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Library of Congress Subject Headings, 21st edition,
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Library of Congress Subject Headings, 21st edition, 1998
LC Subject Headings:
Entered, according to Act of Congress, in the year 1867,
By E. J. HALE & SON,
In the Clerk's Office of the District Court of the United States for the
Southern District of New York.
TO THE MEMORY OF THAT ARTICLE OF THE CONSTITUTION WHICH
"NO PERSON SHALL BE DEPRIVED OF LIFE, LIBERTY,
OR PROPERTY, WITHOUT DUE PROCESS OF LAW."
THIS BOOK IS RESPECTFULLY DEDICATED.
THE narrative contained in the following pages is substantially a correct account of prison life in the Old Capitol during the period specified. The story of each prisoner is recorded in the narrator's own words and style, as far as is practicable. A change has of course been made in all names, except those of Mrs. Surratt and her daughter. Many trivial matters and events have been noticed, as they serve to show the petty annoyances to which prisoners were subjected, and which contributed to render imprisonment in the Old Capitol "durance vile," in its most literal signification. Written soon after the occurrence of the events which it relates, the style of this little work is necessarily hurried, its only object being the portrayal of one of the many phases of Southern suffering.
Conversation with a suspected Yankee Blockade-runner--Ordered to follow a Detective--Interview with Nelson on reaching the Old Capitol--Am made a "note on"--Put in prison--My room--Other occupant . . . . . 54
Arrest of Mr. and Mrs. Windsor--Trip to Washington-- First view of the Old Capitol--Conversation with the Superintendent--Interview with Mrs. Windsor.
IT was the morning of the 6th of April, 1865, that the following paragraph in the day's paper caught my eye:
"Yesterday afternoon, Mr. Windsor and wife were arrested and conveyed to the Carrol Prison. Mrs. Windsor is the sister of Major-General B., of the Confederate Army, and a native of Baltimore, where her family still reside."
The notice shocked me exceedingly, as I had left my friend but a few days before, just recovering from severe sickness, and I knew the risk and danger to her of any great excitement.
My first impulse was immediately to go to her. I did not hope to procure her release, but thought I might obtain permission to see her, and learn the cause of her incarceration. I found on consulting my watch, that I should be obliged to wait for the train leaving Baltimore the ensuing morning at seven. But the day was not lost, for I busied myself in preparing such articles as I judged would be acceptable under the circumstances.
Seven A. M., found me at the depot, with my basket, etc. I took the cars and arrived in Washington at the usual time.
My first visit was to a lawyer, whose advice I needed in regard to obtaining a pass to visit my friend. He strongly opposed my desire, and begged me by all means to return home, for such was the excitement in the city, that no one was safe from arrest. I assured him I had no fears on that score, as I had done nothing to provoke the hostility of the Government; and, besides that, I was much too insignificant to attract
notice. Seeing I was not to be moved, he advised me to try and obtain a pass through H., the Superintendent of the prison, whom he represented as a rough but kind-hearted man. If H. was absent, or if he refused to admit me, then I would be obliged to see the Judge Advocate at the War Department, and request a passport. Thanking him for his kindness, I left to try the effect of woman's eloquence on the rough customer with whom I had to deal.
"Carrol Prison" and the "Old Capitol" are adjoining houses, situated on a hill in rear of the present Capitol. They occupy the whole length of a square in front, with wings extending each side, so that there is about half a square of ground in the centre. The Old Capitol contained Confederate soldiers, prisoners of war, while Carrol--main building--was devoted to the use of such unfortunate females as aroused either the ire or suspicion of the Government, with the occasional addition of a Southern Governor, and cotton-planter, prisoners of state. One wing of
the building was appropriated to the family of H., and the other contained, for the most part, horse thieves, fraudulent contractors, unlucky blockade-runners, and a variety of nondescripts; in short, a company more numerous than select. Such was Carrol Prison, on my first arrival.
On reaching the top of the steep hill, I saw before me the long row of tall buildings with many windows, all of which were secured with iron bars similar to those which protect the windows of a jail. The casements were devoid of glass, except in one room, and the wing occupied by H. Before the row of buildings, and also opposite, paced the guard with measured step. Occasionally a forlorn-looking creature would approach the barred window, and look with longing gaze on the grass and trees opposite, which were now tinted with the green of spring.
I approached the first soldier I saw, and said, "Will you please to tell me where Carrol Prison is?" The only answer I received was a jerk of
the thumb over his shoulder. Supposing he meant by the action that I was to go farther on, I did so, and encountering a chap of some sixteen years, whose nasal twang betrayed his nationality, I made the same inquiry of him.
"Carrol Prison? That's it, where you see the men standing at the door. Want to see somebody there?"
"Yes," I replied; "I wish to see Mr. H."
"Guess you can't see him; but spozen you might as well try."
As that was what I fully intended doing, I walked on to the door indicated, which was about midway the square.
I entered a wide hall, with benches on both sides, one of which was occupied by soldiers off duty, principally Dutch, who were discussing the merits of favorite officers, and boasting their own deeds of valor, in a lingo which I suppose they regarded as English. All I could understand was, "Dat vat dey gits for fighting mit Siegel," which seemed to be the burden and
refrain of the whole conversation. Seated on the opposite bench, I had a fine opportunity of studying the physique of these valiant defenders, and also of exercising my own patience.
At length I heard voices in the room opposite,--and now the door is opened, and a lady and gentleman leave, being escorted to their carriage by a man of middle height, very stout, with florid complexion, dark hair, somewhat gray, and eyes that twinkled incessantly--in fact he reminded me of pictures of "Santa Claus," except on a smaller scale. I immediately concluded that this person was the one I sought. Controlling my nervousness as well as I could, I mustered sufficient courage on his return to the building to say:
"Can I see Mr. H. for a few moments?"
"Certainly, madam; I am he; walk in." Saying which, he threw open the door of the room I had before noticed. I entered, and found myself in a large room with no furniture, except
a few chairs, and in one corner a large upright desk, at which a man sat writing, stopping every now and then to thrust a bundle of papers into one of the numerous pigeonholes.
"Well, madam," said H., "and what can I do for you?"
"I ascertained that you have in your custody a prisoner, Mrs. Windsor, whom I am extremely anxious to see, and I have come here for the purpose of requesting an interview."
"Have you a pass, madam?"
"No, sir, but I understood you had the authority to admit visitors."
"Then you understood a very wrong thing, and whoever told you that, knew nothing about it."
"But," I persisted, "do you never allow visitors without a pass?"
To this question I had no answer, but a shrug of the shoulders. While this conversation was progressing, the men from the other rooms had
collected, and were listening. At length H. said,
"Where are you from, madam?"
"Baltimore, at present, sir."
At that he uttered a low whistle, and remarked in an undertone, "Hot-bed of Secessionists;" then to me:
"Of what State are you a native?"
"Virginia," I replied, drawing myself up a little. Another whistle, and silence.
"Any relation to the prisoner?"
"First cousin, sir."
At that he stooped down, picked up a stick which was lying on the floor, and began to "whittle." I began to grow impatient:
"Am I to see my friend, or not, sir?"
"Ever taken the oath of allegiance, madam?"
"Any objection to doing so, madam?"
"Why, madam?" all this time not taking his eyes off the stick, or changing his attitude.
"Because, sir, I have been paroled, and if my word is not sufficient, neither would my oath be."
Another low whistle; then, "That's true, madam; but there is where I have the advantage of you Christians. I can swear to any thing--it makes no difference--ha! ha! ha! Who paroled you?"
He looked up as if astonished.
"Are you loyal, madam?"
"Perfectly," I answered, returning the steady look, at which he had recourse to the stick again, and remained silent.
"Well, sir,"said I, at last, "what are you going to do?"
He did not answer for several minutes, and then said, slowly and hesitatingly, as if speaking more to himself than to me:
"If I was only sure of your loyalty, you see;" then stopped, and, looking up from the stick, asked abruptly:
"What is your name?"
"Maria Miller," I replied. I expected the next question to be, "Who gave you this name?" but it was only,
"Any relation to the Dr. Miller of this city?"
"Well, then, I guess I may as well let you see your cousin, if"--stopping again, and looking me full in the face--"you are sure you are loyal."
"Why, sir, can you doubt it, when I tell you I have been paroled by General Butler?"
He made no reply, but called out, "Nelson!"
A man, tall and lank, with sandy hair and beard, answered the summons.
"Here, take this basket"--pointing to mine - "and if, on inspection, it proves to be all right, give it to Mr. Windsor, room No. 10, second floor, and tell Mrs. Windsor she is wanted downstairs."
Nelson took the basket and departed, and H. also. I drew a chair towards me, and took my seat, awaiting the arrival of my friend. In the mean time, several men in citizens' clothes
came in; two of them sat near me, while one walked up and down the room. I immediately surmised that these "gentlemen" were government detectives, nor was I mistaken.
After the lapse of some fifteen or twenty minutes, my friend appeared, conducted by Nelson. She was very much agitated, and her first words were, "What on earth induced you to come?"--not very flattering, considering the trouble I had taken.
"I came to see you. As soon as I read of your arrest, I determined to see you, if possible, and ascertain what was best to be done."
"Oh, you will never get out of this place again," said Mrs. Windsor, wringing her hands.
"Stop," said I; "this will never do." I took her hand in mine, but I had no sooner done so than the man I mentioned before, stopped and stood opposite, watching us closely.
"Just see that detective, how he is watching us," whispered my friend."Oh, go; please go."
"Just listen to me," said I."You are
frightened out of your wits, and imagine all sorts of things. Now, I want you to tell me how you came here, and what I can do to help you."
"I cannot tell you while those men are by, and please let go my hand, or they will think I am giving you something."
"Oh, that's it, is it? Well, I will relieve their anxiety," at the same time opening my hand, so the man watching could see I had nothing in it, which little manoeuvre on my part seemed to satisfy him, for he walked into the next room.
"Now you can tell me," said I, moving my chair, so as to turn my back partly towards the other two.
"I really do not know what the charges are against us, except that Ned, our man-servant, reported that Mr. Mallory, from Richmond, had been staying at our house, and that, I believe, led to our arrest."
"How utterly absurd."
"Yes; but I will tell you how the mistake originated. Do you remember the young man,
Robert Mallory, that Mr. Windsor had as tutor for the boys, years ago, and who afterwards went to Richmond?"
"Certainly I do."
"Well, it happened one day at dinner, a gentleman at our house was asking about him, and Ned, who was waiting, heard the conversation, and I suppose confounded the two men; at any rate, a few days after that, Ned was dismissed for some misdemeanor, and the following day his mother went to see Mr. Windsor's sister-in-law, and told her she was afraid Ned was going to get us into trouble, as he had been to Colonel Foster and told him Mr. Mallory had been staying at our house."
"It seems to me," said I, "that this can be very easily disproved."
"But I am so afraid of being sent to the Massachusetts' Penitentiary," said my friend, crying afresh.
"Is there any thing you are uneasy about?" said I.
"Yes; do you remember brother Harry sending us the photographs of Will. Gordon and himself?"
"Those you sent me? I have them both now at home; you asked me to keep them for you, which I have done."
"Oh, why have you not burned them?"
"Because you did not tell me to, and as they came by flag of truce, I see no harm in keeping them."
"But Will.'s has on the back, 'Mrs. Windsor, with the compliments of Will. Gordon, 15th Va. Cav.'"
"What of that?"
"Will., it seems, came over lately. He ran the blockade and was captured, and is now in the Old Capitol. They accuse him of being a spy, and intend hanging him. If they find that photograph with my name on it, they will be sure to accuse me of harboring him, and then we will be sent to the penitentiary for life."
"But surely the date on the picture will show that it was not sent recently."
"There is no date on it that I can remember; besides, it would be no proof to the authorities."
I began to be a little uneasy.
"If I could only have those pictures burnt," said Mrs. Windsor, "I should rest contented."
"Then I will go back immediately and burn them."
"You cannot, they will never let you go; besides, they must have the photographs by this time."
"I will attempt it, at any rate. But how shall I let you know if I succeed? Let me think. I have it now. I will get permission to send you a telegram, and if I have destroyed the pictures I will say, 'Arrived safely--found all well;' but if the detectives have them, I will say, 'Arrived safely-- mother not so well.' Will that answer?"
"Capitally," said my friend, her face brightening.
At that moment Mr. Nelson made his appearance to inform me that the time was up, and I had to go; but before doing so, I said,
"Mr. Nelson, is there any objection to my sending a dispatch for my friend? I wish to assure her of my safe arrival at home, and also of the condition of her mother, about whom she is uneasy."
"Certainly not, madam."
"If you will give me your address, sir, I shall be obliged."
He immediately went to the desk and wrote, "Jas. A. Nelson, Superintendent, Carrol Prison."
"I shall send the telegram to you, sir, to be delivered to Mrs. Windsor."
"Very well, madam. I will attend to it."
Turning to my friend, I bade her good-bye, and betook myself to the depot.
Return to Baltimore--Destruction of the photographs--Followed by Detectives--Another trip to Washington--First visit to the Judge Advocate's office--Scene at the Judge Advocate's office the following day--Dennis Ryan's story--The dead Confederate.
I HAD a cold, bleak ride to Baltimore, and although it was the express train, yet it seemed to me to move slowly, such was my impatience. On our way we passed the car containing the remains of President Lincoln, bound for Baltimore. When I reached the city, I found every place closed, and flags and crape in any quantity fluttering in the breeze. My fear was that there would be no conveyance at the depot, but I was mistaken, for notwithstanding the manifest grief, I found that business was still attended to. I jumped into the first carriage I saw, and told the man to drive quickly to No. 33--Street,
my heart beating rapidly, the meanwhile, every time I thought of the probable fate of the unfortunate photographs, for I had no more fancy for a Massachusetts Penitentiary than had my friend.
I reached my boarding-house in safety, and the first thing I did, was to open my album, where, to my great relief, I saw the pictures of both Harry and Will., in undisturbed serenity, gazing at me with open-eyed wonder, as I tore them ruthlessly from their fastenings, and striking a match consigned them to the flames. I drew a long breath as I saw them gradually turn to ashes. And now I made ready to send the dispatch, but on arriving at the office to my great discomfort found it closed. Of course there was but one thing to do--wait--but that, under the circumstances, was very difficult.
The next day I was more successful, and congratulated myself on executing the business so satisfactorily. But, alas! "the best laid plans," etc. I discovered afterwards that the
telegram never reached its destination. Whether it was owing to our being overheard by the watchful detectives, or whether Nelson's mind misgave him, I am not able to say.
I had been at home a week or ten days without hearing from my friends, or having anything occur to alarm me. The whole country was in an intense state of excitement, hunting Booth and his accomplices. Nothing was thought or talked of, but the one great event. It was at this juncture that I determined to pay a second visit to Washington, and endeavor to effect the release of my friends. Had I really understood the true state of affairs, I would have known how futile all efforts at that time would have been. My gentlemen friends did their utmost to dissuade me; but having no very high opinion of masculine moral courage, I determined to take the matter in my own hands and go. I had noticed on my previous visit to Washington, and ever since my return, I had been followed in my walks by persons whom I supposed
to be detectives. Conscious of my own rectitude, the matter gave me little or no concern, except the feeling of annoyance at being watched.
On my arrival at Washington, I found the excitement, if anything, intensified--soldiers on guard in every direction--news boys shouting "Extras"--men loafing at corners, talking in loud tones, and gesticulating violently--and parties of boys and half-grown men, parading the streets, crying, "death to murderers and traitors," "vengeance," etc., etc. I made my way as fast as I could to my friend the lawyer, and told him my plan, which was, to see the Secretary of War and lay the matter of my friends' arrest before him, and ask their release. I told him I had proof of their innocence, and it was those proofs I wished to have examined. My friend endeavored to dissuade me, assuring me that no one was safe, that he had heard the best Union men in New York say, that nothing would induce them to go to Washington during
the excitement. I replied that it might be unsafe for gentlemen, but surely no woman ran any risk; at any rate there were none who seemed willing to help my friends now, and I was determined to do all I could.
I next proceeded to the Carrol Prison and inquired, as before, for Mr. H., but learned to my vexation that he was absent. I then asked to see Nelson, and on his making his appearance said, "Can you not allow me to see Mrs. Windsor?"
"No," he answered gruffly.
"When will Mr. H. return?"
"Can't say; may-be to-night; may-be not for a week."
Here was a damper; but I said,
"Will you take my basket and empty it? it is for Mrs. Windsor, you know."
He picked up the basket and took it with him, returning in a few moments.
"To whom must I go to get a pass?" said I.
"Judge Advocate, War Department."
"Thank you. Will you be kind enough to tell my friends I came, but was not allowed to see them?"
"No, I'll not; do you suppose I have nothing else to do, but run on errands?"
I answered nothing, but, taking my basket, left with a heavy heart. Suddenly it struck me I could let the Windsors know I had been there, in spite of Nelson. So I walked down to the end of the square, slowly, as if my empty basket was very heavy; then crossed on the opposite side, and walked leisurely along, putting my weight down, every now and then, as if to rest. The guard on that side took me, I suppose, for some one coming from market, for he just glanced at me and passed on.
My friends' room I knew was a front one, so I was pretty sure they would see me from their window; nor was I mistaken. Mrs. Windsor told me afterwards what a relief it was, for, not receiving the telegram, she had taken it for granted that I was in prison.
I now proceeded to the Judge Advocate's office, which was located near the War Department. Passing through the unwashed crowd, I asked the way of the messenger at the door. He pointed up the flight of steep narrow steps, and said, "Second floor, to left." On reaching the top of the dark stairway, I saw an open door, which I entered, and found myself in a large room, with about half-a-dozen men busily writing, and some three or four reading the papers. On repeating my question, a man showed me into a front room, and informed me that the officer was then at the Old Capitol, but was expected in half an hour.
"Very well. I will wait," said I.
I looked around the room to see what there was of interest. Nothing at all; the furniture just such as I had seen in the public offices, except that this had the advantage of being new. I soon became tired of waiting and staring about, and was wishing for the paper a man near me seemed reading. I suppose this
thought induced me to raise my eyes to his face, and as I did so, I perceived he was not reading, but watching me. His face was so strangely familiar, that it startled me. The man, on seeing my look of surprise, immediately turned his back and commenced reading. Just then I heard a carriage drive to the door, and looking out, I caught a glimpse of an officer in uniform, who quickly ascended the stairs, and entered the room where I was.
"The Judge Advocate, I presume," said I, rising from my seat.
"I have come to request permission to visit a relation now confined in the Carrol Prison," I said, in a tremulous voice.
"The name?" he asked.
"I have no knowledge of any such prisoner."
"Yes, sir, she and her husband have been there for the past ten days."
"On what charge?"
I related to him what I had heard about the servant. He listened attentively.
"Are your friends loyal?"
"Then give yourself no uneasiness; it will all be arranged in a few days."
"I thought of going to see the Secretary of War, and asking him for my friends' release."
"That is not at all necessary. I have charge of the prisoners, and can open the doors to any. Besides that, the Secretary is so full of business now, arresting conspirators, that he would not, in all probability, listen to you. A visit to him would be useless."
"Can you not give me a pass into the prison? I came over from Baltimore this morning, and wish to return to-night."
"Well, no; I can hardly do that to-day, as I shall be obliged to see the record at the Carrol first; but if you can remain until to-morrow, and come here at twelve, I will give you a pass."
