Experience as Prisoners of War
By Danforth L. Converse, Sergt. Co. F.
During the engagement of April 8th., 1864, between forces under Gen. N. T. Banks, Commanding Federal Troops, and Gen. J. A. Pearly, Commanding Confederates, I received a severe gunshot wound through [my] right thigh. Being ordered to the rear by Capt. L. F. Rice, I proceeded as far as my failing strength would permit, when I sank fainting from loss of blood. I soon recovered consciousness, however, and was fully aware of everything around me, but unable to move a muscle or even open my eyes. While in this condition, our Army was obliged to fall back before the superior and overwhelming numbers of the Enemies’ forces, and I remember distinctly how Capt. Rice and Orderly Sergt. Chas. H. Horr came to my side, and hearing them both pronounce me dead. Oh God! How I struggled to open my eyes to speak; to make even a sign of life. But there was no time to loiter by the side of the dead, and they passed on, leaving me there to be buried by stranger hands.
The armies and the hours moved on; soon night closed in, and it was the most horrible night I ever witnessed. Lying all around me, were the dead and dying; but, horror of horrors, soon after dark, it seemed as though the woods about where I lay were alive with hogs. And Oh! the groans of those poor helpless fellows who were torn and mangled by them, still ring in my ears.
But night passed and morning dawned, and through a divine Providence and a naturally strong constitution, I had recovered sufficient strength, so that I thought I might safely move on and perhaps find my old Company. Vain delusion! I only wandered out of the track of both armies and soon fainted from sheer exhaustion. Another day gone, another night closes in, and so on, for four successive days, and then relief came in form. I was picked up by the Enemy as a Prisoner of War.
On Tuesday, April 12th, I was carried by some straggling Confederate soldiers to a cabin on the road to Mansfield. There, I was deposited with others. I remained there until the next morning, when an army wagon came and took me to Mansfield, La. During this time, I had tasted neither food nor drink, except about one spoonful of brandy, which one of my captors drained from his canteen on Tuesday.
Arriving at Mansfield, I was assigned quarters in the Baptist church, the floor being covered with cotton to the depth of a foot. That same night, one of our guards, in passing through on his rounds, (accidentally?) knocked down one of the candles with which our church was illumined, and instantly the whole floor was covered with a blaze of fire. Other guards were more humane, and almost before one could think, the doors and windows were closed and the flames smothered before much harm was done to any of us, excepting some singeing of whiskers and hair.
While boarding at the expense of Jeff Davis and his would-be Government, we were allowed a 1/2 pint of cornmeal and a small piece of real live bacon, for if you did not detail a guard over it, it would surely crawl away or vanish. For a few days after our arrival in Mansfield, some of the kind-hearted ladies were permitted to visit us and they never came empty-handed, but always brought something good to tempt the appetite and recall recollections of home and Mother. God bless them! But this was soon checked. However, there was one poor, old darkie woman that dared to disobey the order forbiding [sic] anyone to visit that building, and so for punishment, she was brought into the yard on the north side of the church, stripped of her clothing, tied to a tree, and severely whipped.
After I got so I could hobble about, I persuaded one of the guards to get me a pair of crutches. I told him I would pay him for his trouble. He went out and soon returned with two sticks which he had cut in the woods. I asked him what would be the expense and he modestly replied $10.00. I, at first, refused to pay it, but he threatened me so severely that I handed him the ten dollars.
A few days after, one of the surgeons came to me, and told me that a Sergeant and Corporal of my Regiment were in the Old Jail. I soon got permission from the Officer of the Guard to go over and see who it was. Arriving there, I found that the Sergeant was Geo. B. Canterbury of Co. D. and Corporal Reagan [Edward Regan] of Co. F. I did not think that Sergeant Canterbury could live the day out. I had part of a bottle of wine that I had managed to obtain through one of the guards, and I began to give the Sergeant a few drops of that, every few minutes, until I had the pleasure of seeing him revive. I remained with him during the entire day and night, and in the morning the Dr. was astonished at his improved condition. This was about the first of June 1864. I did not see him or Reagan [sic] until we were paroled, the 17th of June 1864.
The night before our parole, one of the surgeons, Dr. Hess (I do not remember his regiment) came quietly through on his round, and informed each of us that a squad of rebel thieves would make a raid on us before morning, and if we had any money, watches or jewelry, if we would give it to him he would preserve it for us. How the man ever managed to walk off under his weight of watches, jewelry and money, I don’t understand, for we had to march about eight miles before reaching the boat. After we were aboard, he returned every man his property, true to his word. And when the searchers went through us that night, they labored in vain, for they found naught but empty pockets.