Greensborough Patriot

December 4, 1862

Page 4


From the New York Herald

A True Sketch of Prison Life, by An Inmate of Fort Lafayette

To the Editor of the Herald: The statements that have from time to time, appeared in the “daily papers” regarding the privileges and treatment of the prisoners confined in Fort Lafayette are of such an aggravated nature as to have conveyed the idea to outsiders, and the friends of the inmates, that they were “waxing fat” on the liberality of government, and were in fact enjoying the retreat of some elysium. In justice therefore to those who are still incarcerated, you will confer a favor, by giving the following an insertion in your paper, which latter is largely contributed for by the inmates.

The history of your arrest and arrival is as follows.  As soon as you arrive at Fort Hamilton, you are delivered by the officer in charge, to Col. Burke, with the accompanying details.  He (the Colonel) then sends you with his aid and guard of soldiers by a boat to Lieut. Wood, commanding at Fort Lafayette.

On your arrival a receipt is given for you.  You are then requested to give up all weapons and moneys in your possession.  As the weapons are generally taken by the United States Marshal in the first instance, a compliance is of course out of the question, unless in a paroxysm of unabridged patriotism, you should consider your spectacles included in the category.

Your trunk, valise or carpet bag is then examined, and if all is correct, a receipt is given you for the amount obtained.  The sergeant then takes you to your quarters.  You are then surrounded by anxious eyes, scanning your person, and inquiries after your “health in general,” with “what brought you here,” are propounded before your wretched feelings have become sufficiently collected to enable you to reply.  Again someone will say, “here is a Rebel,” another will dwell on the cuisine and the larder, and if near dinner, will yell out “Dinner is ready at the United States Hotel”, etc.  The next step, you are provided with a bed, either moss or straw mattress, on iron bedstead, two sheets, one blanket and one pillow, with basin and pitcher, which last is the capital of a joint stock corporation of some five to eight.  In the morning you arise, and after going through the necessary ablutions in salt water—or fresh if you can get it, breakfast is announced.  This consists of a pint of coffee, sweetened in bulk, at times transparent, and incapable of producing deleterious effect on the nervous system; quantative analysis, the components would range nearly as follows: Water 94, saccharine matter 4, chicory 1.75, coffee 1.25.  A piece of fat pork, whose superficial contents ranged from five to seven inches, and a good honest slice of bread, by honest I mean thick—this, and nothing more, constitutes our breakfast.  Before Marshal Murray sent down “the large stove,” the pork was served to us actually, as it came out of the barrel, raw, or nearly so.  A decline in bristles prevented us from meddling with it, appertitive as it was.  After breakfast (eight, occasionally before) we were allowed one hour, for promenading on a square of earth seventy-five feet by eighty.  Then came the daily papers, the perusal of which, and comments on the last anticipated attack, occupied some two hours, after that event, the writing to friends, receiving letters (when any came), games of chess, whist, etc., discussing past events, and in endeavoring to ascertain if the potatoes had become extinct since the 20th of July, served to while away the time, until the momentous hour of dinner.  This meal, which many pride themselves on as the best, was certainly our best.  Three entrees en masse, rice, or pork, or bean soup, astoundingly thin, bread and pork, or beef.  From actual experiments with unmitigated labor, for the space of three minutes, assisted by a pair of “Pikes”


[Transcribed by Sharon Strout]