Remember Virgil? It’s taken a while to decipher the following letter, written to Dan Carpenter (Pauline’s husband.) Though Virgil is very wordy and repeats himself a lot, as I labored through (with the help of a full page magnifier,) I realized what a cry from the heart this letter is – written to a man he’s never met -- and Virgil came alive for me.
And at times I was reminded of our nation's present divisions. . .
I’ve put question marks after words I guessed at and have left blanks where I couldn’t even guess. Virgil writes on and on without starting a new paragraph but I think this is to save space (prisoners were limited in how many pages they could write) and I have kept his spacing, along with his spelling and punctuation.
Johnson’s Island, Ohio
Oct. 21, 1863
Dan Carpenter Esqr.
Your favor of 13th came safe to hand on 21 inst (go HERE for explanation of this term) containing $5.00 the receipt whereof is hereof acknowledged and at the same time, you will allow me the pleasure of returning herewith the sincere thanks of a grateful heart, I am humbled (?) to think that I have a friend in the United States that (if they do not sympathize with me politically) sympathize with my sufferings as a prisoner of war. Philanthropy is philanthropy under any and all circumstances, and it matters not whether I differ in politics with others, it is not magnanimity in them to treat me with contempt (or cruelty.) It is a pleasure to me to know that I have acted, during this war, in such a manner, that I was not ashamed to meet my enemy on any occasion. Federal prisoners have frequently fallen into my hands since the war commenced, and I was willing for them to say what kind of treatment they have received at my hands. I do not blush to meet and recognize them out in the country, it is a relief to connect with them, while they, on their part, were bound to do me the justice to say that I have always treated them with all the kindness in my power. Any instances I could enumerate, but all this would (?) be uninteresting to you.
One instance I cannot forbear mentioning. Last Spring it happened that a Union soldier fell into my hands, he was an artilerist from the state of Ohio, he was lamenting his misfortunes and was terrified/horrified(?) at the idea of being confined in the South as a prisoner, saying, at the same time, that he was bound to suffer a great deal in consequence of being destitute of money, in the means of procuring luxuries of any description. I saw, at once, his helpless condition and knowing that a man, _______ without money _______ to ___ from governmental accommodations would be bound to suffer. Accordingly, I gave him Fifty Dollars. It so happened that he was not long detained in the South. After I was captured and brought to Camp Chase in Ohio, I met and Recognized the same man. He asked me if I wanted anything. I remarked that I was in the same situation as he was, the last time I saw him. He said that he would assist me and went for his money, which was some distance off, but before he returned I was hurried off for this place, so I have not heard from my friend since, I have the misfortune to have very few friends living within the federal lines, you may, therefore, imagine the assistance I receive is quite small. I have been here ever since the last of July, during which time, I have not had “a red” (he probably means a red cent) – the remittance you sent me being the first. The government furnishes us with a subsistence diet – and nothing else. This, though substantial and necessary to sustain life, is rough, and, in the course of time, grows very monotonous, and a person who had been use to having all that a healthy appetite could crave, feels the affect. Those who can afford it,- lives as well as heart could ask, wanting for nothing in the eating line as wearing apearel; but those who cannot furnish “The Spondulix” to purchase these fastidious comforts –realize all the ill consequence of a prison here, though however comfortable will finally grow irksome. There are those here who, judging from their outward appearances, and the circumstances surrounding them, scarcely realize the fact that they are prisoners; they seem to enjoy themselves as though they were in the midst of fashionable society – and surrounded with their friends enhaling the air of freedom. I must say that there are men here as prisoners, who do realy enjoy themselves better that they did when at home and at liberty; but for my unworthy self, I see but poor enjoyment nor do I anticipate a change until I am released from imprisonment; be that event long or be it short.
Those who have not tried a life of imprisonment know but little of the feelings of a prisoner. Did you ever imagine yourself as a prisoner? deprived of your liberty? cut off from social relations with those so dear to your heart? surrounded by an enemy on all sides? No prospect of being liberated soon, and last, but not least of all, no person or friend to whom you can look for sympathy of assistance? If so, your feelings, I dare say, was not pleasant; but the imagination can in no respect be equal to experiencing the reality. Accustomed, as I have always been, to want for nothing that money could procure, never having a whim that was not satisfied, my liberty not being restrained from my earliest recollection, you will readily imagine how I am cramped in the present occasion.
I regret very much that I have never had the pleasure of meeting with you, consequently I feel a delicacy in having written such a letter, but it is my nature and must therefore plead my excuse. I had, however, the pleasure of meeting your most excelent lady, in company with her noble mother several years ago in North Carolina. She has probably forgotten me long ago. I was only a school boy then. I think I would recognize Mrs. Carpenter were I to meet her in a strange land. I am sure I will never forget the important circumstances that was transpiring at the time. I was in trouble then but not such as being a prisoner of war. I was in a difficulty with my sweetheart – (now my wife) perhaps Mrs. Carpenter is acquainted with the circumstances.
There is no knowing when I will get to leave this place – not soon I guess –at least it looks dark now – and from all appearances it will get darker. Our authorities can’t agree on an exchange of prisoners and of course we are “going up the spout” till they do agree. I hope they will agree soon, for sure and certain, I am getting tired of this prison life. I do hope you may never be a prisoner.
I received a letter from Aunt Eliza at the same time I received yours –answered hers yesterday. Tell her, if you please, that I have seen the two Gash boys – they have both been sick. Thomas is about well – the other, St. Gash, I think has pneumonac fever; he is in the same mess with me—I will see as far as I am able that he is well cared for – I hope we will have peace soon but I look upon it as a hope without foundation for I see no prospects for a settlement of our national difficulties. I wish I could see a prospect and that peace could be made and our once happy nation, once more and rest, and basking in the sunshine of peace and quiet-- our trouble is indeed great – our nationality is gone. We have no security for our persons or our property but all, all is rout and confusion. Though rich today, we may be poor tomorrow, though free at noon, night may find us prisoner.
Oh! peace, peace, when will she return---
Oh! peace, peace, when will she return---
Virgil S. Lusk