Prison Journal – March – April 1863

Gratiot Street Prison

“Camp and Prison Journal”

by Griffin Frost

March-April 1863

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.

Buy a reprint of Frost’s full book from:

Available from Camp Pope Bookshop

reprint no longer available, but check Camp Pope’s inventory of other fine books

and check their other Missouri-related publications

March-April 1863

MARCH 1, 1863.—Some four or five prisoners made an attempt to escape last night and all succeeded but one unlucky dog, who was recaptured. They brought him in and hung him up by the neck until he was nearly dead, when the Captain came in, and interfered, and had him taken down. The bloody villains would have murdered him outright. They tried to make him tell who were concerned in the plot; but he was true to the last, they could not torture him into turning traitor. That’s the stuff the martyrs are made of.

MARCH 2, 1863.—Yesterday evening the Feds arrested three “Secesh” ladies for waving their handkerchiefs at the prisoners as they passed up the street. They were taken to Col. Kinkaid’s quarters and kept an hour or so and then released. It was arranged in going to the Col’s quarters that they would either have to pass under the Federal flag or walk out into the street, the tantalizing creatures preferred the latter course; left the guard and took the street, returning to his protection as soon as the obstacle was passed. As they were going home they had to pass us again, and woman like, they gave us another wave, and went off laughing.

O woman, woman, light of life,

But cause of so much fuss and strife,

If I could half your foibles tell

You’d laugh at me—I know it well.

Andrew W. Lydick was captured August 20, 1862. He is listed as being a guerrilla and/or private in Porter’s unit.

MARCH 3, 1863.—The small-pox has broken out among the prisoners, two cases to-day, taken to the small-pox hospital. One hundred and forty prisoners were notified to leave to-morrow; destination unknown. Several prisoners have been released within the last few days. Andrew W. Lydick, of Marion county, has also been released on oath and bond. He was arrested several months ago and brought to this place, where he has remained ever since. Have never learned the cause which led to his arrest, but suppose it was because he is a rebel.

MARCH 6, 1863.—Rumors the last two days of Federal reverses at Vicksburg—large numbers reported drowned. We cannot know anything certainly, as we are not permitted to see the newspapers.

MARCH 8, 1863.—This has been another long and tedious Sunday. Over one hundred more prisoners notified to leave to-morrow. Those who went off Wednesday have gone to Washington on exchange.

MARCH 9, 1863.—Received a box from my wife to-day, containing a lot of butter, some peach, tomato, and blackberry preserves, two bottles of catsup, and a fine large ham. Had to have a fresh introduction; have not seen such delicacies for so long we had become strangers. As none of the mess were better acquainted, we introduced ourselves, and soon enjoyed a sweet familiarity.

MARCH 10, 1863.—The prisoners notified on the 8th left to-day for Alton. Old Mrs. Meredith was arrested to-day for distributing clothing to them. A cowardly act, disgraceful to the pantaloons inhabited by the creatures who commited it.

MARCH 11, 1863.—Over one hundred prisoners arrived to-day from Alton, and seventy-five or eighty from Tennessee, the latter, after remaining but a short time, were sent up to Alton. Capt. Masterson had the officer who arrested Mrs. Meredith, placed under arrest. Capt M. seems to know the good old lady. Says she has always been known as the friend of the needy and suffering, and since the prisons have been established in St. Louis, she has interested herself particularly in endeavors to alleviate in some degree the miseries within their walls. She is so well known and so thoroughly respected, that she obtained a permanent pass from the Provost to visit the prisoners whenever she saw proper. I hope her works of mercy will not again be disturbed in a similar manner. Capt. Masterson deserves honor for his prompt and manly course.

MARCH 12, 1863.—Capt. J. W. Johnson has been sent to the small-pox hospital. The last few days have developed several new cases. The only wonder is, that every disease under heaven does not break out in the lower quarters; half starved and crowded together as they are, in their dirt and rags.

