15th Mass. – Roland E. Bowen is released from Belle Island Prison & Writes his Full Story from Camp Parole in Annapolis, Md. – “I AVERAGED ONE HOUR EVERY DAY IN PICKING LICE” – “MY BLOUSE WAS HALF EATEN UP BY THE WORMS” – “I WAS CALLED A BELLE ISLAND SPECULATOR” (You have got to read his money making efforts!)
This letter is dated December 30th, 1863. Roland, who was captured at Gettysburg and sent to Belle Island Prison, is waiting to be exchanged in Annapolis, Maryland. This is the first chance he has had to write a full letter telling about his prison experience… and his story is quite amazing. The letter is 4 pages written in dark blue ink and comes with its original cover, although the stamp has fallen off. The envelope is addressed to “Davis Guild in Millbury, Mass.” In pencil written on the envelope is, “First letter after Belle Isle”.
Here is the content:
• Annapolis, Md. Dec. 30th ’63. Friend Guild, The old boy ain’t dead yet. Now I hardly know what to say. To write a history of my life for the last six months would be a long and useless task, and would be a most damnable disgrace to both the Federal and Confederate Governments. While on Belle Island, I have a thousand times wished them both pitched headlong into Hell.
• IN THE LATTER PART OF JUNE, I PUT ON A CLEAN SHIRT. THAT SHIRT WAS NEVER CHANGED NOR WASHED UNTIL THE LATTER PART OF NOVEMBER WHEN OUR GOVERNMENT SENT US CLOTHING (FIVE MONTHS).
• DURING THIS TIME I AVERAGED ONE HOUR EVERY DAY IN PICKING LICE FROM IT.
• On my return from Western Va., my shoes gave out, and I WAS BAREFOOT UNTIL THE LAST OF NOV. The pockets of my pants I tore out to patch them with.
• MY BLOUSE WAS HALF EATEN UP BY THE WORMS THAT INFEST THE SAND ON BELLE ISLAND IN HOT WEATHER.
• And to add to this, I had to live on 11 ounces of flour bread, 4 ounces of meat and a pint of bean soup with one spoonful of beans in it.
• I did not have a cent of money and had to live solely on my rations. This reduced me to 120 pounds and was fast taking me to the upper end of the Island. (Bone Yard is there.)
• There was plenty of money on the Island, and those that had money could make more by trading with the guard. Well, money I must have. A ration of bread at that time (5 1/2 ounces) was worth $.30, meat 5 cents, soup 10 cents. Bread, like gold, would go up and down. Sometimes I could get 35, then again it could be got for 25. So I would buy at 25 or 30 and sell for 30 or 35, watching my chances. Then again, I would sell my ration of bread for 30 and buy two bean soups for 20 and eat instead, so I would be 10 cents in. As I would sell 1/2 ration of bread for 15 and get one soup for 10, so I would be 5 cents in. In fact any thing to make a penny, even at the expense of my bread basket.
• Well, I got a dollar. Then I would buy a little tobacco of the guard and peddle it out in camp at a small profit. At the end of six weeks, I had five dollars. Now change became so scarce that very little could be done. Except by those that had plenty of money, so as to break 5, 10 or 20 dollar bills. I could not do it even on a 5 because if I had any stock on hand, a part of my 5 would be invested. So I sewed it in my pants and did not try to do anything.
• Soon a lot of new prisoners came in with small money, & they, not knowing the worth of it spent it very freely. I out with my 5 & went at them.I got the good will of a number of guards & got them to bring me over goods from Richmond & smuggle it in, in the night. I soon made my capital 30 dollars. Now I began to eat all I wanted & more, too, some of the time. At one time I used to buy about $20.00 worth of bread, pies, sausage, rum, molasses & every devil the thing I could sell (daily). But when I made money, I spent it. I WAS CALLED A BELLE ISLAND SPECULATOR.
• I know men that made 2,000 dollars in the same way. When we came away, we were not searched nor nothing was taken from us. I had no hopes of getting away until the morning of the 27th when we were ordered to fall in the first 500, for what we knew not. But soon we were out and being paroled, began to rejoice, and not in vain. At dark we took the boat at Richmond and run to Fort Darling and stopped over.
• At 10:00 next morning we arrived at City Point. Here we found the New York with 500 Rebel prisoners waiting for us. It took two hours to shift. And at 12 p.m. we put out for Fortress Monroe where we arrived at dark and anchored until 9 p.m. on the 28th, and then steamed for Annapolis where we arrived yesterday morning at 10:30.
• The happiest 500 men God ever suffered to eat apple dumplings. WE WERE NOT ALLOWED TO GO INTO THE BARRACKS UNTIL EVERY RAG OF CLOTHING (WAS) THROWN OFF AND REPLACED WITH NEW. Although much of it was most new, it made no difference.
• We are under no guard & go where we please and have plenty to eat. I wrote you once while on Belle Island. Did you get it? Read this and then send it to Mother. I will write her soon. Did Bill Longley & Trib ever get home? Write and tell me all the news. I have not heard from home since last June. I want you to answer instantly. Don’t wait over one mail.
• My health is very good considering. I am a little nervous as you will see by the way my pen goes around. I expect to hear that some of my friends are dead. It (has) been so long. I hope not, however. My love to all with a Happy New Year. Tell me how long it was after the fight at Gettysburg before you knew of my whereabouts. Direct to College Green, Annapolis, Md. Yours truly, R. E. B.
• Enclosed you will find $30 genuine Confederate money which I send you for a curiosity, some from the Virginia Bank only a day or two before I left.
#PO116MA.12-30-65 – Price $695 (Want all 3 Bowen letters? Special price $2,000)