Amos Stearns, who enlisted in the 25th Massachusetts Infantry during the Civil War, was held as a prisoner of war by the Confederates from May 1864 to March 1865. His account of his Civil War service and imprisonment, entitled Life in Rebel Prisons, offers insight into his experiences and the ways in which the experiences of war were recrafted in the minds of veterans as the years passed.
Language: The material is in English. Repository: William L. Clements Library, University of Michigan
909 S. University Ave. The University of Michigan Ann Arbor, MI 48109-1190 Phone: 734-764-2347 Web Site: www.clements.umich.edu
Amos E. Stearns Memoir, James S. Schoff Civil War Collection, William L. Clements Library, The University of Michigan
Stearns, Amos Edward, 1833-1912
Rank : Private
Regiment : 25th Massachusetts Infantry Regiment. Co. A (1861-1865)
Service : 1861 September 11-1865 March 25
Amos Edward Stearns was born in Taunton, Mass., on January 9, 1833, the fourth of nine children born to Amos and Chloe (Cleaveland) Stearns. Stearns received a basic common school education and was trained and employed as a machinist, but at the outset of the war, he was driven by a succession personal tragedies to enlist in the army. His first child, Mary, died in 1860, and was followed in death in July, 1861, by his wife, Mary C. Keen, whom he had married in 1855, and one month later, by their second child, Nellie, who died of cholera. Grief-stricken and unemployed, Stearns volunteered as a private in the 25th Massachusetts on September 11, 1861.
Shortly after enlistment and mustering in, the 25th Massachusetts Infantry was attached to Burnside's Coastal Expedition and sent to North Carolina, where they remained stationed at New Bern for over a year and a half, participating in the succession of battles in December, 1862, that included Goldsboro, Whitehall and Kinston, and in the defence of New Bern itself during the spring of 1863. In October, 1863, the regiment was ordered to Newport News, Va., where those who declined to reenlist -- including Stearns -- were temporarily assigned to duty with the 139th New York Infantry. Having already withstood some sporadic moments of hard campaigning in North Carolina, the 25th Massachusetts were ordered into the thick of the fray on the southern approaches to Richmond, just in time for the bitter spring campaigns of 1864.
At Drury's (or Drewry's) Bluff, on May 16, 1864, Stearns was taken prisoner while helping a wounded comrade to the rear of a fog-covered battlefield. Processed as a prisoner of war at Libby Prison in Richmond, Stearns was soon sent southward to the notorious Andersonville Prison Camp and later to the less well-known, but equally harsh camps at Charleston and Florence, S.C. As Sherman's forces threatened from Savannah, Stearns was ordered back and forth between Wilmington and Goldsboro, finally gaining parole on February 27th and formal exchange on March 9. Particularly at Andersonville and Charleston, exposure, hunger, disease, and brutality had been every day features of life, but roughly two weeks after his exchange, he was mustered out of the service, arriving home at Worcester on March 25.
Following the war, Stearns found work as a machinist in Worcester, and in 1866, married Lydia Maria Fisher. The couple adopted a son, Walter, in 1873. Stearns was active in veterans organizations, including the Grand Army of the Republic, until his death on May 28, 1912.
Collection Scope and Content Note
Amos E. Stearns's account of his Civil War service and imprisonment, entitled Life in Rebel Prisons, is remarkably free of visible animosity towards his Rebel captors and is therefore a rather unusual document. Beginning with his capture at Drewry's Bluff and ending with his release, Stearns depicts his captivity as part of a harsh reality, but without attributing cruel intentions to anyone: even Henry Wirz, the infamous commandant at Andersonville, receives relatively favorable treatment. Since the narrative was written following the war (published in 1887 as Narrative of Amos E. Stearns, A Prisoner at Andersonville), time may have softened Stearns's opinions of the Confederates, or it may be that he was simply more empathetic or more forgiving.
Stearns's published diary, which probably provides the original source material for this narrative, provides a more downhearted sense of the despair and hardships suffered during imprisonment. Together, the two volumes provide a balanced record of Stearns' experiences, offering insight as well into the ways in which the experiences of war were recrafted in the minds of veterans as the years passed.
United States--History--Civil War, 1861-1865--Prisoners and prisons.
Military prisons--United States.
Charleston Prison (S.C.)
Florence Prison (S.C.)
Wirz, Henry, 1823?-1865.
Container / Location
Amos E. Stearns memoir, 1864 May 16-1865 March 25 [series]
Page : Frontis
Photograph of Amos E. Stearns
Capture at Battle of Drewry's Bluff, Va. (May 16, 1864)
Journey to Richmond; Rebel guard takes his tin cup of coffee
Passing the carnage on the battlefield
Rebel guards mistreat Penobscot Indian prisoner
Meets other prisoners from 25th Massachusetts at Ft. Darling; taking a gunboat to Richmond in very hot conditions
Description of officer commanding the gunboat
Crowds in Richmond to see Yankee prisoners; one of the Rebel guards from Massachusetts
Learning the rules in Libby Prison; getting medical attention for a friend shot by guard
Searching new prisoners; hiding money and valuables from the Rebel guards
Noted Union deserter and Rebel soldier Dick Turner; rations at Libby Prison
Journey to Andersonville Prison
Meeting wounded Rebel soldiers; women and children selling food to Yankee prisoners
Holding pen for prisoners in Augusta, Ga.
Pumping water by hose into the pen
Talking to Rebel civilians; their impressions of Union General Benjamin Butler (1818-1893)
Arrival at Andersonville Prison; first encounter with Henry Wirz, commandant of Andersonville; Yankee drummer boys put on "parole of honor"
First glimpse of prisoners in Andersonville: they look like "brown beavers"
Meets friend from Co. D, Preston A. Champney
Makes mud hut with Charles L. Rice and Joseph C. Plumb but rain destroys, so they look for shelter with others
Sleeping without shelter
Need blanket to get accepted into existing shelters
Moves into Campney's shelter; description of the shelter
Dispensing rations: squad system; some prisoners get cooked rations, some get raw
Description of mush and other rations
Ration trading and trading for tobacco
Rebels occasionally cut off rations; "raiders" and stealing among prisoners
Prisoner police force and court to deal with raiders
Wirz's punishment of raiders
Trial and hanging of prisoners found guilty of murder; General William T. Sherman (1820-1891) reported to have approved of action
Overcrowding means no room to walk when prisoners lay down to sleep at night
Shortage of wood; death of Champney
His wood-selling business
"Exchange on the brain" is one of the most common diseases at Andersonville; disappointed hopes for exchange cause many to die
Heavy rain causes flooding in stockade
Freshwater spring appears in stockade
Trading rations; selling biscuit and sweet potato soup
Lice; prisoners who give up hope and will their deaths
Prisoners moved to Charleston, S.C.
Prisoners kept at fairgrounds outside Charleston
Prisoners moved to Florence, S.C.
Description of stockade at Florence
Smuggling beans into prison in hollow sticks of firewood
Death of a friend
Trading with Rebel guards for buttons; tricking the guards
Paroled at Wilmington, N.C.
Paid for time in prison (after enlistment term had expired)