The Long Journey Home

On February 24, 1865, a side wheel steamboat chuffed up the James River and eased alongside a makeshift dock at Aiken’s Landing, Virginia, a few miles, as the crow flies, from Richmond.
When the steamboat was secured, a gangplank was extended to the dock. Soon a long line of men – weary, ragged, emaciated – was shuffling slowly down the gangplank. They were Confederate soldiers who’d recently been released from a Union prisoner-of-war camp at Point Lookout, Maryland. They would later board a Confederate steamboat flying a white flag that would take them up the winding river and through Union lines to Richmond.
That’s how close General Ulysses Grant’s troops were to Richmond in February 1865 – a steamboat that left the Confederate capital was behind enemy lines only a few miles downriver. Although Confederate General Robert E. Lee had managed to keep Grant from taking Richmond, his days of working military miracles had passed. Soon Grant would break Lee’s defenses at nearby Petersburg, throwing the door to Richmond wide open.
The war would be over in about six weeks.
A few days earlier, a similar line of bedraggled, tired and alarmingly skinny young men had tramped wearily up a gangplank at Aiken’s Landing to board the steamer New York. They were Union solders who’d just been released from Confederate prisoner-of-war camps.
Confederate leaders have long been justly criticized for the appalling conditions where Union prisoners were held. But what seems less known is that conditions for Confederate prisoners in Union POW camps were little, if any, better. And the POW camp for Confederates at Point Lookout was among the worst.
My great-grandfather, William Crooks Dry, was one of those ragged Confederate soldiers who got off the steamboat at Aiken’s Landing on that February day 150 years ago. He’d been with the 52nd North Carolina Infantry when he was captured at the Battle of Bristoe Station in October 1863. He’d spent 16 months at Point Lookout. The camp was intended for 10,000 prisoners, but the population quickly swelled to 20,000.
The Confederate prisoners had had to endure two bitterly cold winters in tents, sleeping on the ground. Once in a while they were given a few scraps of wood for a fire, but mostly they shivered from November until March. There was never enough food, and the men often caught and cooked rats.
William’s brother Thomas, captured at Gettysburg and imprisoned at Point Lookout at the same time, died there of smallpox in January 1864.
William and the other former POWs were taken to Camp Winder Hospital, a sprawling complex of wooden buildings at the western edge of Richmond. The hospital was organized into divisions, and each division housed soldiers from one of the states in the Confederacy. William went to the Third Division, which cared for soldiers from North Carolina.
The conditions at Camp Winder Hospital were primitive by modern standards, but at least the men slept on cots in buildings heated by woodstoves. And they were fed. It was unappealing institutional food prepared in large quantities from whatever foodstuffs could be scrounged by the dying Confederate government. But it was better – anything was better – than rat soup at Point Lookout.
William hadn’t been paid since June 30, 1863 – the day before the first day’s fighting at the Battle of Gettysburg. On March 4, he received 20 months’ back pay – around $220. That would have been quite a bit of money in 1865, but the payment was in Confederate dollars, which were virtually worthless at that point. In 1907, James Roden, a Confederate soldier who was hospitalized at Camp Winder a few months before William, recalled that he’d spent two months’ pay for a dozen eggs during his hospitalization.
Robert Krick, historian for the Richmond National Battlefield Park, said that soldiers sent to Camp Winder after being released from POW camps typically were very weak from malnourishment. The usual procedure was to keep the men hospitalized until they’d rested and regained enough strength to travel, then send them home on a 30- or 60-day furlough to completely recover.
That’s probably the treatment William received at Winder, Krick said.
Even though William was only 25 years old in 1865, his stamina would have been greatly reduced by 16 months at Point Lookout. Simply getting out of bed and walking across a room could have been exhausting.
There’s no record of how long William was hospitalized. His service records end with his payday on March 4. So there’s no way of knowing for certain how long he was in Richmond, or when he left, or when he arrived at the family farm back home in Cabarrus County, North Carolina. Nor is there any way of knowing how he traveled the 270 miles between Richmond and Cabarrus County.
It would have been weeks before William regained enough strength to travel. By March 24, he would have been recuperating at Camp Winder for one month. It seems unlikely that he would have left before then.
If he left before the end of March, he probably traveled on the Richmond & Danville Railroad (later the Southern Railway) from Richmond to the Cabarrus County seat of Concord. As the train left Greensboro and chugged through the rolling hills of the North Carolina piedmont, he undoubtedly was relieved to see the familiar landscape of his home.
But he was a changed young man after three years of war, and I wonder if that landscape didn’t bring back other memories. During a private guided tour of the Gettysburg battlefield a few years ago, I mentioned to tour guide Gary Kross how much the topography of southern Pennsylvania reminded me of back home. Kross smiled and said many North Carolinians who visit Gettysburg say exactly the same thing.
So as William approached Concord, the familiar landscape may have reminded him less of home than of the horrors of the Battle of Gettysburg, and of the death and gore of Pickett’s Charge. He was coming home to a family decimated by the Civil War. Two brothers, two uncles and a cousin had died. He may have thought that fate could not possibly deal another blow to his family.
But if that thought did cross William’s mind, he was wrong.
The engraving at the top of this post, from Harper's Weekly of March 18, 1865, shows Union soldiers who'd been released from Confederate prisoner-of-war camps boarding the steamboat New York at Aiken's Landing on the James River a few miles downriver from Richmond, Virginia. Three days later, Confederate solders released from the Union POW camp at Point Lookout, Maryland would be unloaded from a steamboat at the same spot.


Thoughts About My Father And The Passing Of Dean Smith

My relationship with my father had its ups and downs over the years. I’ve never talked much about it except with close friends, and the reason I’m bringing it up now is the passing of Dean Smith.

My father and I greatly admired Smith and were passionate fans of his Carolina basketball teams. And there were times when the only reason we’d consent to be in the same room was because Carolina was playing on TV and there was only one TV in the house.

So we’d sit in silence and watch. And sooner or later Smith or the Heels would do something that would evoke a comment, and that would break – or at least crack – the ice, and maybe a few words of conversation would follow.

Over the years, I realized that anyone who could thaw a feud like that and bring two squabbling parties into the same room was pretty unusual. And I realized that, whatever our other differences, the fact that my father and I both admired and respected Smith meant that we shared some important character traits.