"Very well, sir, I will do so;" and I began moving towards the door, when he said:
"Wait one moment; I wish to make memoranda of what you have told me;" saying which, he walked from the fire by which we had been standing to his desk opposite. He was quite a fine looking man--that is, tall and well proportioned, but with a slight stoop in the shoulders, which convinced me he had not had a military education, although he tried to impress me with the contrary idea. Another peculiarity which struck me was, the similarity of color in his hair, beard, and buttons. His face was full, and his eyes small and very light blue, but exceedingly bright. I had a fine opportunity of studying his face as he sat at the desk and wrote; but I could discover nothing, except that he was very much elated at the position he occupied, and wished to make the most of it--a pardonable vanity, I thought, in one who had before the war been nobody.
He scratched off a few lines, and then, turning
to me, bowed very politely, which I considered as a hint to leave, and did so, with a lightened and hopeful heart. What a kind man, thought I, the Judge Advocate is! I wondered indeed that my friends in Baltimore should have opposed my visit to Washington, when I had already been so successful. I sounded his praises to my friend at whose house I was staying, until she too placed him on a high pedestal, and we said, "Now if the other officials were only like him." Alas, "Will you walk into my parlor, said the spider to the fly," etc.
After a restless night of unrefreshing sleep, I arose, and waited as patiently as I could the time appointed for my second interview. At length twelve o'clock drew near, and as my watch pointed to the hour, I entered the Judge Advocate's office. A disappointment was in store for me--the Judge Advocate was not there. The room was crowded with men and women, all having an anxious, distressed expression of countenance. Among the persons, I recognized a
former acquaintance, who told me she had come from a great distance to try and procure the release of her brother-in-law, who was dying of consumption in the Old Capitol. He was a Confederate soldier, whose campaigns were now ended, and whose one longing was to die at home. An old man with snow-white hair, which hung down on his shoulders, also attracted my attention, as he walked restlessly up and down the room. Seeing I was looking at him, he approached and said in an excited tone:
"Madam, I hope you have no one you love confined yonder," pointing toward the prison building.
"Yes, sir; I have two very dear relations."
"Then, God pity you, and help them;" saying which he continued his walk for a few moments, then stopped again and said: "Madam, I have a daughter there, a school-girl, hardly in her teens, an only child, and her mother dead. I have been here day after day, trying to see my darling, and every day been refused admittance." The
tears rolled down his cheeks, and wiping them off, he added: "Excuse me, madam; I am an old man, with but little of life before me, and my lot is a hard one."
I made no reply, and he continued his walk. Another group that attracted my attention, was a poor Irish woman, with two children, one four years of age and the other twelve months. The mother was miserably clad, and looked in the last degree wretched, as she tried to quiet the fretful child. I went up to her and said:
"Your little baby seems to be sick."
"And indade he is, ma'am."
"What are you doing here?"
"I've come all the way from New York, ma'am, to try and see the father."
"Ah, where is he?"
"In the Carrol, I thinks they call it, ma'am."
"Is he a soldier?"
"Agin' his will, ma'am, and I'll just tell yees. You see the conscript come round, and the first
thing Dennis (that's the father) knowed he was marched off and 'listed. They said the city would pay money to the families of them as went for soldiers, and so it did for a while, ma'am, but not as much as the father made by his work. I got on well, although my heart was a'most broked in two. That was in the spring, you see, ma'am, and I got work, and a lady took Mary, the biggest; so I had only meself and Brian to take care of, and Dennis would send us money every little while. But when the cold came, I did not hear from Dennis, and me strength began to fail, and thin when I went for the city money, they told me the 'propration have all gone, and there was no more. And thin you see, lady, I was took sick, and Tim--him in me arms--was born. We would all have died of the cold and hunger, if it had not been for the kind people Mary lived with. But what does the child do, ma'am, but write to the father, as how we was all starvin'; and thin Dennis wrote me a letter saying as how he could not stand it,
but meant to desert and take us all to Canada. His money had been stole from the office that he sent us, and get away he would. Oh, ma'am, before I could get the letter answered, begging him not to try it, the news came that he had deserted, been caught, and put in prison. And now I'm trying to see him. Some people gave me money to come on, and I'm come, you see, ma'am and brought Tim--who has never seen his father--in case, ma'am, you know--"
That was her story. Poor thing! I afterwards learned that Dennis Ryan met the deserter's fate!
All this depressed me so much, that I determined to leave the building, and walk around until the Judge Advocate arrived, knowing I would be attended to last, being the latest comer. As I was passing out, the man with the familiar face came forward, and said,
"Do not leave, ma'am; the Judge Advocate told me to tell you he would soon be back."
"I am only going to walk until he does come, and can attend to my business."
It was half-past one before I saw the carriage drive up, and then I stood near the door and watched the departure of the applicants. When Miss A. came down, I went to her and said:
"I hope you have been successful in your brother's case."
"Dead! dead and buried! and I now go to tell his heart-broken wife," she said, bursting into tears. Yes, he had died in prison, passed from life's conflict to eternal rest, with none but strangers near.
Last of all came the old man, who seeing me said: "I hope you'll be more successful than the rest of us."
"How is that?" I answered.
"Not a pass allowed--not one."
Hearing this, I hesitated on going in, when the same man who had spoken to me before said:
"The Judge Advocate says he is waiting for you."
Second interview with the Judge Advocate--The letter--Supposed pass proves an order to the Provost Marshal's--Scene while waiting in the street--Threatened mob--Appearance of the wounded prisoner.
THAT decided me, and I followed the messenger.
"Well," said the Judge Advocate on seeing me, "I was afraid you thought I had forgotten you, and that you had gone away."
"Oh, no," I replied; "but knowing how many others were before me, I was taking a little walk while I awaited your leisure."
He opened a drawer and took out a bundle of papers, and looking carefully over them, drew out what appeared to be a letter.
"Sit down, will you." I did so, he wheeling his arm-chair around, so as to be facing me.
"I have inquired concerning your relations
at the Old Capitol, and find that they are charged with grave offences--very grave offences"--said he, trying to look severe.
"Indeed," said I; "you astonish me."
"Yes. Is this your handwriting?" showing me the outside of a letter directed to "Miles R. Windsor," and watching me the while.
I took it in my hand, and replied,
"No, sir, it is not."
"It is post-marked Baltimore, you see."
"So I see, sir; but that is no sign I wrote it."
"I think you said your name was Anne, did you not?"
"No, sir, I never told you what it was, as you did not ask me; but I tell you now--it is Maria--Maria Miller."
"You live at No. 40, —Street, Baltimore, I think you said?"
"No, sir, I did not say it; for I do not live there."
"Did you ever live in that street?"
"Two years ago I did."
"And at No. 40?"
"No, sir; never."
"Are you loyal?" looking at me closely.
"My loyalty is above suspicion."
"What have you been in the habit of writing to Mr. Windsor about?"
"I have never written to him on any subject."
He shrugged his shoulders. "Is not this your signature?" opening the letter, and pointing to the bottom of the page, where I saw Anne Clarke."
"No, sir, it is not."
"Do you recognize the handwriting?"
"Do you know a person of that name?"
"Are you sure you did not write it?"
"Have you any of your writing with you?"
"Yes, sir," saying which I opened my pocket-book and took out a pencilled note and handed
it to him."If you compare the two, you will see there is no resemblance; or, if you will dictate any portion of that letter, I will write it here, at your desk." He did neither."Will you let me read that letter?" said I.
"No; I will read it to you." Then he began:
"Oh, my dear friend, what words can express my grief and dismay. To think that after all we should have failed, and now there is no hope. After all the blood shed, and Southern soil steeped in tears, and the god-like Lee humiliated and forced to surrender in spite of his many victories. How can we ever bear up? All is lost. What is left to us but submission and slavery? I am beside myself with grief, and hardly know what I write. When I remember how hopeful I was but a short time since, and now--but I can say no more, my heart is too full. Let me hear from you soon. Your sincere but heart-broken friend,
Between every sentence he would pause a
moment and look fixedly at me. On finishing, he said:
"What do you think of that?"
I smiled as I answered, "A very foolish and high-flown letter."
"And do you mean to say, madam, that those are not your sentiments?"
"How did you feel, madam, at Lee's surrender?"
"Very glad that the fighting was ended, sir."
"Do you mean to say you were not sorry?"
"I was sorry for the suffering I knew would ensue."
"And now you have the assurance to sit there looking me in the face, and saying, not only that you did not write this letter, but also that you do not know who did."
"Sir, I am ready to take an oath to that effect."
"And do you suppose I do not see through
that letter? Do you think that I believe for one moment that this"--holding out the letter--"refers to the defeat of Lee? No, that is used only as a blind, and you know what this letter means as well as I do."
I remained silent for a moment, and then said, "I see that you do not believe my protestations, but you have it in your power to prove whether my words are true or false. Your detective force, if it be as effective as represented, can ascertain my place of abode, and also that of the author of this letter."
He said nothing for a short time, and then turning to me with a satanic leer--for I can call it nothing else--he asked,
"Are you very anxious to see your friends at the Carrol?"
"Certainly I am; did I not come here for that purpose?"
He wheeled his chair around to his desk and wrote something on a slip of paper. I held out my hand for it, but he motioned me back, and
beckoning to the man I had so often seen, gave it to him, and said to me impatiently, "Now go, go," which I was only too glad to do.
I left the building, with the man at my side. We had walked several squares without a word, when I asked, "Where are you going to take me?"
"To 14th Street, the Provost Marshal's."
"Does he give the papers?"
"Does he have to sign them?"
"Is that a pass the Judge Advocate gave you?"
Then it flashed across me!
"Am I arrested?"
"So they say."
And that was the paper he wrote, consigning me to prison! I looked up at the man, and suddenly it occurred to me where I had seen him. He was the detective who stood opposite on my
visit to the Carrol, the first time; he it was who followed me down to the cars, over to Baltimore, and when I went out there; and in short, dogged my steps everywhere, and was now taking me to prison!
On realizing my position, my first impulse was a mad desire to run for my life, but second thoughts prevailed, and convinced me of the utter folly of any such act.
It was a long walk to the Provost Marshal's, but we reached it at last, though we could not get near the building, on account of the crowd. The detective on asking "What's the matter?" was answered by some one--
"That d---d assassin has been captured, and is now in the office."
"Do you mean Booth?"
"Yes, who else? I tell you what, sir," the man went on to say, "we liked to have made an end of him, what with stones and sticks."
"It would be a pity to cheat the hangman."
"No fear of that; but who have you got there--a prisoner?"
The man nodded.
"One of the conspirators?" asked the other, stepping back a few paces, in order to obtain a better view of me.
"I don't know," replied the detective.
By this time the crowd had greatly increased, and instead of being on the outside, as at first, the press had forced me nearly to the centre. I began to be very much frightened, especially as I could not help hearing the remarks of those around, and seeing the looks of hatred turned to the door, through which they expected the prisoner to be brought.
"I say," said a burly negro, "they keep us waiting a long time, and I must have a lick at him," on which he stooped down and picked up a large stone lying at his feet.
"Faith, and he's catched at last, the murderin' villian," remarked an Irish woman, with a baby in her arms.
"What is all this fuss about, Pete?" asked a new addition to the mob.
"Whar you bin all de time, Milly, not to know we's got de man what killed de President, an' de Cabinet, an' Gen'l Grant, an' de War Department, an' all de rest?"
At this moment an officer stepped to the door and said: "I request that this assembly will quietly disperse--the prisoner within is not Booth, and as good citizens"--at this the negroes hurrahed--"and as good citizens," he repeated, "I beg that no violence may be attempted. If this crowd remains ten minutes longer, I shall be obliged to call out the guard, and maintain order at the point of the bayonet." He took out his watch, and I need hardly add, that at the end of five minutes the mob had disappeared, although unwillingly, with grumblings and shaking of fists. An ambulance was now brought up, and a tall man with head and face swathed in bandages was led out, supported by two soldiers, placed in the ambulance, and driven rapidly away.
These scenes, as may be supposed, did not tend to quiet my nerves, but I resolved, if possible, to show no sign of fear, lest it might be mistaken for evidence of guilt; and as I did not know how aggravated an offence I might be charged with, it would require all my strength to maintain my self- possession and presence of mind under the trying circumstances.
The Provost office--"Compliments of the season" to the Judge Advocate--Painful forebodings while waiting--Conversation with a suspected Yankee Blockade-runner--Ordered to follow a Detective--Interview with Nelson on reaching the Old Capitol--Am made a "note on"--Put in prison--My room--Other occupant.
THE detective went before and I followed. The room we entered was large, divided midway by a railing, three feet high, with a gate in the centre. He opened the gate, and pointed to a dilapidated sofa, on which I took my seat. He went to the farther end of the room and whispered something to an officer who was writing. The communication seemed to have a marked effect, for he immediately laid down his pen, frowned, leaned forward with elbows on his desk, supporting his chin, and treated me to the most prolonged stare it was ever my fate to endure. On finishing his scrutiny, he motioned to a man
near him, and opening a table-drawer handed him a package, containing, as I afterwards saw, about one hundred photographs. This man deliberately took his seat, and proceeded leisurely to compare my physiognomy with these pictures. I felt no uneasiness at this, for never having had sufficient moral courage to see myself "as others see me," I had hitherto steadfastly refused to comply with the wishes of partial friends, in having my photograph taken.
About forty pairs of eyes were now fixed upon me, for the room was filled with men. I drew my thick veil down, and taking a paper from my pocket, pretended to read until that ordeal was over. (I discovered afterwards that the paper was upside down.)
At length it was over, and the man who brought me there was about leaving, when I asked, "Are you returning to the Judge Advocate's office?"
"Will you take him a message for me?"
"I wish you to present my compliments, and say I am exceedingly obliged to him for permission to visit the Carrol, and I will never forget his kindness."
The man bowed gravely, as became a detective, while the others who were standing around looked at each other and laughed.
It was now after three, and I was very tired and hungry, for my excitement had been so intense in the morning that I could eat no breakfast. Half an hour passed, and still no notice was taken of me. I seemed to have been forgotten, and now my imagination began to run riot. I found myself painting my future in the most dismal colors, while before me loomed that Massachusetts Penitentiary, an account of which, with the treatment of the inmates, I had read a few weeks previous. I was wondering what kind of hard labor would be given me, and how I would stand the shower-bath, to which refractory convicts were subjected, for refractory I knew I
should be. Then, too, there was the solitary confinement in cells, cold and damp, the very thought of which made my blood run cold, and set me shivering. I began to feel wild, and the silence of the room oppressed me more and more.
A slight noise at the door aroused me. Another prisoner--a tall, lank man, loosely jointed, with long thin hair, smooth face, and sallow complexion. He was dressed in a suit of faded Confederate gray, and taking a seat on the other end of the sofa, he surveyed the room and its inmates for some moments, whistling softly to himself. Allowing his eyes to rest upon me, and perceiving that I was regarding him also, he drew near, and in a low tone began a conversation.
"Prisoner?" he asked inquiringly.
"Yes," I responded; "you are too, I presume."
"I should rather think I was," he answered.
"A Confederate soldier?" I asked.
"No, a poor d---l of a trader. How came you here?" he asked, suddenly.
"I don't know," answered.
"Well, that's queer," he returned, musing; then placing his hands upon his knees and leaning forward, he said, waxing confidential, "The way of it was this: I happened to know one of the officers on General -----'s staff, whom I got to introduce me to the General, who furnished me with a permit to trade South, and a free pass through his lines."
"Very kind in him," answered I.
"Do you think so?" he asked, chuckling; "do you suppose he gave them to me?" with a grin.
"Yes," I answered.
"Well he just didn't, then; I paid five hundred dollars down, and so much per cent. off profits."
"Did you make much by this employment?" I asked.
"Didn't I! You see I bought goods on this side, mostly pins, needles, and such like, then took them South, and sold them for treble what I gave for them."
"Were you paid in Confederate money?"
"Catch me! no, indeed. Gold, greenbacks mostly, but sometimes I had to take their paper; but I got rid of it as soon as I could."
"Were you not suspected by both sides of being a spy?" I asked.
"No, both sides thought I belonged to them, and as I wanted to keep in with both, I lied to both;" at which speech he laughed heartily, as if he had done a very smart thing.
I was disgusted, but he, not noticing it, went on:
"General ---- accused me of not sharing profits fairly, and I know he has had me arrested, thinking I will pay heavily to be released; but he'll find himself mistaken there, for I'll not pay the first red; and more than that, I'll tell the whole affair--how he bought the surgical instruments and medicines which I took over--see if I don't!"
But he had no time to finish, for a man stepped up, and touching him on the shoulder,
said, "Come." He arose and left me, to my great relief, and I could not help wishing, as I watched his retreating form, that he might receive his deserts; for what was he, but a vampire fattening on the miseries of others! I never knew what became of him.
Again the room relapsed into silence, save the scratch of pens that were constantly in motion. But the Yankee trader had effectually banished the Massachusetts Penitentiary, and I was in better spirits. At half-past four, by my watch, the detective returned, and coming up, said,
"You will go with me, if you please."
I arose, only too glad to get out of that place. The fresh air revived me, and I felt more courageous. After walking several squares I asked,
"Where are you taking me?"
"To prison," he answered.
"To the Old Capitol?" I asked again.
"Will you let me stop and send a telegram to my friends in Baltimore?"
"But you can go with me, and read what I send--they will be wretched about me at home."
"Can't do it."
I walked in silence a short distance.
"Will you let me stop at a friend's house, and leave word where I am going?"
"Just three words?" I pleaded.
"May I stop and buy a tooth-brush, and comb, and a brush?"
"But I must have them."
"I will, though." And before the man could stop me, I walked into a store, and bought the articles. We had by that time neared the prison buildings, and I was so wearied with my long
walk of nearly two miles, that I could not ascend the steep hill.
"Indeed," said I, "I must rest"--and took my seat on the ledge of stone which supports the iron railing surrounding the Capitol grounds. The man made no answer, but leaned against a tree, gazing seemingly at vacancy, though in reality noticing everything. And this, by the way, I have often noticed as a peculiarity of this class of persons; whether it is done for the purpose of throwing others off their guard or not, I cannot say.
As I sat there on those stones I glanced around me. It was a lovely evening, near sunset; the trees were just coming into bud, the tips of delicate green contrasting beautifully with the sombre brown and gray of the branches. Crocuses of all colors decked the Capitol grounds, while on a bush near a solitary bird warbled its vesper hymn. It seemed to me I took in the whole aspect of nature at once; and then arose within a longing, no words can express,
for home and friends. "Perhaps, after all," thought I, "this man may have no right to convey me to prison." So I said,
"You tell me you are taking me to the Carrol. By what authority do you act?"
He opened his coat, and on the inside I saw a metallic ring, and on it, engraved in large letters, "U. S. Detective." There was no disputing that. If I sat there much longer, I was sure I should burst into tears, and that I resolved not to do, if possible; so I arose and said, "I am ready to proceed;" and in a short time the prison was reached.
The man entered the room where I had seen my friend on my first visit, and there we found Nelson.
"Here," said my conductor, pointing to me, and handing Nelson a slip of paper.
"What, you here!" said Nelson; "didn't expect that. Come with me." Saying which he went before me into another room, in which a little dapper man sat at a desk writing, while a
chap in lieutenant's uniform was lolling on a sofa, his legs swinging over one of the arms.
"Mr. C., another of Uncle Sam's boarders," said Nelson, with a grin.
The meek little man looked up and said, "Take a seat, please; I will attend to you directly," putting the slip of paper which Nelson handed him to one side.
I sat down and waited. On finishing his writing, Mr. C. turned to me and said, "You will please answer the following questions," taking down a large book resembling a ledger, and opening it about mid-way.
