Journal of James Aiken, May 27, 1862 - April 20, 1865 - Part 1


Journal of James Aiken, May 27, 1862 - April 20, 1865 - Part 1


The first section of the journal kept by James Aiken details his account as a Union prisoner of war. He recounts the journey from Virginia to Johnson's Island, Ohio where he was imprisoned. The journal also contains lists of soldiers and their provisions.




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James Aiken Collection








Date Valid


[Page 1]

[Pages 2-7]
[Lists of soldiers and provisions.]

[Page 8]
Journal of Col. Jas Aiken 13th Ala. while a prisoner of war

Friday Apl 7th/65

Was captured near High Bridge Va. My Regt with the Batt. of sharp shooters were deployed as skirmishers to drive the enemy from the further end of the bridge so that it could be fired. We advanced across the river bottom for several hundred yards, in easy range of the enemy, without any protection. The river bottom was boggy and when I reached a ditch [illegible words]

[Page 9]
three hundred yards from the enemy I was perfectly exhausted. Here we halted a while & opened fire on the enemy but ascertaining that the enemy were in strong force, the left and right fell back & then the centre.

We fell back under a heavy fire - had to run for 2 or 300 yards in plain view of the enemy and through a boggy swamp. Balls fell fast and thick all around us. When I reached a place of safety I was entirely exhausted

[Page 10]
In the meantime all the others had gotten ahead of me.

I lay down to rest a few minutes

I then started for our army, but took a road which bore too much to the right and was captured by a cavalry man and Lieut on a Gen staff. I was very much mortified. However my captor treated me very kindly. He gave me his horse to ride and he walked through mud and water and when he was tired he got up and

[Page 11]
rode behind me.

When I got back to the bridge the Yankee army was camping. Only about ¼ of the Rail Road bridge was burnt and the bridge across the river not injured. I passed 2 corps of Infy besides artillery and cavalry. In passing to the rear I was not subjected to many taunts. I was turned over to the guard & took up my line of march for Burkville Junction some 12 or 15 miles. I stood the march very well. One of the guard

[Page 12]
letting me ride a part of the way.

I passed a long train of Grant’s army & I never saw such complete transportation - horses & mules as fat as they could be and everything in the best of order. Several regiments of negro troops passed us. They had a good deal of slang to say to some negro cooks who have been captured, asking them if they were soldiers and saying if they were, they could never have taken them prisoner.

[Page 13]
Arrived at Burkville about dark and was turned into the “Bull Pen.” A noble Virginia lady near Burkville did not hesitate to express her sympathy for us even in the presence of Yankee Generals. I am truly thankful to God for his great mercies to me this day in preserving me from the danger of war and sparing my life. Let his great name be praised.

We arrived at Burkville about dark where we remained

[Page 14]
till next day.

We found about 7000 of our officers and men, prisoners here. The enemy issued some hard bread to-night but not more than ½ of the men got any.

Apl 8th

We left about 12 m. for City Point and marched 10 or 12 miles & camped. The Yankees issued fresh beef without any salt and no bread.

Apl 9th

Resumed the march went 12 or 15 miles to Wilson Depot on

[Page 15]
the South Side R.R. and camped.

Rations issued.

Apl 10th (11th)

Remain in camp.

Apl 12

Resume the march. At all the stations on the R.R. Yankee officers and soldiers are out to view us. We pass through Petersburg - not many citizens are on the street - some ladies wave their handkerchiefs. Reach City Point - here all the Yankee force which was considerable are out to see us.

[Page 16]
It presents the appearance of a city. Here the officers & men are separated. Our names are registered & we our put on board the steamer Cossack. She lies in the river all night.

Apl 13th

About 10 am the steamer leaves for Washington. The day is bright. It was a picturesque voyage down the James. Spring which had now decorated the abrupt & rugged banks with a gr

[Page 17]
een fringe and now or then could be seen a stately old mansion in its solitude which had escaped the ravages of war. We passed the old town of Jamestown now unpopulated & in its ruins. As we passed our way on the bosom of the James my wandered back to the time when the Indian in blissful peace sported over it in [illegible] canoe and when our forefathers first guided their [illegible] bark on its waters.

14) Morning arrives and we have passed

[Page 18]
through the bay and are lying at the mouth of the Potomac. As the sun climbs the sky we wind our way up the stream. The Maryland shore is on our right and has an old and worn appearance little timber appearing in sight. The Virginia shore has much the same appearance. The officers are crowded on the deck, eagerly gazing at all objects of curiosity on the shore. Some of them are almost in sight of home

[Page 19]
but the stern reality of war compel them to pass without a visit. We pass Mt Vernon the last resting place of the first great rebel. We pass Alexandria and are soon anchored at the wharf at Washington. We are embarked , form “fours” and are marched to the Provost Marshall’s office - our names are called and just as the sun was sinking in the West we were marched through the principal streets to the old “Capitol Prison.”

