Friday, December 19, 2008

Colonel John D. Morris Of The Confederacy

I have done a lot of pages on Union men who were taken prisoner, but have done little about the men of the Confederacy, So I decided to do this page on one man who was a Colonel. I think you will find his story very interesting as I did.


SIRS: During a short conference held on yesterday, at the suggestion of Colonel Ould, between the Honorable Senator Watson, a member of your committee, and myself, the statements which I then made respecting my own treatment and that of other prisoners confined by the Federal authorities at Lexington, Ky., during the past fall and winter, was regarded by Mr. Watson of so much importance that he request me to state some of the material facts which were presented in that conversation in writin, under the impression, as I learned, that they might be of use part of a record now being made by the Confederate Government. In compliance with this suggestion I make this communication, and at the outhset I would remark that it is my impression that many of the outrages now perpetrated by the U. S. authorities upon our prisoners have been provoked and incited by fase representations made by many of their men confiend in Confederate prisons at various times, and in retaliation for what they regard as brutality on the part of the Confederacy. Statements of such a character, published at large in the journals daily circulated over the country and reaching the officials who have charge of the various places where men are confined, cannot fail to produce bad blood and must lead to unkindness, even to brutal treatment, of the poor prisoners whose lives under the most favorable auspices are very miserable; and while I regard retaliation as the only menas by which the condition o four captives can be ameliorated, yet the publication to the world at large of many facts which must come to your knowledge would more than useless, and tend to aggravate the miseries of the poor men whom you are attempting to relative.

I trust your committee will excuse the above remarks. For certain purposes which it would be irrelevant to state here, with a commission of C. S. colonel in my pocket, I went Kentucky about the middle of October last. I was accompanied by Colonel R. J. Breckinridge and Major Steele. Upon reaching the interior, after passing over a country almost ruined by he marauding parties of both armies, by extraordinary exertions and precautions, we reached he hills of Owen County, on the Kentucky River, all safe. Here we had time to look about us, and had I not seen with my own eyes the attitude occupied by those people I would never have believed that free white men could be reduced so completely and absolutely to the most degrading of all conditions. While outwardly and to the Federal authorities they professed a cordial hatred for all traitors and rebels, paid taxes, furnished money, many of them going so far as to join the Federal Army, for the purpose of saving their property from Yankee confiscation and their persons from Yankee brutalities, to me they professed their cordial sympathy with the South, contributed in many ways to the furtherance of my views, treated me with the utmost kindness and hospitality, and seemed ready and anxious to do everything which mught not endanger their lives or jeopardize their property. They were all things to all men. The whole State filled with a once proud people is now wretched and degraded, a living lie.

In the county of Owen, which is almost universally Southern in its proclivities, separating myself from Colonel Breckinridge and Major Steele, who at once commenced recruiting and were very successful in furtherance of my own plans, I put myself in communication with Colonel Jessee, a Confederate officer, who, with a small part of a regiment, had been cut off from General Morgan's command after the fight at Cynthiana during the past summer. He had remained in this and one or two adjoining counties, with his men not held together in compact form, here in the very heart of Kentucky, for many months, almost undistrurbed by the Federal troops immediately in his vicinity. From Jessee's representations and from various conversations with many of the people it seemed to me that the State was on the very ever of rebelling against the Federal authorities. This opinion was confirmed by information which I received from several of the most prominent men of the State. I was very careful in the concealment of my plans, so fearful of being captured that, avoiding houses as dangerous, I took up my quarters in the hills and woods, where I was fed and carried on my business arrangements through certain persons who were apprised of my whereabouts.

In this state of my affairs, with everything very promising before me, I was apprised one night that Colonel Jessee wished to consult me upon some matters of the utmost importance; a courier was waiting to conduct me to his headquarters. I mounted, rode down to the river, where there was a small boat awaiting me, corssed over, leaving my horse tied on the bank of the stream. I spent the remaining portion of the night with Colonel Jessee. Next morning before breakfast we walked down to the river, where I saw m y horse still thied. Upon our return to the house (before reaching it, however) I saw a force of Federal cavalry numbering some 150 desceding the hill beyond the house and within half a mile. Fortunately Jessee's horses were all saddled, and at once he mounted with his guards of some fifteen men, and being upon splendid animals, escaped without difficulty. I was left, however, my horse being on the other side of the river. I ran into the bushes immediately upon the margin of the river; remained concealed until late in the evening. Just before dark I came out, made a reconnaissance, saw six men in Federal uniform ride up to the house (the only one in the neighborgood with which I was acquainted), dismount, leave a sentnel at the gate, and they were still there as long as I could see. It was night, raining, and very cold; I was hungry; had no blanket or overcoat; I knew no one in the neighborhood, and was afraid to apply to any one for food and shelter lest I might be informed on and captured. I had seen a large hay barn some half a mile distant during the day, and determined to take shelter for the night under its roof. When I reached the barn and was about to enter I heard the stamp of horses within, and believing that they were Yankee cavalry, who were likewise sheltering from the storm, I retreated hastily to some stacks, where, covering myself with the hay, I remained until the early dawn. I then returned, it being yet dark, to my shelter under the riverbank nearer to the house. When it became sufficiently light for me to discover objects at a distance I was astonished to see my horse still standing where I had left him two nights before. I thought it was a trap, that the yankees had left him there as a bit, and were watching my return to capture me. Of course I did not go near him, but hid in the bushes and kept a sharp lookout. I soon discovered that there was a man not far off on the lookout, but after remaining for some time he left. Two boys then came down to the river; crossed over to my side. I captured one of them and learned that the Yankees had all gone down the river, the last of them having left but a short time before. I went to the house, where I was kindly welcomed and well fed. Mrs. M. was kind enough to send two negroes to swim my horse across the river. When they were in the very act of bringging him down the bank a party of Federals dislocsed themselves and carried off horse and negroes. Again believing they would come over, I ran to the bushes and concealed myself all day and part of the night. At night, seeing a signal which had been arranged between Mrs. M. and myself, I went to the house and was most hospitably entertained. On the third morning the sma scene was re-enacted, and I spent the day in the bushes exposed to the most tremendous rain I ever saw. This day they treated my kind host with much indginity and destroyed his boat. I came in at night, and concluding that these constant and repeated visits to this particular house were prompted by the knowledge that I was in the vicinity, I determined to go across the river and seek shelter again in the hills and bushes. I walked two miles to a point where there was a little boat lying opposite, and concealing myself, waited the arrival of some citizen, believing that some one would soon come, now that all the boats except this one had been destroyed. A man soon came along, the boat came over for him; I discovered myself just as they were going off, and by force of arms obtained a passage across.

