Manuscripts Division
William L. Clements Library
University of Michigan

Finding aid for
Amos E. Stearns Memoir, 1864-1865

James S. Schoff Civil War Collection

Finding aid created by
Rob S. Cox, October 1997

Summary Information
Title: Amos E. Stearns memoir
Creator: Stearns, Amos Edward, 1833-1912
Inclusive dates: 1864-1865
Extent: 82 pages
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:

Access and Use
Acquisition Information:

1988. M-2427.

Access Restrictions:

The collection is open to research.


Copyright status is unknown.

Alternate Format:

Amos E. Stearns' memoir was published in 1887 as Narrative of Amos E. Stearns, A Prisoner at Andersonville.

Preferred Citation:

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.

Subject Terms

    • United States--History--Civil War, 1861-1865--Prisoners and prisons.
    • Military prisons--United States.
    • Andersonville Prison.
    • Charleston Prison (S.C.)
    • Florence Prison (S.C.)
    • Libby Prison.
    • Wirz, Henry, 1823?-1865.
    Genre Terms:
    • Memoirs.
    Contents List
    Container / Location Title
    Volume   1  
    Amos E. Stearns memoir,  1864 May 16-1865 March 25 [series]
    Page   : Frontis  
    Photograph of Amos E. Stearns
    Page   1  
    Capture at Battle of Drewry's Bluff, Va. (May 16, 1864)
    Page   3  
    Journey to Richmond; Rebel guard takes his tin cup of coffee
    Page   4  
    Passing the carnage on the battlefield
    Page   5  
    Rebel guards mistreat Penobscot Indian prisoner
    Page   7  
    Meets other prisoners from 25th Massachusetts at Ft. Darling; taking a gunboat to Richmond in very hot conditions
    Page   8  
    Description of officer commanding the gunboat
    Page   9  
    Crowds in Richmond to see Yankee prisoners; one of the Rebel guards from Massachusetts
    Page   10  
    Learning the rules in Libby Prison; getting medical attention for a friend shot by guard
    Page   13-14  
    Searching new prisoners; hiding money and valuables from the Rebel guards
    Page   15  
    Noted Union deserter and Rebel soldier Dick Turner; rations at Libby Prison
    Page   19  
    Journey to Andersonville Prison
    Page   21  
    Meeting wounded Rebel soldiers; women and children selling food to Yankee prisoners
    Page   23  
    Holding pen for prisoners in Augusta, Ga.
    Page   24  
    Pumping water by hose into the pen
    Page   25  
    Talking to Rebel civilians; their impressions of Union General Benjamin Butler (1818-1893)
    Page   27  
    Arrival at Andersonville Prison; first encounter with Henry Wirz, commandant of Andersonville; Yankee drummer boys put on "parole of honor"
    Page   28  
    First glimpse of prisoners in Andersonville: they look like "brown beavers"
    Page   29  
    Meets friend from Co. D, Preston A. Champney
    Page   30  
    Makes mud hut with Charles L. Rice and Joseph C. Plumb but rain destroys, so they look for shelter with others
    Page   31  
    Sleeping without shelter
    Page   32  
    Need blanket to get accepted into existing shelters
    Page   33  
    Moves into Campney's shelter; description of the shelter
    Page   34  
    Dispensing rations: squad system; some prisoners get cooked rations, some get raw
    Page   36  
    Description of mush and other rations
    Page   40  
    Ration trading and trading for tobacco
    Page   41  
    Rebels occasionally cut off rations; "raiders" and stealing among prisoners
    Page   43  
    Prisoner police force and court to deal with raiders
    Page   45  
    Wirz's punishment of raiders
    Page   46  
    Trial and hanging of prisoners found guilty of murder; General William T. Sherman (1820-1891) reported to have approved of action
    Page   50  
    Overcrowding means no room to walk when prisoners lay down to sleep at night
    Page   52  
    Shortage of wood; death of Champney
    Page   53  
    His wood-selling business
    Page   55  
    "Exchange on the brain" is one of the most common diseases at Andersonville; disappointed hopes for exchange cause many to die
    Page   58  
    Heavy rain causes flooding in stockade
    Page   61  
    Freshwater spring appears in stockade
    Page   62  
    Trading rations; selling biscuit and sweet potato soup
    Page   64  
    Lice; prisoners who give up hope and will their deaths
    Page   65  
    Prisoners moved to Charleston, S.C.
    Page   67  
    Prisoners kept at fairgrounds outside Charleston
    Page   68  
    Prisoners moved to Florence, S.C.
    Page   72  
    Description of stockade at Florence
    Page   74  
    Smuggling beans into prison in hollow sticks of firewood
    Page   76  
    Death of a friend
    Page   78  
    Trading with Rebel guards for buttons; tricking the guards
    Page   81  
    Paroled at Wilmington, N.C.
    Page   82  
    Paid for time in prison (after enlistment term had expired)
    Additional Descriptive Data

    Stearns, Amos E. The Civil War Diary of Amos E. Stearns, a Prisoner at Andersonville. Leon Basile, ed. (East Brunswick, N.J., 1981).

    Partial Subject Index
    Andersonville Prison.
    • 27-67
    Butler, Benjamin F. (Benjamin Franklin), 1818-1893.
    • 25
    • 78-80
    Charleston (S.C.) Military Prison.
    • 67-70
    Charlotte (N.C.)--Description and travel.
    • 23-26
    Civilians--North Carolina--Civil War, 1861-1865.
    • 25-26
    Civilians--Virginia--Civil War, 1861-1865.
    • 9
    • 4, 64-65, 76-77
    Executions and executioners.
    • 46-49
    Fathers and sons.
    • 71-73
    • 58-61
    Florence (S.C.) Military Prison.
    • 70-81
    • 15-18, 20, 23-24, 34-41, 62-63
    Funeral rites and ceremonies.
    • 72-73
    Libby Prison.
    • 9-19
    • 55-58, 64-65
    • 45-49
    North Carolina--Description and travel.
    • 21-23
    • 27-28, 55-56, 65-66
    Prison discipline.
    • 46-59, 68-69
    Prison guards--Confederate States of America.
    • 10-12, 64-65, 76, 78-80
    Prisoners of war.
    • passim
    Prisoners of war--Capture.
    • 2
    Prisoners of war--Death.
    • 64-65, 76-77
    Prisoners of war--Medical care.
    • 10-13
    • 43-49
    Richmond (Va.)--Description and travel.
    • 3-9
    • 55-58
    • 67-68
    Sherman, William T. (William Tecumseh), 1820-1891.
    • 46-47
    • 14-15, 74
    • 42-49
    • 64-65
    Sutlers--Confederate States of America.
    • 62-63
    Turner, Dick.
    • 15
    United States--History--Civil War, 1861-1865--Participation, Indian.
    • 5-6
    United States--History--Civil War, 1861-1865--Personal narratives.
    • passim
    United States--History--Civil War, 1861-1865--Prisoners and prisons.
    • passim
    United States--History--Civil War, 1861-1865--Transportation.
    • passim
    United States. Army--Pay, allowances etc.
    • 82
    • 64-65
    War wounds.
    • 10-12
    • 24-26, 59-61
    Wirz, Henry, d. 1865.
    • 27-28, 46-47
    Women--Confederate States of America.
    • 21