"Of what State are you a native?"
"Where from now?"
"What is your profession?"
"Engaged in any business?"
"Where were you arrested?"
"Any relation to General ------, of the rebel army?"
"That will do, madam."
All of these answers were duly recorded in the huge book; but as he continued writing, I looked over and saw, "Height, five feet," "rather slender," "pale complexion," "gray eyes, large," "also large nose," "small mouth and white teeth," "hair light and curly."
"You can sit down, madam," said he, handing me a chair, on which I took my seat, while the lieutenant surveyed me with a lazy, sleepy look, out of his half-open eyes.
After the lapse of about twenty minutes, Nelson returned, saying,
"Now, madam, follow me."
He led me through an empty room and a dark passage, into a large yard, down one side of which he passed, then into another passageway, with a staircase, at the top of which some women were standing. Midway the passage was a door, before which stood a soldier on guard. Nelson motioned him aside, threw the door wide open, and said, "Walk in." I entered, and such a room! The apartment was large, and divided from the room in front by folding-doors, which were locked, and barred on the other side. Two windows without blinds opened on a large yard, in which a number of men were walking for exercise, while others were cutting wood. Beneath the windows was an area, in which stood four barrels, containing kitchen and other refuse matter. The room was one mass of dirt; spiderwebs hung in festoons from the ceiling, and vermin of all kinds ran over the floor. The walls had been papered, but dampness had caused most of it to fall off, while all over that which was left were great spots of grease. The fireplace
had in it a half-burned log, resting on a pile of ashes, and surmounting all was a filthy wooden bucket. The furniture consisted of an iron bedstead, pillows, and mattress of straw, a pair of sheets, and a brown blanket. Between the windows stood a small table, on which was a stone jug containing water, and a tin cup. A tin basin was on the floor. One wooden chair completed the inventory.
The last-named article was placed near the open window, and on it was seated a young girl, of about sixteen years of age. She had a startled look, and I saw was afraid of me, for in those prisons so many are spies that one never feels safe. I also mistrusted her, and there we sat for some twenty minutes, without a word. At length I asked,
"How long have you been here?"
"Since Monday," she answered. It was now Friday.
"Have you been alone?" I asked.
"Yes," she replied.
"I suspect I saw your father to-day. Is he an old gentleman with long white hair?"
"Oh yes," she answered, clasping her hands;" that's father," and began to cry."Please tell me where you saw him."
"At the Judge Advocate's office," I replied; "he was trying to get a pass to see you, but was refused. I heard him tell a lady he had been there every day, but without success. He also said he had written to you."
"I never received a single letter," she interrupted.
"He said, too," I added, "that he had sent you in a basket daily, containing food."
"I had some cake brought me once by Mr. Nelson, but when I asked him who sent it, he gave me no answer."
Seeing that I still had my bonnet and my winter cloak on, she said, "You had better take your things off, for they will not let you go."
"That is true; but where shall I put them?" I asked, looking around inquiringly.
"Do you see that big nail above where my bonnet hangs?"
"Yes," I answered, "but I cannot reach it."
"Move the table and stand on it," she said.
I did so, and brushing away the spiders with the end of my parasol, hung my cloak and bonnet.
"What is your name?" I asked, presently.
"Mary ----- "
"Mine is Maria Miller."
"Did my father look well?" she inquired.
"Yes; only anxious and worried."
"It is so hard!" she exclaimed, bursting into tears.
"Here is to-day's paper. Would you like to read it?"
She took it eagerly, and was soon absorbed in its contents.
Arrangements for Sleeping--Refreshments--Nine o'clock Inspection--Horrors of the first night--Morning reflections.
IN a short time the door was opened, and Nelson appeared, with two men carrying an iron bedstead similar to the one already in the room, which they placed opposite. After a while, the straw bed and pillow were brought in; but imagine my feelings when I saw great splotches of blood on the mattress, and also on one end of the pillow!
"I can never sleep on that," I mentally ejaculated, and turning my head toward the yard, I saw two men beating and shaking a faded brown blanket, from which arose clouds of dust. In a short time Nelson appeared again, with a pair of coarse unbleached cotton sheets, and the identical blanket I had seen shaken. The sheets were new, that was a comfort.
"Mr. Nelson," I asked, "may I see my cousin, Mrs. Windsor?"
"Oh no, none of that now. You'll not see her any more."
"May I send and ask her for a towel?"
"Yes," he answered.
"Whom shall I send?"
"That's more than I know," he replied, and going out, shut the door and locked it.
"Is not this outrageous?" exclaimed Mary, handing me the paper. I took it, and read the paragraph to which she pointed. It was an insulting notice of Mrs. Surratt and her family.
"Do you know Mrs. Surratt?" asked I.
"Yes; and she is as kind and good a woman as ever lived."
At this moment a negro woman entered, with a brass candlestick, three matches, and a piece of candle, which she put on the table, and taking the bedding from the floor, proceeded to spread it.
"Do you know which is Mrs. Windsor's room?" I asked.
"Yes; No. 10," she replied.
"Mr. Nelson says I can get a towel from her. Will you ask her, if you please? Tell her it is for her cousin." The woman made no answer, but went on with her work as if she had not heard me.
My stand at the window had become disagreeable, for the room being on the first floor, those walking in the yard could look directly in, and the consciousness of being stared at was anything but pleasant. I withdrew, thinking to seat myself on the bed which was placed opposite, and in a less conspicuous position than the one I occupied. I drew near, and happening to cast my eyes towards it, I thought I saw something moving. I went quite close, and scanning the blanket, saw--not one alone, but hundreds of creeping things innumerable!--Seizing one corner with the tips of my fingers, I drew it off and threw it as far as I could;
and there it lay while I was in prison, and there I left it.
It was now dark, and the gas was lighted in the yard. The men, on a call from the guard, returned to their rooms. The lights were so arranged as to show the interior of the first floor rooms, with just enough of shadow to suggest all sorts of phantoms to the nervous or timid. At eight, the door was again unlocked, and two negro women entered, with waiters containing our supper. It consisted of two small coffee-pots, holding about two cups of liquid, a yellow delf bowl with about one table-spoonful of brown sugar resembling molasses, half a cup of milk, two slices of wheat bread, made out of black-looking flour, a little pat of butter. We had each a yellow delf mug, with blue rings, a pewter spoon (mine had only a small piece of handle,) an iron knife and fork; Mary's knife was without a handle, and my three-pronged fork was reduced to one, the others being broken, one short off and the other half way. The plates
were delf-ware also. Had anything been clean, I could have eaten; but the plates were streaming with dirty dish-water; mugs ditto; knives, forks, and spoons sticky and black to the last degree; sugar full of ants, with a slight sprinkling of flies. The coffee was a decoction of tobacco and rhubarb, I think.
The women set the waiters down, and one of them handing me the towel, for which I had asked, both left the room without a word. We lighted our bit of candle, and looked at the viands lying before us.
"It is useless," said I, turning away; "I cannot eat."
"Neither can I," said Mary; "but I have some of the cakes father sent, and we will eat those." She went to the nail on which her shawl hung, and untying the corner, took out about three dozen little sugar-cakes . Although stale, they were very acceptable, at least to me. After satisfying our appetites, we tied up again in the shawl what was left.
"Had we not better put our light out?" asked Mary.
"Why?" said I.
"Because it saves the candle, and should we get frightened in the night, we will have a light. For the past three nights I have done so, and in the morning I hide the matches and candle, in case I should like to have a light to burn all night."
We put out our candle, and I sat by the window, while Mary walked up and down the room. As we had but one chair, we took it by turns, for I could not make up my mind to approach either bed again. It became very oppressive as the darkness deepened; and the tread of the sentry, as he passed and repassed every moment between the windows, had in it something so weird, that I almost shuddered. At nine, Nelson unlocked the door and threw it open. Beside him stood two men, one in officer's uniform, the other a private; the latter held in his hands pen and ink and a large book, such as accounts are
kept in. Nelson advanced a few steps into the room, held his candle above his head and looked all around; then turning to the officer, said, "All right, two in here." The man who held the book then wrote something, after which the door was shut again, locked, and the men passed on. This performance was repeated each day, at nine in the morning, and the same hour in the evening. After nine in the evening, the prisoners were supposed to be in their rooms until the same hour the next morning . After evening inspection, the prison was left in charge of a lieutenant--a mere boy--and the guard. Some nights, however, the Board of Inquiry would sit until daylight; in such case, a prisoner was liable to be summoned any hour.
I was now excessively wearied, both mentally and bodily; the air of the room had become still more offensive as night advanced. A warm still rain was falling, but did not seem to purify the atmosphere. I leaned my head first on my hands, and then on the ledge of the window-sill,
trying in vain to rest. I was too exhausted either to speak or think. At length I fell into a troubled sleep, and was awakened by the morning's sun shining on my head. Mary, whom I left walking the floor, was asleep on the foot of her bed. I could not realize at first where I was; but one glance at the surroundings recalled all that had occurred. It was too soon for the prisoners to assemble in the yard, and as I did not wish to disturb poor Mary, I kept my seat at the window in order to dry my hair, which was wet with the night's rain; and that I might examine more closely the yard.
I saw that we were inclosed on three sides by a strong board fence, some twelve feet in height, on the top of which was a platform sufficiently wide for two men to pass, and which overlooked the yard. On this paced the sentinel day and night. The fourth side of the yard was occupied by one wing of the building, the upper stories of which were appropriated to
prisoners, whom I could see moving about behind the iron bars. The lower or ground floor seemed to contain coal or lumber, as far as my view extended. I was told afterwards that the rear end was a sutler's store, where the daily papers were to be had for twenty-five cents, and other such luxuries in like proportion. The fence was whitewashed, as was the building also. The yard was entirely destitute of grass, shrub, tree, or any green thing whatever, and the wind, which had risen with the sun, drove clouds of dust into the room I occupied, and which was greatly increased when the men began their monotonous walk. In fact, I never saw the day when the dust was not flying, except during a hard rain and just after one. There was no relief from the dead white of the walls--not a tree was in sight, although I afterwards stood on a chair at the window and foolishly tried to see over and beyond the inclosure. My eyes began to ache--there was no shutting out the glare, day or night.
Seeing that my companion was now awake, I asked,
"How do we get water?"
"Call to the guard standing at the door, and hand him the jug."
I did so, and he took it, and calling another man told him to bring the water, which he did. Fortunately the lower part of one window was boarded, and the window-sill sufficiently deep to hold the tin basin; that was the only place in the room which could not be seen from the yard; there we made our toilet and said our prayers.
"Where is your towel, Mary?" I asked.
"I haven't any."
"Why, how do you manage, then?"
"I dry my face wit with my hands as well as I can, then sit in the sun and comb my hair with my fingers."
I need hardly add, that after that I shared with her comb, and brush, and towel.
Between eight and nine, breakfast was brought in, being a repetition of the last evening's supper.
It was placed on the table in silence. I do not know whether the servants were forbidden to hold communication with us or not. We certainly were afraid to speak to them, if they were not to us. Being in the pay of government, we supposed they were spies, and would repeat everything they heard, good, bad, or indifferent. The breakfast was removed in half an hour, untasted, as had been the previous evening's meal. Our cakes still held out, we eating as few as possible, hoping to make them last until we should receive another supply. They were not a very substantial breakfast, but were decidedly better than nothing.
Mary's account of Mrs. Surratt's arrest--Mary's release and second arrest--That keyhole--Recognize an acquaintance--Prison rules.
"MARY," said I, "this is a horrid room, and how we are to live in it, I cannot tell."
"The other rooms are much nicer than this, but we are in close confinement."
"Why?" I asked.
"I don't know," she replied; "but you see how we are guarded, a soldier before our door, and one walking in front of our window."
"Is it not so up-stairs?" I asked.
"No, the prisoners are allowed to walk all about, and even to exercise in the yard."
"How do you know so much?" I asked.
"Why, I've been here before."
"Indeed!" I said, but asked no more questions,
thinking she might not like to answer. In the course of the morning Nelson came in, and I mustered courage to ask,
"Why am I kept in close confinement?"
"Who, you? Why, you are to be hung."
"Ah, indeed! Well, I should not be surprised, for they have as much right to hang me as to place me here."
He made no answer, but, going out, slammed the door and locked it, of course.
I began to feel the effects of my sitting up all night, and found I would be obliged to lie down, notwithstanding what I had seen. With Mary's assistance I turned the bedding over, and after a careful search, lay down. I soon went to sleep, and did not awaken until nearly three, when the servants were bringing in dinner. This was soup day, and that article of diet was served in the same mugs I had seen before, they doing double duty. We had some kind of meat--I could not tell what--and four parboiled potatoes, two for each of us. We declined the dinner, as we had
the other meals, falling back on our supply of cakes.
"Mary," said I, "let us see if we cannot fasten our door on the inside; then we will not be afraid to sleep at night."
We both went to it, but were disappointed in finding every fastening gone; even the knob had been taken off, leaving a hole the size of a silver dollar (if any recollect that coin). We could see how strong the lock on the other side was, by the width of the bolts. We had to content ourselves as we were, at the mercy of any who chose to enter. Mary's fear of me had by this time worn off; and seeing that, I asked about her arrest, of which she gave me the following account:
"I had just come from school, and father, not keeping house himself, wished to place me in some nice quiet family. A friend recommended Mrs. Surratt; he accordingly sent me there. It was at night that we were all arrested, taken to the Provost Marshal's office, and kept there until
nearly morning. But I suppose you saw all about that part in the papers."
"Yes," I answered; "but were you not terribly frightened?"
"Yes, indeed we were. Anna Surratt was going to a little party, and had just begun to dress, and I was helping her, when we were sent for to come into the parlor, in which were Mrs. Surratt and several strange men, one of whom stepped up and said we were all arrested, and must go with them. Mrs. Surratt asked them to wait a few moments, and she knelt down and prayed, the men taking off their hats while she did so. She then arose, saying she was ready. They put us in an ambulance and drove to the Provost Marshal's, as you know. There, poor Anna liked to have gone wild; her mother said all she could to calm her, but she is so excitable and hysterical that no one could do anything with her. She asked the officer how he dared accuse her mother of helping Booth? Just about day, they brought us here, and put us in the rooms
up-stairs. We were allowed to walk about, and were not locked in, even at night. We were there three days, at the end of which time I was released. I thought all my trouble was ended, but last Monday night I was at a Fair given for the benefit of St. ---- Church, when a man came in and asked for me; some one pointed me out at the table where I stood. He then took me aside, and told me I was wanted at the Provost Marshal's office, but only for a few moments. I sent for Father W., to whom the man told the same story; so I had to go. At the Provost Marshal's they began to ask me all sorts of questions, about things of which I had never even heard, and finding I did not answer as they wished, an officer asked me, 'if Mrs. Surratt had not made me take an oath not to tell anything?' Then they put me in the ambulance, and I soon found they were not taking me to the Fair. I began to suspect that they were bringing me here, so I turned to the detective and said:
" 'Sir, I always like to commend myself to our
Lord, and, if you have no objection, will do so now.'
" 'I have no objection, certainly not,' he answered.
"I knelt down in the ambulance, and making the sign of the cross, placed myself under our Lord's protection. They brought me here, and put me in this room. I was terribly frightened at being alone, and all night long I walked up and down; I would not have gone to sleep for anything in the world."
"What prisoners were up-stairs with you?" I asked.
"Only a Mrs. Johnson, who has been here for some time, and a Mrs. Jones with a little baby, who was brought some weeks before," she replied; and then added, "A good many have come since; I have seen three taken up this week."
It was now afternoon, and I was still so wearied, that I lay down again. I was just about closing my eyes, when, on turning them
toward the door, I saw that some one was looking in through the hole I have mentioned before. It was the soldier on guard. Whether he was ordered to have an eye on the prisoners, or not, I do not know; but if he had received any such command, I can testify to its literal fulfilment; for, until relieved from duty, there he was, watching us continually. We constantly stopped up the hole with a piece of the newspaper I had brought with me, and which was just as pertinaciously pushed out with the point of the bayonet. I am not naturally a vindictive or cruel woman, but I think, had I dared to punch the end of my parasol in that staring, fishy eye, I would have experienced the most intense satisfaction. That eye drove all sleep away; it exerted an influence the opposite of mesmeric; it was impossible to resist its fascination, for I could look at nothing else.
I arose, went to the window, and for the first time scanned the faces of those who passed and repassed. Among them I recognized an acquaintance;
he gave me a peculiar look, and I smiled. Seeing I remembered him, he watched until the guard turned his back, then managing to get just in front of the window, said, "I saw your cousin, Mrs. Windsor, to-day."
I waited until he passed again, and then asked, "Is she well?"
To this I received no answer, and the guard near the window looked in very suspiciously, but I was leaning my chin on my hand, gazing innocently at the white-washed fence. I did not attempt anything of the kind again, as I had no fancy for a Yankee bullet--the orders being to shoot any prisoner holding communication without permission. My kind friend, fearing, I suppose, some imprudence on my part, changed his walk to another portion of the yard.
And now let me speak a word in regard to prison rules. They were exceedingly strict, but no prisoner was ever told what they were; therefore one was in constant danger of breaking them through ignorance--the first intimation of
his transgression being the whiz of a bullet uncomfortably near.
One afternoon I was more than usually oppressed by the foul air of our room, and turning to Mary, said,
"I am going to see how far I can lean out of the window; the wind seems to be blowing at the side, perhaps I can catch a breath of fresh air; I am almost suffocated."
"Oh, for heaven's sake stop! you will certainly be shot; we are not allowed even to place our hands on the iron bars, for fear we might be making signs to those without."
That put a stop on my part to further efforts for obtaining fresh air. One night I asked and received permission to extend my head beyond the window sill--the officer ordering the guard not to fire, for which I was most sincerely grateful.
Saturday night we supped on the cakes again, and there were only enough left for a very scanty breakfast: still we hoped that
more might be sent to us. After supper was brought in, I noticed that one of the women seemed disposed to linger, which she did, on some pretence, until the other left the room; then turning to me she said in a low tone,
"So, miss, I've found you out now."
"What do you mean?" I asked, thinking I might be suspected of some Guy Fawkes plot. "I never saw you before," I added, looking her full in the face.
"Never mind that, miss, I've found you out, and I am to have an eye on you."
"Very well," I replied, and turned my back, on which she knocked at the door, and the guard allowed her to pass. After evening inspection, I proceeded to retire, for I felt as if I would never be rested again, or relieved of the aches and pains consequent upon overfatigue. The nights were very cold, such as we often experience in early spring. Not being able to close the window or to have a fire, I really suffered. Fortunately, I had on winter clothing
and had also brought with me my thick cloak, which in a measure answered as a substitute for the condemned blanket; but nothing could prevent my taking violent cold, which continued for some weeks, until, indeed, I had become accustomed to that manner of life. Such sleep as I obtained by snatches was not, as may be supposed, very refreshing; every morning I was awakened by the sunlight which streamed across my face.
Sunday--Destruction of Commissary Stores--Dinner--Unsuccessful attempt to communicate with my friends--Terribly frightened--Outside supplies cut off.
IT was Sunday--a lovely, balmy Spring day, reminding one of the beautiful outside world, from which I was so entirely cut off. I sat on the edge of my straw bed, and listened to the sound of distant church bells, as they rung the faithful to early prayers. It was very quiet in the prison-yard, except the incessant tramp of the guard; that never stopped or wearied, day or night. I counted the chiming bells, listening as one after another caught the musical tone, and sent it on to the next. At length they died away; and now the daily round of prison-life began. Breakfast time again, and again untied the end of our shawl, containing our few remaining stale cakes, when lo and behold! we
found a small hole, and our cakes nearly gone--gnawed through by mice and roaches! Mary and I just looked at each other without speaking. At length I exclaimed,
"Oh, how did it happen?"
