Nasty Yankee prison camps

I usually attempt to maintain a neutral position concerning North vs. South, even though I am a Southerner from Virginia, But I could not restrain myself from responding after reading another letter condemning the Southern treatment of Yankee prisoners of war as if Northern prison camps were country clubs (January 2015). Please inform [those] uneducated on the topic to research Camp Douglas in Chicago, or the prison camp at Elmira, N.Y., to mention only two for Confederate POWs. I do not condone the treatment given to either group; both were wrong. The death rate at Southern camps was about 28 percent of inmates vs. 26 percent inmate deaths in Northern camps. At Camp Douglas, 1 in 5 died, and 1,100 died in a four-month period (winter) due to no proper shelter or blankets. I am aware of the conditions at Andersonville and cannot imagine existing or surviving. It is time that many become informed to the atrocities committed by both sides of the Mason-Dixon Line.

 Mike O’Donnell

 Aylett, Va.

Fond boyhood memories

While reading a recent issue, my mind drifted back to 1952 when I was in the 7th grade. I was at a party with my parents when I saw a man wearing a Civil War cap….There were some great comics in those days (Two-Fisted Tales and Frontline Combat, for example)that featured Civil War stories, and I was familiar with the uniforms and weapons of that era. I pointed the cap out to my mother and she told me they were selling them in the store where she worked. I had to have one and she took me down the next day and bought me one. I was the first kid to have one  in school the next day. The following day it seemed like half the kids in school had one. The day after that they were banned, along with Confederate flags, from school. However, for one  glorious day…huge armies, with fags  flying, would cross the playground  sweeping all before them. It was brother against brother. Timmy Beck fought for the Union while his brother Porky fought for the South. The Barret brothers, Philco and Kenny, also joined different sides. I still have that cap. It was one of the first ones made and is of  very good quality….In fact it might fool someone into believing it is a real Civil War cap. It is now 63 years old and has aged accordingly.

About the same time I found my great-grandfather’s muzzle-loading shotgun in the attic…and I was determined to shoot it. We lived on an old farm and my father was an avid hunter,so I had no problem with shooting near the house. I bought a can of black powder, poured some down the barrel and stuffed some toilet paper after it.I got a marble that fit and stuffed in  some more toilet paper. I put the tip of a kitchen match on the nipple and held it on with some tin foil. My father had bought a brand new garbage can and I took deadly aim on it. Maybe I was thinking the gun wouldn’t go off,and if it did I wouldn’t hit the can.Anyway, the thing went off, the toilet paper came out in flames and the world  turned white as I was engulfed in a huge cloud of smoke. When the smoke cleared, there was a hole in the can the size of my fist. I guess the marble  exploded because it never came out theother side. Luckily, my father was a very understanding man.

Ronald Van Orden

Bennington, Vt.


Originally published in the May 2015 issue of America’s Civil War. To subscribe, click here.