circumspect in our words and ways until Saturday night when the storm burst in its fury. About three o’clock in the morning, with great bustle and confusion we were waked and ordered out to answer roll call. Prisoners had escaped! Three or four officers—several from the lock-up, and a number from the lower quarters; fourteen in all.
|Lt. Robert Lane LaValle of New Madrid, April 14, 1837-Feb. 2, 1902. He escaped from Alton June 28, 1864.
One man, Lieut. Lavalle was recaptured by the guards as he was in the act of climbing a fence. They were so enraged he thought they would shoot him after surrendering, but they brought him in and the officers plied him with many questions concerning the escape. He told a plain straight forward story. Said there were ten or twelve others, who were just ahead of him and who got off. That in the first place they went to the lamp house cellar, where they took underground passage through a hole which they had dug for that purpose, and which extended for forty or fifty yards, terminating in an another cellar, from which they emerged into a yard, climbed the fence and were off; at least those who were quick enough. He was covered with mud and dirt that he had gathered in the hole, which was barely large enough for a man to squeeze himself through. In working the tunnel they hauled the dirt back in a box and packed it down tight in the cellar. It must have taken three or four weeks to complete all their arrangements and they certainly deserve great credit for their skill and management; the only pity is, that more could not have availed themselves of so fine an opportunity, for we will not have such another offered again soon, as old Masterson will be more rigorous than ever. He closes the iron doors now, and locks us in at seven. He is in a regular stew about the digging of the passage, and is making great effort to ascertain who were engaged in it, but his success is not encouraging however. He sends all the officers whom he questions down to lower quarters, whether they know anything or not. The men in the lock-up, up stairs, descended by means of a rope made of blankets—I have the names of four of them—W. Owsley, who had just gotten through his trial, and was charged with murder, robbery, bushwhacking, &c. Thinking it would go hard with him, he took an appeal by way of the blanket ladder. Also — Watkins, who was one of a party that charged upon the guards last spring and escaped, but was recaptured, and has been in the lock-up ever since, concluded to enlarge his quarters; and two Lieutenants, Martin and Stewart, thought they would go down and take a walk. There were others, whose names I have not been able to pick up, but whoever they are, the best wishes of their late prison comrades attend them, notwithstanding we have to suffer for their good luck, our keepers being stricter than ever; I cannot even write to my wife. George Henly and George Phillips, our Confederate roll callers were sent below on suspicion of being implicated in the escape. The Feds are worse beat than they have ever been before, with all their splurge and splutter they cannot get any new light on the subject, for every prisoner is a Know Nothing.
DEC. 21, 1863.—The week past has been dull and disagreeable, and I have been quite sick, but have weathered it along without going to the hospital. The boys soon cut through the plank over our windows, making little holes to peep out; if Masterson knows of it he says nothing, and we make no comments; he is showing his spleen by searching prisoners who come in from the Provost’s. Two Lieutenants, Brown and Thaxton were overhauled Tuesday, and Brown lost a small knife which he brought with him when he first came to Gratiot.
Col. Priest and another officer have been put in the strong room to remain for the future; they have no idea what led to the movement. Lieut. Gowing visited them to-day, and old Masterson caught him there, when he ordered him to stay, and had him transfer, bag and baggage, saying he supposed the Lieutenant liked their quarters better than his own. On Sunday there was an order received from the Secretary of War, permitting us to buy tobacco and stationery, so we will be able to write to our families again. We are allowed to buy tobacco because they fear we will get sick if deprived of it, and they will have to furnish us medicine and medical attendance which will cost them more than the comfort derived from our punishment will come to. We had quite an addition to our number on Friday, about seventy Confederates arrived from Little Rock; men and officers, who were left there sick when our forces evacuated the place. They tell us that Old Pap has taken Washington, Arkansas. One of these men, Capt. Caldwell, had a surgical operation performed on his side yesterday, by Dr. Dudley, who took out a piece of bone from a wound which was received last September. Twelve other prisoners have also dropped in, one of Jo. Shelby’s Captains among them. New arrivals are gladly welcomed, from the fact of their bringing in something fresh to talk about. When a citizen is thrown to us, we consider we have drawn a great prize, as he brings in all he knows, and takes out all he learns; it is the best show we have to keep the U. G. R. R., in repair. The Feds don’t know how they play into our hands in such cases, or they would be a little more careful how they thrust citizens into military prisons. I am indebted to the U. G. Express Co., for postage stamps, which came shortly after Capt. M’s ungentlemanly refusal.