"I will tell you," replied Mary; "we forgot to hang the shawl up last night, but left it on the chair."
"That is true," said I, "for I found it on the back of the chair this morning."
There was no help for it; so we had to go without our breakfast. I seated myself on the bed, and taking a little pocket-manual of prayers, which I had with me, endeavored to compose my thoughts sufficiently to read. It was a great effort, for now the church bells began to sound again, in a perfect chorus, tantalizing one with memories of out-door life, from which we seemed so far away. None can tell the desolate feeling which at times overwhelms those immured in close confinement. I read my little book through and through, until my eyes ached. Mary had
her rosary, which seemed a consolation. Outside our room there was no recognition of the sacred day.
I had heard nothing of my friend up-stairs, and did not dare ask. Then, too, I was tormented with anxiety for those at home; I had not been able to convey to them either line or message, my paper and writing materials having been taken from the basket I brought, and never returned. Knowing how wretched my friends would be at my prolonged absence and silence--for I had expected to return to Baltimore the same day that I came over--I determined if possible to write. Calling to the guard, through the hole in the door, I said,
"Can you not tell Mr. Nelson I wish to see him?"
He made no answer, but I heard him say to a soldier in the yard, "Tell Mr. Nelson, somebody wants him in the confined prison, will you?" The man went, and I waited, one, two, three hours, and still Mr. Nelson did not come.
The women now brought in the dinner, and as that meal was set on the table, both Mary and I gazed upon it with hungry eyes, but lacking courage to partake.
"Come, Mary," I said, "this will never do; we will starve to death at this rate; suppose we try one of these potatoes?"
We each took one, peeled it, and began to eat. They were perfectly raw, being only warmed on the outside; there was a pinch of salt in a saucer, but as it had been formed into a conglomerate with gravy or something else, it was not very inviting. The bread was both dirty and stale.
As the women were carrying out the dinner, I said, "Will you please ask Mr. Nelson to step here?"
"Haven't time," was the answer.
I made another attempt with the guard, who sent a second messenger. I became desperately impatient as minutes lengthened into hours and still Nelson did not appear. I walked the
floor until nearly night, listening to every sound, when at length I heard his loud voice asking,
"Who wants me?"
Afraid he would pass by, I went to the door and called, "I wish to see you, Mr. Nelson."
The lock was turned, and he entered and said, "Well!"
"I wish to know if I may be allowed to write a letter--a few lines to my friends at home."
"Certainly," he replied.
"But I have no paper or writing materials."
"Of course not; prisoners never have," he returned.
"Then how am I to write?" I asked.
"Oh, we furnish these things from the office. You can write eight lines. Give the letter to me at inspection, and I will send it."
I thanked him, and seeing him about to leave, added, "The writing materials--how am I to get them from the office?"
"I will bring them to you."
But he did not that day, nor the next day,
nor any day, although I constantly reminded him. Whether it was really an oversight on his part, or whether he had orders to the contrary, I am not able to say; all I know is, that I was not allowed to write a line, or send or receive a message, during the whole period of my incarceration. One thing I constantly noticed, and that was, they seldom refused any request, in words, thereby tantalizing the poor prisoner until all hope departed. Truth was utterly ignored, and I have known the most barefaced falsehoods to be told without the least hesitation on the part of officials.
Sunday night we went supperless to bed. I lay down, leaving poor Mary pacing the floor, which she did constantly. I begged her to try and sleep, but after a while she asked if she might come and lie beside me. Of course I consented, although the bed was rather narrow to accommodate two. I covered her in the blanket, and putting my arm around her, she soon fell asleep, and to my astonishment I followed her example.
How long we slept I do not know, but suddenly we both started up and listened. Presently we heard a long drawn "Oh," proceeding apparently from the cellar beneath us.
"What on earth is it?" said Mary under her breath, and shaking like a leaf.
"I don't know," I answered, just as much frightened; "let us call the guard." "Oh, no," she returned; "better not."
Again we heard the sound, but it seemed not of pain but weariness.
"Mary," said I, "I will get up and light our candle."
"Oh, please do not leave me, I am so afraid," she replied, holding me tight.
"We will go together then; but let us take our shoes off first, and throw them across the room to drive away the mice and roaches."
We did so, and after a few moments arose, still clinging to each other, and groped our way to the shawl hanging at the farther end of the room, in the corner of which our candle-ends and
matches were tied. We soon struck a light; and picking up our shoes returned to the bed again. We did not attempt to lie down, but sat on the edge, listening to every sound--every now and then speaking in a whisper to each other. As soon as one piece of candle would burn down, we would light another--day beginning to dawn just as the last piece flickered, flared up, and went out. We heard nothing after we had the light. It was not until several days had elapsed that we discovered the cause of our alarm, viz.: a large gray cat, which had accidentally been locked in the cellar beneath us. Meanwhile, we dreaded the approach of night.
Monday following, when Nelson made his appearance, I asked,
"Can we not have a light to burn all night?"
"What's that for?" he answered.
"Because we are afraid," I said.
"What! if the guard is outside?"
"We are as afraid of him as anything else," said Mary.
"Nonsense," returned Nelson."No, you can't have a light," going out and shutting the door.
Imagine how we felt!
Our candle seemed shorter than usual to our eyes. We thought we would extinguish it, and relight it in an emergency. We put it out, taking it on the bed with us, but soon found that it attracted the mice and roaches to such a degree, that we determined to light it, and let it burn out. Nothing occurred to disturb us that night, so we might have slept quietly, had our fears permitted.
Mary and I had exhausted all topics of conversation at the end of a few days, and would sit for hours perfectly silent. We had no more cakes, but managed to sustain ourselves by eating such food as looked cleanest, of that which was sent us. Nelson said one night to Mary,
"A basket has been sent you, and as soon as inspected, will be brought in."
We were in high glee and expectation, but,
alas! were doomed to disappointment, for no basket gladdened our longing eyes. At length, two days after, Mary said:
"Mr. Nelson, the basket you spoke of has never been sent in."
"Indeed!" he replied, "then it must have contained contraband articles;" and that was all we ever saw or heard of our expected treat.
"Journals of Civilization"?--Prison Etiquette-- The faithful Hibernian--Prisoner in irons--Interview with Mr. H.
Now we had another source of annoyance, and that was, our meals were allowed to remain in our room all day. The food was never taken away, except to bring in another supply; consequently, our room was swarming with flies in the day, and with vermin at night; the only advantage was, that the mice and the roaches which at one time ran on our beds, now preferred the table, where there was more tempting food. Three days had elapsed without change or variety, except some new faces among the prisoners in the yard, when one day we heard something falling on the floor, and looking round saw some chocolate drops and other bits of candy, evidently thrown in by a kind-hearted
prisoner. We were about to pick them up, when, looking towards the door, I saw the eye of the guard at the hole, and calling my companion's attention to it, we resumed our former positions. Shortly after we beheld the roaches, ants, etc., making way with our candy, to their evident satisfaction.
Another day the guard at our door unlocked it, and threw in "Harper's Weekly," "New York Herald," and a dime novel, called the "Trapper's Bride." We never knew who sent them, but supposed some prisoner bribed the guard to throw them in to us. How eagerly they were read, and how often, even to the advertisements, it is impossible to state. They seemed a link between us and the outer world. Will I ever forget "The Trapper's Bride?" I think not, although, as I now recall it, it was merely a mass of improbable incidents told in a lingo intelligible, perhaps, to the class of persons for whom it was originally written, but beyond my comprehension, leaving my mind in bewildering doubt as to
whether the bear ate "the bride," or "the bride" ate the bear. However, it answered to while away the heavy hours, and was very welcome. "Harper's Weekly" contained the usual number of interesting stories, "to be continued," just as one is dying to know if "the man" succeeded in making his escape, hoping it might contain hints applicable to a forlorn "Carrol prisoner." The "New York Herald," with pages of political quarrels, accusing "Mr. B. of plundering the treasury, and Mr. C. of buying up votes, and Mr. D. of being a turncoat, bought up by the highest bidder," altogether showing an awfully depraved state of morals among the "Herald's" acquaintances, and which that immaculate sheet felt in duty bound to hold up for public abhorrence and detestation. Then, too, were several pages of most delicious mysterious advertisements, such as "the man in green spectacles call at No. 94;" "Susie, he is on your track;" "the body of an unknown man in gray pants and blue jacket, found floating in the dock, a letter in cipher
clasped in his hand," etc., etc. I read the notices over and over, imagining events and causes to correspond. But after a few days I wearied of this occupation, and my imprisonment pressed harder and harder upon me. I knew my friends at home would make every effort to ascertain where I was, and I was in constant dread lest another one should be brought to that terrible place.
And now we had a second midnight scare. Mary and myself had just fallen asleep, when we heard rather loud talking between the guard in front of our door and two men. The latter were saying, "Now, you let us pass, there's a good fellow."
"In faith, no, ye's can't go in," the guard replied.
"But we just want to call upon the ladies," continued the men, who, we now discovered, were very much intoxicated.
"An' me to be screwed up by the thumbs tomorrow. I tell ye's agin, no."
"Here's our permit," said one of the men, and through the hole in the door we saw him hand a piece of paper to the guard.
"Divil a bit can I read," said the guard; "and permits or no, ye'll not git in to-night, an' if ye'll take a frind's advice, ye'll go out of this before I help ye's out with the pint of the bayonit."
The men then retired, uttering maledictions against the obstinate Irishman.
Mary and myself had kept perfectly still during this dialogue, but I think one could almost have heard the beating of our hearts as we sat on the edge of our bed listening, and hardly daring to breathe. The night wore away without further incident, and if any two ever rejoiced to see the dawning of day, I think those two were Mary and myself. It was positively forbidden to admit liquor into the prison building, yet I venture to say, there was any amount of drunkenness among the male prisoners. I saw enough of it myself, but it was only after inspection was
over for the night. How the spirit was obtained I do not know, but suppose the guards were no more invulnerable to bribes, etc., than--others. We were never disturbed in a like manner again; indeed, our case appeared to excite general sympathy, judging from the kind looks directed towards us by the prisoners in the yard. Perhaps our would-be visitors were afterwards ashamed of the part they played on the occasion.
I had not as yet seen H. Mary told me she heard he had gone for John Surratt, and no one knew when he would return. I was very anxious to see him, as he was the civil head of the prison, and nothing could be done without his sanction. I may here mention, that this prison was under both civil and military rule, and, as usual in such cases, the two authorities were continually clashing. The antagonism was manifested by General ------ sending in prisoners during H.'s absence, whom the latter would dismiss on his return. Being conscious of my own innocence, no wonder I looked eagerly for the arrival of the only person
who had authority to release me, or to mitigate the severity of my imprisonment.
I began to feel the want of exercise terribly, although I walked up and down the room for hours; still it had not the same effect as one-half hour in the air and sunshine. I had been nearly two weeks in prison, when late one night a vehicle was driven into the yard. We went to the window and saw an ambulance standing in the shadow of the building; then we distinctly heard the clanking of iron, and in a moment or two after, a man with hands and feet manacled was helped out by two soldiers and led into the building. We sat at the window the greater part of the night, hoping to overhear something which would give us a clew as to who the prisoner was, or at least where from; but no word was uttered, either when the man was brought in or afterwards. Everything was done so silently in this building, and surrounded with such an air of mystery, that we were kept in a constant state of nervous excitement.
"I think it must be John Surratt," said Mary, "and Mr. H. has returned."
She was right in the latter conjecture, for the next day H. made his appearance on his usual tour of inspection. Seeing me, he said,
"Why, you here! how comes that?"
"Indeed," said I, "that is just what I wish to know."
"Well, let us hear about it," he said, taking a seat on my bed.
I then gave him the account written here, and for the first time my fortitude forsook me, and I burst into tears.
"Mr. H.," I added, "do you think I would have come to Washington, and have gone to the Departments, had I been guilty? You, as a detective, know that such would not be the course of one who had rendered herself obnoxious to the Government."
"No," he answered in a musing manner; and then, as if speaking to himself more than to me, said, "there's some mistake."
"Can I not see my friend up-stairs," I asked anxiously. "I am suffering in this horrible room."
"I'll look and see what the charges are first," he replied, rising.
"Oh, please come back," I cried, "and tell me;" for, remembering how often Nelson had disappointed me, I was fearful that H. meant to treat me in the same way. He turned and said,
"I will come back, yes, in half an hour or so, and if you can see your friend, you certainly shall."
Here was a drop of comfort. Half an hour or three-quarters passed, and I heard H. say in the passage, "D--n it, no sooner is my back turned, than they fill the prison with people who have no business being here." Opening our door, he said, "Yes, you can see your friend, but not yet awhile. I have to take you past the guards, and have not time to do it now, but will this afternoon."
I thanked him, but he did not listen.
A few moments after I witnessed a strange scene among the prisoners in the yard. The hearty laughing (an unusual occurrence) first attracted me, and looking out I saw H., armed with a huge stick, chasing one of the prisoners, who seemed hardly to know which way to run, until seeing the outer entrance open, he darted through--H. after him. In a few moments H. returned, out of breath, and throwing the stick back on the wood pile said, "Let me catch him here again, and I'll serve him the same way," at which the men laughed and clapped their hands, those who had caps throwing them in the air. I afterwards heard that on looking at the record H. saw that the man was detained on a mere pretence, and he being an old friend of his (H.'s), he took this strange method of effecting his release. The military authorities were highly indignant at the occurrence, but H. only laughed, and went his way.
Allowed to visit my cousin--Return at nine with supplies--Disappointment--Rainy day in prison--Another arrival--Mrs. Thomas's story--Mary's disgust.
THAT afternoon H. came, true to promise, and unlocking the door, threw it open, and said,
"Now, madam, come with me."
I cannot express my feelings as I saw the exit before me, although I was only going to another part of the prison. I sprang toward the door, from which the guard now stepped aside, and following H. up the narrow, dirty steps, saw at the top a crowd of strange but sympathizing faces watching my ascent, while a little behind them stood my cousin, trying to master her agitation. At the sight of her tearful face, I outstripped my guide, and the women dividing on either side, my cousin stepped forward to meet me, when we fell into each other's arms
sobbing--the women around joining from sympathy, and then each came up and shook me by the hand.
I entered my cousin's room, which was a small one over the passage. As a great favor, Mr. Windsor was allowed to remain with his wife. I found they were permitted many privileges, such as having clothes sent in from outside, and baskets of all kinds of provisions, as well as china, glass, etc.; in fact they were keeping house on a small scale, independent of prison fare; all of which was allowed through the efforts of a friend who had the necessary influence. Mr. Windsor had the daily papers sent to him, also. The room fronted the Capitol grounds--how beautiful and refreshing was the sight of green trees and grass to my aching eyes! I felt as if I should never tire looking at them. Time passed rapidly, as my friends and myself talked over our different experiences. While with them, the servant woman who had given me such a fright before, came in and said,
"I'm glad to see you here, miss."
"Thank you," I answered.
After she left, my friend said,
"When I ascertained you were down-stairs, Mr. Windsor told that woman to attend to your comfort and he would fee her for it."
"She told me she had found me out; and not understanding what she meant I was very much frightened."
"Yes, she told us 'you was 'fear'd of her, and she was 'fear'd of you.' We thought it best not to attempt anything of the kind again."
I sat with my friends until inspection, taking tea with them. I really enjoyed that meal, and, on leaving, took quite a supply of nice things to my fellow-prisoner, whom I had last seen looking after me with wistful, mournful eyes. At nine P. M. I accompanied Nelson past the guards, and returned to my prison. I found poor Mary in very low spirits, but the little supper soon wrought a change. That was the first hearty meal we had taken since my imprisonment. I
also brought her the daily papers, which were a great treat.
The next day H. did not come, so I remained down-stairs. On asking Nelson for him, I was told he was away, and would be absent for some time. I was greatly disappointed, thinking I could not visit my friends until his return. Three days passed without any incident, except that I saw among the prisoners the man who had been so badly beaten on his arrest. The bandages were still around his head, and he looked very pale, as if he had been sick.
In the afternoon it began to rain violently. None can tell the depressing effect of a steady rain on those confined in a dingy, dirty room, with nothing of interest to relieve the monotony; even the yard was deserted by all save the guards, who, muffled in great-coats, with capes turned over their heads, endeavored to protect themselves against the pitiless storm. It was on such an evening as this, just before gas-light, that I caught a glimpse of a woman, her
clothes all bedraggled with rain and mud, her head protected by nothing but a worsted scarf, which was also tied around her neck, and from which the rain was running in little streams. I had just time to see this much, when Nelson unlocked our door, and the poor wet creature entered.
She looked around for one moment, then seating herself on my bed, began to cry and wring her hands, as if in agony. It was some time before I could make her listen to a word, but at last I succeeded in persuading her to take the wet scarf off her head. She had on a calico dress, which was but little protection against the rain. She sat still now, only crying quietly, wiping her eyes occasionally on her apron. The men soon brought in and made up her bed, as they had done mine, on my arrival. She ate quite heartily at supper, not being affected with the squeamishness experienced by Mary and myself.
After she had finished, she turned to me, and said, "I hain't been to town before for thirteen
years; to be sure I hain't seen much;" then looking at the eatables she remarked, "I s'pose to-morrow we'll have hot bread and coffee; I hain't been used to cold."
"We get the same every day," I answered.
"In-deed!" she replied.
Then after a pause I asked, "How came you here?"
As if glad of an opportunity to tell her story, she began, and told the following, without pause or punctuation of any kind, or altering the tone of her voice, which was rather low and nasal:
"You see my name's Thomas--wife of Jim Thomas of------ county; all the neighbors knows us. My husband he farms, raises splendid peaches, reckon you'se seen 'em in the Washington Market?" looking towards me.
"Perhaps I have," I replied, as she waited for an answer.