I always intended to write a note to Smith to tell him how he’d been a good influence on my relationship with my father because Smith seemed like the kind of guy who would appreciate that. But, of course, I never got around to it. And now, of course, I really regret not sending that note.


Very Busy, Please Stand By . . .

I'm working to finish up a book that will be published next year by Rowman & Littlefield, and I haven't had a lot of time to devote to Drye Goods. But keep an eye on this space. I'll be posting a new Civil War essay in January 2015, and perhaps a few other new posts when I get caught up. So please check back from time to time. And scroll down the page to check out some of the 200 or so Drye Goods posts from the last seven years. By the way, the accompanying comic is by Berke Breathed, who drew the classic comic strip "Bloom County," one of my all-time favorites. Happy Thanksgiving.


A Letter from Petersburg

Engraving of the Battle of Petersburg is from the website Son of the South.

The closest post office to my great-great grandfather Allison Dry’s farm would’ve been in Mount Pleasant, North Carolina, about five miles away. That’s where the letter telling him that his son, Daniel, had been killed at Petersburg, Virginia on June 17, 1864 would’ve been sent.

It's been said that the post office was the only department in the Confederate States government that was operated efficiently, but it still would’ve been days or perhaps a week or more before word of Daniel’s death reached his family in rural Cabarrus County.
It was customary during the Civil War for commanding officers of soldiers killed in action to write letters to their families explaining how their kin had died. But officers – especially those commanding troops in combat – didn’t have a lot of spare time, and so days probably passed before Captain Jonas Cook, commander of Company H of the 8th North Carolina Infantry, could take a moment to write letters to the families of fallen soldiers.

It’s possible, perhaps likely, that one of Daniel’s friends in Company H scrawled a hasty note to his family telling them that he’d been killed, and that this letter reached Daniel's family before that of the company commander.

Whenever the letter was written, it would’ve taken several more days to move from Petersburg to Mount Pleasant. Rural free delivery of mail was decades away, and so Allison would’ve had to make a trip into Mount Pleasant to collect his mail. So the letter with the awful news may have waited for several more days in the Mount Pleasant post office until Allison had time to go check his mail.
I wonder how Allison and his family dealt with this latest dose of bad news. Daniel was the second of his sons to die in the war. His son Thomas had died of smallpox about five months earlier in the Union prisoner-of-war camp at Point Lookout, Maryland. And he’d also lost two brothers. His brother Henry had died of typhoid in Charleston, South Carolina in 1863, and his brother Moses had been killed at the Battle of Plymouth only two months earlier.

His son William, my great-grandfather, had been imprisoned at Point Lookout since being captured at the Battle of Bristoe Station in Virginia in October 1863. About 50,000 Confederates were held there, barely surviving on a starvation diet.
By the summer of 1864, only a miracle could save the Confederate cause, but Southerners were more than willing to hold out for that miracle. And it could have come in the form of the U.S. presidential election in November. President Abraham Lincoln had doubts about whether he'd win reelection. He knew that if he lost, a new president of the war-weary Union might be willing to settle for a negotiated peace that would either have allowed the Confederate States to remain a separate nation or allowed the seceded states back into the Union with slavery preserved.

For months, Confederate General Robert E. Lee had been trying to keep his Army of Northern Virginia between the Confederate capital of Richmond, Virginia and Union General Ulysses S. Grant’s Army of the Potomac. He was stalling for time, hoping he could keep up some sort of resistance until the fall election. It was a long shot, but it was the only chance he had.
The regimental history of the 8th North Carolina Infantry doesn’t have a lot to say about the events of June 17, 1864. The unit was ordered to Petersburg on June 14. They arrived on the afternoon of June 16 and immediately dug into defensive positions near Petersburg where, only a few months earlier, they’d engaged in a raucous snowball fight with comrades in the 51st North Carolina Infantry.

 “There was no time to be lost,” H.T.J Ludwig wrote in the unit’s regimental history in 1900. “The enemy was advancing. The line of battle was formed in the (earth) works around that city and the approach of the enemy awaited.”
“On the morning of the 17th the firing began early,” Ludwig wrote. “All forenoon there was heavy skirmishing. About 5 p.m. it was evident that a heavy assault on our line was contemplated. The enemy was massing his troops in our front. Just before dark the assault was made. The enemy succeeded in breaking the line occupied by the brigade on our immediate right and rushed his forces into the breach thus made. The Eighth Regiment was ordered to assist in driving the enemy out and regaining the line. The work was done and the line re-established. After several hours fighting the enemy retired, leaving our line unbroken.”

At some point during this “several hours of fighting” that ended in the fading light of June 17, 1864, Daniel was killed. He was 20 years old. He's buried in a mass grave at the Petersburg battlefield.

Had Union troops broken the Confederate line that day, Richmond would have been vulnerable and the Civil War might very well have been over in a matter of days or weeks. But the stubborn Confederate resistance meant that Grant would have to lay siege to Petersburg, and the war would drag on for another 10 grueling months.

Sources for this post included Histories of the Several Regiments and Battalions from North Carolina in the Great War 1861-65, and an interview with Robert Krick, historian at the Richmond National Battlefield Park.


Another Death in the Family at the Battle of Plymouth

This map from Histories of the Several Regiments and Battalions from North Carolina in the Great War 1861-65 shows Plymouth in April 1864. Our house, built around 1870, is indicated by the orange and red triangle near the center of the map.

Years after the Civil War ended in 1865, author George Nowitzky visited Plymouth – where my wife and I live – as part of the research he was doing for a book. What he saw astonished him.

“There is no town or city in the United States that shows more scars of war than Plymouth, N.C.,” he wrote in 1888. “Every few steps within the business portion brought me to excavations and low stone walls which but too plainly show that they were formerly cellars and foundations to buildings that have passed into smoke, ashes and history.”
Plymouth’s location in northeastern North Carolina on the Roanoke River near the Albemarle Sound offered an important strategic advantage to whoever held it. So Union and Confederate armies battled to control the town throughout the war. And any town that must repeatedly endure being the object of contention between two hostile armies is going to be left in shambles.

Union troops occupied Plymouth in early 1862. Control of the town went back and forth until late 1864. It’s been said that at the end of the war, there were only 11 buildings in the town that had not been destroyed or heavily damaged. All that remained, Nowitzky wrote, were “nothing but ghostly looking brick chimneys and stone foundations which could not burn.”
Reminders and scars of the war are still visible. Former Union soldiers returned to Plymouth after the war to repair Grace Episcopal Church over at the corner of Madison and Water streets a few blocks from our house. But I’m told that there are a few holes made by cannonballs in some of the lumber in the interior of its steeple.