|Daniel R. O’Neal was released on Oath and Bond January 2, 1864.
DEC. 28, 1863.—Another week of prison life, has dragged its long length slowly by, taking a joyous Christmas in its train. Tuesday was a day of perfect stagnation. The Feds thought of no new method of cruelty, and we submitted to all the plans in operation. Old Gratiot was like a ship becalmed in Southern seas. Wednesday a little breeze sprung up on the admission of a citizen prisoner, a Mr. O’Neal, from Herman, Gasconade county, arrested for speaking disloyally. He seems somewhat uneasy, and well he may if there is any prospect of his being shipped east. We see in an old copy of the Columbus Crisis, which an underground accident threw in our way, that political prisoners at Camp Chase fare even worse than prisoners of war do here. The following is the article in full, which we copy for future reference—it bears date December 24, 1862.
“We speak wholly of the political prison, of the State, as we know nothing whatever of what occurs in the prison where “rebels taken in arms” are kept—that is, “the prisoner of war.”
It must not be forgotten that there have been from six to seven hundred political prisoners at Camp Chase at a time; and although several hundred have been lately discharged without trial, there are yet there some four hundred—one or two hundred of these have arrived there within a few days past from Kentucky and Western Virginia. These men were taken from their homes, some from their beds at night, some from their homes in daytime, and a great many of them are picked up in their fields at work, and never suffered to see their families before being spirited off to Ohio and incarcerated in the celebrated Bastile, which will soon be as famous as Olmutz itself.
Our Ohioans are put into the same prison with these men from other States, and from them we have learned some facts which the people of Ohio ought to know. Many of these men have been kept in this prison for over one year, a great many for five, six, seven and eight months, without even seeing outside, or being allowed to communicate personally with any one, not even wife, child, father, mother, or stranger.
They are furnished with nothing but a single blanket, even these cold nights, unless they are able to purchase additional comforts with the money they may be able to command. Many are poor men, and unable to purchase; they were not permitted to bring along a change of clothing, and many had on when seized nothing but summer wear, and that has become filthy, worn out, and scarcely hangs upon their backs.
They have no bedding, and are therefore compelled to sleep on bare boards. They have not enough wood furnished to keep fires up all night, and hence the suffering is intensified by the cold weather. If they attempt, after night, to walk out in the yard to take off the chills of the dreary night, they are instantly threatened to be shot by the guards, as ordered by those in command.
Dr. Allen, of Columbia county, Ohio, said he laid on a bare board until his hips were black and blue. The wood furnished them is four feet long, and they are compelled, each mess, to chop it up for themselves. Recollect, always that these are political prisoners, against whom no one appears as accuser, and no trial is permitted.
The prison has become filthy—awfully so—and the rats are in droves. If the prisoners attempt to kill one of these rats, they are forbidden, and threatened with being shot instantly. Recollect, as we have said before, these are political prisoners, against whom some malicious negro-worshipper has created a suspicion of disloyalty, but whose name is kept secret, and hence there can be no trial.
The prison is perfectly alive with lice, and no chance is given to escape the living vermin. A dead man, one of the prisoners, was the other day carried out to the dead-yard, laid there over night, and when visited in the morning by other prisoners, who heard there was a dead man there, they found the hair on his head stiff with lice and nits—the lice creeping into his eyes in great numbers, and, as he lay, they were thick, crawling in and out of his open mouth.
