|The New South Vol. 3, No. 2. Port Royal S. C., Saturday, October 15, 1864
Rev. James H. Fowler was born 1841. He died in 1925. He was a student of Divinity and Zoology at
Harvard in 1862. In August he became a civilian nurse in Judiciary Square Hospital in Washington,
D.C. Later in the fall he became Chaplain of the First South Carolinia. He was captured while cutting
Confederate telegraph wires and held prisoner for a year.
Col Higginson 33rd USCT and Rev. James H. Fowler
Higginson on his Chaplain..an eccentric genius with a good deal of brilliancy and perfectly
unexpected in word and deed.
Col Higginson's comments on Fowler: "No news of the chaplain except sometimes through fugitive
slaves, who report that the rebels pronounce him "a d-----d saucy Yankee as they ever met," which I
can easily credit. Under the new agreement about chaplains he would be released did he not belong
to a colored regiment---and may be as it is. Somehow it is impossible for any of us to speak seriously
of the chaplain's being a prisoner; we always laugh because we all have a feeling that the rebels
must have the worst of it."
Observations in the South.
A Massachusetts's Chaplain's Narrative.
Rev. J. H. Fowler, Chaplain of the 33 US colored infantry, released after nearly a year's
imprisonment at the South, writes to the Boston Journal as follows:
"I had many free conversations with intelligent Southern men. They were unanimous in their
determination to fight for independence even to extermination. They were looking forward to the next
Presidential election, hoping for a change of administration in their favor. They depend a great deal
upon the final success of the opposition party at the North ---not that they desired any kind of
reunion, or would accept anything short of complete independence. The exceptions were among
men of little or no influence, men of no opinions, and merely sick of the hardships of war.
The Prisoners in Charleston.
After two weeks at Pocotaligo, I was taken to Charleston. Marching through the burnt portion of the
city, the corporal in charge pointed to the ruins of the hall where the first declaration of secession
had been signed by traitors, where the sentence of desolation and ruin for that city and our country
had been passed. There, said he, is a spot of earth sacred to every South Carolinian, a spot of
which every man and woman in the Confederacy is proud. We were kept in Charleston jail six weeks,
with blankets and with a starving allowance of food. ---But through the kindness of some friends I
was provided with a small amount of money and some additional clothing. Two Masonic bodies gave
me twenty-five dollars each. Other prisoners came in with money, and we suffered comparatively
Procuring supplies---How Prisoners are Treated.
When we had money of our own we could always buy what we wanted. We had blankets, some
furnished by the rebs, some borrowed, some bought, some sent over by our Government. Of wood
we drew a little and bought the rest. We found the best way to procure money was to have sent us
bills of exchange payable to our order. These we could negotiate with a banker getting something
near an equivalent. Next in value to foreign exchange to send a prisoner gold, but in no case
greenbacks. The privates in Columbia, occupied barracks in the jail yard,and fared much worse than
the officers, having fewer blankets, none furnished by the rebs, and being very poorly clad, some of
them nearly naked and without money, except such as the officers gave them or paid for work.
There was plenty of good water in a small back yard, to which we were all admitted three times each
day. A very kind and gentlemanly surgeon came around once a day, and when any one became
very sick he was taken to the hospital and well cared for. Several wounded men brought into the
barracks from the hospitals suffered considerably for the want of blankets and proper clothing. In
December some seventy-five privates, mostly barefooted, some hatless, coatless, shirtless, and
without pants even, were forward to Belle Isle, expecting an immediate exchange. They must have
suffered intensely during the winter. In the spring, while the prisoners of Belle Island were being
removed to Andersonville, several who had escaped from the cars and were recaptured brought into
our prison living skeletons; the pictures they gave of their suffering from cold and hunger during the
winter was terrible to contemplate; and from report, brought back from Andersonville by rebel guards
from our prison who had been there with prisoners, their condition was in no wise improved there.
They were turned into a shelterless yard, exposed to sun and rain. Their food was beef and
corn-bread, better in itself than they had been accustomed to, but with their reduced systems,
change of water and climate, it produced a diarrhea which carried them off at the rate of fifty to
seventy-five out of ten thousand per day. Probably the largest half of the prisoners confined on Bell
Isle last winter are now dead.
At the present time there are at Andersonville about thirty thousand union prisoners, confined in a
yard less than five hundred yards square. I doubt if they suffer much for want of sufficient quantity of
food, but their clothing and shelter is as near to nothing as civilized man can endure. Their mortality
is about one hundred per day. They can but suffer severely. I learn that the officers who were
confined at Macon have all been taken to Charleston and Savannah. At Charleston they are said to
be under fire, but they are as safe from injury by our shells as are the people of Boston. Every
prison in the Confederacy would rejoice to be "put under fire at Charleston," believing he would then
have some prospect of exchange. All persons writing or sending packages to prisoners south of
Richmond, should send by way of Charleston, as the mail arrangements south of Richmond have
been so broken up since May that a letter through Richmond seldom reaches its destiny, and
packages do not go over the roads even for private citizens of the South. All letters go through their
post lines should contain their stamp, ten cents or the money. General Jones, commanding a
Charleston, seems disposed to do all in his power for the accommodation of prisoners, and would
doubtless forward faithfully and promptly anything that might come into his department for them.
The officers of Negro regiments, after being captured, are treated the same as other officers with
few individual exceptions. The privates fare worse, especially during the excitement of battle. All,
white and black, are plundered of everything, but the Negroes, wounded or well are brutally
murdered before being taken. Those who succeeded in getting to the rear of their lines at the great
Petersburg slaughter, after being marched through the city with all the officers captured, and scoffed
at, pelted with bricks, and spit upon, were sent back to the crater of the exploded fort to rebuild the
rebel works under our fire.
From what I have seen and heard I know that there is no cruelty or indignity within the capacity for
the rebels which they do no perpetrate upon our colored soldiers when they dare meet them and
can overcome them; but I have reason to doubt if they have a single instance committed a colored
soldier to slavery. I know of several cases where the master has been present and claimed the
Negro, and the Negro has acknowledged himself to be his slave, and declared his willingness to go
with him, but he was not for several months given up. I know well what they threaten, and have seen
those who say they have seen the threats put into execution, but on closely questioning it did not
appear that the Negroes had been soldiers. That they slaughter them on the field and even after
battle, is certain, and were I a Negro I would not be taken by them.
Dr. Seth Rogers - Nov 24, 1863 - Letters
"A cheerful letter from our Chaplain, dated Columbia Jail, S.C. Oct. 23rd. He was treated the same
as other officers, and we infer that our colored soldiers were not subjected to any peculiar
hardships. Of course he was not permitted to criticize. We will give him a big reception if he ever
comes back to the regiment."
Charlotte Forten Grimke on Rev. Fowler in her journals:
January 1, 1863: "Finding the night air damp we went to the tent of Mr. Fowler, the chaplain, whom I
like much better in private conversation than as an orator. He is a thoroughly good, earnest man."
|Rev. James H. Fowler
Chaplain of 33rd USCI
Story of Imprisonment
|General Sam Jones CSA
Commander of Charleston