Major John F. Rucker, 1st Mo. Inf., captured Jan. 6, 1863, escaped March 12, 1863–recaptured June 4, 1864Lt. James H. [Harvey] Rucker, Clarks Co. E, captured Jan. 6, 1863, escaped March 12, 1863–recaptured March 15, 1863

MARCH 13, 1863.—Five Confederate officers made their escape this morning, and because Capt. Barr, Finney, myself and five or six others, could not (?) tell how it occurred, we were thrown into the strong room and locked up. It is enough to make the old d—l mad to be confined in such a place. It is dark and gloomy, the weather cold and damp, we have no fire, nothing to sit on, not allowed to have our bed clothes to wrap in, the smoke comes down the chimney, so as to nearly stifle us, and beside, they starved us till after night, when they let us out a little while to graze. We have never heard the full particulars as to the manner in which our friends effected their escape, but as near as we have learned is as follows: It seems that the leader got an over coat resembling the kind the Federal officers wear, and yesterday evening went to the guard who stands at the front door, and represented himself as a Federal surgeon, asking the guard at the same time if he had seen anything of the ambulance which was to convey three or four patients to the small-pox island. The guard informed him he had not. The would-be surgeon then remarked that “that was a great way to do business, and if it did not come this evening they would have to walk there in the morning.” So this morning, bright and early, the Dr. learning from the same guard that the ambulance had not arrived, made preparations to foot it. He then went up stairs and informed his patients he was ready. They all followed him down stairs, out the front door into the street, which was the last we saw of Major Rucker, Captain Stemmons, Harvey Rucker, and two others unknown to us. As they passed out one of the patients had a bandage around his head, and another his arm in a sling, all of which was well calculated to deceive the most vigilant.

MARCH 14, 1863.—To-day I am twenty-nine years old. It’s my birth day, and so I must enjoy it. Why not? What’s to hinder? No noise and bustle and confusion. Under no obligations to kill myself eating the good things prepared by loving hands. No important business to occupy my time, and interfere with my pleasure. Oh no, on the contrary. I have a retired corner in a military dungeon, in place of shaking hands with congratulating friends, I shake quietly with the cold. I have time and opportunity to reflect, and food for reflection—if not for the stomach. I enjoy myself exquisitely, but—I am not selfish—I wouldn’t be on my birthday—if I could change places with my enemy I would resign in his favor.

MARCH 16, 1863.—Time hangs heavily and drags slowly. They invade the sacred precincts of our solemn dungeon, by placing two mutinous Feds among us to-day which was more than even our pleasure could suffer—if we must take lodgings in the strong room let it at least, be with a select crowd. It ain’t so much the way you live as the company you keep. We managed, to convey such an intimation to Kyser and he very kindly relieved us of their presence.

MARCH 17, 1863.—Was transferred back to old quarters to-day. Do not know how it happens that I alone am sent back, when we were all equally guilty of the same offence—not telling on our friends.

MARCH 18, 1863.—Several citizens were brought in while I was in the lock-up. One of them—Dr. Merwin, received the gratifying intelligence that his property had been confiscated, and would be used for the benefit of the United States Government. I thought he would go crazy when he heard it, he was so filled with rage and indignation. They won’t allow his wife to come near the prison. I feel sorry for him; his offence, is corresponding with his friends in Dixie. Our institution has graduated a few! Suppose they are now practicing their profession in the State militia. I had a letter from a brother-in-law in Ohio, advising me to the same course. I don’t see it in that light. I replied thanking him for his kind feelings, and good advice; but was not prepared to act upon his suggestions. He seems honestly to love the Union. I wonder if he thinks the North are fighting to restore it? It’s my opinion he’ll see the negro rise above the Union, if his patriotic party have their way.