Not long since two of the prisoners got into a scuffle in trying their strength, and finally into a fight, as was supposed, and several other persons rushed to part them, when the guards from the lookout above fired on them, killing an old man by the name of Jones, from Western Virginia, and a ball grazing the skull of another; he fell, and it was supposed at first, he was killed also; another of the balls passed through a board at the head of a sick man in the hospital, and only escaped him by a few inches. The two men in the scuffle were not hurt. We might go further, but God knows this is enough for once. It is enough to make one’s blood run cold to think of it.
Now, if any one doubts this—if the authorities at camp or at the State House doubt it—if the Legislature, when it meets, will raise a committee, we promise to name the witnesses who, if sent for, will, under oath, prove all this, and as much more, some of which is too indecent to print in a newspaper for the public eye.”
This was their programme a year ago, and as the Yankees are a progressive race, the inference is, that if O’Neal should chance to tarry a few months at Camp Chase he could pick up a world of rich experience which would startle the military outside—that is if he should live to get out with his story; but we have heard it said that “dead men tell no tales.” I know that live ones don’t dare to tell all they know—even in underground letters much less in those carefully worded concerns which we send through the hands of prison inspectors. For instance, if I should tell my wife, how on Christmas eve, we offered an humble petition for liberty to purchase a Christmas dinner, and how unfeelingly we were denied, my letter would not pass, and I would be sent to the lower quarters or dungeon to learn better manners than to write the truth. Nor would it do to inform her of how I “peeped” out at the window, and saw ladies come to the prison with bundles of clothes for their friends, and after standing at the door for some time, go away, carrying their packages with them, while the men for whom they were intended are actually shivering in rags. One aged mother came with clothing for her “sick boy, who always needed warm clothes in winter.” She begged, and cried, but it was no use, the “sick boy” must abide in his tatters. The kind old mother stood on the corner, looking toward the prison, and crying for a long time, then she turned her poor old blinded eyes away and walked off.
Friday was Christmas day—I cannot speak for those jamming and crowding around in their rags in the lower quarters, nor for those in the lock-ups whose heavy balls and chains are eating into their ankles, while the still more deadly iron of despair is cankering in their souls, their Christmas enjoyments are best known to themselves, but as a specimen from our quarters, decidedly the best in Gratiot, I will chronicle the events of my holiday operations, commencing at six o’clock in the morning, when I arose and answered to roll call, then breakfast—pickled pork, bread and coffee; went out in the hall and peeped from the window awhile, then went back to our room and warmed, from thence to the window again—in and warmed, and out again; this time saw some Feds starting off; also saw several lady friends; went in again and watched the boys play cards, which is the only amusement they have; got tired of that and returned to the window; stood there and wished for the privilege of being out where I could enjoy myself with my friends, but wishing was all I could do, so I yawned and sighed and went into the pickled pork dinner. Frank Noel declared he would not insult his stomach with the cod livery stuff, and so confined himself to a limited supply of baker’s bread and coffee. Frank has not been here long—he will come to it yet—he ought to sojourn in the lower quarters, if he wants the kinks taken out of his stomach, there is not much turning up of noses down there I guess, no matter what is set before them. After dinner a fellow prisoner sent me a pear, I don’t know how he obtained it, but I regarded it as a most acceptable Christmas gift, appreciating it for its own intrinsic sweetness, as well as the generous refinement which actuated the donor. Fine fruits are not so plentiful in Gratiot as to be given away without self sacrifice. We did not tarry unusually long at the festal board, but sought the more inviting precincts of the hall window; saw some ladies pass—did not “throw kisses or wave my handkerchief,” but I thought “as long as I have the spirit of a man I will peep.” I won’t say the ladies didn’t peep some too. They looked at our gloomy walls as though they would like to have Alladin’s Lamp, and make the Genii spirit us off, prison and all, into some far country where they could have opened our doors, and feasted us in the most royal manner, but their wishes were no more effectual than mine. I gazed for awhile longer at the paving stones, imagined they had a hard hearted appearance, lying there watching us; went back to my room, picked up the romance of “Zaidee,” read an hour or two, and—went back to the window for a last look, stood some ten or fifteen minutes, saw nothing of interest and left; went to the lamp room, brought up our lamp, pulled out the table, and played cards till time to go to bed, and thus ended Christmas day 1863, in the officer’s quarters, Gratiot Street Military Prison, St. Louis, Mo. Not much after the style in vogue in the palmy days of old Dr. McDowell and his Medical College. Wonder how that gentleman would feel to walk around his premises and take a view of the students now gathered in the institution together with the faculty presiding over the establishment. His remarks on such an occasion would be rich beyond a doubt. More than one Yank would burn beneath the touch of his caustic wit.—Christmas day passed off dull enough, and we stole to our beds as quietly as chained dogs to their kennels. Slept till midnight, when a militia horse thief from the lower quarters, came running up and informed the prison officers that the lock-up prisoners were about to make their escape.
