Hon. E. M. STANTON, Secretary of War:
SIR: I take the liberty of inclosing you a copy of a
statement published by me of the manner in which prisoners are treated
at Belle Isle, and which will be verified by any of the prisoners at
Camp Parole, Annapolis. I assure you that the facts stated are strictly
true and fall short of rather than exceed the frightful reality.
I remain, with great respect,
W. S. TOLAND,
Late Q. M. Sergeant 83d N. Y. Vols., or 9th N. Y. State Militia.
PRISON LIFE AT RICHMOND--ITS CRUELTIES.
To the EDITOR OF THE NEW YORK TIMES:
I was taken prisoner by the enemy on the 7th of November last at
Morrisville, near Kelly's Ford, on the Rappahannock, and was confined
for four months on Belle Isle. On entering Libby Prison we were closely
searched by the rebel authorities, and most of the prisoners robbed of
whatever money they had, not one cent of which they ever saw again. On
the 14th of November about 100 of us were taken from the Libby and
marched to Belle Isle, reaching there about 9 a.m. The prisoners
collected on the bank on all sides of the inclosure to meet us, and such
a collection of woe-begone, miserable, starving men I never beheld. We
were marched inside of the gate and turned loose like so many cattle, to
find a resting place where we could; shelter there was none.
The whole inclosure does not comprise more than four acres, and within
it more than 8,000 prisoners were at one time confined. The only shelter
was tents, generally worn out and leaky; and during the whole winter
hundreds, and sometimes more than a thousand men, were obliged to sleep
in the open air on the ground and in ditches. The coldest winter days,
the thermometer down to 5 or 8, from 200 to 500 men were invariably sent
over from Libby Prison, where they had been all winter under shelter and
had sold their clothing to procure food. Some walked the weary night,
some laid down and died, some went raving mad. Forty men were brought
out one morning to the surgeon frozen in different ways, two of them
The medical attendance was a farce, and when all chance of living was
past the patients were carried over to Richmond to die. Those who died
on the island were buried without attendance of friends or ceremony of
any kind. Their bodies sometimes lay for a week exposed to the weather,
trampled on by dogs and hogs. Each prisoner was allowed one-quarter of a
loaf of corn bread in the morning and one-third of a loaf at night, with
half a pint of black beans, the latter wormy and unfit to eat; the bread
half baked and calculated to produce irritation and sickness instead of
Not one-fourth of the rations sent by the United States in November
ever reached the prisoners, and no sanitary stores were ever delivered
on Belle Isle; only 200 out of 4,000 express boxes were delivered there,
and the night before we were sent away the guards of the Libby were
selling us crackers from our own express boxes at $5 per pound. Men
would eagerly gather up bones, crumbs, potato parings, and any article
of food however loathsome, killing and eating dogs to satisfy their
hunger. The Western army stripped our men of almost every article of
clothing and sent them nearly naked to Richmond; but I have never
<ar120_81> heard any outrages of this kind attributed to the soldiers of
General Lee's army, and after three years' intercourse on the bloody
soil of Virginia I give them credit for being honorable foes who would
scorn to injure defenseless prisoners.
The clothing sent by the United States was fairly delivered, but the
hungry prisoners sold most of it to the guards, who are now enjoying the
benefit of it. The guards were not generally cruel to the prisoners, but
were under no restraint whatever and would sometimes shoot them down
without provocation. The lieutenant in charge of Belle Isle was a humane
man, but allowed a cruel and brutal subordinate to tyrannize over and
persecute the unfortunate prisoners.
I have carefully avoided exaggeration in making this statement, which
can be corroborated by the affidavits of 2,000 prisoners at Camp Parole.
I make it unwillingly and only from a sacred sense of duty to my
miserable comrades yet in captivity, and to the memory of hundreds of
brave men who had escaped unharmed from many a battle field and have
been brought into the hideous inclosure of Belle Isle in the prime of
life and health to die by slow torture and a dog's death.
W. S. TOLAND,
Ninth Regiment New York State Militia.
[ First indorsement.)
Respectfully returned to the Secretary of War.
No reports have been made to this office of the manner in which
prisoners have been treated by the rebels at Belle Isle, but from
notices in the newspapers, made from representations of paroled
prisoners, there can be little doubt of the truth of the statements made
in the within communication, but to guard against mistake I respectfully
suggest that the testimony of some of the most intelligent paroled
prisoners recently arrived at Baltimore be taken as to the treatment
they received, and if the within statement is sustained I respectfully
suggest as a means of compelling the rebels to adopt a less barbarous
policy toward the prisoners in their hands that the rebel officers at
Johnson's Island be allowed only half-rations; that their clothing be
reduced to what is only sufficient to cover their nakedness, and that
they be denied the privilege of purchasing the articles allowed to other
Colonel Third Infantry and Commissary-General of Prisoners.