Illustrations of the War in AmericaThe Illustrated London News, vol. 46, no. 1306, p. 262.
March 18, 1865
The Engraving on page 249 is from a sketch by our Special Artist, representing the scene within the north-eastern salient of Fort Fisher, near Wilmington, during the second great bombardment, which was commenced on the 13th of January, and continued till the successful assault in the afternoon of the 15th. A part of the Federal fleet is seen lying at anchor towards the right-hand side of this view; while the storming-party, which numbered 2500 men, is landing in the distance and preparing to extend itself across the neck of land between the sea and the Cape Fear River. The guns in battery, shown in the right-hand corner of the foreground, are still being worked against that part of the Federal fleet which lies farther to the right, and which cannot, therefore, be included in this view. Most of the other guns in the fort have been disabled by the heavy shot of the enemy; and the exposed position of the men, with shells of the largest size falling and exploding in the midst of them, is terribly apparent in our Illustration.
The Federal Government has, since last July, confined a large number of its prisoners of war in an encampment formed at Elmira, in the State of New York, distant 277 miles from New York city, on the Erie Railroad. We have been favoured by Mr. Horace Ruxton with a view of this encampment, taken from the "Observatory" lately built upon the public road outside the camp, which is daily visited by a multitude of curious persons, who pay the proprietor of the Observatory at the rate of ten cents a head for permission to have a peep at the formidable captives. The inclosure within which these prisoners are confined is a space of some twenty acres of ground, with a broad river running in the rear, and high walls on every side. Here about 10,000 of the Confederate soldiers who have been made prisoners of war are kept in safe custody, lodging in the wooden huts or in the canvas tents shown in our Engraving. Sentries are posted all round on the walls in such a position that they can have a clear view of everything within the camp, while the movements of the sentries themselves cannot be watched by the prisoners. At night the whole place is lighted up with kerosene-oil lamps. A number of spies are employed to mix with the prisoners and inform the Commandant of any plots which they may form to escape. Notwithstanding these precautions, an attempt was made, at the end of November, by about 300 of them, to dig a trench underground, from one of the hospitals to the wall, intending to pass under the wall and get out beyond. This scheme was, however, detected, and their escape prevented, on the night which they had fixed. Mr. Ruxton assures us that the prisoners at Elmira are well fed and clothed, and there is an excellent medical staff to attend to the sick. They amuse themselves with reading and writing, or making toys and other small articles for sale.
An Englishman who has been connected with the Southern American Confederacy, and is necessarily an active partisan, having lately undergone a detention in one of the Federal prisons--Fort Lafayette--sends us sketches of which we engrave two; and a letter, from which we extract the following description:--"I send you three sketches taken during a short imprisonment in Fort Lafayette--two interior views of Casemate No. 2, and a view of the inside of the fort. I may observe that, apart from their giving a true picture of life in the Federal prison, seldom has artist or amateur put pencil to paper with so little in his stomach as was contained in mine during the few hours occupied upon these sketches; for during the brief period of this self-allotted task I was invited to solve the interesting problem of finding upon how very little 'bad bread, salt-horse, and bean-soup' (all but the bean) a full-grown man can continue the somewhat necessary operation of breathing. The rule as to the issue of rations in this Northern prison, both in quality and quantity, is unchangeable and really monotonous in its effect. A word or two about this now celebrated prison may be interesting to your readers. Like old Sumter, it is a sea-girt fortress, standing at the entrance of New York Harbour, and, bristling with 100-pounders, is ready, with its sister forts Hamilton and Richmond, on Long Island and Staten Island respectively, to dispute the passage of the Narrows with any Confederate or other gun-boats attempting to force a passage. As soon as the war commenced, the Federal Government recognised the adaptability of this fort as a military prison; and from that time to the present its gun-rooms and casemates have been crowded with Confederate prisoners of all ranks and grades. It was here that the members of the Maryland Legislature were placed in durance vile, and here it was that en-Governor Morehead, of Kentucky, lingered till he was brought to the verge of death. The Hon. Pierre Soulé, too, and a host of other Confederate notables have been confined here; and here, when I had the good fortune to obtain my order of release the other day, I left many still in prison, amongst whom were Admiral Buchanan, General Page and his Staff (captured in Mobile Bay and at Fort Morgan), Generals Pryor and Beal, Captain Thom, and other officers, besides a large number of privates and a few blockade-runners. Among them was one Captain Beall, a Virginian, an officer in the Confederate army and holding also a naval commission, who was confined in the same casemate (No. 2) in which I was. He was charged with piracy on Lake Erie, and was kept in irons and forbidden to leave the casemate. With respect to the rules and regulations of this fort, and the system of feeding the prisoners, I have no words at my disposal sufficient to express my indignation; but I must say, in justice to the Yankee officers quartered there during my imprisonment, that from one and all--including even 'Old Burke,' the Commandant, himself--I received every courtesy; and this was not because I was a Britisher, for the disease of Anglophobia had assumed an epidemic form in the North. No discretion is allowed to these officers; they have but to carry out the orders received from Washington, and it is in their power to make themselves very obnoxious to those under their charge. But the explanation of their good conduct in this case is, I believe, that they were officers of the regular army of the United States, and not of the volunteer service; their regiment was the 10th Infantry. I conclude with my earnest prayer for a speedy exchange of prisoners."
With respect to Captain Beall, who is mentioned by the writer of the above letter as one of his fellow-prisoners, it appears from the New York papers of the 25th that he was put to death on Governor's Island the previous day. He behaved with much fortitude, and protested against the execution of his sentence, declaring that what he had done was in the service of his country.