Testimony of Surgeon B. A. VanderKieft, in charge of United States Army General Hospital Division No. 1, Annapolis, Maryland. Taken at the Hospital, May 31st, 1864
COMMISSIONERS PRESENT,¾Mr. Wilkins, Dr. Wallace, Mr. Walden
I have been the recipient of all the prisoners returned from Richmond since the 1st of June, 1863, except one steamboat load which were four hundred to five hundred. I have received, I should judge, nearly (3000) three thousand; these are in a debilitated condition, badly clad, and down-spirited, on account of ill-treatment by starvation and exposure, as they all agree in stating, and as I am convinced is the case by their actual condition on their arrival, and by rations shown to me, which they unanimously state are the only ones given to them.
They unanimously state that their blankets, overcoats, watches, and jewelry and money have been taken from them, partially by their immediate captors, but also in a quasi-official way, telling them that they will be restored when they are released, which, as far as I know, and have been informed, have never been done.
The returned prisoners state that the officials, such as guards and nurses, often receive money from them, such as they may have been able to secrete, with the promise that they shall have the equivalent returned in food, which promise is not performed.
Colonel Palmer de Cesinola (4th New York Cavalry) told me that while acting as distributing commissary of articles of food and clothing sent by United States Government and United States Sanitary Commission, he observed that some of our prisoners at Richmond and Belle Isle, in order to receive a less cruel treatment and to obtain larger rations, were acting as shoemakers for the Rebel Government. He at once told those men that such action was disloyal, as by so doing they indirectly assisted the rebellion. The result of this remark induced the rebel authorities to deprive him of the privilege of being longer a distributing commissary.
Almost in all cases I find that our men state that when they were captured, they were in very good condition as to general physical health; but I do not even need such a statement, as I am well acquainted with the regulations which govern the medical department of our army, “to send to the rear every man who is not perfectly able to bear arms,” and if a few feeble men have fallen into the hands of the rebels, they belong to the class called “stragglers,” which certainly belong to the minority.
Prom my experience of fifteen years of constant medical and military service in Northern Europe, the East Indies, and Mediterranean, as well as in our own army since September, 1861, I affirm that the treatment to which our men have been subjected while prisoners of war in the hands of the enemy, is against all rules of civilized warfare, and that I would prefer to fall into the hands of the Chinese of Borneo, called “Anack Baba,” who murder their prisoners, than to fall into the hands of the rebels, where the lives and comfort of prisoners of war is a matter of such cruel indifference, to say the least, if not indeed, as one might almost be justified in supposing, a matter of determined policy.
If I may believe the statements of our returned prisoners, the diseases under which they are suffering when they come into my hands, are attributable to the following causes, one or more: deprivation of clothing, deficiency of food in quantity and quality, want of fresh air, on account of overcrowding in prison buildings and consequent unavoidable uncleanliness, and mental depression, the result of the above causes, and want of adequate shelter, exposure during the fall and winter.
The diseases most common among these returned prisoners are scurvy, diarrhœa, and congestion of the lungs, which are not amenable to the ordinary treatment in use in civil life or in hospitals of our own army.
They are most successfully mastered by high nutrition and stimulation, with cleanliness and fresh air — medicinal treatment being of small assistance in the recovery of the sufferers, and often being entirely dispensed with.
The medical records in my office show that this system is the only valid and effective mode of management, thus proving by the counteracting effect of good food, air, cleanliness, and stimulants, that these disorders are the result of the causes above stated.
I swear the above statement to be true.
B. A. VANDERKIEFT,
Surgeon U. S. Volunteers in Charge.
Sworn and subscribed before me, this sixth day of June, in the year of our Lord one thousand
eight hundred and sixty-four, (June 6th, 1864.)
[SEAL.] H. P. LESLIE,
Notary Public for and in the County of Anne Arundel, Maryland.