Capt. Samuel Barr, 3rd Mo. Regt., was transferred to Alton from which he escaped May 7, 1863

MARCH 19, 1863.—Under a confiscation order issued by Gen. Curtiss, my friend, Capt. Sam. Barr, lost over $500 in gold, his whole wealth inside the prison walls; under other circumstances, the sum would be trifling; but here, five hundred dollars means a good deal. Is the Federal Government bankrupt, that she has to rob her prisoners to raise money for carrying on the war?

MARCH 20, 1863.—Last night our College received an addition of 20 new students; among the rest some four or five Yankee deserters.

MARCH 21, 1863.—Had the pleasure to-day of looking on two or three familiar faces, Mr. and Mrs. Thompson, and a young lady whose name I do not know, from Palmyra, Mo. They came to see a brother of Mrs. T’s—Moses Bates, who was captured at Iuka.

MARCH 25, 1863.—Last night about 12 o’clock, two more inmates were added to our room. They are from Columbus, Ky., charged with smuggling goods through to the Confederates, which they deny, and say they are “good Union,” and were in the employ of the United States Government. Hope after this when they bring their “Unionites” here, they will quarter them somewhere else, we do not want them with us.

We have heard from some of our friends at Camp Chase, Ohio; they like that prison better than this; they are allowed more privileges, and have plenty of room for exercise.

MARCH 26, 1863.—Several prisoners from Alton, arrived here for trial. All the prisoners of war at that point, leave next week for exchange. Wish we could have the pleasure of bearing them company, but I suppose that is impossible, as they say exchanging officers has played out.

MARCH 27, 1863.—Learned to-day that Gen. Bragg’s wife died on the 23rd inst., at Tullahoma, Miss.; also that Bragg had whipped Rosecrans, and that Gen. Frank Blair and his command had been captured; all of which, however, needs confirmation.

MARCH 28, 1863.—Received another letter from my wife, enclosing one from my mother in Ohio, who is very sorry I am not in the Union army. I also am sorry to vex her righteous heart, but I take Davy Crockett’s motto, “Be sure you are right, then go ahead.”

MARCH 30, 1863.—Several prisoners arrived yesterday from the South West. I suppose at last we are going to have an exchange, as rations are now being cooked up for a large number who leave tomorrow. They are in the best of spirits, rejoicing over the prospect of getting back to Dixie once more.

MARCH 31, 1863.—Two more prisoners made their escape last night. One had a ball and chain attached to his leg, which he succeeded in getting off before he left; but how it was accomplished, is a fact of which I am not in possession. I only know that I rejoice with them, and send my sincerest congratulations after them; would be pleased to do myself the honor of conveying them in person, for

“My limbs are bowed, though not with toil,

But rusted with a vile repose,

For they have been a dungeon’s spoil

And mine has bean the fate of these.

To whom the goodly earth and air

Are bound, and barr’d—forbidden fare.

Our bread is such as captives’ tears

Have moistened many a thousand years,

Since man first pent his fellow men

Like brutes within an iron den.”

APRIL 2, 1863.—Four hundred and eighty-four prisoners left to-day, on exchange, for City Point, Va. We understand there is a prospect of an exchange of officers soon. The news is not depressing. Had a letter from a married sister in Ohio, advising me to take the oath and be a good Union man. Will study on it awhile first. Won’t join until I am converted.

APRIL 3, 1863.—Have not as yet been called on for exchange—hope our time will come soon, as we are all anxious to bid farewell to Gratiot. It is said, however, that we will leave some time next week.

See the Women and Children’s Prisoner list and the corresponding prisoner notes for more information on these women and their circumstances.

Mrs. Jeff. Thompson, Mrs. Calhoun and a Mr. Bently, were all arrested to-day. The ladies were sent to the female prison, so we are informed by Mr. Bently, who was sent here.

APRIL 5, 1863.—Mrs. McLure, a very kind friend of the prisoners, is now under arrest in her own house, which has been converted into a military prison for ladies. Shouldn’t wonder if the Yanks succeeded, they are an inventive race. Who but them would ever have thought of making war on women? Wonder if they will hang or burn any of them for witches? Don’t blame them for making fun of the word “chivalry;” no doubt it does sound queer to them, they don’t understand it.

