“Little Doctor on the Black Horse” Post#5 – Libby Prison –

Libby Prison, Richmond, Va., 10/29/63 – “Dear Hattie, Please send me a box of eatables: 5 lbs. Ground coffee, 1 of tea, 20 of brown sugar, 1 ham of dried beef, a small cheese, if you can find it, and as much butter as you’ve a mind to; put up in oyster cans. Also anything else suitable for prison life, some pickles. I shall want you to send me a box about every two weeks. Capt. Riggs got a box and all things came all right, even to the lining in the vest pocket. I’d like a shirt, but what I want most is something to eat and . . . I should like to see you very much. It is harder to be a prisoner than a soldier. Money is put in the commandant’s office and doled out of at $50 per month, hardly enough at the prices here.”

The prison furnished rations, but slim ones — two meals a day. Those with money could have guards buy for them in the markets. In the letter a faint trail of dots runs from the “and” up to and circles around “send me” and “money”, where in tiny dim letters are “hide” and “send”.

Hattie understood his secret message, which the censors apparently missed, for family tradition says she “colored” the butter with gold pieces. These got through safely, like the aforesaid “lining in the vest pocket”, for David’s next letter states: “I got the box all safe. The contents are being duly dissected.”

This letter also asks, amongst other things, for “1 three-cornered file, 1 small round file, and send some light reading.” the files at first puzzled me. Was he thinking of escape? Then I remembered the two bone napkin rings he carved in prison, one for Mamie and one for little Hattie. These were made from the bones of the beef issued as rations. He also did some wood carving.

“What rations the Confederates furnish are good, but the same every day. We boil the beef for soup for dinner, then the meat is chopped as hash for breakfast. We get but two meals a day. We can buy things from the city markets, but many of us have no money, and prices are very high. Money can be sent by mail, but it is taken out and put to our credit in the commissary, and handed out at only $50 a month, which will hardly keep one here.”

GO TO NEXT POST: Exchange and Return Home



© 1961 by Harriott Benedict Wickham Barton. All rights reserved.


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