Less than a block down Washington Street from our home is a house with plainly visible bullet holes around one window, reminders of fierce street fighting that happened here on December 10, 1862 when Confederate raiders attacked Union troops and set fire to houses on Columbia Street, now Main Street.
Confederate forces regained control of the town during the Battle of Plymouth, fought April 17-20, 1864. On April 18, the Confederate ironclad CSS Albemarle chased Union gunboats down the Roanoke River and then shelled Union troops in the town.

Our house sits on ground that was occupied in April 1864 by Fort Williams, a Union fort. It’s possible that the shot that killed Moses Dry 150 years ago today was fired from this fort. Moses was the brother of my great-great grandfather, Allison Dry and the uncle of my great-grandfather, William C. Dry, and his brothers, Thomas Dry and Daniel Dry.
Moses was 45 years old when he enlisted in the Confederate Army in May 1863. His comrades-in-arms in the 8th North Carolina Infantry bore surnames that are common today in telephone books back home in Stanly, Cabarrus and Rowan counties – Barringer, Blackwelder, Culp, Earnhart, Eudy, Fisher, Goodman, Honeycutt, Isenhour, Lowder, Misenheimer, Ridenhour, Ritchie, and Safrit, among others.

Moses may have met his end when his unit made a spirited but foolish and futile charge on the morning of April 20 to try to oust the defenders from Fort Williams, by then the last Union stronghold in Plymouth.
“The men charged up to the edge of the surrounding ditch, only to find that it could not be crossed,” wrote John W. Graham, a former Confederate officer who fought in the battle and contributed to a history of North Carolina troops that was published in 1901. “There was but one of two courses to take, to-wit: either to fall back or to surrender. The regiment chose the former. When the retreat began, the enemy poured a fearful volley into the ranks, killing and wounding many of the men. This charge was reckless and unnecessary. It was made under the flush of victory, and not by order of the commanding general.”

Fort Williams surrendered after being pounded by Confederate artillery. The Battle of Plymouth was over, and the town was back in Confederate hands – for a few months.

Union military strategists were determined to retake the town, but with the Albemarle anchored on the Plymouth waterfront, that was impossible. In October 1864, a young Union Navy officer named William Cushing led a daring nighttime raid in a small wooden steamboat and sank the Albemarle.
With the ironclad sitting on the bottom of the Roanoke, Union forces attacked and drove Confederates out of town. Part of the town caught fire when a Confederate ammunition storehouse exploded during the battle.

Back on the family farm in Cabarrus County, about 240 miles inland from Plymouth, the news of Moses Dry’s death was another crushing blow to his brother, Allison Dry.

Allison’s brother Henry, who enlisted in the Confederate Army in May 1863 at the age of 40, died of typhoid only three months later in Charleston, South Carolina. His oldest son William was taken prisoner at the Battle of Bristoe Station in October 1863 and confined in a hellhole of a Union prisoner-of-war camp at Point Lookout, Maryland. And his son Thomas, who was captured during the first day’s fighting at the Battle of Gettysburg in July 1863, had been imprisoned at the same POW camp as William, where he died of smallpox in January 1864.
Allison would receive more terrible news in June 1864.

Sources for this essay included Ironclads and Columbiads: The Civil War in North Carolina, by William R. Trotter; Histories of the Several Regiments and Battalions from North Carolina in the Great War 1861-65, edited by Walter Clark; and Norfolk: The Marine Metropolis of Virginia and the Sound and River Cities of North Carolina, by George Nowitzky.


Everything I Know About Wealth I Learned From Uncle Scrooge

The cover of "Uncle Scrooge" #19, drawn by
Carl Barks and published in September 1957.
A billionaire’s recent inane fretting about being an oversized target for radical progressives out to separate him from his immense wealth reminded me of a comic book character I loved when I was growing up in the late 1950s and early 1960s.

The Walt Disney comic “Uncle Scrooge” featured the adventures of Scrooge McDuck, the world’s richest duck. The character was created by Carl Barks, an artist who developed his remarkable talent – and maybe his elaborate fantasies about great wealth – in his spare time while working a series of menial, low-paying jobs. And while he presumably made a living during the time he worked for Disney, he never approached the kind of wealth that he imagined for Uncle Scrooge.

When I was eight or nine years old, I couldn’t wait to get the latest “Uncle Scrooge” comic. And I was far from alone. Although Disney had a stable of artists drawing Uncle Scrooge and other “duck” comics, Barks’s work made him a cult figure among young Baby Boomers who were just starting to read. His fascinating, well-researched stories and drawings full of detail and texture were immediately distinguishable from other Disney artists’ depictions of the same characters.

Barks’s humble jobs and his struggles to make an honest dollar undoubtedly influenced his characterization of Scrooge McDuck and shaped the wonderful stories he told of Scrooge’s adventures. But the work of all artists went out under Walt Disney’s stylized signature. So he was anonymous to his young Boomer fans, who referred to him simply as “the good artist.” They didn’t know who he was until late in his life after he’d retired and the Boomers, now grown, started spending big bucks to reacquire the comics their mothers had thrown out when they were kids.

Barks created a fascinating character who was obsessed with his wealth and had a personal attachment to every dollar he’d ever earned. Scrooge had lucrative business interests around the world and lived in a giant cube-shaped piggybank known as the Money Bin. It contained three cubic acres of cash, including the first dime he ever earned.

In one episode, Scrooge said it took him 13 years to count all the money in the Money Bin, which sat atop a hill overlooking the city of Duckburg, in the state of Calisota. In another episode, his wealth was expressed as a five, followed by 77 zeroes.

Scrooge wasn't interested in using his mountain of cash for pleasure or power. His motivation for accumulating such vast wealth was simply to prove he was a better man or duck -- than his competitors. He had little use for those who made their money off of other people’s money and ideas. In one episode, he is asked if he made his money in banking.

“Banking?” he answered with a snort. “I made it on the seas, and in the mines, and in the cattle wars of the old frontiers. I made it by being tougher than the toughies and smarter than the smarties. And I made it square.”