"Well, Jim come in one day, and says he, 'Nancy,' says he, 'they do say the President's killed.' 'In-deed!' says I; 'Yes,' says he, 'and
I believe it's true, for the almanac sed this was a-going to be a most unfortunate year, an' so it 'pears.' At that, Jim looked study into the kitchen fire, and seemed worrited like. Now, Jim--he's a very curous kind o' man, and I knowed the more questions I asked, the less he'd answer, so I jes' went on and fixed breakfast, and waited till Jim was ready to tell me. After a while, sure enough, he sets to, and give me the whole account, jes' as he read it in the paper at the store. Well, it 'pears like it sorter dumbfounded me, but after a while, says I, 'Jim,' says I, 'I do hope an' truss the man what killed the President won't be a-comin' this way.' 'I think they must a-ketched him by this time,' says Jim. We talked some time longer, and then Jim went back to work. After I had finished work in the kitchen, I took my sewing an' sot down near the front door, but it 'pears like as if I couldn't get the matter out o' my head, and I jes' kep' on a-jumpin up and looking up and down the road. Well, I hadn't been there more'n an hour or so,
when I seen a great dust a-comin' down the road; the first thing that struck me was that the cows had got out, and I looked again and seen something a-shining in the sun; then, says I to myself, 'them shiny things ain't cows' horns; they've got no call to shine that a-way;' and with that I put my specs on, and then I see sich a sight as my two eyes never rested on before. Yes, 'twas the soldiers, and them shiny things was the guns. I was so taken aback, like, at the sight, that if they had rode up then and axed me if I killed the President, I believe I should a sed 'Yes.' But before they got up to me my senses had come back. And now they come so nigh I could see their faces, and who do you 'spose was a-leadin' of 'em? Why, our nigger boy, Bob; it's as true as I am a-sittin' here. 'Well,' says I, 'Bob, you're in fine company.' He helt his head shamed, like, while the cap'n he got off his horse, and, says he, 'I've come to know about that lame man as was here a few days ago.' 'What lame man?' says I. 'You know well enough,' says
he. 'Who told you there was any lame man here?' says I. 'Him,' says he, a-pointing with his thumb over his shoulder at Bob. 'You oudacious nigger,' says I to Bob, 'what lie is that you've been a-tellin'?' Now, Bob was a half-witted boy, and you couldn't 'pend upon him for nothin'; for when he seen you wanted him to say anything, he'd say it, no matter if it was true or not, and he seen the cap'n wanted him to say a lame man had been there. Bob made no answer. 'Cap'n,' says I, 'jes' let me to speak to Bob, will you?' 'Certainly,' says he. 'Now, Bob,' says I, 'jes' you take yourself off that horse and come here.' He done it, and says I, 'Bob,' says I, 'did you tell the cap'n that a lame man had been here?' 'Yes,' says he, 'and there has.' 'When?' says I. 'Day 'fore yesday,' says he. 'Who was it?' says I. 'Mr. Spencer; him as walked with a stick,' says he. 'Well,' says I, 'Bob, I always knowed you was a great fool, but I vow you beat all. Cap'n,' says I, 'Mr. Spencer was here that day, and last night too, for that;
he's our next neighbor, and has been lame from a horse kick ever since we knowed him.' 'Well, old lady,' says the cap'n, 'you'll have to go along with us.' 'Where to?' says I. 'Oh, jes' a little way to see the colonel,' says he. 'I don't like to go without my husband,' says I. 'He's there now,' says the cap'n. As good luck would have it, Mrs. Simkins--John Simkins's wife--she come over jes' then, so I asked her to lock the house and tend to things, which she promised she would. They drove what they call a avelanche up, and I got in. And now it begun to rain awful. Well, they driv' and driv', and bimeby I seen a whole parcel of houses, and, thinks I, this certainly must be town, and sure enough it was. Jes' before dark, they stopped before a tall brick house, where they told me to get out. The room was full of men, but Jim wan't there. One of the men then come up and told me I was to go with him, and he brought me here."
"Did you walk all the way?" I asked.
"Every step on it; we had a umberill, but the
wind blowed so hard we couldn't raise it, that's how I got so wet."
From the time Mrs. Thomas came in until she was released, did I have to listen to a daily repetition of her experience, of which she never tired, and was consequently the greatest bore. Suggest any subject you pleased, and she would invariably get back to her arrest. Mary would beg me in despair, "For heaven's sake make the woman hold her tongue," but I was unequal to the task. That night she lay down and slept in all her wet garments; after which I expected to see her violently ill, but to my great surprise she experienced no injurious effects, and next morning ate a hearty breakfast, although she had neither hot bread nor coffee.
Interview with Nelson--Second visit to my cousin--Her room--An account of her arrest--"Anna Clark"--Description of Mr. H.
ANOTHER Sunday, and H. was still absent. But I determined to try my persuasive powers on Nelson, and sending for him, asked,
"Can I not go up-stairs to my cousin's room?"
"Did Mr. H. leave any orders about it?" said I.
"Yes, he said you were to go up every day, if you wanted to."
"And you never told me all this time!" I exclaimed.
"How long can I stay?" I asked.
"All day, until evening inspection."
"Will you be kind enough to tell the guard?"
He opened the door and said, "Guard! this lady is allowed to pass up and down stairs between morning and evening inspection, unmolested, and you see that the order is passed on to the relief."
The guard gave me a good look, so as to identify me I suppose, and I then bounded up the stairs and in a few moments entered my friend's room.
I now took a survey of the apartment, which I had not leisure to do on my first visit. It had one window (barred of course,) the upper sash gone, and the lower containing I think two panes of glass. Near the door was a small wood-stove, and near it a wooden chair similar to the one down-stairs. Behind the door stood a small table containing a tin basin and a jug of water; on either side of the room was an iron bedstead, and a wooden bench between them. The window-sill was quite deep, and served as a shelf to hold china, glass, etc. Under the little table was
a basket of clothes. Bonnet, shawl, and hat were hung on nails behind the door, which stood open all day. The room was a paradise compared to the one I occupied. I found that several of the men in the other part of the prison were permitted to visit in this, provided they had acquaintances; the passes being good for a week or more. Every day some two or three would come in and bring the prison news from the other side. I saw that all the doors had lock and key to them, and there was no guard stationed in that passage. The rooms, except my cousin's, were quite large, and at that time each contained four inmates, whose acquaintance I afterwards made. The floor above was unoccupied, with the exception of a large closet, a receptacle for blankets, sheets, and other miscellaneous articles; this was unlocked, as were also the other rooms.
On asking my cousin for an account of her arrest, she related as follows:
"Two days after your visit, I was lying on the
sofa one morning, feeling very weak and badly; Mr. Windsor was down-stairs in his office. Hearing a voice in the hall, I looked up, and as I did so a man entered, dressed in citizen's clothes. Advancing toward me, he said inquiringly, 'Mrs. Windsor?'
" 'Yes,' I answered, 'what do you wish?'
" 'I am very sorry, madam, but I have to go over this house to search it.'
" 'By what authority do you thus intrude on the privacy of my home?'
" 'By this, madam,' showing me on the inside of his coat the badge of a detective.
" 'Very well, sir, but I must accompany you, as my silver and other valuables are all exposed.'
" 'You can do so; I am responsible for everything,' he replied.
" 'I wish my husband to be summoned,' I said.
" 'I cannot allow that, madam; there must be no communication.'
"We then proceeded all over the house, I
unlocking store-room, closets, pantry, every place, indeed, about the building, and insisting that he should examine every nook and cranny, much to his disgust; but I was determined, since he came to search the house, searched it should be. On looking out of the window, I saw the yard was filled with soldiers. The detective took possession of every piece of paper on which there was any writing, even my private correspondence. On returning to the parlor I said,
" 'I hope you are satisfied that there is nothing concealed, and now may I be allowed to ask what you expected to find.'
"He did not answer my question, but said,
" 'I shall be obliged to take you to the Provost Marshal's office, but I assure you, you will be detained there but a few moments.'
" 'May I be allowed to lock up my plate and other valuables?'
" 'Certainly, but it is unnecessary, as I am going to place a guard of soldiers in the house, and I will be responsible for everything.'
"Nevertheless I did lock up such things as I could think of at the time, although I left much exposed which I never expect to see again. All the while I was busy about this, the man did not leave me. Having finished, I proceeded to array myself in bonnet and cloak.
" 'Is not my husband to accompany me?' I asked.
" 'He is already at the office,' the man answered.
"I was about to leave the room, when fortunately my eyes rested on my watch, and also my gold thimble, which was lying near. I took them both, tying the thimble in a corner of my handkerchief. I was now very much fatigued, for it was the first day I had been up since my illness. I went a few steps and then said, 'I can walk no farther; I have been very sick, and am not able to go on.'
"The man stopped and looked at me doubtingly. I suppose I must have looked sick enough even to convince a detective, for he called one of
the guard, and ordered him to bring an ambulance, which he did. In a few moments I was placed in it, and driven to the Provost Marshal's.
"I took a seat and looked everywhere for Mr. Windsor, but he was evidently not there. Imagine, if you can, my intense anxiety. It was half-past ten when I was arrested and brought to the office, and there I sat by myself until after three, at which time Mr. Windsor arrived. It seems he had gone out soon after breakfast, and had not returned until the hour for dinner, when to his great astonishment he saw the house surrounded by soldiers, and he was arrested and brought to the provost Marshal's office. We did not remain there long, but were summoned to follow a detective, from whom Mr. Windsor soon ascertained that we were coming here. The man endeavored to make us walk, but Mr. Windsor would not hear of it; so he very unwillingly stopped a car, into which we all entered and were brought here, where we have been ever since."
"I wish," said I, "you would give me some account of that 'Anna Clarke' and her letter, which letter I was accused of writing."
"I knew but little about her," said my friend. "She was introduced to us by an acquaintance, spent the day and returned to Baltimore the same evening. A short time after, Mr. Windsor received that letter, which he deemed both unnecessary and dangerous to answer. It was lying on the table with others, and of course fell into the hands of the detective, and I suppose was laid before the Bureau of Military Justice."
Just then a gentleman came to the door and said, "Mr. Windsor, I have just parted with a friend of yours--a fellow-prisoner--Mr. William Gordon. He told me to present his regards to both of you, and ----."
"Gordon, Gordon," said Mr. Windsor, interrupting him, and putting his hand to his head as if trying to remember who it could be, then added, "Is he the son of old Parson Gordon of Georgetown?"
"Indeed, I do not know, sir," the man answered.
"Well, if he is the son of my old friend, Parson Gordon, tell him I am very glad to hear of him, but if he is not the parson's son, say to him he has made a mistake--we are not the Windsors with whom he is acquainted."
Will. Gordon took the hint, as he was not the son of a parson, and never sent any more such imprudent messages to his friends. But one Sunday, shortly after, he applied for permission to preach to the prisoners in the Carrol yard, and to our great relief the paper was returned to him with "request not granted," written across the back. H. showed us this. H. very often came into that part of the prison, and would sit an hour at a time in the different rooms, laughing and talking with the inmates. He was very fond of a joke, but at the same time, through all his pleasantry you felt that he always had an eye to business, and if you uttered an unwary word, he would seize upon it and follow
it up. He professed to be an unbeliever, but had the Bible by heart; it seemed to me he was never at a loss for a quotation. He was not much in my cousin's room; indeed, we were rather afraid of him, and never encouraged any conversation, except when it was necessary.
Mr. Windsor before the Board--Mrs. Surratt--The "Prince of Detectives"--An incident--The Board of Inquiry.
ONE morning, while in my cousin's room, the guard came up and said, "Mr. Windsor, you are wanted by Colonel -----."
He immediately rose, and taking leave of us followed the guard. It frequently happened that those summoned by the Board never returned--whether they were released or conveyed to another prison, was left to conjecture. One always therefore prepared for the worst, took leave of friends, and carried with him such necessary articles as he could. Mrs. Windsor was weeping bitterly at the departure of her husband, when a lady entered the room. She was apparently about forty years of age, a tall commanding
figure, rather stout, with brown hair, blue eyes, thin nose, and small, well-shaped mouth, denoting great firmness. This lady was Mrs. Surratt.
She took her seat beside my weeping cousin, put her arm around her and drew her head on her shoulder; then she talked to her in the most consoling manner, and though my cousin had never seen her before the imprisonment, she was as tender and kind as if she had been an old friend. There was a calm, quiet dignity about the woman, which impressed me before I even knew who she was. She mingled very little with the other prisoners, unless they were sick or sorrowful; then, I may truly say, she was an angel of mercy. After that day I saw her often; she would come in and read the daily papers.
On one occasion, I remember, one of the papers contained an outrageous account of herself and household, aspersing both her character and reputation. We endeavored to withhold the
paper from her, but she insisted on reading it. I watched her closely while doing so, and for an instant a flush of womanly indignation overspread her pale countenance at the insult. After she had read it all, she laid down the paper, and, clasping her hands, raised her eyes to Heaven and said, "I suppose I shall have to bear it."
That was the only time I ever knew her to make any allusion to her sufferings. I did not see her smile the whole time we were together. She rather avoided conversation, and never uttered one word of reproach or virulence against those by whose authority she was imprisoned. She always retained her self-possession, and was never in the least degree thrown off her guard. H. frequently spent hours talking with her, endeavoring--as we were told--to entrap her into some incautious expression, which would enable him to discover where her son, John Surratt, was concealed. But in this--smart detective as he was--she foiled him. If she knew, she locked the knowledge in her own heart so
closely, that even he--that "prince of detectives," as he called himself,--was unable to wrest it from her. Sometimes H. would say to her, after he had been absent looking for Surratt, "Well, madam, we have at last captured your son, and a hard time we had finding him; how did you ever hit on so snug a hiding-place." But she was too wary to be misled by such a statement, and H. failed to obtain the twenty-five thousand dollars, generously offered by the Government for Surratt's apprehension.
I cannot omit relating one incident in connection with Mrs. Surratt. One day, a woman, apparently a prisoner, was brought in. She circulated freely among the inmates, and was very talkative, generally selecting the assassination as her subject. She was also very confidential, and would relate marvellous conversations which she had with H. and other officials, under the seal of secrecy. After awhile the woman was taken very sick, and kind Mrs. Surratt, as usual, took charge of her, and ministered to her necessities. The
woman recovered, and one day, in a moment of impulse, when her heart was filled with gratitude, she threw herself on her knees before Mrs. Surratt and said, "Oh, Mrs. Surratt, when they offered me the twenty-five hundred dollars, to find out, I did not know what to do. I was penniless, and--"
"Never mind now," said Mrs. Surratt, interrupting and raising her from her knees, "we will talk of something else."
The woman made no further allusion to the matter, and shortly after left the prison.
Let me now return to Mr. Windsor. He had been summoned to appear before the Board, and on entering the room was questioned closely by Colonel ---- as regarded his occupation, associates, amusements, etc., but it was all to no purpose. The answers to the interrogations were given boldly and unhesitatingly, there being nothing which Mr. Windsor was either ashamed or afraid to acknowledge.
From the multiplicity of questions, and the
ingenuity evinced in cross-examinations by the officers of Military Justice, it must have been a sore trial to them, if, after exhausting every means to entrap the unwary, their efforts were to prove unsuccessful. But guilty or innocent, it was no light matter to be summoned before a body of men whose interest it was to convict, not to acquit. When one remembered the large rewards offered by Government to all who furnished evidence prejudicial to the prisoner, it was not surprising that witnesses were readily found to testify to anything, however improbable. Therefore it was, that a summons before the Board was regarded as a farewell to either liberty or life.
As the footsteps of the officer and guard would draw near, I have seen the pallor of death creeping on cheek and lip, all fearing that the next sound they would hear would be their names called, to appear before that terrible tribunal, and then, as the footsteps would recede, and we felt that for a few hours longer we were safe, a fervent "thank God," would burst from
each one of us, as the fearful anticipations for that day would be ended.
The idea of obtaining justice in the course of military trial, was something beyond the anticipations of the most sanguine. It required but slight insight into the manner of conducting these "so called" examinations and trials, to convince even the most prejudiced that the conviction of each one who had the misfortune to fall into the clutches of this stupendous power, was the object to be attained. Had the examinations been fair and impartial, the innocent would not have shrunk from investigation, feeling assured that the more rigid the examination the better for him. It was the effort made to induce the prisoner not only to implicate himself, but others, even strangers whose names were then heard for the first time. It was things such as these that made one tremble before that Board. Every sigh of emotion was noticed, recorded officially, and used against the prisoner. Alas for the Bureau of Military Justice!
Mr. Windsor was detained half an hour, at the expiration of which, we had the heartfelt satisfaction of seeing him return. He was notified that his examination was not concluded, and that he was again to appear before the Board in a few days, but the summons never came. As days and even weeks passed without the dreaded call, we regained our wonted cheerfulness, and began to hope, either that the matter was forgotten, or that in the press of business it had been indefinitely postponed. Certain it is, we took care not to inquire regarding the delay, and were heartily thankful for the respite, as we then supposed it.
I now spent every day with my friends, returning at night to my own apartment. I felt less reluctance at leaving Mary, as she had another companion in the person of Mrs. Thomas. I ascertained with regard to Mary, that she was detained in prison as a witness, to be summoned when Mrs. Surratt's trial came on. Fearing she might be influenced by that lady, they had placed her in the lower room, in order to prevent any
communication between them. I told Mary what I had heard, and it gave her great relief, for the poor child was dreading all kinds of terrible things.
Mrs. Johnson--The Confederate prisoner--His illness--Subsequent discoveries--Mrs. Surratt's kindness--Death and burial of Confederate--Mrs. M.--Another alarm.
AMONG the prisoners up-stairs was a Mrs. Johnson, before alluded to. She was a tall woman, with light hair and eyes, who said and did pretty much what she pleased. She was very witty, and quick at repartee. Nothing seemed to damp her spirits, and to fear she was a stranger. She had been in prison a long time, eighteen months in all, having been first arrested for carrying dispatches for the Confederate Government to persons in Canada. After a year's imprisonment, she was released, on condition that she would not cross the Potomac again, to which she readily assented. But, alas! the spirit of adventure was not subdued, and at
the end of six months, relinquishing her position as nurse in a Confederate hospital, she wended her way back to Washington. It seems H. had been in Richmond the winter she was there, and she had been very kind to him. He then told her if she should ever be in need and he could help her, to call upon him, and he would do so. She went to Washington, and knowing that H. would certainly discover she was there, she determined to put a bold face on the matter, and go directly to his house, and ask for him. He happened to be at home, and she was ushered in. H. was so much surprised, that he raised his hands and exclaimed,
"Mrs. Johnson! what on earth brought you here?"
"Well, Mr. H.," she answered, "I was very much in want of clothes; I could get none in Richmond, and, as you told me if I needed help to apply to you, I have come to ask you to lend me twenty-five dollars."
"Why, Mrs. Johnson," replied H., "were you
not released on the express condition that you would never return?"
"Yes; but you see I was compelled to," she replied.
"Well, madam," said H., handing her the twenty- five dollars, "my advice to you is to leave this city as soon as possible."
"That I intend to do," she answered; "but which route had I better take--that through lower Maryland, or the one by the chain bridge?"
"The one by the chain bridge," said H.
"Now, you see," said Mrs. Johnson in telling us, "I knew H. well enough to be sure that be would have his detectives on the look-out if I went the route he designated; so to avoid them I determined to take the other. I did so, and fell into the trap laid for me; for as H. has since told me, he felt sure I would not go by the chain bridge because he advised it, therefore he was ready for me on the other road."
"Have you been here ever since?" I asked.
"Ever since, and expect to be sent to the Massachusetts Penitentiary, as I hear most of us are to be," she answered.
Her room had glass in the windows, and she said to Nelson:
"Mr. Nelson, I do wish you would have the windows in my room washed."
"They are clean enough," answered Nelson.
"No, they are not," she returned; "indeed, they are so dirty that my friends across the street cannot distinguish the signs I make to them, and I must have the windows washed;" which speech incensed Nelson very much.
But on one occasion she came near paying dearly for her boldness. She was standing at a window overlooking the yard where the prisoners were exercising, and seeing an acquaintance among them, she very imprudently waved her handkerchief, which she had no sooner done, than one of the guards deliberately raised his piece, took aim, and fired. Fortunately for her, he was not a good marksman, and the bullet struck a
little below the window-sill, and there it is to this day. She did not move from the window, or appear in the least frightened, but she was very angry. She never attempted a like manoeuvre again, to my knowledge. She was very fond of gazing out of the front windows which overlooked the street. One morning as she did so, a poor wounded Confederate was being brought in; he glanced up, and seeing her standing there, he raised his hands and cried, "Mother! mother!"
"Poor boy," she replied, "he takes me for his mother. I am not your mother, but I will try and supply her place to you."
After a short time spent in wondering who the young soldier could be, the circumstance passed from our minds. Late that afternoon H. appeared at Mrs. Johnson's door and said, "Mrs. Johnson, your son is in the hospital, and wishes to see you."
