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James Monroe Gresham

James Monroe Gresham – “Short sketch of prison life on Johnson Island Ohio”

I will begin on date of capture, Dec 16th 1864, Hood’s last fight at Nashville, Tenn.

Late P.M. after repulsing three lines of enemy, two of negroes in front, and one of whites in rear (on our extreme right of line), our left, having been engaged from early morn by vastly superior number were forced back, causing right to retire.  Orders were given to fall back, every man taking care of himself.  We did so reluctantly, not a yankee to be seen in our front, so completely had we demoralized their advancing columns.  Most of right, went to right, others took shorter route over top of hill where we left ammunition wagons.  I was one of those.  On reaching brow of hill we were met by a world of negroes, having gained our rear, by left of lines giving way.  Were near them before discovering and they seemed as thick as black birds.  No possible chance to escape, it was surrender or death.  One burly negro man ran up to me and demanded my yankee pants – said I stole them from their dead men.  I began to unbutton waist, careful not to expose my pistol belt.  Cold, ground frozen in the nick of time a white yankee with a number of prisoners was passing by to rear – ordered me to join squad.  Imagine my relief.   I photographed that negroes face.  I have been looking for him ever since.  In going to rear, passed over line where we fought.  Dead negroes and whites were lying in piles.  Strange, all seemed to have fallen face towards us.  Arriving at Nashville at dark, officers and privates were separated, the former put in penitentiary yard, about 500 – two Generals, Ed Johnson and a Tenn.  General with cut on forehead by Saber after surrendering.

 Boarded freight boxes next morning for prison.  A slice of loaf bread and bite of meat handed to each as we passed through isle.  Corralled between negro and one of prisoners).  Were locked in box cars – hungry.  At Cincinnati get another slice of bread and meat – just enough to crave more.  Here we were divested of pocket knives, spoons, etc.  Changed cars at Louisville, marched through the town under heavy guard to Ohio River, crossed in cars carried over on flats.  In passing Ladies in upper windows waived handkerchiefs.  We would look, guards would notice, ladies would jerk back hanks.  Widow Lady and daughter were in carriage near her son – not allowed to speak, refused to let him have blanket and overcoat.  Will have to hurry can’t tell all – Enroute I stole yankee guards rations, or rather his meat – no knife to divide with Capt. (Joshua Marion) Mitchell – we would bite by turn.  The grease running out corners of mouth, I advised him to bite smaller.

Arrived at Sandusky city late in afternoon.  Marched on ice 3 miles to Island.  Many falls on the ice.  Stripped and searched before entering gate.  Money and valuables taken, receipt given.  Old prisoners crying out “fresh fish!”  Said to Capt. would like to have some.  Byword  for new prisoners, I rushed through crowd asking bread for six – got six loaves; backed through crowd, bread in arms, to where I left Capt. – said lets go and eat – bread wagon soon empty and not half number supplied.  We sat on frozen ground and devoured 3 loaves each not a sip of water – still hungry.  Was found by Maj. (Henry D) McDaniel carried to his little room and given a good supper.  First square meal since day before fight – arrived on Island 6 p.m. Dec 22, left Nashville 17th.  Each of us had thin blanket, slept on floor, one bottom, the other for cover.  Ice 2 ½ to 3 feet think on Lake Erie.  Given quarters next morning. (describe quarter and no in rooms)

One small stove and but little wood.  Used our same bedding on plank bunk, till some prisoners left for exchange – got blankets, slept warm afterwards.  About half enough to eat – no tobacco.  I had never loved to cook till then, boiled one mite of beef in quart oyster can, wooden top with nail to lift – never permitted eye of grease to swim on top – burnt bread crust on stove to make black coffee in another oyster can.  Prisoners eat cats and rats.  Issue rations Saturday for Sunday.  I tried one time to get enough – eating both days at one meal – still hungry.  Capt. objected and I too afterwards.  Got no more rations till Monday evening.  Fiddling and dancing to keep warm – some to pass off time played cards, while others were wrapped up on bunks to keep warm, some making rings, etc. (Masquerade balls)  McD.’s room mates were, Col Mitchell, Thomasville; Col Hutchins, Lawrenceville; Capt. Ogden, N.C.; Col J. Cooper Nesbit,  all lawyers – Wilkins and an Irishman Doyle, Memphis.  He was cook; Wilkins ring maker.  Lawyers mock pleadings.  No money – could not buy even black pepper, should any chance to have a dime.  Were not so strict at first and old prisoners had little money.  Ky. killed himself eating:  (Exchange of Yankee pants)

Prisoners not permitted to receive anything sent them, till after surrender.  Tobacco and rations came to the lucky ones then.  Capt. got box tobacco, Bbl, flour and two sides of meat.  I get two boxes, 16# Virginia twist – such smoking and chewing – cooked sparingly.  I had smallpox eat too much grease.  Go to lake for water at 9 a.m. and 3 p.m.  Cut ice – Oath takers promised full rations and more privileges - Separated them – raised US flag after some victory by Yankees.  Soon hauled down.  Yankees came in armed to quell riot.  Col Hill apologized – orders issued guards after death of Lincoln – no need, for prisoners preferred him to Andy Johnson.  We got few daily papers – all Commissioned Officers to be hung – privates sent home on taking oaths – shut up – know nothing only through their papers – Afterwards decided to release Co Officers – hang higher ones – (How to write letter not sealed, so many lines, no contraband news – Letter from home came via Richmond, Old Point Comfort by flag of Truce all examined).  Quit exchanging – said they had rather keep us penned and feed than to fight.  They had plenty of men anyway –

German guards cruel, could not speak a word of English.  They sent to front and disabled Yankees guards   were kind to us, I took oath 16th June, taken alphabetically – waited in Sandusky day and night for Capt.  He had $10.05.  I had 10cents in silver. Told McDaniel good bye – yanks in Sandusky wanted me sent back to prison. 

Our transportation over different roads.  Could buy after surrender, if you had money.  Refused to let my suit come in.  Got $10.00 from Aunt in KY.  McD. fared better than other prisoners, wounded.  Large lot from different prisons layover in Louisville.  Ladies hauled wagon loads of provisions and clothing to depot.  Our departure caused cheers by both sexes.  No better soldiers than true KY.  Walked from Cartersville to the Chattahoochee – road not repaired.  Capt. could not keep up.  Smuggled Box Tobacco to Nashville sold to Jew for pair shoes and linen duster.  I failed to get clothing at Louisville – would not rush.

Found things different at home – visited my best girl at first opportunity.  She would not engage till end of war.  Soon made up – corresponded 3 yrs.  The only answer she would never marry till after war.  Borrowed coat to get married.  Had Jesus suit bought collar in Atlanta on credit.  Had no money.  I was in all engagement with Regiment except Jonesborough – Was shocked by lightning and sent to hospital.  Came home to see Father.  He left Atlanta sick on last train via Macon.  Train reported captured.  Took French furlough home.  Stayed 3 to 4 days; went back to Command at Love Joy.

Can’t see how I escaped death or wound.  Would cheer boys and during battle, tell them no yankee bullet would be mortared that would kill me.  Not to cross bridge till they get to it – others can tell you of their close calls to.


Transcription done by Annette Marie Wade, great granddaughter of J. M. Gresham

June 13, 2012


 Copyright James M. Gresham Chapter 1312, United Daughter of the Confederacy

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