Testimony of Surgeon De Witt C. Peters in charge of Jarvis General Hospital, Baltimore, Md., taken at Baltimore June 1st, 1864.
COMMISSIONERS PRESENT:—Dr. Mott, Dr. Delafield, Judge Hare.
DE WITT C. PETERS, sworn and examined:—
I am an Assistant-Surgeon of the United States Army, stationed at Jarvis General Hospital, Baltimore. On or about the 16th of April, 1864, I received at the hospital over which I had charge, some two hundred and fifty paroled prisoners of war, recently returned from Belle Island and Richmond.
The greater majority of these men were in a semi-state of nudity. They were laboring under such diseases as chronic diarrhœa, phthisis pulmonalis, scurvy, frost bites, general debility, caused by starvation, neglect, and exposure. Many of them had partially lost their reason, forgetting even the date of their capture and every thing connected with their antecedent history. They resemble, in many respects, patients laboring under cretinism.
They were filthy in the extreme, covered with vermin. Some had extensive bed sores caused by laying in the sand and dirt, and nearly all were extremely emaciated; so much so that they had to be cared for even like infants. Their hair had not been cut, nor the men shaved in many instances for months. On inquiry of these men as to what was the matter with them, the invariable answer was starvation, exposure, and neglect, while prisoners on Belle Island. They informed me, that while on Belle Island during the inclement months of the past winter, there were congregated at one time in a space less than three acres, one hundred and ten squads of prisoners, each numbering one hundred persons. Less than half of these had old worn-out Sibley and other tents for shelter. The remainder were obliged to accommodate themselves as best they could. But a few of them had blankets. These were issued to them by our Government under flag of truce. Some had over-coats. Many had no shoes except patches that they had contrived themselves.
Those that escaped freezing to death during the cold nights, did so by exercising and by huddling together in heaps like hogs, alternating places with those more exposed in the heaps, and with those in the tents, until at last they were obliged to go to the hospital.
They informed me, that each morning, numbers were found frozen to death, who had probably died from other causes—exhaustion. They stated to me further, that they believed this system of slow starvation was carried on to prevent other men from enlisting in our army.
The ration allowed them was a small piece of corn bread, the meal of which contained also the cob, a little rice soup very rarely, and sometimes, but rarely, a small quantity of meat—a few ounces, they confessed that they had eaten dog meat whenever they were so fortunate as to capture a dog.
In the hospitals, according to the statement made to me by Hospital Steward James, United States Army, they fared a little better, although, even there, they had an insufficiency of food, and the beds were filthy and covered with vermin. He stated that at hospital No. 21, where he was serving as one of the apothecaries during three months, January, February and March, there were admitted two thousand seven hundred of our men, of whom nearly fourteen hundred and fifty died. They lacked medicines and all appliances needed for the sick. The patients in the hospital had one advantage over prisoners of war on Belle Island: that was, they were allowed to buy a loaf of bread the size of a man's fist, for which they paid five or six dollars Confederate money.
Out of the two hundred and fifty men received by me, so far, fifteen have died; the postmortems of which have made apparent diseases of nearly all the viscera to a remarkable extent.
I received one man incurably insane, caused, as I was informed and believe, by joy, produced by the news that he was to be exchanged. I found, from excess of habit, they had become like savages in their habits, and lost the decencies of life, and had to be taught like children the decencies of society.
The health and constitutions of the majority of these men are permanently undermined. Under proper care and treatment, which consisted in their not eating too much, a spare but concentrated diet, may have rallied. In one instance a boy gained forty pounds in two weeks; he still has phthisis and can hardly stand exposure or active exercise. A case of scurvy occurred among others which is the worst I ever saw or read of; a man turning red or nearly black from head to foot; he died in twenty-four hours.
I think nine-tenths of the men weighed under one hundred pounds; they appeared to be articulated skeletons; covered with simply integument; had dropsy and œdema in the feet, caused by weakness; and were the most pitiable objects to behold. They had an uncontrollable appetite.
DE WITT C. PETERS,
Assist. Surgeon United States Army, in charge
of Jarvis Hospital, Baltimore, Md.
Sworn to and subscribed before me,
June 1st, 1864.
D. P. BROWN, JR.,
United States Commissioner.