Monday, August 8, 2011

Thomas Jefferson Hampson, Prisoner of War

Thomas Jefferson Hampson returns this week to recount his experiences as a soldier in the Civil War.  In 1861, he joined the Union Army after the shelling of Fort Sumter and he and his friend were sent to Carlisle Barracks in Pennsylvania to be outfitted and organized into Company A of the 4th Regular Cavalry. 
His unit was sent West to northern Missouri where it fought its way through the state and, in early August, were camped around Springfield, Missouri, in the southwest corner of the state. 
On August 10, 1861, Hampson and his unit followed Nathaniel Lyons, who would that day become the first general officer to be killed in a Civil War battle, to a place called Wilson's Creek.

The death of Lyons
National Park Service

By eleven o’clock that morning, there were 2500 casualties on both sides and the Union Armies withdrew North and East to a town called Rolla, and the Rebel Army claimed Springfield.

Hampson wrote about the war some fifty years later in Bonanza, Colorado, near where he made a little money mining silver after his tugboat business in Pensacola, Florida had failed.  He did meet Elmira Knapp in Pensacola, and they raised four boys.

His unpublished memoir is a way for us to offer our respect for the hard times and sacrifices that characterized America in the great Civil War.  Hampson’s granddaughter, Mildred, was my Mom. 
We last heard from TJ Hampson when he was in the basement of the Greene County Courthouse with a burial party coming to take away the dead bodies stored there, including, by mistake, his own.  As they went to move him, someone saw him blink and his status improved from that of a dead man to a badly wounded prisoner of war. 
He doesn’t get very specific about his wounds except to say that his ribs were broken and sticking out of the skin on his chest.   He also tells us that the tail of his shirt was cut off to bandage a wound on his leg.  It was in this condition he surveyed a room with no furniture and a floor strewn with dead, dying and seriously injured men.

Springfield, Missouri, 30 days after its capture by Union
Son of the South
Unfortunately, the courthouse no longer stands.  Three days after Springfield was re-taken by the Union Army on October 25, 1861, a deranged man who had been imprisoned there set it afire and it burned down. 