After leaving the river and in passing along a narrow pathway over the cliff immediately contiguous I encountered a Federal soldier, whom, while attempting to capture me, I shot dead. I reached my place, laid up in the bushes, was well fed, received many letters in reply to those I had written. My work was progressing well, when one night I was lured to his housw by a man represented to be entirely reliable, and when asleep in bed was surrounded and caputred. I was aware of General Burbridge's bloody order requiring all officers and men caught without their commands to be shot on the spot and not brought in as prisoners. I had many misgivings. I was conducted to the little town of Ownton, and there confined in the court-house under a heavy guard with eighteen other men. We were kept here several days, the major who was in command of the troops being absent in Lexington. When he returned he came into the room where we were all together, and after questioning all the other men he took me into an adjoining room. He stated to me that under the orders he had received from headquarters all of us would be shot the next morning at 9 o'clock. I planned and would have attempted an escape that night - had determined to force the guard - but before the time appointed we were taken and placed in little cells in the county jail, the most loathsome and horrible places I have ever seen. There were eight men in my cell, a little room about eight feet by six. The walls and floor were of cast iron. It was wet and foul, and the only air was admitted through a little grating in the door about the size of a small pane of glass. Here a guard was stationed. After remaining some time in this horrible place - so foul was the air that I became extremely sick - I vominted a great deal. The sentinel at the door discovering my condition reported it to the major, who ordered me to be taken out and carried back to the court-house and there kept under strict guard. I soon recovered. How those poor men who were left in that hole managed to live through the night is a mystery to me. I am sure I should have died had I remained two hours longer.

Next morning a party of men were detailed, as I learned, for the execution. Immediately after breakfast Major Mahoney came round to the room where I was to see, I suppose, if I was well enough to be shot. During the interview which ensued I succeeded in convincing him of the barbarity of the order of General Burbridge and persuading him to take us all to Lexington. One man who had been brought into the town the evening before had been executed. I heard the guns by which he was killed, but I never saw the man. They said he was a guerrilla; the man claimed, as I learned, to be a Confederate soldiers. After this th emajro was kind enought to parole me to the limits of the town. Next morning we all started for Lexington, General Burbridge's headquarters. I was mounted on a horse and rode at will with the command, and had much conversation with the major, who seemed to be a pleasant and humane man. The other prisoners were placed in wagons and brought in under strict guard. When we reached the line between Owen and Franklin Counties the command was halted, sixteen men were detailed, the major dismounted, and I saw him writing an order. The column moved forward and I went with it. After we had proceeded some 200 or 300 yards the major rode up beside me and remarked that this was a "most horrible was." I asked the reason of his remark, and he told me he had just ordered four of those prisoners in the wagons to be shot at th eline of the two counties as an example to all malefactors. My blood ran cod in my veins, and I begged him to spare the men; told him that such acts were evidently inconsistent with his character; that there could b eno difficulty if he used the necessary precautions about carrying these men to Lexington, and if this deed of blood had to be committed, were I in his place I would leave it to General Burbridge to carry it through. He concluded to spare the men, sent back an officer to stop the execution, and we moved on.

