Evidence relating to United States stations for rebel prisoners                    

David's Island N. Y.             

Testimony taken at De Camp General Hospital, David's Island, June 16th, 1864


Deposition of AUGUSTUS VAN CORTLANDT, Acting Assistant Surgeon U. S. A.

            I was on duty in this hospital when the last load of rebel prisoners arrived, during the latter part of July, 1863. Some were lodged in pavilions, and some in tents, which were in excellent order.

            The prisoners had not been robbed or deprived of any of their private property, so far as my knowledge extends; on the contrary, the majority of patients under my charge possessed money, brought with them from the South to the hospital, and were never deprived of it.

            They came in a filthy, horrible condition. Their dirty garments were removed and burned, and new hospital clothing furnished them at the expense of the United States Government, after they had been thoroughly cleansed and washed.

            Their physical condition was bad in the extreme when they arrived; they were run down, and were the worst body of wounded men it has ever been my lot to see.

            I had ten tents under my charge, which contained ninety-four rebel patients and

nurses. The tents were twenty-eight by fifteen feet. The pavilions were one hundred and ninety-six feet in length, twenty-three feet in breadth, and twelve feet in height to the plate, and contained not more than eighty patients.

            During the ensuing cold weather the prisoners were removed to the pavilions, and had all necessary fuel and warm clothing. I have never heard of any of the prisoners suffering from cold or exposure, so as to require medical treatment, nor of any having been frozen to death.

            They were allowed, for exercise and recreation, the whole island inside of the line of sentries, having the same liberty, rations, diet and medical treatment, as the Federal sick and wounded have always had.

            No rebel prisoners were ever fired upon, shot, or wounded, when on the Island, from any apprehension of their escaping, or from any other cause.

            The supply of drinking water was of a good quality and abundant; and ice was supplied with liberal profusion, and sufficiency of water for washing, with plentiful allowances of soap, as well as combs, for their own private use.

            The physical condition of the rebel prisoners, upon leaving the island, was very good, except a few cases of unhealed wounds.


Sworn to before me,


            Assistant Surgeon U. S. A., in charge of Hospital.

Deposition of GEORGE W. EDWARDS, Acting Assistant Surgeon U. S. A.

            I was stationed at this hospital when the rebel prisoners arrived, about the middle of July, 1863. They were placed in tents and pavilions, which had just been vacated by. Union soldiers to make room for them. The dimension of the tents were twenty-eight feet by fifteen feet; the pavilions were one hundred and ninety-six feet in length, twenty-three feet in breadth, and twelve feet in height to the plate; not sealed over, and with numerous ventilators on the ridges. The tents were arranged to contain ten patients each, the pavilions to contain eighty; the number of patients never exceeded these numbers in either.

            The prisoners had not been robbed by our men, as most of them had money, some had gold, greenbacks, and Confederate paper.

            They were in rags, barefooted and bareheaded when they came, were frightfully filthy, and covered with vermin. Within three or four hours after their arrival, they had all been stripped of their rags, washed, and after being supplied with clean linen, placed in clean and well-aired beds.

            Full suits of clothing, consisting of coats, pants, drawers, shirts, shoes and stockings, were subsequently issued to them by the United States Quartermaster. To distinguish them from our own soldiers, the buttons and six inches of the skirt of the coat were cut off.

            Those who remained during the cold weather were abundantly supplied with fuel and warm clothing, and none required medical or surgical treatment in consequence of exposure to the cold; none were frozen to death.

            They were allowed to go fishing or clamming, as they pleased, when they first came, till several escaped, when a line of sentinels was placed around the island upon the beach, inside of which they enjoyed all the privileges allowed to the Federal patients in the hospital.

            None of the rebels were ever shot at, wounded or killed in any way while upon the island.

            They receive medical and surgical treatment in all respects equal to that of Union soldiers. Nine-tenths of them were suffering from wounds. The mortality was not large, most of the deaths occurring from the severity of the wounds. They received the same rations and diet as our own patients.

            The paper hereto attached, marked (A,)* formed the Diet Table during the time which the rebel prisoners were on the island. They had an abundance of good drinking water, with ice, an unlimited supply for bathing, plenty of soap, towels, combs, &c., &c., for their own comfort and cleanliness.

            When the prisoners were removed, they were in excellent bodily condition, though many had not entirely recovered from their wounds; the majority of the prisoners left the island during the month of October, 1863. At one time there were about two thousand five hundred rebel prisoners upon the island.

