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Southern Historical Society Papers/Volume 01/April/Statement of Rev. Geo. Harris

Dr. Handy has kindly placed in our hands his private letter-book containing a large number of statements of prison experience by his fellow-prisoners. We can only extract one of these.

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On the morning of the 30th of August our quiet village was thrown into excitement by a report of the approach of Yankees. From the fact that private citizens had recently been arrested and carried from their homes by raiding parties, nearly every male inhabitant of the village felt it to be unsafe to remain at home; and I have reason to believe that I was the only man left in town upon their arrival. I relied upon my sacred calling for security from molestation, and as usual awaited in my own house their coming. Shortly after their arrival, I observed a man coming around my house to the back door, as though ashamed to approach by the front entrance, and according to my usual custom, I advanced to meet him and learn his business, when the following conversation ensued:

   Yankee. Are you the man of this house?
   Answer. I am.
   Yankee. What's yer name ?
   Answer. My name is Harris; what is yours?
   Yankee. My name? Why my name is ————.

Then looking around, he espied some of the servants in the kitchen, a detached building, and awkwardly moved off to see them. I returned to my seat at my secretary and resumed my occupation of reading. In a few minutes he returned, and leaning against the lintel of the door, said: "Guess you can go with me." "Go with you," said I; "Where shall I go with you?" "Up to headquarters." I arose, took my cane, and walked about a quarter of a mile to the main body of the command. The first officer with whom I met was a brainless, conceited Lieutenant, whose name I never learned. He, without any kind of salutation, accosted me in a manner meant to be extremely scornful, and asked why I had not sent Mosby word they were coming and wanted to meet him. I said to him, "Sir, if you really wished to see Mosby, and desired me to notify him of your coming, why did you not inform me of the fact in time?" "Do you think he would have come?" he queried. "It is extremely probable he would," I replied. He ordered me then to be conducted to the Major. I was taken up to his quarters, and there learned that the Eighth Illinois Cavalry, commanded by Major Waite, a little dapper newspaper correspondent formerly, as I have learned, were my captors. I demanded of this man the cause of my arrest. He replied that he was carrying out his instructions. I asked if I might know what those instructions were. He said, to arrest all men between seventeen and fifty. I reminded him that I was a minister of the gospel, and not subject to military duty. He replied, that if upon my arrival in Washington that fact should appear, I would be released. He ordered me to be taken to a Captain Townsend, who had charge of the prisoners. I declared my purpose to return home for a change of underclothing before I would consent to go, and he might use his pleasure either to take my pledge to return, or to send a man with me as a guard. Yankee-like, he preferred the latter alternative, as, having no such regard for his own word as to prefer faithfulness to a pledge to life itself, he could not believe it to be a trait in the character of any other.

I was obliged to make my few preparations in the most hurried manner, and having commended my family to God, I proceeded to report myself to my captors again. I found on my return that a large number of citizens had been picked up, among the rest, General Asa Rogers, a gentleman over sixty years of age, and Rev. O. A. Kinsolving, of the Episcopal church. We were moved off, I suppose, about 2 P. M., and proceeded to Aldie, about thirteen miles. Here we halted, and immediately the men scattered to plunder, and every hen-roost in the village was despoiled in a few minutes. Women and children were running through the streets, some screaming, all looking for officers to protect them. Of the nature and extent of their depredations we could only judge by the declarations of such as passed us; all were crying that they were being robbed of everything they had. After remaining here long enough to sack the village completely, they hurried us on to Mt. Zion Meeting House, five miles below Aldie, where we bivouacked on the ground, without blankets, and only a few hard crackers—all any of us had had since morning—for supper. The following morning they issued to us more of the "hardtack," as they termed it, and some salt pork, which we broiled by sticking it upon the ends of twigs and holding in the blaze of the fire.

As soon as breakfast was over we were once more on the road, and at a most rapid pace. Proceeding nearly to Drainesville, the rear of the column was fired upon, when our gallant Major, dreading an ambuscade, tacked nearly right about, and at an increased speed proceeded nearly to Fairfax Courthouse, and then turning again toward the Potomac, carried us on to Falls Church, halting only about an hour in a very strong position to feed their horses. Thus these gallant fellows who, about 700 strong, had started out, as they said, expressly to catch Mosby, succeeded in capturing thirty-two citizens, in stealing some twenty-five horses, robbing private citizens along the whole line of their march of all kinds of supplies, and through fear of an attack made, on their return, a march of not less than forty-five or fifty miles in one day. On the morning of September 1st, Major Waite took occasion to insult us by his profane language and vain boasting of what he had done and was yet to do. His pickets being fired on, however, the camp was thrown into the utmost commotion, and we were hurried off again toward Washington.

Owing to various delays, we were not brought to Washington until afternoon. Near the city we were turned over to Captain Berry and Lieutenant Trask, who treated us with the utmost politeness, and seemed desirous to do all in their power to oblige us and render us comfortable. On arriving in the city we were remanded to the Old Capitol Prison, and paraded through the streets to show to the good and loyal citizens of the capital of "the greatest nation on earth," that the "good work was going bravely on." At the Old Capitol our fare was horrible for several days; the meat given us was putrid, and few of us could eat our bread with the meat before us. A change for the better, however, took place pretty soon after we had an interview with the superintendent, and the fare became pretty palatable. We were shown many indulgencies, too, until it was ascertained that the most of us would not even take a parole such as they were administering to many citizen prisoners; when suddenly we were informed that we were to be sent off to Fort Delaware, to be subjected at that abode of horrors to severe treatment, in retaliation for treatment of a similar character alleged to have been extended to citizens of the North in Southern prisons. And here we are, exposed in a degree that threatens seriously our health, if not the lives of some of our party. But "hitherto hath the Lord helped us," and in Him is our trust; we will not fear what man can do unto us.}}

Mr. Harris, one the most devoted and useful ministers in Virginia, contracted disease at Fort Delaware, from which he was a great sufferer until, a few years after the war, death came to "set the prisoner free."