The poor mother rushed down, and there, indeed, was her child, a lad of about seventeen, lying on one of the hospital cots. He had entered
the Confederate army at sixteen, and his mother had not seen him since until now. He had recognized her as she stood at the window. At first Mrs. Johnson was allowed to be with her son daily; his wound was not a serious one, and it was thought he would recover, until typhoid symptoms manifested themselves, after which he gradually grew worse. He constantly craved food, such as the prison did not afford; that which was brought him he could not eat, and therefore pined and wasted away--his mother declaring all the while that the prison authorities were starving her child to death. She became so much excited about it, that she was forbidden to go to the hospital, and her place beside the boy was taken by Mrs. Surratt. One day he insisted that if he could have a small piece of chicken and a cup of coffee he would recover; neither were to be had in the prison, but the next day Mrs. Windsor had a partridge sent her, which she gave to Mrs. Surratt for young Johnson. It came too late; the poor fellow was too
ill to eat it. That night he died in Mrs. Surratt's arms--his mother being allowed to see him just at the last.
He was buried from the prison, and surely there never was a sadder funeral. The body was placed in a common pine coffin, and taken to the lumber room in the wing of the building, before mentioned, and laid across two barrels, in a room dimly lighted by a cellar window. A few of us were permitted to be present, and there, in that dark and gloomy place, the priest read the burial service. Young Johnson was remarkably handsome, and his pale face, in its peaceful beauty, surrounded by a halo of golden hair, contrasted strikingly with the hard and repulsive accessories. No one but the mother was allowed to follow his remains to the grave, and even she had a guard of soldiers with her, thus denying the indulgence of privacy to her sacred grief. Mrs. Johnson seemed to recover in a few days her usual spirits, but every night, before retiring, she would fold the torn and faded "jacket of
gray," worn by the youthful soldier, and place it tenderly beneath her head.
Mrs. Johnson had been so long in the prison, that she knew the history of all the females who had been confined there. Among others, she gave us an account of a Mrs. M., from Western Virginia.
It seems she had two sons in the Confederate army, in consequence of which she and her husband were brought to the Old Capitol, their house in Virginia burnt to the ground, and everything laid waste. She was soon taken sick with typhoid fever, and died in prison, separated from her husband and friends; Mr. M. was released in the winter and died from exposure; one son was killed in battle; the other survived the war. On the surrender of Lee, finding his home in ruins, and his family dead, intense hatred took possession of him, and he became a bushranger, vowing vengeance against the enemies of his country. Shortly after, he killed a man in Federal uniform, was apprehended, tried by
court-martial, condemned, and hung; and thus passed away the whole family.
Among the prisoners in the yard, was one who attracted my attention and aroused my sympathy. He was a tall man, seemingly middle aged, dressed in Confederate uniform, very pale and thin, like one in the last stages of consumption, and with a countenance the most woe-begone, I think, I ever beheld. Be the day warm or cold, he always had on a gray overcoat, and stood away from the other prisoners, in the sunshine. I never saw him walk about, or exchange a word with any one. After awhile I missed him, and a few days subsequent was informed that there had been a death in the other part of the building. Whether it was the Confederate or not, I never knew. I have many times thought of him since, and wondered what his past life could have been, to have left such traces of sorrow and dejection.
We had no more frights at night, until sometime after Mrs. Thomas became our room-mate.
One night at half-past two, we heard a great knocking at our door, and the guard unlocking it. I sprang up and asked,
"Who is there?"
"An officer," was the answer.
"What do you wish?" I asked.
"I wish to see Mary L."
"Wait, she is asleep. I will awaken her."
"Mary," said I, shaking her, "are you awake?"
"Yes," she answered.
"Now," I said in a whisper, "be on your guard as to what you say to this officer."
She went to the door with me, and the officer asked,
"Are you Mary L.?"
"Yes; what do you want with me?"
"Do you know Mrs. Callan?" he asked.
"No," answered Mary.
"Are you sure?" persisted he; "think a moment."
"I tell you I do not know her."
"Where does she go to church?" he said.
"To St. ----," replied Mary.
"Who is her father confessor?" he asked.
"Indeed, I do not know, I never asked her."
The man remained silent a few moments, as if irresolute, then saying, "That will do," left, the guard locking the door again. We were never able to find out the purport of that visit; it seemed still more strange when we heard that Mrs. Callan's husband was among the prisoners, and it would have been easy to have obtained from him the desired information. My idea was that they expected to ascertain something by questioning Mary, just aroused from sleep, hoping to find her thrown off her guard. If such was the intention, it was baffled. That was the last time our slumbers were disturbed "officially."
The "French Actress"--Prison quarrels--Miss Lewis--The servant-girls--Mrs. Jones's story.
AND now was brought in a lady, rather fancifully, but fashionably, attired, with a profusion of plumes in her bonnet. Her manner was that of a tragedy queen, to which she was probably entitled, as she was Madame S., a French actress. She had been associated with Booth on the stage, consequently was supposed by the astute authorities to be an accessory, if not a participant, in the President's assassination--the poor creature insisting all the time that it was a "meestake." The trouble was, what to do with her, or where to put her, as the prison was full. She was taken first to one room, then to another, she positively asserting at each, that she "would not go in there," and that "her husband was one Federal officer, and he would have her release."
The matter was at last decided by accommodating her in one of the office rooms, which was vacated for that purpose. In a few days she was "release"--the only fortunate one; and with envious eyes, we watched her retreating form, as she walked calmly and collectedly out of the prison and down the street; as if she had only been acting a part in a drama on the stage, instead of a tragedy in real life.
Very few were released from prison in those sad days, and if any were so happy, their places were almost immediately supplied by others. One would suppose that persons associated as the prisoners were, in a common fate, would be on the best of terms; but such was not the case. Frequently there would be quarrels in which each party would accuse the other of being a "Federal spy"--the greatest insult which could be offered. The differences were always healed after a while, and the opponents on as amicable a footing as if nothing of the kind had occurred. Mrs. Johnson and a Miss Lewis
averaged about three friendly days in the week; the remainder they were not speaking to each other.
Miss Lewis had been imprisoned for not draping her mother's house in mourning, on the death of President Lincoln. She said she had not the material for doing so, on which the authorities kindly furnished it at Government expense, and were so obliging as to hang it for her. No sooner had they left the premises, than the black hangings disappeared. Three times were they replaced, and three times did they disappear. Miss Lewis not giving satisfactory reasons, and it being a calm day, it was impossible to attribute this disregard of a nation's grief to a freak of the wind. There was but one solution of the mystery, and that was, that Miss Lewis, in the absence of officials, had removed the obnoxious black. Such was in reality the case, consequently that estimable lady was transferred from her mother's domicil to that of benignant Government.
Mrs. Lewis immediately employed a lawyer, and endeavored by every means in her power to obtain her daughter's release, but in vain. The lawyer, Mr. B., of Washington, came to the prison to see his client, and was informed that "the prisoners confined there were not allowed to employ lawyers." He then requested permission to see Miss Lewis, but was again told that "none but relatives were admitted;" so the matter ended, leaving Miss Lewis in a state of indignation, and amazement also, as she had a faint recollection of a document called the Constitution, which guarantees certain rights to the citizen, however humble. She had yet to realize that that instrument had become a myth; "military necessity," so called, occupied its place.
Among the other prisoners on that floor were two servant girls, in durance vile for insulting a lady of color, or, as they phrased it, for "laughing at her." It seems this lady was weeping bitterly over the wash-tub, at the President's decease; and these two girls, seeing her great grief,
advised her, in a friendly way, to pay a visit to the White House, where she would have an opportunity of imprinting a farewell kiss with her "alabaster lips." On the strength of which the lady in question reported the girls as wanting in respect for the memory of the departed, and in order to quicken their blunted sensibilities, they were conveyed to a place of seclusion, where they would have ample time for reflection and mourning. But alas! such is the perversity of human nature, these two misguided girls could not take that view of the matter, and spent all their time in carrying on desperate flirtations with the soldiers on guard, judging from the notes which came fluttering down the baluster. They were the only prisoners who seemed to regard the whole affair as a good joke.
In the same room with them was a Mrs. Jones, who had a young infant. She was a sorrowful, pale-faced woman, the wife of a Confederate soldier, who had been killed in battle. This was her story:
"We lived near the town of Fredericksburg, when the war began. John had a little bit of ground that we worked, and what with chickens and eggs that we sold to the town people, we managed to get on well enough. After awhile the war broke out, but John did not join the army then, he was too weakly, being subject to a misery in his back. We lived at the place till just before the battle at Fredericksburg; then John got kind of uneasy, and we moved all our things--what we could move--up to Orange, where John was raised, and where his folks live. We shut up our house, giving the key to a neighbor who was going to stay in those parts. Well, the battle was fit, and after it was all over, John thought he'd just go and see after our house. I begged him not to, but he would; and if you please to b'lieve me, the Yankees had been there and took everything we left, and then burnt the house down; and the only showin' we had for it, was the key. John he come back awful riled, and said he, 'Wife, I can't stand it no longer, but
I'm going to jine.' I felt mighty bad, but still I didn't say nothing, for I'd not be the woman to stand against a man's notion of right; so I held my tongue. 'Yes,' says John, 'I'll jine, and this day too;' with that he goes where Captain -----'s company was and did jine. Well, he come back, and I worked hard to get him ready, though I could hardly work for the crying; but John never knowed that; and when he went away he kissed me and said I was a 'brave woman, a real soldier's wife.' John stayed in the army two years, and at the end of that time he got a bad wound, and was discharged. After staying at home a year, and me nursing him, he got well, and nothing must do but he would go back to the army. Sure enough he went, and just the very last battle he got shot through the head and was killed. In a little while after that the baby was born, and I made up my mind I would go to see my mother, who lived in Maryland. Everybody told me not to go, but you see I was too weakly to work, and all the people about in those parts
was poor, and I couldn't live on them, so I just made up my mind that I would leave. I had no child but Johnanna, and I thought I could get through. I got what things I had and put them in an old carpet-bag, and went to Fredericksburg, and from there to the crossing-place, where I found two ladies who were just going to cross too. We got into the boat at night, and went over. The baby was taken sick, so I had to stop at a house for three days. As I was about to go to mother's, some soldiers come up, and finding I didn't have no pass, they took me up and brought me here, where I have been ever since;" and the poor creature began to weep bitterly.
"How did you get the money to pay your expenses?" I asked.
"Why, you see, John had laid up a little before the war, and after he jined the army, he told me if anything happened to him, I was to take the money and go back to mother, and I was not to use it for anything else. I had ten dollars left when the soldiers took me, but they got it
all, and everything else but a few of the baby's clothes."
"Did you never get anything back again?"
"No, indeed, not a single thing, and the baby does want clothes so bad."
"Does your mother know where you are?"
"I don't know. I sent her a letter, but I reckon she never got it; if she had she would have come on, or sent sister. She does not live near any town, so sometimes the letters don't get to her till they are right old. When any of the neighbors goes in, if they thinks of it, they asks for her letters at the office, and then when they gets a chance, they sends them to her."
"That is bad, for you may not hear for a long time."
"Yes," she said, "and sometimes the postmaster keeps the letters in his pocket, and when he goes out, nobody can find him."
Just then, H. made his appearance, and put an end to our conversation.
The "ducks and chickens"--Mrs. James--Mr. Windsor summoned before the Board--The mob--An alarm of fire--Miss Sallie Jarvis.
THERE were two other characters among the prisoners who deserve notice. One of them, a tearful, complaining woman, had at one time been an acquaintance of Booth. This fact rendering her an object of suspicion, she was incarcerated in the Old Capitol until her complicity with the assassination could be ascertained. She was always grieving, poor soul, about her ducks and her chickens. Every few moments she would exclaim, "My ducks and my chickens! jes' hatched out, and who will 'tend to 'em now?"
The other character was a Mrs. James, who had formerly been the cook of some gentleman in Washington, in which capacity she had made and saved money, investing it in a market garden,
which she cultivated with her son's help until he joined the Confederate army.
She said she was arrested for being a dimocrat, but the accusation against her was, that on hearing the news of the President's death she was seen to smile, and not only that, but went home and made a flag out of her son's Confederate gray coat, and hung it out of the window. She says she smiled because "eggs had riz," and she had some for sale; and as to the flag, she was only airing her son's clothes. Be that as it may, she found herself safely ensconced in the Old Capitol. Her son was at one time stationed at Manassas, and she said, "Honey, many's the time I've taken letters from Washington to the camp."
"But," I said, "how did you manage it? were you never detected?"
"Never," she answered, "but came mighty near it once."
"How was that?"
"I used to make b'lieve, you see, honey, that I was a market-woman, and always carried a
lunch-basket on my arm. Well, I had to pass through the picket guard, and one of 'em stopped me and said,
" 'I really do believe that's a secesh;' on hearing which I made out I was mighty mad, and sot my arms a-kimbo, and looking him full in the face, said: 'Man, does I look like a secesh woman?' and then I handed him my lunch basket, and he took some and let me pass; and honey, if you b'lieve me, my stockings was so full of letters I could hardly walk."
Mrs. James's peculiar detestation was the tearful woman. One morning she was weeping, as usual, over her ducks and chickens, when Mrs. James could stand it no longer, but turning suddenly upon her, said: "D--- your ducks and your chickens, I'm sick and tired of hearing 'bout 'em."
Mr. Windsor, who had been in the habit of exercising with the other prisoners in the yard, on coming in one day was ordered to appear before Colonel ----, who said:
"Mr. Windsor, I understand you have been
heard to use most disrespectful language in reference to President Lincoln."
"You are mistaken, sir," replied Mr. Windsor.
"But I tell you, you did, sir; the man who heard you repeated it to me."
"Where is the man?" said Mr. Windsor.
"That is of no consequence," replied Colonel -----; "but I tell you what, sir, I have a great mind to place you in solitary confinement on bread and water, and if I hear any more complaints about you, I will. In the mean time, I order you to speak to no one while exercising. Now, sir, you can go."
Mr. Windsor was only too glad to be forbidden intercourse with the men in the yard; for it was well known that there were several spies among them--who they were, it was impossible to determine, as all appeared to be prisoners.
An incident occurred which frightened us very much. One afternoon, just before dark, Mrs. Johnson entered my cousin's room and exclaimed, "A mob is coming down to attack the
prison." Imagine our feelings! There we were, a party of defenceless women, guarded by a company of ignorant Dutch soldiers, many of whom could not understand English and who, for aught we knew, were in league with the excited rabble now threatening the prison. We waited in breathless suspense for more than an hour, straining both eyes and ears to catch the first sight or sound of the assailants. Happily for us, the danger had been averted; for, except the extra precaution taken by the authorities, we knew nothing more of the threatened riot. It seems the idea abroad was, that the accomplices of Booth had been captured, and were confined in the Old Capitol. Whether this was true or not, I could not ascertain; certain it was, that several prisoners were brought in at night, but a mystery always appeared to hang over them. The populace of Washington were in a very excited state, and it was in order to obtain possession of these persons that they threatened to attack the prison.
It had even become dangerous for one just released to walk the streets; indeed, several persons had been stoned and severely injured, sometimes necessitating the interference and protection of the soldiers, and even then the mob was with difficulty restrained from murdering a poor man, who will doubtless carry the scars of their brutal assault to the grave. We were almost afraid to go near the windows fronting the street, lest something should be thrown at us. It was a terrible ordeal, which none can realize save those by whom it was experienced. I think none of us ever felt safe after that fright, and we had yet another.
One night some time after, my cousin noticed that her room was unusually bright, and on looking out of the window, she saw the wing of the building occupied by the men, in flames. She heard the order given, "Secure the prisoners," but no one came to our relief. We were almost frantic with fright and the apprehension of being burned, but fortunately the fire was soon subdued, and
quiet restored. It was no light matter to be locked up in a burning building, with no exit unless permitted by the guard. Our fear was, that they would postpone our release until too late. Most of us were more alarmed at the fire than at the mob. It seems strange, yet we gradually became accustomed to the daily life we had to endure; and it was not until after we were released, that our over-wrought systems succumbed, and we realized how we had been hitherto sustained by artificial excitement.
And now another prisoner was added to the already large number. She was a young girl from the Eastern shore of Maryland, of about sixteen years of age. It seems that some little boys, playing soldiers, requested her to make them a Confederate flag, which she innocently did, and they, in equal innocence, stuck it on the top of a hen-coop, which served them for a fortification. A body of Baker's valiant detectives, passing, espied the obnoxious ensign, three inches by six, proudly waving in the breeze.
The opportunity for distinction was too tempting to be resisted; picked men were immediately detailed to undertake the hazardous task of reducing the fortress, and capturing--if it could be done without much loss of life--the entire garrison and its colors. The expedition was a "perfect success," though the enemy made a valiant defence, worthy of a better cause. A prisoner--one of the aforesaid garrison--was brought before General Baker, and liberty promised if he would give the name of the person who presented the colors. In case of refusal, the orderly had ready a formidable weapon of birch, with orders to inflict condign punishment on the obdurate little rebel. Alas! the influence of the birch was not to be resisted, and with many tears and cries, the ungallant soldier confessed that the colors were made and presented by one Miss "Sallie Jarvis."
In a short time this young lady's house was surrounded by Federal soldiers, all avenue of escape being cut off. After taking every possible precaution against a rescue or surprise, Miss
Jarvis was summoned before General Baker, and taxed with the commission of the grave offence. She did not attempt to deny it; indeed, so hardened was she, that she even ridiculed the whole proceeding, and expressed perfect willingness to visit Washington under the protection of the chivalrous and gallant Baker, assuring him that she had long contemplated a visit to that renowned city, but had hitherto been prevented from executing her intention, for want of a proper escort, and therefore gladly availed herself of his polite and pressing invitation. On reaching the Old Capitol she expressed her high appreciation of the honor conferred, as very few were considered of sufficient importance to be the guests of the Government. She also desired General Baker to assure the Hon. Secretary of War, that she was neither unmindful nor ungrateful, but that untoward circumstances alone prevented a personal attendance on his Maj--no, his Honor--to thank him for his condescension and kindness.
Rainy Sunday--Order given to "double the guard"--Mrs. Surratt summoned--Our last interview--Anna's grief--H.'s account of Mrs. Surratt's treatment--Prison scenes.
ANOTHER gloomy Sunday evening. Night was closing around the Old Capitol prison, and we, the inmates, were collected together, talking, as usual, when we heard the order given to "double the guard." Expecting another mob, we waited in silence and dread; but nothing of the kind occurred; only an open carriage, in which were two officers, drove up and stopped at the prison door.
The officers entered the building, and as all continued quiet, we were soon talking again--our fears forgotten. Half an hour had probably passed, when Nelson appeared with a soldier and said,
"Mrs. Surratt, you are wanted. You will put on your bonnet and cloak, if you please, and follow me."
Mrs. Surratt arose silently, but trembling the while, and going to her own room arrayed herself as directed. She returned in a few moments, her daughter clinging to her, and begging to be allowed to accompany her, which request was unheeded. Mrs. Surratt kissed each one of us, and when she came to me, she threw her arms around my neck, and said in an agitated voice, "Pray for me, pray for me."
Nelson then stepped forward, and gently disengaging the weeping girl who clung so tenaciously to her mother, took Mrs. Surratt by the arm and led her down stairs, out of the door and into the carriage. The two officers followed, and they drove rapidly away. We never saw Mrs. Surratt again.