APRIL 6, 1863.—News to-day is: The Feds have taken Charleston—Loss heavy on both sides. Wants confirmation.

APRIL 7, 1863.—Witnessed a fight to-day between an officer and a private of the regiment now guarding us. Happy to say the officer came out second best.

APRIL 8, 1863.—Twenty-eight prisoners left here to-day for Alton, to-remain during the war, but the boat having departed they returned—will go to-morrow. One of them, Lieut. Kennard, from Batesville, Ark., is sentenced to hard labor during the war. Twenty-four new ones have just arrived—captured at Yazoo Pass.

They are now preparing a room in the round building in which to imprison the ladies. I made the acquaintance of the place on my first arrival here, it is admirably adapted, of course, to accommodate the tender natures of the fair sex or it would not have been selected, but I acknowledge my faculties are too obtuse to appreciate the advantages. Our quarters are bad enough for us, but we consider them far preferable to the round building. However, the God-and-humanitarians have too much benevolent intellect to commit a wrong. This is Progress, if we leather-heads could only see it.

APRIL 10, 1863.—The capture of Charleston turns out to be a hoax, gotten up for election purposes. Our lady comrades have not, as yet, arrived; their quarters being about ready, we look for them to-morrow. The Yankee plan with regard to the woman part of the war is not fully developed. I don’t know how they rank them, or what will be done about an exchange. We have no women prisoners—we have not progressed that far. Do they propose to redeem their men with our ladies? O the wondrous, deep, mysterious depths of Yankee strategy.

APRIL 14, 1863.—Been jogging along, for several days, the same old dull rate—nothing of interest transpiring. It seems our side had decidedly the best of the engagement at Charleston; it is also re ported that Gen. Foster has surrendered to our forces at Washington, N. C., however, we believe nothing here, either good or bad; any news that falls to us is only waste crumbs any way; if we are ever exchanged we may have an opportunity of ascertaining some facts.

APRIL 15, 1863.—Thank God, we have been called for exchange; notified to be ready by to-morrow or next day. Will be sent to City Point, Va.

APRIL 16, 1863.—At the writing of this, a large fire can be seen west of the prison; several have occurred within the last week. It is said one party is trying to burn out the other. The spirit of enlightenment is abroad, it blazes forth in many a burning homestead.

APRIL 18, 1863.—Nothing of interest to-day; still making preparations for an exchange.

APRIL 19, 1863.—One of the female prisoners arrived to-day, and is now in the lock-up. She is a Mrs. Campbell, from Memphis, Tenn. The male prisoners were locked in their rooms, to prevent them from seeing her as she passed; but it did no good, for we cut a hole through a plank they nailed over our window, and all got a good look at her. She does not appear in the least subjugated.

APRIL 20, 1863.—We hear that Gen. Wheeler has been having quite a run of success down in Tennessee. Captured a large number of Federal officers and privates, and $30,000 in money, besides destroying several trains.

APRIL 21, 1863.—Will leave to-morrow—at least we have been notified to that effect. We are to be paroled to travel East, which will be much more pleasant than having a guard over us.

APRIL 22, 1863.—Paroled to limits of the city from half-past two until four, when I am to join the rest of the prisoners at the ferry, and all proceed on our way to City Point. Went to Barnum’s Hotel, where I met with a lady friend, from Marion Co., who is visiting the city to see her husband, now in Gratiot street prison. We went together to the Provost Marshal’s office, where I found my brother and sister-in-law, Mr. and Mrs. Bradley, who were visiting St. Louis on a bridal trip, and were then at the office to procure a permit to visit me in prison. It was a pleasant and delightful surprise. They brought me a letter from my wife, and a bundle, containing among other things, my share of the wedding feast. We returned to the hotel, and remained until four. I insisted on their accompanying me to the river and seeing us off. They kindly consented, and when we reached the ferry the prisoners had gone over; we crossed next trip; how I enjoyed every precious moment. We found the cars just ready to start, bade a hasty “farewell” and I jumped aboard—soon under headway for Indianapolis. We have passed through some beautiful towns, everything is cheering, enjoy ourselves splendidly, plenty to eat of the best quality. The officers in charge, Major White and Capt. Burns, are very kind, showing us every gentlemanly courtesy.