[Page 20]
There were many ladies & gentlemen on the streets to see us, we being quite a sight, there being over 300 officers. One solitary lady told us to be of good cheer - never to despond. At length we reach the capitol and are assigned quarters. And that night when we were all unconscious in sleep the assassination of Abraham Lincoln President of the U.S. is consumated by J. Wilkes Booth.

[Page 21]
[Various names.]

[Page 22]
15th Apl/65

Remained in prison at the old capitol. 30 or 40 of us were confined closely to a room and not allowed to go out except two or three at a time. We were generally allowed one hour’s recreation in the yard below each. The building was so cut up in prison rooms that I could not tell where the Halls of Congress were formerly.

Apl 16th

Still remained in prison. Nothing of interest occurred.

Apl 17th

Still remained

[Page 23]
in prison.

Apl. 18th

On the evening of this day the most of us, about 315 were called out to be forwarded to the prison on Johnson’s Island Ohio. As each one passed through the gate from one yard into another, he was given a loaf of bread with a piece of cooked meat for his rations. In due time we were marched to the Depot & took the cars (box) for Baltimore, about one before the sun

[Page 24]
was down. We were under a strong guard. We arrived at Baltimore shortly after dark.

We marched through several streets to the Pittsburgh Depot. We could see but little of the citizens. One thing however was noticeable and it was that crepe was not hung in needless profusion on the houses in honor of the dead President. We now meet with the good fortune of passenger cars. We jour-

[Page 25]
neyed on all night passed through Harrisburg Pa. and as the sun began to dart its rays through the [illegible] cloud which continually overhangs that noted city of furnaces - Pittsburgh - we approached it. It has an old appearance, in the suburbs through which we pass.

Apl. 19th

We then ascended the north branch of the Ohio to its source; the steam horse following its meanderings as faithfully

[Page 26]
as an explorer. Villages dotted its banks ever cared anon, but the most of them did not have that thriving and neat appearance which I had expected to find in the north. Finally we passed through a long tunnel in crossing the ridge. There was utter darkness. When we reached this part of Ohio, the lands improved and the towns became more respectable. We passed through Canton, Alliance, Worcester and

[Page 27]
Mansfield - at the latter place the cars stopped several hours when our guards the Union soldiers were feasted on good things but “nary crumb for Rebs.” This was the more provoking as our rations were out and I only had the fraction of a dollar in “greenbacks” in my pocket. Those of us who had money could buy.

We took box cars and started down the lake slope for Sandusky which we

[Page 28]
reached about sundown. We were “unboxed” formed into to line and marched down the principal streets to the admiring gaze of wide mouthed dutchman and ugly women and children and to the great gratification of Gen. Grant who no doubt felt himself of more consequence than Gen. Grant. We took a boat across the bay to the Island which is about three

[Page 29]
miles. The waves were high, the breeze stiff and cold. The only accident which happened was that one mans blew off in the water which he lost. We landed at the Island, when we were thrust into the examining room where a Yankee Sergeant thrust his hand into our pockets and searched diligently for articles contraband. We pulled off our boots and he felt in our socks. This is one of the

[Page 30]
inconveniences of being a prisoner. Then each man was given a half a loaf of bread (which the proverb says is better than none) and turned into the “Bull Pen” which is an enclosure of 10 or 15 acres with plank about 15 feet long set on end. The buildings for the prisoners are arranged in two rows facing each other. The gate was crowded with prisoners, all anxious to see if they had any friends among the “fresh fish”

[Page 31]
as those are called who are brought into the pen from recent captures. The greetings, Where are you from? Any Alabamians there? Any Tar Heels? &c &c were repeatedly heard from various parts of the crowd. There were about 2500 prisoners in the pen and I think the most of them were crowded around the gate. It was just dark. I made my way with difficulty through the crowd and reached an “Ala” room, where I

[Page 32]
I found my friends and country men J. S. Williams J. F. Hooper & C. N. Stephens & G. F. [Illegible]. They received me with kindness, gave me supper &c. After a short chat about “bygone times” I went to bed and resigned myself to sweet sleep.

Apl 20th

[Pages 32-50]
[Lists of soldiers and provisions.]


Aiken, James, 1832-1908, “Journal of James Aiken, May 27, 1862 - April 20, 1865 - Part 1,” The Citadel Archives Digital Collections, accessed February 5, 2023,