Prison life in Nashville by C. M. Hutton, Chaplain, 36th Alabama


Confederate Veteran,  July 1897


    The approaching reunion recalls some experiences at Nashville in 1863. Bunch was the color bearer of the Thirty sixth Alabama, selected by Col. L. T. Woodruff on account of his soldierly bearing, but he was, in reality, a Federal captain, sent among us a spy to examine and report the nature and strength of the fortifications about Mobile. On reaching Nashville, I found him in Federal uniform, endeavoring to organize a company by inducing men to desert. He acknowledged to me his purpose, knowing that he was free from danger, as “catching is before hanging.” Two weeks before, I saw him bearing our colors. Occasionally he asked the privilege of using a sharpshooter's rifle, and approached several times near the enemy's lines, as if to see if he had killed a man, but no doubt made such communications as caused us a near approach of being cut off in a heavy skirmish that we had at Hoover's Gap. A few days after this he left, stealing Col. Woodruff’s horse and negro man.

    At the rapid retreat we made men were throwing away their blankets, but I took many of them and spread them on my horse, till he looked much like an elephant, and thus saved many a comrade's blanket. We halted, and the tired men dropped upon the ground, leaving their guns piled up in the road. A loaded wagon came along, and Col. Woodruff ordered the guns to be taken up. In doing so a soldier accidentally discharged his gun into a group of men, striking Private Allen in the leg, and rendering immediate amputation necessary. He begged me, as chaplain, to remain with him, and Surgeon Herndon also suggested that I would not be retained, and he would soon send an ambulance for us. So I consented to stay, but soon found myself a prisoner. My first act was to bury Allen's leg.

    The Yankees soon came along, and one morning the kind old lady who cared for Allen went to her cow pen and found a Yankee milking her cow. They came into the yard and shot chickens. It became necessary to report myself for the safety of the family. The Federal captain sent me under heavy guard to Tullahoma. There I was put on the train for Nashville. The box car was full of prisoners, many of whom were sick. The officer then took me to another car, not so crowded. I lay all night on the floor, without a blanket, near the heels of a horse. Suffice it to say, there was no sleep nor rest for me. I found a fellow prisoner, calling himself Dr. Lloyd, but in reality (as I learned afterwards) a private soldier, who had jerked on a surgeon's coat just as he was captured. This was a sharp trick, and it gave him an easy place at the prison hospital in Nashville.

    As our train pulled up near the depot a little boy came running to see the prisoners. Lloyd asked him if he would bring us some breakfast. “Yes,” was the reply, “if you are Rebels.” On being told that we were, the little fellow soon came with a good supply, which came in good time to one who had fasted nearly two days. Lloyd said: “I would write a note of thanks, but I haven't anything to write on.” I handed him a little company book that one of our captains had intrusted to me when we expected to be cut off at Hoover's Gap. This little book was a link in God’s providence that secured me a place of usefulness. Lloyd inadvertently slipped it into his pocket, and was taken to prison hospital, which, as the name indicates, was both a prison and a hospital. It was Dr. Ford's church on Cherry Hill, about two miles from the state house. I was placed in line and marched to the penitentiary. I remained there only one day not long enough to learn a trade. An intelligent lawyer, who was a citizen prisoner, advised me to address a note explaining my case to the provost marshal. I did so, and he ordered me before him and paroled me within the limits of the city.

    I had missed my little book, and some fellow prisoners who knew Lloyd told me where to find him. To procure the book, I had to go to the prison hospital. Lloyd and Dr. T. G. Hickman, surgeon in charge, were calling on some ladies. I was introduced as chaplain, C. S. A. The lady of the house asked if she understood that I was a Confederate chaplain, then asked how I came to be under no guard. On being informed that I was paroled, she offered me a home with her, saying that her son could have my influence, as he too was a paroled prisoner. Dr. Hickman, a most worthy gentleman in every sense, then said: “Chaplain, we have no chaplain at our hospital. Your men are there, wounded, sick, and dying, and need your services. If you will accept, I will provide you a room, you shall eat at my table, and you can have full access to the men in their bunks upstairs.” I thanked the lady, and then accepted Dr. Hickman's more useful position. For three months I preached to and prayed with these sick and dying men, and bore many a message to their friends on returning through the lines. Here I found Mrs. Kossuth and Mrs. Tavell and daughter, Miss Augusta, constantly bringing clothing to our soldiers. It was a great pleasure to visit their home. Rev. Tavell was a Baptist minister, and had been sent South for preaching the funeral of a man the Yankees had put to death. As I was in the ambulance, leaving the prison, Mrs. Tavell came up, and in deep concern said: “If you meet Mr. Tavell, tell him of us.” I replied that I would, but felt in my heart that to deliver that message to a man I had never seen, and somewhere in the Southern Confederacy, was like “finding a needle in a haystack.” Strange to say, I found him in Selma, Ala., and delivered the message. I had called on Rev. Arthur Small, pastor of the Presbyterian Church, and while there a lady entered and asked how they liked the address of Mr. Tavell, which led me to find him.

    But to return to prison hospital. Drs. Hickman and Higgins were exceedingly kind and attentive to our men. The former sought my release of Gen. Rosecrans through the intercession of Gen. R. S. Granger, and I was sent via Washington City and Baltimore to City Point, Va. Twenty seven years after this, Dr. Hickman was attending the Medical Association at Nashville, and got my address of Dr. McNeilly, and wrote me at Temple, Tex. He married a Southern lady, a niece of Maj. C. W. Anderson, and lives at Vandalia, Ill. How delightful it would be to meet him G. R. Ergenbright, member of Company C, Sixth Virginia Calvary, died recently at his home in Island Ford, Va. He served the four years of the war. and was ever loyal to the cause for which he fought.

Sketches of Prison Life -- more articles by Chaplain Hutton
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