Unlike some of today’s uber-wealthy – including the fretful billionaire mentioned earlier – McDuck avoided conspicuous displays of his wealth. He did not own a car, and he refused to buy new clothes or even replace his eyeglasses. And he wouldn’t buy newspapers, preferring to roam public parks looking for copies of yesterday’s papers left behind by less-thrifty Duckburg residents.

The splash-panel for one of the first Uncle Scrooge adventures
drawn by Carl Barks shows Scrooge McDuck pursuing his
favorite pastime. The story was published by Walt Disney
in 1952.
The sole pleasure that Scrooge took from his money was an odd and rather sensual one. For him, life’s greatest delight was diving into his piles of cash like a porpoise, and burrowing into it like a gopher, and tossing up coins and letting them hit him on the head.

Scrooge’s only relatives were his nephew, Donald Duck, who lived in a modest house in Duckburg with his three nephews, Huey, Dewey and Louie. Donald and his nephews joined Scrooge for his adventures, and nearly all of the stories consisted of his efforts to either acquire more wealth or prevent it from being stolen, usually by his arch-nemeses, the Beagle Boys.

Although Huey, Dewey and Louie were kids, they were wise beyond their years and inevitably provided the knowledge needed to safeguard Scrooge’s fortune or crack an ancient code or solve an ancient mystery that added more treasure to their great-uncle’s holdings. And they usually obtained that valuable information from an infinite storehouse of the world’s knowledge and history – the Junior Woodchucks’ Guide Book.

But even though Donald and his nephews repeatedly rescued Scrooge from impossible difficulties, saved his vast fortune from being plundered by the Beagle Boys, and helped add immeasurable riches to his Money Bin, he always squawked loudly at having to cough up the pay – 30 cents an hour – he’d promised them for their help.

I read and re-read my “Uncle Scrooge” comics, and so I guess that’s where I formed my earliest impressions of how rich people behave. To me, Scrooge represented American capitalism, and he gave me the impression that somewhere in their souls, rich people were decent folks who would do the right thing for the common good when the time came.

I’m older now, and while I’ve somehow managed to avoid becoming wealthy, I do have a little more sophisticated understanding of how immense wealth sometimes affects human behavior.

Wealth obviously was affecting that billionaire I mentioned earlier. And his comments seem to have prompted other wealthy men to voice their own fears and frustrations about how the world perceives them.

Scrooge also was terrified of losing his money. But this comic book character differed from some of his real-life counterparts in one way – he occasionally showed a social consciousness. There were times during his adventures when he reluctantly realized that the only right thing to do was spend a sizeable amount of money to help someone who needed and deserved help.

Wealthy philanthropists aren’t fantasy characters confined to the pages of comic books, however. Henry Flagler was the son of a poor Presbyterian minister. He became John D. Rockefeller’s business partner at Standard Oil and used his great wealth to essentially invent modern Florida around the turn of the 19th century.

Flagler’s upbringing influenced his world view. “If money is spent for personal uses, to promote idleness, luxury and selfishness, it is a curse to the possessor and to society,” he said in 1907. “Wealth brings obligation, moral and governmental. It has but one legitimate function, and that is its employment for the welfare of the nation.”

Flagler obviously enjoyed his wealth, and unlike Scrooge, he didn’t try to conceal it. Whitehall, his home in Palm Beach, is a 100,000-square-foot, 75-room palace that the New York Herald described in 1902 as “grander and more magnificent than any other private dwelling in the world.” It’s also a far cry from the frugal-and-fictional Scrooge McDuck’s plain and utilitarian Money Bin.

Still, Flagler realized that there is such a thing as noblesse oblige. And Scrooge realized that there are times when the only right thing to do was help someone in need, regardless of how painful it was to him.

I’ve got nothing against money, and I do wish I had more of it. I don’t begrudge the wealthy their prosperity. But I do wish more of the most-fortunate had more in common with Henry Flagler, the real-life plutocrat, and Scrooge McDuck, the comic book character.


The Grim Christmas of 1863

This cartoon by Thomas Nast, published in Harper's Weekly on December 26, 1863, was perhaps the earliest depiction of now-classic Christmas images.

The warm, cozy images we associate with Christmas likely began in December 1863, when Harper’s Weekly published three elaborate drawings by cartoonist Thomas Nast. The two-page spread, a sort of Christmas triptych, included now-familiar, sentimental images – a bearded Santa Claus with a huge sack of gifts, a soldier on leave being welcomed home with a small Christmas tree in the background, and children playing with toys on Christmas morning.

But Christmas 1863 was quite different for many Americans than Nast’s feel-good images portrayed. Family members were missing from firesides and Christmas celebrations across the divided nation as the start of a third year of bloody civil war approached.

My great-great-grandfather Allison Dry and his family faced such a cheerless Christmas on their farm in Cabarrus County, North Carolina 150 years ago. Two of Allison’s sons – Thomas and my great-grandfather, William – would endure the brutally cold winter of 1863-64 in a Union prisoner-of-war camp in Maryland, living in tents with only a blanket and an occasional few sticks of firewood to keep them warm.

Allison did not own slaves. But his family had nevertheless become deeply invested in this war that had erupted because of slavery. Besides Thomas and William, Allison had another son as well as brothers, cousins, and nephews serving in the Confederate Army. And as Christmas 1863 approached, the awful reality of the American Civil War had come home to his doorstep.
Thomas, a member of the 5th North Carolina Infantry, had been taken prisoner on July 1, 1863 during the first day of the Battle of Gettysburg. A month later, Allison learned that his brother, Henry Dry, who was serving in the Confederate Army in Charleston, South Carolina, had died of typhoid. Then came the news that William, serving in the 52nd North Carolina Infantry, had been captured on October 14 at the Battle of Bristoe Station in Virginia.

Allison’s son Daniel was serving with the 8th North Carolina Infantry. In December 1863, Daniel’s unit was sent north from the relative safety of Raleigh to the frontline battlefields near the Confederate capital of Richmond, Virginia.
From Gettysburg, Thomas was sent to Fort Delaware, a massive pile of bricks on an island in the Delaware River about 45 miles downriver from Philadelphia. The fort, completed in 1859, was intended to protect Philadelphia from enemy warships. But in 1863 it was being used as a prison for captured Confederate soldiers.

