War of the Rebellion: Serial 118 Page 0048 PRISONERS OF WAR AND STATE, ETC.

Search Civil War Official Records

OFFICE PROVOST-MARSHAL-GENERAL,

Saint Louis, Mo., December 8, 1862.

Colonel W. HOFFMAN, Commissary-General of Prisoners.

COLONEL: I have received your letter of the 4th. I was very much disappointed that the shipment of prisoners from Saint Louis to Alton spoken of by you was attended by untoward circumstances, and I am not surprised at the dissatisfaction expressed by you. I wish to explain the matter. I took charge of the provost-marshal's office on the 5th of November. At that time the Gratiot Street Prison held about 800 prisoners. Its maximum number should not have exceeded 500. I found that the Myrtle Street Prison, capable of containing comfortably 100 prisoners, has been taken possession of by my predecessor but for want of some necessary repairs was not occupied. I had it made ready and removed 150 prisoners there from Gratiot Street, which by that time had over 1,000 prisoners. In a few days thereafter the number in Gratiot Street again ran up to about 1,100. About the middle of November sickness in Gratiot Street Prison began increasing at an alarming rate. The number sick about that time was over 100, and within a week it ran up to 235 so that a large number of sick and dying men were lying on the floors. Every morning men would be found dead on the floor in the common rooms who had received no attention because from the crowded condition of the rooms it was impossible with the ordinary hospital attendance. With this condition of things it was impossible to observe the ordinary police and sanitary regulations. The men could not be even taken out of doors, for the prison has no yard. Of the 150 well men removed to Martle Street 35 were taken sick within four days, the consequences of the infection at Gratiot Street - and with all this prisoners were coming in daily from the country at the rate of from 30 to 100 a day. Fearing that the worst consequences would result from keeping these men longer in Gratiot Street and ascertaining that there was abundant room in Alton for a large number I decided to remove several hundred of those whose cases would not probably be disposed of at an early day. Upon looking over the lists in this office it was reported to me that there were about 400 of that class and I notified Colonel Hoffman to expect about that number. But the actual number sent was 276, and the difference between that and the estimated number arose thus: Upon the lists were a large number who were found too sick to go. Some had died, some been discharged and two pages of names were duplicated. Had the books of this office been in proper condition such inaccuracy would not have existed, but for that I am not in fault for half my time has been occupied in overhauling the confused state of things found by me in this office. The day before the prisoners were to go the guard was provided and transportation engaged. It was found impossible to get a special boat and it was necessary to use the Alton packet. But the crowded and confused state of things at the prison, the unavoidable result of its overcrowded condition and the intermingling of the sick and the well created great delay in getting the prisoners out, and as corrected list had to be made out to send with them the boat did not get off until nearly dark. This list ready to go with the prisoners unfortunately was left behind in the prison. Notwithstanding the hour was so late, the prisoners being out and ready, it would have been worse to turn them back than to go forward. Since then, last Saturday I sent 237 additional prisoners from Gratiot Street Prison to Alton and the number now at Gratiot Street is about 570.