|Ab Grimes, recently transferred to Gratiot from Myrtle St. Prison, cut the hole in the floor. After several days chaining the attempted escapees to the post as punishment, the prison officials offered to let them go in if they’d promise not to attempt to escape. All except Grimes and Sebring agreed. They nearly froze to death in twenty below zero weather New Year’s Eve. Sebring finally gave his word but Grimes refused. Two ladies, the Harrison sisters who lived across the street, saw the prisoners’ treatment and went to Provost Marshal Broadhead to complain. He sent orders to bring them in out of the cold. William Sebring’s account of this event appears in the Official Records.
Of course the whole gang were out in a minute, they went down and discovered that a hole had been cut through the floor of Clifford’s and Carlin’s room, through which they proposed to let themselves down by blankets, when they would be joined by a lot from the lower quarters, and all make a rush on the guards and as many escape as possible. It would have been a perfect success if it had not been for the coward who reported. The next day Clifford was thrown into a solitary dungeon, the darkest pit in the prison; and Carlin, Sebring and one other, were taken down into the yard, and hand-cuffed and chained to a post—after they had stood there for several hours, a second squad was brought down and chained to another post, where they could be seen from a Southern residence across the street. They were kept there until late at night, although the weather was extremely cold; they stamped, shouted, and sung to keep from freezing; we could hear them after we went to bed, thumping the pavement, and singing “Hard times.” The same thing was repeated yesterday and to-day, except Carlin had a post to himself, and the weather much colder; we find it difficult to keep comfortable by the fire, and yet we hear “Hard times come again no more” pealing out on the frozen air. They unchain them and take them in to eat their meals. While passing near the kitchen one of them struck an old fellow over the head and “made the blood flow” pretty freely, it was the father of the horse thief who reported on them, and said to be the cause of his son’s doing so. Desperate measures will cook desperation. I guess they would have killed the old sinner if they could. While they are chained at the post, old Masterson goes out and stands and scolds as long as he can endure the cold, then he comes in and takes an easy chair, smacks his lips, and admires his own bravery; chuckling over the big things he said to them. Had another letter from John, and one from home, the latter reads:
“I have a bid to a Christmas dinner, but do not expect to go, for I could not enjoy myself and you in prison. All the pleasure I expect to see is when Annie gets her doll, which I have been dressing to-day. Dear little creature, she is more company for me than all the rest. She talks a great deal about “Old Kris,” and what she expects him to bring her. I would like to send you a turkey, but know it would be useless.”
We have had a letter also from Johnson’s Island, written by Lieut. Coale, who mentions Col. Dawson as being there, and sending his respects to all. Col. Dawson and I went on exchange together last spring, and the same kind of fortune still seems to cling to us both. It appears they are dying off pretty rapidly on the Island, resulting I suppose, from change of climate and want of clothing. I have learned from other sources than through the hands of inspecting officers, that there is great suffering in that prison. The ladies of Hannibal, Mo., have made an effort to relieve them, sending boxes of clothing, &c., but I have not heard as to whether their contributions reached the prison or were refused admittance.