The conditions Thomas encountered at Fort Delaware were far from comfortable, but they could be endured. “Things here are not quite as bad as I expected to find them,” Henry Berkeley, a captured Confederate soldier from Virginia, wrote in a letter home in the late summer of 1863. “They are, however, bad, hopeless and gloomy enough without any exaggeration.”
For the first couple years of the war, the Union and Confederate governments operated POW camps as temporary holding pens. Prisoners were detained until they could be “exchanged” for prisoners from the other side.

But that relatively civilized system fell apart because Union leaders became reluctant to recognize the Confederacy as a legitimate government, and because Confederate military officials refused to exchange captured black Union soldiers. So POW camps in the North and South became steadily more crowded. And the crowded conditions steadily increased the death toll among prisoners in both Union and Confederate camps.
On July 20, 1863, Union military officials decided to establish a POW camp at the tip of a peninsula in Maryland where the Potomac River joins the Chesapeake Bay. It was called Point Lookout. The federal government had already built a large military hospital to treat Union soldiers near the tip of the peninsula, and the POW camp was built just to the north of the hospital.

The exposed location of the camp made it very hot in the summer and extremely cold in the winter. General Gilman Marston, a political appointee who had represented New Hampshire in the U.S. House of Representatives before the war, was put in charge of the camp.
Like all POW camps on both sides in the Civil War, it would become a hellhole.

On August 15, Marston notified his superiors in Washington, D.C. that he was ready to receive 1,000 prisoners. Union officers responded by sending 1,300 Confederates to Point Lookout.

When the first prisoners arrived, it turned out that the Point Lookout commander had exaggerated the readiness of the camp. The 15-foot-high wooden fence to contain the prisoners had not been completed. So Union soldiers with bayonets fixed to their rifles guarded the Confederates. A few tried to escape. They were shot and killed.

By late September, nearly 4,000 Confederate soldiers were imprisoned at Point Lookout. On October 7, with fall’s chill in the air, Marston sent a recommendation to Washington suggesting that a wooden barracks be built to house the prisoners.

But the request was denied. Instead, with winter approaching, Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton ordered 10,000 tents sent to Point Lookout.
A week later, William Dry was captured at Bristoe Station and sent to Washington, D.C., where he was held in a building that had served as a temporary capitol after British troops burned the city in 1814.

While William was being held in Washington, his brother Thomas was transferred from Fort Delaware to Point Lookout on October 18. By now, the population of the 40-acre camp had more than doubled to almost 9,000. And the new prisoners brought a problem that would be exacerbated by overcrowding.
During the fall of 1863, smallpox killed 860 Confederate soldiers at Fort Delaware. Marston complained that every group of prisoners sent to Point Lookout from Fort Delaware included men suffering from the highly contagious and potentially deadly disease. It is an illness that thrives in crowded conditions. By late October 1863, Point Lookout was becoming more crowded by the day.

On October 27, 1863, William and other prisoners in the old capitol building in Washington were herded aboard a train. Their destination was Point Lookout, where they would become part of the shivering, ragged horde being held behind the high walls near the tip of the chilly peninsula.
There’s no record of whether William knew that his younger brother was already at Point Lookout. But it’s hard to imagine that they didn’t eventually find each other.

In November, Dr. W.F. Swalm, a medical officer with the 14th Brooklyn Regiment, was sent to inspect the prisoners at Point Lookout. Swalm was an odd choice to make the inspection.
During the First Battle of Bull Run in July 1861, Swalm and another Union medical officer had been captured by the Confederates and sent to Richmond as prisoners of war. But rather than being confined, they were allowed to move freely about the city. They became minor celebrities in the Confederate capital, where they were entertained in the homes of the city’s gentry. They responded to their captors’ hospitality by loudly denouncing President Abraham Lincoln and the Union cause and vowed that when they were exchanged, they would settle their affairs up North and move back to “Dixie’s Land” as permanent residents.

Perhaps their comments were sincere. Or maybe they realized that their harsh criticism of Lincoln and the Union war effort earned them extraordinary privileges in the capital city of their enemy. Whatever their motivations, their comments became public record when they were published in the Richmond Dispatch, and later in the New York Times.

Eventually Swalm and the other doctor were exchanged, and in May 1862, while testifying before the House Committee on the Conduct of the War, the doctors accused Confederate soldiers of “inhuman acts” and “terrible monstrosities.”

When Swalm inspected the prisoners at Point Lookout in November 1863, he reported that the hospital for sick prisoners consisted of 18 unheated tents, and noted that the weather was turning very cold. The winter of 1863-64 would be one of the coldest on record.

Swalm also noted that the sick men were in a “filthy” condition, and that the entire POW camp was similarly dirty. The prisoners were ragged and did not have warm clothing. Three men had to share one blanket in the tents.

The cold was brutal on the thinly clad prisoners. “In winter when a high tide would flood the whole surface of the ground, freezing as it flooded, the suffering of the half-clad wretches, accustomed to a southern climate, may be imagined,” Anthony M. Keiley a former prisoner at Point Lookout, wrote in a memoir after the war. “. . . So severe was the cold that even the well-clad sentinels had to be relieved every thirty minutes, instead of every two hours, as is the army rule.”

The conditions at the camp appalled Frederick Knapp of the U.S. Sanitary Commission. He suggested that the Commission send food and clothing to the Confederate prisoners. “I know that they are our enemies, and bitter ones, and what we give them they will use against us, but now they are within our power and are suffering,” he said in a report to the Commission.

But General Marston, the commander of the Point Lookout POW camp, had little sympathy for his Confederate prisoners. And Swalm’s earlier, well-publicized comments in Richmond gave Marston a convenient excuse to dispute the accuracy of Swalm’s report on conditions in his camp. After all, how could anyone trust the word of a man who had denounced his country and commander-in-chief in the heart of enemy territory?

In a December 4 letter, Marston denied that the conditions described by Swalm existed and said the prisoners’ woes were largely their own fault. “That they are a dirty, lousy set is true enough, but having afforded them every facility for cleanliness the duty of the Government in this regard  ... is accomplished,” he wrote.

Union officers prevented Swalm’s report from being released. Still, either a copy of the report or a description of its contents found its way to Dr. Montrose Pallen, a Mississippi physician who was involved in Confederate intrigues in Montreal, Quebec.
Pallen sent a letter to Union Major General E.A. Hitchcock describing the conditions. “Many of the prisoners are without the necessary clothing even to hide their nakedness, and during the late cold weather several absolutely froze to death at Point Lookout, where they are living in tents, and more than half of the 9,000 and more confined there have not even a single blanket for covering or bedding and sleep on the bare ground,” he wrote.