Unlike the other episodes I’ve shared, I had to edit this piece some, mainly for length.  But I’ve also edited for redundancy.  Unlike other passages of his memoir, Hampson repeats himself in this section frequently, as if he had to write it down again just so he could believe what happened to him in the summer of 1861. 
Thomas Jefferson Hampson, Prisoner of War in Springfield, Missouri
“I was in a most wretched state”
The hospital was in a court house, a sort of impromptu affair, destitute of beds or cots or any other necessaries.  Our wounded were laying around the floor destitute of any covering and the treatment we received at the hands of those confederates was cruel in the extreme.  All medical stores intended for our wounded had been taken by the Confederates for their use, and many a poor wounded soldier’s life could have been saved with humane treatment and proper care, but the Johnnie Rebels were not troubling themselves about our comfort.
Words are inadequate to describe our suffering.  Rebels were allowed to come in and abuse and insult us in a most brutal and cowardly manner.  How I ever came out of that trying ordeal is one of the mysteries of life.  A hard floor for a bed, a piece of rag carpet for covering, a single garment for a shirt, with an abbreviated tail as some kind and thoughtful friend had used the appendage for a bandage for my leg.  Lying on the hard floor caused bed sores on my hips; only one surgeon was left to attend to the several hundred wounded, and my turn to be examined by that functionary came around about ten days after I was brought to the hospital.
The broken and splintered ribs were protruding through the skin, and taking everything into consideration, I was in a most wretched state.  As we had not ether or chloroform in the hospital, all operations were performed without the aid of those essential pain killers and those who had the misfortune to come under the surgeon’s knife had to grin and bear the pain as best he could. 
About three weeks after the battle, the hospital stores were allowed to come through the lines and after that the wounded fared much better, but to many a poor fellow that had answered the last roll call and lay out in the lovely field used for a burial ground – those medical stores were of no use to him. 
After a month of existence in that living hell, I was able to move around on a pair of crutches that a comrade made me.  My wounds were doing nicely, and I felt as if I would pull through all right. 
“A stylish suit of clothes...a rebel coward”
A lady who lived in Springfield took pity on my situation in the way of clothing and concluded that I could have a suit regardless of looks and general fit.  Her husband was a Union man, and a Captain of our service.  She often visited the hospital and did all in her power to alleviate our sufferings.  She rigged out an old cast-off suit of her husband’s; it was not a handsome or even a stylish suit of clothes, but under the circumstances, it was a welcome gift, and I was proud of it as if it had been made out of broad cloth and cost a hundred dollars.
About this time the government, on hearing of the condition the hospital was in, managed to furnish us with beds and bedding.  After that, we were quite comfortable in the way of sleeping accommodations, but that same favorable change caused a terrible disaster to befall me as I slept in my bed that first night.  I had taken my beloved suit of clothes off and laid them on the foot of my bed, and when I awoke in the morning they had disappeared, vanished!!!
We had no protection from the authorities; anyone was allowed to come in the hospital and say and do as they pleased.  If it suited their fancy to mistreat the helpless prisoner, it was their privilege to do so, and no one to say “nay.”
A big burley Rebel came in to our ward and made all kinds of insulting remarks.  I seemed to attract his attention probably by my utter helpless condition and he came up near and called me a “damned Yankee.”
In return, I called him “a rebel coward.”
Drawing back his foot he gave me a kick in the side making the blood fly from my wounded chest.  Then drawing a huge knife and deliberately drew it across my throat, saying that he had a mind to cut my head off.  There I lay helpless, unable to even raise my hand, and that big cowardly brute taking advantage of my condition.  Even to this day if I should ever meet that miserable cur, I would shoot him as I would a dog.  To hear a sickly sentimentalist talk about forgiving your enemies makes me disgusted with the cant of any denomination.
“A feeling of gladness”
An old lady who lived on a farm five miles from Springfield came into the hospital and hearing about my misfortune, came to my cot, where I was taking an enforced siesta, and had quite a long conversation with me; she offered to take me home with her if the prison authorities would not object.  She was the wife of a Union man who was with our army at Rolla; consequently, she was under the ban of the Confederacy.  They owned a large farm and were quite wealthy.
I explained the ridiculous condition I was in owing to the theft of my clothes.  She said when the Rebels had raided her home, they had taken every stitch of wearing apparel of the male persuasion, but she thought she could find some kind of material to make me a pair of pants and a jacket.
The commanding officer made no objection, except his requirement that I give my word of honor not to attempt to escape, which I gave readily as I was only too glad to get away from the hospital.  All of this occurred in the morning and she informed me that she would come after me in the afternoon.
About three o’clock she drove up to the hospital and rest assured I was all ready for the journey.  I went with the joyous prospect of going out in the country away from the scene of suffering and death, away from the pressure of the brutal rebel soldiers, and overbearing guards.  Out in the quiet and beautiful country where we could hear birds sing their sweetest carols and see the flowers and green grass; away from the busy haunts of man, out into nature’s own domain.  A feeling of gladness came over me as I had never experienced before.
When we arrived we were met by an old negro woman, one of Mrs.  Phelps old servants, who had gone away with the others, but had repented her desertion and returned to stay with “Ole Miss” and when she saw me she exclaimed, “Foh de Gawds sakes, Ole Miss – whar’ you get that poo-ah sta’ved boy?”
After supper, Mrs.  Phelps and Aunt Jane held a consultation on the subject of making me some clothes.  The most important item to be considered was to obtain the necessary material.  It was finally determined to cut up one of Mrs.  Phelps old calico wrappers and make a pair of pants and a jacket out of it. 
Now, Mrs. Phelps was anything but a seamstress when it came to cutting and fitting a pair of pants.  She was at a loss at how to commence.  Aunt Jane had no experience in that line but was full of suggestions, yet could not put them into any practical use.  However, she was to do the measuring act and getting a string, she put one end on my foot and the other half way up under my arm.  I suggested that she was getting them too long.  “If dey’s too long honey, you can roll ‘em up – got plenty of caliker to make ‘em long.”
The next day about supper time the suit was ready for delivery – such a suit as it was.  I don’t know whether I will live a thousand years or not, but if I do, I will never forget that pair of pants and jacket.  The pants were simply two long bags, the coat was a conglomeration of gorem (sic), and with a draw string in lieu of a waist band.  The buttons were a job lot of odds and ends.  They were lined with some kind of white material and looked very much like the remnants of a wrecked white skirt.
As they did not understand the mysteries of putting in pockets, they simply left slits in them like pants for a kid.  Aunt Jane, in explaining the absence of pockets said, “You all got no use for pockets, honey – for if you had anything to put in them, the Rebels would steal it.  We left’ dem slits, honey, so you could scratch yo’self.”
At this time my weight was about eighty-five pounds – almost a skeleton, and anything would fit me. 
Words would fail in their mission should I attempt to describe my happiness while a guest of good Mrs.  Phelps;  she did everything in her power to make me feel comfortable, everyday some little act of kindness placed me in her debt.  My wounds were healing nicely, and I was in clover. 
"Back among my companions in misery"
The weeks passed away pleasantly; on the last day of our stay at the farm, Mrs.  Phelps and myself were just settling down to dinner when we heard the tramp of horses.  Upon going to the door, we discovered a troop of Rebel Cavalry coming up to the house in command of a sergeant who dismounted at the door, walked into the house, walked up to Mrs.  Phelps and told her he had an order from General Price placing her under arrest.
She asked him what the charge was and he told her that it had been reported that she was harboring Union men who were on their way to join the Union Army.  Well, here was trouble indeed.  We were allowed to eat our dinner, then we were all taken to Springfield.  I was placed back into my old quarters; Mrs.  Phelps was sent through the lines and joined her husband at Rolla.  I was back among my companions in misery.

Next:  Escape!

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