MONDAY, JANUARY 11, 1864.—Two weeks have elapsed since my last writing, and but little has occurred deserving notice. The chain gang were faithful at their posts, never omitting their duty for any change of wind or weather. On the night of New Year’s eve, snow fell to the depth of ten or twelve inches; but the boys tramped round with their “Hard Times” song. I am told that some of them were badly frosted. I have not heard that any whined or begged, on the contrary, they bore themselves as true soldiers, showing their superiority over their persecutors, by the unflinching firmness which they manifested under the torture. All honor to their heroism, and success to their next adventure. A Secesh negro has been confined here for some time, but I learn is now released. I do not know the particulars, but as he is a rare circumstance, I should like to have seen Sambo. He must have a mental development considerably superior to the generality of his race. Most of them are like young jay birds, open their mouths and gulp down everything the Yankees see fit to stuff them with. Saw some of them a few days since in Federal uniform, they were stepping along quite briskly, as though they thought it something grand to be food for powder, and save Yankee hides. Several of our citizen prisoners have been released; among them, Messrs. Wilson and O’Neal, the latter on a three thousand dollar bond. A Mr. T. Roberts of Marion county, was released on oath and bond, not to leave the limits of his county. Such terms are very common; usually imposed for what are termed “disloyal speeches.” A man is not heard in his own defence, and his word, if anything, is taken against him. I suppose more “false witness” has been borne in such cases than any one person would be able to imagine. Every petty spite seeks that method of gratification; no one being safe. The weather continued intensely cold, up to Thursday the 7th, when a few ladies could be seen on the streets, but only such as were called by business seemed to venture out; it was awfully rigorous on the post gang in the yard and then locked up without fire. I suffered on New Year’s day, as near the fire as I could get, wrapped up in my shawl and blanket; had a terrible time, and would have complained of my condition if there had not been hundreds in the house in a worse fix. Prisoners are being brought in all the time; over a hundred on the 6th, about a dozen officers with them. Gratiot occasionally gets very much crowded, and when such is the case there are many and just causes of complaint. The prisoners are poorly fed, worse bedded, and nearly suffocated in the impure air. It is said there has been as many as seventeen hundred men at one time in these lower quarters. That number could scarcely find standing room, sleeping would be out of the question, of course they must suffer, sicken and die. If each individual case, could be recorded, even the hard heart of Northern humanity, blunted as it is to all but the imaginary hardships of the negro’s lot, would surely for a moment indulge in the luxury commiserating a fellow creatures woes, but they maintain a persistent deafness and blindness, and most hardened unbelief whenever an incident is mentioned as having occurred outside the pale of their political church, and yet how they gulp down every exaggerated story of so called rebel cruelty, without ever investigating for the truth, or considering any mitigating circumstance. On the night of the 9th, a fresh attempt was made by some of the prisoners to escape from the lower quarters. They were discovered and prevented, and are now wearing a ball and chain as a punishment. The roof of the hospital building caught fire on Saturday, creating quite an excitement among the sick prisoners, but the flames were fortunately extinguished in time to prevent any serious damage, except such as might have occurred to the invalids in consequence of the shock to their nervous system. That interesting and gentlemanly character, Capt. Masterson, is still piping his cracked voice in odious authority, within the classic halls. I presented myself at the office the other day, to obtain an axe for chopping wood, not knowing but it would be thrown at my head, but greatly to my surprise he said:—”Walk in Capt. Frast, and take a seat.” I stated my errand—he renewed his invitation, or rather order, at the same time shaking me cordially by the hand. I was completely mystified, and dropped into the proffered seat. “Captain,” said he as blandly as it was possible for him to speak, “I would thank ye for the note yees received this morning from Clint. Burbrige in the lock-up.” I replied that he was mistaken, as I had received no such note. He affirmed that I had. I protested I had not. He said, he would be sorry to be under the impression that I had the note notwithstanding my denial. I challenged him to say if he had ever known me to prevaricate—what I did not wish to tell, I refused to, and suffered the penalty, but I was not in the habit of lying. He waved me out of the room, saying, “that will do—this is a matter between you and me.” Capt. Beltzhoover was then called down; he acknowledged the receipt of the note, and stated that I knew nothing of it.