I wish I could tell you of several scenes which transpired along the road, going to show the complete subjugation of the population and their abject submission, but this narrative is already too long and I must bring it to an end. We reached Frankfort and I was turned loose on parole with instructions to report next morning at the railroad depot. I saw during the night many of my relatives and friends and succeeded in enlisting them in my favor. They were all Union peoplel - at least professed to be so. On the following morning I was placed under a new guard and carried on the train to Lexington, taking leave of Major Mahoney, who had been very kind after he determined not to shoot me. At Lexington we were carried to the office of the provost-marshal, who, after insulting and using the most abusive language to us all, had us committed to the prison. This prison was an old warehouse, in a long room of which were about 120 men of all descriptions - Yankee deserters, men belonging to General Grant's army who had been sent through the lines by the Confederate Government and captured in Kentucky, men who belonged to the guerrilla bands who infest the State, bounty jumpers, disaffected citizens, and Confederate soldiers. There were occasionally during my stay a few negroes introduced in this room, but they never remained long, were threated with greater consideration than the whites, and the same charges which would keep a white man for months would not detain a negro as many days. A more filthy, loathsome, and uncomfortable place could not be well conceived, full of filth and swarming with vermin. The four large windows fronting north and south had scarcely a pane of glass in them. The floor was uneven and full of cracks. There were two large stoves, which were [sic.] fully supplied with fuel served very poorly to keep up anything like a comfortable temperature, and which for many days and nights of the severest weather the past winter were not in blast for the want of fuel. Many of the prisoners were wretchedly clothed, some of them almost naked; a large number of them had no blankets, and how they survived some of those bitter cold nights was a matter of astonishment to me. they were required to lie down at 8 o'clock, where they were compelled to remain all night, and I frequently expected when day dawned upon us to see the men frozen to death.

The execution under the bloody order of General Burbridge commenced about this time. One day immediately after may arrival the provost-marshal, Lieutenant Vance, came into the room, and looking over the men picked out fifteen. They were carried downstairs. In a short time five of them returned. They had drawn lots for their lives and escapted; the order ten were taken out and shot. The day after six others were carried out and executed. Three men who were brought in and belonged to Jessee's command, within four hours after their arrival were carried from the prison and hung, and this thing went on until twenty-eight of our number, almost invariably Confederate soldiers, had fallen victims to this unheard - of barbarity. You may imagine - I cannot describe - the horror and dread which spread among the prisoners at witnessing these scenes. These men were not tried before a military commission or court-martial. They were simply selected by the provost-marshal, as it seemed to me, without any reference to the guilt or innocence of the parties, just as a butcher would go into a slaughter pen and select at his will be beeves or the sheep or the hogs which he might wish to destroy. the thing was very horrible. About one-half the men in the prison wer in irons, some of them with handcuffs on their wrists, others with balls and chains on their limbs; many of them chained together two and two. We were fed on ship crackers, cold beef, coffee, and bean soup. Our supplies were in sufficient quantities, and though many of the men complained, so far as food was involved I never suffered. We were guarded a portion of the time by negro troops. They were not obtrusive nor insulting; were extremely vigilant, and I verily think the best garrison troops I have seen during the war. The private soldiers of Indiana regiments, who were nearly all the time upon duty in the prison, were, generally speaking, orderly, well - behaved, well - disciplined men; many of them were even kind to the prisoners. In fact, all the acts of bratality which were perpetrated upon us were invariably attribatable to the officers and not to the private soldiers.

In these uncomfortable quarters many of the men fell sick. Measles, mumps, diphteria, typhoid fever, erysipelas, and pneumonia prevailed to an alarming extent. No man was ever carried to the hospital until he was almost in extremis, and many of them died.

After remeining in the room some six weeks we were transferred to another much larger and more comfortable apartment, but the sickness among us was on the increase, and, in addition to the diseases above mentioned, the smallpox made its appearance in our midst. This gave us great uneasiness and a good many were carried off to the hospital. In the late part of January I was taken ill. I suffered greatly for several days. The doctor, who was kind, on the fourth day after my attack pronounced my disease smallpox or varioloid and decided to send me to the pest - house. A horse - cart was driven to the door of the prison and I was placed in it with a poor negro from another prison, and, with the wind blowing fiercely and the snow falling fast, we were carried to a house some three miles in the country, which was used as a hospital for smallpox patients of all kinds. My courage has been tried upon many a battle-field - I have fronted death in a thousand shapes - but never was it so severely tried as when I was conducted into the small room where I was to be treated for this loathsome disease. There were seven patients already in the room, several of them in the last stages of the disease, all of them horribly swollen and wretchedly offensive. My clothes, everything belonging to me except the chains upon my limbs, were taken from me and carried away. I was dressed in some old Federal traps and placed upon a straw mattress on a little iron bedstead. The same evening one of the men in my room died; he was taken out at once to be buried, and I was immediately transferred to his place. There was a large negor on one side of me dreadfully ill, and beyond conception offensive. Next morning another man died. This poor fellow was from my prison, and like me had fetters upon hil limbs. After his death men came in, knocked the chains from the stiffening corpse, and he was carried off. Immediately I was changed into his place. Next day another man, one of the negroes, died, and they were about to move me again, but I protested and they desisted. My attack was a slight one, and in ten days I was back again in my prison quarters. Here, after remaining some time longer, it was announced to me that I was to be sent on for special exchange. My irons were taken off and I was placed upon the cars and sent to Louisville and thence to Fort Monroe.
Such is an imperfect narrative of my capture and confinement.
Very respectfully,
Colonel, C. S. Army.

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