1862: Samuel Bowman Swats to Dr. Alfred C. Hughes

The following letter was written by 29 year-old Samuel Bowman Swats (1833-1908) of Augusta county, Virginia. He was the son of John Swats and Anna W. Hensley. Just prior to the Civil War, Samuel was enumerated at Burkes Mill, Augusta county, Virginia, where he worked as a carpenter. He was married to Virginia Cross (1839-1915) in 1858.

Samuel served the Confederacy originally as a private in 1st Battalion Virginia Cavalry. This company was later consolidated with other companies to form the 11th Virginia Cavalry and Samuel was in Co. F. According to his obituary, Swats was twice captured and imprisoned, once in Camp Chase and again at Point Lookout where he remained a prisoner until after the close of the war. He was described on muster roll records as standing 5 feet 9 inches tall, with blue eyes, and black hair.

According to Samuel’s military record, he was taken prisoner on 7 September 1862 at Darksville, Virginia, and confined first in the Atheneum Military Prison in Wheeling, then at Camp Chase, and finally at Camp Douglas. He was officially exchanged at Vicksburg on 1 November 1862, some two weeks after this letter.

Samuel wrote the letter to Dr. Alfred C. Hughes (1824-1880), a Wheeling physician who was at the time a political prisoner at Camp Chase. Presumably Samuel and Alfred became acquainted when Samuel was imprisoned either at Wheeling, Virginia, or at Columbus, Ohio, or both.


Addressed to Dr. Alford Hughes, Camp Chase, Ohio, Prison 2, Mess 14

Cairo, Illinois
October 17th 1862

Doctor Hughes, dear sir,

I embrace the present opportunity for letting you know how we are progressing on our trip south. We got here on Wednesday after we left there on Monday & have been in occupation of a horse stable and lot of about 1.25 acres ever since. I have not been outside since I came in. Some of the Boys have been on parole in town, Mrs. Shipley Myers & one or two others of our crowd was out among the rest. Our prison is nothing like so pleasant as it was at Camp Chase. Our provision is not so plenty or so good nor the water. We use the water from the Ohio River. There is a good many of our boys sick and nearly all of them complaining. The gripe was yesterday that we were to leave today but there is no news of it. This morning our progress is very slow. We found one hundred and forty prisoners here from Camp Douglas & the last squad from Camp Chase got in here two days ago. We know nothing about why we are detained here. Some of the officers say it is for want of transportation. Others say we are waiting for other prisoners to come in.

I wish you to see John Allen of Mess 8 and ask him about young Wallace whom we left in the hospital & let me know certainly whether he is dead or not. Lieut. Acres told me he was dead. Write me a note and let me know if you please.

Tell all the boys that we are getting on as well as can be expected under the circumstances. Tender my regards to Messrs. Marting, Cox, Strum, & all other friends of Prison 2. Very respectfully yours, — Samuel B. Swats

P. S. I will write again before crossing the lines if it is possible. We may start from here in a day or two but it is uncertain. It may be a week or two. Write anyhow. I would like to hear from you all. There has some 8 or 10 taken the oath here. — S. B. S.

I forgot to say to you that I wish you to see the commandant of the post about my telescope. It was marked to me when it was taken & I was told that I would get it again. If you can get it, send it to Virginia by the first chance. You have my address. I would not prize it so highly but it was a present. It can be sent by express after it gets through the lines. This is your order for it. — S. B. S.

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