JAN. 18, 1864.—For the past week all things with us have flown on smoothly. Scarcely a ripple appearing on the calm surface of the bitter waters of prison life; this is true, at least, as regards our immediate quarters. We know nothing of what walls and floors may hide from our view, doubtless there have many painful scenes transpired at the hospital, as numbers are dying daily. Almost every hour witnesses the exit of some freed spirit, which drops its chains and its bondage and under the pale flag of death’s unquestioned truce, soars away to that blessed land where “the wicked cease from troubling, and the weary are at rest,” and in every instance the haggard corpse, handled roughly by rude strangers and stowed quickly away in its rough pine box, is the dear form of “somebody’s darling, God only knows who.” There is a man among us who is looked upon as a traitor, and who is naturally regarded with peculiar hostility by his fellow prisoners. Every man’s hand is against him, and little things which would pass unnoticed from others are hotly resented from him. He is buffeted on all sides, there being no sympathy or forbearance for a spy in our midst. He came in collision the other day with a young scion of the chivalry, who let him feel the weight of his aristocratic fist, for which act the chivalry pines in a dungeon, and the traitor skulks around dodging everybody’s boots for fear of the kick which he deserves.
Several prisoners left here to-day for Rock Island. They went off in fine spirits. Any change is desirable, after long continued confinement in one place. I hope they will write back and let us hear something of their new quarters. We can form some idea of it by their saying it is better or worse than Gratiot. Col. Dawson writes me from Johnson’s Island, he is looking anxiously forward to an exchange.
JAN. 29, 1864.—On Tuesday the 19th, a man was released on oath and bond, who had been confined in prison for over seventeen months; his dull, joyous apathy on the occasion was like Bonnivard’s, who said:
“At last men came to set me free.
I asked not why, and recked not where,
It was at length the same to me,
Fettered or fetterless to be—
I learned to love despair.”
On Wednesday the tramp of time was noiseless, leaving the clatter of no event to echo down the corridors of coming years. We slept, eat and yawned; yawned, eat and slept, and thus through the heavy hours, until Thursday noon we crept, then the Feds came in and raised a stir shearing off our buttons, it was comical; some made a pretense of resistence, but it was no use. The Government must have “the last button on Gabe’s coat.” It passed off in pretty jolly style, but I confess it looked like shearing sheep, or picking geese, neither of which comparison is a very sweet unction with which to salve our wounded vanity. One says we slip around in our buttonless coats like peacocks robbed of their gayest feathers,” another says “we are Bonapartes stripped of our kingdoms,” while another says, “nay, we are suns shorn of our beams.” Our keepers were not ungentlemanly in performing the act, which was required by an order from a higher sphere. It took several days to complete the work, and we had a good many laughs while it was going forward. Sources of amusement are so exceedingly scarce, we would fain make the best of whatever is presented even though the joke is enjoyed at a heavy expense. Friday was my day to cook. I flattered myself that I reflected great credit on the old darkies whom I had seen “bile the kittle.” I think I can make as big a dinner out of pickled pork, stale bread and a little coffee as any Dinah that ever presided over a kitchen fire. On Saturday I had a letter from Alton, telling me of the unmannerly departure from that prison of two of my old company, W. Parker, and Stephen Kerrick, who left without giving notice, returning thanks, or saying “good-bye.” The friends whose hospitality they had been enjoying, were much exasperated at their ungrateful conduct, and would, if they could find them, force them to come back and finish their visit; but the blundering clowns did not even leave word where they were going. So the interesting Alton family will have to pocket their chagrin, and submit as best they may. At our house things work differently. On the same day I heard the news,
|Capt. Clinton Burbridge was sent to the penitentiary in Jefferson City Dec. 18, 1864 with a two year sentence by military commission.
