Philadelphia Weekly Times, 12/28/1887
From the Philadelphia Weekly Times, 12/28/1887
Life in Libby
MAJOR ANDREW B. WELLS [8th PA Cav.] TELLS OF HIS PRISON EXPERIENCES.
I was mustered into the army on the 9th of August, 1861, and spent the Winter of ‘61 and ‘62 in front of Washington, D. C. We moved with our regient to the Peninsula in April 1862. My regiment was engaged at Yorktown, Va., and in a number of fights and skirmishes up the Peninsula, as our regiment had the advance of the army and crossed the Chickahominy River about the middle of May, 1862. We advanced to within six miles of Richmond and did picket duty before and after the battle of Fair Oaks, which took place on May 31 and June 1, 1862.
On the 8th day of June I was on picket duty with my company at the extreme left of our lines, which were about a half mile from the Williamsburg and Richmond Turnpike, and five miles from the Statehouse in Richmond. About noon of that day an officer of General Hooker’s staff called on me and inquired whether I could give him any information as to the picket line of the enemy in front of our extreme left. I told him that I could not, but showed him the "Rebs" infantry on our front and to the right of us.
He asked for volunteers to go outside of the lines, and said that General Hooker desired the information, and asked whether he or I should go. I replied that I would.
Taking four men I went to my rear and left through a heavy woods in order to try to fool the enemy, as we knew they were watching us, and after a march of about a quarter of a mile I halted my squad and sent one man ahead to see if he could find out anything. After an absence of about five minutes he returned and reported that he had been through the woods and could see the city of Richmond plainly, but no enemy. I concluded that we had better all take a look, and then allowed our companion to guide us.
A VIEW OF RICHMOND.
It was as he said. There was Richmond on the hills in front of us, and none of the enemy between us and the city that we could see. We then turned to come back and in some way got on the wrong road, which finally led us into the rear of their picket line; it was in truth, from their number, a skirmish line.
As soon as they saw us they fired a volley into our party and, singular though it may seem, we never saw them in this thick wood until the damage was done. I found myself upon the ground, my horse shot, one man killed and two badly wounded; the fourth charged over the enemy and in a few minutes was in our lines. We were ordered to stand up and raise our hands. I was the only one who could do so, as the others were either badly wounded or killed. They then took me to General Longstreet, who was in command, and he wanted me to tell him who was in command of our forces and how many troops there were, and then asked me all kinds of questions. These I refused to answer. He then placed me under guard and I was marched into Richmond and put in Libby Jail. There was no one there, as the prisoners captured at the battle of Fair Oaks a few days before had been set South. So I was alone that day and night in Libby.
The next day I had a companion brought in, and he was a Philadelphian also. It was Colonel William L. Curry, of the 102d Pennsylvania Infantry, and we were soon friends, after comparing notes.
The next day we were ordered to get ready to leave in the evening train for Salisbury, N. C., and, there being only two of us, the "Rebs" gave us a seat in the passenger car with two guards. We were great curiosities and all in the train took a good look at the "Yanks," and some believed we had horns on our heads. We arrived at Petersburg, Va., at about 6 o’clock P.M., and were taken before General Ransom, who is now United States senator for North Carolina, as he was in command there, and he treated us like gentlemen. He told us that if we would give our word not to attempt to escape he would parole us and allow us to remain at the Bollingbrook Hotel, at which he made his headquarters. We promised that we would and registered our names, and after a wash took supper. We had a fair meal, but were pointed out by everyone as "Yanks."
[narrative goes on to detail his stay at Salisbury. Not transcribed. Transcription resumes in August 1862, with the news that Wells and others will be exchanged. Takes train from Salisbury to Raleigh to Richmond.]
We arrived in Richmond about 6 P. M. and were marched on to Belle Island in the James River, and we almost froze that night, for it was very cold and we had no blankets, for we had given them to the fellows who could not get away from Salisbury, so we had to move about all night in order to keep the blood in circulation.
The next day we were taken to Libbey Jail and kept there some three days when we were marched to Aitkens’ Landing, some fourteen miles from Richmond, where we found our truce boat and saw the old flag for the first time since our capture.
What a difference there was between the well-fed, well-clothed men, loaded with haversacks and all kinds of goods coming off the boat and ourselves, some without shoes, hats or sufficient clothing to cover them. And these were rebel prisoners that were to be exchanged for us. The contrast was so striking that even the "Rebs" said: "What a shame!"
From there we went to Fortress Monroe and thence to Baltimore. I went to Washington and drew my pay - some $1800 - received a leave of absence and came to Philadelphia and enjoyed myself, and when the leave expired joined my regiment in time to get into the Antietam, Md., fight.
It was my fortune to be captured a second time and sent to Libbey during 1863, when the officers confined there drew lots to see which two of them should be hanged and also to help dig the tunnel through which to escape.
ANDREW B. WELLS.
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