But Union officers seemed determined to keep the prisoners at Point Lookout in enforced misery.
The prisoners weren’t allowed to receive a new article of clothing without giving up a similar article of clothing, Kieley wrote in his memoir. “(S)o literally was this rule enforced that prisoners who came in barefooted were compelled to beg or buy a wornout pair of shoes for exchange before they were allowed to receive a pair sent to them by a friend.”

And when the Union Army added black soldiers to its ranks, the African-American troops replaced white guards at Point Lookout. The black guards, many of them former slaves, often took great delight in tormenting their former masters.

And the food, what there was of it, was terrible. “For my part, I never saw any one get enough of anything to eat at Point Lookout except of the soup, one spoonful of which was too much for ordinary digestion,” Kieley wrote.

By Christmas 1863, the smallpox problem had become so severe at Point Lookout that officials had set up a separate hospital about a quarter-mile from the main compound for prisoners suffering from the disease. The prisoners admitted to the hospital were cared for by Catholic nuns belonging to the Sisters of Charity from Emittsburg, Maryland.
The nuns, in their unusually wide and tall white cornettes and black habits, added an air of dignified solemnity to the wretched conditions in the camp.

The late-December weather became so bitterly cold that five prisoners froze to death on New Year’s Eve 1863. “We all suffered a great deal with the cold and hunger,” Sergeant Bartlett Malone, a member of the 6th North Carolina Infantry, wrote in his diary. “Two of our men caught a rat and cooked it and ate it.”

That same night, Thomas Dry was admitted to the smallpox hospital. He died on January 29, 1864. Somehow, his older brother William would survive another year at Point Lookout until POW exchanges finally resumed. He was exchanged in February 1865. Still, there would be more bad news -- much more -- for Allison Dry and his family before 1864 ended.
Sources consulted for this story included Point Lookout Prison Camp For Confederates, by Edwin W. Beitzell; Portals to Hell: Military Prisons of the Civil War, by Lonnie R. Speer; exhibits at Point Lookout State Park in Scotland, Maryland, and documents from the National Archives.


Two Tales of Tragic Irony at Pearl Harbor

Ernest Davenport, left, and Austin Jackson. Both photos were published in the weekly Roanoke Beacon of Plymouth, North Carolina soon after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941.
On December 7, 1941, two young servicemen from eastern North Carolina were in the middle of the Imperial Japanese Navy’s attacks on American forces that plunged the United States into World War II.

Neither U.S. Army Private Ernest Davenport nor Navy Seaman Austin Jackson would survive the war. And although thousands died on that long-ago Sunday, Davenport’s and Jackson’s deaths were touched by irony.

Davenport, a U.S. Army medic from the Washington County town of Creswell, was aboard a merchant ship that probably was the first ship sunk by the Japanese attacks in the Pacific. Jackson from Jamesville in adjoining Martin County was aboard a U.S. battleship docked at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.

Davenport was only two years old when his father was killed in an accident in 1920. His mother remarried, and Davenport grew up on a farm. Times were tough during the Great Depression, and he left school to go to work after finishing the eighth grade in 1934.

In 1939, Davenport joined the U.S. Army, in part to earn money to send his half-sister, Olean Clifton, to college.

On December 7, 1941, Davenport was one of two Army soldiers aboard the SS Cynthia Olson. The privately owned transport ship had been chartered by the Army to haul a load of lumber from Tacoma, Washington to Honolulu, Hawaii.

The Olson was approaching Hawaii on the morning of December 7. But the crew did not know that a Japanese submarine, the I-26, had been following it since the previous day, waiting for orders to begin the attack on U.S. forces.

On the morning of December 7 the commander of the I-26 received coded orders from Tokyo for all Japanese ships to commence the attack. He immediately surfaced and his crew fired a warning shot across the bow of the Cynthia Olson indicating that the I-26 was about to attack the American ship.

The crew of the Olson lowered lifeboats into the water and abandoned the ship. The I-26 crew then opened fire with the submarine’s deck gun. Eventually, the Olson sank and the I-26 left.

Although Japanese planes were on their way to Hawaii, the I-26’s attack on the Cynthia Olson happened shortly before bombs started falling on Pearl Harbor. So the Olson probably was the first American ship sunk by the Japanese on December 7. And although Davenport and the other members of the Olson’s crew reportedly all made it into lifeboats, no trace of them was ever found.

Austin Jackson’s death was even more emotionally wrenching than Davenport’s. His ship, the USS California, was among the seven battleships sunk by the Japanese at Pearl Harbor. More than 2,300 American soldiers and sailors were killed that day. In the chaotic aftermath of the attack, it was difficult to determine who had died.

On December 12, Jackson’s mother, Ora Jackson Burnette, was visiting relatives in Plymouth when a stunning telegram arrived from the Navy telling her that her son had been killed at Pearl Harbor. The following day, photos of the baby-faced Austin Jackson were published in local newspapers with the news that he’d died on the “day of infamy.”

But on New Year’s Day 1942, Ora Burnette received a card from her son dated December 12 – five days after the attack. The following day, she received another message from the Navy saying that her son was indeed alive.

Her joy was only temporary, however.

In March 1942 Burnette received yet another telegram from the Navy. This time there was no mistake. Austin Jackson was dead. Then a letter dated March 21 arrived from Jackson’s commanding officer, Navy Lieutenant F.W. Purdy.

In the edgy days following the attack on December 7, military commanders in Hawaii were certain that the Japanese were going to bomb Honolulu again. So they set up anti-aircraft guns around the islands. Since Jackson’s ship, the California, was undergoing repairs, he had been assigned to the crew of one of the guns.

Around 3 a.m. on February 12, 1942, Jackson was reporting for his duty shift at one of the guns. In the darkness, he tripped. He fell onto a rifle with a bayonet attached. He died soon afterwards.

Jackson’s body eventually was returned to the U.S., and he’s buried at Arlington National Cemetery.