            I have been upon the medical staff of this hospital since its opening, in May, 1862, and it has been occupied by Union patients, both prior and subsequent to its occupation by rebel prisoners.


Sworn to before me,


Assistant Surgeon U. S. A., in charge of Hospital.

            * The paper (A) here referred to, is the “DIET TABLE FOR GENERAL HOSPITALS, UNITED STATES ARMY.”


DE CAMP GENERAL HOSPITAL,                    

DAVID’S ISLAND, NEW YORK,             

June 17th, 1864.         

            We, the undersigned, Acting Assistant Surgeons U. S. A., employed in De Camp General Hospital, depose and say, that we have heard read the depositions of Augustus Van Cortlandt and George W. Edwards, Acting Assistant Surgeons U. S. A., of this date, and from our personal knowledge and actual experience confirm all that the said affidavits set forth as to the treatment of rebels, sick and wounded, during their confinement in this hospital.

            We further depose that we have been members of the Medical Staff in this hospital, during and subsequent to its occupation by the rebel prisoners.

            The Medical Staff numbered twenty-three Acting Assistant Surgeons, while the prisoners were on the island.

            We would further depose that there were ample provisions of nurses; one nurse to every ten patients in the hospitals; and that the following provisions were made for the calls of nature: each pavilion was furnished with from two to four water-closets, and chairs and bed-pans were furnished for patients unable to reach the water-closet. The tents were furnished with bed-pans and chairs. Ample structures were made upon the beach for those able to walk.

            JOHN HOWE, M. D., Acting Assistant Surgeon, U. S. A., further deposes and says, that on or about the first day of August 1863, while attending his duties in Pavilion 14, there was then and there present, the Rev. — Brooks, Alabama Chaplain in the Confederate service, and prisoner of war, who addressed the rebel prisoners and said to them, “‘Well, boys, keep up your spirits, for you are getting a great deal better treatment here than you would get at home.”


Acting Assistant Surgeon, U. S. A.





Sworn to before me,


      Assistant Surgeon U. S. A., in charge of Hospital.

Deposition of the Rev. ROBERT LOWRY, Chaplin, U. S. A., Minister of Protestant Episcopal Church, Diocese of New York, under Bishop Potter:

            Entered upon my duties here July 4, 1862, and have continued here until this time.

            In my intercourse with the prisoners, I was guided systematically by the same rules with which I visited Union soldiers. The prisoners were equally well lodged with our own men. I remarked at the time of their arrival how neat and comfortable a provision had been made in the tents and pavilions for their comfort, with an ample supply of beds and bedding.

            I met the first transport at Philadelphia, and returned on the same with them to David’s Island. The prisoners were in a most filthy condition, miserably clad, and covered with vermin. Each man received a bath and was immediately furnished with clean clothing, the old clothing being removed and burned. In the prosecution of my duties I was frequently present at their dinners, which were ample, superior, both as respects quantity and quality, to anything I have ever seen in hospital diet. The diet furnished to them was superior even to that of our own patients. This resulted from the fact that many little luxuries were furnished by private donation. There were other comforts and conveniences afforded them beyond those of food, clothing, and shelter.

            A library of two thousand volumes, that had been previously used by our own soldiers, was at once thrown open to them, and every facility afforded for the use of the volumes. Being present as librarian, and taking each man’s name as he received his book, the library was used by them far more than by our own people. As had been my practice, I went through the tents and pavilions with bibles and prayer books, making the special inquiry to every man, “Are you supplied?” And furnishing books in all cases where they were required.

            Religious services were held in the chapel twice every Sunday, and two or three times during the week, at which they were invited to be present, and attended in such numbers that the chapel was always crowded, the capacity of the chapel being three hundred, and some occasions numbers stood at the windows during the entire service.

            I was supervisor of the post office, and officially appointed to examine the contents of letters, which were mailed and forwarded on my approval. Paper and envelopes were furnished gratuitously, and post stamps, when needed, were supplied to the extent of one hundred and fifty dollars, to my knowledge, gratuitously. From three to five hundred letters were forwarded daily after the first  arrival of prisoners.

            The common expression in their letters as to their condition was that “we have everything we need, and could not he better off.”

            Funeral service was always performed over the dead, using the service of the Protestant Episcopal Church over the remains of the dead. A record was uniformly made of the names, company, and regiment, of the deceased, and date of death. This record was made independently of a formal Hospital register.  


Chaplain U. S. A.

Sworn to before me,


      Assistant Surgeon U. S. A., In charge.