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Miles O. Sherrill
A Soldier's Story: Prison Life and Other Incidents in the War of 1861-'65
[s.l.: s.n., 1904?].


Miles Sherrill opens his narrative with a note about the historical importance of hearing a Southern point of view on the Civil War, lest "those who write so much, who live north of the Mason and Dixon's line, would make our rising generation believe what is false" (p. 3). Many of these Northern writers, Sherrill claims, focus on the horrid conditions in confederate prisons, but he believes that the question of who was to blame for these conditions remains unanswered. He charges that the North rejected many prisoner-exchange offers and claims that "the key to the responsibility for all the suffering and deaths on both sides in the prisons" lies in understanding that the Union Army's primary intention was to prevent Confederate soldiers from returning to the field. He presents this analysis, along with health and population statistics for both sides, as a prologue to his own account of prison life.

Sherrill's experience as a prisoner begins when he is shot in the leg at the Battle of Spotsylvania Court House, Virginia. Because he is too badly wounded to escape, he is forced to surrender to Union soldiers. The enemy doctors amputate the limb, but Sherrill is left unattended for days after the procedure and is pestered by insects. He is soon moved to Washington, and later to Elmira, New York, where he is guarded by African Americans, plagued by hunger, and showered with insults from a half-drunk Union officer. Sherrill explains that he and the other Confederate captives were so badly neglected that they were often reduced to smuggling and swindling to survive. While at Elmira prison, he meets two relatives—also soldiers—both of whom perish. Sherrill is eventually sent back to the hospital ward, and since more food is available there, he begins to regain strength. However, he contracts smallpox and is sent to a crowded smallpox camp, where he estimates there is a 70-percent mortality rate. There he is forced to wear a "Yankee suit," a Union Army uniform complete with hat.

In February 1865, Sherrill and the other survivors are shipped back to Richmond. Sherrill remembers his initial optimism upon hearing hopeful rumors of Confederate success, followed by his deep disappointment when Union soldiers marched into Richmond later that year.

Now that the war is over, he adds, there is little animosity between the "true" soldiers on both sides, as now all wear blue and fight together for the United States against common enemies. He closes his narrative with "Memorial Day Ode," a poem to honor fallen soldiers.

Jennifer L. Larson

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