That Creepy Little Man

The Tragedy in U.S. History Museum was tucked away in a modest, one-story house on a quiet street in St. Augustine, Florida, a bizarre sideshow to the nearby graceful antiquity of the nation’s oldest city. As you approached the entrance, you saw an eerie-but-fascinating tableau. Peering at you from a living-room picture window was a life-size wax figure of Lee Harvey Oswald hiding behind stacks of cardboard boxes, about to change history with the scoped Italian-made Carcano rifle he’d bought for a few bucks from a magazine ad.
It was a dreadfully tacky depiction of one of the most tragic events of the 20th century, and not something you’d see at the Smithsonian Museum. But that dark image of Oswald haunts our national psyche – that creepy little man with his cheap mail-order rifle who is going to blow the brains out of arguably the most charismatic president in U.S. history. And it’s seemed to me since the day I saw it that, as morbid, gruesome and tasteless as that display was, it was somehow as appropriate a comment on John F. Kennedy’s death as the most insightful essays and deftly understated museum exhibits.

Browsing through the dusty, amateurishly displayed exhibits at The Tragedy in U.S. History Museum was like rubbernecking as you drive slowly past a horrible car wreck. There was a steam whistle purportedly from the locomotive operated by Joseph “Steve” Brody on the night in 1903 when he left this world in a spectacular and legendary train wreck that came to be known as “the wreck of the old 97.” And the car that supposedly was the one in which actress Jayne Mansfield died also was on display.

But the museum’s centerpiece exhibits were artifacts from the assassination of President Kennedy on November 22, 1963. The displays included the dresser from Oswald’s $7-a-week rented room and the bed he’d slept in the night before his terrible deed. There was the 1953 Chevrolet in which he’d gotten a lift to work at the Texas Schoolbook Depository on that fateful day. And there was the 1962 Ford ambulance that had rushed him to Parkland Hospital two days later after he’d been fatally shot by Jack Ruby.
In the days following Kennedy’s assassination, St. Augustine businessman Buddy Hough made frequent trips to Dallas to acquire objects associated with the president’s death. In the process, he decided to open a museum focusing on tragedies that had darkened U.S. history.

 But St. Augustine’s purveyors of more traditional tourist attractions never liked Hough’s macabre collection, and Hough deeply resented the cold shoulder he received from the town’s Chamber of Commerce.
The Tragedy in U.S. History Museum struggled to make money in a town that attracts more than a million tourists every year. Hough died in 1996, and his wife auctioned off her late husband’s unusual collection – including, I assume, that wretched wax likeness of Oswald.

So today, we’re remembering where we were 50 years ago when a troubled, fatherless drifter who’d learned to fire a rifle with deadly accuracy in the U.S. Marine Corps stunned the world.
I was in an eighth-grade math class in Richfield, North Carolina when a teacher abruptly opened the door, stepped into the classroom, and announced that Kennedy had been shot.

For days afterwards, the three television networks dropped all other programming and focused on what had happened in Texas. And the events were incomprehensible. Lyndon Johnson grimly taking the oath of office accompanied by a dazed Jacqueline Kennedy still wearing the chic Chanel suit stained with her husband’s blood; Oswald’s murder on live television; the endless line of mourners filing past the dead president’s coffin in the Capitol; and the funeral, during which I acquired an abiding respect for the somber, dignified ceremony of a military sendoff. And all of this depicted in black-and-white television images. I wonder if anyone turned off their TV in the week following Kennedy’s death.
Still, as morbidly compelling as this drama was, I think everyone craved normalcy. And eventually, the shock faded and the routine events of life resumed. But I wonder whether "normalcy" has returned since that event.

In 1964 we were handed a massive document that was the official product of the Warren Commission. It told us that Oswald, the chinless loser unable to find a satisfying place in this world, had plotted and carried out, alone, the murder of the most powerful man on Earth.
The Warren Commission’s conclusion has been debated for 49 years.  Many now-familiar phrases have been added to our popular lexicon – lone gunman, magic bullet, rogue CIA, second shooter, Castro-Mafia connection.

I keep going back and forth on whether I believe the commission’s version of events. At the moment I’m swinging back to the lone gunman theory for two reasons. I’ve read that the “magic bullet” theory is disproved by the fact that Texas Governor John Connolly’s seat in the limousine was three inches lower than Kennedy’s and thus the path of the bullet didn’t have to defy the laws of physics to hit them both. And I hear that the second shooter theory -- which says that if Oswald's bullet had hit Kennedy, his head would've moved in a different direction than the one depicted on film and therefore JFK was hit by a gunman other than Oswald -- is disproved because the movement of the president’s head is what happens when a bullet hits the brain in just the right (or wrong) way, causing brain cells to explode in a certain way.
But really, it doesn’t matter what I believe because nothing will make Oswald’s haunting image go away. And that’s why I think that ghastly display years ago in The Tragedy in U.S. History Museum was a legitimate commentary on John F. Kennedy’s shocking death. Oswald is always going to be rising from the dark, dusty, cobweb-infested depths of our collective minds’ eyes, disrupting our efforts to return to normalcy and distorting our perceptions of the world around us. Oswald is the face of this tragedy, and the face of that psychopathic piss-ant will trouble us until the day we die.


Too Many Deadlines, Please Stand By . . .

Up to my ears in deadlines at the moment and can't even think about blogging. Hope to have a post ready for early October, when things have calmed down a bit. Please check back in a couple weeks.


Take Me Out To The Ultra-Ball Game

So Major League Baseball has thrown out a dragnet again and hauled in 14 players accused of using so-called performance enhancing drugs. And the biggest catch in this batch of alleged cheaters is the New York Yankees’ Alex Rodriguez, who has long been considered a certainty to join other immortals in the baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York.

When MLB announced that Rodriguez had failed a drug test and faced a lengthy suspension, he needed just 13 home runs to tie Hall of Famer Willie Mays’s home run total of 660, which places Mays fourth on the list of all-time home run kings behind Barry Bonds (also accused of using drugs), Hank Aaron and Babe Ruth. ESPN reported that Rodriguez’s contract calls for him to receive a substantial bonus when he matches Mays’s mark. That doesn’t seem quite fair to reward a juiced Rodriguez for reaching a milestone that was accomplished by players who weren't using any sort of performance-enhancing drugs to achieve their prodigious totals.
And to me, that’s the reason it matters that Rodriguez and Bonds achieved their impressive career statistics while using drugs. Baseball, more than any other major league professional sport, is tied to its history and its superstars that have been spread across more than a century of play. The statistics compiled by stars of bygone eras are part of the appeal of the game and a topic that can be endlessly discussed and debated by old fans and young fans.

