The author of this book has written of his experiences of the American Civil War from the perspective of an ordinary private soldier of the North Carolina Infantry. Modern readers should allow for the fact that James Carson was very much a man of his time and place. His support for the Confederacy and the Southern way of life of the mid-nineteenth century is evident within these pages and include an ardent belief in the slave system. Nevertheless, this book is invaluable for those interested in a Confederate view of life on the sharp end of the infantryman's war including scenes of the march, camp life and the battlefield particularly at Petersburg. Available in soft cover and hard cover for collectors.
I was on a detail and made three trips via Raleigh, Charlotte, Columbia to Branchville, S. C. These prisoners had been confined on Belle’s Island, in James River, and were in a most pitiable condition—half starved, half naked. Most of them had been in prison for months and very few had a change of garments. They were ragged, lousy, filthy and infested with smallpox, and most of them had diarrhoea and scurvy and were so weak that when they would swing down out of box-cars their legs would give away when their feet struck the ground, and they would fall in a heap on the ground. I don’t think they got anything to eat except a little bread and meat, mostly cornbread. They were transferred in box-cars, forty packed into a car. We sometimes stopped at Raleigh to change cars, and always stopped at Charlotte twelve to twenty-four hours. We ran up the Seaboard to where it crossed the Statesville Railroad, then in the woods. A small branch ran under both roads east and north of crossing, with embankments on south and west, and we put them out there, where they had free access to the branch. One night several crawled up a drain ditch from branch along railroad and got out between the guard; others were caught in the act and stopped.<br>
Old man Tyree, of Company K detail, whose home was not far away, said he could get some bloodhounds that would run them down. He was sent after the dogs and they were put on their tracks after they had been gone four or five hours, and followed them about thirty miles and caught them. The next time we stopped there, at 2 a. m., they, the prisoners, seemed restless, a number being up and moving around near the guard lines. Two or three made a break through the guard lines and escaped in the darkness. Several shots were fired at them, which awoke and roused up the whole camp. They were ordered to lay down, but would not obey, even when the officers ordered us to fire into them. But instead of firing into them, as we were ordered, tried firing a few shots over them, which had the effect to make them lay down. The officers then went among them and told them if anyone got up before day he would be shot down. But still, occasionally, one would get up and a guard would fire over him. At last one of the guards shot and killed one. That might have been omitted, though we had orders to do so. All the guards deplored that rash action. An old, sick Irishman fell in the branch and died that night. I noticed after the war six or eight graves at that wayside camp. Those who escaped that night probably got through, as we never heard of them again.<br>
While on guard in the car with them some of them twitted us about being afraid of our officers. I told them our officers were kind and treated us well; that I had been in the army seven months and had never seen a man bucked and gagged; and, turning to a serious-looking Irishman, who was listening with interest, but had said nothing, I asked him if he had ever seen anything of that kind in their army.<br>
He answered, “Yes, my friend; I’ve been bucked and gagged meself many a time.”
That was a clincher for me that ended the discussion. The bad treatment of prisoners on both sides makes one of the darkest pictures of that war. We understand statistics show the mortality to be 13 per cent on the Federal side to 9 per cent on the Confederate. My own experience in a Federal prison at the close of the war, while very disagreeable, was much better than those poor fellows were getting with us. But when we take into consideration the superior resources of the United States, they were, to say the least, equally negligent and resentful to their helpless enemies.