For a while, all but Anna were silent, shocked by the suddenness of the whole proceeding. She, poor girl, knelt by her iron bedstead, wringing
her hands and crying, "Oh, mother, mother!" None of us thought that Mrs. Surratt had been taken away to remain, and we sat up the entire night, watching and waiting for her return--Mary and myself in our room, our faces as near to the window as we dared, straining our eyes to see the entrance to the yard, hoping to catch a glimpse of Mrs. Surratt, should she be brought back and confined in another part of the prison, which we deemed likely. As one would become tired, the other would take her place, and so we watched until day dawned.
Night after night did I hear the patter of Anna Surratt's little slippered feet, as she restlessly paced the room above me. I fancy I can see her now, her light hair brushed back from her fair face, her blue eyes turned towards heaven, her lips compressed as if in pain, and her delicate little white hands clasped tightly, as she walked up and down that room, hour after hour, seeming insensible to fatigue, and speaking to no one. Sometimes she would be quite hysterical,
then again perfectly calm, except for the constant walking. We all thought she would lose her mind if the strain were not relieved.
We could ascertain nothing in regard to Mrs. Surratt. If Nelson knew, he would not tell us, and H. was absent. After a week had elapsed, he returned, and we immediately beset him with questions. He told us that Mrs. Surratt had been taken on board of a gunboat, lying in front of the arsenal, in the hold of which she, and the other prisoners implicated in the assassination, were confined in perfect darkness and solitude. Around the neck of each prisoner was an iron collar, from which was suspended a short chain terminated by an iron ball, which rested on the floor, so that the head was bowed down and retained in that position; and in that position the prisoners sat day and night, with a soldier guarding each.
"What are they going to do with Mrs. Surratt?" asked Miss Lewis.
"It is not decided yet," he replied; "but
there is some talk of taking the gunboat further into the stream and scuttling her, with the prisoners on board."
That was the first intimation we had, that Mrs. Surratt's life was endangered. We had supposed that she might be sentenced to the penitentiary for life, or something similar, but we did not realize that she was doomed to a violent death. She had endeared herself to all by her kindness and consideration, and was the last person one would suspect of a cold-blooded murder. Conscious of her innocence, she never apprehended the awful fate awaiting her. That her position sorely tried her, was apparent to all; but there was never the least appearance of guilt, and not for one moment did her faith in an All-merciful Providence waver. There was no pretence about it,--you felt that the woman was deeply and sincerely religious, yet without any ostentation. It is impossible to describe the state of wretchedness, into which this news threw Anna Surratt. H. told her himself--none of us
having the nerve to do so. She was frantic for a time, her constant cry being "Mother! mother!" I believe H. would have withheld this from her, had she not insisted on hearing the truth. He told us he had begged the officer in charge to allow him an interview with Mrs. Surratt, but was refused, as she was not permitted to see or hold communication with any one, not even the guard.
For a short time this occurrence cast a gloom over the other prisoners, but human nature is the same everywhere, and gradually all recovered their cheerfulness, and Mrs. Surratt would have been forgotten, for the time at least, had it not been for the poor daughter. I was often reminded of scenes I had read of, occurring during the Revolution in France. There was the same horror for a little while, and then the return to former gayety, as if nothing had happened to shock and terrify. We asked Anna Surratt what she intended doing? She said she thought of entering a convent, as she had no longer a home.
She was an only daughter, and had lived with her mother, who was a widow.
Poor Anna! I can never forget her look, or the sound of that restless footstep in the room above me. The two haunt me yet, and will until my dying day. It matters little to that poor mourner, that the whole trial has been declared by authority unconstitutional and illegal. That does not bring back the dead, nor lessen the grief of the survivor, nor can it blot out the shame and disgrace which will forever attach itself to the nation, which suffered such flagrant abuse of power to pass unnoticed and unrebuked.
The "Contract Preacher"--His appearance--The sermon--Mrs. Johnson's grief--"Little Tad."
SATURDAY night, H. informed Mrs. Johnson that there would be preaching in the yard the following morning; which notice was of course duly conveyed to the other inmates. It was not often that the prison was thus honored, and the advent of a "contract preacher" created quite an excitement. Let me say a few words in explanation of the above title. It seems that "preaching gentlemen" were commissioned by the War Department, to enlighten the heathen darkness of the disloyal, and were handsomely paid for doing so. One can well understand, therefore, that it was quite an easy method of earning an honest penny. The prisoners being aware of the above circumstance, often had
misgivings as to whether the preachers had "Rev." prefixed to their names; consequently those sent by the War Department had obtained the sobriquet of "contract preachers." These men, whether clergymen or not, too often took advantage of the opportunity, either to deliver a political address or to speak against all that Southerners held most dear. Influence for good was lost in consequence, and the prisoners often turned away disgusted, who would have listened attentively had the discourse been indeed Christian, as it should have been.
Sunday morning dawned bright and beautiful; the men were collected in the yard and the women at the windows overlooking all, where they could both see and hear. At twelve, H. appeared, conducting the preacher. He was short and stout, with a large white neckcloth, which seemed inclined to choke him--suggesting at once to the beholder, that it was an article of dress not often worn by this gentleman, but adopted for the occasion. His hair was parted
with scrupulous exactness, and fell rather long on the shoulders; it was of that nondescript color--a cross between molasses candy and mud. His eyes were large and glassy, the color not distinguishable at the window, but often turned up so as to exhibit the whites to an alarming degree. His mouth and nose were large, his face smoothly shaven, and his hands were fat and ungainly-looking; occasionally he would wipe both face and hands on a yellow silk handkerchief.
A chair and table had been arranged for him in the yard, but being a short man, he preferred the top of the wood-pile, which was a few feet higher, and up which he climbed with surprising agility, considering he was supposed to be unused to such feats. On the table below him, he had placed quite a large package, containing, as we afterwards saw, tracts and hymns for distribution. I shall omit the prayer with which he began the service, only noticing that it savored strongly of fanaticism, and was not "devoutly
listened to," as the newspapers in describing such scenes generally state. Then a hymn was sung, to the tune of "Old Hundred," the preacher reading two lines at a time. Several of the prisoners had fine voices, and sung well. That being ended, the "Rev." gentleman now prepared himself for the sermon, by passing the yellow handkerchief several times across his face. Then clearing his throat, in a nasal twang he began the following, which is as near the original as I can remember:
"My friends, I am permitted by a kind and indulgent Government to address you this morning. I need hardly say that I gladly avail myself of the golden opportunity, hoping that a word of mine may find a lodgement in the breast of some poor fellow-sinner, and bring forth abundant fruit. At this time of a nation's grief, surely there is no subject more appropriate than that which the occasion suggests, namely, reflections on the life of our illustrious and martyred President." At this juncture he had
recourse to his handkerchief, and Mrs. Johnson, taking out hers, wiped her eyes as if in great distress, though the expression of her countenance denoted anything but grief. "I may be excused, therefore," he continued, "for not taking a text, and preaching a regular discourse; but I wish for a few moments to call your attention to the parallel which exists between our illustrious departed and Moses, the chosen leader of the children of Israel. You have all, doubtless, my friends, read in the Bible the history of the Israelites; therefore I will give but a few of the leading points, leaving you to fill up the picture at your leisure. Moses was the child of parents in nothing remarkable, as far as we know; and in this Abraham Lincoln resembled him, he too being the son of respectable but plain people. Moses was adopted by the daughter of the King of Egypt, and raised to a great station. Our Abraham was also adopted by the people of this enlightened country, and elevated to a high dignity. Now you remember, the Israelites--
Moses' brethren--were also in bondage to this very king of Egypt, although at that time the yoke of slavery was comparatively light. But on the death of Pharaoh, another king arose who ground the Israelites to the earth. Moses seeing this, was continually meditating and forming plans for their relief and rescue; in short, he thought of nothing else day or night. At length the time arrived, my brethren, and Moses, the chosen leader, although at first rejected by the Israelites, as Abraham Lincoln was by the rebellious Southern people, yet in the end, succeeded in carrying them through the wilderness to the fair land of Canaan. Now, my friends, the points to which I wish to call your especial attention are the following: In the southern part of this great country of ours, were millions of men, women, and children--in fact, a nation--groaning under a worse servitude than that which afflicted the children of Israel. This slavery, tolerable as it might have been at first, increased in severity as time rolled on, and other masters
took the place of those who had passed away. Abraham Lincoln, viewing these things in his far off northern home, aspired to lead this enslaved nation to freedom and greatness. One had already attempted the task, and fallen a victim to Southern intolerance. I allude to the martyr, 'John Brown.'"
At this mention, Mrs. Johnson sobbed violently at the window.
"John Brown endeavored to ameliorate the slaves' condition, and failed; but not so, my brethren, Abraham Lincoln; he saw, indeed, that there was but one way to accomplish the holy purpose, and that was by overthrowing the slave oligarchy. And did he hesitate, because in so doing a great, powerful, and proud people would be humiliated to the dust? Indeed, no. Did Moses hesitate to inflict punishment on the hardened Egyptians when they refused to hearken unto him? I trow not, my brethren. As the Israelites marched from the land of Egypt, laden with the spoils of their masters, so
did the African race emerge from the darkness and degradation of Southern slavery. But Moses, my brethren, was not permitted to enter the land of Canaan, toward which he was leading the chosen people; he did but view it from afar. So with Abraham Lincoln; he also beheld but the glimmering glory of the promised land. Moses, we are told, died the ordinary death of mortals; but Abraham Lincoln, alas! fell by an assassin's hand."
Here he wiped his face with the yellow handkerchief, and Mrs. Johnson was apparently almost overcome with grief.
"And let us ask, whose was the arm raised to strike down the glorious patriot and statesman? We answer, the arm and hand of a Southerner dealt the murderous blow. And lo! the nation, but a short time since so jubilant, is plunged into depths of woe. A family also is rendered fatherless! a wife, a widow! I would now, in conclusion, say to every Southern man and woman" [looking up at the windows] "before me, that on
the head of each, mark me, each one of you, rests the blood of the martyr Abraham. Your very presence in this prison proclaims your guilt. Wherefore are you here? Because you have aided and abetted the rebellion, and every rebel, therefore, of either sex, is a murderer. I call upon you all, therefore, to repent; yea, in sackcloth and ashes; then, only, may you hope to meet him, the good and great man, who has gone to his just reward. Let us pray."
Then followed a prayer for the hardened rebels, during which, most of those obdurate sinners walked off. After the prayer, he said,
"I have a little piece of poetry, a favorite hymn, which I desire to have sung. Any one wishing to retain the poetry, can do so. All those who can join in the singing, will please come forward and receive a copy of the verses. I have selected this piece as being most suited to the occasion, and expressing, in beautiful simplicity, the mourning at the White House, symbolic of a nation's grief. We will sing it to the
tune of 'Old Antwerp,'--familiar, I suppose, to most of you."
Many of the men now approached the table, and received a copy of the verses, some being also sent to the prisoners at the windows. Contrary to the preacher's expectation, "Old Antwerp" did not appear to be a familiar tune, but that did not prevent the prisoners from singing, which they did with zest, dwelling particularly long on the last word of each verse. The music, if not soul inspiring, was at least noisy, and in this bore a striking resemblance to the fashionable style of the present day. Mrs. Johnson attempted to sing, but the touching lines affected her too much. After vainly attempting the first verse, she desisted, sobbing violently whenever the refrain, "Poor little Tad," was sung. I give the words of the selected piece :
"Behold, with grief he hangs his head;
'Tis vain to count the tears he's shed
As bending o'er his father's bed,
Poor little Tad!
"Hark! what words he utters low!
'Father, O father! I miss you so,
But now your child no more you'll know.'
Poor little Tad!
"'A nation's mourning too with me,
And white and black all crowd to see
Thy dear remains. Alas, for me.'
Poor little Tad!
" 'Oh, when those rebels come to die,
May they have no such mourners nigh,
And may they in the ditches lie.'
Poor little Tad.
" 'Oh, may we meet again in heaven,
For which you have so bravely striven,
And wear the crowns which there are given.'
Poor little Tad."
Mr. H.'s commentary--Mrs. Johnson's request--Her interview with the preacher--She takes the oath--Father W.
THE singing concluded the services, and the preacher, having distributed his bundle of tracts, was about to depart, when H. arose and said,
"My friends, before the reverend preacher leaves us, I wish to add a few words, supplementary to his well-timed remarks. In drawing the parallel between Moses and the illustrious Abraham Lincoln, he failed to notice some points, one of which was, that Moses refused to be called the son of Pharaoh's daughter. Also, that Moses proved to the Israelites by many miracles, that he was sent to lead them, therefore there could be no mistake in the matter. With regard to 'John Brown,' if I am not very much mistaken, the Governor of Pennsylvania offered his
services to assist in capturing and hanging that man of 'blessed memory.' "
At this point the prisoners clapped their hands, and cried, "Good! Go on!" H. resumed:
"The Israelites, the reverend preacher told us, left Egypt laden with spoils, and in this, the parallel is perfect, as a visit to the North will convince any one. The Israelites entered their land, but the Africans know theirs only as the promised,--and that it is likely to be, for some time to come, in spite of citizenship, etc.; for you cannot make a people a great nation unless they are fit for it. Now, my friends, let me say, in conclusion, I hope you all will repent, as directed by the reverend preacher; to assist which repentance, I advise you to read attentively the tracts he has so kindly given, especially this one," (taking it from the table,) "entitled, 'Korah, Dathan, and Abiram; or, The Sin of Rebellion;' this little book is illustrated throughout with large Roman capitals, thereby testifying to the magnitude of the sin set
forth. Here is another tract also, 'The true story of James Conner, the repentant Rebel;' and for those of a poetical turn, here is a nice little book, 'Union Songster.' The taste of each has been regarded in the selection; and, sir," turning to the preacher, "allow me to thank you in the name of these poor misguided prisoners, for your appropriate discourse, and I doubt not, sir, but that tomorrow I shall have as much as I can attend to, administering the oath of allegiance to these poor sinners."
H. had finished, and was about to conduct the preacher out, when one of the guards stopped up and said,
"Mr. H., Mrs. Johnson says, can she come down and speak to the preacher?"
"Certainly," said H.
In a few moments, Mrs. Johnson appeared, handkerchief to her eyes, and approaching the preacher, said in a tremulous voice,
"Mr. Preacher, allow me to take your hand,"--he held it out--"and thank you for your sermon.
Sir, before your visit here this morning, I was a most incorrigible rebel, as Mr. H. can testify." H. nodded and said "That's so." "But while listening to your discourse, my hardness of heart disappeared by degrees, and when you called us murderers, oh!"--raising the handkerchief to her eyes--"I could with difficulty control myself; and then, too, those beautiful touching little verses went to my very heart; and my intention is to have them framed, and hung in my room where I can always behold them. Mr. Preacher, I am now a loyal woman, and how thankful am I, that I have been so long confined in this gloomy prison, since it has been the means of my hearing your sermon, by which my eyes have been opened, and I now see how great and heinous my offence has been. And now, Mr. H.," turning to him, "I desire you to administer to me the oath of allegiance."
"That I cannot do to-day, Mrs. Johnson," replied H., "you know it is Sunday, and therefore unlawful."
"But, Mr. H.," persisted Mrs. Johnson, "I might die to-night, and if so I desire to depart a loyal citizen of the United States."
"I am very sorry, madam, but it cannot be done to-day," replied H.
"Very well, then, I'll swear myself," and raising her right hand, she did swear herself, but the oath of allegiance was not probably the one H. would have administered the following day, being nothing more nor less than a parody of the original.
While this scene was enacting, the poor bewildered preacher was gazing in perplexity, first at H. and then at Mrs. Johnson, both of whom were perfectly grave. The men had collected in a semicircle around the group, and were enjoying the fun intensely. After Mrs. Johnson had taken her oath, she again shook hands with the preacher, and ascended the stairs. H. now conducted him out of the prison, and we saw him no more. It is not at all likely that he applied for permission to preach there again, nor did we
ever have another "contract preacher." Perhaps he related his experience to the brethren of the same cloth, and they also were deterred from entering such an awful place. Mrs. Johnson, on arriving up-stairs, proceeded to burlesque the whole affair, which she did to perfection, being a capital mimic; and so ended our Sunday's entertainment.
No clergyman ever approached the prison until some time after, when the Reverend Father W. was admitted. Poor Mrs. Surratt had been so anxious to see a priest, but her request was always denied; now that she was taken away the restriction was removed, and this gentleman, a kind, truly Catholic clergyman, permitted, this once only, an interview with the prisoners. I hope he is aware of the consolation his visit afforded to the forlorn inmates of that gloomy building. Let me say, that each and all remember him with gratitude, and appreciate the Christian courage he manifested, in daring to request admission to those, whom to befriend was to render
one's self suspected. With the exception of this gentleman, there was but one other in that great city who solicited the favor of visiting the prison. Surely they had forgotten a certain text in the gospel, or else had not read it aright. For the time being we were outcasts, and felt it; even after we were released we were the objects of suspicion and distrust.
An attempted escape--The discovery--"Old" Nelson--Novel use of Quartermaster's stores--The broken door.
ONE morning Mrs. Johnson entered my cousin's room, and asked her if she had a spare chair which she could lend her. My cousin had but one article of the kind, and that she required. I, seeing there was some mischief intended, said:
"What are you going to do with it?"
"I am trying to effect the escape of Mr. -----," naming a young Confederate who visited her.
"Oh," said I, "please do not attempt it; you will certainly be discovered, and severely punished."
"Indeed, not I," she answered; "this is what I intend to do. I have ascertained that the attic
room in H.'s house, adjoining the one in this, is unoccupied, and my plan is to break a hole through the lath and plaster partition, so that Mr. ----- can creep through into H.'s house. After he is there, he can either get on the roof and attempt to escape by the lightning-rod, or else he can go out through the front door, which I deem the better plan. I shall make the hole while H. is absent, so there will be less chance of failure. See here," said she, diving into her pocket, "I already have the hammer."
"How did you obtain it?" I asked.
"Oh, I told old Nelson that I wanted to nail down a loose plank in my floor, and he brought me this."
"What are you going to do with a chair?"
"I cannot reach the exact place where I wish to hammer, so I will have to put a chair on a table. I have taken the table up, but was afraid the chair might be missed."
"Now," said I, "if you will take my advice, you will not attempt it; you will certainly be discovered,
and both yourself and the young man made to suffer."
"There is no one sharp enough to suspect anything but H., and he is away," she answered.
"But likely to return," said I, "at any moment."
"Will you keep watch, while I go up and hammer?" she asked.
"No, I cannot do that, but should I happen to hear any one coming, I will call you."
"That is all I ask," she returned, and wended her way up the steps, into the room overhead, where in a few moments we heard her hammering, and the plaster falling on the floor with a dull sound. She had not been at work more than twenty minutes, when I heard H.'s voice in the passage below; fortunately she heard it also, and immediately descended the stairs, hammer in hand. She entered her room, took up her sewing, and worked most vigorously. H. went the rounds as usual, but on coming to Mrs. Johnson's
room he took his seat, and entered into conversation. Presently his eye lighted on the hammer.
"How came this here?" asked he, stooping to pick it up.
"I sent for it to nail a loose plank," replied Mrs. Johnson.
H. made no answer, but examined the hammer attentively, and finding a little piece of plastering sticking on the end, he just looked at Mrs. Johnson, as if to say, "I've found you out," and put the hammer into his coat pocket. He then arose and peered about her room, but seeing nothing suspicious there, he ascended to the story above, and there did see. He brought down the table and chair, and returning to Mrs. Johnson's room, stood before her for a moment in silence; then exclaimed,
"Well, you are the d---l."
