1862: Alpheus Andrews to his Friend

The following letter was written by Pvt. Alpheus (“Alf”) Andrews (1841-1911) of Co. H, 3rd Iowa Infantry. Alpheus was taken prisoner at the Battle of Shiloh (Pittsburg Landing) on 6 April 1862 and was eventually paroled and sent to Benton Barracks in St. Louis to await exchange. It was while at Benton Barracks that he wrote the following letter.

I could not find an image of Alf but here is one of George W. Smith who served in Co. C, 3rd Iowa Infantry (Iowa Civil War Images)

After he was changed he was returned to duty with his regiment and on 15 August 1864 he was transferred into Co. C. until he was mustered out of the service on 12 July 1865 at Louisville.

Alf was the son of Hiram Andrews (1813-1889) and Catherine Schisler (1812-1901) of Springfield, Keokuk county, Iowa.

Alf’s letter, written in mid-July 1862, pertains to the parolees who were being held at Benton Barracks at the time. The War Department had two weeks previously issued General Orders No. 72 announcing that furloughs would not be granted to paroled prisoners and instead sent to one of three parole camps established for their reception. Those from the East would go to a facility near Annapolis soon to be christened Camp Parole. Parolees belonging to Virginia, Kentucky, Ohio, Tennessee, Indiana, and Michigan regiments were ordered to Camp Chase near Columbus, Ohio. The War Department designated Benton Barracks, located near St. Louis, for paroled soldiers from Illinois, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa, and Missouri.

Benton Barracks was the first parole camp to receive large contingents of men. On July 13 Colonel Benjamin Louis Eulalie de Bonneville, commander of the post, reported that 1,167 had just arrived. They reached the camp “without officers and with extraordinary opinions of duties proper for them.” Specifically, the soldiers insisted that the terms of their paroles precluded them from performing any military duties whatsoever. They refused to stand guard duty or to perform garrison duty. Bonneville disagreed, and many ended up in the guard house adorned by a ball and chain. Many did not bother to remain in the camp, opting instead for “French leave” and risking being charged with desertion. On February 1, 1862, Bonneville reported that there were 818 parolees at Benton Barracks and 971 reported absent.

It is sometimes erroneously claimed that the Shiloh prisoners were taken to Andersonville which is impossible as that prison did not begin taking prisoner until late February 1864. From what I can learn, the prisoners were taken to Montgomery, Alabama, before they took the oath and were paroled.

[Note: The following letter is from the personal collection of Jim Petersen and was transcribed and published on Spared & Shared by express consent.]


Camp Benton
St. Louis, Missouri
July 18th 1862

Dear Friend,

As things is very dry and dull here and as I get very lonesome, I have to spend some of my time in writing and as I have to write, I thought that I might as well write to you as anybody else. I have not much to write to you as I have wrote to you once since my release from prison and I did not write much to you that time for I expected to be at home long before this time but we have had a set of officers over us that has been acting the rascal with us ever since we have been back in our lines. We should have been back home long ago if they had of done us justice but they wanted to make something off of us and keep us from place to place now for about 2 months and there was an order come they say from the War Department for us to be garrisoned at Benton Barracks to perform such duty as may not interfere with our parole which I will give you a copy of at the close of my letter so you plainly see that that little thing of coming home is plated out altogether.

We are now at the barracks and they have begun to try to put us on guard they make the details for guards every morning and the boys refuse to go on and they march them off to the guard house and put a ball and chain to their leg. It was detailed yesterday morning but when they come to get me, I was found missing so they did not get any of their jewelry on me.

They say it is a great pity for such boys to act so they tell us to remember that we are from Iowa, to remember that we fought and bled in the bloody struggles of Donelson and Pittsburg [Landing] and won great laurels for ourselves and the State from which we hailed but still all of that will not make us stand guard every day or go to the guards house and wear their French Jewelry from June till eternity. First they find they have a set of [ ] set of Iowa and all to deal with and whenever they feel their rights trampled upon, the Devil is to pay right off. We don’t think that our government wants us to violate our parole and we also believe that the government—owing to the great excess of business now to transact in the War Department—that they are in a great measure ignorant of our case. And as we are dead broke, we have no means of informing them of it. We wrote time and again to the government of our different states concerning it but the officers would stop any letter directed to any governor of any of our respective states. They thought by so doing to keep the thing all in their own hands.

Our camp is now pretty near in a state of mutiny and it would have been long before this time, but we feel that we owe too great a duty to the States from which we hailed to ever be guilty of that and we also feel that we owe our government a great duty and we also feel that one of the greater duties that now involves itself on us is to kill a few of the officers now in charge of us. I think that that would be doing ourselves and government and all parties concerned the greatest service that it is now in our power to do. We all feel that we have been grievously wronged and we will only submit when we have to. They have ordered two hundred balls and chains for us so there is one consolation. There is about 1300 of us and you see that they can’t put us all in at once and those that are out can minister to the wants of those that are in irons. They tell us to submit and we shall have our money and not before but that has played out and we will only submit when we have to. We will freely lose every cent that that is due us which is something over a hundred dollars before we will give in—not that we dread or have any fear of the duty. But we respect our oath and hate the idea of being gulled in any such a way. It was a mercy to us to get to take the oath of parole for we was starting to death as fast as we could. They gave us a piece of corn bread about two inches square and a piece of mule beef about the same size for 24 hours and it was half rotten at that. So you see a man naturally would want to get out of that the quickest way possible.

But that is all over now and we are living very well now. They don’t ask us to go int the field nor I don’t think by the information that I can gain by the papers that there will be any exchange. The paper of this morning said that they would not exchange so I don’t think that it will pay the government to keep us so I don’t think it will be a great while before they will do something with us. I want you to write to me immediately and give me a full account of things in general and tell the rest of them to write to me. I have not heard from any of my friends since the battle. I have not got a letter from you since the battle. I have not got a letter from you since I was home.

Direct as follows: Alpheus Andrews, Paroled Prisoner of War. Benton Barracks, Mo. in care of Captaincies. Albertson

As I told you that I would send you a copy of our parole, I present it to you below a copy from the original.

I do solemnly swear and pledge my most sacred word of honor that I will not during the present war between the Confederate States and the United States of America bear arms or aid and abet the enemies of said Confederate States or their friends either directly or indirectly in any form whatever until regularly exchanged or released.

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