JCCW Rebel Barbarities – Gen. James B. Ricketts

27 04 2012

Report of the Conduct of the War, Volume 3, pp. 461 – 465

WASHINGTON, April 3, 1862.

General JAMES B. RICKETTS sworn and examined.

[See Bull Run testimony.]

By the chairman:

Question. Did you observe any barbarous treatment on the part of the enemy towards our prisoners and wounded soldiers

Answer. On the field?

Question. On the field or elsewhere.

Answer. A party of rebels passed by where I was lying, and called out. “Knock out his brains, the damned Yankee,” referring to me. I said nothing to them. When we were taken to this house there was a general want of everything for our men. Of course I was on my back and could not see much.

By Mr. Odell:

Question. The house to which you were taken was what is known as the Lewis House?

Answer. Yes, sir; I was taken there in a blanket, and on the way I met General Beauregard. Some one asked who that was, and the reply was that it was Captain Ricketts. When General Beauregard heard my name he jumped off his horse and spoke to me. He was an old acquaintance, but a. year my senior at the Military Academy. I had been a great deal at the south-—in New Orleans, Texas, and other places-—and had been thrown a number of times in his company. He told me my treatment would depend upon the treatment that their privateers should receive.

Question. He told you that at that early period?

Answer. Yes, sir. I was much struck with what he said. I asked him where we were to be taken, and what they were going to do with us. He said: “Your treatment will depend upon that of the privateers,” and then directed me to be taken to the Lewis House.

By the chairman:

Question. How long were you a prisoner in the hands of the rebels?
Answer. I was two weeks at the Lewis House, and then I was in Richmond up to the 18th of December.

Question. It has been said that the rebels mutilated our dead and killed our wounded prisoners. Do you know anything about that?

Answer. I know this: that Lieutenant Ramsay, my first lieutenant, who was killed at my battery, was entirely stripped. The first one of the rebels who asked my name was a Lieutenant Colonel Harman. He was a lieutenant in the Mexican war, where I had known him very well. As soon as he heard my name he asked me if I knew him; and when he mentioned his name, of course I knew him. He said to the men with him, “Respect the captain’s person; he is an old friend of mine; don’t take anything from him.” And I had nothing taken from me, on account of Harman, I suppose.

Question. But your lieutenant was stripped?

Answer. Yes, sir.

Question. What do you mean by that—stripped of his clothing?

Answer. Yes, sir; he had nothing left on him but his socks, so one of our surgeons who saw him told me.

By Mr. Chandler:

Question. Do you know anything about their method of burying our dead?

Answer. I know nothing except about their manner of burial in Richmond. I could from my room overlook the place where they buried our dead. I know they were buried in the negro burying-ground among the negroes. They had no funeral service over them, but they were just taken out and put in the ground in the most unfeeling manner. At the Lewis House there was a great want of everything in the way of supplies, medicines, bandages, &c.

By the chairman:

Question. That may have been the case with their own men as well as ours.

Answer. Yes, sir.

Question. What was their general treatment of prisoners in Richmond?

Answer. The general treatment of the prisoners there, I thought, was very bad, indeed. We were very much crowded. Our diet was very meagre, indeed. I subsisted mainly upon what I purchased with my own money, which my wife brought me. That is the way I got along, and I assisted the others all I could. For instance, we had at times what they called bacon soup, soup made from boiled bacon, the bacon being a little rancid, which you could not possibly eat, and the bacon was served with the soup; and that for a man whose system is being drained by a wound is no diet at all. Then we had some thin beef soup, so thin that we were induced to ask one of the assistants how it happened to be so, and we were told that it was first served to their own people in the hospitals, and afterwards it was watered for us. They stopped giving us tea and coffee, and we had to buy them for ourselves. We had to buy our butter and eggs, and everything of that sort, beyond the mere prison fare that they gave us.

Question. It has been said that they shot some of our prisoners while looking out of the windows?

Answer. I was not in the prison. I was too lame to be taken to the tobacco factory. I was in the hospital all the time.

Question. Did you hear anything about that while you were there?

Answer. Yes, sir; there were a number of our men shot. On one occasion there were two shot, one was killed and the other wounded, by a man on the outside, who rested his gun on the window-sill while he capped it; while drawing back the hammer, in this position, it escaped from his fingers, came down upon the cap, and the gun went off.

Question. That was an accident, was it?

Answer. Well, sir, it was a very singular accident. If I should point a gun towards you, instead of towards the ceiling, when I went to put a cap on, and it should go off, it would, to say the least, be regarded as a very unpardonable accident.

By Mr. Chandler:

Question: You thought it was intentional?

Answer. Yes, sir; I did think so.

By Mr. Gooch:

Question. Do you know whether that man received any punishment?

Answer. The man was taken up, but he made some explanation and was let go again. I considered it very bad treatment, also, to be selected as a hostage for the privateers, when I was so lame I could not walk; while my wounds were still open and unhealed. General Winder came to see me. He had been an officer in my regiment, and I had known him for twenty-odd years. He came to see me on the 9th of November; he saw my wounds, that they were still unhealed; he saw my condition. He that very day received an order to select hostages for the privateers; and, notwithstanding he knew what my condition was, the next day, on Sunday, the 10th of November, I was selected as one of the hostages. I heard of a great many of our prisoners who had been bayonetted and shot. I saw three of them, two of them had been bayonetted and one of them had been shot. One of them was named Lewis Francis, of the New York 14th. He had received fourteen bayonet wounds, one through his privates, by which he lost one of his testicles. And he had one wound, very much like mine, on the knee, in consequence of which his leg was amputated after some twelve weeks had passed. And I would state here that, in regard to his case, when it was determined to amputate his leg, I heard Dr. Peachy, the surgeon, remark to one of his young assistants, “I won’t be greedy, you may do it;” and the young man did it.