"Thank you for the compliment," she replied, by no means disconcerted, and continuing her sewing, which she had not relinquished.
He then left the prison, and Mrs. Johnson came back to us, and said,
"I am so afraid he will find out who it was I was trying to assist, and Mr. ---- has most valuable papers in his boots, which he is so anxious to take South."
I may here remark, that I have yet to see the Confederate prisoner, either officer or private, who did not have papers of most vital importance concealed somewhere, which were always discovered and taken from him. I may therefore be allowed to doubt the fact of Mr. ---- having any documents at all--he had been a prisoner for nearly a year, and had no way of communicating with any one outside.
By some means, known only to detectives, H. did discover the whole plot, and poor Mr. ----- who had proudly hoped to have gone on his way rejoicing that night, found himself, instead, lodged in a remote station-house, where he was detained for some days, and fed on bread and water. After he had been sufficiently punished, H. visited
him, and handed him a pardon, dated the very day of his attempted escape, and which H. intended giving him at the time he had discovered the plot. No punishment was inflicted on Mrs. Johnson.
There was a portion of the plastering beside her fireplace which had been accidentally knocked away. H. sent one of the men about the prison to repair it. His name was Nelson, and to distinguish him from the other Nelson Mrs. Johnson always called him "old."
"What did you do before you came to this prison?" asked Mrs. Johnson of him one day.
"I was a butcher," he replied.
"So I judged from your manner of plastering," she answered. "Why didn't you stick to your trade?"
"I had rather come here," he replied.
"Well, you will have to go back to it soon, for this prison is going to be broken up. The Government is afraid we ladies will suffer in health this summer, and is therefore going to send us to
Massachusetts, where the climate is cooler, paying all expenses."
"That may be," said Mrs. James; "but honey, you may 'pend upon it, there's mighty little hard labor the Massachusetts penitentiary will get out of me."
"Now, see here, old Nelson," said Mrs. Johnson, "you have not plastered this close; if it is not done better, I'll escape as sure as you are born, and then you will certainly be hung," and she made the man return and go all over the place again, which he did very reluctantly.
The following day Mrs. Johnson said to me,
"I tell you what it is, I cannot bear to see that poor little baby suffering so for clothes, and I intend to make her some."
"Where are you going to get the material?" I asked.
"Wait and you will soon see." She left me, and going up-stairs, in a short time returned with her arms full of white cotton, pieces of ticking, flannel, and calico.
"Where did you get them?" I asked.
"Out of the Quartermaster's stores," she replied.
"But you are not going to cut them up?" I inquired.
"Indeed I am, then;" and sure enough she did, and being very expert with her needle, soon manufactured quite a number of articles, which she carried to Mrs. Jones, for the baby. The poor mother's eyes sparkled when she saw the clothing, and she exclaimed,
"Oh, Mrs. Johnson, where did you get these things from?"
"I found them among some articles I had packed away," answered Mrs. Johnson, nodding at us not to betray her. In a short time the child was nicely dressed at Government expense. Nor did Mrs. Johnson's kindness stop here, but having discovered a pile of new blankets in the store, she proceeded to change all the old ones on the beds, replacing them with new. Every day or two she would make a visit to the Quartermaster's
store, and return with some article which she did not hesitate to appropriate to her own use, or that of any one who needed it, cutting the material to suit. If H. knew of these transactions he kept silent, and that he did know, at least in part, I could hardly doubt. Perhaps he thought it was better that, than planning escapes.
The knob on Mrs. Johnson's door had by some means become out of order, so that it was impossible to keep the door shut. She had several times requested that the lock might be mended, but no notice was taken of the matter. One day, being out of patience, she said, "I will make them fix this door yet," and entering her room I heard her shut the door and turn the key. In a few moments H. made his appearance in the passage and tried to open the door. He knocked, but there was no answer--Mrs. Johnson singing Dixie, as if unconscious of H.'s summons.
"Open the door," cried H. No reply from within, save Dixie, which waxed louder and
louder as H.'s knocks, and at length kicks, increased in violence.
"D--- it, why don't you open the door?" and accompanying the interrogation with a kick, the door flew open. Mrs. Johnson merely glanced over her shoulder at the intruder, and continued her work, still singing Dixie. H. strode into the room, and standing before Mrs. Johnson, asked, "Why did you not open the door?"
"Because I was busy."
"What made you lock it?"
"Because it would not stay shut; I have asked several times to have the lock fixed, but could not get it done. As I was tired of having the cold wind blowing on me, I locked the door. But was that you knocking?"
"Yes; you know it was."
"Well, I thought I heard some one."
After that the door was mended, much to Mrs. Johnson's satisfaction.
Mrs. Johnson a "loyal citizen" at last--Prison espionage--My illness and summons--My fears--Last interview with the Judge Advocate--My release--The kind-hearted detective--My wanderings--Safe.
AND now the female prisoners, on taking the oath of allegiance, were allowed to depart, with the exception of Mrs. Johnson, my cousins, and myself. Mary L. and Anna Surratt were also detained as witnesses on the trial, for which great preparations were being made. Mary, since Mrs. Surratt's removal, was allowed to remain up-stairs with Anna. when the trial began, those two also were released. Mrs. Johnson had been retained longer than the others, in consequence of objecting to take the oath of allegiance, she crying and declaring it was impossible for her to swear allegiance to the Federal Government.
But the time had come when it was either the oath or imprisonment for life, and she wisely decided in favor of the former.
As H. appeared with the Bible, all her aversion to the act returned in full vigor. An Irishman, an old soldier, was standing beside H. when he was talking to Mrs. Johnson about the oath. The soldier's countenance expressed great pity, and at length he stepped up to Mrs. Johnson, and laying his hand on her shoulder, said:
"Now, honey, I know it goes hard wid ye's; but it will soon be over, so dry your eyes and take it, there's a good soul, like a darlint."
Of course the matter ended by Mrs. Johnson's becoming a loyal citizen, but not like a "darlint."
As showing how strict was the espionage exercised, I will mention an incident that occurred. A Southern gentleman, a friend of Mr. Windsor's, but who was a stranger in Washington, asked, on his release, permission of H. to obtain from Mr. Windsor a letter of introduction to a gentleman in Washington. H. readily
granted the favor, and Mr. Windsor wrote the desired letter and gave it to his friend. One of the servants was passing the door at the time and saw the whole affair. Some time after, Mrs. Windsor incurred the woman's displeasure, and in her anger she said: "You think I did not see Mr. Windsor give that letter, but I did, and told all about it to Mr. H., and I have told many things besides, for I have watched you all the time you have been here."
These servants were constantly passing and repassing on some pretext, and I doubt not that every occurrence was duly reported to the authorities, and in that manner H. discovered many little plans just in time to thwart them.
I had been feeling dull and badly for several days, and had fever at night, which gradually wore off toward morning, leaving me weak and languid. Nelson I suppose must have noticed at morning inspection how sick I was, for I remember he looked at me more earnestly than usual. I went to my cousin's room, but the exertion of
ascending the steep steps fatigued me so much that I had to lie on her bed. She saw directly that I was sick, and Mrs. Johnson made me a nice cup of tea, after drinking which I felt better. By night, my fever had increased so much that my cousin was afraid for me to return to my room, as I was now delirious. H. was away, but she sent for Nelson, and after informing him of my condition, asked if Mr. Windsor might be removed to an adjoining room and I allowed to remain with her for the night. Seeing that I was really ill, he consented. Mrs. Johnson brought down some blankets from the Quartermaster's store, and with them they endeavored to close the space intended for a window. It was impossible to exclude all the air, and my bed being just beneath, I had the wind and rain on me all night, which brought on a cold so violent that I could not speak.
The next day, sick as I was, I had to sit in Mrs. Johnson's room while the one we occupied was being whitewashed, and then I returned to it;
the walls were of course wet. My cousin had a fire made in the little stove, but the room was not dry even at night, and a pouring rain added much to our discomfort.
I have very little recollection of the remainder of the day, as I was delirious. After several days had elapsed, H. came to the door and said,
"Now, miss, if you can manage to get up and come with me, you will be released."
Remembering poor Mrs. Surratt, I answered,
"Oh, no, indeed I cannot go with you, Mr. H.; indeed I cannot."
"But I tell you I am going to take you to your friends; they are at the door now in a carriage."
"I will not go anywhere in a carriage--I'm afraid."
"You are not afraid of me?"
"Yes, I am; you are a detective, and I am afraid of every one of them."
My cousin whispered, "For Heaven's sake, don't seem to mistrust the man."
Then I asked, crying the while, "Where are you going to take me? where you took Mrs. Surratt?"
"Nonsense," he answered; "I am going to take you to your friends, who are waiting below."
"Well, Mr. H., if you will send away that carriage, and promise not to leave me until I see my friends, I will go with you."
"Very well, then, I will attend to the carriage; and now you hurry," saying which he left me. With my cousin's assistance, I was soon equipped, but not until H. had several times made his appearance at the door, urging haste. I took leave of my cousin in great agitation, and followed H. tremblingly down the stairs, through the passage into the yard, and then into the room where I had been recorded in the huge book. Here I was detained for a few moments, while some formality was gone through--the registering of my release, I suppose.
Opposite to where I stood was a closet, with the door standing open. I looked in, and there,
piled upon the shelves, were cakes of all kinds and sizes, some of them fresh-looking, and others stale, with the iceing covered with mould, which suggested a green old age. I could not refrain from sighing as I thought of the poor prisoners, for whom they had been intended, and the disappointment it would have been to loving friends could they have known how unavailing had been their kindness. I thought of poor Mary's basket, consigned as it probably was to that mouse-hole. There were also various sized bottles, and among them, one I had brought to my cousin, containing some very choice wine, which article happened to be on the "prohibited" list, yet if you asked the authorities what you were allowed to bring the prisoners, the answer always was, "Oh, anything you choose."
After remaining there a short time, H. turned to me and said, "We will have to go before the Judge Advocate, who is in the next room; he will not keep you; he is only going to ask you a few questions."
"Please do not leave me there, Mr. H.," I pleaded.
"No, I will not," he said.
We then entered the room, at the far end of which was the Judge Advocate, at a high desk, writing. In a moment he turned and said,
"Now about that letter?"
"I cannot stand up; you must let me have a seat; I am sick and weak."
"Oh, you need not sit down; I am not going to keep you," he said; nevertheless H. handed me a chair, which I gladly accepted.
The Judge Advocate then searched among the papers before him, and taking out a letter, began to unfold it.
"You didn't write this letter, did you?" he asked, with that same satanic leer which I so well remembered.
"Is it the letter you asked me about before?" said I, without taking, or even glancing at it.
"Yes," he answered.
I looked him full in the face for at least half a minute, and then said,
"You know I did not write it."
"Well, well," he returned, "you can go."
I required no second dismissal, but followed my guide into the room where I had first seen my cousin. It was filled with men now, as it was then.
"Your friends are in here," said H.
I looked anxiously around,--not a familiar face did I behold, but a man dressed in a suit of black clothes, with beaver hat, yellow kid gloves, and a little yellow cane, came toward me and said, "Come with me, miss, I will take you to your friends."
I followed the stranger mechanically, being conscious that every one in the room was staring at me in a way that made me feel very uncomfortable, and from which scrutiny I was glad to escape. On reaching the outer door the stranger remarked, "I had a carriage here for you, but H. told me you objected to riding."
"Oh, yes," I answered, "I had much rather walk."
I had a vague idea that I could escape more certainly if I were not shut up in a carriage, for the presence of the stranger did not tend in any degree to quiet my apprehensions.
"Where are you going to take me?" I asked.
"To your friends," he replied.
"Where are they?"
"Waiting for you at Mr. C.'s store, on the Avenue."
"Do you remember their names?"
"Yes, two gentlemen," naming them, "and a lady, whose name I have forgotten."
Now, not one of these names was familiar to me, and as my fears increased, I trembled so violently that I could hardly walk. The man seeing that I was very weak, said,
"Had you not better take the cars?"
"No," I answered; "I had rather walk."
"Then you must take my arm."
I did so, with an ungloved hand. I had been
so hurried that I had no time to put on my gloves, and my hands were as cold as ice, though it was a warm day.
"Let us stop here, and rest a few moments," said the man, "and you can put on your gloves, your hands are so cold."
I did so, and we continued our walk down the Avenue, every one looking at me, as I had on all my winter wrappings.
"Who are you?" I asked at length.
"My name is Thomas Watkins; I am a detective, and was employed by your friends to ascertain where you were, and if possible to procure your release."
"How came you to go to the Old Capitol?"
"I thought you might be imprisoned there, and as H. is an old friend of mine, and a kindhearted man, I was sure he would tell me, though it is forbidden to publish the arrests."
By this time I had become very much confused, whether it was the fresh air, or the crowd
on the street, or the fever, or all combined, I know not, but I could not remember where I was, or where I wished to go.
"How much farther have we to go?" I asked, when we had walked half the distance to the Treasury.
"Only a few more squares," he replied.
So we walked on in silence until we reached a store, which he entered and said,
"Now here are your friends."
But there was no one there, save the proprietor, to whom Watkins said:
"Mr. C., this is the lady for whom I was looking. I found her in the Old Capitol, as I thought I should."
Mr. C. held out his hand and said, "I congratulate you on your release; your friends have been waiting here several hours, but despairing of seeing you to-day, returned home."
"The reason I staid so long," said Watkins, "was that H. was out, and I had to hunt him up. No one can do anything there without H., and
he's hard to find. Now, miss," said he, turning to me, "I will take you anywhere you wish to go."
My only idea was to get as far as possible from the Old Capitol, and the only street I could then remember was Seventeenth Street. "Take me, if you please," said I, "to Seventeenth Street."
"Why, my dear madam," exclaimed the man, "it is a mile and a half from here; think of some other place." I did endeavor to do so, but the only other street which suggested itself was Louisiana Avenue.
"I wish to go to Louisiana Avenue," I said.
"We are on that now," answered the man. "Now to which house shall I take you?"
Alas! my powers of memory failed me utterly, and I could not recall either the situation of the house I desired to find, or the name of the friends with whom I had been staying. Twice we walked the length of the street, without my being able to remember.
Then the man said, "Do you live in Washington?"
"No," I answered, "in Baltimore."
"Are you going back there?" he asked.
"Yes," I said, "this afternoon."
"Then I tell you what to do. I live very near the depot--go home with me, and my wife will make you a nice cup of coffee, and I will put you on the cars at the right time."
"No," I said; "I must find my friend's house."
I was still afraid, and since he had told me he was a detective, I could not rid myself of the latent suspicion that he intended to entrap me in some way. I had a mistrust of the whole genus to which Mr. Watkins belonged. The poor man was evidently as much bewildered and perplexed as I myself was, and in order, I suppose, to gain some clew as to who my friends were, he asked me the following questions:
"Is the gentleman whose house you are trying to find, a relation of yours?"
"No," I said.
"Are you sure it is some one who lives in this city?"
"Yes; I am certain."
"Does Mr. Windsor know him?"
"Is he related to Mr. Windsor?"
"Oh yes, I remember now; he is Mr. Windsor's brother-in-law."
"Well, now," he said, speaking more to himself than to me, "I wonder if it can be lawyer Smith?"
"The very man," I exclaimed joyfully.
"Why, I know him well," said Watkins; "he attends to all my law business for me; but bless your heart, he does not live in Louisiana Avenue or near it; his house is in Seventh Street, not very far from the Post Office."
"That is the place," I replied, " I remember it now perfectly."
We walked to Seventh Street as soon as possible, the idea of meeting with friends imparting
strength to my wearied limbs. As I saw before me Mr. Smith's house, my confidence in Watkins revived, and if ever I was grateful to a human being, I was to him. I asked again his name, which I had forgotten, and also his residence, which be gave me written on a card. On taking leave, he said,
"Remember, if you should get in trouble again of this kind, send for me and I will try to help you."
I thanked him very sincerely, and he left me at my friend's door.
Return to Baltimore--Subsequent illness--The "Old Capitol."
I was now alone, and with a sigh of relief, seated myself on the door-steps--too wearied even to pull the bell-handle. I suppose I remained there fifteen minutes at least, my head supported on my hand, gazing in a listless way at the throng continually passing. After I had thus rested, I ascended the steps, rung the door-bell, and entered the house. My friends were delighted to see me, but very much shocked at my appearance, for the imprisonment had told heavily upon me, and I looked more like a phantom than my former self.
I did not complain of feeling badly, for fear my friends would prevent my returning to Baltimore, which I had determined to do, if possible, that afternoon. I rested for an hour, and then
taking the street-cars, went to the depot. Here, as usual, was great commotion, which sadly confused my aching head. I gave my pocket-book to a man I had never seen before, and asked him to purchase me a ticket for Baltimore. Fortunately the stranger happened to be honest, for he not only bought the ticket, but returned the correct change, as I discovered some time afterwards. I was now possessed of but one idea, which was, to reach home. I took my place in the cars utterly exhausted, and in a short time arrived in Baltimore.
I can neither explain nor describe the feeling that overcame me, as I stood in the dusk of evening, after weary weeks of imprisonment, on the threshold of home. I had no power for some time to open the door. Voices in the vestibule at length aroused me, and in a few moments I was seated in the midst of family and friends, relating my experience.
The day following I was ill, and continued so for several weeks. The physicians attributed
my sickness entirely to the imprisonment I had undergone, and its consequent privations. I was suffering from a low remittent, well known in the Old Capitol as the "prison fever," and which generally terminated in typhoid, but in my case was fortunately checked before assuming that form, leaving me as feeble as a child.
My cousins were the last remaining prisoners in the Old Capitol. For a few weeks the range of buildings used as a prison was open for exhibition, at the moderate charge of twenty-five cents entrance fee. Whether this was authorized by Government, as a means of increasing the internal revenue, I have never had it in my power to ascertain.
The buildings were besieged daily by crowds, struggling and jostling each other, in their mad efforts to obtain a view of the rooms where so many pined, suffered, and not a few died--some a violent death, others a gradual, but not less certain one, from the effects of imprisonment. This exhibition of the prison is at last over, and the
buildings have passed into other hands, to be used for other purposes.
There is to me such a fascination about the place, that I am irresistibly attracted thither, each time I visit Washington; but it is hard to believe the past a reality, as I gaze on the changed picture. The windows are no longer casementless and barred with iron; glass sparkles in the bright sunlight, and where hung old faded brown blankets, in a vain endeavor to exclude the penetrating cold and rain, I now behold gay and warm curtains. No soldiers guard the entrance, but all are free to leave or stay, as they may be disposed. The whitewashed fence is gone, and its place supplied by a handsome iron enclosure, through which one can see the green trees, and the fields beyond. All about the establishment is neat, bright, and cheerful, and the Old Capitol Prison has forever passed away.
No--I retract--not passed away! It lives in history to disgrace a nation, boasting of its
civilization and enlightenment. It lives in household memories, whose home circle it has broken forever. It lives in the daily consciousness of individuals whose shattered health witnesses against it.
No: the Old Capitol is not a myth, but a reality, and will be for generations. The tinkling of that bell which consigned so many victims, not only to prison, but to death, still vibrates in the ears of survivors, recalling the "Bastiles" of the North American States, which rivalled in cruelty and injustice those of any other nation.
It cannot be that the American people will forever tolerate tyranny and oppression; but the nation, casting aside the trammels of party politics, will yet arise in its might, and stand before the world the champion of right and liberty.