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Confederate Prisoners at Roanoke Island

The Illustrated London News, vol. 40, no. 1137, p. 320.

March 29,1862

Among the last batch of Sketches received from our Special Artist in America, illustrative of the Federal victory at Roanoke Island, was one showing the group of the Confederate prisoners at Camp Georgia; and this Illustration, forming a suitable close to the series, we give at page 310.

The following quotation from the correspondence [sic] of theNew York Evening Post will serve well as a description to our Engraving of the prisoners in their camp :—

"Camp Georgia has been but recently established, and was intended as winter quarters for the rebel forces on the island. The buildings are extensive board barracks, with well-built log-houses for officers' quarters and storehouses, and the camp presented the appearance of a large and well-laid out village. The entire quarters will comfortably accommodate 4000 men. They had made preparations for a siege, and had laid in provisions for three months. There was plenty of good beef and pork, flour, salt, sugar, molasses, and hard bread, superior to that furnished to the Federal Army. The North Carolina troops were certainly well cared for; only in the matter of clothing both officers and men were shabbily provided. The Richmond Blues alone pretended to be dressed in uniform. The field and staff officers were habited according to their taste and means, some of them respectably, but no two of them wearing exactly the same uniform, while some wore coarse negro cloth of a doubtful grey colour. Instead of shoulder-straps the Colonels had three stars on either side of the coat collar, the Lieutenant-Colonels two, and the Major one star. As for fancy decorations, both officers and men stuck a star or a bit of lace anywhere in their hats or clothes without reference to 'regulations,' and they looked more like masqueraders than like military men. The appearance of the prisoners when drawn up in the camp was unfavourable in comparison with that of the Federal troops. Their shabby, often fantastical, clothing and attempts at ornament might have had something to do in prejudicing one's mind against them, but they seemed generally coarse, vulgar, and uneducated men and boys, of all ages, from sixteen to sixty, and there was a large admixture of what the South itself considers 'poor white trash.' Among the officers there were many gentlemen, and one or two very fine-looking men. They appeared, however, crestfallen, and looked as if they had played a desperate game—and lost."

Roanoke Island, besides the interest which attaches to it from recent events, has a special claim on the consideration of Englishmen as being the spot on which the first settlement in the New World was made by their forefathers. This event occurred in 1585. It was from Roanoke, moreover, that the use of tobacco was introduced into England. Robertson, in his "History of America," gives the following account of this inauspicious beginning of our settlements in America:—

Raleigh fitted out a squadron of seven small ships, under the command of Sir Richard Greenville, a man of honourable birth, and of courage so undaunted as to be conspicuous even in that gallant age. But the spirit of that predatory war which the English carried on against Spain mingled with this scheme of settlement, and on this account, as well as from unacquaintance with a more direct and shorter course to North America, Greenville sailed by the West India Islands. He spent some time in cruising among these and in taking prizes, so that it was towards the close of June before he arrived on the coast of North America. He made some excursions into different parts of the continent round Pamlico and Albemarle Sounds; but as, unfortunately, he did not advance far enough towards the north to discover the noble bay of Chesapeake, he established the colony (Aug. 25, 1585) on the island of Roanoke, an incommodious station, without any safe harbour, and almost uninhabited.

This colony consisted of only one hundred and eighty persona, under the command of Captain Lane, assisted by some men of note, the most distinguished of whom was Hariot, an eminent mathematician. Their chief employment, during a residence of nine months, was to obtain a more extensive knowledge of the country; and their researches were carried on with greater spirit and reached further than could have been expected from a colony so feeble and in a station so disadvantageous. But from the same impatience of indigent adventurers to acquire sudden wealth which gave a wrong direction to the industry of the Spaniards in their settlements, the greater part of the English seem to have considered nothing as worthy of attention but mines of gold and silver. These they sought for wherever they came; these they inquired after with unwearied eagerness. The savages soon discovered the favourite objects which allured them, and artfully amused them with so many tales concerning pearl fisheries and rich mines of various metals, that Lane and his companions wasted their time and activity in the chimerical pursuit of these, instead of labouring to raise provisions for their own subsistence. On discovering the deceit of the Indians they were so much exasperated that from expostulations and reproaches they proceeded to open hostility. The supplies of provision which they had been accustomed to receive from the natives were, of course, withdrawn. Through their own negligence no other precaution had been taken for their support. Raleigh, having engaged in a scheme too expensive for his narrow funds, had not been able to send that recruit of stores with which Greenville had promised to furnish them early in the spring. The colony, reduced to the utmost distress, and on the point of perishing with famine, was preparing to disperse into different districts of the country in quest of food, when Sir Francis Drake appeared with his fleet (June 1, 1856), returning from a successful expedition against the Spaniards in the West Indies. A scheme which he formed, of furnishing Lane and his associates with such supplies as might enable them to remain with comfort in their station, was disappointed by a sudden storm, in which a small vessel that he destined for their service was dashed to pieces; and, as he could not supply them with another, at their joint request, as they were worn out with fatigue and famine, he carried them home to England (June 19).

There is one consequence of this abortive colony important enough to entitle it to a place in history. Lane and his associates, by their constant intercourse with the Indians, had acquired a relish for their favourite enjoyment of smoking tobacco, to the use of which the credulity of that people not only ascribed a thousand imaginary virtues, but their superstition considered the plant itself as a gracious gift of the gods, for the solace of human kind, and the most acceptable offering which men can present to Heaven. They brought with them a specimen of this new commodity to England, and taught their countrymen the method of using it, which Raleigh and some young men of fashion fondly adopted. From imitation of them, from love of novelty, and from the favourable opinion of its salutary qualities entertained by several physicians, the practice spread among the English. The Spaniards and Portuguese had, previous to this, introduced it in other parts of Europe. This habit of taking tobacco gradually extended from the extremities of the north to those of the south, and, in one form or other, seems to be equally grateful to the inhabitants of every climate; and by a singular caprice of the human species, no less inexplicable than unexampled (so bewitching is the acquired taste for a weed of no manifest utility, and at first not only unpleasant but nauseous), that it has become almost as universal as the demands of those appetites originally implanted in our nature. Smoking was the first mode of taking tobacco in England; and we learn from the comic writers towards the close of the sixteenth century and the beginning of the seventeenth that this was deemed one of the accomplishments of a man of fashion and spirit.

A few days after Drake departed from Roanoke a small barque, dispatched by Raleigh with a supply of stores for the colony, landed at the place where the English had settled; but on finding it deserted by their countrymen they returned to England. The barque was hardly gone when Sir Richard Greenville appeared with three ships. After searching in vain for the colony which he had planted, without being able to learn what had befallen it, he left fifteen of his crew to keep possession of the island. This handful of men was soon overpowered and cut in pieces by the savages.

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