Mr. Odell: I would state here that he has just had his leg amputated the second time in consequence of the faulty manner in which it was done the first time.

The witness: It is surprising how that man lived through it all, old as he was. I should take him to be over forty years of age.

Mr. Odell: He is over fifty years of age; fifty-three or four, I should think.

The witness: I did not think he was as old as that. That only renders his recovery the more surprising. I saw him, and my wife was with him, down where he was, doing what she could for him; she gave him some of my clothes. Then there was a man named Briggs, of a Michigan regiment, who has a scar on his hand now from a bayonet wound. He says he saw the rebels coming, bayonetting our men and pillaging their pockets. He had a little portmonnaie, with about eight dollars in it. He put it inside his shirt, and let it fall down his back, and laid down on it. He was wounded, shot below the knee somewhere. When they came to him they asked for his money, and commenced thrusting a bayonet at him. He caught it in his hand, and as they withdrew it his hand was cut by it.

By Mr. Chandler:

Question. Did this man who received so many bayonet wounds receive them after he was a prisoner?

Answer. He was not wounded at all at first. That was their method of taking him prisoner, piercing him as much as possible. He was in their power entirely; there was no necessity for their doing any such thing, as there was one man against several.

Question. Instead of demanding his surrender they bayonetted him?

Answer. Yes, sir; it was entirely wanton on their part.

By Mr. Julian:

Question. And they supposed they had killed him?

Answer. Yes, sir. Another man was shot through the body, and he fell, and they supposed he was killed. Many of those men came into my room, and I saw them there and talked with them; and many of our men were badly amputated; the laps over the stump were drawn too tight, and soon the bones protruded. A man by the name of Prescott was amputated twice, and was then moved to Richmond before the laps were healed. He died from lockjaw after he reached Richmond, and always said that it was the railroad that killed him.

By Mr. Odell:

Question. Do you know anything more about the treatment of our prisoners?

Answer. I heard a doctor on the steps below my room say that he wished he could take out the hearts of the damned Yankees as easily as he could take off their legs. Those little things show exactly the state of feeling on their part.

By Mr. Gooch:

Question. What was their treatment of you, personally?

Answer. I had no particular consideration shown me personally, excepting from some persons whom I knew. I had a great many acquaintances in Richmond, and a great many among those in the field, for I had been a great deal in the south. I had met many at Newport, a great many from South Carolina. Those Charleston gentlemen treated me very handsomely. Wade Hampton, who was opposed to my battery, came to see me, and behaved towards me as a generous enemy should. He brought me a couple of bottles of ale, riding seven miles to bring it to me.

By Mr. Odell: Question. The papers have criticised their treatment of your lady, alleging that they evinced a lack of respect towards the sex.

Answer. My wife, in the first place, joined me while I was at the Lewis House, on the field of battle. The first rumor she had heard was that I was killed. When she heard that I was alive, but wounded, she started with her carriage and horses to come to me. She almost had to fight her way out there, but succeeded finally in reaching me on the fourth day after the battle. There were eight persons in the Lewis house in the room where I lay, and my wife for two weeks slept in that room on the floor by my side without a bed. When we got to Richmond there were six of us in a room, among them Colonel Wilcox, who remained with us until he was taken to Charleston. There we were, all in that one room. There was no door to it. It was very much as it would be here if you should take away the door of this committee room, and then fill up the passage with wounded soldiers. And in the hot summer months the stench from their wounds and from the utensils they used was fearful. There was no privacy at all, because there being no door the room could not be closed. The hospital was an unfinished building, one half the windows being out of it; and there we were, a common show. There was a general interest to see Colonel Wilcox and myself, as though they expected to see a couple of savages.

Question. Did not the officers of the southern army protect you from that sort of indignity?

Answer. They made some attempt to do it.

Question. But they did not use the means they might have used?

Answer. No, sir; and the people would come in there and say all sorts of things to us and about us. In fact, people that I knew would come in and commence discussions, until I was obliged to tell them that I was a prisoner, and had nothing to say. When we went down to Richmond in the cars from Manassas, wherever we stopped crowds of people would gather around and stare at us. At Gordonsville, particularly, crowds of women came around there to see the prisoners and the Yankee woman. They would ask my wife if she cooked, if she washed, and how she got there. Finally, Mrs. Ricketts appealed to the officer in charge, and told him that it was not the intention that we should be subjected to this treatment, and that if it was continued she would make it known to the authorities. He then said he would stop it. General Johnston took my wife’s carriage and horses away from her at Manassas, and kept them, and has them yet, for aught I know. When we got down to Richmond I spoke to several gentlemen about it, and so did Mrs. Ricketts. They said that of course the carriage and horses would be returned. But they never were. Instead of that, when I was exchanged, and we were about to leave, they refused Mrs. Ricketts a transportation ticket to Norfolk, obliging her to purchase it. Dr. Gibson, who was in charge of the hospital, when he heard of it, said that such a thing was very extraordinary in General Winder, and that he would speak to him about it. I said that it made no difference, though I thought as General Johnston had taken her carriage and horses and left her on foot, it would be nothing more than fair to give her a ticket to Norfolk. Our prisoners were treated very badly there, and I am surprised that some of them lived through it, like that man Lewis Francis.

Mr. Odell. He is recovering, and though he has lost one leg, he is very anxious to get back into the field again.

The witness. I must say that I have a debt that I desire very much to pay, and nothing troubles me so much now as the fact that my wounds prevent me from entering upon active service again at once.

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