Receive a letter from Father. He says everything is bright and cheerful in the South and whatever suffering there may be it is not perceptible, but everyone appears to enjoy himself as though there was no war. (I suppose this is putting a good face over our misfortunes.) Every week a rumor is afloat about our leaving the island by way of an exchange of prisoners between the North and South.
In the evening we celebrate the 22nd by a few appropriate speeches from Col. Lewis, Mo., Capt. Houston, Va., and Capt. Fellows (Tenn. or Ark.). The Yankee officer of the day disperses the crowd, but not until we had paid the usual tribute of respect to Genl. Washington, the Father of Rebels.
John Dooley – Confederate lieutenant – Journal Excerpts
(Source: John Dooley, Confederate Soldier: His War Journal; edited by Joseph T. Durkin, 1963, page 159)
George Washington & The Civil War
George Washington – commander of the Continental Army during the War for Independence and first president of the United States – died in 1799. Though he had been gone sixty-two years by the time the Civil War began, Washington’s influence and memory was still alive. Both Union and Confederates claimed Washingtonian ideals and principles, interpreting them to fit their war motives. For Union troops, Washington’s legacy as the first president and a Constitution framer created a figurehead image for the cause of union. For Confederate troops, “Rebel General” and Virginian featured high in their estimation of Washington.
Interestingly, George Washington had seen the sectional differences starting to tear the United States apart at the end of his life, and he even offered advice on the subject of Union in his Farewell Address:
In contemplating the causes which may disturb our Union, it occurs as matter of serious concern that any ground should have been furnished for characterizing parties by geographical discriminations, Northern and Southern, Atlantic and Western; whence designing men may endeavor to excite a belief that there is a real difference of local interests and views. One of the expedients of party to acquire influence within particular districts is to misrepresent the opinions and aims of other districts. You cannot shield yourselves too much against the jealousies and heartburnings which spring from these misrepresentations; they tend to render alien to each other those who ought to be bound together by fraternal affection….
If only they could have paid more attention to the advice from the man who was “first in war, first in peace, and first the in hearts of his countrymen.”
Johnson Island Prison
Lieutenant John Dooley of the 1st Virginia Regiment penned this journal entries in Johnson Island Prison, where he and a total of approximately 15,000 prisoners spent months under the watchful eye of Union sentries. Wounded and captured at the Battle of Gettysburg, Dooley was shuffled from prison to prison before ending up on the island in Sandusky Bay, Ohio. This prison opened in 1862 and housed prominent Confederate officers, thousands of soldiers during the war years, and a unique “prison culture.”
The island that became the prison location was owned by Leonard B. Johnson, who leased half the island to the Federal government and military for $500. Union troops constructed a prison stockade around sixteen and a half acres and built barracks, a hospital, and mess halls inside, along with a large collection of buildings outside the stockade for the guards. Access to the island was carefully controlled, though this did not prevent Southern sympathizers from hatching grand plans to break the prisoners out of Johnson Island Prison. Unlike other Civil War prisons with massive death rates, about 200 Confederates died at Johnson Island and many of those deaths were due to escape attempts across the frozen lake in the middle of winter.
During the early months of 1864, some of Dooley’s comrades attempted an escape and made their successful departure from the island. Dooley himself waited – eventually getting paroled on February 27, 1865, after spending nearly a year and a half imprisoned.
John Dooley didn’t believe the story that all was well in the Confederacy. He mentions receiving a letter from his father that painted a rosy picture of wartime life in the South. Dooley was no fool. From his journal, we know that he kept notes on military campaigns across the Confederacy and probably tried to glean as much information as possible through camp rumors, newspapers, or his Federal guards.
Although sticking to his cause and beliefs, Dooley refused to believe the exaggeration from home. Adding together all the facts, he built a case that revealed a faltering Confederacy that would probably find its fate determined in 1864. Losing the Mississippi River and significant territory in the West , thousand of casualties and thousands in northern prisons, the grim reality started to hang on the horizon, even for the hopeful. Dooley did not give up hope in the winter of 1864, but he didn’t agree with the reports that all was well and morale stayed high.