“Baseball fans love to argue statistics,” Benjamin Hoffman wrote in today’s New York Times. “Mentions of Willie Mays or Ted Williams are often accompanied by the caveat that they lost time to war. Jackie Robinson, who broke baseball’s color barrier, would have had even better statistics had he been allowed to play before he was 28.”
Cynical fans ridicule the anti-drug sentiment and argue that drug use doesn’t matter and that players should be allowed to do whatever they can to improve their performances. It’s nobody’s business what they do to their own bodies, the argument goes.

But here’s the thing about that ultra-libertarian perspective about MLB and drugs: If you’re going to do that, you might as well close and seal the baseball record books from 1904 – when the Major Leagues as we know them began – until 1997 – the season before a steroids-enhanced Mark McGwire hit 70 home runs in 1998 to become the first juiced player to set a season record for home runs.
A few years after Bonds, McGwire, Sammy Sosa and other “enhanced” players elevated seasonal home run totals beyond anything seen since the beginning of the sport, MLB actually started enforcing its no-drugs rules. Seasonal home run totals by MLB players, which had escalated dramatically in the late 1990s, came back down to Earth. And that dramatic decline in home runs made the effect of drug use on baseball’s sacred statistics obvious to anyone who cared to compare the numbers.

So if you want to allow juiced players to play MLB, then close the record books from 1904 to 1997, declare the Baseball Hall of Fame at Cooperstown to be filled to capacity with stars of “old” baseball, and start over with record-keeping and a new league and a new game. Call it “ultra-baseball” or “extreme baseball” or “robo-baseball” or “ultimate baseball,” something to indicate that this is not a game for mere wimpy mortals but a game that’s being played by super-evolved, chemically enhanced cyber-humans.
Then, instead of arguing whether Willie Mays, Mickey Mantle or Duke Snider was the best centerfielder of his era, you can argue about whether Barry Bonds’s home run total would have been higher if he’d avoided steroids and used a different type of performance-enhancing drug. That doesn’t seem to have the same appeal as talking about Willie, Mickey and The Duke, but I suppose it could make for a lively debate among chemists.

NOTE: The photo at the top was published by the New York Daily News on October 8, 2011 and shows Alex Rodriguez after he struck out to end the game that the New York Yankees lost to the Detroit Tigers, 3-2 in the American League Divisional Championship Series.


Why I Spell My Name D-R-Y-E

As they say back home, you can’t hardly throw a rock in the southern Piedmont North Carolina counties of Stanly, Cabarrus and Rowan without hitting someone named Dry. Or Drye.
There are two camps as to how that last name is spelled. I have first cousins who spell it with the “e.” And I have other first cousins who don’t use that “e” and wouldn’t do it at gunpoint.

For the record, both spellings of the last name are a corruption of the German surname, Dörr. The Dörrs came over from Germany to Philadelphia in the mid-18th century. According to research done by one of my late aunts, the Dörrs moved from Philly to North Carolina in 1799.
Somewhere along the way, they changed the family surname to Dry. Or maybe it was Drye. Maybe they changed the family name because that umlaut over the “ö” made their name look too foreign, too Teutonic.

Or maybe somewhere along the way, some anonymous official filling out a legal document misunderstood the name and spelled it the way he heard it pronounced. More about that possibility in a moment.
As far as I know, no one knows why some of the rechristened Dörrs chose to add the “e” as sort of a decorative flourish at the end of their new name. But I guess my family in Misenheimer – which is in Stanly County – considered the “e” superfluous and maybe even a bit too showy, because we spelled the name Dry.

Sometime in the 1930s, my Uncle Joe Dry left the family farm in Misenheimer and moved west to California, presumably seeking all the opportunities for a better life that the Golden State famously offered. He married a California girl, worked hard and prospered and raised a family out there with Aunt Jean.
And he started spelling his name with the “e,” as in Joe Drye. There’s no record that I’m aware of that explains why he made that switch to the other side. Perhaps it was because the “e” gave the name a little more heft and made it look like an actual surname instead of a synonym for dehydrated.

When I was born in late 1949, Aunt Jean and Uncle Joe Drye came back east for the event. They were in the hospital room in Albemarle with my parents when a nurse came in to fill out a birth certificate.
The nurse asked – apparently of no one in particular – how to spell my last name. According to what I’ve been told, Aunt Jean said to the nurse, D-R-Y-E. My parents either didn’t hear what Aunt Jean said to the nurse, or they didn’t think the nurse would take her seriously. But, apparently, they made no attempt to correct the spelling, and that’s what the nurse wrote on the birth certificate.

I have no idea what actually happened. Although I was, of course, present at the event, I wasn’t taking notes and I have no recollection of who said what to whom, and I’m relying on what I’ve been told by older cousins.
Still, it didn’t matter too much what the nurse wrote on my birth certificate because for the first 23 years of my life, I spelled my last name D-R-Y.

In November 1972, I went into the Army. I had to provide a copy of my birth certificate when I started basic training at Fort Jackson, South Carolina. Again, I didn’t give much thought to how my name was spelled on that document.
A day or two after arriving at Fort Jackson, I was in line with the other trainees being issued clothing by the quartermaster. As I moved through the line, I was handed my fatigue shirts, fatigue pants, fatigue caps, field jackets, combat boots – and name tags to be sewn onto my fatigue shirts and field jackets.

The name tags had my last name in all capital letters. It was based on the spelling on my birth certificate – DRYE.

I thought the supply sergeant surely would want to know of this mistake. “I don’t spell my name with an “e,” I said.
“You do now,” the sergeant snapped. “Move on.”

To use another back-home phrase, I soon discovered that the Army had me by the short-hairs as far as the spelling was concerned. In order to get paid every month, I had to sign the payroll register. My name on that document was spelled Drye. If I signed my name Dry, I wouldn’t get paid.

It took me a while to get used to it, but by the time I got out of the Army, I was accustomed to seeing my name with the previously extravagant “e” at the end. Legally changing it would’ve been too much of a pain. So I’ve just learned to live with it, although sometimes I’ve wondered if my relatives think I’m putting on airs because of that “e.”
Honest, cousins, I had no choice in the matter.

Note: The photo at the top of this post shows the last surviving name tag that I was issued at the start of Basic Training at Fort Jackson, South Carolina.