APRIL 23, 1863.—Morning—Now traveling in Indiana, changed cars at Indianapolis. Afternoon—In Ohio, changed cars at Crestline for Pittsburgh, Pa. Eight o’clock, evening—Pittsburgh; have had a good supper; been allowed to walk around and see the towns whenever the cars stopped long enough. Could buy a dinner for fifty cents, sometimes for twenty-five. The Yankee officers are quite sociable, they call on us for a song, we give them “Old John Brown;” they reply with “We’ll hang Jeff Davis on a sour apple tree,” &c. The citizens manifest a good deal of curiosity; ask us many questions, some we answer.

APRIL 24, 1863.—Reached Philadelphia to-day. Seem to be regarded as rare and curious specimens; more or less interesting, according to circumstances. We hear such remarks as, “They look something like our men, only not dressed so well.” Others approach us and offer to purchase our gum rings, present us with copperhead breast-pins, and tell us that “Old Abe can never enforce the draft, the North will resist it to the last.” As we were marching from the depot to the river, we had an exhibition of the milk of human kindness, as given by, and sucked from the breast of some tender fair, of the Quaker City. Women and children called out to us, telling us we were “dirty mean devils,” and expressed the opinion, that the best thing to do with us, was to throw us into the Delaware. We listened, hoping to catch some enlightenment, as we passed through the God-favored section. Halting in the street to rest, we were assaulted by a mob, broomsticks were hurled at us, together with every epithet of abuse which adorns the rich language of the eloquent East. We bowed to the storm and acknowledged their superiority; we have seen nothing like it in the South. As we proceeded on our way the crowd followed. We went on board the steamer ‘Major Reybold,’ laid at the quay about an hour and left for Fort Delaware, situated on an island sixty miles below Philadelphia, which we reached a little after dark, when we were conducted to our quarters, where we met several old Gratiot acquaintances who left St. Louis before us.

APRIL 25, 1863.—Discover this morning that Fort Delaware is the hardest prison hotel we have seen. The lower quarters at Gratiot were bad enough, God knows, with disease, starvation and dirt, but this elegant and select little “Island Home” has refined upon the abstemiousness of their habits, the rigorous denial practiced upon our appetites is wonderful, we indulge freely in nothing except the water from the bay, which affects all who use it with diarrhea; many are sick, but our craving stomach must be filled, it cries out continually, “give, give,” and the table has almost literally nothing to offer. Five hundred and fifty-three of us starve around the same board.

APRIL 26, 1863.—St. Louis and Springfield are paradises compared with this, all are complaining of hunger. Do not know what we would have done if it had not been for a barrel of oysters we were allowed to purchase from an oyster boat. We relished them as only such poor hungry devils could.

APRIL 27, 1863.—The boat has at last arrived which is to carry us to City Point. We are anxious for any change from this miserable hell. I am feeling quite miserable in health.

Captain Frost was exchanged at City Point, Virginia. He then traveled to the parole camp at Demopolis, Alabama to await official exchange. He traveled north to Arkansas and was taken ill with small pox in the month of July. In August he learned his company has been reorganized and new officers in charge of it, leaving Frost without a unit. He traveled northward and on October 17, 1863 was captured in Ray County, Missouri, behind Federal lines, while on a recruiting mission. October 23, 1863 he arrived again at Gratiot Street Prison in St. Louis.