Clinton Burbridge was taken from his lock-up and transferred to a dungeon. Mr. B. is a citizen of Louisiana, Mo., he is a high toned honorable gentleman, thoroughly imbued with Southern fire, which will flash out in spite of chains and dungeons. He cannot teach his proud spirit to bow and submit tamely to a prisoner’s doom, although he bruises his own wings as he beats against the cage. If he would cringe, and flatter, and lick the feet of his oppressors, it would be just to their taste; they would make a prison hero of him, but unfortunately he is made of sterner stuff, and will be true to his manhood though he rot in a dungeon.
I continue to receive letters from home and friends, they do not think I will be exchanged and are anxious that steps should be taken for my release. Any move in that direction will be taken without my approval, until I have satisfactory evidence of the hopelessness of an exchange. When such shall be the case, I am not so in love with prison life, as to prefer it to the society of home. It is no benefit to the South for me to lie in prison unless I am counted against a Yankee, on the other side, if I am not so counted I am “hors de combat” any way, and my family have claims which demand attention when I can no longer serve my country. Thirty eight officers left here this morning for Camp Chase, but transportation not being provided they were sent back from the Provost’s office, and will now, not be off before next week.
They were considerably disappointed, as they all seem anxious for a change of some kind, no matter if it is from one prison to another. However they will have to honor old Gratiot with their presence a few days longer, and listen to the interesting lectures of Capt. Masterson.
One of our Lieutenants fell into the sink to-day, and had to be drawn out with ropes, and several attempts were made before his friends succeeded in extricating him from his miserable situation—having remained in some ten or fifteen minutes, and the filth was between five and six feet deep. Some think he went down on an exploring expedition for the purpose of finding a way by which to escape, but it seems he was unsuccessful—no subterraneous passage being visible, and even if he had, it strikes me the remedy was worse than the disease.
ALTON, ILLS., Saturday January 30, 1864.—I had little idea when I laid aside my pen last night in Gratiot, that it would be resumed again in Alton, but thus the fates have ordered and prisoners are only footballs for destiny, kicked here, there and everywhere, just as those in authority may decide. Our transfer was unexpected, up to two hours before we moved. Col. Priest, myself and some twenty-six others, were notified in the afternoon to prepare for change, which we did by packing up, and then going round and bidding our friends “good bye.” We left old “Alma Mater,” who by the way has been something of a step mother, at three, but did not reach our present quarters before dark; immediately on our arrival we were carefully searched, person and baggage, but I was fortunate enough to smuggle my book through wrapped in a shirt, which I honestly exhibited, but which looked too beggarly to invite scrutiny. Thirty-two of us occupy a room eighteen feet square; some have bunks, others take the floor. I have seen my brother and several other acquaintances, all well and doing as well as circumstances will permit. John says they have some pretty tough times, some of the men are treated shockingly, but it is usually the result of a hasty or impudent act, or speech on the part of the prisoner; if a man will strictly obey orders and forbear comment, he is generally safe.
JAN. 31, 1864.—Discover that our change is very decidedly for the worse, this is a much harder place than Gratiot—it is almost impossible to sleep on account of the rats, which run over us all through the night; it is hard to tell which are the thickest—rats or men, there are over two thousand of the latter, and many of them entered for the war; in some of the buildings it is difficult to turn around. There is much sickness; the small-pox is prevailing, and many are dying daily. Some are allowed to cook their own rations, but the balance have to eat in the dining room, which is a fair representation of that hell hole, Fort Delaware.
Frost was returned to Gratiot Street Prison March 6, 1864